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Lord Morgan: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that, on the substance as opposed to the politics of these changes, specialist authorities on the constitution, such as the University of London constitutional unit, endorse all these proposals on devolution, on the supreme court and on disaggregating the Lord Chancellor's judicial, legislative and executive roles? Does not that process necessarily include allowing the Lords to choose their own chairman, as happens in every other upper House in Europe and indeed in the Commonwealth? Why should we be different? The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with exquisite phrasing, mentioned "precipitate reform" in terms rather reminiscent of the Duke of Wellington in 1832. I would point out to the House that the position of Lord Chancellor was created in 610 and that 1,400 years does not suggest precipitate reform.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to my choice as first contributor. I am not quite so hot on history. Today it is 1,400 years, whereas, last week, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, told me that it was 800 years. But times does pass quickly sometimes.
Lord Denham: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the office he holds has always been regarded as first and foremost that of Leader of the whole House, and only then as leader of the government party within it? Were not your Lordships therefore right to think that they could look to him for protection from the quite exceptional indignities heaped on the House last Thursday? The noble and learned Lord is one of the most honourable and courteous Members of this House. What I really do find frightening therefore is not so much that he should ignore the conventions of the House in this way, but the thoughtand on this he has given a couple of hints
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I said exactly the opposite. I repeat: it is a matter of perfect indifference to me in this constitutional sense whether the overwhelmingly large majority in the Commons was a Conservative one under Mrs Thatcher or a Labour one under Mr Blair. I said that twice. The point is that if we have a very large, some would say overweening, majority in the House of Commons at any time, this House needs to be properly equipped to be an effective and efficient check and balance.
It is said that my duty is to protect the interests of this House, and I hope that I do so. However, I repeat: what is being offered is not the accretion of central executive power; it is in fact the offer to do away with it in the three areas that I have identified. I will stick to the one that matters for this afternoon, if I may. The Prime Minister is saying to your Lordships, "As an independent constituent part of a constitutional Parliament, would it not be prudent for you to elect your own Speaker?" I see nothing discourteous in that.
I think that it is absolutely sensible that these issues should be discussed. If it came to my opinion, which let us not forget is in a minorityabout 27 per cent of the vote on a good dayI would say this. If this House wishes to reinvigorate itself, I believe that it ought to. It ought to do its work better. Part of its work is to check a central executive. If we want to do that work, how is it that we do not feel bold and confident enough to elect our own Speaker? To my knowledge, and as my noble friend Lord Morgan said, no comparable Chamber has a Speaker imposed on it by the diktat of the government.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, I should like to raise a specific point which the noble and learned Lord has already faced several times. It seems to me that there is a division between quite a number of Members of this House, if not a majority, to whom the issue of the appointment of a Speaker is a very significant issue indeed and those who feel differently. The word "Speaker" has very clear connotations in this building: it is someone who controls, as happens in the House of Commons, the conduct of the debate. I can well imagine that that arrangement impresses many people, particularly those from the Commons, as the ideal system.
Uniquely, this HouseI am sorry if this sounds pompouscontrols itself and in my view that works very well indeed. As the noble and learned Lord said, the House has occasionally to be helped by someone sitting on the Government Front Bench, but in my
The House of Commons is totally different and I think that a careful study of some of the points of order which can go on for four pages before a debate begins might be a lesson to us. The Statement sounded slightly ominous as regards whether the Prime Minister, left with no proposals from here, would present some of his own and the question is really whether a full-time Speaker will be imposed and have regulation as his main priority.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not dissent from the noble Lord's analysis, which I tried, I hope, to meet when I spoke earlier. We need to distinguish between the post itself and the functions attached to that post. I myself think that we do much better than the House of Commons, for example, in having a speakers list. In many ways, the self-regulation is an attractive part of this House. That light-touch self-regulation does not need to change if we elect our own presiding officer. It does not need to change at all. Indeed, it cannot change without the Standing Orders being changed, and the Standing Orders cannot be changed at the behest of the Government because we have only 27 per cent of the vote. So the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and I, not for the first time, are in agreement about the analysis. If we distinguish between the post itself and the functions to be carried out by a presiding officer or Speakeror whatever name might be chosenwe can continue in a more apparently effective and independent way.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has asked us quite properly to focus on the speakership of this House, but the post of the Lord Chancellor has ramifications on a wide area of British life. I wonder what consultative processes will be engaged in and what thought will be given to those aspects of that office if it is abolished, not least the ecclesiastical patronage in England and the rights of parishioners which is presently exercised by the office of the Lord Chancellor.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very good point. There will be two consultation papers specifically dealing with a judicial appointments commission and the question of an independent supreme court. Plainly there will have to be consultation on the ecclesiastical issues and others. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor is visitor to many universities; so apparently is the Lord President of the Council. These matters need to be consulted on. However, there is no difficulty in having informed, courteous consultation. I am bound to say that in all my dealings with him over many years, the
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a comment made by my noble friend Lord McNally when he suggested the setting up of a committee to look at the wider issue. The Leader of the House says the two issues are whether we should elect a Speaker and what the powers should be. It may be better to put those matters the other way around and examine first what the powers should be and then what kind of person will be necessary to exert those powers.
I am very much at one with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in his analysis of the situation. There is no doubtI believe this view is shared all round the Housethat we would greatly prefer to remain totally self-regulatory. However, if that is the case, from time to time we shall have to exert a little more self discipline. When I sit on the Woolsack or in the chair in Grand Committee I hear speeches at Second Reading, Committee stage and Report stage going over and over the same matters and I begin to wonder whether we are as self-regulating as we might be. I offer that as a cautionary word. I certainly do not want to see changes from self-regulation, but my noble friend's suggestion of a Select Committee to consider this matter in a broader spectrum than we are doing in the present consultations may be a good idea.
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