|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Caithness: I too served on the Procedure Committee. I found it an uneddifying experience. The report is a fair summary of the Procedure Committee's debate, but we were not shown it before
Baroness Nicol: I am confused about what procedure we are following. Has the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, moved his amendment, or did he make a Second Reading speech, and are we being asked to listen to another?
Lord Marlesford: I am sorry, but on a point of order, the Chairman of Committees said a moment ago that the Motion before the House was that the House resolved itself into a Committee. Surely the fact that a noble Lord is sitting in the Committee Chair shows that the House is already in Committee? Can the noble Lord explain?
Lord Trefgarne: During the Procedure Committee's deliberations there was considerable discussion of how we should proceed at the end of the trial period. It has been agreed that the proposals before your Lordships in the Procedure Committee report, however they may be amended during today's discussion, should be implemented for a trial period only, with further consideration being given to them in due course. The point I put to your Lordships is how the outcome of that trial should be assessed, considered and decided on at the end of the two-year period.
Some of us held the view that the Procedure Committee should be asked to consider the matter on the basis of the two years' experience and make a further report to your Lordships. I am certain that that is the right way to proceed. The alternative, which is proposed in the report and with which I disagree, is that the matter should be decided by the House.
I fear greatly that if we leave it to be decided by the House, as proposed, the matter will not be adequately considered because the House will not have the proper information before it and it may be agreed or disagreed to without the benefit of proper advice and consideration. The correct procedure is for the matter to go back to the Procedure Committee after the two-year trial, for the committee to consider it again and then report to your Lordships. That is the effect of my amendment. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness: I support the amendment. Before speaking to it I wish to make a comment about the Procedure Committee because I found it an unedifying experience. The report is a fair summary of what was discussed, but we did not see it before it was published and it was not agreed by the committee.
As the Leader of the House said, we were presented with a package. It seemed to me on many occasions that it was a package created by wise men and that comments on it from Back Benchers were an unwelcome irritant.
When we discussed the report, many of the amendments were not written down and there was no order for them; some were oral, some were made on the spot. It was therefore difficult to follow at times exactly what the Procedure Committee was doing. Some of the amendments were passed over and we had to return to clauses to deal with the amendments that were written down. Some of the evidence presented to us, in particular, the paper presented by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, was not given the attention it merited. It was given scant regard.
On this experience, I believe working groups chaired by the Leader of the House to be bad and divisive. It has signed up noble Lords to something that pits the Front Benches against the Back Benches. Although it was probably right for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde to take part in the working group, I hope that he will look at another with a great deal more circumspection.
The Leader of the House was right in the way he described the role of the House when he introduced this debate a moment ago. But while much of the report is welcome, some of its recommendations will weaken the House's role.
I turn to Amendment No. 1. What concerns me is when the trial period is going to begin. As the report states, the proposals are to be phased in over time as resources allow. There will therefore be no precise time to start the two-year period. I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne that the House will have great difficulty in assessing how the trial period has worked unless a committee such as the Procedure Committee has investigated it and asked questions. One of the advantages of the Procedure Committee looking at the working group's proposals was that we began to ask questions that had not been asked before. The more we asked them, the more the package started to unravel and the more faults were found.
Lord Berkeley: Before the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, sits down, he said earlier that he did not see the text of the report before it was published. The end of the report states that the committee resolved that the report, as amended, be the report of the committee. He did not vote against that. Therefore, did he not read it; did he not have it in front of him; or was he not there?
The Earl of Caithness: I was certainly there. The noble Lord is kind, but I do not have to answer before I sit down because this is Committee stage. What happened was that we reached the end of the last day and the Chairman of Committees said that he would prepare the report and have it published because we had, in any case, overrun our time. We did not see the final version of the report, and I did not see it until it was printed. In fact, I do not believe that any members of the Procedure Committee saw it.
Lord Mancroft: I do not know whether or not the memory of my noble friend Lord Caithness is at fault, but I was a member of the Procedure Committee and I did not see the report until it was published.
The points that my noble friend Lord Caithness made are important. In certain areas of the House I detect an irritation that this issue has been raised. If noble Lords look carefully at the report of the Leader's Group or, indeed, at the report of the Procedure Committee, which we are considering today, they will see that the issue is confusing and contains complicated matters.
The portrayal given by my noble friend Lord Caithness of how the Procedure Committee operated was fairly accurate. I have been in your Lordships' House for quite a long time and have sat on all-party groups, Back-Bench groups, Procedure Committees and Committees of the Whole House. I have to tell noble Lords that taking part in this Procedure Committee was one of the most unhappy experiences that I have had during the 16 or 17 years that I have been in this House. That does not mean that all the things proposed in the Leader's Group report and all the things that the Procedure Committee discussed were bad or wrong. This House must evolve; of course it must, and we must change our practices.
However, as we started to go through the issues of this package, it became perfectly clear that many of them had not been considered in huge detail or been thought through. Indeed, over the past week or so since the report was publishedI may be very slow; I probably amI have thought of a number of other things that we did not discuss or consider which we should have done. I asked myself, "How does that work? How will that knock on?" These issues are important. I do not believe that individually any of them are particularly earth-shattering. I do not believe that any one of the measures in the report will change the House overwhelmingly or destroy the work that has gone before. However, I believe that, as a package, it will change the way that the House conducts itself. That will not necessarily be for the bad but it will change it.
I am clear that the report of the Procedure Committee before noble Lords today does not give the full flavour of what the Committee is being asked to consider. The reason that your Lordships sent the report of the Leader's Group to the Procedure Committee was so that we, the Procedure Committee, could give Members of the Committee guidance on how to make a decision today.
I am clear that we, the Procedure Committee, have failed noble Lords in that duty in that the guidance given in the report before the Committee today is simply not adequate. The Committee is not in possession of enough information or facts to make an adequate decision. If the Committee were to make a decision today, undoubtedly it would be one that
Therefore, I believe that Amendment No. 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne is helpful. If Members of the Committee decide today, as I believe they should, that what is before them is not wholly adequate but, at the same time, is not the worst thing on earth, and if they decide that they wish to proceed and see how the proposals workI am not sure that I would consider that to be wise but Members of the Committee may decide that that is what they wish to doan insurance policy and check are needed. My noble friend Lord Caithness is right with regard to the trial period. I am not clear when it should start or finish, and Members of the Committee need to be clear about that before coming to a decision. However, assuming that Members of the Committee decide to proceed with the two-year trial period, the obvious insurance policy and check that noble Lords will decide upon at the end of that period will be to say to the Procedure Committee, "Would you have a look at this in rather greater depth, in rather more detail and in a rather calmer atmosphere than was the case two years ago? Could you report back to the House and advise it as best you can on whether this should be adopted as there are question marks over it?" However, the report is not all bad, and Amendment No. 1 may at least go some way to solving some of the problems that lie within it.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page