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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, the noble Lord misrepresents me; I did not say, so what? I believe I was keener than anyone who has contributed to this debate to find a way to balance the rights of Back-Benchers with the executive. I hope the noble Lord will correct what he has said.
My noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon made a powerful intervention. I say to him that both my noble friend Lord Cranborne, and for that matter the former Prime Minister, John Major, have asked publicly that a Select Committee of another place should be asked to report on what that House wants in terms of a second Chamber.
The sum total of this Government's policies so far has been the removal of power from Parliament in a piecemeal and haphazard fashion, with no recognition or seeming awareness of what the effects of those policies will be. I return to my question: has this come about by accident or by design? It would be unforgivable if all this came about by accident. However, it would not be too late to stop and think again, to re-examine the Government's objective and to decide what part Parliament should play in the nation's affairs, indeed even to know in what kind of nation, if any, this Government envisage this Parliament having a role at all. If it is all by design, matters are even worse, for nowhere have the Government explained what their great plan is, or what my noble friend Lady Blatch called the real agenda. If it is part of a grand plan, does not the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, think that the people have a right to know what it is?
Every step of the way, this Government have sought to weaken Parliament and to reduce its authority. The Prime Minister is a magpie. He has picked up President Roosevelt's immortal phrase about the New Deal, but he seems to have forgotten Roosevelt's other memorable idea--the "Four Freedoms". The Prime Minister offers not four freedoms but four fiddles: the fiddle of a closed list system of PR which will take from the British people the right to elect a Member of the European Parliament of their own choice; the fiddle of holding on to a disproportionate number of seats in Scotland while removing the powers of the rest of the United Kingdom to vote on Scotland's affairs; the fiddle of pre-legislative referendums in which the votes of a minority are used to constrain Parliament; and the fiddle of a whole House of Parliament over which he or his agents would have the power of nominatim. It is not so much a new deal as a dirty deal designed to increase the power of the Prime Minister and his party apparat over Parliament and all its affairs.
We have used this last Opposition day of the Session to bring these matters to the attention of Parliament and the people. The Government have a duty to respond. In this debate we have sought to underline the importance that your Lordships attach to the role of Parliament. I have no doubt that in the months and years ahead your Lordships' resolve will be sorely tested.
My noble friend Lord Desai said that I would have a light task in responding to the accusations being made from the Opposition Benches. I have to confess--I say this to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in view of his comments at the beginning of the debate--that I was quite defensive in my thinking at the beginning. I had thought that I would have to adopt the position that cet animal est mechant; quand on l'attaque il se defend. As the debate has gone through, I have found myself preserving those pages which put positively the position of the Government on the issues with which the debate is concerned and throwing away enormous numbers of pages described (as noble Lords who have been in government will know) as "defensive." The accusations have not been made, because the accusations cannot be made.
Of course there have been benefits from the debate, none greater than the excellent maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, came to one of the induction sessions for new Peers where I speak as objectively as I can on conduct in the House. I plead with new entrants to the House to speak with as few notes as possible or with no notes. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, has the seal of honour. He made his maiden speech in the time allocated, fluently, incisively and without a single note. I congratulate him. I hope that others will follow his example. The noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, has ancestral reasons for being effective in this House. He has shown that he will fully live up to the experience and wisdom of his ancestors. We are glad to have him with us.
Let us turn back to what has been happening over the past 12 months, and the positive steps which the Government have taken to improve accountability of the Government to Parliament and to the people. I insist on those words "and to the people" because I shall refer to them at the very end. On terms of accountability to Parliament, one of the Government's first actions in Parliament was to establish an all-party Select Committee on modernisation of the House of Commons. That led to a number of measures which will improve the scrutiny of legislation in both Houses. For example, I refer to the explanatory material for Bills. From the next Session, and indeed for draft Bills for the next Session produced in this Session, all government Bills will be accompanied by a new style of explanatory memorandum containing notes on clauses. This will give Members a clearer description of the purposes and implications of legislation considered by both Houses.
We come to the issue of pre-legislative scrutiny. I was glad to have the support of a number of noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, and my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie, for improvements in pre-legislative scrutiny. In the first Session of this Parliament, and despite other heavy legislative commitments, the Government agreed that some Bills should be drafted in advance so that they could be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny this Session before being introduced, it is to be hoped, next Session. Bills on freedom of information, food standards, limited liability partnerships and pension sharing will be published later in the summer. The draft Bills will be subject to outside consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees in the Commons. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that there could well be pre-legislative scrutiny in this House too. I have no doubt that the usual channels can consider that point.
As a number of noble Lords said, the quality of legislation is still not good enough. It is still true that some Bills are skeletal and contain too much regulation power, including still some Henry VIII powers--and that fact is as dangerous as it ever was. But let us look at the issue in context. This Parliament deals with legislation which gives firmer directions for the implementation of the wishes of Parliament than any other parliament in the world. Look at any European parliament, my Lords. Look at the projets de loi which are put before the French assembly. Those are skeletal--sketchy in the extreme. Civil servants do all the work. In this Parliament we try to do it in the legislative sphere. I acknowledge that we do not always succeed. But some noble Lords on other sides have acknowledged the quality of recent legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said that about the Human Rights Bill; the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, said it about the Crime and Disorder Bill. All I can say is that we shall continue our efforts to ensure that legislation is clearly and properly drafted.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that the scrutiny of statutory instruments was perfunctory. The system of a Joint Committee of the two Houses is in existence. It has not been created or removed by this Government. It is still there. For affirmative resolution there is still the opportunity for debate and for votes in the House of Commons. Nothing has changed as regards that matter.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, nothing has changed, but if the system was not any good and was unsatisfactory in the past, what is the use of keeping it in the future?
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