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Lord Desai: My Lords, I owe my noble friend Lord Hunt and the group two apologies. First, I was not able to testify or take any part in the group's deliberations because at the time I was busy getting married. Secondly, I also apologise because, not having given my opinion before, I shall do so now. It will not be much to the liking of those who wrote the report.
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I do not agree with the proposition that composition can wait and procedural issues should be dealt with first. I have always thought that composition is important and that the majority, if not the total, of the House should be made up of elected Peers. I have never veered from that position, and I say that because what we call the "supremacy of the House of Commons" is a weakness of the constitution rather than a strength. A party commanding a substantial majority in the House of Commons can ride roughshod over the country because the Executive has far too much power in that place.
I am a sort of reform junkie, but whenever I have spoken on reform of the Lords I have held that a strengthening of the House of Commons will be the only sensible check on the Executive. The House of Commons does not constitute a good enough check unless the party in power is falling apart in sex stories, quarrels and so on.
But we cannot always rely on that, although human behaviour is a good guide. Therefore, let me add a further point. I have spent seven years on the opposition Benches and seven years on these Benches. I know what it is like to be in opposition. Time is the only weapon the Opposition have against the Government. It is easy to say, "Let's get the business done". Even though the party in power should get its business done, sometimes the business is not worth getting done. Someone has to say again and again, "It is just not worth doing this. You are wrong". I have debated Home Office and education Bills on that side and on this and I can tell your Lordships that three-quarters of them were not worth passing. We must say that.
Unless we can say that to the Government and to the elected Chamber at length and in detail, as we do, we will not perform our function. Our function is not merely to sign a Bill off and send it across to the other place. Our function is to say, "Stop and think". That will be performed only if we have the time.
I am impressed by what my noble friend Lord Carter said; that a 60-day rule for a Bill will strengthen the Opposition rather than weaken it. I will have to examine that view in detail before I am entirely convinced. Who knows, within my lifetime I may be on the opposition BenchesI am only 64so I want to ensure that I will be happy there.
Let me make one further comment about the report's interesting proposals on the two stages. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, also agreed that one way to reform our procedures is to treat the House as a Committee of the other place. After Second Reading of a Bill in the other place, it will come to us immediately. We will conduct the full Committee work here and then report it back to the House of Commons. We will not have to go through all three stages in both Houses. We can improve time management. There is no doubt that we do much better Committee work than they do because they do not have the time, they are under the Whip and they have partisan considerations. In any future proposals, I would once again urge that on the House for consideration.
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I approve of there being a Speaker. I do not necessarily think that I should be the Speaker but I would like there to be one because our procedures are becoming far too loose. If we are going to preserve our freedoms, that would be a good thing to do.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, in the time available, I want to make three quick points. First, like many noble Lords, I welcome the report and this debate as a contribution to the discussion on the role and functions of the second Chamber. As has been pointed out, too often debate on the reform of this House is focused exclusively on composition. That focus has tended to permit tunnel vision and lazy thinking. What is needed is to take a much broader view of the political system and of the place of the second Chamber in that system. That requires clear thought and reflection. Agreement on the role and functions of the second Chamber should be a prerequisite to deciding the composition.
The report starts from a similar premise. I therefore disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I agree with the authors of the report that the second Chamber should complement the first, enabling the elected Chamber to maintain the direct electoral accountability that is a fundamental attribute of our political system. We are extremely fortunate in being able to maintain that accountability while having a second Chamber that adds value to the political process. It is a combination that few other countries can emulate.
Secondly, I agree very much with the report on what the House of Lords should be able to do. The House should fulfil the functions listed in section 5 of the report. These are largely the tasks ascribed to the House at the moment. The report seeks to identify ways in which they can be fulfilled more effectively.
I agree particularly with the contention that there is a need to improve the way we deal with legislation. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that what we do we do well, but we could do it far better. Given the emphasis on our work as a Chamber of legislative scrutiny, I attach special importance to that.
Thirdly, I think that on the actual reforms proposed the report is something of a curate's egg. I think it is particularly good when it is at its most innovative, and weakest where it is essentially derivative.
I welcome the fresh thinking about how to deal with legislation. I would not necessarily endorse all the proposals in the report but I welcome the thinking that lies behind the recommendations. I accept that there is a case for introducing changes to how we scrutinise legislation. I am particularly keen to move away from the existing insular approach that is adopted by both Houses. We need to be able to provide greater opportunity for input from those outside Parliament.
One of the recommendations in the report of the Constitution Committee, which I chaired, on Parliament and the Legislative Processto which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has already referredis that at
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some stage during its passage each Bill should be examined by an evidence-taking committee. We could do much more in drawing on informed opinion and making sure that each Bill is fit for purpose. If we start to think along these lines we will be able to produce more effective scrutiny.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, I also welcome the report's comments on the need for post-legislative scrutinyagain a subject taken up in the report of the Constitution Committee. This at present constitutes something of a parliamentary black hole and, again, it is something that we need to pursue. Parliamentary responsibility for legislation should not be seen as ending once Royal Assent is given. We need mechanisms to check whether it has fulfilled its purpose.
Where I think the report is less persuasiveindeed, where I disagree with itis where it is essentially derivative, putting forward recommendations to emulate practices in the House of Commons. I am opposed to the concept of delayed Divisions. I think electing a Speaker and conferring powers on the occupant of the chair will transform the nature of the House, and not for the better.
The changes will not simply involve enforcing rules and conventions. Far from bringing greater order into our proceedings, they have the potential to do the opposite. One transfers responsibility from everyone to a particular individual; one thus removes the obligation of responsibility on the generality of Members with attendant unhealthy consequences. I therefore disagree with my noble friend Lord Biffen. Time taken up with challenges to the Chair may occupy far more time than the occasional difficulties we encounter and which can be addressed by other means.
In any event, these recommendations essentially run counter to the aim of the report, which is to carve out a second Chamber that complements rather than emulates the work of the first. I would therefore encourage the authors to pursue their blue sky thinking; basically to look upwards rather than along the Corridor.
I welcome the report as a contribution to an important and necessary debate. I do not agree with all the recommendations and I would caution against rushing to legislation, but I am more than happy to engage with those responsible for it to explain why.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I echo my noble friend's welcome for the report. I am absolutely delighted it has been produced. Like him, I disagree with about half of it, but let me start with the positive things.
The first thing I really like about the report is that it is a Back-Bench production. This is our House; we ought to take a part in what happens to it and how it works. Far too often matters are dealt with by some kind of cabal. Our party in this House is the worst of all for thatbeing the only one that does not elect its
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leaderand the thought of our party appointing a similar committee is beyond hope. I wish we would change. We ought to be more democratic.
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