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Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, would she agree that she has given very powerful reasons for this Parliament to be called the Mother of Parliaments?

6.43 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I was tempted to follow that exchange about mothers and barons but I should like to feel that our parliamentary democracy is defended by the whole nation, even if this House and another place give leadership from time to time.

I want first to say how much I welcome the Motion in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, as a good perennial subject to discuss. However, I hope he will allow me to say that all the evidence as displayed in his speech suggests that, having put down the Motion, the noble Viscount became a little nervous of what he had done. Indeed I think there was evidence of plain schizophrenia in his approach towards this debate. Was it to be--and this is a clear possibility on such an occasion--a frontal attack on the Government or was it to be a thoughtfully partisan discussion of constitutional affairs? In the end I think it was neither, but a mixture of both. In that sense I think it set the pattern for our whole debate.

I have to say that I agree with something said by almost all those who have contributed to the debate, but disagree equally with something in almost every speech. However, the debate has given us many thoughts to reflect upon in the time ahead if we set aside those remarks which will turn out to be ephemeral.

The whole House, I think, welcomed the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. It is almost 15 years since I last

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heard the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, speak in Parliament in another place and I now realise what I have missed during that interval. Today he was thoughtful, provocative, with a wry sense of humour and above all was independent-minded. If there is one quality which the House will have recognised today to be essential in those who choose to be its legislators, it is the independence of mind of those who come both to this place and to another. I hope we shall hear more of him soon. As for the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, he made a very powerful and plainly committed speech. What Stockport missed 24 years ago we are now fortunate enough to enjoy. Again, I am sure we shall hear from him in a very forceful way in the debates that lie ahead of us.

However, I think the happiest man in your Lordships' House today must be the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He has been mercilessly flattered on all sides, and I see that many of his colleagues are green with envy. I certainly share--I flatter him further--the recognition of the qualities which have been attributed to him but I would warn him that from now onwards it must be downhill all the way!

A curiosity about this Motion as a vehicle for a partisan attack has been pointed out in many speeches during the course of the debate. During 18 years of Conservative government--and I now look at the Motion--was Parliament encouraged

    "to scrutinise and control the actions of the Executive"?

I certainly never noticed it, and I do not believe that will be the verdict of history. Did Ministers account first to Parliament, setting aside all others, including the radio and television? It is not in my memory. And did we all feel that Parliament was unequivocally put at the centre of the nation's affairs? If I may coin a phrase, "No, no, no".

Governments learn inevitably from their predecessors and if this Government has sins and shortcomings--and it certainly has some--they are as much inherited, which should make them popular with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, as newly acquired. If I had to choose an analogy I would say that where Alistair Campbell barks, Sir Bernard Ingham growled--but they are much the same animal.

The other consideration which I think must lie behind all our discussion is that although we would all like to see Parliament at the centre of the nation's affairs we have to keep things in perspective. As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton said, the role of Parliament in every generation must be seen against technological, economic, social and cultural change. Parliament has been affected--this again has been referred to in the course of our debate--by our international commitments and obligations, most obviously in the European Union, for better or worse--I put it in a very balanced way; but also in NATO and in virtually every other international organisation.

It has also been affected by domestic factors: by the influence of television and its ability to reach directly very many more people than even ever did the full reporting of Parliament, which has long since died. Again, we must look to ourselves and admit that not

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only do Members of Parliament leap at an invitation to Millbank as an alternative to a speech in the House, but, indeed, we must confess that some of us do it almost as much.

Then there is the growth of professional lobbying, which is perfectly legitimate. Most of it is entirely acceptable with much of it now being non-commercial from organisations like Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000, Justice and voluntary organisations of all kinds. Such bodies are not only consulted by Opposition parties, they are also consulted by Ministers and civil servants as never before when policy is being made and legislation drafted.

We may not like such changes--or, indeed, all of them--but there are many others. We must come to terms with them. Parliament shares power as never before. That is the reality and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, I share with noble Lords many of their hesitations and anxieties about the changes. I agree very much with what the noble Viscount said about the growth in the habit of making major policy statements outside Parliament. But this, too, has been incremental. The fault certainly does not lie principally with this Government: they learnt it from the previous one and it is unlikely to be reversed.

Then there is the proliferation of executive agencies--138 in all. I believe that my noble friend Lord Smith referred to "para-state" agencies. I entirely accept that many of them serve a most useful purpose at an arm's length from Ministers. For example, that may be true of many of the agencies which are attached in that loose way to the defence department. But there is no doubt at all that the growth of executive agencies represents a diminution of parliamentary control. There is much to be said for the view that they are inadequately accountable, as we have seen in the debates about the Prison Service and as witnessed by the huge failure of the Child Support Agency.

Another new development has been barely noticed and is one that has not been referred to in today's debate. It is something which is entirely in the hands of Members of Parliament to resist. I have in mind the use of the chairmen of Select Committees in another place as spokesmen for their party when in government when the very nature of such committees is that they should be cross party. That is something which needs to be examined--although not in the case of your Lordships' House where I like to believe that our record is impeccable--when perhaps others reflect on the way that Select Committees are working, whether or not they have achieved their objectives; and, indeed, whether the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and I see their objectives in quite the same way.

There have also been references to the use of referenda. I shall say only that I was very wary when the development occurred in the 1970s. I have not entirely changed my mind. We must be careful that they do not undermine representative government, however justified they may be in special circumstances. I have no criticism whatever of the way that they have been used in recent constitutional change. Finally, if it is reasonable to say so, I believe that the House of

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Commons is too large and that 500 Members instead of 659 would serve the country just as well. Moreover, I believe that government, instead of providing employment for up to 100 people, should perhaps be cut by a quarter--that is to say, 20 to 25 in this House, which would be comforting to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal because that is almost as many as he has at present. So there would be little change here, but substantial change elsewhere. I would not mind if this turned out to be a case of "Work to Welfare".

I turn now to my main concern to which I can only refer briefly; namely, the future of Cabinet government. If Cabinet government works well it can do much to relieve our concerns. But here also, inherited and incremental factors are plain. The role of Cabinet as the essential policy-making forum of government was diminished by Mrs. Thatcher and has not been restored by Tony Blair. The same applies to the role of Cabinet committees. The No. 10 policy unit, and the political staff around the Prime Minister overseeing each department, has strengthened presidential government and diminished the role of departmental heads. I have to say--and here I chime with what others have said--that the over-reliance on political appointees can alienate and demoralise the career Civil Service which is talented, loyal and essential in the long term to effective government. I make no judgment as to whether this has yet happened.

Those are considerations for this Government as they ought to have been for the previous one. Some good things have emerged. I believe that the role of task forces across departments in problem solving is probably right. I welcome the development, which is quite outside government and long term, of judicial review. That represents a further way of controlling or helping to control the Executive. I welcome those changes. However, overall, I believe that much attention must be paid to the central question of whether or not Cabinet government is working adequately and, if it is not, how that can be put right.

We have discussed a whole range of changes today, many of which deserve further serious consideration. In my view, as I reflect on some time in both Chambers of Parliament, there is no alternative--and I return now to something referred to by my noble friend Lord Russell--to independent-minded Back-Benchers who know that loyalty does not always lie in saying "Yes" to their own government; to an effective Opposition, which the noble Viscount's party is certainly not providing at present; nor, indeed to strong Cabinet Ministers in command of their own departments and of the House.

This Government now appear to have abandoned the stakeholder society for the middle way--a name that I associate mainly with the first Earl of Stockton in a notable book that he wrote 60 years ago. But whatever the Government's economic and social objectives may be--and we shall have to discuss those on another occasion--I believe that they are more likely both to succeed and eventually leave our parliamentary system stronger after their period in office if Cabinet government itself is strengthened.

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6.56 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the main charge that has been made in today's debate is that the Government do not know where they are going; that their policies on constitutional reform, radical though they may be, are a poor substitute for a carefully thought out programme of change; and that, as the Government do not know where they are headed, those policies will have far-reaching and unintended effects which will be felt by every person in this country.

We have listened to many good speeches this afternoon. I should particularly like to draw the attention of the House to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord Biffen and Lord Dartmouth. It falls to me to draw together some of the themes that we have heard today. I do not find that to be a difficult task because what we have heard have not just been some very wise words but also a very serious criticism of the Government's record so far, their intentions and the impression that they give of the kind of relationship they want with Parliament.

The Government have taken us on a journey of radical constitutional change: that is beyond doubt. Let us look at their record so far. Within weeks of the election a referendum Bill for Scotland and Wales was rushed through Parliament, incidentally--and crucially--without the benefit of a White Paper explaining the Government's policy on devolution. If that is not avoiding parliamentary scrutiny, I do not know what is.

In his introductory speech, my noble friend Lord Cranborne dealt with all the inadequacies of pre-legislative referendums. Therefore, I shall not go over that ground again. But, what else have the Government done in the past 12 months? They signed the Amsterdam Treaty; they agreed, without question, to join the social chapter and got nothing in return. That was truly an historic capitulation by the Government. We have the Human Rights Bill before Parliament, together with the Scottish and Welsh devolution Bills and an independent Bank of England. We now look forward to a mayor for London. I shall return to some of those points in a moment.

The question that is so often posed is: where are all these changes leading us, and are they connected? The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, tried to answer that question in what at times was an over-enthusiastic speech, although one that I enjoyed, even if he got some of his facts wrong. I should tell him that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and the Moses Room procedure, otherwise known as the Grand Committee, were not inventions of New Labour but inventions of this House. No government takes ownership of that.

This evening I want to examine these questions and to press the Government on what all this means for this representative Parliament of the United Kingdom. As we have heard today, what all these changes to our constitutional arrangements have done is to weaken the authority of Parliament, to reduce its powers of influence and in effect to lessen the ability of Parliament to question the executive. "I do not know" or "I am not responsible" or "That has nothing to do with us any more" is the cry we hear and will continue to hear too often when Ministers are questioned. That is all the

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more extraordinary as the Labour Party worked so tirelessly to win the general election. Since then it has methodically divested itself of as much power, authority and responsibility as possible. I ask myself continually why that is the case. It would be good to hear some answers today from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

While I am on the subject, I join those who have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who carries such a substantial burden across so many departments. I am rather pleased about that, because it means that he does not have so much time to be Deputy Chief Whip and as a result we have won rather more Votes than I had originally anticipated. I know that the noble Lord is an avid parliamentarian. I have seen him in action often enough in government and in opposition to know that. Indeed when we were in government he was always the first to react, often forcefully, if he thought that Parliament, and in particular this House, was being ignored. Often he was right, although not always. I hope he feels that we always bent over backwards to make sure that proper scrutiny could take place.

Today I wish to find out the answer to one central question. Have the Government started down this path of constitutional reform by accident or by design? My noble friend Lord Beloff put a similar question rather more eloquently. It is worth looking briefly at a Bill which will reach this House soon--namely, that on the Scottish parliament. The history of devolution is reasonably well known and I shall not bore the House with its repetition. But what are less well known are the Government's motives for making devolution such a major plank of their programme. It was a simple wheeze on the part of the party opposite, an easy and bankable no-cost objective that would forever give power to the "people's party" in Scotland and--this is the important part--it would stop the forces of nationalism in their tracks.

This policy has been an abject failure. Support for the nationalists has soared and the Government of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, have thrown fuel on the fire of nationalism and separatism, and all on a false premise which was to give Labour power and stop the nationalists. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, is one of many who carry a particular burden and responsibility for this policy. This policy, which removes power from this Parliament and creates yet another competing body has, scarcely before the ink has dried on the Bill, been a Labour Party disaster of epic proportions.

In his introductory speech my noble friend Lord Cranborne spoke of the London referendum. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, knows more about Labour Party politics in London than I do. But surely no one can take any comfort from a decision to go ahead with a major constitutional change with so little detail of what it is all about in the first place and on such a small turn-out. Your Lordships quite rightly asked the Government to separate the two questions on the ballot paper. The Government refused. The result was an appalling turn-out; two-thirds of Londoners turned their backs on the idea.

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Moreover, there is an even more disturbing feature of the London scene. Those who voted "yes" to a mayor will no doubt get their wish, if the pressures on next year's timetable allow that. But now, what do we hear? The Prime Minister is so concerned about the risk that Mr. Livingstone might win the support of Labour voters that he is searching for ways to stop him. Therefore Londoners will not choose, not even members of the London Labour Party; the Prime Minister wants to choose. That action seems central to the development of the Labour Party. It is part of a contradiction that goes to the heart of the debate. Why is the Labour Party devolving power to all kinds of different and competing bodies while at the same time centralising its own party machine so as to exercise more control over who is elected? The Prime Minister wants to "fix" the system to stop Livingstone and he wants to choose the members of the European Parliament by imposing an alien system of PR that will put the party above the individual and for the first time take away the historic right of the British people to send an individual to a representative assembly. The same thing is happening in Scotland. The Labour Party will have its candidate and policies for Scotland's parliament vetted by those who inhabit Millbank Tower, not by members of the Scottish Labour Party.

Is this the fate the Prime Minister has in store for this Parliament--Members plucked from a secret party list in another place, and an army of Prime Ministerial nominees on these Benches here? If that happened it would be the final subjugation of the greatest independent Parliament the world has known, the gathering of more power of patronage over party and legislature alike than any person has had in this country for centuries.

We have seen some extraordinary examples of innovation in parliamentary procedures in the short time since this Government came to power, and no doubt we shall see more. This is not the way to treat Parliament. If the Government find they have overloaded the programme--as we warned them last summer they were doing--that is no excuse for cutting corners or demanding extraordinary hours from your Lordships or another place during the course of this summer. The proper response would be to defer a measure, or to extend the Session to allow due time.

The Government appear to believe that Parliament has five Chambers, of which your Lordships' House and another place are the least significant. The others are the studio of the "Today" programme, the office of Mr. Alastair Campbell, and, for matters of privilege, the bar of the Red Lion in Whitehall! The noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, says this has always been so, and therefore so what? I trust that any announcement--

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