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Lord Lucas: My Lords, could the noble and learned Lord give an example of when we have put a Bill in peril by talking too much?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we had to agree to carry over the Constitutional Reform Bill. The Bill took 10 months to get out of this House and a great deal of time was spent on it.

It is not just a question of the period of time imperilling a Bill; it is also the extent you ensure that each bit of the Bill receives proper scrutiny. How many people in the Chamber tonight have seen a bit of a Bill being debated in great detail in Committee or on Report before 6 o'clock and then watched people withdraw their amendments between 7.30 and 11.30 as the evening wears on and interest wanes? Is that proper scrutiny of each relevant part of a Bill?

Lord Roper: My Lords, if one looks over the past two years, the Bills which have gone beyond the so-called 60-day limit proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have, on the whole, been those on which the Government have introduced a large number of amendments on Report or at later stages. It is not the fault of this House; it is merely that the Government have realised that Bills have had to be amended. Therefore, this artificial limit would reduce the quality of consideration.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the 60-day period is, in general cases, generous. We would need to consider, if this proposal went ahead—and I am simply saying that these proposals need to be discussed—whether there needs to be provision to extend the time, particularly in the circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, posits; namely, the Government bringing forward lots of amendments. It would plainly be totally unfair on the 59th day for a Government to produce great tranches of amendments. But if the proposal were to go forward, we would need to deal with that situation.

The report also proposes considering the length of time that this House can delay proceedings under the Parliament Acts. We all agree that the power of this House to delay legislation and require the House of Commons to think again is a vital part of the parliamentary process. It ensures that the views expressed in this House have to be taken seriously and cannot simply be brushed aside. But that is not the same as accepting automatically that the precise arrangements which were thought appropriate 50 years ago are still appropriate now. I was interested to see that the leader of the QC party, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, supported the idea of modernising the Parliament Act.
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We do not want to curtail the ability to delay, but we need to make the process simpler, clearer and much more appropriate to today's arrangements.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords—

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, do you mind if I do not give way, because I only have one more minute?

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Thank you, my Lords.

The report also recommends that this House's powers over secondary legislation should be changed from one of veto to delay. Given the reception a similar proposal in the Government's 2001 White Paper on the reform of this House had, this is either a brave or a foolhardy recommendation by my noble friend. Predictably, most noble Lords who have contributed today have once again expressed their opposition to it. However, I think the report raises a valid criticism. An absolute veto seems inappropriate and inconsistent with the pre-eminence of the Commons and with this House's role as a revising Chamber. The use of secondary legislation has moved on very considerably since the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 and the Parliament Act were passed. Serious consideration needs to be given to arrangements relating to secondary legislation. We do not want a delaying power to become a perverse incentive to delay everything. But in the light of the way in which legislation is now drafted, we need to ask ourselves whether we become more effective as a revising House if there is the power to delay secondary legislation but not the ability to veto it. I am quite sure that the House has exercised very considerable restraint in the way in which it has dealt with secondary legislation because its only power has been to veto rather than to delay.

I have concentrated my remarks on those aspects of the report that involve legislation to implement and where it would therefore be proper for the Government to have a view. The report itself goes much further than that. For example, it raises questions about the conventions under which we operate, how they could be dealt with under a non-legislative agreement approved by a resolution of the House. With such a process, it is much better for the Government not to have a view in relation to the way in which this House would run its affairs or pass particular resolutions in that regard.

Paragraph 12 deals with self-regulation of the House. It is fair to say that the Government endorse the report's conclusion that all is not always for the best in the best of all possible worlds when it comes to how the House conducts its business, but I make it clear that it is a matter for the House and not for the Government to have a view about it. There is one aspect of the paragraph on which I would like to comment, however: the question of the Speaker of your Lordships' House. As the House knows, it is the Government's wish that the Lord Chancellor should no longer be the Speaker of your Lordships' House.
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If the Constitutional Reform Bill is enacted in the form in which it left this House, including Schedule 5, there will be no statutory barrier to separating the offices of the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House. There remains, however, Standing Order 18, which states:

I am of course the servant of the House and, as I have said all along, I shall fulfil the House's requirements to the best of my ability. However, it is only fair to say that, given the Government's desires on the question of the Lord Chancellor, what the Lord Chancellor does is not compatible with his sitting on the Woolsack, and I hope that the House will very soon feel able to amend Standing Order 18 accordingly.

I have gone on three minutes' too long, for which I apologise. I express gratitude to all who have taken part in this important and thoughtful debate. The number of speakers is an indication of the great interest that we in this House attach to our own affairs. The number of points that have been made have all been impressive. The Government have listened carefully to the points made on all sides. They, as well as the proposals in the report, will inform our further consideration of the proper powers and role of the House.
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I once again congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt and his fellow members of the working group on bringing forward the issues in such a helpful and considered manner.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is late and I shall be very brief, particularly given the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, pointed out—and he has me bang to rights—that I went over my time in my introductory remarks.

This has been a splendid debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords and to my noble and learned friend for the spirit in which they took part, which has mostly been co-operative and constructive. I hope that we can take forward these discussions in the House together. There is much to discuss. For me, seven years' membership of your Lordships' House has been a wonderful privilege and I want to assure this House that I want the second Chamber to be effective in revising legislation and to have leverage over the House of Commons. This report is aimed at doing just that. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Written Statements

Wednesday 26 January 2005

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Girls' Education

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses copies of Girls' Education: towards a better future for all published today by the Department for International Development (DfID).

At the turn of the millennium, the international community promised that by 2005, there would be as many girls as boys in school. Despite this promise, there are still 58 million girls worldwide who are not in school. The majority of these girls live in sub-Saharan Africa and south and west Asia. A girl growing up in a poor family in sub-Saharan Africa has less than a one-in-four chance of getting a secondary education. The millennium development goal (MDG) to get as many girls as boys into primary and secondary school by 2005 is likely to be missed in over 75 countries. Later this year, when leaders from around the world come together to take stock of the MDGs, there will be no escaping the fact that we have collectively failed to keep our promise.

The paper reminds us of the value of education for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to build a more promising future for themselves, their families and their nations. Nothing has as much impact on a child's future well-being as their mother's level of education. Educating girls helps to make communities and societies healthier, wealthier and safer. It helps to reduce child death, improve maternal health and tackle the spread of HIV and AIDS. Girls' education underpins the ability to achieve all the other MDGs, which is why the timetable was set as 2005.

This strategy is a first step to get us back on track and it acknowledges that we all need to do substantially more to help girls get into school. To this end, we plan to spend at least £1.4 billion on education in the developing world over the next three years. This money will provide additional support to governments in developing countries to produce plans that prioritise girls' education. This will include providing financial help to those wanting to remove school fees and indirect costs of educating girls. The money will also be used to provide more resources to strengthen international efforts to co-ordinate action on girls' education. We will also use the UK's 2005 presidencies of the G8 and EU and our role as co-chair of the Fast-Track Initiative (FTI) to push gender equality in education up the political agenda and make it a priority for the international community.

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