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16 Jan 2007 : Column 570

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, my honourable friend Ian Pearson, the Environment Minister, recently criticised Ryanair for not doing enough to combat global warming. How can Ryanair improve that performance without reducing the number of flights it operates?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it would certainly help if Ryanair indicated that it wanted to play its part in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and to play the same role as British airlines and those of many other European countries intend to do. There is no doubt that that is the way forward to achieving a general reduction in emissions from airlines. My honourable friend in the other place was concerned because Ryanair seems to deny that that there is any value in doing this at all.

Iraq: Policy Co-ordination

2.59 pm

Lord Hamilton of Epsom asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, we consult closely and continuously at all levels with the United States in Washington and Baghdad on Iraq, on civilian and military channels. As my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary said on 11 January, United States plans are entirely consistent with our objectives and activities in MND South-East. The British and United States Governments have regular discussions on a broad range of international issues on a bilateral and multilateral basis and at ministerial and official level.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but the Iraq Study Group had two main recommendations: first, that the United States should open dialogue with Syria and Iran and, secondly, that it should start the draw-down on the number of troops in Iraq. President Bush has made it clear that he is not prepared to talk to Syria or Iran and, rather than decreasing the number of troops, he wants to increase them by more than 20,000. There is therefore an argument and President Bush and the Iraq Study Group stand on diametrically opposite sides of it. However, the Prime Minister said that he was in support of the Iraq Study Group proposals—and now the Government say that they are supporting President Bush. How is it possible to be on both sides of the argument at the same time?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, to start with the last point, it is clear from the range of studies that President Bush has consulted that he has taken elements from a number of them, including elements from the Iraq

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Study Group—for helping Iraqi capabilities, rebuilding them, reconstruction and increasing the number of embedded troops. There is no difficultly across a range of proposals.

On Iran and Syria, it is true that we have had a far greater engagement, particularly with Iran and to some extent with Syria. But I was pleased to note that Condoleezza Rice recently made it plain that if there could be some advances with the nuclear portfolio with Iran, she would be prepared to meet them—I hope I quote her reasonably accurately—

Lord Hylton: My Lords, could the Government draw the attention of the American authorities to the presence of, roughly speaking, 1 million refugees from Iraq in Jordan and Syria? They are unable to work or get any support and do not even have refugee status. Does that not clearly indicate the need for a regional approach to all these problems?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there is a need for a regional approach to secure any kind of enduring peace agreement throughout that part of the Middle East, including on the nuclear portfolio to which I referred. As a matter of fact, we are routinely in discussion on the question of the numbers of refugees in other countries. There is nothing that you can obviously do about that in the short term—and I have to tell the House that this country will not suddenly change its policies so that it becomes relatively easier for people to travel across the world to this country.

Lord Garden: My Lords, while it is possible to conceive, as the Minister suggested, that we could separate the strategies between the MND South-East and those of the Americans in the north, that is true for the land component only. The air component operates over the whole of Iraq. Will the Minister look at the instructions given to British Tornado pilots and UK operators of American Predator drones, given the new more permissive rules of engagement that the Americans intend to introduce?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I shall ensure that the impact of that question is in front of the MoD Ministers, but I believe that they are considering precisely the points that the noble Lord rightly asks that they should consider. I just add that there are distinctive differences between the additional troop deployments in Baghdad and the position that we face in Basra. The reality in Baghdad has been that American operations, together with Iraqis, have often driven insurgents out of areas; those who have gone into the areas to secure them then leave, the insurgents come back and we are back at the point at which we started. Plainly, in everybody’s view, that was never a sensible way in which to achieve any kind of security in those areas.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, further to what the Minister has just said, if there is a heavier concentration of American troops in Baghdad, is it not very likely

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that our troops in Basra will come under fresh attack? Are we prepared for that eventuality when we hear of the intention to withdraw our troops from there?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there has been—I do not say this as a figure of speech—a great deal of contingency planning for every kind of eventuality. I believe that a greater concentration of attacks on our troops in the south is not particularly likely. The conditions and the demographic make-up of the populations are so fundamentally different that that is, with respect, really not the issue.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, could we clarify one very important issue of British policy? Has the Minister noted that Secretary Rice and, indeed, the president, have announced a new approach, attitude and policy towards Iran in that they will chase up militarily much more vigorously the various Iranian-controlled networks in Iraq generally, increase financial sanctions against Iran and, indeed, blockade Iranian ports? That is the new American policy. Is it our policy as well in Basra and wherever we are in Iraq, or is it not? Could we be clear about that?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, in the areas for which we are responsible we have made it clear that we will do absolutely everything necessary to deal with the terrorism and the attacks that take place. If those attacks come from Iranian sources, we will deal with them. The nature of the weapons and their targeting indicate that there have been interventions of that kind, but whatever the sources of the attacks, whether they are Iranian, Shia or, further north, from Sunni insurgents, they will be dealt with as insurgents.

Serious Crime Bill [HL]

3.06 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about serious crime prevention orders; to create offences in respect of the encouragement or assistance of crime; to enable information to be shared or processed to prevent fraud; to enable data matching to be conducted both in relation to fraud and for other purposes; to transfer functions of the director of the Assets Recovery Agency to the Serious Organised Crime Agency and other persons and to make further provision in connection with the abolition of the agency and the office of director; to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to certain investigations and in relation to accredited financial investigators and search warrants; to make amendments relating to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in connection with the regulation of investigatory powers; and for connected purposes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

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Conventions: Joint Committee Report

3.07 pm

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) rose to move, That this House takes note with approval of the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions of the UK Parliament (HL Paper 265, Session 2005-06).

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the critical purpose of today’s debate and resolution is to provide the opportunity for this House to express its views on the Joint Committee’s report, and if it is so minded, to note it with approval. For the Government’s part, we accept the report. The Government believe that the House should accept the report; that is the Government’s position. But today’s debate and resolution is very much a matter for this House—it is the House’s position which matters today, not the Government’s. At the end of today’s debate I will invite your Lordships’ House to take note of the report with approval. Tomorrow my right honourable friend Jack Straw, the Leader of the other place, will invite the other place to agree an identical Motion.

In its report the Joint Committee proposed that both Houses be given an opportunity to debate, and the Lords to agree, a resolution setting out the terms of what started as the Salisbury-Addison convention. The Joint Committee’s report sets out in an authoritative and, we believe, accurate way a description of the relationship between both Houses, going beyond simply the conventions. Today’s debate and resolution goes beyond the procedure suggested by the Joint Committee, and allows your Lordships’ House to express its views on the whole report.

First, I pay a heartfelt tribute to all on the Joint Committee who have produced a truly excellent report. For reasons which I will set out later I hope and believe that it will become a document of constitutional significance. My noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling chaired the committee in a manner that produced unanimity and quality. The individual members of the committee have brought wisdom and experience to the issues. Their unanimity of view is all the more significant when the width of party and political differences on other issues is considered. Officials ably assisted the committee, and I thank them too.

It is invidious to single out any individual member of the committee beyond the chairman, but there is one who I would like to mention. The committee had the benefit of my late, lamented friend Lord Carter’s membership. That he had the respect and affection of the whole House goes without saying. But the report carries all the more authority because one of its authors had the knowledge and understanding of your Lordships’ House that he did. Many people will say that if Denis supported it, it must be right.

Today’s debate is of historic importance. The House of Lords has a long history and a proud record. We all of us have responsibilities to this House; to what it does, to how it does it, and to what it does it for. We should all be mindful of those responsibilities today. Many of the considerations of this House—the inquiries,

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the reviews, the reports—have been of extremely high quality and have helped shape the House as we now have it. I have no doubt that the report before the House today is set to join that group. It is a thorough report. It is an accurate report. It is an authoritative report. It will, I believe, become the standard account of the current relationship between the two Houses of Parliament, the constitutional set text on this vital issue, and the touchstone for all future considerations of the subject.

The report is authoritative on the current position for two separate reasons. First, it is thoroughly well written and researched and it is a compelling document; compelling in the sense that it accords with the views of people who understand how your Lordships’ House works and how the relationship with the Commons works. Secondly, the Joint Committee was made up of representatives from both Houses and from all the main parties, and they were unanimous on everything.

I say unequivocally on behalf of the Government that we accept the report’s description of the relationship between the two Houses. We accept its formulations of the conventions, including its description of the nature of the conventions as being flexible and unenforceable, and its descriptions of the practices and arrangements that affect the relationship between the two Houses. We support the conclusions set out in the report, subject only to whether what the report recommends be called the “government Bill convention”, should, in fact, be called the “Cunningham convention”, as we submit. That involves no difference of any substance. It is slightly more than simple flattery of my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling.

The Joint Committee’s report at the outset says:

It describes their remit as being,

The report formulates the conventions and sets out their context. It goes beyond the conventions into the practices and processes between the two Houses, which are a vital part of the relationship. It makes clear that the recommendations for the formulation of conventions are subject to the current understanding, which we accept, that conventions as such are flexible and unenforceable, particularly in the self-regulating environment of your Lordships’ House. It also makes clear that nothing in the formulations would prevent the Lords from rejecting, in exceptional circumstances, the Second Reading or passing of any Bill, or voting down any statutory instrument where the parent Act allows.

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The report records that the Joint Committee was asked to accept the primacy of the Commons. It records that the primacy of the Commons is a current fact, which requires no codification. The primacy of the other place has been an inherent facet of the relationship between the two Houses for a considerable time. It is the other place that determines and sustains a Government, and its primacy is entrenched by the Parliament Acts and the standing orders of both Houses. The acceptance of the other place’s primacy has been the bedrock of all discussions on reform of your Lordships’ House, and no party has deviated from that acceptance.

The Government accept the Joint Committee’s view that the relationship described, depending as it does on conventions, cannot be put in legislation or codified. On page 73 of its report the committee states that,

The Government agree with the committee on that, and that the courts have no role in adjudicating on questions of breaches of convention.

By their nature, conventions must be able to reflect new circumstances and change with the times, as they have done throughout our history. That applies to the existing convention that your Lordships’ House considers government Bills in a reasonable amount of time. We accept the Joint Committee’s conclusions on that convention, including that there is no conventional definition of “reasonable”, and one should not be invented. We support the committee proposal of marking each Bill on the Order Paper with a sign to show when it has spent more than 80 sitting days in your Lordships’ House. The committee states that there is scope for better planning of the parliamentary year as a whole, possibly involving greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny and carry-over. We agree that all parties need to look at these issues.

I move to what began as the Salisbury/Addison convention. The Joint Committee formulates what has evolved from the Salisbury/Addison convention as follows: in the House of Lords, a manifesto Bill is accorded a Second Reading; a manifesto Bill is not subject to “wrecking amendments” that change the Government’s manifesto intention as proposed in the Bill; and a manifesto Bill is passed and sent, or returned, to the House of Commons, so that it has the opportunity, in reasonable time, to consider the Bill or any amendments the Lords may wish to propose.

The Joint Committee concludes that it is now a convention that is recognised by the whole of your Lordships’ House, not just the Labour and Conservative Front Benches. It concludes that the convention applies to Bills in the manifesto, and it applies whether Bills are introduced in the other place or your Lordships’ House. The committee, rightly, did not attempt to define a manifesto Bill. It reported on page 34 that it did not,

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We also support that approach.

The Joint Committee proposed that the Salisbury/Addison convention now be called the government Bill convention. In addition, the committee concluded there was evidence of a practice that your Lordships’ House will usually give a Second Reading to any government Bill, whether based on the manifesto or not. It did not seek to define the circumstances in which it would be appropriate for your Lordships’ House to seek to defeat the Second Reading of a government Bill, save to say that it would include free votes. We accept the existence of that additional practice.

The Government warmly welcome the clarity with which the committee has described what started as the Salisbury/Addison convention. As set out on page 10 of our response to the committee, the Government agree that the time has come to change the name of the convention to more accurately reflect our understanding of its evolved usage. We have suggested that it become known as the “Cunningham convention” rather than the “government Bill convention” for two reasons. First, the name “government Bill convention” may imply that the same conventions apply to your Lordships’ handling of non-manifesto government Bills as apply to manifesto Bills. That would be an inaccurate understanding, for the reasons I have given. The name should not restrict the meaning. Secondly, the Government believe that the significant work of this Joint Committee should continue to be recognised. In referring to the convention as the “Cunningham convention” we will continue to acknowledge the considerable work of the committee in defining it.

Turning to secondary legislation, the Joint Committee concluded that the Lords should threaten to reject statutory instruments only in exceptional circumstances. We accept that conclusion and the committee’s formulation of the conventions on statutory instruments. As long as the order has been properly made under the procedures set out, your Lordships’ House should not reject an order simply because it dislikes the policy. With regard to two of the circumstances in the committee’s list of examples relating to the rejection of statutory instruments, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already agreed to consider different arrangements for scrutinising Northern Ireland orders if devolution is not restored. Furthermore, the Government have given an undertaking that Parliament will have the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of Orders in Council transferring powers to the Welsh Assembly before they are laid.

The Government also accept that, should they lose a vote on a non-fatal Motion about a statutory instrument, they should respond to the House in an appropriate way. We welcome the recommendation that, should your Lordships reject a statutory instrument, which is of course a rare event, your Lordships should incorporate your reasons for disagreeing with it in the Motion or amendment.

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