Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt and the committee for all the work that they have done. The document that they produced is certainly causing the House to think about its procedures rather than its composition. That in itself is a change. Previously discussion has focused on composition. We ought to also discuss procedures.

I could not agree more with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, when he said that the procedures of this House were designed for a more leisurely age. I put it another way: time has passed by and the House has not changed. Far too often noble Lords pat each other on the back and think that all is well with the world. However, whether we like it or not, we shall be examined. Lords reform will be an election issue; it is bound to come up. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, laughs at that. However, what is different this time is that the Lords are taking a lead. Far too often this Chamber has reacted to the proposals of others rather than putting forward its own.

Many of the proposals that we are discussing are modest and were designed to try to reach a consensus across parties. As has rightly been said, we will not achieve change in this House without a consensus for change. It is very important to remember that the House of Commons is the premier House. We should all start from that basis. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned carry-over. I see much merit in his proposals in that regard. An interesting suggestion was made regarding reconciliation machinery being set up between ourselves and the House of Commons. That might be one way of getting over difficulties when we are seen to be totally at odds with the other place. As we all know, in the end the House of Commons is the elected House and it is bound to get its way. Would it not be better if Members of both Houses met to see whether they could reach agreement before that stage was reached? We could then probably avoid use of the Parliament Act. That is an important point.
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1344
 

I turn to a matter that we ought to consider and that is the role of a so-called Speaker for this House—I do not care whether that person is called a Speaker, a presiding officer, or whatever—who would have the relevant powers to take a decision. Some of those powers are vested in the Leader at present. It would be better if such a decision were taken by a neutral person presiding on the Woolsack. Such a person would be helpful if he or she stopped the time wasting that goes on. As has been outlined in the report, time after time Second Reading speeches are made in Committee and at Report. That goes on and on. Amendments are tabled and retabled. We need someone to remind us gently—we are not talking about the Commons—that that is not permitted and to remind noble Lords when they reach their allotted time in timed debates. If such a reminder were gently put to noble Lords, I am sure such a person would command the attention of the House.

As I say, I see much good in the report. If we do not make up our minds to change, change will come anyway and we will not be in the driving seat bringing that about. This is a constructive debate and is making all of us think about something that should have been considered long ago; namely, our procedures. There is nothing wrong in making them more effective and more in keeping with this century rather than previous centuries.

Lord Biffen: My Lords, I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, concerning the possibility of more formalised arrangements for our first item of business, Question Time. It is a relatively narrow issue, but on the other hand it is a premium time during the day when the House is crowded. It is an occasion when the House has the opportunity to demonstrate its effectiveness with advantage. At the moment, we are supposed to be guided by the Companion to the Standing Orders, which suggests:

Secondly, such questions "should not be read". If this were rigorously followed, this place would be fit only for apprentices to a Trappist monastery. They are not rigorously followed; they are widely disregarded. I suppose the situation was brought to my mind sharply when we had exchanges on the minimum wage on 15 December. I am not critical of those who took part in those exchanges, but they were not particularly elevating for the conduct of the House, and we almost got to the point of business proceeding by public acclaim or public dissent; that cannot be wise for this Chamber. Therefore, I have a good deal more sympathy with the proposition of a Speaker, or whatever title you may give it, to take some role during Question Time. I notice that the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his committee, say:

That is fairly robust language for entering into a situation in which hitherto we have moved with great circumspection. After all, there is a great nostalgia for
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1345
 
having a free-for-all; it was like that in the eighteenth century, it is not as though it is something that we have lived with for the past two or three years. It is something we have had because we never had the experience of Parnell and the Irish home rulers, who transformed the House of Commons from being something like a good-natured rabble into the much more disciplined organisation that it is today. It is perfectly true that there are some dangers if you establish the position of someone having supervisory authority at Question Time, but alas as I am under the garrotting after five minutes I cannot enter into a real debate with my noble friend Lord Wakeham. However, the idea that the place would be seized with points of order—the position is not like that. The chemistry here is totally different. The point was made that there were only eight QCs in the House of Commons; there are 80 barrack room lawyers all dying to make a way of life out of points of order. It would be totally different here. None of us can say how this will proceed, but we ought at least to make some move and do it without great expectation but none the less as a constructive experiment.

I conclude by quoting from the evidence given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, to the Select Committee on speakership on 15 October:

That is an ambitious aspiration, but we cannot continue with the present arrangements for the conduct of Question Time. This House is changing, in its composition and in its authority. With those changes, there must be changes in our practice. I agree entirely with the previous speaker that if we do not change; change will overcome us.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I have not spoken seriously from these Benches for a long time now, so noble Lords must forgive me if I am a bit rusty. I have spent most of my time in this House doing Select Committee work or as the Chairman of Committees. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues on producing a useful report, which is a useful starting point for a wide-ranging debate, and which I hope we will all take the opportunity of building on. I agree with a number of the key conclusions. I will not go through them in seriatim, but I will pick out one or two.

On the subject of time limits, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I see no possibility of time limits, because Bills vary so much. We have had reference already to some of these "compendium" Bills that come through now, where really three or four Bills are within the same cover. The amount of time that is necessary to deal with some of the items both at Second Reading—and I do not altogether go along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in what he said, but I understand it—and in Committee. Yesterday, we saw a
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1346
 
good example, where the first amendment took over two hours; but it was a magnificent debate, which showed this House at its best. We must be careful that we do not constrain ourselves to inhibit that sort of debate, because it makes a real contribution to an issue that is commanding widespread interest in the country and which cannot be dealt with in the Commons.

The problem comes when these sort of things are repeated on Report and sometimes at Third Reading. I was moved to stand up a few weeks ago to complain that noble Lords were putting down amendments to remove whole clauses at Third Reading. That is improper and is certainly outside the Companion. The trouble is that there is a theory in this place that it is only by putting time pressure on the Government that we can get concessions. That is true, but let us examine the situation and figure out just how many concessions we get in a Session. It may be two or three, but if the whole process of the year is geared up to putting that pressure on in the last couple of weeks in the Session, we are being rather silly in how we use our time.

If the present rules were observed, there would be no problem. I have said that to the Chief Whip. I understand why the Government are reluctant to intervene too often in persuading Members of your Lordships' House to stick to the rules: they feel that they might be accused of bias. I do not believe they would be, but I can understand why they might take that view.

The rules should be observed. It needs someone to stand up and say, "Look, this is not right", and for Members from all the other Benches to agree with and support that. Of course, the Chief Whips cannot be in the House all the time. However, before we go into some of the other details of the report, we must see whether we can get our House in order and make self-regulation work properly.

The question of the Speaker was dealt with in the committee on which I had the honour to sit, under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. If people were to read that again, it might answer some of the points raised in the report. I think that, in fact, the phrase used came from the Clerk of the Parliaments, although perhaps it is unfair to mention this in his absence. He said that if we are to have a Speaker, the role should be as the guardian of the Companion. That strikes me as a very useful phrase. The Companion is our rulebook and we need someone to exercise that rulebook quietly and gently.

On a minor point, I see that there is a suggestion that the Public Bill Office should decide on groupings of amendments. I do not like that idea. It may well be that the Public Bill Office should recommend groupings of amendments, but a decision on the groupings must rest finally with your Lordships.

On the question of changes to the process, I refer noble Lords to the Rippon report—again, I had the honour to serve on that committee. At one stage, we considered recommending the reintroduction of First Reading debates, which they used to have in the Commons. In a sense, that bears on some of the suggestions that have
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1347
 
been made here whereby a Minister can come before the House and answer questions on his report. As I am talking about self-regulation and I see that five minutes are up, I shall sit down.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page