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Viscount Bledisloe: With regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is right. We had before us a draft report. The issue and various alterations were discussed and agreed to in principle. The Chairman of Committees took away the report to redraft it. Unless he sent it to one or two members specifically for approval, the committee as a whole did not see it before it emerged. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, obviously did his best to encapsulate in wording the feeling of the Procedure Committee. But the wording before this Committee was not seen by the whole committee before it was published. That is the answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.
I turn to the amendment. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to enlighten us as to the version which appears as his proposal concerning what will happen after the two Sessions of trial period. I suggested that all those changes should be subject to a sunset clause so that they had positively to be re-enacted if they were to happen. The Committee will not be surprised to hear that I did not get very far with that suggestion.
The Leader of the House has undertaken that, in their own time, the Government will bring the matter back before the House. However, supposing that we do not adopt the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I want to ask the Leader of the House what he contemplates will happen. Does he contemplate putting forward a Motion with perhaps one or two alterations to the practice and then it being open to people to table Motions to change other practices; or does he anticipate a general debate and then, if it emerges that some changes are considered desirable, that the Procedure Committee should implement them? I believe that we need to be clear about that before we decide whether or not the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is necessary.
It would not be satisfactory if the Government simply brought the matter back to us after two Sessions saying, "It's working well, except that I think it should be 6.45 p.m. instead of 7.15 p.m.", and if no one else was in a position to lay before the House alternative specific proposals. Therefore, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will enlighten us before we have to decide whether or not to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
Lord Peston: I hope that it is in order for a Back-Bench Peer who is not a hereditary Peer to take part in this afternoon's proceedings. Some Members of the Committee may recall that, when we last looked at the Leader's Group report, I made a number of disobliging remarks about the Procedure Committee, to put it in the simplest terms possible. I believed that it was an idiotic idea to give this report for consideration to that committee, which I considered to be a useless committee. That managed to offend several people. I know that, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was offended by my remarks, as he told me so.
What troubles me is that we have heard four members of the Procedure Committee agree with me that they do not care at all for the Procedure Committee. They served on it and they thought, to put it in common parlance, that it was a stitch up. But have they not noticed their own contradictionthat, having said that, they now want the Procedure Committee to do more? The idea is preposterous.
I am addressing only the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. However, to save timenoble Lords will be aware how economical I ammy remarks will apply to several of the other amendments. It is absolutely barmy, if I may use that word as parliamentary language, for Peers to say that they dislike intensely the way in which the Procedure Committee has carried on and then propose that the same Procedure Committee, rather than your Lordships, should in a couple of years' time decide
I hope that we shall throw out all the amendmentsand it would be a good idea to do that forthwith, because there is rather more serious business for your Lordships to address today. I hope that at least we can deal with these matters with some dispatch and not be taken in with the idea that we will waste any time with the Procedure Committee.
The matter should go back to the Procedure Committee, not because that is the perfect body for everythingit is not, as I hope my remarks have already indicatedbut because, provided it is not unduly constrained by time, as it was on this occasion, in my view wholly inappropriately, it would at least have the capacity to take evidence, to receive information and to receive the advice of the Officials of the House on all the detailed matters that will cause your Lordships to reach a final decision on this trial when it is complete in two Sessions' time. It would be preferable to do it that way, rather than to put it to the House as a whole. One has only to imagine how it would be done. Is the House to consider all the detailed implications of the trial, which by that stage we shall have completed over a two-year period? I believe that that would be impracticable.
Lord Barnett: But I shall try. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who told us that he would have preferred no changes at all to be made, that it would have been simpler and more sensible if he had moved one amendment to delete everything, so that we could have a vote or go home. It occurred to me to move an amendment of that kind, but I did not want to be provocative.
Having read this amendment with very great interest, I believe that it is rather rude to the Leader of the House. We are told in paragraph 2 that at the end of the trial period the House itself, not even the usual channels, should review how the new practices have worked and decide whether they should be continued. That is quite straightforward and quite simple. I look forward to hearing my noble and learned friend's
Lord Skelmersdale: Irrespective of the views held by noble Lords on the Procedure Committee, it is worth remarking that we are today debating a report of the Procedure Committee, which was used as a filter to put flesh on the bones of the report of the Leader's Group. Because we are debating it today in the form of a report of the Procedure Committee, I, like my noble friends, believe that it is perfectly reasonable to expect that in two and a half years' time we should revisit the subject by way of a filter, whether in the form of a Procedure Committee or some other committee of the House. If as a whole House we were to review the activities that flow from this report, we would get into a terrible muddle.
Lord Norton of Louth: I intervene briefly to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Some of the matters that we are discussing may be seen as essentially housekeeping matters. However, in so far as some of the proposals embodied in this report affect the relationship between Parliament and the executive, we are considering a very important matter, and I hope that we can discuss it at that level.
Secondly, I believe that it would be appropriate for a committee of the House, though not necessarily the Procedure Committeeit is not necessary today to decide whichto conduct a review of the practices, once in place. That body should assess the practices on the basis of one clear criterion, which should also be the criterion that we employ today in considering the recommendations and the amendments before us; namely, whether they strengthen Parliament in calling the Government to account. That should be the primary criterion used to inform the House, and I hope that we may debate the matter at that level.
Lord Strathclyde: Of all the amendments that we are considering today, this is the only one that I find in the least compelling. If we have a Procedure Committee, why do we not use the wretched thing? As noble Lords and my noble friends in particular have said, some detailed matters require a certain amount of expertise. Therefore, the Procedure Committee is the right body to form an initial view of whether, after the end of two Sessions, this experiment has worked.
Accepting this amendment would do very little harm and could do a great deal of good. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will think very carefully about whether he can accept what is in practice a very minor amendment but one that could be of great benefit to your Lordships' House.
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