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Keith Vaz: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), but he is wrong on this issue. The Minister was spot on in the way in which he introduced this new proposal. It cannot be right, surely, that a senior member of the Government should, in conducting his or her duties as a Cabinet Minister, come before the House of Lords and act as a Speaker for that House. That is what the hon. Gentleman proposes.
It should be a matter for the House of Lords to decide how it elects the person who will chair its proceedings. It is right that we should modernise the role of Lord Chancellor. Of course we are keeping the title, so the hon. Gentleman need not worry about that. We have still got that titlethe campaign has been wonbut the role has been modernised. As a part of that process, it is essential that the other place should be able to find and elect its own Chairperson, so that it is not chaired by a member of the Government who sits in the Cabinet and therefore cannot possibly be seen to be impartial in his or her work.
Mr. Luff: Irrespective whether or not I accept that argument, is the hon. Gentleman entirely happy with the use of the word "Speaker" to describe the role in the other place as the alternative to the title "Lord Chancellor"? I would certainly prefer it to "Chairperson"the phrase that he just used.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman was not in his place earlier when we had a debate about names, and whether we should have an attachment to a name or to the functions of the office. It must be left to the other place to decide. I believe that the words "Mr. Speaker" mean the Speaker of the House of Commons, and I am sure that many other titles could be found, in ancient Acts of Parliament or elsewhere, to describe somebody who chairs the proceedings in the other place.
In any case, the Chair in the other place should not be the Lord Chancellor. We have won the battle to retain the title of Lord Chancellor and we should let him get on with being the Secretary of State of a major Department. The other place should choose whom it wants to chair it. I hope that it does not use the same title as we have because it is special to the House of Commons, but it can use any other title it wants.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), as I so often agree with him on the Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Member for
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Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) is, uncharacteristically, behind the flow of events, not least in that we had a brief but enlightening debate on ecclesiastical patronage at the relevant point earlier this afternoon. I am entirely satisfied with the way in which the matter has been handled, as it was much in line with the evidence heard by the Committee.
I should declare an interest on the matter of a Speaker for the House of Lords, as my wife is a member of the other place. The clause is necessary to allow the House of Lords to make its own choice of Speaker. If we do not accept the clause, certain functions will have to be exercised by the Lord Chancellor that the House of Lords might consider should be exercised by the person who is its Speakeror whatever title is used. That is the main reason for this provision: it is not that the House of Commons is deciding who should chair proceedings at the other end of the building. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire that significant disadvantages would arise should the Lords decide to call that person the Speaker. There are also some reasons in the history of that Chamber that make that title inappropriate. The role played by the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords is very different from that played by any occupant of the Chair in this House. The role in the Lords is much more restricted. The other place may yet choose a different title and we have our own reasons for hoping that it does so.
Mr. Luff: In that context, does the right hon. Gentleman share my regret that the clause we are debating is entitled "Speakership of the House of Lords"? That appears to carry the presumption that the other place should choose to use the word "Speaker" and I hope for some reassurance on that point from the Minister.
Mr. Beith: I am sure that we will, because it is a generic title. The clause had to be called something in order to detach the positions referred to in statute from the Lord Chancellor. We are cutting the cord between those functions and the Lord Chancellor so that they can be available to the person who presides over and acts as the formal representative of the House of Lords in the future. I am sure that the Minister will reassure us that we are not seeking to determine what title the House of Lords uses or, indeed, whether the role of the person who chairs remains much as it is now. My judgment, from talking to my friends in the other place, is that on the whole the Lords like the slightly Quaker meeting style of proceeding that they have. It suits them, and what we are doing today in no way interferes with their right to decide, other than sending a signal that we do not think it appropriate that the Executive should make available one of their senior Ministers for that purpose.
Clause 15 deals with the future of the speakership of the House of Lords. It introduces schedule 5, which provides for the replacement of references in primary legislation to the Lord Chancellor in his capacity as Speaker, with references to the title of "Speaker of the House of Lords". On Third Reading in the other place, Lord Falconer conceded that the choice of Speaker of the House of Lords was a matter for the other place alone. The Government's intention of course is that the provisions in the Billnow clause 15 and schedule 5would allow the House of Lords to choose whomsoever it wished to fill that role without a future need to amend primary legislation.
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It is worth briefly setting out the background to these provisions. The other place established a Select Committee in July 2003 for the purpose of considering future arrangements regarding the speakership. That followed in the wake of the Government's announcement of their intention to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. The Committee's report in November 2003 made a series of recommendations, including that a single secret ballot should be used to elect the Speaker, the Speaker's term should last for five years with the possibility of renewal and the Speaker's title should be "Lord Speaker".
The report also recommended that the Speaker's ceremonial role should be retained as that which currently exists for the Lord Chancellor, and that the Speaker should welcome new Members and help them to learn the customs and traditions of the House. It said that the Speaker would play an important role in receiving and entertaining overseas Speakers and other parliamentarians visiting Westminster.
A debate on the speakership was held in the other place during the Bill's Report stage. During that debate, Lord Campbell of Alloway moved an amendment on behalf of the Opposition to retain the Lord Chancellor as Speaker. Lord Kingsland eloquently set out the case for retaining the present position. He said:
"I cannot allow the moment to pass without expressing a view about the Speakership of your Lordships' House. This is a very important issue which requires careful thought and upon which taking the wrong decision could change the whole character of the House. That is why I submit that the clause on the Speakership and the accompanying schedule should not remain part of the Bill."
The Bill and the review of the speakership of the House conducted by Lord Lloyd of Berwick and his Committee were predicated on the assumption that the office of Lord Chancellor would no longer exist. However, their lordships' House has now determined not only that the office should continue to exist, but that the Lord Chancellor should remain in their lordships' House. Of course, owing to Government amendments that were agreed to in Committee in the Commons, we are now in the rather unhappy position that the Lord Chancellor will not necessarily have to be a Member of the other place. However, we are yet to hear their lordships' views on that.
My hon. Friend quoted our noble friend Lord Kingsland, who indicated that the change could have a significant impact on the character of debates in the House of Lords and the nature of that House. If that were the case, surely the change would also have
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important consequences for this House. Do we have any idea of the nature of the changes that Lord Kingsland envisaged?
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