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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I begin by saying that I considered it a privilege to have been elected to the working group that wrote the report. I pay tribute to my colleagues on it for their dedication and willingness to seek consensus among ourselves for agreed conclusions and record my thanks to our advisers and secretariat, who gave us such unstinting time and support. In particular, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on his skill in chairing a group with strongly held differing views with great dedication and good humour.
It should be said that although we all hold different views about the exact form of a future second Chamber, we all agree with the content of the report. It is important to stress what is stated there:
In the time available to me, I shall highlight two points. The first is a recommendation about the legislative process and our proposals for a deliberative stage, a second stage for decisions and a revision stage to replace the current First and Second Readings, Committee, Report and Third Reading. As we state, that would,
Time prevents me going into more detail, but our thinking is all laid out on pages 12 to 15, and we believe that those changes would improve the quality and effectiveness of the legislative process in the Lords. There is no need for us simply to mirror the processes of the House of Commons.
Secondly, I highlight our welcome, as a step forward, for the recommendations on the functions of the Speaker in the report of the Lords committee on the Speakership, which we enumerate in our report on page 18. As we state in our report, I believe very strongly that self-regulation depends on self-discipline by the Members of the House, which would be strengthened by a Speaker guiding the proceedings.
In my opinion, it becomes overwhelming. I speak as one who has experienced being on the opposition Benches and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers,
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andthe noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that three out of seven of the working group have had experience on the opposition Benches. I have also been a government Whip and am now a Deputy Speaker and I have seen the ever-increasing problems with self-regulation.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, continuing uncertainty about the future of a legislative body debilitates it and undermines its authority, so I stress the urgent need to resolve the way forward for this House. I hope that I can reflect that urgency in my remarks.
As many of your Lordships have already pointed out, the report is well written and thought-provoking. I commend the excellent speech of my friend and colleague the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The report contains several good suggestions but, inevitably, as several noble Lords have already pointed out, it only tells part of the story. The crucial role of this House as a revising body, and any changes to that role, are not the property of any one party or group, and any sustainable arrangement must enjoy support from all parts of the House.
Secondly, I see considerable merit in a less formal deliberative stage, suggested in the report, for our first scrutiny of new legislation. I know from my time as a Minister that no drafting is ever perfect, and some points should be taken on board quickly in the same, wholly non-partisan spirit in which they are made. Last week, I pointed out what I believed to be a flaw in the Charities Bill and proposed an important change, to which Ministers swiftly acceded. The new deliberative process proposed in the report might make it possible to resolve many more non-contentious issues of that kind in an efficient, amicable and informal way at the earliest possible stage.
I am sad to say that my third point is less laudatory. The report calls for our effective veto on secondary legislation to be abolished, and for a mandatory time limit on our scrutiny of Bills. As several noble Lords have already pointed out, I can well understand why a party in government might favour such changes, but I am sure that it is wrong. Time limits are never reasonable, and guillotines, as we have seen from the other place, impose a rigidity that prevents proper scrutiny.
As to secondary legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, may well recall an instance in 2002 when he was a Minister and I prayed against a statutory instrument that he had laid relating to
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NHS charges payable after a road traffic accident. There had been no consultation on that important and controversial measure and, in view of my opposition, he graciously revoked it. I refer to his parliamentary Answer on 6 February 2002. The system can and does work, so why meddle with it?
My fourth point is that, if we move to a Supreme Court, I hope that we in this place will still be able to call on the excellent work of Law Lords. I refer in particular to the vital contribution that they have made in chairing, for example, the Law and Institutions Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee. I hope that we can in some way continue to call on the accumulated wisdom, experience and expertise of distinguished former senior judges such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who spoke earlier.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and his committee on producing a thoughtful and comprehensive report, most of the recommendations of which I support in principle.
The growing and constant breaches of the Companion have been illustrated by other noble Lords. They make it clear that, if the Companion is not adhered to, at some stage there will be more and more demand for a Speaker to draw attention to it and be its guardian, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, identified. One wishes that that was not necessary and that self-regulation worked; unfortunately, that is not the case.
I fully support the proposal in the report that there is a need for the simplification and re-examination of the workings of the Parliament Act. Of course, the uses of the Act must always be a last resort after every effort has been made to resolve the differences between the two Houses. The powers of the suggested joint conciliation committee would need careful consideration. Would it, for instance, have a remit not only to consider the issue in dispute but be empowered to reach the final decision? That must be a better way than the current method of ping-pong, as there would be established a period of calm rather than the current frenetic procedure.
One area that is not discussed is that of establishing a business committeeI see the Government Chief Whip in his placeon similar lines to that of the Scottish Parliament. This proposal has received cross party support in many reports. Such a committee would not replace the usual channels but would ensure a more inclusive process.
The recent report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, Parliament and the Legislative Process, in which I declare an interest as a member, and the report we are considering today, call for improvements in the way that primary legislation is scrutinised. The scrutiny in this House is of a different nature from that in the other place, often more expert and authoritative,
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and it is often the only time that the whole of a Bill is examined in detail. That places a responsibility on this Chamber to get it right and we can do that more effectively by making better use of the mechanisms that are already in place, as well as arranging new ones.
The provision for carry-over and a rolling programme of legislation was agreed by both Houses in 2002, but is rarely employed. There appears to have been a reluctance to break out of the existing sessional mentality. Although there are many advantages, Bills can be staggered and more Bills can be produced in draft with more time for legislative scrutiny. While there has to be a pre-determined cut-off date, it would remove what has been referred to as the "tidal wave" approach to legislation.
It is generally recognised that pre-legislative scrutiny has been a significant and positive development in improving legislation. It allows for a more reassured consideration of a Bill's principles, questions new policy initiatives and allows time for consideration of practical and technical issues. It also allows for a wide range of interested and expert parties to exercise influence at an early stage, connecting the legislative process with wider parliamentary and public opinionand, of course, it makes it easier for the Government to readjust their thinking before the final Bill is published, usually to the satisfaction of the people involved.
The deliberative proposals for the stages of a Bill through your Lordships' House are imaginative and should receive serious consideration. There is absolutely no reason why we have to follow the pattern of the other place. Our concern has to be further to improve the quality of our scrutiny.
Finally, post-legislate scrutiny has not yet been mentioned. Currently, it is patchy and tends to occur only when problems become apparent. Proper post-legislative scrutiny can illuminate what lessons can be learnt for future handling of Bills, as well as determine that the legislation has achieved the purpose for which it was intended. Legislators have to be responsible for the law in its totality, so ways must be found to carry out this important function.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said in his opening remarks, this report adds to the many reports that have already been produced on the procedures and powers of your Lordships' Housemany still sit on shelves, gathering dust. Let us hope that that is not the case with this report and that it is the start of a serious debate.
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