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Lord Parekh: My Lords, I welcome the report and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues for their efforts in putting it together. It contains some extremely interesting ideas thatI very much hope that they will be tried on an experimental basisif adopted would make your Lordships' House even more efficient and effective.
Some of these interesting ideas have already been mentioned. I therefore want to spend my next four minutes making a few points either by way of elaboration or reservation. First, the problems that the report highlights, and which it tries to address, are not at all unique to your Lordships' House; they are to be
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encountered in many other countries such as France, Germany, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. I am therefore a little surprised that the report does not draw on their experiences and the ways in which they have tried to tackle these problemsproblems of how to avoid repetitive speeches or the same amendments being made at Report and at Third Reading. Many of these problems have been faced by other jurisdictions and we might benefit from the experiments that they have undertaken.
Secondly, the report makes the mistake of separating functions and powers from the composition of the House. It assumes the primacy of the other place, the House of Commons, largely because it assumes that your Lordships' House will remain an appointed House. If your Lordships' House were to be fully elected, or elected on a different basis, or composed in some different way, its relations with the other place would need to be rethought and the whole notion of the primacy of the House of Commons would have to be radically reconsidered.
Thirdly, a reconciliation Standing Joint Committee of the two Houses to resolve persistent disagreements would in my view be unlikely to work. It exists in other countries, including India, for example, where it has created more problems than it has solved. How would such a committee be composed? How would it decide matters? Would it decide the matter itself, or would it arrive at a consensus and refer it to the two Houses to decide? Either course of action is fraught with difficulties.
Fourthly, the report concentrates almost entirely on legislation. Nearly a sixth of our time is devoted to debates, including on Unstarred Questions. Very often I, as a new boy, have wondered what the purpose of those debates is as they do not seem to influence either government policy or legislation, and we do not have periodic reports on what has been done by the Government in response to the suggestions made in those debates. Could we not find some way of integrating those debates into debates on legislation? For example, we have important debates on Second Reading. There is no reason why Second Reading could not be integrated with the debates that we have on Wednesdays. That sort of thing occurs in some countries and we might benefit from adopting that process.
Fifthly, as we are talking about conventions and procedures I want to make a simple and rather elementary suggestion that relates to matters which have often puzzled me. It is a convention to address this House as "my Lords", which is what I and other noble Lords do. However, we do not have only Lords; we also have Ladies. Either the Ladies are subsumed under "Lords" or they are ignored. In either case it is either discourteous or sexist and I am surprised that the lady Members of your Lordships' House have not raised an objection to that. I am not trying to instigate trouble; I am simply suggesting that to an outsider this is an obvious oddity.
I refer to a second conceptual quirk. Your Lordships' House is part of Parliament and yet your Lordships are not allowed to call themselves Members of Parliament
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that designation belongs to people in the other place. In the past four or five years since I have been here I have noted about seven conceptual or terminological oddities. It would help your Lordships and those who have to explain your Lordships' procedures to people outside, including those in other countries, if we were to find some way of rationalising them.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I rather think it would be unwise to follow the noble Lord on some of the things that he was just talking about. My noble friend Lord Wakeham once answered a Question on that matter, and I refer the noble Lord to that Answer, which I am certain was a total clarification.
I am not against reform of the House of Lords and I am not against reform of the procedures of this House; but I doubt very much whether it is right for these proposals to come from one political wing of the party. I was even more troubled to read that apparently the proposals that we are considering, whatever their merits, will find their way into the Labour Party manifesto at the next election. Procedures of one House of Parliament or another have no place in a party manifesto. They should be decided by Parliament itself, and in relation to this House, by your Lordships. It is therefore wrong for a group of parliamentarians to take a political stance on these issues, as appears to have been the case on this occasion. That is not to say that the proposals brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues do not have some merit; they may have some merit, although I have not yet been able to detect much.
I start from the position that the role of this House, like the role of the House of Commons, is to hold Ministers to account. Anything that is done to our procedures to make it more difficult for the Back Benches in particular to do that ought to be considered with the greatest circumspection and very likely not accepted. Like several noble Lords, I fear greatly that the main thrustwhich may not be the intent but is certainly the effect of the proposals brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Huntis to make it easier for governments to get their business. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling, who is not in his place, that in the end the government are entitled to get their business. Yesin the end. But that does not mean that they are entitled to get it straightaway. They must argue it through this House, and they must listen to noble Lords who move amendments and who may go on moving amendments. They must listen to the minority views of those on the Back Benches whose views may not find a majority in favour. In the end, those views must be heard, listened to and taken into account. It is against that yardstick that these proposals generally fail.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, complained that the House is nowadays a more assertive place. As my noble friend Lord Jopling also said, that is perhaps a fairly direct result of the departure of most of the hereditary Peers three or so years ago. It is not
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necessarily a bad thing for noble Lords to be more assertiveit is a change, and I do not much welcome that changebut that is a personal view, and others may take a different one.
I do not want to comment on all the proposals in the paper brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but I am particularly against fixed times for Bills. I do not like the sound of that, because it sounds like it is a way of dragooning Bills, or getting more Bills into the programme, and we do not want that from either side. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, shakes his head. I dare say that these are worthy proposals, worthily intended at least, but I do not welcome that.
The proposals refer to "reconciliation machinery". What is the point of "reconciliation machinery" if in the end the view of the House of Commons will prevail? They only have to resist any reconciliation, knowing full well that sooner or later the Bill will go through in any event. Voting in prime time is something to which the House of Commons has come recently and not very attractively. I am also opposed to carry-over. I am opposed to Leader's groups, as I have mentioned before. Leader's groups are a way of dragooning a view in the Lords against the views and wishes of the Back Benches, who are generally unrepresented or only minimally represented on such things. They are not a good idea.
The effect of these proposals, if not their purpose, is to facilitate the passage of government legislation in a way that I truly regret. I am not against reform of the proceedings of your Lordships' House and, frankly, I am not against reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. But that must be by parliamentary consensusby agreement with all the partiesand not by unilateral imposition.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I, too, thank the Hunt committee for its useful work, which is certainly nothing if not provocative. I, like many other speakers starting with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, find the proposals too managerialist and controlling. I must confess that, in the six or seven years that I have been here, I have been amazed at how well this Chamber has worked. It seems to me that it has extraordinary flexibility and good will. I honestly believe that, in the proceedings and procedures of this House, we cannot take any lessons from the other place, which very often churns over Bills and passes them to us with large parts completely unscrutinised.
I want to concentrate on an issue touched on by the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Renton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloydthat is, over-legislation. It is a theme that I have pursued since I came into this place, and I believe it is the fundamental challenge that we as parliamentarians face in terms of the resolution that we are debating.
I wandered into the Library just before the debate. The latest bound volumes for 2003 contain 13,407 pages of new legislative material. I put it to the House that that amount of legislationever more complex,
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ever less consulted-upon and ever less participated-in legislationis an unsustainable level of law-making. It represents 6,000 to 10,000 pages of additional law every year that we sit here and I believe that that bloated corpus of legislation is sinking under the weight of its own obesity.
Such a volume is utterly beyond our society and culture to cope with or digest. Even we in this House, as I observe year by year, are fazed by it, with more and more of us feeling that we are not up to engaging with these horrifically complicated and vastly voluminous pieces of legislation. If it begets that in us, what effect does it have on the population at large? It gives a generalised sense of incompetence and of being put upon by the state, and it induces a profoundly serious democratic crisis. I think it is the root of so much of the democratic malaise that we and others observe. It is a form of dry rot which imperils the quality and character of our society.
Comparable nations legislate at a much lesser rate. I looked at the statistics for some European countries and found that we are legislating at two and three times the rate of other countries. There must be something to be learnt from that.
So, before we do anything to widen the legislative superhighway, as I believe some of the committee's proposals would, we should stop and thoroughly and impartially investigate the status quofor example, the circumstances giving rise to this state of affairs; the role of disproportionate Commons majorities, party whipping and patronage; and the degree of real constraint exerted on the Executive by Parliament. We should look at the effects of hyper-legislation in terms of our own culture, the disaffection and frustration that it begets, the overheads to society in terms of the constant resort to specialists, lawyers, accountants, consultants and heaven knows what.
I believe that there are deeper consequences of over-legislation. It penalises the poor and the unselfconfident; it rigidifies the society of which we are part; and it discourages trust, fair dealing and common sense in favour of black letter law. So, before anything, I urge that we establish a Royal Commission to investigate these intractable but vital matters.
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