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In toto, I understand that we now add more than 10,000 pages of new law to the statute book every year. Who is going to read or understand them? Those who benefit are the lawyers, who have to read and understand them and do so for a very large fee—and occasionally form up and say that they are not paid enough for managing the cases that arise from that legislation. There must be something wrong in that. I am aware of the pressure on new Ministers and Secretaries of State to generate legislation. Northern Ireland is a microcosm of all this; I was a Minister for Education in Northern Ireland and was put under instant pressure to secure slots in the legislative programme for my department. That happened as soon as I had arrived there, before I had been a Minister for even 24 hours. There is a momentum towards legislation in our Civil Service and political structures, which needs to be addressed and diminished.

The second aspect of the matter is even more worrying, and that is the way in which we manage our business—or rather the way in which it is managed in another place. That is neatly summarised—very conveniently, almost on the next page of the evidence volume—by Sir Michael Davies, who said:

The control of time flows from the composition of the House of Commons. I remind your Lordships that Parliament was invented to control the government. When it was invented and for 300 years thereafter the government were outside and Parliament was inside, and it was quite clear what the distinction was. I am repeating what I said in the Queen's Speech but two sentences will not go amiss.
 
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In the reign of George I with his majesty not speaking English it was necessary to have an English speaker in charge of his business as Prime Minister. He was inside Parliament and he has been followed by a flood. Now we have a House of Commons that has been invaded by the Government. More than 70 Members—not counting parliamentary private secretaries—of the organisation that the House of Commons was invented to control are now Members of the House of Commons. That gives them control of the time. The time is crucial to the management of business.

That brings me to a disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for whom I have the greatest respect, regarding the desirability of having a 60-day limitation on a Bill in the House of Lords. My quibble is not with the 60 days but with the principle of a limitation of any sort. That is the beginning of the control of time. Those in favour of the measure say that it is a generous, perfectly good amount of time and that if you need more, you can ask for it. However, anyone setting a snare for a rabbit makes the snare bigger than the rabbit's head and anyone tickling a trout has the fingers wider than the trout ready to grab it when they get up to the gills. Once the principle is established that there is a convention that a Bill must be out of the House in a limited time, the limitation of time in this House has begun. That is the thin end of the wedge which we should reject. We should reject it because it can then be extended so that we have a more rigid control exerted by a successor.

However, what makes this matter even more sensitive in my view is that it appears to be connected with the idea of having a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to establish what are, and should be, the conventions of this House. Your Lordships will know how to treat the recommendations when they come here, but they are to be recommendations made by a mixture of your Lordships and Members of another place. Hitherto for our part we have always been very reluctant to comment on procedures in another place. However, if the other place tells us that we should have time limits on our business it will be beyond us to restrain ourselves from saying in public what we think about the management of the business in the other place—which the public will say for us if the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, are put in force, which I hope they are.

8.28 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I begin by quoting paragraph 221 of the report which states that,

I should have thought that the greatest restraint shown this evening was the fact that no noble Lord mentioned that the most recent Queen's Speech constituted the largest and most prolonged raspberry to that recommendation that we have had in recent years. The Queen's Speech contained 40 or so Bills and 15 draft Bills and constituted a massive overload of the system long after the report was put forward for consideration
 
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by government. The Government's actions with regard to introducing that amount of legislation show the direction in which they are going.

The debate has recognised to a certain extent only the real conflict in this matter, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred in the closing part of his speech; that is, that a large number of the people involved in improving the parliamentary process have a completely different vested interest, which is the rapid progress of government business. I was talking to a very senior civil servant recently who said to me very frankly, "What the Prime Minister really wants is a five-lane highway down which he can drive his legislation as speedily as possible". I said, "If you do not mind, I want the House of Lords to remain as a few speed bumps on that highway".

We need to understand that conflict; that the noble Baroness has a double duty, and that there are those on the Government Benches who see facilitating government business as a major objective. We are going to have to deal with that as discussions unfold. We all know the language of our political system: "The Government must govern"; "The main duty of the Opposition is to oppose"; "The lady's not for turning"; "I have no reverse gear". That is hardly the language of the committee or of the bringing together of ideas that is behind a lot of the report. We have a confrontational and adversarial system, which over the years has believed that the clash of battle and a little inflexibility and unreasonableness test the quality of both Ministers and legislation. Many of us think that there might be a better way. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that in this House the better use of committees and the expertise available to them could be a good way forward.

I sat on a pre-legislative committee, the Puttnam committee on broadcasting, and on the freedom of information committee. The Puttnam committee was by far the better and most effective because it was a Joint Committee. The two freedom of information committees sat in parallel at either end of the Corridor, wasting a great deal of time and not having as much of an impact on the outcome of the legislation as did the Joint Committee. I make this point about pre-legislative scrutiny to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. For many years I made my living in public affairs, advising companies on how to affect Parliament; lobbying. I have never had any great difficulty with that. A Parliament without lobbyists is a Parliament without power. Pre-legislative scrutiny opened up the system so that it was not the man in Whitehall who knew best, and so we were able to get information and ideas at a pre-legislative stage. That is a far healthier way of doing it, rather than trying to nobble civil servants at what used to be called the "soft pencil" stage of legislation. Opening up influence like that and having ideas tested makes for better legislation.

We are always going to be up against the macho politics; the hard men in government who are not going to have any of this nonsense. The fact is—as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords—that it has produced ill-considered, poor legislation. I am sorry to disagree again with the noble Lord,
 
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Lord Dahrendorf—it is not because he has moved his place in the House—but he has been over-generous in saying that it somehow makes this place more powerful. We do not catch all the bad legislation that comes forward, given the sheer volume of ill-considered legislation. Then there is that other great wheeze of government, the several hundred amendments tabled late in a Bill's progress—all of those need to be checked in the process.

Like my noble friend Lord Smith, I see this as a type of Rubik's cube that includes the reform of the voting system, how we behave, the system in this House and how we communicate. What depresses me is learning that this Government will solve that Rubik's cube by a combination of Mr Hoon and Mr Prescott—two names that, separately or together, do not generate excitement in radical breasts.

I am attracted to the idea of post-legislative scrutiny, not least due to a department that has been mentioned a number of times as a chief cause of over-legislation—the Home Office. There is a need for a check on the ratchet effect of Home Office legislation as it affects civil liberties and human rights. Sunset clauses and post-legislative scrutiny could be of great benefit. Even during my decade in this House, I have seen whole chunks of Home Office Bills resisted, while the next emergency powers Bill, rushed through in 48 hours, miraculously contained the same clauses that this House threw out a few months or years before. There is a real need for Parliament to take another look at the way that government takes some of their powers over time.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, challenged me regarding my views on the Salisbury convention, while he extolled the views of the Labour Back-Bench committee on reform and the contents of the Labour manifesto. I am very open-minded about reforms of conventions and procedures in this House. There can be genuine discussions relating to that. But I shall not go along with cherry-picking a procedure that would give the Prime Minister his five-lane highway. Regarding the Salisbury convention, it is extraordinary that this House was given a range of powers less than six years ago by a Labour government, by a democratically-elected other place. Now to resurrect a 60 year-old convention that was offered by a Conservative-dominated hereditary House to a Labour government with 48 per cent of the vote, and then to say that that should still apply to a Labour Party that is now the largest party in this House, but is a government with 36 per cent of the vote, is stretching the limits of the convention.

I shall spell this matter out to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and to others. If the Government wish to clip the wings of the House of Lords—and there are many hints to that effect—without making such actions part of a wider reform that would place other checks and balances on the power of the Executive, I shall use every power at my disposal, irrespective of the Salisbury convention, to preserve those checks and
 
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balances. That is a proper approach and the continual plea to the Salisbury convention is the last refuge of legislative scoundrels.


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