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Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene. It may be of interest to him and he may think it relevant that when I was in another place I helped the late Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, when he was Home Secretary, to pilot the Life Peerages Act. We made it perfectly plain that those who accepted life Peerages had them for life.
The Lord Chancellor wants specific proposals. My main one must be that a period of consolidation is allowed before any further change is made to the major reform already made to the House of Lords. I intended to suggest five years from change to change and was intrigued that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, suggested 15 to 20 years. Mine would appear to be the more modest suggestion.
However, there would be one exception. The topping-up of hereditary Peers, which is due to come to an end at the end of this Session, probably should neither be renewed nor be replaced by fresh elections. That would allow natural attrition in the number of hereditary Peers. That would be a good way of reducing the number of hereditary Peers which seems to be one of the Government's main objectives.
I am strongly opposed to a hybrid House as that is so clearly political tokenism, whether the token is as small as 20 per cent or as big as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, would like. However, the real reason that I do not want further change at the present time is that there is a far more important constitutional issue to be dealt with: the now rapid decline in the reputation of Parliament as a whole and particularly that of the House of Commons. I believe that may have four causes. The first, I suggest, is the ending of the political battle between capitalism and socialism as economic systems. That was an almost single-handed achievement of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. However, that has made party politics, and thus the House of Commons, less exciting, less challenging and arguably, in a radical sense, less important.
The second reason for the decline is the attempt made by many governments, but now increasingly successfully, to dominate, bypass and frustrate the will of the House of Commons and thus to emasculate that Chamber. The third reason is the misbehaviour, spotlighted and much exaggerated in public perception, of a few venial or foolish MPs over the past 10 years. I speak only in terms of parliamentary behaviour. That has brought Parliament into public disrepute and made the House of Commons, in Groucho Marx terms, a club of which many today would not wish to be a member. The fourth reason is the desire and success of the media in gaining ever growing influence over the conduct of public affairs in this country.
The consequence of all that is that the House of Commons is decreasingly a career of choice for the most able and talented of our citizens. I come to this conclusion on the experience of my professional observation of the Commons from the Press Gallery for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Since then I have continued that observation as a hobby. One by one the great political names have departed from the House of Commons. I refer to Thatcher, Powell, Heath, Whitelaw, Foot, Heffer, Benn, Healey, Grimond and Jenkins. Those who have succeeded them do not seem likely to replace them.
I recommend to your Lordships a study of the register of MPs' interests as it reveals how very modest are the achievements and experiences of a significant proportion of the MPs who have been elected in the past 10 years. That, combined with the submissiveness of MPs to the present government, is a sad picture. My noble friend Lord Hurd gave the telling example of Mr Clifton-Brown not being able to continue as a Front Bench agriculture spokesman as he is a farmer. However, that is part of the ethos of the House of Commons today and it is not the kind of thing that makes people want to become MPs. My worry is that, especially when combined with the power of professional and political civil servants, this will result in the British people increasingly feeling that the House of Commons is no longer able to defend their individual rights, freedoms and interests.
By contrast to the House of Commons, the House of Lords represents a huge and, indeed, growing reservoir of experience, talent and expertise and, above all, effective independence. Seldom can there have been a better example of the House of Lords in its role of effective watchdog for better government than in its performance over the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill last month.
I believe that the earlier reform of this House was justified, especially when moderated by the brilliantI pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord and to my noble friend Lord Cranborne herecompromise of having 92 hereditaries and by the conversion of a number of distinguished hereditaries into life Peers. That reform was justified both because of the unacceptability of 750 hereditaries with the right to attend and votea number which showed no real sign of reducing naturallyand also because of the long-standing public demand for reform.
I say straight away that the reason we are holding this debate is, to some extent at least, because my party demanded, "No stage one without stage two", a demand to which the Government, I think wrongly, gave way. In their 1997 manifesto, on which the Government were originally elected, they called for,
The democratic deficit has been largely reduced by the earlier reform. Although the evidence of the performance of the present House is by no means complete, I frankly think that it is promising and that we have made much progress. I do not believe that there is public demand for further reform or, as Sir Bernard Ingham used to say when he was anxious to guide the press away from some mythical hare, "It is not what they are talking about in 'The Three Ferrets' at Hebden Bridge".
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor predicted that there would be no consensus on the White Paper and he has been proved right. There is no consensus on stage two either in this House or in the House of Commons or even in the media. Therefore, I suggestI hope that this is music to the ears of both the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the Housethat the Government postpone proposals for further changes in this House, at least until the end of this Parliament. I believe that there are much more important uses of parliamentary time over the next four years.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I fear that much of what I have to say will be a repetition of many of the forceful speeches already made, notably that the White Paper is far too focused on composition rather than ensuring a workable, effective upper House.
I am mindful of my speech when I spoke on the White Paper on the first stage of Lords' reform when I was the 128th of 135 speakers. I introduced my remarks with a slight Freudian slip when I said the debate had been an excellent opportunity for your Lordships to "let off wind" when I should have said let off steam. Today, however, we have an opportunity not to let off steam about the future of your Lordships' House but rather to debate the most prudent and workable solution to complete Lords' reform.
I have always supported reform of this House, although I recognise that that process will mean my ultimate removal from it, having served here for more than 24 years. In that time, I have never suggested that the structure, composition or mechanics of the Palace of Westminster are faultless. However, I continue to maintain that this House has done an excellent job and I remain convinced that hereditary Peers have contributed substantial service to this country through their work in this Chamber and their contribution to the many Select Committees on which they have served for many years.
We have brought hands-on experience in many varied walks of life and have offered a different focus to debates. None the less, whatever the practical reality, I am not able to defend my place in this House in the context of a theoretical democracy. Democracy, we were told when the process began, would be the guiding light of reform of the House of Lords. As we all know, the White Paper proposes that only 20 per cent of the new House will be directly electedthe remainder will be appointed by an appointments commission or the faceless authors of political party lists.
The White Paper threatens to transform your Lordships' House, which was once a pillar of this country's constitutionit was hewn by passing years and became a proven guardian of our democracyinto nothing more than a nodding donkey for the other place. I had hoped that, in leaving this Chamber, I should at least leave a beacon of democracy that was fully equipped to scrutinise, delay and amendbut not rejectgovernment measures. The cross-section of distinguished Peers from all walks of life in your Lordships' House makes it clear that the current system of appointing noble Lords has worked remarkably well. It would be a terrible shame if the future system were not equally successful.
Was I naive in hoping that my position would be sacrificed in the noble name of democracy rather than on the altar of naked and unashamed patronage? Once the process was started, it seemed that the only justifiable conclusion was going to involve a largely elected House. In hesitating on that roador maybe growing weary of the constitutional intricaciesthe
The White Paper contains paragraph after paragraph relating to the composition of the House, but a scant two and a half pages outlining the powers of this House, which surely is the nub of the issue. Completing reform of the House of Lords should, above all, be aimed at providing more effective governance.
It may be unfair of me to presume this, but it appears that the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, for whom I have huge respect, has developed a bit of a bee in his bonnet about removing the remaining hereditary Peers. Is that, I wonder, because he believes that it will further the cause of effective governance? My greatest disappointment about the White Paper is that its proposals would effectively enfeeble this House at a time when its powers should be enhanced.
Our role, of course, is not to initiate policy but to refine, scrutinise and check government policy. The House has always respected the Salisbury convention, which I wholeheartedly support. In my experience over many years here, our theoretically indefensible mish-mash of hereditary and life Peers has fulfilled that important role with distinction.
The question now is: what kind of theoretically defensible body will continue efficiently to perform those functions? Will it be the politically patronised or the electorally mandated? In our heart of hearts, we all know the answer. When reform was started, many people issued warnings. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, warning the Government against embarking on a journey when they had no clear idea of the final destination. Perhaps those warnings are coming home to roost. We find that the process is floating on a grey sea of uncertainty and confusion. In such times, our lastindeed, our onlyplace of refuge will be the simple tenets of democracy. If we are effectively to complete reform of the House of Lords, we should trust the people to elect at least half of the Members of the new House.
Finally, I turn briefly to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of MostynI mean of Crosby. That is another Freudian slip! She referred to the crisis of public confidence in the parliamentary process. One of my enduring frustrations during my many years here has been the stubborn public perception and the media consensus that the House of Lords is one of the most exclusive clubs in Britain and is, in essence, a fairly ineffectual body. That has patently not been the reality, and I hoped that the process of reform would substantially improve the public perception of your Lordships' House. Sadly, the reaction of the public and the media to the publication of the White Paper suggests that the reverse is the case.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we generally observe the convention in this House that we do not criticise or discuss the affairs of another place, and it tends to observe a similar convention. However, that will have to be put carefully to one side for the purposes of this debate; otherwise, Members in another place will have very little to discuss.
It is interesting that of the half dozen or so former Members of another place who have spoken so far, none has defended the House of Commons' current ability to scrutinise legislation. Very few Members of another placeI refer to those who are not currently serving as Ministerswould say that the House of Commons is now an effective body for scrutinising legislation. The evidence for that is incontrovertible. Deeply flawed legislation, such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, emerged from consideration by the Commons virtually unamended. When Ministers brought such legislation to this House, they thought that it was in good shape and fit for the statute book. However, by the end of the passage of such legislation through your Lordships' House, a rather different conclusion had been reachedcertainly in relation to the RIP Act. It was a much better piece of legislation after noble Lords had discussed it.
Against that background, your Lordships' House surely plays an increasingly vital role in scrutinising legislation and in asking another place to think again about provisions with which they disagree or about which they have not thought in the first instance. When that happens, the Government's automatic reaction has been to criticise the institution of your Lordships' House rather than to examine the policy. That is surely unacceptable.
During the passage of the anti-terrorism legislation, the Home Secretaryor at least his agentsmade it known that he thought that the legislation was being "kneecapped" and "disembowelled" by unelected Peers. That was an interesting allegation not only in terms of its substance, which was entirely untruethe more workable Act that is on the statute book bears witness to thatbut also in terms of the emphasis that was placed on the unelected nature of this House. That is particularly significant when we consider that the shape of the current House is squarely the responsibility of this Government. I should be the first to accept that it is flawed but, despite that, it has delivered improvements to legislation.
The Government's byword in reforming Parliament has been "modernisation". The House of Commons has been modernised to the extent that guillotine Motions ensure that debates are stifled, timed votes mean that no one has to bother with the arguments and the results of votes are an entirely foregone conclusion; they are, in effect, a rubber stamp. What other conclusions could be drawn from an institution with a voting record in which the Government have yet to let the ball into their net? Noble Lords should try
The same approach now awaits your Lordships' House from the same authors of this modernising zeal. It is interesting that the one House of Parliament which still works is now the focus of the Government's reform agenda. I should be the first to accept that there is a strong case for change, but the objective, as has been said universally this afternoon, must be to strengthen the ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the executive to account. That is why the House of Lords surely cannot be considered in isolation. Any proposals for this House must strengthen its independence and effectiveness and, indeed, preserve or increase its powers, particularly in relation to its role in preventing abuses of the quinquennial Act.
The Government have demonstrated continually that they do not consider a House of Lords made up of appointed Peers to be legitimate. I referred to the earlier remarks of the Home Secretary, but it has been reflected by almost every other Cabinet Minister whose legislation has come in for a mauling in this House. Is it not strange, therefore, that the proposals in the White Paper are, in effect, for a wholly nominated House, albeit one that is cloaked in the aura of electoral democracy by laundering a small portion of the party nominations through the discredited party-list system? That is the reality of what we are being presented with. It is seen by almost every party and every commentator, apparently apart from Her Majesty's Government, including, it seems, 140 or so of their own normally ultra-loyal Back-Benchers, as being a sham.
If the case for elections is made, surely they should be done properly. In my view, that must mean, first, that the mechanism should be direct elections and, secondly, that the elected element would have to make up the majority. Surely if that were not the case, the elected Peers would be overwhelmed by the voices of the appointed, and the function not of their membership but of their electionhow they came to this placewould be purely to add a flavour, and no more than that, of democratic legitimacy. Terms of appointment would have to be long with no possibility of re-election, and a statutory appointments commission should select the appointed Members. I do not begin to deny that the task of that appointments commission would be tough, and no doubt it would have to be revisited.
We have been told repeatedly that the election of a majority of Members to this House would be unacceptable because it would create an automatic rival to the supremacy of the House of Commons. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I do not accept that. Members would be elected to this House to perform a very different function. They would not be elected to the House of Commons mark two but to a body whose functions and purpose are entirely different. Those functions and purpose are to scrutinise in detail legislation which has already passed through the House of Commons and to act as a check and balance on that institution.
The alternative is to continue with an appointed House but one in which the overall numbers and relative party strengths are laid down, unlike the current extraordinary arrangements where the patronage and potential for control by the Prime Minister are unlimited. They are powers of patronage which, as we have seen and discussed, have been used very fully by the current Prime Minister, who has hand-picked 250 or so individuals to sit as the jury on the Government's performance. Surely that is taking the principle of self-assessment a little too far.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor drew parallels with the judiciary, who, indeed, are appointed and not elected. But how valid is that? Surely we are closer to the defendant picking his own jury from among his associates to consider his performancein this case, the defendant being the Government. On occasion I take friends and associates from overseas around the House of Lords. They ask how people come to this House and whether the numbers are limited. When I explain that if the Prime Minister feels that he is not doing well enough he can simply appoint a few more people to the House, they are quite simply staggered. That makes the case for change.
There is a case for a wholly appointed Housethe noble Lord, Lord Neill, made it extremely forciblybut within a structured framework and with entry controlled by an appointments commission. The current House benefits immeasurably from the experience of very senior figures from politics, business, science, the arts, the military, the law, religion and the voluntary sector. It is clear that few such figures would put themselves forward for election as full-time legislators.
However, there is a great drawback to an appointed House; that is, that the Government do not recognise the legitimacy of an unelected House. When this House made changes to legislationin particular, recently to the anti-terrorism BillI never once heard the Lord Chancellor or the Leader of the House on the radio defending the right of the unelected House of Lords to stand up to the House of Commons. That was simply not known. So long as that remains the case, surely we are being led inextricably towards a majority-elected House. But the Government realise that such a House would be powerful and difficult to control. Therefore, they have predictably chosen the option which they believe would give a cosy feeling of elections but, in fact, would be based largely on party nominations with only the Cross-Benchers chosen independently.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor kicked off the debate by implying more or less that one compromise was as good as any other and that there would be no compromise that would seem to be particularly strongly held. Indeed, that has proven to be the case. However, I certainly recognise the point made by my noble friend Lord Inglewood that the one compromise that has not come out too favourably is the one made by the noble and learned Lord.
Surely one principle of good governance is accepted by all the parties, apart fromuniquely, so far as I am awarethe Government; that is, that changes to our constitution and to Parliament itself are extraordinarily important and should be made so far as possible only with consensus between the political parties. That is vital if a lasting settlement is to be found.
That is why I was quite staggered to hear the noble and learned Lord say that we were not looking for a long-term satisfactory solution but for the right solution for this year, perhaps next year or perhaps for a very few years afterwards. I do not believe that that is what we should be doing now. We have an historic opportunity to move towards a strengthened Parliamenta strengthened House of Lords being a major factor in it; we should not merely consider how to get the Government out of a difficult hole so that they can say that they have completed the reform of the House of Lords, that it is time to bury that and to go on to something else.
Surely most people accept that the institution of Parliament is greater perhaps even than our current Government. It may even last longer and should be treated with care. By contrast, as we heard earlier, the decision taken by the Government to renege on the promise to refer the issue to a Joint Select Committee so that Parliament as a whole can take a view merely follows the prevailing cavalier attitude.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can take very little comfort from the discussion we have had so far. His proposals have been universally condemned from all sides of the House, by members of the Royal Commission, by Labour Back-Benchers in another place and, indeed, by almost all sections of the press. We have an historic responsibility. We should rise to that challenge.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, from all the contributions today there appears to be agreement on all sides of the House and, indeed, in the country at large that we need a second Chamber. There is also broad agreement that it should be a revising Chamber charged with scrutiny of new legislation and holding the Government to account. It should not seek to, or be put in a position where it could or would, pose a threat to the House of Commons as,
There is also general agreement that the second Chamber should be less political, that it should accommodate Members with outside careers, that it should operate on an expenses-only basis, and that the qualities needed for membership are expertise, experience, diversity, independence and a willingness to contribute to the workings of the Chamber, albeit in many cases on a part-time basis. Is that not a description of the House that we have at present? So why should we change it? Why indeed?
The main arguments for change are that the existing House lacks democratic legitimacy and that its membership should be more representative of society as a whole. Many noble Lords have addressed the question of legitimacy. Many argue that the only source of democratic legitimacy is through election. If that is the case, then logic requires that the second Chamber should be 100 per cent elected. Many favour this option. But it is ruled out because it clashes with the accepted need to preserve the primacy of the House of Commons. However, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us today that election is not the only basis of legitimacy.
The larger the elected element, the greater the threat to the House of Commons. The smaller the element, the more it is an ineffective sop to electoral principle. It is unlikely that the elective process would attract a wide range of expertise and experience. Elected Members are to be closed-list party nominees, making the House much more political.
Unlike the previous two speakers, I believe that we should reject an elected element and accept that appointment is the best option for this House in that it is the best way of assuring the desired quality and spread of membership. We should concentrate on making the appointments process as transparent and as effective as possible and thereby more acceptable to the electorate. The constitution and role of the proposed statutory appointments commission is therefore of the utmost importance.
Unfortunately, the temporary Appointments Commission got off to a bad start. It raised public expectations. It attracted over 3,000 applications. It then chose only 15 new Members, all of whom might readily have been appointed under existing mechanisms. The proposed statutory appointments commission must not make that kind of mistake. It must earn public acceptance and therefore legitimacy. It will stand or fall on its perceived ability to make membership of the House more representative of society as a whole than it is at present and better able to execute its functions than it does now. That is not an easy task.
The proposals for the statutory appointments commission set out in paragraphs 65 to 68 of the White Paper seem by and large sensible. I have one or two suggestions. I believe that consideration should be given to establishing the appointments commission as a committee of the Privy Council. I think that the proposed statutory cap of 600 Members is a mistake. I propose a more flexible guideline because I believe that the term of employment should remain as it is
I believe that there should be an option for retirement at any time and a statutory retirement age at, say, 75. In that event, there should be an "emeritus" category of membership, by which at the end of the Parliament in which a Member reached retirement, he or she could put their name forward for re-appointment. It would be up to their fellow Members to decide on their re-appointment by secret ballot. Candidates receiving the requisite number of votes would qualify for continued membership for the next Parliament.
If there is to be an elected element, which I do not advocate, I would support a suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that Members of the European Parliament should be that element. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, combines the role of MEP with representation in this House. He was very much anti the election process being associated with the European elections; but if candidates at those elections were to be elected for both roles, I think that that would increase the interest of the electorate. However, as I say, I am not in favour of an elected element, and I bring that in only if it becomes a necessity.
As a Cross-Bencher I support strongly the proposals for the maintenance of a strong independent representation. As an hereditary Peer, I wanted to see a provision for some continued residual representation of that peerage. After all, we are one of the country's minority communities. That would acknowledge the historical evolution of this great institution and provide an element of continuity. But I guess it is not to be.
My points are relatively minor reforms that could be introduced without radically changing the existing House. A much more radical proposal in the White Paper is to separate membership of this House from the peerage. But would it really help to make the House more representative of society as a whole if it was divorced from the peerage and the sense of duty and public service that traditionally goes with it?
This, it seems to me, is a matter for you life Peers and life Peeresses to decide. There are 587 of you, although not many are here at the moment. But you are all experienced achievers in your respective fields. You form a unique pool of expertise and experience. Casual research reveals that 20 per cent of you came from the other place, including two former Prime Ministers, five former Chancellors of the Exchequer and more than 60 other former Ministers; another 20 per cent come from business, international commerce and financial services; and some 14 per cent are lawyers and judges. Other well represented sectors are local government, the Civil and Foreign Services, trades unions, teachers, professors, doctors, nurses, the voluntary services, the armed forces and police, agriculture, the religious faiths and the media.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. He and I have been friends for nearly 50 years; he will remember sitting one cold winter in the depths of Canada, in Moosejaw, when we were learning to become Royal Air Force pilots. It is interesting that he speaks today not just as an hereditary Peer but as a re-elected hereditary Peer. He was unlucky on the first ballot but, under our current system, when one of our colleagues became deceased, he came back. I agree with much of his contribution.
I shall make a few remarks, some of which I hope are original; some will find an echo of consensus; and some may well find total rejection. I make them against the background of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, called in her speech a crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system. She is quite right. From this debate should come the blueprint for the United Kingdom's second parliamentary Chamber.
First, the second Chamber should contain men and women of independence, experience and expertise who give a commitment to this country, in particular to protect its democratic foundationsmen and women who recognise that the House of Commons is the pre-eminent House because its Members are elected by the people and it is they who create the government of the day. The second Chamber cannot represent the people. It is there to be the guardian of our constitution and to revise and scrutinise legislation, as so many of your Lordships have said.
Set against those criteria, I see little merit in a hybrid second Chamber, with 20 per cent elected Members. If the elected element is to be sent here by the party list system on what, by all evidence so far, will be a tiny turnout, it will have little democratic legitimacy and, franklyI do not mean to be too abusivewill lead to party hacks coming to this Chamber. If it were to be elected by a different systemmaybe the first-past-the-post system or some form of proportional representationit would be more legitimate but nevertheless, because its electoral legitimacy would be stronger, its contest with the primary Chamber of the Commons would be the greater. Some of your Lordships believe that the proportion should be a third or a half. The higher we go, the more the competition will increase and the greater the difficulty.
In my judgment, a wholly appointed Chamber selected on the basis of the Royal Commission's proposal could find favour with the great British public if we in this Chamber and those who succeed us were to sell to the public what we are about. We get coverage only during the passage of major Bills such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. But that is our fault. We are not prevented from communicating. We ought as a body corporate to be able to communicate what we are about. As I go up and down the countryI have for only four years had the privilege of serving your Lordshipswhen I talk to people I find the beginning of a recognition of and thankfulness for the job that this House does. The challenge is to communicate what we do as an appointed Chamber.
SecondlyI recognise that this may be a little controversialI draw attention to the Law Lords. When I first came into Parliament, I was taught that Parliament creates the laws and the judiciary interprets and disposes. Surely in today's worldlet us consider other countriesthe judiciary should be totally independent of Parliament. That leads me to the conclusion that all the Law Lords should go. That does not mean that those who have served as Law Lords and demonstrated an independence of mind should not return as appointed Members, but we should at least consider changing the position of the Law Lords.
Thirdly, much play is made of the need for party balance. I recognise that the government of the day should be the largest single party in the upper House. However, the mechanics of that appear horrendously difficult. I have wrestled with them, and I will make one proposal to the Government. One way round the problem would be for a number of ministerial positions to rest with the government of the day. That may be 20 or whatever number is chosen; it could even be a band. Those positions could automatically go to the Government, so that, automatically, the Government of the day would be able to increase the number that they have. Of course, when the Government changed at the next electionassuming that they lost the electionthey would lose those people.
I want to raise a fourth point. It is a small point, but I have raised it every time that I have spoken on this subject. The Royal Commission considered the position of the dependent territories. I realise that the Government appear to want to find a new status for Gibraltar, but, leaving that aside, I believe that this House would be strengthened if we had appointed persons with specific knowledge and expertise of Gibraltar, the Falklands and the other significant dependent territories.
The issue of functions is not covered in much depth in the White/Green Paper. Nevertheless, in the introduction, the Prime Minister places some emphasis on the matter, tasking us to be better able to perform. We are to be better able to scrutinise and reviseI see a distinguished former member of the Public Accounts Committee, under whose chairmanship I had the privilege of servingand that scrutiny and revision can be done exceedingly well, but we must have strong people of independent mind on the committee.
I view the way in which we handle secondary legislation here with amazement. I cannot see why any Government should resist allowing this House to amend, reject or delay secondary legislation. All three options should be within the compass of the Chamber. I remind noble Lords that we are dealing with secondary legislation, not primary. A delay of up to three months is hardly an advance. When I was Chairman of Ways and Means, there were thousands of statutory instruments going through that department every session in the other place, not just a few hundred. Given that number, the second Chamber will not wish to amend, delay or reject many. Any Government should recognise that it is a serious matter if a question is being raised about that. We should be able to do all three things. The same applies to regulations.
It may be an oversight, and I accept that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could not cover every aspect in his introductory speech, but the Quinquennial Act is very important to our parliamentary democracy. I hope that when the Leader of the House winds up, he will make it clear that there is no proposal to alter that Act.
My final point is not controversial. In making my suggestions, I emphasise to the noble and learned Lord that there is nothing personal in what I want to say. I am thinking about the control of our proceedings in a modernised House. I have been here for only four years, but, as I understand it, things are done through the usual channels, the Chief Whip, the Whip on duty, the Leader of the House or some combination of those noble Lords. There seems to be little or no control by the noble Lord or noble Baroness sitting on the Woolsack. I emphasise again that there is nothing personal in this, but to me, as a democrat, it wasI am not sure what the right word iswrong or upsetting that the Lord Chancellor, the quasi-Speaker, took prayers, rightly; presided over three questions, rightly; and then, for the fourth, stepped aside, still wearing the wig of office, and answered a political question. Not only did he answer a political question, there was almost a mini-political debate between the Lord Chancellor and the Liberal Party. I believe that that is wrong.
After the mini-debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor takes off his wig and goes to the Dispatch Box to sell the Government's policy on the reform of your Lordships' House. In my judgment, such a partisan role is not compatible with the role of whoever is to preside over the proceedings of this Chamber, if it is to be modernised. After all, it is to that person each of us and anyone else who is appointed or elected to this Chamber, particularly those who are elected, will look to defend their rights and ultimately protect this House and the nation's constitution.