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Secondly, our rule book--and our lack of policing of it--is a recipe for filibustering and wasting time. For example, we allow the same or virtually the same amendments to be moved and the same speeches to be made successively in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. People move an amendment, withdraw it, move it again, withdraw it, move it again and divide. For the most part this is a waste of everyone's time. In 18 months I have rarely heard many new arguments brought out. What it does do is enable people to polish their speeches between Committee and Third Reading. At the very least, there should be just one shot at an amendment after a reformed Committee stage. Moreover, the absence of
Thirdly, if this Chamber is to scrutinise the government of the day effectively, it needs to move to much more of a research and evidence-collecting committee style of operating and to link its work much more with the Select Committee system adopted in the Commons. Why should there not be more combined committees of both Houses covering the main areas of government? The second Chamber could give a lead by taking more functional areas which spread across government departments--for instance, matters relating to children or elderly people--and scrutinise the activities of several departments and the joined-up approach of government policy.
I very much welcome the commission on the scrutiny role of Parliament set up by the Hansard Society under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, with other Members of this House. I hope that it will be radical and that we shall not be stuffy about responding to its recommendations.
Time does not permit me to go into the many other areas where I believe change is needed. Some have already been mentioned and more will no doubt arise during the course of the debate. I merely say in conclusion that my perception of this place after 18 months is that it is excessively introspective and rather self-satisfied, with some deeply held social prejudices. It needs to open itself up far more to external influences on its working practices and bring in outside help and expertise to modernise its arrangements.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord with increasing surprise and disagreement, as he gave us the benefit of his views and long experience of this House. If I had to characterise his speech, I rather came to the conclusion as he reached his peroration that perhaps he was committing what has seemed to me to be a perennial difficulty for newcomers to Parliament; namely, they confuse efficiency with effectiveness. I shall not bother to go further into the noble Lord's remarks. I profoundly disagreed with the substantial burden of what he said.
However, I was much more agreeably, not surprised, but confirmed in my views when I listened to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. We should be extremely grateful to the noble Lord for the manner in which he introduced the debate. If I understood him aright, he emphasised the value that he attaches to our habit of proceeding by convention, and therefore by agreement, rather than by rules. That has been one of the great strengths of this House. The noble Lord also implied that there would be virtue, as we examined our procedures, in a gradual and cumulative approach--that does not necessarily mean an unhurried one--rather than a "big bang". In both respects, I find myself in profound agreement with the noble Lord.
It is sensible from time to time for all institutions-- particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, observed, an ancient institution such as this House--to examine the mechanics of how they work. That is particularly necessary at a time when the nature of this House has changed so rapidly, as indeed has its membership. Surely it is true that, even though the fundamentals of our structure may be sound--a view to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would subscribe--it is sensible for us to examine what barnacles may have grown on our collective bottom during the course of the past few decades, and to examine whether innovations might be necessary; to continue the nautical analogy, to see whether a ski-jump might not improve the performance on our flight-deck.
If we are to examine our procedures and to follow the principles proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I hope that above all we shall remember one thing. During the short amount of time available to all noble Lords in this debate, I hope that I shall set a good example by making only one broad point among the many that have no doubt occurred to all Members of this House in the consideration of what is clearly a broad subject. The single point that I want to make applies equally to the debate that will follow this one.
It is a truism, but I shall nevertheless repeat it, that the interests of this House in performing its proper functions and the interests of the Government are not one and the same. I refer not only to the present administration; I mean all governments, including the government of whom I was a member. All governments, as your Lordships have no doubt observed ad nauseam, want to cram as much legislation through Parliament as they can. That is the nature of governments. Anyone who has served on legislation committees will testify to that.
As distinguished Members of this House have frequently observed, notably my noble friend Lord Renton, the result is far too much legislation, and, increasingly, legislation that is both ill conceived and ill prepared. As a result, Parliament and our system of government are brought into disrepute and are held increasingly in contempt. I have noted that the present Government deplore, as we all do, the increasingly low turn-outs at elections. I cannot help wondering whether the disillusion that that betokens may have been generated, at least in part, by lousy legislative arrangements cumulatively occurring over the past few decades.
I am convinced that any government will want to ensure that any review of our procedures makes it easier for legislation to pass through this House. For us to become even more of a legislative sausage machine, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde called it, than we already are would merely add to the poor results of which I am already complaining. Any change that increases the volume rather than improves the quality of legislation will pander to any government's short-term perceived self-interest. As someone who enthusiastically endorsed the original Grand Committee procedure in the Moses Room, I put into
So by all means I hope that the Procedure Committee will undertake a number of inquiries and begin to consider a number of the suggestions that may arise from this debate and possibly produce them in the form of a number of reports which could be debated at convenient intervals in this House, and that we can, in the incremental fashion suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, begin to adopt them so long as they begin to satisfy the one criterion against which this House ought to consider any suggestion: whether it will make us more effective, rather than more efficient as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has in my view erroneously suggested.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I should like to add my appreciation to that already expressed to my noble friend Lord Peston for initiating this important debate and for his skilful introduction. The debate is timely. We all spend time behind the scenes discussing these issues, and it is time that they were aired in the Chamber. Irrespective of some of the comments, I believe that there is considerable support for the idea that improvement should be made in the structures and facilities provided for both Members and staff. I believe that that view is shared on all sides of the House, not merely on these Benches.
As might have been expected, it has been suggested that the debate is about reducing the level of scrutiny of the executive--making the House more government-friendly. For me, it is about efficiency, effectiveness, doing our job of scrutiny much better, and making the House people-friendly. While I fully agree with the observation of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about the ethos of this House, there has been a change in its nature, structure and make-up as a result of changing expectations. It is balancing those factors which is so important.
Turning to the change in the composition of the House, the number of women Peers has increased, if somewhat slowly, to 105. There has been a significant drop in the average age of Members. More Members have young children or care responsibilities for the young and old, full-time occupations outside the House, and differing life responsibilities and work patterns. All of those should be respected. As my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal rightly said, this means that Members must balance their parliamentary duties with home and work.
This Chamber works longer hours than any other, including the other place. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have sensibly not followed our example. Longer hours do not equate to effectiveness, efficiency or adequate scrutiny. However, even those who believe that it does--incorrectly, in my view--should accept the need to restructure and reorder our business timetable. That does not mean closures and guillotines. Various red herrings have been introduced into the debate. I do not believe that those matters are on the agenda because this is a revising chamber. However, we can look at sitting hours and how we structure our business.
The idea of morning sittings has been raised. That may not be acceptable to all, but it should not be dismissed out of hand. Morning sittings would be acceptable to many Members and therefore should be considered. We should also consider a greater number of Friday sittings and how we can use our time more efficiently. We have also had comments about the conduct of the Committee stage of Bills in the Grand Committee Room. It has been suggested that somehow that will detract from the level of scrutiny. The reverse is true. I believe that such a procedure will enable noble Lords to explore matters further, to hold much more detailed debates, and to examine Bills line by line in a way that is not always possible in this Chamber. We should consider that idea and dismiss the red herring that that means that the Government can bring forward much more legislation.
We need to look at the procedures laid down in the Companion, in particular the timing of speeches on amendments which at the moment are not limited. Sometimes speeches can be very long. Perhaps there should be a limit of 15 minutes. Perhaps we should also consider proceedings on Third Reading where the Companion appears to have been forgotten. If we want an example of that, we need look no further than the House of Lords Bill. It may be that we should be more radical and question whether all the stages are necessary. Should we introduce electronic voting and times at which we vote? How can we achieve the best procedure for true scrutiny?
All of these points need consideration. I hope that this is not just an interesting debate and intervention in our proceedings, but that the matter will be followed through. Some do not agree with the idea that a committee should consider this. I believe that we need
There are many other matters that I do not have time to raise, not least facilities, allowances, the whole question of reporting structures, and how to provide a much healthier environment. We spend a good deal of time in this environment which leaves a lot to be desired. It is time to move from rhetoric to reality and to plan positively for an efficient and effective legislative Chamber for the 21st century.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, many of your Lordships have referred to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The noble Lord does us a great service in introducing the debate this afternoon. We are always told that the House of Lords is different, and so it is: it is so different that those of us who come here from another place often find it very difficult to gain an understanding of the way that business is performed in this House and the manner in which noble Lords behave in dealing with it. There are no rules of order, very little of the ribaldry and party-political point-scoring to which we were accustomed in another place and practically no filibustering. When my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Waddington made that point I detected no murmurs of dissent from noble Lords opposite.
There are other differences. All this is hardly surprising as the roles of the two Houses are quite different, as many noble Lords have already said. I believe that it is sensible for the two Houses to perform their functions in broadly the way they do at present, but we must look at the possibility of change. In considering change I should like to make two principal points that are common to both Houses. While there are differences, there are principles which apply fundamentally to both Houses. I speak with the experience to which the Leader of the House referred. She was extremely generous to me in her remarks. I am not entirely sure that she would have been quite so generous had she been aware that I was the Government Chief Whip who was responsible for all the legislation between 1979 and 1983. In passing, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that morning sittings are all very well. In another place the committee which I chaired introduced morning sittings, but only for uncontentious business. Ministers' lives are made a misery if they must always be present for the possibility of votes. Therefore, morning sittings are a possibility. We proposed that measure down the corridor and it proved to be very successful.
If we are thinking of change there are two fundamental principles which must never be forgotten or undermined. First, as my noble friend Lord Waddington observed, the government of the day must always, in the end, get their business. Secondly, the very delicate balance of power which exists between government and opposition must not be unfairly tilted to give the government of the day a short-term advantage. Those two principles were never far from the mind of the Select Committee of
The Government must get their business. That creates a problem in your Lordships' House where the government party is in a minority. At the risk of being tedious, I say for the fourth time--the Government Front Bench has never responded to me--that I believe the present number of government supporters in your Lordships' House, which now stands at 27 per cent, is not enough. I am not one of those who complain about Tony's cronies being packed into your Lordships' House. I believe that the government of the day are entitled to more than 27 per cent of the membership. I hope that I shall receive some response from the Front Bench following my fourth request. I dealt with the issue in detail in the Wakeham debate. I shall not repeat my argument now. I think that it is only fair to government to have a larger presence. Of course, overall, government must have the means of overcoming their deficit on the arithmetic through having only a minority of Members. That is provided for the Government in your Lordships' House by the Parliament Act. In your Lordships' House that is equivalent to the guillotine in another place.
Secondly, I referred, as a principle, to the rights of opposition which must not be diluted for the short-term advantage of government. I cannot overstress how vital it is to keep in mind that delicate balance between government and opposition. There is not, and I hope never would be here, a danger of reducing the opportunity for your Lordships to examine legislation. That would be very dangerous. Therefore no thought should be given to the introduction of guillotines here.
Nor should there be any thought given to the growth of carry-over Bills or, worse, letting Sessions run into each other without a State Opening and a new start each year. As a former business manager in another place, I often thought how much easier life would have been if we had had more carry-over Bills and did not need to have State Openings. But it never became a serious option in any discussion I had with colleagues at that time. So let change be our ally. Let us consider reform, but let us not ignore those two principles.
Finally, if reform is proposed, it should be introduced with broad all-party support. I remind your Lordships that when I was chairman of a committee along the corridor all those years ago, it took between three and four years to gain all-party agreement on its recommendations. Virtually all the matters we recommended were taken up by the House of Commons. It is crucial that changes in procedures of this kind must have all-party support.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, this is a huge topic and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston for raising it. How can I condense all that I have to say into six minutes? I shall limit myself to two issues: modernising what I value most and what I like least about your Lordships' House.
What I value most is the opportunity to serve the public. I am sure most noble Lords value this honour and privilege. However, in the 21st century, having just a feel-good glow is not enough. This is the information age, the communication age. So we should be communicating with and informing the British public about what we are doing--talking to them, as my noble friend Lord Peston said.
At the end of the 20th century this communication was largely achieved through press officers, spin doctors, public relations experts and communications experts. I think and hope that in the 21st century many of these people will become redundant. People will want to communicate with us directly over the Internet. It is already happening. Requests via e-mail for general information about your Lordships' House rose from 100 in March last year to 320 in March this year. That led me to explore the website of your Lordships' House. It is informative but unfriendly and impersonal. Nowhere does it say anything about us as individuals and about our role in serving the public. That led me to submit a paper to the January meeting of your Lordships' Library and Computers sub-committee whose members are the people who look after these matters. I suggested that all noble Lords should have their own website informing the public about who we are, what we have done, what our interests are, the topics on which we speak and the issues we support. The public would be better informed about us and we could receive directly their thoughts and ideas and be better informed about them. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal touched on this issue.
If we are to be a revising chamber and a chamber of experts as described by my noble friend Lord Peston, we need such outside communication to do our job effectively, especially now that the old certainties of Left and Right have gone and there are so many new issues which have become politicised. Some noble Lords may feel awkward and insufficiently skilled to work in this way, but we shall have to learn to adapt because that is the way it will be in the 21st century. If we do not learn to adapt we shall become marginalised. So that is my view of one way in which we can modernise the way we serve the public in the 21st century.
My other point relates to what I value least about your Lordships' House--the many hours wasted while waiting to vote. From many points of view it really is an imposition. The Lord Privy Seal reminded us that this is work:life balance week; and we certainly have our voting arrangements out of balance with the rest of our lives. Like my noble friend Lady Jay I think that it is an unjustified imposition on busy men and women who have work to do other than in your Lordships' House or who do not live in London. I agree with Recommendation 63 in the Royal Commission's report which states that the reformed second Chamber should contain a substantial proportion of people who are not professional politicians.
Noble Lords have suggested other ways of reducing the waiting time to vote: the guillotine; time limits; or debating only selected amendments. Generally, I am not in favour of those solutions because I do not wish to curtail discussion. We are a revising Chamber and all issues deserve to be debated. But I wish to avoid repetition. The serious issues will reach Report stage and Third Reading--issues which could justify our working late occasionally into the evenings in order to divide.
Indeed, I would go further and suggest that in order to emphasise the importance of the voting stage, Ministers from another place could be invited to attend your Lordships' House to respond to the Opposition. In fact that might facilitate the deals between the Government and the Opposition on Report or at Third Reading--deals so often necessary for the Government to get their legislation through, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, pointed out. That is important in a House where, as my noble friend Lord Peston reminded us, the Government do not have a majority.
If I had more time I should speak about improving our work in the Chamber by giving the Chairmen more authority, re-editing the Companion to make the rules firmer and more precise, and improving our efficiency with better facilities and services. I also have remarks to make about the way committees take evidence and on combined committees. I spoke on this issue in the Second Reading debate on the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Sadly, those issues will have to wait.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is always fun listening to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, even if one disagrees with most of what he says. The noble Lord spent several years on the Opposition Benches longing to become a member of the Government; and now that he finds himself on the government side he complains like mad at having to stay around and vote. That happens to be an elementary part of politics. If he does not like it, all I can say to him is what the schoolboy would say, which is "hard chops".
It is customary to congratulate the mover of the Motion--in this case, the noble Lord, Lord Peston--on introducing an excellent debate. Perhaps I may excuse myself from that because when I saw this Motion on the Order Paper I thought that it was a frantic waste of time. Anyone who says, "Such and such is not suitable for the 21st century", is rather like a person six months ago who would have said, "Such and such is not suitable for the latter part of the 20th century". That usually means that they cannot think of
We spend a great deal of our time considering the House, what we are doing and what we might do better. We spent ages discussing the breeches and buckled shoes of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I believe that we spent two hours discussing that matter on the Floor of the House. It then went to a committee, which reported, and the matter then returned to your Lordships' House. We then spent two hours debating not only the breeches and buckled shoes, but also the alteration to the introduction procedure. What for: to save five minutes when it took 10 hours of debate?
Now we have this debate. Later on we are having a debate concerning the noble Lord, Lord Neill. So a whole day will be spent discussing the work of your Lordships. Then we say that we have not got enough time and that it is running out. I believe that we spend far too much time messing around with our own institutions instead of getting on with things. On the whole, I believe that the procedures of your Lordships' House work very well. There may be one or two things which we can tidy up and alter here and there, but to say that the procedures do not work well is an irrelevance.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that he wants lots of changes to the practices of your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, not only nodded assent, but even said "Hear, hear!". Of course, she would, wouldn't she? She would like to alter everything, but, fortunately, not everyone thinks that way. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that he wants Committee stages to be taken off the Floor of the House, and a Speaker. I am sorry that the noble Lord is so dissatisfied. Perhaps he is a slow learner and needs more than 18 months. He reminded me of the schoolmaster who wrote a half-term report on a child and said that he was "trying". The parents said that they were so pleased. The end-of-term report arrived. It said, "Very trying". I would not put the noble Lord quite into that category, but I believe that his views are such that they do not necessarily meet with everyone's approval.
We talk about there being not enough time for things. Instead of wagging her head, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, might like to listen to this particular part of my argument. In fact, only 12 Bills have been passed so far through your Lordships' House. We are practically up to the Whitsun Recess. After that, another 23 Bills have to be dealt with. What have the Government been doing with the time? A great deal of this problem is due to the Government not applying themselves properly. They are going to produce an absolute bow wave of work later on.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that secondary legislation should be voted on. I believe that that would be bad because it would mean that the unelected Chamber--except for a few noble Lords who have been elected--would be overturning the views of the elected Chamber. That would be quite wrong. He and
I believe that it would be a disaster to have Thursday morning sittings. It would certainly fall out of kilter with the Scots who said earlier that they did not even want to attend on Thursday because it was such a bore getting back to Scotland on Thursday evening. They wanted the business to end on Wednesday.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that she wants to make this House a nicer place in which to work. I would have thought that this is one of the most agreeable Houses in which anyone could work. It is difficult to imagine any other place of work which would be better than this House. We must stop nannying ourselves. The Government must stop interfering with procedures which work perfectly well.
There is no virtue in passing more and more legislation. One of the best things that happened was the Lib-Lab pact because no legislation could be passed because no one could agree. Everyone loved it; the House of Commons loved it; your Lordships loved it; and the people out in the sticks loved it because they all knew where they were and the law was not being changed. Now there seems to be virtue in putting through as much legislation as possible. I do not agree with that. I agree with my noble friend Lord Waddington who said, "Let us be jealous of our procedures". That means that they can, of course, be amended, but they should not be capsized completely.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the speeches that have been made so far. As regards working practices, many suggestions have been made. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, but I did not care for the way in which he said it. He made some good points.
When considering the working of the House we need also to consider its composition because that will be very important. Until now our relations with the House of Commons have been clouded by the fact that the Liberal and Labour parties disliked the House of Lords because of the enormous influence of the Tory hereditary Peers, somewhat modified by the Salisbury convention, but nevertheless that influence hung over the whole proceedings of the House. That did not make for good relations with the Commons.
If we are to be effective, not only do we need good working procedures, but a good relationship with the Commons. I believe that most people are agreed that our present powers of delay represent the proper stance to take. But we want to be more effective. We
The composition of this House is therefore very important--there will be no hereditary Peers--but how will that be achieved? There are two possibilities. One is election and the other is selection. The Commons would not like election because there would then be a competing House. I believe that we are all agreed on that.
I cannot see that a partially elected House would help its business. If we had a partially elected House I would despise the elected Members and I daresay that they would despise me. There would two types of Member. That cannot be a good thing for the smooth working of the House, which is what is required. Nomination appears to be the proper way to proceed. If we have that then we have a point at which we could all work together.
I totally agree that there should be no majority for the Government. I totally agree also that if the other procedures are followed and the independent selection committee or nomination committee notes that people of ability and standing are coming into the House constantly, that would be admirable, particularly for our Select Committees, which are valuable and highly appreciated in Brussels, certainly, and in many other places. That would be a great help to the workings of the House.
In the main what has been said about procedures is useful. We do not want to have a great deal of morning working because you cannot expect people of standing in their profession or business to be here in the mornings. There is no reason why they should not attend during the afternoons or evenings to debate subjects in which they are interested.
The procedure of the House depends on the people in the House, therefore we need to be careful. When two years ago I made a speech on the subject I said that there should be a retiring age of 78. I was then 78. I am now 80, so I put the retiring age at 80. However, I believe that there should be a lower age limit. While I am allowed and my fare is paid, I shall come to the House, becoming less useful as each year passes.
I hope that our procedures will improve and that we shall be more courteous than we are at the moment. During Question Time, for example, too many people stand up and fail to sit down when it is obvious that someone else has priority. Like many people, I like this House and believe that it could be even more useful.
Lord Bragg: My Lords, in the leisurely history of your Lordships' House--an evolution which can make the process of natural selection of homo sapiens seem a bit rushed--now, the year 2000, is clearly the perfect time to discuss the workings of the House in the 21st century. After all, it was only in 1999 that, for most of us, the House slipped into the 20th century--
Like many of your Lordships, I am a working Peer. However, Garter King of Arms was at pains to emphasise that the title emanated from Her Majesty in the same manner as all other titles and seemed rather miffed--if "miffed" is a word at all applicable to the dignity of Garter--that the word "working" should have interfered with the purity of the word "Peer".
As a working Peer, and privileged to be so, I was properly quizzed by my noble friend Lord Carter, and while promises were not exacted, reassurances were expected and given. I made it plain, as I am sure did all other working Peers, that I was not giving up my job outside the House, but would and could find the time to discharge obligations required here. But I needed to keep the other work going.
Let me emphasise, first, that those who serve the diurnal workings of the House, from the doorkeepers, to the librarians, to the restaurant staff and everything to do with the office of Black Rod, exercise considerable intelligence and care to ensure that the present system works. Indeed, I sometimes think that we see a little daily miracle, especially in the matter of messages--often like notes on a cleft stick smuggled through the lines to Mafeking.
Now to the Motion. I shall stick, rather glancingly and by indirection, to days, hours, conditions and pay. Detailed constitutional matters have already been well dealt with by many of your Lordships who are much more qualified than I.
We do three days of what I might call "official work" here, but then we turn them into four by insisting on Wednesday as a kind of seigneurial sabbath. I have listened to arguments for the retention of Wednesday as a breather, based, I may say, on a rather "invalid", even "invalid", view of your Lordships' House.
To the serious argument that the only way to get your Lordships to stay for our normal Wednesday business is to keep it on Wednesday because it would flit the coop if it transferred to Thursday, one has to say, "If it is not important enough to bear waiting for, it is not important enough".
Three official days, with one or two mornings thrown in, would make it much more practicable for a Peer such as myself and many others to be here. Helping our effectiveness--in tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--could help yours. Wednesdays should become Thursdays. Lewis Carroll would have approved and you cannot be more traditional than that.
The hours are hopeless. The Duc de Berry would go mad commissioning a Book of Hours for your Lordships' House. The hours I am objecting to are those which rightly require votes, but, to my mind, often maroon us in admittedly pleasant Bars or Libraries waiting sometimes for Godot who never arrives. Again, it seems to me a largely unnecessary strain.
Is it beyond the combined wisdom of the House to resolve matters on the majority of issues within known parameters which would be of greater assistance to all, especially to those of us who have outside meetings and events which should not be needlessly at odds with the work we do here?
What about conditions? Well, with the greatest respect, as the 19th century mills of Lancashire are to Silicon Valley, so are the conditions of your Lordships' House to the way the 21st century really conducts its business. It is often hilarious.
Perhaps I may give one small example from scores. I hope that like my noble friend Lord Peston I may be allowed one anecdote. I refer to those phones in the Corridors--often the only phones available. Try to work out a difficult contract with international musicians, as I was doing the other day, while a metre away a noble Lord, whose name will never escape my mind or my mouth, read out in full, fortissimo and with feeling the entire menu of that evening's fare in the Barry Room. It was a tour de force. It was probably much more important than my contract. It was magnificent. It was interminable. I abandoned my contractual negotiations, retreated to the Library and came back some minutes later to find all the phones occupied. Miffed!
It really will not do. If we are invited to come here as working Peers, our outside work should also be taken seriously; more and better phones, faxes, e-mails, privacy and the message system. There is now an opportunity to show the world that we can leap from the Middle Ages to the New Millennium in one bound.
Finally, I turn to pay. We do not mind footballers being paid £50,000 a week, but we--or rather we as represented by the wealth of the fourth estate--do not seem to like paying those who pass, scrutinise, devote themselves to, and deliver, the laws of the land.
Traditionally, of course, politics was regarded as an occupation largely for a gentleman of independent means, and one certainty about our country is that such traditions die very hard. But now we are populated by many who do not have independent means and while that has been recognised in another place, here, in your Lordships' House, there is a lag which is the single most restrictive factor for those who can come here.
We are in a transient House; we are in a temporary House. But we are here as Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and to have people barred for lack of means, or to see hard-working Peers unable to afford a very late night taxi back to constrained accommodation, is no longer amusing or tolerable. We should seize this nettle.
I suggest £10,000 a Session for those who attend over 50 per cent of the time; and for those who attend less than 50 per cent, pro rata payments. That, in my opinion, should be the least of it. If some of your Lordships wish to waive it, all well and good. If the press cries, "Mercenary", let them try a Session's work experience among us at our rates. I am convinced that the quaint antiquity of our remuneration is part of the reason that in the public eye your Lordships' House receives less respect than its achievements merit.
All of us here are proud to be here. All of us want the best for this House, this country, these countries. We took 99 years to catch up to the 20th century; let us surprise them all and ambush the 21st at the outset.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who certainly gave us a great deal to think about. It is also a great pleasure to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on securing the debate.
I approach the subject with a degree of humility appropriate to my paucity of years in your Lordships' House. I am constantly finding new features here, from the hour glasses we use to time Divisions to the more arcane intricacies of procedures. However, I brought with me some 27 years' experience in the other place, more than 15 of them spent in government. So I am not without sympathy with the Government's first and last aim in Parliament, which is to get their business through both Houses unscathed.
It was said of the American Senate that it provided "the pause that refreshes", and that is certainly true of your Lordships' House. The volume of government amendments that are tabled in this place is a constant reminder of the inestimable value of the time and opportunity provided by the second Chamber to the government of the day to ensure that legislation is as clear, effective and durable as possible before it reaches the statute book.
We do not always achieve that high aim, despite our best endeavours, but most of us would agree that time is of the essence even to achieve a modicum of success. Therefore, if we change our working methods we must exercise the greatest care that we do not reduce the time available to those who work behind the scenes to give effect to improvements proposed in legislation. The integrity of our law-making process must, therefore, be maintained at all costs, and enhanced if possible.
Of course, there is a great deal more that can be said about this basic issue which is so central to our role as a revising chamber. We could encourage the Government to legislate less. That suggestion achieved a cheer this afternoon. However, in my experience that is a forlorn hope. Every government must learn the hard way just how much legislation they can get into the pint pot of a parliamentary Session.
One of the most glaring drawbacks of such consideration is that a verbatim record of the discussions in Cardiff is not available to your Lordships, except on the Internet. The effect is to promote isolation. I welcome the fact that the Government are clearly dissatisfied with the present position, and the Secretary of State for Wales has announced that they are working with the Assembly on a protocol to deal with primary legislation as it affects Wales. I sincerely hope that they will be successful in their efforts, otherwise the Assembly and the people of Wales will soon find themselves with deficient laws which are inadequate to meet their needs.
What I said with regard to Wales opens up the whole field of devolution, to which the Royal Commission on the reform of your Lordships' House devoted much thought. Its conclusion was that one of the new second Chamber's four main roles should be to,
Neither the commission nor I know the pattern of future devolution. The Government's ardour appears to be cooling as the centrifugal forces inherent in it become more apparent and unmanageable from the centre of power. Those tendencies are manifesting themselves in a demand for ever more separate and independent powers. Those of us who warned that that would happen may reiterate our warnings till the cows come home. However, our cries will be drowned by the incoming tide of perceived self-interest that vents itself through nationalism in Scotland and Wales and a sharp metropolitan/urban awareness that will become increasingly evident in London and the big cities.
With due respect to the Royal Commission, I am far from certain that more regional representation here is the bulwark that will stem the rising tide of regional interests. It may even turn out to be the high wind that drives the sea to shore, to batter the weakened walls of the United Kingdom's unity. But something must be done. There is a growing urgency to tighten the apron strings that bind our fledgling devolved bodies to this United Kingdom Parliament. The Government can make a start by examining closely what has been done and the way that it works, or is failing to work, for the benefit of the people whom it is designed to serve.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the debate is in danger of being repetitive. That is why I emphasise that I do not intend to repeat the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Warner, who evinced some criticism from the Benches opposite. Suffice it to say that he enjoys a great deal of support for his arguments from these Benches.
First, I want to emphasise that, once again, two myths are being portrayed. The first is that there is too much legislation. As my noble friend the Leader of the House emphasised, the amount of legislation that passes through the House under this Government roughly parallels the amount of legislation dealt with under previous Conservative governments. Therefore, in my view, it ill befits a former Chief Whip and former Home Secretary to berate this Government for overwhelming Parliament with excessive legislation when in fact he served in administrations which were capable of putting forward legislation at much the same rate.
The issue is quite straightforward. This House does not dictate the amount of legislation to be dealt with within the parliamentary timetable. We all know that such issues are planned against the perspective of what it is possible to achieve in the Lower House on the number of days available. That is the case both in relation to the Opposition in presenting their arguments and to the Government in getting through their legislation. It takes place against a background where it is recognised on all sides that a principle obtains with regard to this House; namely, that at the end of the day the Government must have their legislation.
If that means that in some extreme circumstances (perhaps I may say that it is very unlikely to occur this year) 12th August--the grouse shooting season--is threatened with postponement by Parliament still sitting until that date, then that will be what happens if the Government need their legislation. Therefore, let us not pretend that we are concerned about restraining governments with regard to the amount of legislation that they put forward. That is dictated by the conventions and rules largely of the lower House. That is where the authority should lie because that is the elected mandate.
We must decide whether we are effective in dealing with legislation. The real issue which stands out on every side and which must be considered is this: there can be no argument for saying that consideration of legislation benefits from constant repetition of the arguments, day after day and week after week, on the same piece of legislation. That cannot be defended and, therefore, must lead us to conclude that we should organise ourselves more effectively.
People could be nominated, or, indeed, could put themselves forward, for specialist Committee stages of Bills to be held in another part of the House. Issues on which we need to vote could be identified for consideration at a later stage of a Bill. However, the issues at Committee stage should be scrutinised effectively and carefully by those who have the expertise. In this House we pride ourselves that we have expertise. Let us be frank and admit that in some areas we have greater expertise than has the Commons.
However, that expertise should be concentrated in the Committee stage of a Bill and we should avoid the absurd situation in which the whole House is expected to be on duty. At present, many of us participate in circumstances in which we know that, in effect, we are passing the time until the crucial voting issues must be faced. We would not be a serious chamber if we did not take the issue of voting seriously because that is an important duty laid upon us.
The second myth is that somehow we earn respect from prolonged consideration of legislation late into the night. It was a myth perpetuated in the other place, too, that somehow we earned medals for the number of occasions on which we continued until three or four o'clock in the morning. Of course, the reality was that the general public thought that we could not organise ourselves effectively. We never received any commendation for that at all; neither does this House. If I go back, as I did today, to my place of work in Coventry and say that I regret that I am five minutes late for a 9.30 meeting this morning but I was in the House deliberating until past midnight last night and may be doing so again this evening, the people there merely look askance upon a situation in which it looks as though we cannot organise ourselves effectively. We should address those issues.
Although we cannot look forward easily into the deeper recess of the 21st century, we can clearly see that it is the intention on all sides--just look at the Wakeham report; it makes it quite clear--that this House should have a broader representation. There will be people who are not based solely in London, able to fulfil their important jobs in London, be working Peers and able to contribute to this House. Many people will live so far away that that is not possible. Many of my colleagues are in just that situation at present. Working Peers are eager to play their role and yet they are faced with a situation in which this place wastes hours of their time and occupies them for four days a week when the work could be done in three days.
The pressures will clearly exist. That is why it is essential that we address the question of whether we cannot organise the issues in such a way that they can be dealt with on three working days per week. The business which we usually deal with on a Wednesday should be shifted to a Thursday to make things more manageable for noble Lords in the regions. That is a recognition that in the 21st century we cannot have a House based upon the premise that we come from the deep landed shires to comfortable abodes in London to while away our time in gentlemanly pursuits.
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing this valuable debate. As he was good enough to say, it is really a follow-up from the balloted Motion which I was fortunate to have on 29th March. Time is very short so I want to deal with two points: first, Select Committees; and secondly, the implication of devolution for your Lordships' House.
As regards Select Committees, it is generally agreed on all sides of the House that the House excels in the high quality of its Select Committee reports. They help to form government policy; they influence government; they influence the Commission in Brussels. I am very glad that we are now building on the success of the long-established Select Committees.
We now have ad hoc Select Committees which look at draft Bills. Pre-legislative scrutiny by Parliament and outside interests may influence the shape of Bills before they are set in concrete. That new activity should lead to better legislation.
We also have in prospect a Joint Committee on human rights to monitor the Human Rights Act. That is of great importance. When that Act comes into operation, there is a greater risk of disputes developing between Parliament and the judiciary. It has happened in previous centuries. It did not do Parliament or the judiciary any good. If that new Select Committee can help to avoid those disputes arising in the future, it will do a very valuable job.
Then there is a proposal for a constitutional committee in your Lordships' House. That was recommended by the Royal Commission; it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston; and I believe that there is general agreement in the House that that would be valuable. The fact is that our constitution is still largely unwritten. That is a British way of doing things. It provides flexibility and room for manoeuvre. But it has its dangers. It means that one single vote, particularly down the Corridor in another place, may mean that a Bill of major constitutional importance is passed, having gone through exactly the same procedures as those which apply to the most technical, detailed Bill. So there are dangers in that.
If we can be given an early warning by the proposed constitutional committee as to the importance of any constitutional issues arising in Bills, that would be a valuable safeguard for the House. I expect that if the new committee is set up, which I hope it will be, it will work in a way which is similar to that of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which is already doing a very good job in warning the House of matters with regard to delegated legislation. When the Government Chief Whip replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to give a fair wind to that proposal for a constitutional committee.
My second point concerns devolution. The Royal Commission stressed that your Lordships' House should play a valuable role in giving a voice to the nations and the regions of the United Kingdom and should serve the interests of the whole of the United
I believe that your Lordships' House can be more effective than another place in fulfilling that role. After all, in another place, there is bound to be some competition between Westminster MPs and MPs elected by the same constituents in the devolved bodies. There are bound to be some demarcation disputes. That does not apply in your Lordships' House because, at any rate at the moment, we are all here either by succession or by nomination.
It is the case also that in your Lordships' House there is a strong representation from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So noble Lords can carry out a valuable job in helping to provide a unified force for the United Kingdom as a whole, without treading on the toes of the devolved bodies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
It is clear from what has been said in the debate so far that our procedures are evolving to suit the changed House and new needs. None of those proposals which have been mentioned so far questions the primacy of another place or the right of government to get their business after adequate scrutiny. Therefore, I believe that the proposals which are being discussed today show that the House is developing new vigour and greater legitimacy to serve Britain.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House by going into all the topics which have been covered today and which have been covered by the Royal Commission. I shall content myself with dealing with one matter which I think is important and which could very easily be remedied; that is, the question of unsociable hours. To sit at three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon to start a day's business is not only unsociable hours but it is quite ridiculous. It means, of course, that Peers from Scotland and Northern Ireland and other places find it very difficult to stay if they want to get home that evening. In fact, it is virtually impossible. It is all right for Peers from the Home Counties to say that they can sit here late at night: to get home, they only have to take their car a few miles down the road. Many of us must go a good deal further.
It is sometimes said that it is done so as to allow party meetings to take place. I find it very difficult to understand why party meetings cannot take place on a Monday, a Tuesday or a Wednesday and why we must be detained by them on a Thursday. Indeed, at the end of a Session, the House usually sits on a Thursday at eleven o'clock or half past eleven. If that can be achieved at the end of a Session to allow those who live in the Home Counties to push off to the Continent, it could easily be done every week.
It has been suggested, although I may not try to propagate it, that this Government and the previous Government, when dealing with an unpopular measure for Northern Ireland or Scotland, would table it at the end of Thursday's business in the hope that we had all gone home and they would get it through without any difficulty.
It has also been suggested that the Law Lords frequently give judgments on a Thursday morning, but they could give those judgments on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I believe it would be quite easy to cure that. I find it difficult to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who said that it would be disastrous if the House sat on a Thursday morning. I am not sure where he lives: if he lives somewhere round about, it may be disastrous, although, from the point of view of those who have much further to travel, it would certainly not be disastrous. I believe it is time that this matter was cured.
Lord Gray of Contin: My Lords, I join with those who have already paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The speeches of the noble Lord are always worth listening to, even if one does not agree with them in their entirety. I believe that today he spoke particularly well, with a lot of good sense, and his approach was commendable.
The purpose of reviewing our procedures should be to ensure that the legislation that we produce is effectively scrutinised, revised and in some cases amended so that it may be understood more easily by those who have to implement it outside this place. The House must always be mindful of the motives for change, the least justifiable of which would be to facilitate the passage of government business.
The role of this House, as a revising chamber, increases in every Parliament as successive governments choke the legislative system with more and more Bills. One advantage of the House of Lords is that it can take a broader, longer-term and more detached view than the Commons. Unhampered by penal whipping arrangements and constituency considerations, it can be much less partisan in reaching its conclusions. Moreover, so long as it maintains its amateur status it will retain that degree of independence which is so admired outside Parliament.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, mentioned the composition of the House. From the outset, I have had reservations about an all-elected Chamber. The more I have thought about the matter and the more I have read the proposals of the Select Committee, the less I like them. Now, I believe that to have any elected members would be a great error and would drastically change the character of the House, sadly not for the better.
We seem to have become victims of the "democracy at all costs" syndrome, referred to during our debate on 7th March by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and by my noble friend Lord Waddington. Democratic elections do not guarantee democracy, nor do they necessarily contribute to efficiency. We
Presumably in any new House elected members would be paid; perhaps all Peers will be paid. Whichever route is followed, two, or several, categories of Peer will emerge, which will cause rivalries and the relationship with another place will give even more cause for concern.
The Royal Commission and the Government appear to be of one mind, in that the Commons must remain supreme. Few would disagree. However, in my view, that admirable objective could be put at risk in the longer term by the introduction of elected Peers.
The setting up of a constitutional committee is a good suggestion, even if it could be represented as closing the stable door after the horses--in the form of Scotland and Wales--have bolted. Nevertheless, it would provide the opportunity to eliminate earlier mistakes and provide wise counsel for over-enthusiastic Ministers. Setting up further committees, such as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, suggested, or Joint Committees of both Houses may help to provide experience which nowadays is lacking in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell touched upon that subject in the debate on 7th March. I agree with what he said.
When, 30 years ago, I was first elected to the Commons, I found that it contained a wealth of experience from many walks of life. Distinguished servicemen, successful businessmen, captains of industry, trade unionists who had been at the coalface have now been replaced by schoolteachers, university lecturers, merchant bankers and, of course, professional politicians, many of whom have never run anything. I do not criticise any of them individually, but I suggest that there is a lack of that wide experience that used to be available to the House of Commons. Anything that can be done to supplement existing resources should not be ignored.
Extending the role of the House of Lords by involvement in special committees and so on is one thing, but I am less convinced about increasing the powers of the House, especially if there is a possibility of having any elected members whatever. That is exactly where an elected element may see opportunities to flex its muscles and prove its legitimacy. I would prefer to see a more gradual sanction employed rather than the giving of full-blown powers of rejection.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, like many speakers before me, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Peston on introducing the debate. I have found it most interesting, having been in the House since the previous general election, and having been on both the Front Bench and the Back Benches.
I like some points about the way in which the House operates, but I feel that some matters need to be changed. However, I believe that we must get away from the amateur status. If those outside the House are
This may be a jarring note, but I feel that we need some radical solutions, for instance, dealing with all Committee stages off the Floor of the House, unless constitutional changes are involved. If we did that, I wonder whether all Members of the House should be involved in such a Committee--I have no fixed view on the matter--but that may lead to better scrutiny. I also believe that at Second Reading and in Committee amendments should not be tabled; amendments should be tabled on Report or at Third Reading. However, I do not believe that the same amendments as were tabled on Report should then be retabled at Third Reading. Like other noble Lords, I do not believe that we should have "Second Reading" speeches at every stage. That would help to improve matters. I disagree with those who say that there is no filibustering; I take that itself to be filibustering. If, once defeated, one tries again, I believe that that is filibustering.
I also agree with what has been said about Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I believe that we should have government business on those days. On Thursdays we could have non-government business so that those with long journeys could get away if they needed to do so. I believe that would make for more sensible use of the time of the House.
I know that I disagree with most noble Lords when I say that I think that we are coming to the end of self-regulation in this House. As the House becomes more professional, I feel that, even if we do not need a Speaker, we should at least give the right to intervene to the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen. That would increase control over the House. At the moment, speakers can go on and on and often we do not know who is going to speak from which Bench. Often at that point the Whip has to intervene. It would be better to put this on a more practical footing.
We ought to consider also the facilities for Members. Although sometimes we can agree, on this occasion I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, because I think that we have got to provide facilities for Members so that they can do their jobs. There should be better office, research and secretarial facilities. It would benefit the House if those were provided. Furthermore, it would help those entering the House and, in the future, those who are part-timers. That kind of back-up service would enable them to do their work properly.
I have always found it rather surprising that so many noble Lords simply rise and read out a speech. Whatever has been said in the debate, some noble Lords are determined to read out that particular speech to the end. I do not think that that adds to the debates that take place in this House or, indeed, in the
Finally, perhaps I may say that I do not think that we should lose the benefit of this debate today. We should carry it forward. The only way to do that is by securing the agreement of all parts of the House. We shall never make progress if that is not done. To that end, perhaps we should set up a review committee to look at what has been said today and at other matters that may not have been raised.
However, before I come to that point, I want to say that I think it is important to keep procedures under review and to note what, if anything, is not working. But change for change's sake is, I believe, a huge mistake and change just because we are now in the 21st century is, in my estimation, rather silly.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for instigating this debate. I have never thought of him as an arch moderniser, but having listened to the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, I hope that this is not another of the Government's modernisations, which, to date, have not been a howling success.
I worry that what is behind this debate is the wish of the Government to get their business more easily without the necessity for Members to be present in the House for many hours just in case Divisions might be called. However, I believe that the role of this House is not to set up procedures which would, in effect, rubber stamp the decisions of the other place. We are here to scrutinise legislation and, from time to time, to ask the other place to think again. It is the duty of the Opposition to operate in this way and I would be absolutely against any proposals of change for that purpose.
I am very anxious that we do establish family friendly policies so that both mothers and fathers are able to share in the thrills and spills of family life and still contribute to public life. My mind goes back about 15 years to when I was invited to take part in a discussion on "Woman's Hour". My fellow interviewee was a woman living in Bristol who, as a single parent, had employment in London. She told me that she had a three year-old daughter who accompanied her to work each day. Everything was wonderful because there was a creche. She seemed to be quite unfazed by the demands she was making on that little girl. She could not understand why I was concerned that she was dragging her daughter away from home in the early hours and not returning until late at night. I feel that such actions are selfish in the extreme and verge on cruelty. I wonder why people who take such a cavalier
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, I take the view that a creche in your Lordships' House would be quite inappropriate as our timings are, shall I say, flexible and very often go on into the hours when children should be in bed. I believe that parents should make appropriate arrangements for their children based around the home so that their upbringing can be as uninterrupted and as free as possible.
In consequence, I would favour Members being able to receive some financial support if they have a relative for whom they are responsible. I believe that that could apply to a Member with young children or children who are in need of constant care. In addition, it could apply to a Member who has a sick spouse needing care. Obviously there would have to be strict guidelines along the lines of the financial loss allowance that magistrates are able to claim under arrangements approved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
Members who attend and work in your Lordships' House without remuneration are performing a public service and should, I believe, if they incur expenditure, be able to qualify for benefits that other volunteers receive. The amount of the allowance would be the amount of the expenditure incurred or up to a limit to be set in the same manner as other allowances.
As I said earlier, I am all in favour of family friendly policies and have spent much of my life encouraging women into all forms of public life. As a consequence of that, I am aware of the demands on a mother, and indeed a father, especially at times of school holidays. I should like to suggest that your Lordships' vacation should take place in July and August when schools are on holiday. I know that the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, in her role as Minister for Women, talks continually about helping women. I speak for myself only, but I hope that the noble Baroness and noble Lords will give sympathetic consideration to these two family friendly ideas.
Finally, I am sure that this year the Lord Privy Seal will use all her powers of persuasion to ensure that everyone will be able to start their family holiday with their children and grandchildren by the end of July. Such a family friendly decision would certainly be worthy of inclusion in her glossy magazine, "Voices".
Lord Harrison: My Lords, as I have 1,000 things to say but only around 100 seconds in which to say them, I shall confine my remarks to the role, function and practice of the committee system of the House.
Because the House of Lords is primarily a revising and scrutinising chamber, it should play to those strengths by enlarging and improving its committee system. First, the proposal in the Wakeham report that we should institute new committees associated with human rights and with UK devolution is spot on.
Thirdly, the House of Lords should abandon the tortuous process of the House sitting in Committee in this Chamber. Its confrontational format and the use of the redundant grace-notes of forced politeness are barriers to the serious study and parsing of the Bills before us. At the moment, the Moses Room is used for non-controversial legislation; yet that is inadequate because of its hopeless acoustics. But we carry on taking the tablets. Real people sit around real tables to sort out real problems. Let us get real by formatting a proper, modern committee system.
Fourthly, let us increase the good work done in the European Select Committees. The House of Lords should fill the niche market of scrutinising European legislation. We should become the House of Europe. Indeed, we should become the "Time Lords" of Europe because, unlike the Commons, we have the time and inclination to forge links with other national parliaments and with the European Parliament. That is a proposal enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, but left unactivated. Let us work with other parliaments through joint committees to fill the democratic deficit.
Incidentally, since arriving here six months ago, I am often told that your Lordships' EU reports, the contents of which are often first class if boringly and unhelpfully presented, are widely read throughout Europe. Indeed, I heard that view repeated this afternoon. I am afraid that does not square with my experience of a decade as an MEP. I received only those reports for which I specifically asked. When I asked the House authorities to whom such reports were sent in Brussels, I was told only to the chairs of European parliamentary committees. How foolish! All the expenditure of producing excellent reports but failing to provide copies to British MEPs of all political persuasions on the spurious grounds of limited budgets. British MEPs are, after all, the other legislators whose vote might make the difference for Britain.
Let us recommit ourselves to that worthy objective through an improved committee system, worthy of this worthy House, at the front end of the 21st century. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Peston on helping us to get there. I see that I shall finish early; I feel that noble Lords who finish before their time should receive a special bonus at the end of the year!
The whole House is, of course, immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject today. The length of the list of speakers indicates the degree of interest in the way that this House runs and conducts its business.
There are one or two things that your Lordships may like to bear in mind. First, this House has just undergone one of the biggest changes in its history with the departure of an enormous proportion of its Members and the arrival, within the lifetime of one Parliament (in this House's terms, a mere blip in time) of an enormous number of new Members. While of course we welcome all new noble Lords and value their contributions, I am unclear how valuable those contributions are to this debate. I know that after 13 years' membership of the House I am only just beginning to fully comprehend the many nuances of its work and procedures, and that any opinion that I formed during the early months and years of my membership, when I was rather more active than I am now, were often misconceived. On balance, I would have done better to have listened and learned, and kept my own counsel for a while.
I should also say at the outset that after three years of this chaotic and unusually incompetent Government with their passion for modernisation, I have little idea of what "modernisation" means, except perhaps change for the sake of it or for short-term political gain with little thought to the long-term consequences, unless it is to engender the feeling that the Government are doing something. I have a feeling that this Government embark on programmes of change, particularly constitutional ones, as a way of distracting the electorate's attention from the failure of their domestic policies, just as mediaeval kings went to war to keep their subjects' minds off problems at home.
That having been said, I am firmly in favour of change if it leads to improvement, and this House, like any body or institution, is always capable of being improved. There are two distinct areas which bear careful examination. First, your Lordships may wish to examine ways in which the Members might be assisted in fulfilling their role. The conditions in which we work, the facilities made available to us and the system of remuneration are all areas that could be improved. For instance, I should like to see better research facilities, and I am not the first speaker today to say that. Like other speakers, I have long thought that the present system of expenses is wholly inappropriate, and the concept that it is linked to daily attendance presumes that all activity linked to membership of this House ceases on those days when this House is not sitting. That is clearly absurd. While I am uncomfortable with the idea of a salary, I recognise too that the amounts provided for day and overnight subsistence are way below a reasonable sum for either, and I suspect it results in some real difficulties for some Members of your Lordships' House.
I have heard, and my noble friend Lady Seccombe mentioned it, that there is talk of a creche. I have no desire to get involved in that particular debate today and on balance would probably prefer a kennel to a creche. But I am one of the younger Members of this House who has young children. My noble friend Lord Goschen in front of me has also, as well as my noble
The other area we should look at is the way that the House conducts its business--the procedures of the House. In fact we do change and develop our procedures through the committees of the House. There have been many changes in the time that I have been here, and doubtless there will be more in the future. But the governing criteria that we should all bear in mind is that change should facilitate the role of the Back-Bencher and, most important of all, it should not make it easier for the executive to get their business through. That only serves to diminish the role of Parliament in general and this House in particular. That role has already been diminished too much and, particularly under the present Government, the position of the executive is far too strong.
It is for that reason that I am opposed to guillotines. I am equally concerned about the idea of having fixed sitting times and fixed votes, both of which, though helpful to individual Members, are far more helpful to the government of the day.
There are enormous problems in bringing forward any changes, and many of them have been touched upon today. The biggest of those I suspect is the enormous increase in legislation--not only the increase in the size of legislation, but also the deterioration in its quality. There are too many Bills; they are far too big; and they arrive in your Lordships' House in a frightful mess. Consequently, they require far too many amendments, and far too many government amendments. Those we should resist if we possibly can. Perhaps this House should have the ability to compel the Government to divide over-sized Bills into smaller, more manageable ones and the power to reject at any stage, even before Second Reading, Bills that require amendments that fundamentally alter their shape and which the Commons has not debated. That would at least focus the Government's attention on the need to improve their legislative performance.
It is difficult to make progress in this area, but the clock is ticking and this debate serves to remind us of that. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and it is interesting that it should take such an experienced and respected Labour Back-Bencher to put his own party under pressure on this subject.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, we are indeed grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston for initiating this very important and timely debate. He did so highly effectively and in a balanced way that was, as always, run through with much humour and wit.
It is an enormous privilege, especially as a relatively new Peer, to be a legislator in the House of Lords in the 21st century. Our aim in our work, from whichever part of the House we originate, has to be to increase the effectiveness of this Chamber in making good law and, of course, in holding the executive to account. To do that properly and in a modern context, we must facilitate Peers' work, particularly by ensuring that we are able, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, effectively to combine our parliamentary work, our paid and unpaid work outside the House, as well as our family life and responsibilities.
In order to achieve these properly ambitious aims of being a first-class modern legislature, it is not good enough at the beginning of the 21st century to say, "Well, this is how things have always been for decades and with the odd tweak of procedure here and there we can carry on this way for the next half century". Nor is it any use to say to those of us who do advocate some sensible modernisation, "Well, you knew what you were letting yourself in for when you came into this House; you knew that late nights and politics go together like Flanders and Swann, fish and chips and New and Labour".
Those arguments, as well as having more than a whiff of complacency about them, will cut no ice with the kind of people we want to attract to our 21st-century House. Who are the people that we want to attract? They are the experts and the professionals in their fields--people who need more than a few communal phones on an open-corridor table to conduct their professional lives outside the House, as well as their political responsibilities within the House. Who are the people we want to see? We want to see the captains and "captainesses"--if that is a word--of industry, who need more than serial tea parties to ensure that their corporate business remains intact while they perform their political duties. They need a few facilities, such as offices, computer points and workstations along with, perhaps, a proper reception area for visitors. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the staff in this House, who do an enormous amount of good work and are extremely courteous. Indeed, as one of my noble friends has said, it is a small miracle how the staff keep this place operating day by day.
I suggest that what we want to see as regards the people who come here in the 21st century--at least, what many of us want--is the minimum 30 per cent of women Members as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in his Recommendation 70. If that is ever to come about, we need to have a House of Lords that is female friendly and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, is also family friendly. It is not just special pleading, as intimated by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, when we call for realistic facilities to be made available. Indeed, every effective business and firm in
Along with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, I helped to establish the creche in the European Parliament 10 years ago. We heard all the arguments about it not being necessary and about it being completely outside the reason for us doing our political work. Yet we overcame those arguments and, indeed, the challenges of having children from 15 countries speaking 11 different languages to each other in that creche. It is now accepted as a normal, reasonable part of the working facilities of that Parliament and is highly effective.
So we have a challenge to ensure that Members in this Parliament can complete their work in the knowledge that they are making a contribution and without bearing the burden of guilt that they are not giving enough time to their responsibilities here because of the pull on their outside responsibilities. We are already making progress in that respect. I believe that the transitional House has a working atmosphere that perhaps the pre-transitional Chamber did not quite have.
While listening to the reaction of some noble Lords to even the necessity for this debate, it seemed to me that there was a danger of the debate becoming hijacked by the past and by a certain ancestor worship. Indeed, we must respect the past but we must not cling to it without justification. Recruiting people with different experiences and from different industries and races means that we are being seen by the public as a pluralist, progressive and purposeful House of Lords. Down the road we have a building called the Tate Modern: let us be the "politics modern" of the 21st century.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thought that the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, clearly illustrated an independent-minded, thought-provoking and loyal Back-Bencher--indeed, to use the term of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, a "real person". I hope the noble Lord considers that there are more than one or two real people in this House--perhaps even some who do not find the need, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, seems to believe, to be artificially polite, but only when they are in this Chamber and when they do not have their sleeves rolled up. This House is full of people who give a very real contribution to our political settlement, to the debate of important issues and to the scrutiny of government. That is why we are here. I do not believe that we should ever lose sight of our primary objective.
I feel that this discussion of procedures is extremely valid, particularly in the context of the extraordinary changes that this House has undergone within the past year. However, we ought to look at those procedures with a certain degree of respect. I wholly reject the statement made a few moments ago that the House of Lords as it was formerly constituted perhaps did not have the reputation of being, shall we say, a working
It must be the keynote of our debate to look at the effectiveness of the House of Lords as it stands at present. We must look at the output of the House and the degree to which it does hold government to account. That is sometimes uncomfortable for government. I certainly felt very uncomfortable at 2 o'clock in the morning, when, as a Whip, I used to sit and listen to employment debates. I see the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is nodding his head; indeed, I believe that we shared a degree of discomfort at that time. However, we were doing an important job. Part of the reason why this House sits so long is because of the freedom of the Back-Bencher to raise issues--not to face a guillotine and an executive that says, "We've heard enough of this line of argument. Therefore, we shall stop it". The key of this House is the ability of the Back-Bencher, as well as the Official Opposition and all Members of the House, to hold government strongly to account.
This House comes out well in any comparison with another place and, indeed, with the European Parliament in terms of the volume of legislation that it considers and the commitment of all its Members--be they hereditary Peers, appointed Peers, Bishops, Law Lords, or whoever. We should be measured by the output of the House. However, that does not mean that I am against change. I believe that we should look very carefully at our procedures in many areas, but I would argue most strongly against constraints such as guillotine measures and timed votes designed to make the Government's life easier. As almost every speaker this afternoon has said, the Government have a very strong role to play here by bringing forward more carefully considered legislation--legislation which does not require 300, 400 or 500 government amendments to put it into the sort of shape that the public demands and expects of this House. Less legislation would undoubtedly prove to be a major benefit.
Another question that was raised this afternoon is whether our current rules are sufficient for this House. Many of the rules do cover a number of the problems that we have, or are perceived to have, as regards the way that the House works at present. However, there is, perhaps, a degree to which the rules are there but are not being adhered to; indeed, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to the number of Second Reading speeches in Committee, and so on. I certainly agree with him in that respect, although I always think that it is a question of other people making Second Reading speeches and oneself making powerful and well-argued interventions that are fully suited to the Committee stage.
I believe that there is considerable advantage in taking Committee stages within the Chamber of the whole House. That focuses the attention of more Peers of the whole House on the business that is under consideration. To have too many processes running parallel might dilute that degree of consideration.
I accept that we work long hours. I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Mancroft; namely, that when Members come to this House, either via the route of the hereditary peerage or by appointment, part of the deal is that they have to put in the hours that will enable us to perform our role effectively. However, we certainly sit for extraordinary lengths of time and perhaps some of the points that have been mentioned should be considered.
I agreed with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said, particularly when he mentioned the reading of speeches. He put his finger right on the button in that regard. However, I thoroughly disagreed with him as regards the need for a Speaker. If Peers who have been Members of this House for some time as well as previous generations of Peers have been able to exercise the self-constraint and courtesy which a self-governing House requires, I see no reason whatsoever why incoming Peers should not also be fully capable of doing the same. I do not think that the noble Lord's comment says a great deal for his attitude towards his contemporaries.
Finally, I urge the Government not to pursue measures that simply make their life easier and make it easier to process legislation in pursuit of a system which fully facilitates the digestion of large quantities of legislation at short notice. We need full consideration.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing this debate. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, I do not think that any of us should simply try to make the life of government easier.
I too believe that the prime role of the House of Lords is the scrutiny of legislation. However, that has considerable implications for both the composition and the working practices of the House of Lords. After all, nowadays the shelf life of knowledge is extremely short, particularly in some rapidly changing fields. If the House of Lords is to have access to the degree of expertise that is required, we must guard against it becoming a Chamber which only barristers, those who are fully retired or those who live within the M25 boundary can possibly attend. We need to consider that matter.
I know that noble Lords have addressed my next point in the past. I hope that they will address it again in the future and produce on that occasion a favourable verdict. I believe that there is an overwhelming case for moving the general business day from Wednesday to either Monday or Thursday. If our prime duty is the scrutiny of legislation, it does not follow that we should deliberately prolong that process to a four-day week when some people may
It would be a serious mistake--it is interesting to note how many speakers have echoed this point--if a significant element of the House were to be directly elected. I must confess that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, showed great ingenuity in suggesting a 15-year term with no re-election. However, an elected element still poses some dangers. I believe that it would undoubtedly endanger the primacy of the House of Commons. If people are elected to this House at a different point in the electoral cycle, they could claim that they have a greater democratic legitimacy than Members of the House of Commons. If they are elected by a different electoral method--perhaps a better electoral method than that employed for the House of Commons--the same claim could be made. As I said, such a process would endanger the primacy of the House of Commons. If such a process were adopted in this House, it would undoubtedly pose a danger of creating first and second-class citizens. We should guard against that danger.
Even given the ingenious suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, of the 15-year term, there is still the problem of the payment of salaries. If one pays salaries to elected Peers, one cannot in all conscience not pay salaries to all Peers. We shall all work equally hard. Problems would arise in that area. If this House, which has borne great testimony to the tradition of public service in this country, suddenly decides to pay salaries to its Members, I believe that the public will assume that they must be doing more than they were before the House took that step, and therefore that the House has more powers. I am afraid that the payment of salaries would engender that problem. On the other hand, it is important that lack of means should not be a bar to anyone entering this House. Therefore I readily support the payment of distinctly more generous allowances than those paid currently, which, frankly, are unrealistic.
I also echo the pleas for better facilities in this House. If people are to combine service in this House with some perfectly legitimate public service or business activities elsewhere, they need, for example, to be able to keep in touch with offices. Consideration of such elementary points is overdue.
There is also a case for considering the way in which we run Committee stages. As a comparative newcomer to this House, it has always seemed to me a little silly that we take virtually all stages of a Bill in one House and then do the same in the other House. Surely, if Second Reading is meant to be an issue of principle, we should take the Second Reading of a Bill in both Houses and then take the Committee stage. I wonder whether we could take a revolutionary step and have a
I am sure that all noble Lords accept the vital importance of the Cross-Benchers. It is important that a government should have to win a vote in this House rather than simply rely on being able to do that. However, for that to apply, the vote must be winnable and the balance of Cross-Benchers should be genuinely independent and not closet admirers of one political party or another. A heavy onus will be placed on the body charged with the appointment of Cross-Bench Members to ensure that that result is achieved.
Finally, the present conventions, by and large, ensure that the clear will of government, as expressed in a manifesto, will not be frustrated. The delaying power of the House of Lords is, however, extremely useful in focusing media and public attention on individual issues. It is ultimately that awakened public opinion which persuades government to change their mind. If the Lords is to carry weight at the bar of public opinion, it will be because the public will have come to trust the verdict that we reach.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for initiating this debate I am sure he would agree that he is subjecting us all to intense frustration because so much that has been said is of great moment to all of us but one has time only to make broadly one point.
However, in passing, I say that as a relative new boy I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, am immensely grateful to the staff who make the working of this place not only efficient on the whole but also a pleasure. I have spent nearly 20 years of my professional life dealing with the constitutional reorganisation of institutions of every conceivable kind. I remind noble Lords--if reminder is needed--that there is no institution or organisation which is remotely as complicated as this one. To contrive to create a democratic assembly that does justice to all the things that we hold dear is, frankly, a work that the Archangel Gabriel could not satisfactorily undertake and deliver. If we were all to observe the Companion--I must be one of the most non-observant Members of your Lordships' House--many of the complaints that have been voiced today would disappear.
Many noble Lords have concentrated on the issue of the effectiveness of this House. Effectiveness can be looked at internally and externally. Today, understandably, most noble Lords have concentrated on the internal effectiveness of the workings of the House. However, even if we were perfect in all respects, it would be fruitless if we were externally ineffective, and here I take up the theme started by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.
How would we judge external effectiveness? I suspect that we would judge it by how much notice people took of what we said and did here; by how much they were aware of what we were doing here; by how much they felt they owned what we were doing here; by how much they felt involved in and committed to what we were doing here. I fear that by all those yardsticks, one would come out with a fairly dismal story.
I do not need to labour the fact that democracy in this country is currently in extremely bad shape. I think that sometimes we rather brush all that under the plush carpets of Westminster. The voting statistics--whether municipal, mayoral, national or European--all point in one direction, as do all other signs of democratic health.
But, having been given a voice, one needs to have someone to provide a voice for; someone with whom one has a close relationship. I come back to what I said earlier: I do not think that we have that relationship. We have to, by every means, resuscitate the vitality of this House in the minds and hearts of our fellow countrypeople.
One may ask, "Is that not being done?" I fear that it is not. Only since 1996 have we had an information office in this House. It does brilliantly, but it comprises only one director, one personal assistant and two telephonists, with a budget of £75,000 a year. If I may say so, that is a smaller resource than even a modest sized company would have these days to spread its message and its image.
If we are to take seriously--as I am sure we do--the impact of this place in the world beyond, we have to look to perhaps creating a committee for external affairs. One hesitates to suggest creating a new committee, but we need a committee which has an exclusive duty to invigorate public realisation of what we are about. We need to make people aware when big Bills are to be discussed; to ascertain whether people have a point of view to feed into the process; to make them aware that important debates are coming up.
I am staggered how few people seem to know when we do have important debates. In the recent debate on tourism, I discovered that the East of England Tourist Board was unaware that the debate was taking place. When we have a good debate, how often does it reverberate within these ancient and hallowed walls, and nowhere else? Why is it that the Guardian newspaper has ceased to have a lobby correspondent?
I want us to provide speakers for all occasions--indeed, I want to encourage people to come to us for speakers. I want us to have an effective website, to which reference has been made. I want us to do everything we possibly can to enable a bemused citizenry to take part in the deliberations of this fine House.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I believe that the prospect of a fundamental future change to this House is a cloud which hangs over the things that need to be changed. In saying that, as the Leader of the House knows, I, among others, accepted the need to deal with the perceived problem of there being previously an overwhelming number of hereditary Peers in this House. I accepted that the Labour Party had a mandate to do what it spelt out in its manifesto. I never accepted the view of my party encapsulated in the slogan, "No stage one without stage two".
However, as a result of the brilliant negotiating skills of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I believe that we have ended up with the best of both worlds. We have now in the House more than 100 of the most distinguished and able of our hereditary colleagues, as well as having those who have been appointed for life. When one is asked, as I am sure we all are, "What is the difference in the House between then and now?", I reply that I find remarkably little difference except for a greater self-confidence.
If there were to be a need for a stage two, my noble friend Lord Wakeham has produced an ingenious and perhaps workable compromise package for the future. However, my belief is that no government should contemplate further structural reform until we have had the time--at least five years--to see how the new structure we have today works in practice.
That is not only because there is no longer the political demand for further reform at grass-roots level, or because any government's legislative programme would certainly have higher priorities--we have heard much about the compaction of the programme to introduce new, highly controversial legislation--but much more because the British constitution is a delicate plant. It would be crazy to embark on further changes when the inter-effect of many of the changes which have already taken place are only now beginning to provide perplexing and often unexpected results.
In my remaining few minutes I should like to make four points. First, it is crucial that new appointees to this House add to the lustre and credibility of the whole House. I recognise that it has not been easy for the Labour Party to find the numbers it requires in the time available. However, new Labour is so different from old Labour that its net could catch some bright fishes which would have previously swum vigorously in the opposite direction.
My second point concerns the Procedure Committee. I am extremely suspicious that there is an intention in certain quarters to use the Procedure Committee to introduce changes to make the Government's life--any government's life--easier. I would not accept that.
My third point is that we have to improve facilities for Members. I am opposed to a taxable remuneration. Indeed, I wonder how many people have recently refused peerages on the basis that we were not paid. I was a member of the ad hoc group of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. We made certain proposals to the Government, which were agreed. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said that it takes a long time for us to get anything decided. It will be a good test of what the noble Lord said to see whether we can get those modest and practical proposals imposed within a rapid time-scale.
My fourth point is much more specific: there is a significant information gap for Peers. Although we have a superb Library, and Parliament as a whole has made a big attempt to introduce us to the wonders of IT through the PDVN, there is one astonishing lacuna: Members do not have access to any of the main-line economic databases. These have been expanding very rapidly in both capability and user friendliness. For many years, Datastream and Reuters dominated the scene. They were very expensive--with an annual subscription rate of some tens of thousands of pounds--but now there are new entrants into the market.
I was recently given a demonstration of a new Swedish product called Ecowin, which, in collaboration with Reuters, provides an astonishing range of financial and economic information. Social information may easily be grafted on to it. Not only does it have the advantage of operating through the Windows system, which we all have on our PCs, but it is a great deal cheaper. For the first user, it is £6,000 per year; for the second, £3,000; and for the third and subsequent subscribers, it is only £1,500.
Those are practical ways in which I believe we can be made more effective. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for introducing this debate, will at least agree with me on that particular proposal.
Lord Brett: My Lords, when I put down my name to speak in this debate I did so with great trepidation as I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for only a few months. I did so with the intention of regaling noble Lords with my immediate reaction on becoming a Member of this House. However, I found myself in total agreement with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. Therefore, it is with even greater trepidation that I now speak because I have only half the service of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and I am twice as liable and vulnerable to the patronising of certain Members opposite. I also agreed very much with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Hoyle.
What I think is a great strength of the House is its friendly nature--we call it comradeship in some other quarters--which transcends party lines. A second strength is the quality of debate. I stand in admiration of the quality of debate which I have heard from all Benches. The third strength is the quality of the staff. Those were my initial impressions and they remain with me. I formed a second impression. On my first day as a Member of the House I could not find a hotel within the allowance paid me to stay in a hotel overnight. The only remotely reasonable allowance is the motor mileage allowance.
I also enjoyed very much the star performance of my noble friend Lord Bragg. My only point of difference with him is that I am not yet personally convinced on the question of payment of salaries. But I am convinced that if we are to have people doing a good job here we have to pay, not, as has been said, "generous expenses", but expenses which do not leave people out of pocket. I think that is not a major earth-shattering decision that requires a great deal of legislation.
I sit on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation, where I lead a group of 24 worker members from around the world. Among that group are four members of the upper chambers of their parliaments, one from Venezuela, one from Chile, one from the Czech Republic and one from Barbados. They all congratulated me on my becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. We swapped anecdotes about the workload, the allowances, the conditions and the back-up in our respective parliaments. On every single point they were astonished. None of their astonishment was to the credit of this House. The workload is far in excess of anything that they would know and the facilities are far less than anything that they would expect. I told them that the research department for the whole of this House consists of four people. That astonishes me because my research department when I was a trade union leader had eight people in it. Research cannot even start to be done unless we have adequate and efficient ways of doing it.
I will give ground to those who would say that I have not been here long enough to play a major part in a discussion about how to change the constitutional way we do things in committees and so on, but I am content, having heard speeches today and indeed
I do not personally quarrel about the late nights. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, you accept the package as it comes. However, I am equally clear that they are not helpful in terms of family circumstances, even my own. I have two children of school age and a wife who is an academic. We manage to balance the child care until we come to the school holidays because of course they never coincide with either her leave or mine. Therefore, there is a difficulty. Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, my children are at school and therefore the opportunity to see them this morning, after a finish beyond midnight, was very limited, and the opportunity to see them tonight is totally denied. We have to find more family friendly policies. One has only to look at international comparisons. We are a very strange organisation if we are not able to make changes which are not constitutional but managerial.
My final point is a personal plea. I should like to see a room here where you could simply take your laptop, plug it in and have access to the Internet. That could be communal. We do not have to have individual offices. I am not, as was suggested earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, looking for a luxurious office. A locker would be a start. I think that half a chair leg is as much as I can expect in terms of accommodation in the next five years. If we had a communal area, one could have what the Americans call "hot-desking". But your Lordships should worry not. This House, with a capacity for perhaps 300 people--for the past 300 years people entitled to be here have been measured in hundreds more than that--we could claim to have invented the phrase, but here it is called "hot-benching", particularly at Question Time when we have to wait to take our places. So if we can do it in the Chamber why can we not modernise our backroom operations? Why can we not move into the 21st century?
I am very much attracted by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about the personal website. Certainly, I have been receiving messages on the Internet. I do not know how people obtained my e-mail address, but it came after the debate on the age of consent. Most of it was fairly hostile to my view, but it
All major political parties in this country agree that we should remain members of the European Union. Yet, as we all know, it is not by any means a universally popular opinion among the British public. I believe that one of the reasons for this serious matter is that government's political and administrative activities in this part of the political landscape are not sufficiently scrutinised. Rather I believe that they are thought to be arranged behind the Arras where The Foreigner--spelt with a capital T and a capital F--always cheats. I actually believe that the same kind of view is held elsewhere in other member states.
In a world which is becoming--to use an architectural metaphor--more and more open plan, government in future will take more actions which either de jure or de facto are legislative, not in this Parliament but outside it, and outside the jurisdiction as well. Whether or not we are in or out of the European Union will not alter that.
Perhaps I may for a moment put on my hat as a Member of the European Parliament, I am able to scrutinise the Commission and also the European Council as a whole. I have no direct leverage or access to Her Majesty's Government. My experience in your Lordships' House on the Government Front Bench, when I used to attend the Audio-visual and Culture Councils, corroborated by my time as an Opposition Front-Bencher and on the Back Benches, suggests to me that on the whole this House and this Parliament are often in the dark about what our government are up to on our behalf in international fora. I believe that that is inherently undesirable and that it damages the political process in this country and democracy. For that reason, I am delighted that the Royal Commission looks in the future to this House for greater scrutiny of European business.
Turning to the Government's package of constitutional reforms over the past few years, I notice one big dog that does not bark. Perhaps to be more accurate, the mastiff that was expressly muzzled by the instructions given to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his commission. I refer to the pre-eminence of the other place, which has acquired, passed down from Parliament to Parliament, a quasi-sacramental character inherited by each House of Commons from its predecessor.
As I have explained to your Lordships on other occasions, I am a bicameralist. I am not looking for parity between the Chambers, merely greater equivalence. I want this Chamber and this House to increase their political role. I am in favour of checks and balances in the constitution and I am opposed to monopoly and excessive concentrations of power.
The pre-eminence of the other place is kept in place principally by the Parliament Acts and conventions which relate, on the whole, to legislation and public finance. They are more or less silent about scrutiny which, for the reasons I have outlined, will, I believe, become ever more important as the nature of the world we are moving into changes. I believe that, increasingly, policy areas traditionally considered to be domestic will be the subject of legislation enacted away from here.
There is a remarkable opportunity before the House which the House should seize. We should develop our system of scrutiny, already highly regarded by the specialist and the expert, and extend it thoroughly and methodically to all areas where our government are negotiating outside the jurisdiction to legislate, or committing themselves to legislate, or to spend our money. If we do that well--I believe that we can do it well--I am confident that we can regain a place much closer to the centre of national political life which has been lost over the past couple of centuries or so because of the arguments about our composition. If we can do that, we would be doing the right thing for the House but, much more importantly, it would be in the wider national interest.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is a special pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I suppose that I have a family bias in his case, but the noble Lord is the personification of what we want to see in an hereditary Peer. I may be biased in that direction also, but he is the kind of hereditary Peer we want.
I have said many times how saddened I have been by the disappearance of some very good Members of the House who were hereditary Peers. But, by and large, one has to say that it is now a better balanced House than when I first arrived. At that time there were only a handful of Labour Peers. It is altogether a better balanced place. As long as we have 100 or so Members who are hereditary Peers, we shall not go far wrong. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I am very optimistic about the future of the House.
I realise that many Members of the House perform their best service in committees--either during the Committee stage of Bills or in special committees or specialist bodies. I have not done anything of value in committees but I have opened many debates in the House, some of them quite recent. It is dangerous to boast because you always find someone who has opened a few more than you have, but on the face of it I have opened more than most--debates on homosexuality, prisons, universities, polytechnics, hospices and suchlike. Perhaps I may put my message
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