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Lord Hacking: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I do not know whether the noble Lord heard the noble Baroness the Leader of the House speak at the beginning of this debate, but she said most plainly that the Government are producing a White Paper to look at the whole of the selection process for life Peers. She also said specifically in her opening comments that the Prime Minister was giving up any role of patronage he has in the selection of life Peers.
To save time I shall not repeat my noble friend Lord Cranborne's six main principles for reform as they have been well documented. However, I believe strongly that these principles should constitute an agreed baseline for further consultation when the purposes, functions, powers and composition of your Lordships' House can be addressed. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may wish to comment on those principles when he replies to the debate.
I accept the main purposes set out by the Mackay Commission, which are to share with the Commons the responsibility for the enactment of legislation; to act as a check on the House of Commons' use of its powers; to balance the political dynamics of the Commons within Parliament by providing an alternative parliamentary forum for political activity; to provide a mechanism for reconsideration of issues within Parliament; to supplement the work of the House of Commons; to balance the relationship between Westminster and the assemblies and any further devolved bodies; to provide a means of mediating between European institutions and the United Kingdom and to represent other institutions and interests in this country.
I believe that the main functions of your Lordships' House should continue to be discussing legislation and debating public issues and policy in a way that is frequently different from, and in greater depth, than discussion in the House of Commons. It should continue to provide additional scrutiny of the activities of government and to conduct in-depth policy reviews through the Select Committees. It should continue to provide safeguards for the integrity and balance of our constitutional arrangements. It should encompass special responsibility for the parliamentary supervision of human rights and undertake detailed scrutiny of, and exercise special control over, the policies and legislation of the European Union as they affect the United Kingdom, over and above the work undertaken by the House of Commons. It should be more representative and cover the Scottish parliament and the assemblies, the United Kingdom regions, the European Union, local government, professional, academic, industrial and trade institutions, the trade unions, the Churches and other faith communities, minority and special interest groups, individuals with special expertise and experience, and the peerage.
This brings me to the powers of the House of Lords. On the basis of existing parliamentary practice, the key powers and privileges that the second Chamber might enjoy might include the power absolutely to block, delay and amend primary and secondary legislation; the power to compel individuals to appear before the House or its committees and to provide parliamentary privilege conferring immunity from prosecution for offences such as libel for remarks made in debates in Parliament. Other powers might include the approval of certain government appointments and increased powers over financial legislation.
I now turn to the composition of a future Chamber. If reform goes ahead, the composition of any future Chamber should be dependent on the purposes, functions, powers and representation that are required. If your Lordships were to agree with what I have already said, I would suggest that the second Chamber should not be composed on a political basis, but on a functional and representative one. It should either be a fully elected Chamber or an appointed one. If it is to be the latter, a Royal Commission or some such body selected from the Privy Council, should be appointed to establish a representative Select Committee of Peers, which should be empowered to nominate both hereditary and life
This body should also decide the number of Peers that should constitute this Chamber. Perhaps a figure of about 800 would provide some 400 Peers who attend daily, which is similar to the present daily attendance. A government Bench would be required from which the government would introduce their case for new legislation. The rest of the House would table amendments in an attempt to improve this legislation, propose Motions, ask oral and written Questions and vote in Divisions in accordance with their own assessment, their experience, their conscience and what is in the best interests of the country.
I say in summing up that your Lordships' Chamber should be independent of any political party. It should continue to give good value for money and remain the main place for the scrutiny and revision of legislation. It is hard working. It has been called one of the busiest chambers in the world. It has sat for an average of 143 days a year and in the past four sitting Sessions has sat for an average of seven hours a day with about 84 sittings after 10 p.m. Your Lordships' Chamber has made over 2,000 amendments to Bills most years and in the past Session some 3,963 amendments were made, almost all of which were accepted by the other place. This signifies that between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. of all amendments to Bills are made in this Chamber. Since May 1997 this Chamber has asked the Government to think again on various issues, for example students' grants and tuition fees in Scotland, the age of consent for homosexuals, freeing Churches and Church schools from interference by secular European human rights laws, and the proposal that closed lists should be the system for voting in European elections. These are all subjects that affect the interests of the nation.
There should be cross-party talks before any stages of reform are entered into; otherwise the second Chamber could become the largest quango in the land purely rubber stamping business from the other place. That would lead to a complete elective dictatorship. In the interests of the nation there must not be abolition of hereditary Peers before any proper reform of your Lordships' House takes place. The position of these Peers must be taken into account as part of overall reform. I believe the case for combining the first and second stages of reform is compelling.
Lord Wilberforce: My Lords, if I do not follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in his comprehensive review of these great constitutional issues which face your Lordships now and in the course of the next year, that is not because I wish to minimise in any way their importance or the difficulties involved, or because I do not have views on the matter which I should like to share with your Lordships. I do have views on the matter but there is a limit to your Lordships' patience, even
The debate encompasses both constitutional and legal affairs. I wish to lay emphasis on the latter. In her illuminating speech, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House had hardly mentioned the word "legal" before she was able to say that such matters would be dealt with by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Equally, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, had hardly uttered the word "legal" before he was at pains to say that such matters were being dealt with by his noble friend Lord Kingsland. I notice, unhappily, that those two eminent authorities are right at the bottom of the speakers' list. Therefore, perhaps it may not be inappropriate if one of the foot soldiers in the middle tries to say a little about legal matters. After all, as the noble Viscount reminded us, life has to go on, whatever we are trying to do with the constitution--and there are important matters with which the Government will have to deal.
I want briefly to comment on one legal topic: reform of the substantive law mainly through the enactment of Law Commission report recommendations. I find it disappointing that the gracious Speech, although containing the usual,
I am, of course, perfectly aware that very important measures of modernisation in the legal field are to come. References are made in the gracious Speech to the justice system, a community law service, the youth courts and the protection of witnesses, and the Government have on hand the mammoth task of modernising legal aid. In the course of the year, the whole system of civil litigation will undergo vast changes under the Woolf reforms. All that is extremely valuable and will call for much work and effort in this place and elsewhere. However, it lies almost wholly in the area of administration and procedure and there is very little left for the substantive law. Perhaps I am not being unduly cynical when I say that the reason may be that administration and procedure cost money and, as we know, big money in the area of legal aid--£1.5 billion in a year--whereas substantive law does not, on the short view at any rate, do the same. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to give us some assurance that the cause of law reform is not forgotten or even postponed for another year.
There are already a number of excellent Law Commission reports which are all ready and crying out for legislation. There will be more in the course of the year. I shall not weary your Lordships with a list, but shall single out one--I refer to that relating to offences against the person--which has been outstanding since 1993, and as to which there is a draft Bill which has received favourable consultation. The existing law is out of date, confused and wrong, giving rise to a great many unnecessary prosecutions and so even attracting a money dimension. That is just one example. There are many others of equal merit.
Of course, the answer may be, "No legislative time", but that easy answer simply will not do. If the present system does not provide enough legislative time, we must change the system to ensure that it does. In this House we already have an excellent procedure for handling comparatively simple and non-controversial measures which has worked well. I refer to the Select Committee procedure. However, I respectfully urge the Government most urgently to consider selecting and adapting that procedure to deal with major matters. One such major matter is establishing a criminal code. A criminal code is urgently needed. All the work has been done. Nobody who has heard the recent speech of the Lord Chief Justice at the Lord Mayor's Banquet can doubt any longer that the time has really come for the enactment of such a code. Again, that would save a great deal of money.
The same theme was enlarged yesterday by the Hardwicke Lecture, given in Lincoln's Inn by the chairman of the Law Commission. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the chairman of the Law Commission for her extremely good and distinguished work during her period of office. However, enacting a criminal code would require a new procedure. Several hundred clauses cannot be handled in the normal way in Committee, even in the Moses Room. The same problem will occur even more intensely if we come to the project on simplified and modernised tax legislation which we were told very reassuringly only a few weeks ago, is well under way. That is an extremely important subject. It is of great interest to everybody and, again, a great money-saver. Such a Bill would involve at least 1,000 clauses, if not more, and could not possibly be accommodated within conventional procedures.
So I urge the Government to consider, either through the Select Committee on Procedure or an ad hoc committee, how we can carry such matters forward so that in the next Queen's Speech--I have given up for this year--we may be assured of such legislation. Do not let law reform be forgotten. It should be cherished. It is well within a programme of modernisation. It is well worth finding time for, and well within the capacity and ambition of the Government. I urge the Government to take it seriously.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, the rude interruptions yesterday to the gracious Speech were something which saddened and shocked us all. As far as I can ascertain, nothing like that has ever happened before. They were
Yesterday's opening speeches also contributed much to restoring your Lordships' House to its usual high level of peace, harmony and good sense. Although she is not in her place, I should particularly like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who is also my noble friend when we are not in the Chamber, on her charming, funny and witty speech. "Scotland forever", I would say!
I am against discrimination. I am sure, on reflection, that all your Lordships are also. I do not like being discriminated against because I am a woman, Scottish, an hereditary Peer, old and fat--although I mind less about the last because that is my own fault; none of the others is. Only in the last year has this element of discrimination crept insidiously into your Lordships' House cloaked under the guise of reform. I do not personally think that your Lordships' House needs reform. I think that it is perfect as it is.
However, if reform is felt to be necessary, I suggest that we retain, without discrimination of any kind, all the Peers who regularly attend and contribute to this House. There are only between 400 and 500 of them, and we all know who they are. Those who failed on either of those criteria would be entitled to speak but not to vote. There should be parity between the strengths of the two major parties, with the balance being held by the Cross-Benchers, which I am sure the usual channels, mindful of the milk of human kindness that flows along them, could easily arrange. Perhaps--though I say this reluctantly--after 10 years without a maiden speech, the privilege of speaking might also be withdrawn. Every new Peer, either on creation or on succession, should have a year's grace to see whether he or she fulfils the two criteria. There should be no discrimination on the ground of age--many noble Lords are only beginning to peak after their 90th year--although I should not personally lower the younger age limit below 21.
Noble Lords must be aware by now that the first Lord Strange of my creation was beheaded at Bolton for supporting his monarch in 1651. He was wounded in the fight in Wigan Lane in August, taken prisoner after the Battle of Worcester in September and beheaded on 15th October, at the age of 44. His last words were: "I die for God, the King and the laws, and this makes me not be ashamed of my life nor afraid of my death".
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, in her delightful speech the noble Baroness said that this House was perfect. I have been in the House for 53 years and I love it. After being here so long I should despise anyone who did not. The House has rendered great service to the nation, and in a lesser sense to the world, and has not done any harm that I can think of. So I go a long way, if not quite the whole way, with the noble Baroness when she says that it is perfect.
On an earlier occasion I paid tribute, as I do again, to the collective services rendered by the hereditary Peers--not, I am bound to say, all of them, but a sufficient number to earn the gratitude of the nation for their work collectively speaking. On a previous occasion I made a speech which later drew thanks from Members. I do not know what the Front Bench thought about it. But they are kindly, youthful people--
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