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Without further comment, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the excellent work done by the Joint Committee on ping-pong and financial privilege. We invite your Lordships’ House to note the whole report

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with approval. We do not seek to cherry pick. The report deals with the current arrangement. It says both in the summary and in paragraph 61:

In other words, should the composition of the Lords be changed, the role of your Lordships’ House, and its relationship with the other place, would be called into question, whether those conventions have been codified or not. The committee concludes that that re-examination is outside its remit, so approving this report today will not in any way bind a new House, or affect what the effect of changes may be. This, I say with respect, is obviously correct. The Joint Committee can only describe the current position. Were composition to change, a report describing the conventions under the current arrangements would no longer apply to the new House. This part of the report makes it clear that the Joint Committee would not regard it as applying either.

The Government would like to see the current relationship apply in any reformed House. The current relationship leads to a second Chamber that performs exceptionally well its role of revising and scrutinising legislation, without challenging the primacy of the other place. It revises effectively in the sense of making significant changes to legislation without causing undue delay or gridlock. But, equally, the Government fully accept that the report does not purport to describe the position in any new House.

The Government have always been keen that before there was a debate about composition there should be a debate about the powers and role of the second Chamber. I believe that we should seek to continue the conventions into any new House, but as the Government say in their response to the report,

Your Lordships’ House does a hugely impressive job. I believe that evolution of the House from the Life Peerages Act 1958 through the 1999 Act has transformed the House over time very significantly. Your Lordships’ House revises legislation significantly. Sometimes those revisions will be agreed with the other place in whole or in part. Sometimes they will not be pressed to the point of stalemate on a Bill. Occasionally they will, and issues arise under the Parliament Acts. But in the vast majority of cases we revise Bills within well understood and accepted timeframes. Your Lordships’ House is an effective revising Chamber that adds substantial value without gridlock or significant delay. The Joint Committee’s report describes authoritatively how the relationship works to produce that result. The vast majority of those who support compositional

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reform beyond the removal of the remaining hereditaries do so not on the basis that this place does a bad job, or that our powers should in any way either be markedly curbed or increased, but because it is no longer sustainable for so influential a second Chamber to have no democratic element at all.

Eminent cross-party groups on the reform of this place, including the Wakeham royal commission, if I may call it that, the previous Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, the Public Affairs Select Committee, in its report on reform of the second Chamber, and the “Breaking the Deadlock” group, all agree that any compositional change of the Lords should be based on the relationship of the two Houses continuing in a way similar to the current arrangements. Neither this House nor any political party can bind the House for the future but we can, as members of political parties and as Cross-Benchers, give clear leadership on what we consider the relationship between the two Houses should be in any newly composed second Chamber.

The debate today is not about reform of the House of Lords. That depends on issues which have not yet been resolved and it is not before this House today. What is before this House is the excellent report of the Joint Committee—a report agreed unanimously between all the elements of Parliament, between all the political parties and between those who are members of none, between both Houses, and between everyone who is directly involved in the Parliament of this nation. That, in itself, is a signal and significant achievement.

That unanimity is coupled with the report of a genuinely and uniformly high standard. Some people doubted that what this report does could ever be done. They were sceptical that the issues that it so authoritatively covers could even be adequately set down. This report shows that such doubt was misplaced.

The report provides the definitive guide—the last word—on the current relationship between our two Houses of Parliament. It will become the Bible on the key issue of that relationship. It is a significant contribution to Parliament, and it is a testament and a tribute to what Parliament and parliamentarians can achieve. I commend it to the House, and I beg to move.

Moved, 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).—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

3.26 pm

Lord Cunningham of Felling: My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the Motion before the House as chairman of the Joint Committee. First, like my noble and learned friend, I thank all members of the committee from the various parties and from the Cross Benches. Secondly, I give the highest commendation to the clerks, who worked assiduously with my colleagues and myself throughout the sittings of the committee, giving us excellent advice

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and guidance. I also thank the committee staff, who were both efficient and good-natured in responding to what were no doubt at times unreasonable demands for more papers on the same day. Last but not least, I thank all those who gave evidence from the parties and from outside the House, together with the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons.

I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned friend for his kind words about the report of the work of the committee and myself. I agree with him wholeheartedly about the sadness of the loss of Denis Carter, whom I first met in 1997, when he joined my team in the Ministry of Agriculture. He will be sorely missed.

My noble and learned friend and I first met when we worked together at the Cabinet Office, where he was always assiduous in guarding my back and defending me against charges of staying in the wrong hotels, flying on the wrong aeroplanes or even, occasionally, drinking the wrong whisky. I am pleased to say that I gave him a better hand to play today in defending and speaking up for the report. As he said, it is the latest in a series of reports examining aspects of your Lordships’ House. Notable among them is that of the royal commission, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and that of an earlier Joint Committee of both Houses in 2002, of which I also had the honour to be chairman.

This focus on your Lordships’ House continues to be guided by political parties and their manifestos and, not least, by the Government themselves. Before I turn to some of the recommendations in the report, I want to make some general comments about it.

As my noble and learned friend said, there was some uncertainty or ambiguity, and even some cynicism, about the value of establishing yet another Joint Committee. There was great sensitivity, too, about some aspects of the remit that we were given and about the terms of reference. Yet, after several months of work, we produced a unanimous report, which I believe makes it all the more powerful. Obviously there were some compromises; nevertheless, given the complexity and importance of the subject and the original divergence of opinions about some of the issues, the fact that we got through all those weeks of work without a single division in the committee is a testament to how determined we all were as members to do our best in this report for both Houses of Parliament.

As I was entering the House today—coming up the stairs with the report under my arm—I met a colleague who said, “It’s amazing how little is in that report, isn’t it?”. I said that the committee was determined that it was the quality of its recommendations not the quantity that would be testament to the report. Courtesy and ignorance combined prevents me from naming the noble Lord—courtesy because I would not want to embarrass him, and ignorance because I have never seen him before in my life. It may have been the same in reverse because I am sure he was not aware that he was making his comments to the chairman of the committee.

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The report is firmly based on the evidence presented to us: how this House works at present; how the conventions operate vis- -vis the unchallenged primacy of the House of Commons; what the conventions are in current practice; evidence given by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons; and not least, of course, the considered judgments of members of the committee, who are experienced parliamentarians in your Lordships’ House and the other place.

In general the report makes its recommendations and conclusions based on the present circumstances. The committee was not asked to consider changes to the composition of this House, nor did it do so. I would hazard a guess that if we had begun to do so, we would still be sitting today. An important general conclusion illustrated by the work of the committee is that in its current role as a revising Chamber and a Chamber in which significant volumes of government business begin their consideration, this House works efficiently and well. Of course, there is always room for improvement and the report has things to say about that but it is not generally the case that prevarication, obfuscation and delay are commonplace in the way in which your Lordships’ House goes about its role as a revising Chamber.

Perhaps I can refer to changing attitudes to the work of your Lordships’ House by reference to a quotation attributed to Mark Twain:

It is rather like that for some of our colleagues in the other place with regard to the work in this House. One of the unintended benefits of these continuing studies is that Members of the other place have learnt a great deal more than they ever knew about how your Lordships’ House does its work.

Conventions, in some cases, have evolved considerably but remain flexible and unenforceable. We conclude that the spirit in which they operate matters just as much as their definition. It is also worth noting that the House could depart from these conventions at any time and without the need for legislation to do so.

More specifically, we were asked to consider the Salisbury/Addison convention, secondary legislation, the convention on reasonable time and pingpong. In their evidence, the Government raised questions about Commons financial privilege, so we examined that issue, too. An examination of the current practice shows that the Salisbury/Addison convention, as my noble and learned friend concluded, has substantially evolved over years. It covers manifesto Bills introduced in this House as well as in the other place, and it is now accepted not simply by the Conservative and Labour Front Benches but by Cross Benches and the Liberal Democrats, too. Indeed, one could go further and say that current practice shows that this House effectively gives a Second Reading to any government Bill, whether it is in the manifesto or not. An examination of the record shows that to be the case, although, after some discussion, we did not include that in our proposed definition of the evolved—I wanted to call it “new”, but the committee did not agree—convention.

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We also looked at how the House deals with secondary legislation. Only in exceptional circumstances—and not for many years—has this House rejected secondary legislation. It has retained the ability to do so in unusual circumstances, and the committee has underlined that right. On reasonable time, the Government proposed a 60-day limit. The committee examined this; we looked at the Government’s evidence and the record, and suggested an 80-day note on the Order Paper, signifying when a Bill had been before the House for approximately half an average Session.

There is a convention that ping-pong takes place, but it is not itself a convention. It is simply a series of political negotiations between the House and Ministers in government departments, or this House and the other place. There was no great sympathy for any argument in favour of codification or, going further, legislation on the conventions of the House. Everyone who gave evidence and discussed these issues was adamant that there should be no loss of flexibility in the conduct of the business of your Lordships’ House, and the committee unanimously agreed with that. It also unanimously agreed that there is absolutely no role for the courts in adjudicating in disputes between the two Houses; nor did we want to create any circumstances in which that might be the case. I hazard a guess that there are enough lawyers in Parliament already, without our fate being placed in the hands of more of them.

We looked at financial privilege because the Government had asserted in their evidence that, somehow, the activities of your Lordships’ House were infringing upon the financial privileges of the House of Commons. We found no evidence to substantiate that at all. Indeed, after careful examination of the original creation of the mechanisms here—endorsed by my noble friend the Leader of the House a few years ago—we looked at the conduct of the various committees of your Lordships’ House and found no evidence of the financial privileges of the House of Commons being under threat due to their activities.

This is not simply a report about the powers of the House of Lords, however. As my noble and learned friend has said, much attention has focused on paragraph 61 of our report, and the Government’s response in paragraphs 19 and 22 of the Command Paper. I am perhaps straying a little beyond our terms of reference in saying that, however subtly worded those paragraphs, we cannot take any conclusion from paragraph 61 of the unanimously agreed Joint Committee report other than the reality that a substantially changed House—particularly one with an electoral mandate—would, of necessity, want to re-examine its working practices. It would feel, given the backing those elections would give it, that it would have every right to do so. Speaking as a politician, I would never want to be elected to any institution, at any level, where I could not have some say in how that institution behaved and conducted its business. I do not suppose that even the ingenuity of party lists can come up with clones from all the political parties who would simply come here to accept the status quo. That is not the reality of political life. Sadly, we would also see the demise of

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the Cross Benches, to say nothing of the Bishops. Consideration of those powers and responsibilities would inevitably be on the agenda.

I am pleased to say that the Government, in their response, accept all the recommendations and proposals of the report. Naturally, I and, I am sure, all members of the committee are delighted that that is so. I commend the statement of my noble and learned friend that the Government have no intention of cherry picking particular recommendations of the report but accept it in its entirety. Naturally, I hope that both Houses of Parliament will do the same and will proceed to implement the report and pass the resolutions it recommends.

Finally, in case there are any lingering doubts, nothing in this report will diminish in any way the right or ability of this House to reject a Bill or statutory instrument if, in exceptional circumstances, it wishes to do so. I commend the report to the House.

3.41 pm

Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate on the conventions of Parliament. One of the most pleasant conventions is, in appropriate circumstances, congratulating the previous speaker on what he said and saying what a pleasure it is to follow him. I can think of no circumstances in which I am happier to follow that convention than on this occasion. I join the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, on the report. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members of the committee when I thank him for the way in which he conducted the proceedings. The committee produced what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rightly described as a remarkable report.

Indeed, the Government were so enthusiastic about it that they suggested that the Salisbury/Addison convention should in future be called the Cunningham convention. This is a point of substance because, in its report, the committee said that the convention should be renamed the government Bill convention. However, in their reply to the report, the Government rightly pointed out that that is too narrow a restriction on the House. They asked for other alternatives, and I suggest that “the manifesto Bill convention” would be closer to what is intended in the committee’s report. The suggestion made in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, is of substance as well as being recognition of the work that he has done.

I said that it is usual to comment on the preceding speaker, and I shall speak for a moment on the speaker who is to follow me, because the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has been unwell, and this is the first occasion since the Recess when he has been able to be with us. I am glad that he is here.

In the report, we wrote a lot about codification. We did not like the idea and stressed the importance of conventions being flexible and unenforceable. The committee put forward formulations of the various conventions. There is an important point, though the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor met it this afternoon. It is important that the conventions in

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this House should be determined by this House and that no response to this report in another place should in any way seek, in effect, to codify what it believes this House ought to do. I need to give the matter a bit more thought, but I believe that the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the other place will simply take note with approval is a reasonable safeguard. It would not be appropriate for the other place to go any further as far as that is concerned.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, pointed out that we have clarified the situation in a number of respects, particularly in regard to the convention about reasonable time proposed by the Hunt report. On reflection, and despite the fact that it appeared in the Government’s manifesto, it is now unanimously agreed that the present definition of reasonable time is adequate and that to impose a strict time limit instead would not be to the advantage of the Government or of Parliament as a whole. In that respect, we have made significant progress. Similarly, on ping-pong and on secondary legislation the proposals are good.

I make a particular point on financial privilege, because there has been some challenge to the way in which your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee and its sub-committee have taken on investigation into Finance Bills. I am very glad indeed, because there is enormous expertise in financial matters in this House, that the Select Committee states clearly that it believes that the line taken by the Economic Affairs Committee is right. Again, I am glad that the Lord Chancellor has agreed with that. He has rightly stressed the weight of the unanimous opinions expressed. In that respect, there is general agreement.

In their report, the Government repeat paragraph 61 of our report, which states:

The Government response states:

I agree very strongly with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, on the inevitability, if there were a change in the composition of this House, of enormous pressure for increases in the powers of the House. However, as we point out in the paragraph that I just cited, that is outside our terms of reference. In paragraph 8 of their reply, the Government agree with that, but they then jump the gun and go on to set out a series of arguments why, whatever happens, the powers of this House should not be increased. In the course of or underlying their reply, there is confusion. They seem to imply all the way through that any increase in your Lordships’ powers would undermine the authority of the Commons. That is clearly not the case. It may well be that we should have greater

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powers on amendable statutory instruments, say, which would in no way undermine the authority of the other House. It may be that we should debate in even greater detail the provisions of the Finance Bill. Provided that the same rules concerning the ultimate power of the Commons to determine an issue exist, there is no reason why that extension of our powers should undermine the authority of the Commons.

Overall, the Government's approach in their reply is far too draconian. For paragraph after paragraph, they go on to say why the powers should not be increased. That is partly by reference to international experience, of which the committee was of course fully aware because we had all that evidence in front of us. That evidence is inconclusive and, in some respects, supports the view that there is no reason why this House should not have greater powers.

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