Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: Yes.

Lord Lucas: I am glad I have the right audience for this, my Lords.

So I am particularly depressed that the report recommends that the Leader of the House convene a small working group to take our recommendations forward. That is entirely the wrong way round. We started by opening this discussion to the House; let us continue by opening it to the expertise which is all around the House. Let us have a process which all of us can participate in, own and contribute to, and which has a chance of arriving at consensus.

I agree that we should not have a mechanism that might be blocked for party political reasons generated down the other end. Let us have something that we can all see. Let us not have this doubly undemocratic idea of a working group under the Leader of the House. A privilege committee is the worst thing that ought to happen; the Leader of the House ought to be beyond consideration.

The second thing I welcome is the acknowledgement in the report that the House needs the power to defeat the Government and that the consequences of maintained defeat ought to be significantly inconvenient for the Government. That is the basis on which this House has any influence on what happens down the other end. That the report comes from the Government Benches is a very welcome antidote to the continued flow of calumnies from Mr Hain down the other end, which I enormously resent. So that gives me great pleasure.

The report contains a number of interesting ideas which I would like taken forward and experimented with. We ought to seek to improve ourselves all the time; left to ourselves, we do. We have introduced a number of important innovations over the years. We ought to continue to do so and to look at ways in which we can conduct ourselves better and more effectively.

I should be delighted to see some of these proposals taken forward, but it ought to be by way of experiment rather than by imagining that we can leap to some new way of doing things which will automatically be better. In particular, the idea of a time limit for legislation is misconceived. Delays are mostly due to the Government. The delay to the Constitutional Reform Bill came about because we were given an entirely unthought-through piece of legislation which had not been exposed to pre-legislative scrutiny or, indeed, any scrutiny. I think the Bill has benefited enormously from the delay we imposed on it. We have sought not to destroy it but to get it right, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said. That is what this House should be about—taking the time to get it right. We must not filibuster. If we start filibustering, we will lose everything. I have never seen it happen to any significant degree and have no reason to think that it will.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1362

I like the idea of doing away with annual Sessions. Done right, having a Session for each Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, would enable us to put pressure, more consistently, on every Bill. We have very little control over Bills that start early. Something to enable us to put pressure on every Bill would be fine.

I support what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said about finding ways of involving people from outside in every Bill. One of the great ways that Parliament has of reconnecting with the world outside is if we involve people and offer them access to our procedures. We also—dare I say it?—benefit enormously from that. I cannot think of a Bill that has suffered from that process. When the relevant expertise is not resident in this House and Back-Benchers have only a small desk and a telephone, with no kind of support, it is very difficult to be effective.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, says that this is a package. Absolutely. His proposals for the way in which matters should operate within this House presume that Ministers will no longer be told, "Resist, resist, resist" and that it will not take the same question asked three times to get it into the heads of Ministers and officials that what we said first time was right.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, on 20 December, there was a very interesting intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, on the Constitutional Reform Bill. He effectively complained about the abuse of the Companion, and, in particular, misuse of Third Reading amendments, tedious repetition on Report and other matters. If one adds to that the long-winded supplementaries and breaches of guidance on length of speeches, it is quite clear that we have a totally undisciplined House. We all know that nothing is going to change, because Members ignore advice.

The truth is, in my view, that the standards of conduct in the House of Commons are immeasurably higher than in the Lords. The selfish corralling of time by individual Members, which denies others speaking time, is a far greater sin than any noisy interventions in Commons debates. I therefore commend paragraph 12 in our report, as it further develops proposals in the report of the Lords Select Committee on the Speakership of the House by suggesting an element of regulation.

Secondly, the use of repeated Divisions—three, four and even five of them—on issues of principle crucial to a Bill's passage, against a background of impending Prorogation, is an affront to the Commons. How can Peers, who do not knock on doors to win support for their views, insist on not simply amending but repeatedly overturning the decisions of those who face the brutal judgment of the electorate? The truth is that on occasions, particularly as we near Prorogation, the House becomes unruly—some say "stroppy". The fact is that it is losing its influence on the Commons. Indeed, as we have heard today, some Members wish to curtail its powers. I reject that view, as has our committee.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1363

We believe that we can draw on the tremendous experience in this House and the ability to analyse complex issues free of political rancour. Our recommendations for amendment to the Parliament Act, the 60-day or thereabout delay, carry-over and codification, would all make for a more efficient House of Lords. We believe that we can make this House better. I want a respected second Chamber that is listened to and influences events in the Commons, not by provocative delay and procedural ploy but by force of argument—a debate that pulls the teeth of ministerial argument, challenges Civil Service "resist" recommendations and obliges those who formulate public policy to sit up and listen.

I have a very different view of the role of this House. I start from the premise that power and influence in the House of Lords should stem not from the Division Lobbies but in the accountability of Ministers and civil servants to Select Committees, Joint Committees and Standing Committees, where the Executive are questioned in detail. With that in mind, I positively commend our recommendations for increased use of prior scrutiny. I have sat on two of those committees; the most interesting observation that I can report is to watch civil servants, who have worked tirelessly on a Bill, wriggle in their seats as their handiwork is taken apart by a Joint Committee, with the result in the case of the Corruption Bill that the Bill disappeared from the legislative timetable because it was badly drafted, while in the case of the Charities Bill, a well-drafted Bill has been welcomed by this House. That proves that the system works.

Finally, if the remit is to get Ministers and civil servants to sit up and listen, what better than our proposals for deliberation on legislation? Gone would be the old Second Reading with its, if I might say, too often boring debates, which civil servants invariably ignore, and in would come the new, questioning, deliberative stage, which would hold Ministers and civil servants to account.

The whole report is exciting, I hope that it is implemented, and I compliment my noble friend on the excellent work that he did as chairman of our committee.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I speak only to the recommendations as to the Speakership at Question Time in paragraph 12 of the report, which takes a step forward from the report of your Lordships' Select Committee, which was based on the assumption that the office of the Lord Chancellor would be abolished, as was the Government's intention.

It is conceded by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the extant regime shall continue unless otherwise resolved by your Lordships on substantive debate. But is not the proposed policy—commitment to an elected Speakership—based upon a fundamental misconception, that such is the only way to ensure self-regulation at Question Time? Has this
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1364
ill-conceived preconception inhibited timeous intervention by the Leader of the House and permitted disorder?

Has the report given any consideration as to the merits of retention of the Lord Chancellor as Speaker, or retention and restoration of the extant regime albeit with adjustments, an argument deployed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, when writing in the Law Quarterly Review and when speaking on the Constitutional Reform Bill, in a speech to which the noble and learned Lord paid tribute?

In the course of that Bill, the status as Keeper of the Great Seal, Membership of your Lordship's House, legal qualification, a constitutional role in Cabinet, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, refers, were discussed as regards retention of the office. Unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, who would have wished to attend today, cannot do so. But writing in the Law Quarterly Review, in January 2003, he wrote that the Lord Chancellor's,

In his speech on this Bill on 11 October 2004, to which I have just referred, the noble and learned Lord said:

He continued:

He said in conclusion:

as Speaker—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page