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Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I welcome this report. I agree with much of it, but I am a tad more cynical in my approach than some noble Lords were in their speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, rightly said that the ability to delay is key to the powers of this House. But he and his group make no mention of what they believe the right time for delay should be. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that Peter Hain, the Leader of the House of Commons and the Lord Privy Seal, after we delayed the Bill to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor at Second Reading a few
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months ago, announced the Government's intention to reform the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts. But he added:
"I think instead of just looking at the composition, we will also seek to curtail the powers of the Lords and seek to get manageable procedure into the Lords . . . we need to bring down the period that it can frustrate the will of the Commons from a year to under a year, and we need to get procedures in place that will allow legislation to go through".
When the Leader of the Commons says "manageable procedure", he means, of course, procedure that the Commons, particularly the Government, will find satisfactory and, thus, a delaying power of less than one Session. I am wholly opposed to that.
At the moment, there is a widespread impression that the executive governmentNos. 10 and 12 Downing Streetstrengthened by a large majority, over-dominates the Commons and pays precious little attention often to what is said there. Statements are made to the press at 10 a.m. in order to catch the evening press, rather than waiting for the Commons to be in business. The Prime Minister frequently does not bother to vote. In consequence, the public, too, comes to regard the "Today" programme as more influentialperhaps even more decisivethan Parliament.
To put that right, I have no doubt, after 23 years in the Commons and being a government Chief Whip there, that we need a second Chamber with more power, not less, and a Chamber that will not hesitate to use that power. It is, of course, impossible to separate powers from constitution, which I think the closing remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, implied is his judgment too. I suggest therefore that when the Parliament Act is revised, the delaying power should be returned again to two Sessions rather than one, particularly as a result of the carry-over powers that are now becoming more and more popular. But those powers must be matched by an appropriate change in our constitution.
Throughout the 20th century, the reduction in the powers of the Lords was constantly justified because of the predominance of hereditary Peers. The second Chamber was, therefore, not considered legitimatethe words used to justify diminishing the powers of this House. The same argument will apply if, by stages, we all become appointed, whether by the Prime Minister, an independent commission or whatever.
Therefore, at the same time as the return of a two-year delay, there is a necessity for the election of Members of at least a substantial part of the House. The two things would go hand-in-hand. Only that will give us the legitimacy we need to exercise genuine, reforming and revising muscle on the Commons, whose ultimate superiority, of course, I accept. For good measure, I throw in the thought that one-third of the upper Chamber should remain Cross-Benchers of no political allegiance, genuinely independent, either appointed or elected, possibly on a self-nominated regional basis or elected by profession, as in the Hong Kong legislative council. I have no problem that the reconciliation Standing Joint Committee should resolve differences to prevent
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Parliament Act procedures being used too often, which follows the practice of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat in Berlin.
My five minutes are almost up, so perhaps I may just make a personal reference. The recommendations that I make here very briefly can be seen in much greater length in the final chapter of my book, Chief Whip, of which of course I gave a copy to the Library. I was delighted to hear just now from the librarian that it has been very frequently consulted.
I remind your Lordships of a remark that was made to me by a colleague recently when we were talking about the lack of trust, belief and interest in Parliament today. He said that after the State Opening of Parliament, a friend of his had said to him quite seriously, "Do you always wear your ermine when you're in the House of Lords?". That is the image of this place that we have to improve.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry. As he alluded, he was both a Chief Whip and the author of a book on Whips, which is an excellent provenance and pedigree for this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, I, too, shall be speaking as an individual.
The report that we are debating is on very worthwhile issues, but it has a flavour of Procrustes about it in its serial curtailment of debate. It is an irony that your Lordships' House, in order to debate it today, has had to take the anti-Procrustean step of extending the amount of time for debate in order to accommodate us. Some in your Lordships' House will recall the parlour game of Telegrams. You are given a word. You take the individual letters which become the initial letters of the words of the telegram, which has to be relevant. An undergraduate contemporary of mine once caught the word "marble" as it fell from the lips of the umpire and upon the instant said:
First, the motivation. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the mover of the Motion, whom we congratulate on his salience, is a former Minister in the Department of Health. I have always regretted that governments of different hues have rarely put into that department Ministers with a prior personal experience of effecting change in large organisations. I am similarly curious as to who in the noble Lord's committee was chosen for his capacity to change human behaviour; not so much individuallyboth the noble Lords, Lord Hogg and Lord Carter, could do thatas collectively, for that is what reform of your Lordships' House requires.
In drafting this report, no one seems to have concentrated on the human reaction of other parties, encapsulated in the adage, "not invented here". Your Lordships' House has many virtues. One of the greatest is the quality of human relationships which
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extend across the Chamber and help to lubricate the eccentricities which no continental philosopher or draftsman would allow.
Observers of Parliament have divided participants in this Palace into healers and warriors. The risk the tone of some of this report runs, at least outside the faithful of the party sponsoring it, is that of making warriors out of healers. If in a short speech I can quote only one example, I offer from the first paragraph of page 11 the phrase:
When I visited Washington some 18 months ago, I noticed that manners in Congress had become tenser, sharper and less amiable. If by structural change we translate the manners of your Lordships' House into something more like today's Commons, we shall have lost more than we can imagine or afford.
It is dangerous to draw analogies from other walks of life, but in my 18 years in the private sector before entering government, I always believed that the business deal most likely to succeed was the one that was a good deal for both sides. As my noble friend Lord Wakeham said, this report reads too much like a report designed to pursue a party rather than a general advantage.
Of course there are excellent ideas in it. I particularly like "post-legislative scrutiny". The European Union would likewise be improved and would indeed become more popular if its plans and projects received more retrospective monitoring. But to go back to Procrustes, too much of the report takes a heavy legislative programme as something that we should take for granted. Perhaps the Home Office Minister who had to defend the concatenation of Home Office Bills under this administration to the post-legislative scrutiny of a future Select Committee might make the downside of that assumption even clearer.
I genuinely hope that something comes of all this, but it will have a better chance if alliances are sought. To go back to the Whips' Office, where in more senses than one I began, the collection of prints and photographs of 19th century Chief Whips assembled at 12 Downing Street by the late Lord Cocks in the late 1970s had one particular characteristic. In the manner of that century, they were all signed. The Liberal ones signed themselves "Yours sincerely", while the Tories signed with "Yours faithfully". The authors of this document might ponder how, in similar mode, they would have signed their report if they are really serious about it coming to pass.
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