Sir William Michael Hardy Spicer, having been created Baron Spicer, of Cropthorne in the County of Worcestershire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Goodlad, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The right honourable Michael David Wills, having been created Baron Wills, of North Swindon in the County of Wiltshire and of Woodside Park in the London Borough of Barnet, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Blackstone and Lord Bach, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Dolar Amarshi Popat, Esquire, having been created Baron Popat, of Harrow in the London Borough of Harrow, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Strathclyde and Lord Sheikh, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Inter-Parliamentary Union World Conference of Speakers is to take place in Geneva next week. Accordingly, I seek leave of absence from your Lordships' House on Monday 19 July.
Lord Pannick: I am grateful to the Minister. Will he congratulate the Lord Chancellor on his 70th birthday earlier this month, and suggest to him that to require Justices of the Supreme Court to retire at that age, if they were appointed to the Bench after March 1995, is a terrible waste of judicial experience, wisdom and knowledge? It is especially unfortunate when some Supreme Court Justices are only appointed to that court in their mid to late 60s.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I first assure the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Lord Chancellor and I share the view that reaching 70 is not the end of a contribution to public life. In fact, in this House most think that it is only beginning. The age limit of 70 was brought in by the reforms of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. The Lord Chancellor is examining it, and he is also consulting carefully with the judiciary.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I declare an interest: I am only 58. Does the noble Lord, who is a great friend of the Supreme Court, agree that the problem is now urgent? There is a member of the Supreme Court-the noble and learned Lord, Lord Collins-who will be forced to retire after only 18 months in the job of Supreme Court Justice. If the matter is not looked at and dealt with quickly, it will be a great loss to law in this country.
Lord McNally: I hear what the noble and learned Lord says. As he knows, there are ongoing arguments for making maximum use of the undoubted talent in the Supreme Court-his point-and about what others rather inelegantly call "bed blockers". How to bring forward and rejuvenate the Supreme Court must also be fed into this debate.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, further to a point that has already been made, may I remind the Minister that age is not the only consideration that must be borne in mind when finding a replacement for one of the Justices of the Supreme Court? In particular, there are members of that court who have a special expertise that is very difficult to replace. Although we have not
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Lord McNally: My Lords, I hear entirely what the noble and learned Lord says. Without prejudging the issue to which he referred, dare I say that hard cases make bad law? However, there is a wider issue about our Supreme Court. It would perhaps be revolutionary to get our second woman and our first ethnic minority representative in the Supreme Court. A lot of work has to be done if we are to have a Supreme Court that reflects Britain in the 21st century but there is clearly room for 58 year-olds in it as well.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the finest judgments of the past century have been made by Law Lords in their 70s? Does he not think it sensible to retain people who in all probability are at the height of their intellectual powers when they are over 70 and ensure that they are not lost to the judiciary just because some slightly younger people aged 58 or 59 perhaps also ought to be there? You can always create more posts in total.
Lord McNally: These are very powerful arguments, which may be why the Lord Chancellor is looking at the matter. However, as I said, in parallel with the concern to retain the talent of the Supreme Court, there is, or should be, a similar concern to ensure that our Supreme Court better reflects our society in the 21st century.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Bearing in mind the comment just made by the noble Lord that breadth is important, and given that so many women have to take time out of their career, does he agree that one of the ways of ensuring that breadth is by identifying talent-not age or gender-as the criterion which should determine appointment to and retention of these posts?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Minister will know that there is certain angst that Supreme Court Justices no longer get a peerage. Will they get an automatic peerage on retirement at 70, or will it depend on performance in the eye of the Government of the day?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government welcome the report. We are pleased that it recognises the considerable progress prisons have made in meeting the religious needs of Muslim prisoners.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he accept that it is a matter of serious concern that Muslim inmates constitute 10 per cent of our prison population as against a representation of 3 per cent in the community? There is no evidence that this group is proportionally involved in more crime than any other racial or religious group. Will he therefore undertake to ensure that the sentencing guidelines and the sentencing variables have no adverse impact on this group? Will he also develop a strategy for effective staff engagement with Muslims in which prison staff and the Muslim community are involved?
Lord McNally: My Lords, there may be several reasons why the proportion of Muslims in custody is as it is. I was surprised to find that they constituted 3 per cent of the population but 10 per cent plus of the prison population. Further study is needed to see whether we can identify some of the reasons for this.
On training, we are committed to developing effective communication between prisoners and staff. We have already taken a number of actions aimed at ensuring effective staff engagement with Muslim prisoners. During my briefing, I was shown a card issued to all staff on how to engage with Muslim prisoners. It very much emphasises a respect for their faith and how it should be handled within the prison.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, what is the rate of conversion to Islam within prisons and what steps are the Prison Service taking in terms of monitoring radicalisation and external speakers who come into prisons?
Lord McNally: I do not have precise figures on conversions, but I know the background to this question of whether or not there is radical Islamisation in prisons. The studies that I have been shown reveal no conclusive evidence of this, although there are examples which give rise to concern. The staff and the wider Prison Service keep a close eye on imams in prisons. Bringing them in to lecture, preach and minister within
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The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the work of imams in the Prison Service, which is warmly commended in the report? Does he agree with my own experience that a general difference between a good prison and a bad prison is the relationship between the staff and the inmates and that what is so significant about the report's findings is that there are so many negative perceptions of Islam among wide sections of prison staff?
Lord McNally: First, in parallel, I pay tribute to the role that Anglican and other Christian pastors play in our Prison Service, which is greatly appreciated. On the dangers of radicalisation in prison, in many ways prison staff reflect the fears of our wider society. Therefore, it is worth reminding people that only 80 of those in prison are there for terrorist offences and that the vast majority of convictions are not terrorist-related. What we must not do-and we have some hard lessons to learn from drug regimes-is think that people go to prison as Muslims or having converted to Islam and are then radicalised. There are dangers that prison could provide this kind of background. I was, in fact, talking with my noble friend Lord Dholakia about the idea of perhaps encouraging more young and successful Muslim entrepreneurs from society in general to become prison visitors or mentors, make contact with these young people and demonstrate to them that there is a positive role. I said at the beginning that there is an impressive training programme which is trying to educate the staff to deal with this problem.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, given the chief inspector's recent report, can the Minister find out what proportion of prisoners are Muslim by conversion and let those who have asked questions today know the answer, given that it would affect the statistical discrepancy?
Lord McNally: I will find out, write to the noble Lord and put a copy of the letter in the Library. It is clear that the statistical discrepancy is not explained by mass conversions in prison. There is a suspicion by old hands that some people may convert because they think that it will give them a more privileged regime. However, I suspect that sometimes people-well, I will go no further. We are looking at conversion as an old soldier's way of missing out some of the more onerous parts of the prison regime, but the main discrepancy lies far deeper. I will get the exact figures and put them in the Library.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the Waterloo and Trafalgar murals in the Royal Gallery are painted on plaster using the water-glass technique, and no safe and effective method for their cleaning has yet been established. Early next year, the Curator's Office will subject the paintings to a full condition survey. The feasibility of improving the appearance of the murals through conservation or lighting techniques will be considered by the Works of Art Committee.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am glad to hear that some action is going to be taken. Does he not deplore the present state of the murals in a place that is a showcase for Heads of State as well as many members of the public? Does he not agree that the Japanese experts who did a wonderful job in the Sistine Chapel should be consulted on the future of these murals? Finally, does he realise that "son of a gun" is not an American expression but an English one? Many women can be plainly seen in those murals, women who sewed, cooked and nursed-so "son of a gun" is an English expression.
The Chairman of Committees: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the last part of her question. The water-glass technique was originally developed in Germany in the mid-19th century and adopted by Maclise for painting the Royal Gallery murals. They were begun in 1859 and finished by 1866. By 1869, only three years later, there were comments in the press that the paintings were already substantially faded. It is not known why this happened. The technique was successfully used elsewhere in the Palace. It is not a question of not having done anything about it, but a question about finding a way of doing something about it and so far no way has been found.
I am of course aware of the work done to the frescos in the Vatican. They are a different kind of fresco from our water-glass technique frescos. They were substantially and very successfully restored in the 1980s and the results are very striking, as the noble Baroness says. However, the same techniques could not be used on the Royal Gallery murals because of the water-glass technique that they were originally painted in. The Vatican work cost several million dollars, which is another factor.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, have any other frescos in the British Isles needed similar restoration? Both the splendid pictures that adorn the Royal Gallery are rare in terms of their size and indeed because they are frescos, which do not thrive in our climate. The German technique, introduced by Prince Albert, was very experimental at the time. If we have knowledge of any other work done with a similar technique, would it not be helpful to see whether they can be restored at all and what the cost may be?
The Chairman of Committees: Of course, other frescos in the Palace have been restored, but they were not done using the water-glass technique-that appears to be the difficulty. Other frescos elsewhere have been cleaned, dirt and dust have been removed and they
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Lord Gavron: My Lords, although the technique used in the Royal Gallery is different from the technique used by Michelangelo in painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, would it be worth consulting the Vatican Restoration Laboratory, which established new rules in 1978 for restoration, before we abandon any idea of restoring our own wonderful murals?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, we have not abandoned the idea. Over the years, the Curator and the Works of Art Committee have looked many times at ways in which we might be able to do this, but so far no method has been found. Tests have been done on the murals which have not really had any satisfactory results. Lighting has been considered and perhaps could be improved. New lighting techniques will be adopted for the Armada paintings which might help, but even good lighting will not restore the colours to the murals as they are.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, if the frescos proved difficult or impossible to restore, as the Minister seems to be implying, would it be total heresy-I suspect it would-for me to suggest that we should commission a contemporary artist to replace the pictures in the Royal Gallery?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees has said that the frescos were painted using a technique developed in Germany. Has anyone asked the Germans whether they have similar problems with frescos in Germany and, if so, how they have dealt with them?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I said earlier, the House has looked at this issue over a number of years. I can only guess that the Germans would have been asked, although this technique was established in the middle of the 19th century so there is not likely to be anyone around with an original view on it. We have looked into ways of doing this and, so far, nothing has been found.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, France's heritage is rich in frescos, as we all know. If there is to be an international search for a good method of doing it, could we have some guarantee that the French would not be excluded on political grounds?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the French certainly would not be excluded, despite the subject of the two murals. Maybe, at the time, they were not foolish enough to use the water-glass technique.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, we are mindful of the recommendations of the Law Commission's report, Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide. This is one of the issues at which the Government will be looking in their review of sentencing policy in general.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he accept, as I think he does, that reform of the law of murder is now long overdue? If so, I have two questions for him. First, is he aware of any other country, whether in Europe or the Commonwealth, that has a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in all cases of murder, including, for example, cases of mercy killing? Secondly, does he agree that it is the mandatory sentence which distorts this branch of the law and stands in the way of much needed reform?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I would not presume to give my own judgment on that, but I suspect that the noble and learned Lord is right that there are few precedents for that very broad sweep of our law. He is also right to say that the Law Commission's report puts forward a variety of alternatives which would give a degree of flexibility to the judiciary when dealing with this matter. I know that the Lord Chancellor is sympathetic to the line taken by the Law Commission. It is a matter of consulting and then finding time to bring forward proposals on the second part of the commission's report. As the noble and learned Lord knows, the previous Administration brought forward partial proposals, and we are now looking at the matter with a sense of urgency.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on Medical Ethics, which I was privileged to chair, strongly recommended that the mandatory life sentence for murder should be abolished and that judges should be given some degree of flexibility, because we had reported to us 23 cases where family members had ended the life of a loved one suffering from a painful terminal illness. In every case, a charge of murder was originally proposed, but in all but one of them, the charge was amended either to attempted murder or to manslaughter
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Lord McNally: My Lords, the short answer is yes. Such strong recommendations from a Select Committee carry weight, but we must be careful to ensure that in addressing the issue of the mandatory sentence for murder, we do not slip into other issues which have caused problems, such as mercy killing and euthanasia, which I think need to be considered separately as a matter of law.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, in the light of the coalition's new enthusiasm for referenda and its desire to consult the people about changes in the law, will the Government be holding a referendum on the restoration of the death penalty?
The Earl of Listowel: Does the Minister recall that the recommendations from the Law Commission on the disposals for child homicides found that an adult with a mental age of 10 was treated more leniently than a child aged 10? Will he look carefully at that matter in his considerations?
Lord McNally: I can assure the noble Earl that we will. It is a broad issue where the groundwork has been done by the Law Commission. I know that the Lord Chancellor is taking a close personal interest in the matter. We will be bringing forward precise proposals to Parliament in the near future.
Lord Clinton-Davis: When does the Minister think that he can come forward with definitive proposals? We cannot kick this into the long grass; we must have a definite date. Is the Minister inclined to venture an opinion as to when it is appropriate?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I am looking across at some very distinguished former members of the team at the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that not one of them would have given the kind of precise date that the noble Lord asks for. As for kicking it into the long grass, that is simply not our intention.
Lord Campbell of Alloway:I was a member of the committee on murder set up more than 20 years ago in this House. Our recommendations were not implemented. Without going into the details of any case, will the Government now take it as an urgent priority to amend the law on murder?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Minister will recall that the piecemeal reform of the law of provocation carried out by the previous Government was described by the Law Commission as "bizarre". Will he assure us that if there is a reform of the law of murder, it will be done as a whole?
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, we have a fine number of speakers on the speakers' list this afternoon, and I welcome the opportunity of hearing the views of the many noble Lords who have set their names down for this debate. Others who have not will, no doubt, make their views known over the next few months.
A number among us think it may be time to review our working practices and, at the outset of a new Parliament, I share that view, which is why I proposed that this debate should be arranged. It is my intention that this debate should pave the way for a systematic review of our working practices to be conducted by a Leader's Group that I will appoint before the House rises for the summer. I will ask the group to investigate what improvements could be made to our working practices to allow us to carry out our work effectively, while maintaining our efficiency in terms of the timeframes within which legislation is taken through the House.
That does not mean that I believe there are fundamental problems with procedure in your Lordships' House. Indeed, in the years I have been here, there have been times when I have contemplated ill digested legislation coming from the other place and reflected how much better the other place might operate if it introduced some of our own procedures. The privileges enjoyed by every noble Lord, the ability to table an amendment and have it answered, the wide freedom to speak and to question Ministers, the lack of restraint from the chair and other freedoms are immensely valuable to the House, and they are not shared by Members in another place. These open procedures enabled the House to carve out, after 1911, a role as the pre-eminent revising Chamber. Consider, for example, that over the last two full-length Sessions of the previous Parliament-2007-08 and 2008-09-we made on average over 80 amendments to each government Bill passed by this House.
As Leader of the House, I see it as my duty to defend that role and those freedoms. The essential self-regulating character of the House-rare in any legislative body-is something that I believe that noble
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However, we should not forget that one of the advantages of this House is that self-regulation allows us to adapt and change as we go along. Take, for example, the way we revise legislation in Grand Committees, which many of your Lordships rightly favour. After the Williams review, the number of Bills sent to Grand Committee, with full co-operation from the Opposition, rose from five in 2001-02, to 11 in 2002-03 and 18 in 2003-04. In 2005-06 there were 23, but since then their use has fallen away. In the past two Sessions, only six Bills have gone to Grand Committee, the same as in the last years of the old House in 1997-99. In 2003-04 and 2004-05, more than half the hours that your Lordships spent in Committee were spent in Grand Committee. In every year but one since 2003, the proportion of Committee time in Grand Committee has fallen from more than 50 per cent in 2003 to under a third in 2008-09 and less than 30 per cent in the previous Session. Yet the total number of hours spent in Committees of both types in our previous two full Sessions was more than 813, against 744 in the last two years of the old House and 404 hours in 1994-96. We are definitely talking more.
I use these statistics to show that our procedures are constantly evolving. It may well be that we should renew greater use of Grand Committees. The usual channels routinely consider whether the Committee stage of Bills could take place in Grand Committee, but the Leader's Group could investigate whether morning sittings in the Moses Room might be introduced on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for Bills or for other types of business. Then again, we already have procedures to send Bills for evidence-taking to Special Public Bill Committees or to Select Committees but, save for famous examples such as the Constitutional Reform Act, we have been sparing in our use of them. A Leader's Group might consider whether that is right.
In the case of the Constitutional Reform Act, some who were most angered by the use of the Select Committee procedure, including the then Lord Chancellor himself, came to acknowledge its value. Indeed, our Select Committees have played a vital role in examining draft legislation, including secondary legislation, and scrutinising public policy. They have provided us with the authoritative analysis and advice that enables us to perform our scrutiny function effectively. On the other hand, wider use of these procedures would detract from the important principle that every Peer can contribute to revision and amendment at every part of every stage of a Bill.
In seeking to review how we scrutinise legislation, the Leader's Group might also consider whether we could make better use of the minimum interval between the First and Second Readings of Bills. That interval could be used to invite evidence on Bills ahead of Second Reading, as some noble Lords have proposed, without prolonging the overall timetable for the passage of the Bill. The group may even wish to look at whether the case for minimum intervals of the length we currently observe is as compelling today as when they were introduced in 1977. The House has changed markedly since then, as have the technologies used to reprint Bills and Marshalled Lists of amendments.
Having re-examined its own practices, the other place is implementing many of the recommendations put forward by the Wright committee. Over time, they too might have an impact on this House, not least if legislation is more thoroughly scrutinised by the time it reaches us, so it is a timely moment for us to look at our own ways. In addition to some ideas that I have already mentioned, the group may wish to explore how we could ensure that, when scrutinising Bills that have arrived from the Commons, we focus on the provisions that received least attention in the other place. Some noble Lords have called for the provision of information on which clauses of Bills arriving from another place have not been subject to debate. I understand that this would not be as straightforward an exercise as it sounds, although I favour the idea behind it, but it merits further investigation.
There is much that a group might consider without extending the time that a Bill spends in this House. The Leader's Group might wish to look at other areas of the House's activity. It could, for example, examine how we might avoid duplication with another place when we repeat Ministerial Statements and Urgent Questions and consider whether the Moses Room would be a better venue for such matters. It may also wish to explore how we could ensure that our procedures are more transparent and accessible to Back-Benchers on all sides of the House, including those who have joined only recently or attend less frequently. This might, for instance, mean taking another look at how Private Members' Bills are introduced and how Questions for Short Debate are tabled, with a view to widening the range of Back-Bench Members who successfully use these vehicles to raise matters of interest.
The overriding principle of self-regulation underpins all our work. The self-restraint that characterises this House has ensured that we have never needed to resort to selection of amendments, enforced groupings, programme Motions or guillotines. I sincerely hope that we never shall. We equally need to recognise that that would change if the freedoms that we have were unnecessarily abused. I am glad that they never have been, and long may that continue.
The usual channels are essential to this alchemy. They are a conduit for the different interests in the House and a vital lubricant in the conduct of business in a self-regulating House with no overall majority. I am conscious that there are some in the House who wish to see a greater role for the chair, notably at Question Time. My view is that our existing practice, whereby it is the responsibility of the whole House-of
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, let me make it clear: I believe that it should consider that. It should be a widely drawn committee on working practices and not simply on the procedures of the House, so that it can examine all sorts of matters which are not strictly speaking procedural; that should, of course, include the role of the chair in the House.
As regards appointments to Select Committees-an aspect of the reforms in the other place which a number of noble Lords are keen to emulate-there is nothing to stop individual groups or political parties in this House from introducing elections for particular positions. Some have already done so, and I believe that it very much suits those groups.
I trust that this brief tour d'horizon has made clear that the Leader's Group will have a wide-ranging remit. It will also have plenty of time in which to conduct its work, which I hope will culminate in a major piece of work that sets us on the right course for the years ahead. I hope that today's debate will lend momentum to that process and serve as a reference point for the group in conducting its review.
There are many speakers and the debate will be wound up by my noble friend the Deputy Leader, who will also speak in his capacity as leader of the Liberal Democrat party in this House. All contributions are important in this discussion, including those from Members who will not speak today; I am sure that they will be invited to put evidence forward to the Leader's Group. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is an important debate for this House and for the Members of this House. It is, too, I believe, an important debate beyond this House, because how this House works and how it does its job, helps to set how the House carries out its important role in our politics, in our legislative process and in our constitutional arrangements. So this is a very welcome debate. I welcome as well the announcement by the Leader of the House to set up a
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To some, a review of working practices might sound rather dry and boring. But this is not just about more efficient and effective practices. It is about the health of our political system. It is about good governance. It is about our working relationship with the other place and our ability better to engage with the public. It is about building on the value of our House.
I believe that the review has assumed greater importance since the formation of the coalition Government. Why is that? It is because the fundamental role of this House as a revising Chamber has been changed by the new arithmetic. Evidence from the Constitution Unit at University College London in a paper by Meg Russell and Maria Sciara entitled, ThePolicy Impact of Defeats in the House of Lords,shows that,
They showthat in four cases out of 10, Lords amendments were accepted after defeats in the Lobbies and, of course, many more were accepted without a vote. The Leader of the House informed us that more than 80 amendments were carried in the previous two Sessions of Parliament. That was right and proper, although sometimes painful for the Government. With the coalition Government, this situation is bound to change, and I think it has changed already, with a profound impact on the constitutional role of this House. The new voting pattern in this House of the new politics is putting into question the traditional role of this House as a revising Chamber. If the Government have a permanent inbuilt majority, the prospects of this House being able to carry out that role are limited. This is not sour grapes. We know we lost the election and we know that that had consequences, but it is the new reality of the House. I hope that the Leader's Group will keep this in mind as it reviews our procedures.
I pay tribute to the staff in the Library for their excellent notes for today's debate. I pay tribute as well to all those who have doggedly pursued these issues over many years, and especially to those who have been members of the various more recent groups, including the group of Labour Members chaired by my noble friend Lord Grocott.
My contribution today will be brief. There are so many suggestions on the table for the Leader's Group to consider. I hope that, in its work, the group will be able to take soundings from all Members of this House who wish to make their views known. In debates such as these it tends to be the aficionados who speak and make very fine contributions to the debate, but there are many others who have clear views on these issues. In our debate in February on the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, noted that we have increasingly refined our views and increasingly a consensus has emerged that this matter is coming to a point where action must be taken. I agree with the noble Lord, but for real ownership of any changes-which of course
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It is clear that one of the recurrent themes since the Leader's Group established in 2001 by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn is the desire for pre-legislative scrutiny. That group suggested that virtually all Bills should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, but it was later agreed that while the growth in pre-legislative scrutiny was welcome, the aspiration that it should include virtually all Bills was unrealistic. That is obviously a matter for the new Leader's Group, not for debate today, but I would suggest that we have not quite got the balance right. Pre-legislative scrutiny is an opportunity to improve draft legislation, to ensure that it better meets the needs for which it was designed, and to engage with experts and members of the public who are interested in the subject in question. There was more and more pre-legislative scrutiny under the previous Government, but the demands of government often meant that not enough time was built into the legislative timetable. We need to do better. All Governments should be in favour of enhanced pre-legislative scrutiny. It is one small but very important way of rebuilding trust in our political system.
In a similar vein, there have been demands over the past years for post-legislative scrutiny. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken on this in the past, I believe that the House is particularly well suited to this scrutiny. We have the expertise, we have the time, and it would be an opportunity to identify good practice in terms of process and content. One suggestion that has been made by my noble friend Lord Puttnam is that the recent Digital Economy Act 2010 should, in due course, be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. I believe that that is an excellent suggestion.
Should pre- and post-legislative scrutiny be undertaken only by Joint Committees of both Houses or is it something that on occasion the Lords could do alone? Again, that is a matter for the new group. However, having noted in the previous debates the demand for a plethora of Joint Committees, I suspect that in practical terms we might have to consider some Lords committees. We certainly have capacity in terms of members with our ever-growing numbers, but I recognise that it would mean extra demands on the Clerks and on financial and spatial resources. At a time of financial constraint, it is not easy to make a case for extra resources, but we are talking about enhancing our democracy.
Pre-legislative scrutiny takes time and, having recently had the privilege of both leading your Lordships' House and being a Member of the Government, I am acutely aware of the need to take the timing of business into account. Some new procedures would take preparation time but would not require additional time on the Floor of the House; for example, the flagging of clauses when a Bill passes from the Commons to the Lords in order to identify clauses not already debated. I know this is more complex than at first it would seem, but it is the right way forward if possible. Other new procedures could save time in the Chamber,
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In the previous debate, several noble Lords raised the issue of cross-cutting areas of public policy which are never properly addressed or scrutinised because the government machinery does not exist. This may well be something that we in the Lords should do through the adaptation of our committee system. I realise that the House has recently agreed the proposals of the Liaison Committee in relation to committees during this Parliament, but I suggest that, following the decisions taken on the basis of the recommendations of the Leader's Group, the Liaison Committee might re-convene with new criteria.
The Leader's Group is also a timely initiative because it will enable us to respond to the impact of changes made in the other place as a result of the Wright Committee. The way in which one House considers legislation and wider issues is bound to have an impact on the other. It is important that we work together as an effective Parliament but we should also maintain the differences and distinctions of our House-not for the sake of difference but because the two Houses should complement, not replicate, each other.
There is much more that I could say but now that we have a process with the establishment of the Leader's Group, I think it more appropriate that I make my views known to that group. I do not envy the group in its task of prioritisation but, undoubtedly, it has an important task before it. This House has made great strides forward over the recent period, with a new code of conduct, a standards commissioner and, I hope shortly, new arrangements for the financial support of Members of your Lordships' House. The work of the group announced today will add to that progress. I look forward to that work starting and producing proposals for this House to consider.
Lord Luce: My Lords, I can say one thing without doubt: the first real improvement in working practice is that today I am privileged to be the first to be called on the Back Benches. I hope that that tradition continues indefinitely.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for convening the debate and for adopting a positive attitude towards the question of working practices in this House. I welcome, too, the fact that he is setting up the Leader's Group to study these matters. I speak as someone who has been a member of one of the three committees-which has been working under the title of Strengthening Parliament-and it is from that experience that I wish to contribute a few views. However, I do not think it would be right to do so without putting into context my view on the broader picture of the Government's proposals for reform of the Lords.
I start from the concept stated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the powers and role of the House of Lords is likely to remain the same. That puts a heavy onus on the Government and the committee under the Deputy Prime Minister to convince us that an elected or partially elected House will lead to improvements-I use the word "improvements"-in
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I cannot resist reminding the House of the vicar father and his English son travelling through Nebraska. The son said to his father, "You know, Dad, you can fit the United Kingdom into Nebraska", to which his father said, "To what end, dear boy?" That is the question that we have to ask on every aspect of reform that we consider. We cannot, of course, afford to be complacent; we cannot afford to be self-satisfied in our procedures at any time and we have a duty to the public. But we should acknowledge that there have been many adjustments, in the past decade for example, to the working practices of this House.
The cross-party groups which have been looking at working practices have produced a wide range of ideas, some of which will be acceptable to the House, some of which will not. They are all worth examining as a way to improve the performance of this House. They range from recommendations to improve the scrutiny of primary legislation to ideas for strengthening the means of challenging the Executive more effectively and improving our internal governance and accountability. Many of these thoughts need looking at seriously by the Leader's Groups.
Without examining all the proposals, which I have no intention of doing, I shall make one or two reflections on them. First, there is a continuing tendency on the part of successive Governments to produce too much legislation. Often, that legislation is badly thought out. It has become too much of a virility symbol for Ministers that they must produce a Bill. But when you look at the quality of the Bill, you really should question it. One of the proposals to come out of the committees' work is that Bills should be much more fully justified before they are brought before Parliament for examination.
Secondly, there continues to be-it was the case in my day when I was a Member of the other place-a complete lack of contact and understanding between the two Houses. I hardly ever came to this Chamber in 21 years in the other place. But if we are discussing these reforms, including overall reform, there needs to be a much better mutual understanding of how we work. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the working groups recommended a more bicameral approach to many of the issues that we are tackling. I acknowledge
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The third factor is to redress the balance between the Executive and the legislature. Here, although our procedures are different, we should seek encouragement and learn from the work of the Wright committee in the other House in the previous Parliament. There are certain ideas there from which we, too, can benefit. We had only to see how refreshing, for example, were the recent cross-party elections to the Treasury Select Committee. The proposals of that committee to have more say on the part of the Back Benches in business management of that House are also relevant to this House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the usual channels are an essential lubricant to business, but I also think that Peers on the Back Benches need to have more influence on the management of the House.
My fourth point is that public ignorance of the Lords is profound. Here, we need to seek ways in which we can involve the public more effectively in the affairs of the House. Again, in these working groups there is a recommendation that we should produce proposals for public evidence hearings on some kinds of legislation; there will be other ways to pursue this matter.
Fifthly, the time is coming-I am glad that this has been acknowledged-when the Lord Speaker's powers should be looked at. There are arguments for extending the powers of the Lord Speaker, perhaps in certain, somewhat limited ways. I will come to the governance point which refers to the Lord Speaker in a moment, but here I come to something which I realise is controversial in this Chamber and where a lot of people, who have had far more experience, would not agree with me. However, for my part I find Question Time pretty undignified. Possibly it is because the attendance in the Chamber has got much bigger and it is much more difficult to handle self-regulation in that way. While I am totally in favour of self-regulation, for my part it makes much more sense for the Lord Speaker of the day to have the say, as opposed to a partial part of the House-even though the Government are totally trustworthy-deciding which group should be called upon next. That might help a bit to get rid of the slightly undignified aspect where sometimes the person who shouts the loudest is the one who gets in.
On the question of non-legislative matters, I would ask the House not to underestimate the value of topical debates. I have been very fortunate to have had two topical debates in the past two years, which I think have brought some influence to bear on government decision-making. The proposal in the working groups that topical debates should be part of a regular weekly one-hour procedure, at whatever time of the week is agreed as being the most suitable, should be adopted. We should have a more coherent system for that.
I come to the question of governance and accountability, which is my last point. I do not know whether I share this with very many other noble Peers, but my ignorance of the governance of the House was almost total until I joined the committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Murphy. I say without hesitation that this House is certainly very lucky to have the
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The Institute of Government has produced proposals -I think it was last week-for the governance of the other place: for the commission and the Board of Management to be more open and transparent; for a role for non-executives and for the national audit committee; and for occasional external reviews or financial health checks. It would do us no harm to look at those kinds of things to see whether it would strengthen our own systems of governance. At the same time, there is a case for looking at our lines of accountability. I ask myself what would have happened had there been a police raid on one of my noble friends in this House, as opposed to the other place. Would we have had clear lines of accountability and responsibility for dealing with that? I am not absolutely convinced that we would.
There is a strong case, as we recommend, for the Lord Speaker to provide leadership for the strategic governance of the House and to chair the House Committee with an open election system for that committee and the ability occasionally to co-opt if it needs outsiders to help it in that work. At least we should undertake an independent review of our governance system. I for my part welcome most warmly the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in setting up the Leader's Group.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, it is for me personally a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in this debate. We have been in partnership together more than once; he was for a long time my parliamentary private secretary and a ministerial colleague. His own career has been so diverse and distinguished that he is in himself one of the best advertisements for this House. He served in the colonial service for some years and resigned from that on a point of principle. He also had the privilege of serving alongside my noble friend Lord Carrington and, for different reasons, resigned from that, too. He then came back to a second career as a Foreign Office Minister and then, when that came to an end, became a Minister for arts. When that came to an end-I think that I have this sequence correctly-he became vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, governor of Gibraltar and Lord Chamberlain. There are not many legislators in many legislatures in the world who can match that kind of career, and we welcome him most warmly. I agree with almost everything that he had to say in his speech.
I have only a very modest point to make in this debate, not addressing a number of the issues already raised but addressing the simple question of whether we will make the best of the resources in this House
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That could be said again and again. We are always looking for a simpler tax system or a way of delivering such a thing. A lot depends on the perceived scale and nature of the taxes themselves, the objectives and the philosophy. A great deal depends on the mechanism for making, scrutinising and enacting the law, changing monetary objectives into intelligible legislation.
This is clearly an area where Parliament as a whole has a very important part to play. Every professional and business institution has offered some prescriptions as to how we might improve it. Two basic prescriptions have emerged-first, that there should some kind of agency at least semi-detached from government to keep in mind the objective of tax simplification, to prevent Chancellors letting their imagination run away with them or inspectors of taxation achieving the same effect and producing great complexity. That is one need on which there is agreement. Secondly, we should have the right parliamentary institutions for tackling the enactment of legislation. There have been a number of recent commissions and bodies that have made recommendations about those things. My noble friend Lord Forsyth presided not long ago over a Tax Reform Commission, whose report was entitled Tax Matters. I was invited to undertake a much humbler organisation, a working party to study the methods for making tax simpler. We both agreed with the prescription that has generally commended itself to many other people. The Government have now announced that we need something like an office for tax simplification, an independent body to focus on that all the time.
The second conclusion reached by all these bodies is the necessity for a Joint Committee of Parliament on tax legislation. I emphasise the word "joint". That is almost universally supported by all the organisations outside the Government that have considered this: the CBI wants such a Joint Committee, as do the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Financial Studies. The reason for that, I am sad to say, was set out some years ago by Sir Alan Budd in one of the earlier studies as long ago as 2003. He and his colleagues had this to say:
"The truth of the matter is that the House of Commons has neither the time nor the expertise nor, apparently, the inclination to undertake any systematic or effective examination of whatever tax rules the government of the day places before it for its approval. The irony of the Commons' failure is that, because current constitutional arrangements allow the House of Lords no participatory role in the scrutiny of tax legislation, taxation legislation receives less Parliamentary scrutiny than other legislation. The criticism of Parliament implicit in this statement is not new. Parliament has rarely attracted praise for its role in enacting tax legislation. The longevity of this problem, however, is no reason for the continuing failure to address it".
As I say, there has been very little dissent and disagreement about the general nature of what needs to be done. A few weeks ago we had a response to that set of specifications from Her Majesty's Government in the document produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tax Policy Making, where the Government propose, among other things, two things. The first is,
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that is, the Treasury Committee of the other place-to review how to strengthen the role of Parliament in scrutinising tax legislation. The point that I make today so clearly is that that consideration by the policy committee in the other place must, if it is to be effective, be to the conclusion that all others have reached. We need a Joint Committee of both Houses because thereby we shall be able to mobilise alongside what is, alas, a relatively slender body of people with qualifications in the other place. Professional politicians have increasingly dominated it, and it is a far less well informed place on tax policy than it was 20 or 30 years ago in the days when it was almost fun to join the Finance Bill Standing Committee, with a range of experts doing combat against, for example, the capital transfer tax.
The point that I am making is that it is important to have both Houses represented in this joint parliamentary body if we are to make the Lords' talent as available as it should be, and if we are to encourage the Commons' talent to work together.
Lord Elton: My Lords, for those of us who are less expert in these matters than my noble and learned friend, will he tell us whether the legislation he is speaking of would have no financial content? I assume that tax legislation always has numbers in it. If that is the case, would it not always be subject to a Speaker's certificate as being a finance Bill? In that case, how does my noble friend see the other place reacting to his proposals?
Lord Howe of Aberavon: I am not quite sure that I follow the nature of my noble friend's question, to be honest. It must be either so penetrating that I am overwhelmed or so obscure that I am completely innocent.
Let me come to my final point. The anxiety of the other place at seeing us becoming involved in the joint study of this question is that that would in some way encroach on its legitimate and important financial privileges. That is fundamental; indeed, it may be the point about which my noble friend was asking me.
Great care has been taken to prevent such fear of encroachment. Some years ago, this House established a Finance Bill Sub-Committee of its Economic Affairs Committee. There was anxiety in the other place then that the fact that this House was studying finance at all, even with an attached condition, would risk encroachment. When this House decided to establish that sub-committee, there was an accompanying prohibition. The House decided,
"The Lords committee should continue to respect the boundary between tax administration and tax policy, to refrain from investigating the incidence or rates of tax and to address only technical issues of tax administration, clarification and simplification. Provided it does so, we believe there is no infringement of Commons financial privilege".
Since then, our Finance Bill Sub-Committee has gained a good track record of scrutinising separate and important aspects of the past five or six Finance Bills. It has published its reports in time for consideration at Report stage in the Commons. Both in and out of Parliament, the reaction to its participation has been distinctly positive.
The case that I am making, lest it be at all obscure to my noble friend the Leader of the House and, indeed, to the House as a whole, is that here is an opportunity for the House to enlarge its role and to take part in the Joint Committee of Parliament that the Forsyth commission recommended and which everyone else would like. It is another opportunity for us to exploit our ability in an effective way. I hope that this idea will be accepted with good will in the other place as well as here. That ends my, I hope, tolerably clear presentation of what I was trying to say.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for facilitating this debate and very much welcome the tone in which he set out the issues and raised the prospect of real reform.
I am contributing to this discussion conscious that I am still, relatively speaking, a new girl, having joined your Lordships' House only four years ago. I am also very much aware that greater minds than mine, many of whom are speaking today, were working away on these issues for a considerable period prior to my arrival. Nevertheless, in the hope that I could at least bring something of a fresh perspective, I agreed to join the small working group on procedural reform established by the Labour Peers and chaired most ably by my noble friend Lord Grocott. Our discussions ranged widely but ultimately focused narrowly on some practical recommendations for reform that could complement the incremental changes that have already been made and which could be introduced quickly. I commend the recommendations to your Lordships.
It seems to me that any procedural reforms should meet two key criteria. First, they should enable wider participation in the work of this House to take maximum
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In that respect, I have to confess to having been mystified and occasionally alienated by some of the more arcane procedures with which I had to come to terms when I first joined this House. Since then I have become quite affectionate towards some of the rituals and ceremony that distinguish our work. I suppose some might say I have gone native. A key objective should still be to deliver proper respect for our history and traditions, but not when they get in the way of effective participation and scrutiny. In this context, I highlight the following recommendations from our report.
First, it is true that Question Time is, in many ways, very popular and it is certainly well attended. However, it is far from inclusive and sometimes downright scary. It has the capacity to hold Ministers to account, yet many of the noble Peers best able to do so would not dream of participating in what sometimes degenerates into an undignified shouting match. I am grateful for the research provided by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, which unearthed that in the previous Session, of the 3,039 supplementary questions asked, almost half were asked by the same 57 Peers. There appears to be no tradition of giving way to those who speak less often and, as a result, questions can be repetitive and predictable. At the same time, as the Leader of the House acknowledged, there is inevitable pressure on the Front-Benchers responsible for order to demonstrate that they are not being partisan-which, frankly, some achieve better than others-while, at the same time, they have their back to half the Chamber.
Part of the solution to this problem requires a change in culture rather than procedure. Perhaps, for example, if we issued a questionnaire to those in the Visitors' Gallery, asking what they thought of the spectacle, the outcome might shock us into a change of behaviour. In the mean time, I hope noble Lords will take on board the more practical solution in the Grocott report-to take advantage of the Lord Speaker's undoubted authority by transferring responsibility for order and conduct to that position for a trial period. This has the added advantage that the outside world already believes that this is the Lord Speaker's role.
Secondly, there is an urgent need to streamline the Committee stages of Bills. As a relative newcomer it has been a struggle for me to distinguish on occasion between the Committee and Report stages, with their endless opportunities for repetitiveness and near identical speeches, whereas the legislative stages in the other place appear much more transparent. This repetition is most marked when both the Committee and Report stages take place in the main Chamber. As our report pointed out, there are physical and deliberative reasons why the Committee stages of a Bill are better suited to debate in Grand Committee. The layout allows better communication and is less partisan, and the slightly more informal style allows Ministers and participants to get to the heart of the issue and work through solutions.
As the Leader of the House recognised, it has previously been recommended that all but the most important government Bills should be dealt with in Grand Committee and I very much endorse this view. I also endorse the view that using rooms other than the Moses Room for Committee stages of a Bill-and even allowing morning sittings-should be considered. Interestingly, one of the facts that came to light as we were debating these issues was that the Commons currently spend up to a third more time scrutinising and revising individual Bills than we do. If we are to justify the added value of a second, revising Chamber, we have to set aside the necessary amount of time to deliver effective scrutiny, use the right facilities and use that time wisely.
Finally, I add my voice to the campaign for the Lords to carry out post-legislative scrutiny. There is currently no authoritative process for reviewing the effectiveness of legislation. Did it achieve what we had intended? Were there any unforeseen consequences? Did those at whom it was aimed really understand what was required of them? Were the resources made available for the legislation to be properly enacted? I could go on, but I am sure noble Lords will have their own list of questions they would like to be probed in a follow-up to legislation being passed. One small example quoted in our discussions is that we always seem to require new bodies which we set up to produce an annual report as a way of holding them to account. What is the cost of those reports? Are they actually produced and, if so, who reads them?
The point is that we are too quick to pile on new layers of legislation without taking stock and learning the lessons from the Bills which have already been passed. I know that some will point the finger at the previous Government as a sinner in this regard, but we were not the only culprits. You have only to look at the forthcoming Bills listed in the Queen's Speech to realise that nothing much has changed.
Your Lordships' House is ideally placed to carry out a post-legislative function with the aim of improving the quality of legislation in the future. Obviously, this would need to be taken up proportionately; for example, it would not be possible to subject all Acts of Parliament to this process. But a suitable process of scrutiny by a post-legislative committee could provide real learning benefits for both Houses. I hope that it will be given serious consideration.
These are relatively modest but practical examples of the changes that could help to modernise our procedures and, in so doing, make us more relevant and effective. As I said at the outset, we should measure reform against the need to widen the participation of Peers and increase public understanding. I believe that these proposals, as well as those contained in the report of my noble friend Lord Filkin, would achieve this.
From the debate so far, there appears to be a growing consensus for reform. I hope therefore that the outcome of this debate will be more than congratulatory words and that, in summing up, the Minister will be able to set out a precise route map, with timescales, for taking these issues forward.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the future of the National Health Service. The NHS is one of our great institutions and a symbol of our society's solidarity and compassion. It is admired around the world for the comprehensive care it provides and for the quality, skill and dedication of its staff. I begin today by paying tribute to the staff of the NHS and the commitment they show to patients.
This Government will always adhere to the core principles of the NHS; a comprehensive service for all, free at the point of use, based on need not ability to pay. This principle of equity will be maintained, but we need the NHS also consistently to provide excellent care. The NHS today faces great challenges: it must respond to the demands of an increasing and ageing population, advances in medical technology and rising expectations; it remains stifled by a culture of top-down bureaucracy, which blocks the creativity and innovation of its staff; and it does not deliver outcomes in line with the best health services internationally-many of our survival rates for disease are worse than those of our neighbours. The NHS must be equipped to meet these challenges-we believe it can do much better for patients-so today I am publishing this White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, so that we can put patients right at the heart of decisions made about their care; put clinicians in the driving seat on decisions about services; and focus the NHS on delivering health outcomes that are comparable with, or even better than, those of our international neighbours.
For too long, processes have come before outcomes as NHS staff have had to contend with 100 targets and more than 260,000 separate data returns to the department each year. We will remove unjustified targets and the bureaucracy which sustains them. In their place, we will introduce an outcomes framework to set out what the service should achieve, leaving the professionals to develop how. We should have clear ambitions, and our approach to this will be set out shortly in a consultation document. For example, our aims could be: to achieve one and five-year cancer survival rates above the European average; to minimise avoidable hospital-acquired infections; to increase the proportion of stroke victims who are able to go home and live independently-in short, care that is effective, safe and meets patients' expectations. The outcomes framework will be supported by clinically established quality standards, and the NHS will be geared across the board towards meeting them. We will do this by rewarding commissioners for delivering care in line with quality standards; strengthening the regulatory regime, so that patients can be assured that services are safe; and reforming the payment system in the NHS, so that it is not just a driver for activity, but also for quality, efficiency and integrated care.
Patients will be at the heart of the new NHS. Our guiding principle will be, "no decision about me, without me". We will bring NHS resources and NHS decision-making as close to the patient as possible. We will extend personal budgets, giving patients with long-term conditions real choices about their care. We will introduce real, local democratic accountability to healthcare for the first time in almost 40 years by giving local authorities the power to agree local strategies to bring the NHS, public health and social care together. Local authorities will also be given control over local health-improvement budgets. This will give an unprecedented opportunity to link health and social care services for patients.
We will give general practices, working together in local consortia, the responsibility for commissioning NHS services, so that they are able to respond to the wishes and needs of their patients. This principle is vital, bringing together the management of care with the management of resources. With commissioning support, GPs collectively will lead a bottom-up design of services.
In addition, we will introduce more say for patients at every stage of their care, extending the right to choose far beyond a choice of hospital. Patients will have choice over treatment options, where clinically appropriate, and the consultant-led team by whom they are treated. They will have the right to choose their GP practice. And they will have much greater access to information, including the power to control their patient record.
We must ensure that patients' voices are heard, so we will establish HealthWatch nationally and locally, based on local involvement networks, to champion the needs of patients and the public at every level of the system.
To achieve these improvements in outcomes, we need to liberate the NHS from the old command-and-control regime. So all NHS trusts will become foundation trusts-freed from the constraints of top-down control, with power increasingly placed in the hands of their employees; and we will allow any willing provider to deliver services to NHS patients, provided that they deliver the high-quality standards of care we expect from them.
Our aim is to create the largest social enterprise sector in the world. But it is not a free-for-all. Monitor will become a stronger economic regulator to ensure that the services being provided are efficient and effective, and that every area of the country has the NHS services it needs to provide a comprehensive service to all. The Care Quality Commission will safeguard standards of safety and quality.
An independent and accountable NHS commissioning board will be established to drive quality improvements through national guidance and standards to inform GP-led commissioning. The board will allocate resources according to the needs of local areas, and lead specialised commissioning.
I recognise that the scale of today's reforms is challenging, but they are designed to build on the best of what the NHS is already doing. Clinicians are already working to facilitate patient choice-giving patients the information they need to make an effective decision. GP consortia are already established in some areas of the country, and ready to go. Local authorities in some areas are already working closely with local clinicians to co-ordinate health and social care, and improve public health. Payment by Results already gives us a starting framework for building a payment system that really drives performance. Foundation trusts are already using the freedoms that they have to innovate.
We will build on this progress, not dismantle it. With this White Paper, we are shifting power decisively towards patients and clinicians. We will seek out and support clinical leadership. That means simplifying the NHS landscape and taking a further, radical look at the whole range of public bodies. We will reduce the Department of Health's NHS functions, delivering efficiency savings in administration costs. We will rebalance the NHS, reducing management costs by 45 per cent over the next four years, and abolishing quangos that do not need to exist, in particular if they do not meet the Government's three tests for public bodies-shifting more than £1 billion from the back office to the front line.
Form will follow function. As we empower the front line, so we must disempower the bureaucracy. After a transitional period, we will phase out the top-down management hierarchy, including both strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. Later in the summer, we will be publishing a report setting out how we see the future of NHS-related quangos. I can say now that this will mean a reduction of at least a third in the number of such bodies. This is part of the wider drive, across government, to increase the accountability of public bodies and reduce their number and cost. The dismantling of this bureaucracy will help the NHS realise up to £20 billion of efficiency savings by 2014-all of which will be reinvested in patient care.
Today's reforms set out a long-term vision for an NHS which is led by patients and professionals, not by politicians. It sets out a vision for an NHS empowered to deliver health outcomes as good as any in the world. I commend this Statement to the House".
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. It was certainly a help to me to read the contents of the White Paper in the Daily Telegraph and in other media outlets over the weekend. However, the coalition Government must recognise that it is far from satisfactory that Parliament should be the last place to learn about matters of such importance.
In opposition, the Conservatives promised that there would be no more pointless reorganisations. The Prime Minister gave this promise to the Royal College of Nursing last year. The coalition agreement states:
However, now it is in government, the coalition proposes the biggest structural upheaval in the NHS for 60 years -for which GPs are unprepared, which NHS staff do not want and about which patients were never asked. Inevitably, my first question to the Minister is: why have the Government broken their word on this matter? The Minister will be aware that I have never said that there was not more that could be done to make the NHS better, or indeed to give more say to patients and clinicians.
In the past two weeks, there have been two sources of independent comment on the effectiveness of today's NHS. A couple of weeks ago, the Commonwealth Fund said that the changes Labour had made had given the NHS a fantastic rating on quality, and that it was the most efficient health service in the world. I am sure that we all welcome the report published today on the survival rates for sufferers from bowel, lung and ovarian cancer. It shows huge progress and experts have said that this is due to the waiting guarantees that Labour introduced on access to cancer specialists, so that people have their cancers diagnosed early. Of course, that is another part of the system that Andrew Lansley is now wiping away. My question is: why is this great upheaval necessary when we have a health service that is providing good care to the vast majority of people and when waiting times are as low as they have ever been? Does this policy mean that there will be a grave risk that the NHS will go backwards?
This Statement is full of "coulds" and "might bes": it is remarkably lacking in doing words. If the coalition Government had found an appalling situation, as we did in 1997, they might have had some justification for radical solutions; but this is not the case. The White Paper and the Statement talk throughout of building on the work done by the previous Administration, which is all well and good, and which I welcome, but I am very sorry that, in our view, it has led them to the wrong conclusion.
Today, the NHS is not on its knees. We saved it by investment and commitment to its values. A period of stability is needed so that energy can be focused on the financial challenges ahead and to do that it needs a confident and motivated staff to continue the development of the many services that we initiated; for example, specialist trauma services; the reconfiguration that has been necessary to deliver stroke services; the co-ordination of partnerships to make the best use of expertise for diabetic care at local level; and the investment in and the building of special expertise for kidney dialysis so that more people can look after themselves at home.
What will happen to all those services which require regional and local strategies and-a matter close to the heart of many in this House-how will the many hundreds of GP practices in London cope with the way in which TB manifests itself and spreads in London? A pan-London strategy is needed. How will a bottom-up service cope? It would be unsurprising if people conclude that this White Paper and the proposals that it contains are ideologically driven. That is why there is a betrayal of the promises that were given by the coalition. With that betrayal one also has to take a second glance at the patient voice mantra that we hear from the Secretary of State. We have to question whether that is a convenient
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Many will believe that this is tantamount to the privatisation of the commissioning function of the NHS. Will there be any restrictions on the use of the private sector to support GPs? Added to that, the Government are bringing in a series of market reforms for hospitals. The Secretary of State has previously admitted that his plans would allow hospitals to go bust. Can he confirm that if a foundation trust got into financial difficulty he would step in to protect it, or would he allow it to fail? Even more important, if all the NHS delivery is done through foundation trusts, what will that mean for patients?
Frankly, I do not believe it is good enough to conduct a huge experiment on an organisation that is delivering for its patients an improving service. The staff of the NHS do not need years of uncertainty about the future of their organisation and their jobs. The NHS needs confident, motivated staff, but today the noble Earl has opened up uncertainty for the 1.3 million people who work for it.
Let us turn to accountability for £80 billion of public expenditure. I ask the noble Earl to confirm that the Treasury also had something to say about accountability in this respect. GP practices are mostly small enterprises; they are small businesses. If, for example, another network of small businesses, such as the Federation of Newsagents, was about to be handed £80 billion of public money from the Treasury and told to spend it how it liked, I suggest there might be some small concern. We support a strong role for GPs but we have to question the wisdom of wiping away oversight and the handing over of £80 billion of public money to GPs, whether they are ready or not.
We are not alone in our concerns about this. Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, says that only about 5 per cent of GPs are ready to take over commissioning responsibility. So what will happen to the other 95 per cent? Sir David Nicholson has judged that even the best GP practice-based commissioners are only about a three out of 10 in terms of the quality of their commissioning and that is not good enough to give them £80 billion of public money to spend. So what sound evidence does the noble Earl have that 100 per cent of GPs are ready, willing and able to commission services for the entire population?
How many jobs do the Government expect to be lost, and how much money have they put aside for redundancy costs? What guarantees can the Minister give the House that people will not simply be paid off by the NHS to be re-employed, doing the same job, by someone else? Crucially, where is the public accountability and the accountability to Parliament? The Patients' Association has said that nothing can replace the accountability of the ballot box. I absolutely agree, and I invite the noble Earl to join me in that support.
How will GPs be held to account for the £80 billion of public money for which they will be responsible? Chris Ham of the King's Fund has questioned whether the independent NHS board, the world's biggest quango, will be able to hold more than 500 GP consortia to account in an effective fashion. What does it mean for the accountability to Parliament if the Government go ahead and set up the NHS board? An annual report is not sufficient. Those of us who work with a lot of voluntary organisations in the health sector know that they will not think that that is sufficient. MPs at the other end of the building will really think that that is not sufficient when they want to raise questions asked by their constituents.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken for nine minutes. I thought, and it has been my experience in 30 or 40-odd years in this House, that you are supposed to ask questions concisely, not to make a 10-minute speech-because I see that she has some more pages to read.
That leads us to look at the bureaucracy involved in the proposals. The White Paper has managed to unite progressive views in opposition to it with the unlikely figure of Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail. She wrote:
"Oh dear. The last thing that's needed right now is yet another massive reorganisation, which may well incur even greater costs ... it could mean yet more paperwork - and that GPs would be likely to demand more money for the additional responsibilities".
In my experience, PCTs are staffed with decent, hard-working public servants who care greatly about the NHS and its patients. How does the Minister think that they felt when they read the quote from a senior Department of Health source-I apologise to the House for the language-who anonymously briefed the Health Service Journal this week, and said:
Is that any way to treat staff who have served the NHS loyally? What does the Minister think about bureaucracy. The Government may find that what they think of as bureaucracy is the system for accounting for the expenditure of public money. Can the Minister tell me precisely how the replacement of 130 PCTs by more than 500 GP practices and consortia will reduce bureaucracy and paperwork?
The White Paper represents a roll of the dice that puts the NHS at risk in a giant political experiment with no consultation, no piloting and no evidence. The sadness is that the Government are taking an £80 billion gamble with the great success story that our NHS is today. Of course we welcome positive change and benefits for patients. We saved this NHS. At a stroke, this Government are removing public accountability, demoralising NHS staff at a time when we need them. For patients, it opens the door to a new era of postcode prescribing which will vary from street to street. We know that the streets and the patients
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Earl Howe: My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful for the noble Baroness's questions, although I have to express considerable disappointment that she finds so little to commend in the White Paper, which to me is a very exciting document, and one which builds in many important respects on the structures which her Government put in place. Lest it be thought otherwise, I am the first to knowledge the improvements in the health service which the previous Administration effected. They did so with the benefit of a great deal of extra public funding and no doubt we should be grateful for that. The problem that we perceive is that despite the progress that was undoubtedly made during the 13 years of the Labour Government, one thing did not keep up with funding: the outcomes that we saw emerging from that increased investment. The fact is that we are not matching the performance of our counterparts in Europe in a number of respects: in cancer survival rates and an array of other conditions. That has to change. We have asked ourselves how we can best deliver those outcomes and the quality of care that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, envisioned in his strategy when he became a Minister. We want to build on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, and we believe that this programme of action will do that.
Our plans for GP consortia are very much based on practice-based commissioning arrangements and clusters. Our plans for economic regulation build on the work of Monitor. Currently, many of the functions of the NHS commissioning board already exist within the Department of Health. We are carving them out and slimming them down by stripping out avoidable layers of management. We have always been clear that we want to have GP commissioning, and our plans are the logical extension of that.
I must comment on the noble Baroness's first remarks about the leaks to the press. I very much regret them. We do not know where they came from and are making the kind of investigations that she would expect. Our policy and our aim are always to make announcements of this kind to Parliament in the first instance. I am sorry that that has not happened in some cases. The press coverage has not been accurate in all respects.
I hope that when the noble Baroness digests this White Paper, she will come to view it rather more favourably than she has indicated. She suggested that our proposals are ideologically driven. There are only two pieces of ideology here: the desire to continue the quality agenda that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, started and a desire to bring health and social care much closer together. The proposals for the role of local authorities will achieve that and, at the same time, they will introduce a greater degree of democratic accountability. Accountability will operate on several levels, and the noble Baroness asked me about it. There will be accountability to Parliament through the Secretary of State via the NHS commissioning board,
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The noble Baroness asked whether we envisage any limit on the use of the private sector by GP consortia. The principle that we will adopt is that GP consortia should take on as much responsibility as they wish. The national commissioning board will support them in developing the necessary expertise but, if they want to, we are proposing that they should be able to seek support from elsewhere, including the private sector, within their budgets. In no sense are we proposing a privatisation of the NHS. In particular, lest anyone should think otherwise, our proposals for foundation trusts do not do this. I refer noble Lords to paragraph 4.21 of the White Paper, which makes this unequivocally clear.
There are certainly risks in managing the transition. Indeed, managing risk is not a new problem in the health service-it has happened since time immemorial-but the NHS chief executive and Ministers are extremely mindful of the need to control and manage risks, particularly during the transition. David Nicholson has set out the framework for implementation, with clear plans to minimise risk such as shadow-running bodies for a period of time.
It will take time for these changes to become fully embedded. That is a good thing. We recognise that not all GPs will be able to go at the pace of the fastest, and those who are not in the vanguard will be supported appropriately, but we are clear that GP commissioning is the way forward. It will align decision-making for clinical care with decision-making for financial flows. These are segregated at the moment. If you bring them together, commissioning is much more likely to be cost-effective and in the better interests of patients. While I recognise that the noble Baroness has anxieties, I hope that my colleagues and I can reassure her over the weeks and months ahead that this is a programme to be excited about, rather than the reverse.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the Minister recall and accept that I have said on a number of occasions in the past few years that what the NHS needs least is another major reorganisation? We have been beset by too many reorganisations over the years, but, having made that point, I should say that there are many valuable things in this White Paper on which we shall all wish to reflect over the coming months before the legislation is laid before the House. The development of outcomes, measurement and framework is very important.
There is also a case to be made for making all trusts foundation trusts, but only if Monitor and the Care Quality Commission have the strength and improved ability to monitor behaviour so that we avoid the kind of disasters that have occurred in one or two foundation trusts in the past few months.
I have said on a number of occasions that the NHS is beset by the activities of an intolerable quangocracy. There are far too many quangos, which have the right to examine and assess the performance of health service bodies, and a reduction in the number of these will be very valuable. However, we wish to know which quangos the Government have in mind. Valuable, too, will be the reduction in bureaucracy.
Many of those who are so proud of the NHS have major concerns about the GP-commissioning element of the White Paper. No doubt the Minister will remember GP fund-holding under the previous Conservative Government, which was not a great success and had to be withdrawn in the end because it failed to fulfil the objectives. I know, and the Minister will agree, that a number of general practitioners are very enthusiastic about this idea, but many are deeply concerned and anxious about the new responsibilities that will be imposed on them. What administrative support will the GP consortia be given to enable them to fulfil this very arduous responsibility? Is it really right that every form of regional strategic planning should be abolished? What is to prevent overambitious foundation trusts embarking on programmes to bring in highly expensive-
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. He will know that our plans do not constitute reorganisation for its own sake. The only purpose of the reorganisations that we are proposing is to embed higher-quality practice and better outcomes for patients, and for no other reason.
The noble Lord asked several questions about GP commissioning. As he will know, the previous Administration introduced practice-based commissioning more than five years ago. Some consortia are doing an excellent job, but many GPs have been frustrated by not having clear responsibility and control. They find very often that PCTs get in their way rather than help them. I think that it will be music to their ears that they will be able to create structures and management systems for themselves that will help them rather than get in their way. We are going to enable them to learn from the past. We are engaged in talks with the profession about how we implement the change, which will, I emphasise, be bottom up.
The noble Lord also referred to GP fund-holding, which as the House will know was a policy introduced by the Conservative Government. There were good points and bad points about fund-holding. The good points were that it empowered GPs and, in many cases, delivered good quality care. But the criticisms revolved around high transaction costs, bureaucracy and, in many ways, inequalities that resulted. We want to avoid those pitfalls. The support that GPs will get will not be prescribed from the centre. A range of support is already available for commissioning,
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Baroness Northover: My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House, as invited, that this is a brief Statement. We have 20 minutes all together and we are already five minutes in. Many people want to intervene on this extremely important Statement, so if people can be brief we will be able to cover as much as possible.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the Minister talked about an NHS that was stifled by top-down bureaucracy. Given the impressive outcomes that we have seen with improvements in cancer treatment, I do not think that many people would recognise that story. Does the Minister accept that medicine is a fast-changing field where innovation needs to be translated into practice on the front line as quickly as possible? Does he further accept that there needs to be leadership in a complex system like this if patients are to have access to the improvements in innovation and care? How does he see that leadership working?
How will patients be represented throughout the system? For example, how will they be represented at the NHS board? How will GPs ensure that they can access fairly and without bias the views of all their patients, not just those they see regularly? How will GPs translate those patient perspectives into commissioning in line with this new strategy that the local authorities will be responsible for developing? I want to hear the Minister answer that important question in some detail.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point about innovation. We are clear, as is the White Paper, that driving innovation through the system will remain an extremely important part of what we mean by quality. The QIPP agenda is alive and kicking. For those noble Lords who are not familiar with the acronym, QIPP stands for quality, innovation, productivity and prevention. The innovation part of that will be driven in several ways, not least by the NHS commissioning board, which will have access to sources of advice from NICE, the NHS quality board and many other sources. But we also plan to put in place incentives in the tariff, which will drive innovation and high-quality care. Our proposals for those will be forthcoming.
The noble Baroness asked about patient representation. She was absolutely right about clinical leadership, but she was also correct to say that we need to ensure that the patient's voice is heard at every level of the health service. At the local authority level, there is no doubt that Health Watch will have a presence as the voice of local patients. We are also creating a national Health Watch, which will act as the national voice for patients, feeding directly into the Care Quality Commission so that assessments of quality can be informed by patient experience on the ground. We are not planning in any way to dilute the duty under Section 242 of the 2006 Act to involve patients in the configuration of services. It is important that local people feel that they have a say in the way that services are developed. Our proposals for this will be laid out in an engagement document that is to be published in a short while.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Earl, and in particular the fact that it builds on many of the best innovations developed by the previous Government such as the commitment by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, to clinical excellence as the lead factor in the development of services. What I also welcome is that, unlike under the previous Government, the default position is that power will be vested in local communities rather than with the Secretary of State, particularly the commitment to ring-fenced funding for public health and, even more so, having a public health strategy that includes mental health.
I have two questions for the Minister. The first concerns the choice of provider. A large section of the paper emphasises the right of patients to choose a provider. Is it not the case that, in order for there to be a choice of provider, there has to be overcapacity in the system? Can the noble Earl tell us what estimate the department has made of that, given that the White Paper also talks about the challenging financial position in which these plans will go forward? The second question concerns a statement in the papers that the Government intend to create the biggest social enterprise sector, which no doubt will be welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, as doing such a thing was also a policy of her Government. Can the noble Earl explain whether that means that many, if not most, of the existing providers of health services will cease to be providers of those services in the future?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her positive comments. On public health, she will see in the White Paper that we will be publishing a further White Paper later in the year specifically about public health. Quite deliberately, there is only limited information on that subject in this White Paper. As regards choice of provider, she will see in the White Paper that our policy is clear: it is a policy of "any willing provider". That means that any provider who is able to provide services to the NHS at the right level of quality and at or below the tariff will be allowed to do so. However, as I said in the Statement, this will not be a free-for-all because providers, if they provide services to the NHS, will be subject to the scrutiny of Monitor, and there will be a joint licensing system between Monitor and the CQC in respect of financial systems and quality, so that those providers who offer their services to the NHS will be regulated on a level playing field. I shall take away the concern she raised at the end of her question, and if I have not covered it adequately in my answer, I will write to her.
Lord Snape: Does the Minister accept that this is not a reorganisation of the National Health Service being proposed by the Government, but a balkanisation of that service? Did he not notice the lack of enthusiasm for these proposals of those on the Benches behind him, particularly his junior partners in this alliance? Where is the sense in taking away powers from primary care trusts and strategic health authorities and giving them to individual GPs-ironically, to those in the one group who are not employees of the National Health Service? How will it be possible to continue with a unified National Health Service throughout the United Kingdom if hundreds, if not thousands, of GP practices all promote their own ideas in their own specific areas?
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Earl Howe: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord's question was but I profoundly disagree with his analysis of the proposals before the House. Far from killing off the National Health Service they will give it added life. What is the National Health Service about? It is there to serve patients. If we take as our guiding principle that patients matter more than anyone else-more than the system and more than PCTs-and that we want to take care of patients in the best possible way, we need to enable doctors and patients, working together, to take ownership of the patients' state of health and to take decisions together. If you arrive at that conclusion, the structures that we are proposing are the logical outcome. The noble Lord's concerns are for the system, which has often got in the way of patient care. The whole point of these proposals is to remove those obstacles. I hope he will have cause to change his mind as he reads the White Paper.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I preface my three questions by declaring that I am the chair of an NHS trust. First, does the Minister think there is scope for organisational reconfiguration, to use an awful phrase, to contribute to the achievement of the Government's objective of higher quality in a cost-effective way? Secondly, if he does, does he think-as I do-that such experience as there is suggests that the road to such reconfiguration is strewn with bureaucratic obstacles, delays and unnecessary costs? Thirdly, if he agrees with that, will he do something about it?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There is no doubt scope for reconfiguration but we are not going to prescribe it from Whitehall. The structures that we propose in the White Paper will facilitate reconfiguration in a much more coherent and structured way on a local level because, with the buy-in of patients, local authorities will have a major say in the way in which services are configured, as will GPs, acting in consortia, jointly. The key issue is whether reconfiguration makes sense from a clinical perspective. Politicians are not in the best position to decide that. Having said that, there will be occasions when people will be unable to agree at a local level and we have plans to cater for that situation: ultimately, the Secretary of State will stand as arbiter in such difficult cases. However, in the majority of cases, we see decisions as properly lying at a local level.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I have two brief questions. First, in the Statement the Minister referred to outcomes. Given that secondary care sometimes has patients-sadly too often-referred late because of delayed diagnosis in primary care, how is the clinical care of the general practitioner going to be held to account in this system? My second question relates to the Minister's mention of "any willing provider". What security will there be to ensure that a provider cannot introduce a loss-leader service with clearly defined boundaries in order to gain a market share, and to prevent complex and difficult cases not covered by that provider being dumped on the NHS? This has been the experience with some
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Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness identifies two particularly important issues. How will GPs be held to account for the clinical care that they provide? The data emanating from their performance will be transparent and published. The consortia will monitor the performance of each practice. They will identify outliers, whether good or bad, and act accordingly. We do not have those information systems sufficiently in place-I hope that, over the next 18 months or so, there will be time to develop the systems needed for consortia to do this-but it is vital that GPs are held to account for their performance and they will be incentivised in their remuneration to provide high quality.
The noble Baroness made an important point about loss leaders among providers. The NHS commissioning board will license a provider only if it is satisfied that the quality of care delivered by that body is of an adequate standard. I think that the board will look with great care at the practice of introducing loss-leader services and rule out, if there is any doubt at all, quality being compromised in the process.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I warmly welcome some of those ideas in the White Paper that build on the previous Government's reforms such as choice and competition. However, is the Minister aware-as am I from my own experience as a Minister-that many in the NHS do not wish to be liberated? What will be his approach to those areas where GPs' consortia do not live up to the standards required of the commissioning board? What will he do to ensure that we do not lose the benefits of regional specialised commissioning, which it has taken many years to bring to the level of quality that exists today?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I shall be brief because time is against us. I agree with the noble Lord that we must not lose the gains that we have made in specialised commissioning following the Carter reforms. He will see that the national commissioning board will retain responsibility not only for national specialised commissioning but for regional specialised commissioning. That will safeguard the quality of those services.
The noble Lord referred to GPs who do not wish to commission or who are in some way found wanting in their performance. Our experience to date-a number of consortia have been formed around the country, all of which are working encouragingly well-suggests that those GPs within the consortium who are in the lead and are the most go-ahead are best placed to bring up to standard their colleagues who are perhaps struggling. We have witnessed that in a number of instances. Those GPs who are incapable of being brought up to an adequate standard may be subject to a question over their future. In certain consortia, we have seen GPs retiring from NHS service.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, perhaps I may cross the bounds between the Statement and what we are about to debate by drawing attention to the recommendation of the Back-Bench Peers' informal group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, that time for Statements might best be found in the Moses Room or in Grand Committee. However, this has been an extraordinarily important Statement and I know that the whole House will have listened to it with great interest.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for announcing at the beginning of the debate that a Leader's Group would be established to consider its substance and, I assume, many of the reports which have preceded it, including those of the three informal groups established by Back-Benchers, which have produced a range of extremely important and detailed recommendations-and which there is certainly not time to cover in a debate of this kind. I also thank the Lord Speaker for the important address that she gave to the Hansard Society last December on strengthening Parliament. She put forward a number of propositions, the relevance of which is clear and which ought to be among the first matters to be considered by the Leader's new committee.
In particular, however-here I hark back again to the Statement-we ought to know whether it is procedures, processes or outcomes that we are most concerned about in considering these issues. In the Statement that they have just made, the Government have taken the view that outcomes are more important in the National Health Service context than processes. I beg to suggest that it is important that in considering the reform of our processes we are clear what we are trying to achieve. There is a degree of ambiguity about this. It was made somewhat clear by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in her remarks that we must be complementary to the workings of another place. Sometimes, that may seem like taking crumbs from the rich man's table; sometimes, it may seem as though what is required is for us to pick up the ball when it has been dropped in another place.
I suggest that this ad hoc approach is really not appropriate for a modern Parliament and that there ought to be a much clearer delineation of the roles of the two Houses. Of course, we touched upon that in our recent debate on the reform of composition and powers and I do not wish to go over that ground again, but we have to know what is in mind before we can judge the suitability of the changes of process. It seems to me that that needs to be made explicit by the
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In her speech, the Lord Speaker made the point-it was a very valid point-that when one House changes its way of working it has an effect in the other. She particularly spoke of the timetabling of legislation in the Commons leading to the Lords taking on its line-by-line scrutiny role. We are told, and reference has been made to it in this debate, that another place is considering the recommendations of the Wright committee. While that is good, it affects what we do here. It therefore seems to me that we cannot at this point in time consider more than a number of discrete proposals that might have immediate relevance. We should certainly not attempt to rewrite the Companionor any of the guidance in a wholesale manner. That would be untimely, not least of course because of the wider debate on powers and composition but also because we do not yet know how another place will tackle its role and what should be the complementary role, at the very least, that this House plays.
I ask my noble friend how the Government see the interaction with the other place during these discussions. We should not simply tweak our timing here and there, whether we sit during the Summer Recess in September or take on certain ways of handling prelegislative scrutiny, which we can do only in an interim fashion until we know what prelegislative scrutiny arrangements may be favoured in another place. What we should be determining today is how we interrelate in these discussions with another place. I would have hoped that we might have some kind of Joint Committee with another place to consider how best to distribute the work between the two Chambers. Yes, second-guessing is sometimes of value, but separation of functions and priority to one House for one set of issues is to be preferred to always second-guessing. As we have discussed, money Bills are primarily for another place, but in this place there are some areas of policy that our procedures should allow us to take particular account of and be apt in delivering the outcomes. I hope that we will look at that. We have heard from the Leader of the House that the mandate or remit of his committee will be very wide. It would help us a little in feeding into that work to know exactly the areas or topics that it would consider appropriate for evidence purposes.
One subject that I would suggest the committee considers, because it has not been considered anywhere else in this House, as far as I am aware, although I cannot possibly cover all the recommendations made by these three significant sub-committees or Back-Bench informal groups, is a post-legislative review. That is crying out for attention. We have had a lot of talk about overlegislation; it in a sense pre-empts the consideration of legislation that has ceased to be of value. We should also consider the flagging up of legislation mentioned on both Front Benches that has not been properly considered in another place. That is of very great importance because we cannot allow Bills not to be properly considered. There may be difficulties in determining procedurally what is appropriate to flag up, but that is a very significant task, and it is a
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The noble Baroness, in opening the debate from the opposition Benches, raised a number of issues on which I support her. She was right to draw attention to the number of occasions on which this House has carried amendments to legislation that have gone unchallenged subsequently. The quality of the input into that scrutiny depends upon the expertise and knowledge of those who are participating in the debates. As we move towards a differently structured House, it may be necessary to make different procedural arrangements to ensure that evidence is taken on a more standard basis in pre-legislative scrutiny and during the passage of legislation if this House is going to do more than replicate the political arguments that may have been heard already at the other end of the Corridor. These are wide matters but what I am most interested in hearing in the conclusion of this debate is how the Government propose to open this discussion up to evidence and ensure that its wide remit is fulfilled, answering all the many questions and suggestions that have been made.
Lord Kakkar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having provided this opportunity for discussion on the case for reviewing the working practices and processes of your Lordships' House. I think that all who greatly value the bicameral parliamentary system that we enjoy welcome this opportunity for discussion.
There is no doubt that your Lordships' House works well and I strongly believe, from my short experience here, that it has delivered well for the people of our country. It is important, however, that we review our practices and ensure that we are able to provide most effectively the functions that the people of our country expect of us. In this regard, all three areas that were covered by the cross-party groups that reported in March this year are important, but I shall confine my comments principally to the scrutiny of legislation.
I was compelled by the suggestion that there should be a committee that looked at legislative standards. This is important. It would be a sad situation to have a parliamentary system that did not expect of the Executive careful thought regarding what legislation was being brought to Parliament and what each part of that legislation was expected to achieve. It is also important that we look at how scrutiny of legislation is undertaken between the other place and your Lordships' House. It is clear from the debate that we have heard so far that changes to working practices in the other place are under review, and it is important that those changes are well understood when we look at how we might change our working practices and processes in your Lordships' House. Will the Minister be able to make some reference to how questions of changes in practices in the other place and in your Lordships' House might be considered together so that at the end of this process, which may take some time, we have the most effective strategy for the use of Parliament across both Houses?
The flagging of clauses that have not been properly scrutinised in another place is important, and I wonder if that could be addressed more quickly. With a new Government, a lot of legislation will be coming to this House, and for your Lordships to be more effective we need to be able to identify where we should put our efforts to ensure that the people of this country ultimately enjoy the very best laws after a period of careful scrutiny.
The next issue is post-legislative review. This has not always been at the forefront of the minds of either your Lordships or Members of another place, but it is terribly important. The people of our country must be confident that as laws are passed and they start to be implemented, there is a body in this Parliament that determines whether the laws indeed achieve the purpose that was originally set out and that all the time, effort and expense have been for a good and rightful purpose. A way of identifying that early on would also be a useful approach to improving legislation as it passes between the two Houses and eventually becomes law.
The debate about reviewing the working practices of your Lordships' House is important, but it is part of a continuum. In the short time during which I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, we have seen the adoption of a new Code of Conduct and the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards, and we are in the process of reviewing the finance and allowance arrangements for Members of the House. Taken with the vast range of proposals that will now be dissected and eventually agreed on by the Leader's Group, these changes should show that your Lordships' House is committed to reform, but reform to ensure that this House remains and is improved as a Chamber for scrutiny and revision of legislation, working with the Government of the day to ensure that the people of this country enjoy the very best laws.
This debate is somewhat different from the one that we had some weeks ago on the question of membership of your Lordships' House, so the final point on which I seek some clarification is how the two processes will run together. The process of looking at working practices will be taken forward by the Leader's Group, but it will be considering issues at the same time as your Lordships' House receives the draft Bill on creating a predominantly or fully elected second Chamber. How will we ensure that these two important pieces of work have appropriate time for consideration in your Lordships' House and that they do not cancel each other out or result in a situation that looks somewhat inappropriate and implausible to those who are looking from the outside at what we are trying to achieve?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I have shared responsibility for the arrangement of business as a Whip in both Houses over more decades than I like to think about, both in government and in opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, this debate is part of a continuum. The procedures and practices of your Lordships' House have been under almost continuous scrutiny and change for the past decade and more. That is well set out in the Library note issued before this debate, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition pointed out.
I welcome the setting up of the committee by the leaders to consider these matters, but I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Kakkar, that there is a problem with how this fits together with the proposals for changes to the constitution of your Lordships' House. The proposals that are before us-from the four reports and so on-are all for changes to the present House. A fully elected House would both need and want different procedures to reflect the fact that the elected Members would each have to take an interest in a far wider range of questions-those issues that concern their constituents-than your Lordships currently do. We each have our interests and, for the most part, we do not interfere with others.
The time pressures on an elected House are much greater, as those of us who have been involved in the management of or been Members of the House of Commons know well. That is why the other place has, over the years, adopted guillotines, the selection of amendments, the grouping of amendments and all the other things for speeding up the business and trying to fit more into the time available.
In considering procedure, we should recognise clearly that the provisions that are appropriate to a House such as your Lordships' House, which contains a large number of Peers who are high in expertise on specific matters, are very different from those that are appropriate to a House in which everyone has to take at least some interest in practically everything. Of course, if this House were to become a hybrid House-partly elected and partly appointed-it would need hybrid procedures, as it were; it would need some parts from both. Even that would mean a significant change to the procedures and practices of the House. It is important to remember these differences, particularly when considering the adoption of some of the Commons practices.
I was surprised to read in the report from the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that the usual channels are considered opaque. The usual channels are defined in the Companion with some care. I was a member of them as opposition Chief Whip from 2001 to 2007. The results of their daily and more or less continuous negotiations are announced to the House in the form of agreed business, together with frequent Statements to the House by the government Chief Whip about particular modifications and what is happening. Speaking with personal experience only of my party, and with only hearsay from the other parties and the Cross Benches, no one is more accountable to the members of their party than a Chief Whip in the Lords.
Every week the Chief Whip reports to the party group-the Association of Conservative Peers in our case-the results of the usual channels' discussions on the business of the House, is openly questioned and pressed on various matters, and has to do his or her best to respond to what is said and wished for. Every week the Chief Whip also has a private meeting with the officers of the Association of Conservative Peers. What is more, every day the Chief Whip is about the House, open to informal questioning or lobbying. I can assure noble Lords that Members approach the Chief Whip every five minutes, it sometimes seems, about one matter or another. They do not always say
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The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, acknowledged, as has been said, that some process of this kind is necessary to lubricate the business of the House. That is right. The Chief Whip, the Leader of the House and the leaders of the various other parties are under pressure from other directions-from the Government themselves, the other place and their colleagues. These are pressures to which the Chief Whip and so on are subject, in a sense, on behalf of the House. There are many other people who are interested in and affected by the progress of legislation, as well as the membership of your Lordships' House.
It is suggested that it would improve the transparency of the usual channels if the Leader of the House were to have a weekly question time. I think that is an error. Such a procedure would not have the intended consequence. The Leader would quickly be asked questions designed to score political points, not to elucidate information about the scheduling of business. Those who have listened to Leader's Questions in another place know exactly what I mean. Every week the Chief Whips and the Convenor are formally questioned in the group meetings. That is the better way to proceed. By the way, this is a highly detailed point but the usual channels are nothing to do with the refreshment department's hours, as is suggested in the report, except to suggest to the refreshment department when the House is likely to be at its fullest. That is obviously right.
As I say, one cannot please all the people all the time. That applies in spades to appointments to committees. All appointments to official committees of your Lordships' House are put to the vote on the Floor of the House. It is very rare that any amendments are made when the recommendations come forward. That is because of the very wide consultation which takes place between the parties about balance and the individuals who might serve. The difficulty is that Peers are reluctant to serve on some committees and have to be persuaded to do so. On the other hand, other committees are extremely popular and the difficulty is to select the right people to serve on them. There are a lot of other proposals in the various reports-far too many for me to respond seriatim. I record my support for the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and for his proposals on tax simplification. However, as I sat on his working party, I suppose that I could be expected to support those.
To my mind the most important recommendations are those concerning pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. There are some valuable proposals there. I should also like to see renewed consideration of how Bills are drafted. A very important report by our late lamented colleague Lord Renton was published a few decades ago. The recommendations of that excellent report have never been properly implemented by any Government between then and now. Like others, I am strongly in favour of a self-governing House but wish to make it
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Lord Filkin: My Lords, the Leader of the House with his customary suaveness has shot the fox that a number of us were pursuing, in that we expected that we would have to spend some time arguing the case for a Leader's Group with wide terms of reference. He has taken the wind out of our sails and I am delighted that he has done so. This must, of course, mean that our debate will finish that much sooner this evening, which will be a comfort to us all.
I will confine my remarks to two points: first, the working group on the scrutiny of primary legislation, which has been referred to previously; and, secondly, some points on governance. First, the cross-party group, of which I was pleased to act as convener or chair, set out a number of recommendations. I shall speak to the most important of those, which has been touched on briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. It is essentially the argument that, before legislation enters this House, the Government should commit to ensuring that it is properly prepared and ready for this House. This, of course, causes no fear to the Leader of the House as his party, like mine, was never guilty of a sin in that direction, as I am sure he will concur. However, to be more serious, all parties sin in this respect at times. I think the paper is suggesting that, before legislation is introduced, the Government should have set out: the policy argument and evidence as to why they are legislating; the underlying policy objective that the legislation is part of a process of achieving; what they seek to achieve-in more specific terms, what success might look like and by when-and the processes by which they will achieve those objectives, of which legislation is of course only a small part in many cases.
The purpose of all that is not to be tedious and to employ civil servants, but to try to ensure that when this House is scrutinising legislation it does not just dive for the detail of clauses-which it must do, of course-but looks at the larger picture and actually holds the Government to account as to whether their policy objectives are clear and whether or not they are
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The process that I am talking about would logically apply only to legislation that started in the Lords, because it would be slightly strange for this House to say, "We have looked at this Bill. It does not seem to us to be ready for legislation", when another place had spent a lot of time on it. That may be slightly self-denying, but it is almost common sense. We could hardly argue for reversing a process that was already under way. Therefore, the process would not apply to a lot of legislation, but it ought to apply to all Lords starters.
Let me say a few words about governance-the principle, not the detail. I hope that the argument that the House should review its own governance does not need making. I assume-and I hope that I am right, given the warm tones with which the Leader spoke-that the governance review will be part of the working group that he announced would be set up as a Leader's Group.
Why we need to review our governance does not need labouring. We have not had a happy year or two and we do not have the confidence of the public. I will not provide statistics; there are plenty of statistics as to how this House is seen, and they are a disappointment and a point of regret for this House, because most of us believe that we generally do a good job. The challenge for the House is to ensure that we meet the high standards expected of a public body. That goes beyond whether we think that generally we are good chaps and do a good job, to whether the wider public think and understand that our governance is: transparent; comprehensible to them and us; instils confidence in them, or at least in the informed public; and is well able to prevent-or, if not, address- crises, because crises will occur in the future as they have done in the past.
Noble Lords can tell by my tone that I am not taking a view that all our governance is self-evidently flawed, but it needs to be reviewed and needs to be seen to be reviewed thoroughly and thoughtfully. That is even more important because, as has been mentioned by many speakers, we are a self-governing House. Self-governing institutions start with a problem, because
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While we have had many reviews, I cannot see any evidence in recent times of a proper review of the governance arrangements of the House. Therefore, such a review would look at the governance of finance-because as a House we will be challenged on that-and at performance.
Finally, to have confidence that a review process was well done, it would be desirable for the Leader's Group to ask someone independent from the House to cast an eye over what we have learnt about good governance standards from Cadbury, the Audit Commission and elsewhere, and bring back, without making it a long business, a short report to the Leader's Group on what the process looked like from the point of view of an outsider of eminence and authority by comparing our governance standards against the standards that can be found in other public bodies and public companies. That would accelerate the discussions about governance and give confidence to those outside who had an open mind that we were treating this process seriously.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, one of our new colleagues asked me last week how it was that the House was self-regulating when there were so many things that he could not do. That led us to talk about self-regulation starting one step back from day-to-day procedures but it being important that the process should take the House with it when agreeing what our procedures and rules should be. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I have been thinking about some of the things that Lord Russell used to talk about. He felt strongly that if we had a Speaker with a role similar to that of the Speaker in the Commons, we would all rapidly begin to behave rather badly. We would push at the boundaries and wait to be pulled back, and our behaviour would worsen significantly.
There has been a band of brothers and sisters working energetically on these issues, many of whom are speaking in this debate and are to be congratulated.
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Four years ago, we resolved to elect our own "presiding officer"-that was the term. The outside world and many inside the House would expect a presiding officer to have more of a role within the Chamber. Self-regulation has meant that Question Time, for instance, has become quite a noisy affair, as other noble Lords have mentioned, and the logic of the government Front Bench rather than the presiding officer acting as the traffic warden is not obvious to everyone. If we are to look at the role of the Lord Speaker, some changes to the role of the Deputy Speakers would naturally follow, but, as the governance group identified, there is scope for the development of their roles, and what was once a logical distribution of work between the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy Speakers may no longer apply.
Huge strides have been made, many at the instigation and under the guidance of the Lord Speaker, in demystifying the work of the House. One of our guiding principles-this was very much the thrust of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones-should be not just transparency but intelligibility and accessibility. Democracy demands this. At a time of reform, there is a danger in being seen as having our gaze fixed on our collective navel, and we should be aware of what the public expect and want-although I am aware that they are not one homogeneous entity. Much of this comes down to common sense.
One thing that most people would expect of any organisation is that it reviews and evaluates what it has done to help it in future. That is why I am keen to see a development of the scrutiny of legislation both before and after its enactment. I declare an interest as a co-president of the Centre for Public Scrutiny. Most of us are alert to this House being complementary to the House of Commons-and we are all spelling "complementary" with an "e" this evening. This House is particularly suited to undertaking the work that many noble Lords have described. Parliament has a role that is distinct from government. I am perhaps the first this afternoon to say that we have a coalition Government, not a coalition Parliament. It is inevitable that Back-Benchers on the government side will be teased if we say anything mildly critical of the Government, but I have never seen scrutiny as equivalent to opposition. If you are on the government side, you hope to be a critical friend. Friends and opponents working together can do a very good job of scrutiny. Both want to test a proposal; the opponents because they want to show that it will not work, the friends because they want to ensure that it will. That was an observation that I gleaned fairly early on when I was chair of the London Assembly, the main job of which is scrutiny of the executive in London.
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