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I very much valued the tone of the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. I hope that that tone will be replicated by our mutual right honourable friend Jack Straw in tomorrows debate. The speech corrected some of the mistakes and poor judgments contained in the text of the government response. If I may say so with all humility as a member of the committee, the government response does not match the quality of the report to which it is responding. I received a letter from my right honourable friend Mr Straw on 13 December in which he included a copy of the government response. He highlighted differences with the report right from the outset in his letter, which states:
The Government believes however, that further reform should not alter the current role of the House of Lords as a revising and scrutinising chamber, nor should it alter the balance of the relationship between the Lords and Commons. The principles of the current conventions that the report identifies should therefore still apply in a reformed House of Lords.
On reflection, that was ill advised because it jars somewhat with the reaction to the report, which wholeheartedly endorses it. The paeans of praise of my noble and learned friend soared to ever greater heights when he gave his reaction to the report.
As we have heard, the Joint Committees main conclusions were adopted unanimously and therefore demonstrate the consensus that my right honourable
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That may well be true, but it is barely relevant to us and our circumstances. It applies to elected Houses, in countries with written constitutions, and it has no relevance whatever to the circumstances in which we are approaching House of Lords reform.
I do not accept that and overseas evidence is on my side. I do accept, however, that the greater the proportion of elected members the greater the tendency of the House of Lords, the second chamber, to demand additional powers, and that is why essentially this Committee is sitting, so we can get clear the baseline, and then if we make decisions and have an extra election and need to give them more powers we are explicit about what those extra powers should be.
That might be one persons idiosyncratic view of what the committee was about. He would be hard put to find a member of the committee who would share that view; certainly I do not. I was not there to create a baseline for some future reform. The very fact that the committee produced a report to this Housea special report early onwas to lay down what it was doing and what it was not doing. The self-denying ordinances of the committee were very clear indeed.
I do not propose to go through each of the conventions, because the unanimity speaks for itself. I agree with everything that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lord Cunningham said about the conventions. I want to concentrate for a couple of minutes on the evidence behind the conclusions. I am going to quote one of the most helpful pieces of evidence that I found, although it does not directly bear on the conventions. The part of it that I am going to quote bears on that thing that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, accused people of tip-toeing intothe future and reform
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I will quote from paragraphs 33 and 34, because my right honourable friend Jack Straw referred to those sections in his evidence. In referring to them, he showed that he did not fully understand the point that was being made by the Clerk of the Parliaments, who said:
If the members of the House of Lords continue to be appointed and in a way which continues to ensure that no government of whatever political colour will enjoy a majority, the convention can be maintained because the argument of the supremacy of the popular mandate will still apply. The introduction of an elected element would undermine this as the House could begin to claim an electoral mandate. It can be argued that the greater the proportion of elected members the stronger the mandate. If the Lords were elected by a proportional system they might even claim a superior mandate.
We have had very clear evidence from the Clerk of the Parliaments. It will be a fundamental part of the argument if and when Mr Straw produces his White Paper which, I am told, he has promised within a few weeks.
I conclude my comments by welcoming the work done by everyone in the committee. I commend the report of the Joint Committee, which shows the only real consensus to have been created so far. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cunningham on all his work. The conclusions on the convention are clear. The assertion of their exclusive applicability to the present is equally clear. There is no recommendation for any form of codification that would turn conventions into rules, remove flexibility or inhibit evolution in response to political circumstances. The government response is welcome, particularly as orally expressed by my noble and learned friend, and I hope that the paragraphs of it to which I have referred critically will be allowed quietly to rot somewhere and not see the light of day in future thinking.
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, and his colleagues on their unanimous report that we are invited to take note of with approval today. Indeed, a report that has a certain number of favourable references to me and my commission is very likely to meet with my approval. I stopped counting after I had seen my name mentioned 20 times, lest I should get inflated ideas.
It is an important report, not just because of what it says, which has turned out to be much less controversial than the committee probably thought it
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Therefore, I hope that the lesson that will be learnt from the noble Lords report is the lesson I tried and perhaps failed to get across in my royal commission reportany reform must start from the here and now and changes have to be long-term and consensual. We have all heard the expression agreement between the Houses and between the parties; that is the right way to proceed. When people tell me that it will be impossible to get a consensus, I do not accept it. My response is that those involved will have to try harder.
I would like to add just one small point concerning the Salisbury convention. This illustrates the point that I have been making on obtaining a consensus. The report sets it out pretty well, but I would add that the 1945 agreement had great value for the Conservative Opposition, as it enabled the leadership to exercise greater control over their Back-Benchers, and that demonstrates how consensus can produce different benefits for all the parties involved.
While the noble Lords most excellent report focused on the somewhat narrow area of conventions, they put the entire future of Westminster democracy into proper focus. The report is wishful thinking, and, incidentally, would make the Westminster Parliament and the Government under less democratic control, not more.
I turn to a specific aspect of the report: the role of this House in financial matters, particularly taxation. The important point has still not been raised. I submitted evidence to the noble Lords committee after I had seen the Governments evidence on this matter, which was wholly wrong. The nub of the matter is thatI quote from my evidence on page 145 of volume II of the noble Lords report
The noble Lords committee entirely supported the position that I had put to it and I am very grateful for that. I know that the Government now accept that they were wrong and that the position as I have set out is correct.
As I have indicated, the arrangement made for the Finance Bill sub-committee of the Economic Affairs Select Committeeof both of which I have the honour to be the chairmanwas that the House entered into a self-imposed restriction for the work of this committee. I strongly approve of that. The return that we got was very helpful co-operation from the Treasury and HMRC.
However, two important points emerge from this episode. First, that it should have happened in the first place indicates a woeful ignorance within some areas of government as to just what the House of Lords is about. This ignorance can and should be remedied if we are going to make proper progress on the long-term future of the House of Lords.
Secondly, it is very important to restate the position of the House of Lords in matters of finance and taxation. We have no powers, nor should we have, to interfere with legislation, but your Lordships have the absolute right to discuss and to express their opinion on finance and taxation matters without hindrance, notwithstanding the self-imposed constraints of your Lordships' Finance Bill sub-committee or our quite proper lack of powers over supply or financial legislation. Indeed, if one stops to think for a minute, one realises that it would be extraordinary if the position were otherwise; it would be extraordinary if this sovereign House of the British Parliament were unable to discuss matters that everyone else in the Kingdom can discuss, including the valet of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Everybody can discuss financial matters if they want to. It is only in the work of the sub-committee that we apply a self-imposed restraint for very particular reasons.
It was important to say that, but let me conclude by saying that the report is excellent and shows a sensible way forward under the Joint Committees necessarily narrow terms of reference. I am grateful to the committee for its contribution.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I, too, welcome this unanimous report, which lays to rest so many of the fears raised in the Hunt report and the 2005 Labour manifestoalthough I hear around me the groans of new fears raised about what might happen in any next stage of reform. The report confirms that conventions are in their very nature impossible to codify, and that the House of Lords operates within a well understood consensus about its proper role and relationship with the House of Commons.
I am struck as I listen on many occasions to the Benches opposite that any party that is in power for more than two elections begins to take the executive point of view: to feel that the Executive is always right and that parliamentary opposition is a nuisance. I think that some on the Labour Benches still think of the Lords as a Conservative-dominated House. This
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The Lords is now, deliberately, a Chamber without a majority for any party, and a partly elected Chamber would remain that. Other than in the exceptional circumstances of a landslide majority for a single party, polling well over 50 per cent of the vote at successive elections, the second Chamber under likely second-stage reform will continue to be without a majority for a Government of whatever complexion. The continuation of an appointed Cross-Bench element would make that more likely, as would partial elections by halves or thirds and as would proportionality.
That makes for a different style for the second Chamber, whether entirely appointed or partially or mostly elected. Here, the Government have to persuade and explain. Minds and votes are swayed by debate. In any further stage of reform of the sort which is likely to command the consent of all parties, that, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and others, will continue to be the case. His fears are imaginary nightmares. That means that the House of Lords contributes deliberative democracy, complementary to the more combative style of the House of Commons.
There are some broader issues behind the report that I should like to touch on briefly: the relations between the two Houses; the relations between Parliament as a whole and government; and the quality of the legislative process. Of course, we are all concerned about the relationship between the two Houses, and some raise the dreadful fear that, if there were an elected element, we might wish to contest the primacy of the House of Commons. It seems to me that that is also an unreal fear.
The primacy of the House of Commons will remain uncontested for some very obvious reasons. First, there is the question of confidence and the fact that the Governments majority and legitimacy will continue to depend on their ability to command a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. Secondly, there is the issue of supply, with the House of Commons controlling government finance and spending. Thirdly, most Ministers will continue to be drawn from that Chamberperhaps all Ministers with a future transformed second Chamber.
If that is the case, we have to be concerned with managing a better relationship between the two Houses, recognising that we are the complementary second Chamber and that we will continue to be so. We need to manage the legislative process better. I welcome the suggestions in the report and in a number of other papers that a joint business/legislative committee would help to manage the legislative programme between the two Houses. I strongly support the argument that pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny should be extended, and I am concerned that the extension of pre-legislative scrutiny seems to have stumbled in the past year. We need to return to that.
Ping-pong is an untidy and sometimes unseemly affair in which the shuffling between the two Housessometimes at very short noticein some ways shows Parliament in its worst light. Paragraph 189 of the report says something that the Government need to take fully on board:
We also acknowledge the value of the convention, with which all parties agreed, that neither House will in general be asked to consider Amendments without notice. We believe that it would facilitate the exchange of Amendments between the two Houses if that convention was more rigorously observed, i.e. if reasonable notice was given of consideration of Amendments from the other House.
That suggests that we would do better to consider a conciliation committee between the two Houses, and some form of reconciling amendments between the two Houses rather than the process from which we have suffered on a number of occasions in recent years.
The reasonable time issue has also been settled. There is no evidence that this House behaves unreasonably in any sense. In checking through the progress of a number of Bills, I noted that in the Charities Bill, for example, the loss of time was between the Lords completing it and it being started in the House of Commons rather than anything to do with the remarkably thorough way in which this Chamber coped with scrutinising a very detailed Bill. It helps if we take more Committee stages off the Floor of the House, as we have now begun to do, which enables us to move with all deliberate speed. There are exceptional circumstances, and we need to ensure that where there are Bills of constitutional significance and where issues of civil and political liberties are at stake, this House can, where necessary, disagree with a Government-dominated Commons.
We ought to hear that phrase much more often from Ministers when they are subject to aggressive scrutiny from the Commons. It is a structural weakness in the British political system that the Executive is so dominant over both Houses of Parliament. Ministers insist on pressing legislation through as fast as possible. The phrase, The Government are entitled to get their business through is misused by Ministers sometimes to insist that government proposals should get through virtually unamended.
The doctrine of the manifesto is also one that the Government wish to use more than todays lengthy manifestos will stand, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said. When I gave evidence to the Committee, I contrasted the 1945 manifesto with the manifestos of 1997 and 2001. The Labour Party manifesto in 1945 was short and clear. Indeed, it had a list of proposed Bills. It reflected debates within the mass Labour movement and discussions within the partys national executive, and it was the considered and hard-fought proposals put forward by the Labour movement. Now manifestos, which are written by small groups of young men attached to party leaders and put out with lots of
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Many Bills do not arise from the manifesto. It is hard to find city academies in the Labour manifesto, for example, but nevertheless they have been pushed through. Fast government is intrinsically undesirable. Ministers now wish to respond to 24-hour media by promising an initiative, which then becomes a Bill and gets a good headline, and then they want to deliver it through Parliament as rapidly as possible. Fast legislation is like fast food. They are both bad for citizens health. I note in Appendix 5 to the report a quotation from Peter Hain when he was Leader of the House of Commons. In another context, he said:
Deliberate speed and due consideration of government proposals by Parliament is what a healthy democracy needs. From this Government and their predecessor, there has been too much legislation which has been too hastily prepared and poorly drafted, and justifiably and necessarily heavily amended as it was scrutinised.
Briefly, the quality of the legislative process will be improved by more pre- and post-legislative scrutiny and more Joint Committees between the two Houses. I also welcome the reports proposals that it ought to be possible to amend Standing Orders and statutory instruments in particular cases. Conventions evolve; they can strain behaviour while allowing for exceptional circumstances. In a partly elected House, conventions would no doubt evolve further. The two Houses will find different ways of working togethermore constructive ways, I hopebut our overall aim must be a stronger Parliament for both Houses, better able to scrutinise the quality of legislation and hold our executive Government to account.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I join the long list of speakers who welcome this report and congratulate the committee and the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, on producing it. In a highly disciplined way, it has offered us some real steps forward in the conduct of our parliamentary life in the United Kingdom.
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