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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord's memory does not serve him as well as that. There was no Conservative majority in this House.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to look at the figures. There were about 400 Conservatives. Forty per cent of well over 1,000 is more than 400. In my characteristically modest way, I have understated the value of my position.
I turn straightaway to consultation because I know that a certain amount of unhappiness has been caused. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that I want to carry on the spirit of co-operation that I hope the three of us have begun to establish. In the debate on the gracious Speech on 21st June, I pointed out to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby--it was the fact--that there was no commitment in the manifesto to having a Joint Committee. I pointed out, which again was the fact, that we could not reach agreement on terms of reference because,
The answer given by my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Alli was quoted perfectly accurately by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill. She said that there would be a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects, but we failed to reach agreement on that. We have not resiled from our commitment, but we were not able to agree. That being so, we must seek to get on. But I am not in command of any sufficient troops to dictate to your Lordships' House, even if my own troops were unanimous or were capable of being Whipped--and my own experience demonstrates the contrary.
This has been a remarkable debate because it has contained a large menu of proposals that could usefully be fed into the Leader's group which I am setting up. Many views have been put forward. They do not all derive from the same original premises. I thought that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, was a very fine speech indeed. Whether one agreed with all the propositions put, or even with the tender reproach that she offered to me, having, as always, courteously told me beforehand, it was a remarkable tour de force and an examination of
I do believe fundamentally and beyond almost any other consideration that is relevant--the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was good enough to refer to this point--that our work is to control the executive. We need to do it in a constructive way. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is right. If a government are generous-hearted enough to recognise that they do not have a total monopoly on all wisdom, useful constructive criticism and an urge to review actually make government work better. If that makes government work better, it makes the people more likely to re-elect the government. So noble benefit and ignoble calculation all come together in one superb construction.
What has happened at the other end? One has to be cautious about their practices. I, unlike some whom I hesitate to identify, never was polluted by membership of the other place and therefore I am able to take a much more detached and objective view. What happened on Monday was an event of great significance. Curiously, I think we prefigured it in some of our debates because we all agreed just a few weeks ago that a sea change was occurring, the nature of which we could not properly describe or identify.
I hope that we can seize our opportunity. We have the opportunity to reform composition. There will never be agreement on the composition of the House. There cannot be in the nature of things. If one begins from the stance of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, one will not be able to reconcile that with a view that there should be no elected element or a totally elected element. We shall never agree on this. We must recognise that in a spirit of amity and concord, not of violent disputation.
The whole history of our constitution has been one of organic, pragmatic development. That is the glory of the British way. We do not tend to have revolutionary change. What is happening at the moment is that we have begun a reform of the House. It has changed in all kinds of subtle and indescribable ways already, since most of our hereditary friends left. We have the opportunity now to make our working practices fit for the modern age. It chimes in, for instance, with the fact that the expenses now payable will be more reasonable to the expenditure incurred. All of these considerations should go together.
When we come to the Leader's group or to putting forward proposals, whatever they may be--I simply do not know what they might be; whether we can agree about them in whole or in part, I do not know--we should really be looking, as I ventured to say a few weeks ago, to the way we actually work. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, said that many important topics are simply excluded from the present calendar; and they are. Can we not think about making time available, perhaps before 2.30 p.m.? Those who are interested in particular debates of the kind mentioned by the noble Lord will perhaps number 25 or 30 of your Lordships. They could be accommodated in debates of great value if we simply looked at that suggestion. We cannot complain about a straitjacket in which we have bound our own arms. That is why I respectfully suggest that this is such an opportunity to make ourselves better, more effective and more helpful to the executive.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves that point, he said that he will consult on changing the procedures of the House; he will not consult on changing the composition of the House. On the former, he believes that he will get agreement; on the latter, he believes that he will not. The noble and learned Lord has not even tried to get agreement on the latter. Should he not think again, change his mind and offer proper consultation in Parliament on the future of this House?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that I have made myself plain, or perhaps the noble Lord did not catch my drift. What I have suggested--the noble Lord knows because I have written to him--is a small Leader's group to deal with recommendations only about our working practices. It will then be for the House to decide. I repeat what I said. I am perfectly happy to take other people's views. "Consultation" means that one has to listen fairly and open-mindedly to other people's points of view. I cannot be more generous than that. The Joint Committee failed because we could not agree on terms of reference. It is far from accurate to misrepresent me as saying that I will not consult on composition. It is not an option for me to consult or not. Of course I have to consult, because your Lordships have the final say and I do not; and quite right too. So it is utterly wrong to suggest--I hope to nail the myth once and for all--that I have refused to consult. I have not. As recently as 21st June 2001 (at col. 114 of the Official Report for those who are interested) I set out our position. As I have only another 10 minutes in which to speak, I shall try to continue my remarks
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on pre-legislative scrutiny are extremely important. When that has taken place, on, for example, the legislation covering freedom of information--the noble Lord will recall that I gave evidence to his committee--it worked well. I do not suggest that it worked to the perfect satisfaction of all, but the outcome was an improvement. The question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which others
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, mentioned the devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I agree entirely with his points. Indeed, arrangements are in hand for me to visit all the assemblies during the summer break in order to maintain close contact. I appreciate that they may not be sitting, but at least we shall be able to learn from them. Furthermore, I agree with the points made by other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that we can study their working practices, albeit that they have been agreed in a unicameral situation, and perhaps learn from them.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, unusually for him, is unable to be in his place for the final speeches of this debate. He has a domestic emergency. He wrote to me and I have replied on behalf of the whole House. All noble Lords know how conscientious he is, but he had to leave to attend to a private matter.
I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, was extremely interesting. It echoed other views and took a slightly unique course by pointing out that what we do in this place may not necessarily depend on how we are composed. He went on to echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, about the possibility of scrutinising treaties.
It is plain that none of these proposals is in my gift, but they are all ideas worthy of serious consideration and I genuinely believe that we have before us opportunities which, if we lose them over the coming year to 18 months, we shall not regain in our lifetimes as Members of this House. The opportunity to regain that initiative will not arise. The tide is moving and if we become bogged down in apparently partisan differences, we shall miss that tide and it will be entirely our own fault.
I have tried to do justice to the general themes that have been put forward in the debate. One further general theme touched on was the question of the English regions. I can confirm that work is continuing on the production of the White Paper. A good deal of thought is being put into its terms and it will be published in due time.
The Constitution Committee of this House is an innovation. We must see how it develops. Even the most apparently unpromising committees which may not initially resonate as being full of interest--I cite
This has been a good debate. It is interesting to observe that there has been a marginally different complexion to every single contribution. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, made a most important point: we ought not blinker ourselves into believing that our work is simply for the United Kingdom. It is not. Other noble Lords have pointed out that we form a part of a greater Europe. A number of noble Lords have also pointed out that we may have lessons of virtue to be learned from Europe. Furthermore, I do not doubt that we have considerable offerings for Europe.
I shall conclude five minutes ahead of time, for which I shall receive my reward in the hereafter--so the right reverend Prelate has assured me. I should like to reassure noble Lords and underline the fact that if there has been any misunderstanding about what I believe to be the way forward--namely, through consultation,--I shall be happy to put that to rest. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness and all noble Lords for their contributions.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I shall detain the House only for a few moments. I, too, should like to add my regrets to those which have been expressed for the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney. He is a very longstanding friend of mine. All noble Lords profoundly regret that he had to be swept away from this House, typically in mid-speech. We all hope that he will recover quickly and then resume his accustomed place in our debates.
I should like to add a word or two of congratulation on our two outstanding maiden speeches in what I think has been a scintillating debate--perhaps it almost represented a return to the golden age. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has always been distinguished for his directness, honesty and, indeed, his capacity to address members of the public and to be understood. It is wonderful to have him here as a Member of this House.
Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, there is nothing that I admire more in political life than moral courage, and I believe that the noble Lord has shown moral courage. All of us are grateful to him for what he did with regard to freedom of information.
Finally, I should like to respond briefly to the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. Along with other noble Lords on these Benches, I found his words to be encouraging. However, there may be something of a linguistic difficulty in the sense that working procedures and methods might be considered a rather limited definition. However, as the noble and learned Lord developed his argument, he began to describe new areas of possible reform which became distinct and exciting. I believe that we shall have to pursue this matter somewhat, since my right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Democrats takes the view that no tripartite discussion has taken place on some of the issues that have been raised. I shall not pursue that matter now beyond saying that we respond warmly to the tone and style of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.
I shall conclude my remarks by echoing the noble and learned Lord in pointing out that this is indeed a window of opportunity, one that we on these Benches and, I believe, those on the Opposition Benches would wish to seize. Furthermore, that opportunity should extend beyond simply working procedures to some of the functions and, indeed, the potential of this House, given the new challenges facing Parliament.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
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