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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, as one who attended the Procedure Committee of the House, I should just like to make one or two comments on its report. The Chairman of Committees mentioned the question of attendance during debates and other conventions of the House. It has been brought to my notice that yesterday, when there were, I believe, five maiden speakers, three of them left and did not reappear for the winding-up speeches. It is most important that the various parties should din into their new boys the importance of observing the conventions.
One or two other matters were raised. There has been a certain amount of slackness recently about bowing to the Cloth of State upon entering the Chamber, and also about walking between the Woolsack and the Peer who is speaking. I know that these may appear to some of your Lordships to be trivial matters, but over the years these little courtesies have been the oil which enabled the wheels of business to turn easily and pleasantly. I believe that it is most important for us not to lose sight of that fact.
That means the carry over of a Bill from one Session to another. The idea is that government Bills should not fall at the end of a Session if they have not completed all their stages, but should be enabled to continue into the next Session. The report also says that the committee "accepts" the need for such carry over of government Bills, but I want to point out to the House that the committee was not unanimous in that respect; certainly, three members of the committee were very unhappy about the whole idea. I believe we felt--indeed, I felt so, and I was one of those members--that it was no bad thing for governments to have some hurdles to jump in getting their business through. I should also like to point out to the Government that, one day, they may find themselves in opposition and they may come to regret what they very much want at present.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, perhaps I may raise the matter of the Register of Members' Interests and the declaration thereof. Unfortunately, we are at a disadvantage today in considering what the Chairman of Committees has reported to us and what the Procedure
When we consider this particular item, it will be useful to see the current register to ascertain whether it is more complete than has been the case in the past. We also need to bear in mind the fact that, over the past few months, we have had a large influx of new Members to your Lordships' House. If the Procedure Committee were to review this particular issue within the next six months rather than after 12 months, taking soundings from all parts of the House before it deliberated on the matter, we might achieve a situation which does not leave Members of your Lordships' House vulnerable compared with the system which now pertains in the other place.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I should like to put two questions to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. The first relates to a matter raised by my noble friend Lady Saltoun; namely, the proposal to carry forward certain government Bills to the next parliamentary Session. That would represent a major departure from our traditional practice and would alter the balance of power to some extent between the Executive and the legislature. If the proposal were ultimately to be agreed to, can the noble Lord say what kind of Bills might be carried forward and how often that might happen?
My second question is on a rather more mundane topic. The report claims that there would be an annual saving of £80,000 if Questions for Written Answer were only to be printed once in the Lords Minute. That equates to a staggering £537 per sitting day, based on last year's figures. That represents about 1,000 copies of no more than 12 A4 sheets containing information most of which is already stored on computer. Periodic alterations should not have to involve the payment of expensive overtime. I wonder whether the taxpayer is perhaps paying just a little bit too much for the Minutes of Proceedings.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees said that the question of the register of interests had been discussed at the meeting. However, I believe that he also said that it is not mentioned in the report. I understand that that is the normal procedure if no change takes place with the subject under discussion. Nevertheless, it is deeply disappointing that further consideration of the register is to be deferred for such a long time. If I understood him correctly, the Chairman of Committees said that it would be three years before the issue would be reconsidered.
I raise the matter because of the growing concern about the inadequacy of the provisions for registration in your Lordships' House. It is now receiving attention outside the House, not only in newspaper reports but also by those who take an interest in such matters. This has arisen because of the massive publicity arising from
However, perhaps the crucial aspect of the matter is the fact that it is generally accepted that many more noble Lords hold directorships, chairmanships and other interests than are also held in another place where they all have to be declared. As I understand it, some of those categories do not have to be entered in the register of this House. In a recent leading article in a newspaper, some noble Lords were named along with the number of directorships and related offices which they held, none of which were included in the register of interests. My impression was that the persons so named were not acting dishonestly but that the article pointed out the glaring inconsistency compared with the strict criteria required in another place.
The behaviour of politicians is now more than ever under the searchlight of the modern media, and television in particular, but also, of course, radio and newspapers. We should not complain about that. Your Lordships' House is frequently praised for the quality of its work. We cannot afford to have any blemish on our conduct. It has to be said that the present system at least has the potential--I say no more than that--to raise doubts, as, indeed, is happening now. I assume that in considering this report today we can ask the Procedure Committee to think again on the procedures relating to the registration of interests. I trust that your Lordships will accept that view. Recently I heard someone ask, "What is the point of bolting the front door if the back door remains unlocked?". That appears to me to be a fair summary of the situation. I believe it to be a matter requiring urgent attention.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the proposal on the carry over of Bills is, as has been said, a substantial departure. As this appears now to be a proposal to be jointly considered between the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons, it looks as if we could be embarking along a road over which I personally would not wish to travel. I wonder whether in those circumstances--I do not know whether this is possible in this House--before your Lordships' House ever has to consider this matter again, we could have the minority report of those who object in the Procedure Committee so that we all may be advised of the pros and cons of this proposal. I declare my position; I am dead against it.
At present there is, I understand, a convention that a Question should be answered within a fortnight whenever possible. I would like to suggest to your Lordships that a Question that has been left unanswered for, say, 21 days should be republished daily until it is answered. We all have an interest in the smooth running and the efficiency of the proceedings of this House and indeed I think we are proud of this House's efficiency.
I therefore feel that there should be some spur towards answering a Question within a reasonable time. The knowledge that the attention of the House will be drawn to the fact that the Question is overdue for an answer would, in my submission, be as good a spur as any. Today's Order Paper contains one Question which has been left unanswered for 21 days. I am not concerned in any way with that Question or its merits; I know nothing at all about it. I merely mention that as a fact. I would suggest to your Lordships that the Select Committee on Procedure might consider whether an overdue Question should be republished until it is replied to.
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