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1.18 pm

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, in common with other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for making what I thought to be an unarguable case. I very much hope that, in their responses, all three Front Benches will accept that this is a debate about governance and not government, between which there is far more than a semantic difference. To me, the essence of good governance is public trust. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is seeking a balloted debate on this subject and I very much hope that he achieves it.

As I see it, our job-and certainly my job as a Back-Bencher-is consistently to seek means by which public trust can be enhanced and justified. Current and, I think, fair criticisms are that there is too much legislation-the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, made exactly that point earlier-unused or inappropriate legislation, and well meant but outdated legislation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I am an enthusiast for both pre and post-legislative scrutiny, and I do not think that there is a lot to add to the case so marvellously set out earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. However, I am very fortunate: I am probably the only person in this Chamber who has had the privilege of chairing two pre-legislative scrutiny processes, and I do not think that I fully appreciated how valuable they were until I recently went through the agonies of the Digital Economy Bill. If ever a Bill required pre-legislative scrutiny, that was it. Many hours have been spent in this Chamber-I would say many of them wasted hours-going through things which a good and effective pre-legislative process could have dealt with very easily. A lot of bouncing around between the various sides of the House on very small issues could have been avoided because many of the arguments were based on an extraordinary amount of misinformation and even disinformation. I shall return to that in a moment. So it is the absence of pre-legislative scrutiny that has led me fully to understand its value.

The passage of the Digital Economy Bill is a perfect example of what can go wrong. All of us engaged in that Bill have been subjected to a deluge of lobbying, some of it informed and intelligent and some of it pretty daft. However, we have had no ability to sort

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the wheat from the chaff; no ability properly to interrogate the lobbyists; and no ability seriously to look at which of their arguments stand up and which of them collapses under interrogation. That was an error, because that was the only time when this Bill could have received proper scrutiny, given the present parliamentary timetable. No doubt, whatever leaves this House will be swept down to the other end of the building and I am afraid that we shall end up with a limp and lame Bill on what is in reality a very important subject.

Another point is that we live in an era of ever-more professional politics and politicians. The outside world has to be given a voice and has to come into this building to make its voice heard, be scrutinised and feel that it has had a say. I repeat that not being able to sort out and identify the legitimate and factual lobbying has been a major problem in trying to get this piece of legislation through.

The most important point about pre-legislative scrutiny is that the members of the committee form a hard core of informed cross-party expertise when the Bill comes before the House. You have an informed group of people who have been through the arguments and can cut through an enormous amount of waffle and nonsense. Not having that is a great mistake.

We also have an obligation to look at what is happening elsewhere, good and bad. In the time left to me, I would like to draw the attention of the House to a very good article of 8 February in the New York Times by Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, in which he said:

"We've always known that America's reign as the world's greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic. What we're getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we're paralyzed by procedure ... Much of the Senate's business relies on unanimous consent: it's difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block [what] they don't like".

He continued:

"The truth is that ... the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government ... America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it".

I would be very distressed if at any point anyone was able to say that our parliamentary system and our procedures were effectively making good legislation and good governance impossible.

I shall finish with two short points. On 14 January, we had an excellent debate in this Chamber on climate change post Copenhagen. Thirty speakers made contributions and it was led by the noble Lord, Lord Stone. He and I made a point of ensuring that as many schools as possible knew that the debate was happening. We followed that up afterwards. The ability of this House to shoot itself in the foot is sometimes quite remarkable. When we talked to the young people who had shown an interest in the debate, the same question arose time and time again: "Why on earth were you moving for papers and why, at the end of a really excellent debate, did you withdraw the motion? Did you not believe in what you had said or was what you said an irrelevance?". I think it is foolish to use these absurd, antiquated phrases which no one other than

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someone who has been in this Chamber for probably more than a year has any way of understanding, when in fact we are trying to engage the outside world, particularly young people, in what we do. We must address that quickly.

Finally, to paraphrase Nikolaus Pevsner, the British have a genius for spending large sums of money, seeking candle-end savings. The most distressing thing I have watched in the past few months, particularly as a result of the expenses drama which has engulfed both Houses, has been the argument advanced that somehow or other a cheaper democracy might possibly be a better democracy. Everyone in the Chamber knows that to be ridiculous. Somehow or other we have been dragged into a debate which has given credibility to the idea that saving money will result in better governance. I have said before in this House that cut-price democracy is not a bargain that any sane person should contemplate. We have to make that case over and over again and stop pretending that somehow, by saving money here and there, we are offering the public something better when we all know that we shall be offering the public something potentially far worse.

1.25 pm

Lord Roper: My Lords, like others I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on having initiated this debate on the central issues of our effectiveness as a parliamentary Chamber. Much of our legislation and policy is now made or initiated at a European level. Whether or not one thinks that is good, clearly it is important that there should be effective parliamentary scrutiny of European affairs. Therefore, I would like to concentrate on that in my remarks.

Scrutiny of European Union work has been a major strand of the scrutiny activity of this House for 36 years-since 1974. I acknowledge that those in the past would have made a very important contribution-in particular the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who not only played a part on the sub-committee but has written rather importantly on the subject; and, of course, my predecessor as chairman of the European Union Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.

In all, 85 Members of your Lordships' House are involved in the work of the European Union Committee and its several sub-committees, supported by a very effective staff. In the past Session, we considered 800 European Union documents and accompanying Explanatory Memorandums which were submitted to us, and almost half of those were considered in detail by the committee or one of its seven sub-committees. Many of those cases would lead to correspondence with Ministers for answers to questions on issues which we did not feel had been properly explained. We made 25 reports to the House, nine of which were debated. We have been able to identify a number of occasions when our scrutiny has affected the outcome of a European Union proposal, either in terms of the British Government's attitude or sometimes, indirectly, by our reports being read by Members of the European Parliament which has led to them being incorporated in resolutions and amendments put forward in the European Parliament.



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In addition, I want to touch on the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. The process of scrutiny is worth while, in that the requirement that Ministers should explain their policy on every European Union document to Parliament in an Explanatory Memorandum, and through Parliament to the public, is of constitutional importance and keeps Whitehall on its toes.

In view of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I should say that another important way in which our committee works is to have links with the committees dealing with European matters in the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. That is of particular importance as we are now considering in much more detail issues of subsidiarity, particularly for matters which have been devolved to those Assemblies. My committee has said that it will notify the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments if, before coming to an opinion, we ever see issues of subsidiarity on which we would like their views.

I was very glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in his 2005 book, Parliament in British Politics, wrote that the committee has,

In his recent book, the New British Constitution, Vernon Bogdanor is equally generous to us as he writes:

"The scrutiny provided in the House of Lords European Union Select Committee ... has proved to be perhaps the most effective in the European Union".

My experience of meeting colleagues from other member states suggests that your Lordships' House, together with our colleagues in the Commons, has the most comprehensive system of scrutiny anywhere in the European Union. The committee's responsibilities and Parliament's opportunity to intervene have been enhanced by the Lisbon treaty. The second report of the Procedure Committee, which is awaiting consideration in the House, sets out the procedural implications for this House on the basis of a most helpful memorandum from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the Leader of the House, on the implementation of the new powers and scrutiny arrangements, with particular reference to subsidiarity and the UK's right to opt in to measures in the area of freedom, security and justice.

The other recent change arising from the Lisbon treaty is widening the range of issues subject to what is now referred to as the ordinary legislative procedure, whereby the European Parliament co-legislates with the Council of Ministers. That was debated in your Lordships' House on 28 January. Codecision certainly complicates scrutiny, but the important point was made in that debate by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that we need to strengthen our discussion and co-operation with Members of the European Parliament, because they have that important function. The current fiscal climate is certainly not one in which one could argue for increased resources for that additional work but, given the additional work that is coming forward under the Lisbon treaty, it is a difficult time to reduce the means of scrutiny.

In its third report of Session 2005-06, the Liaison Committee sets out the case for a review of the policy Select Committees at the beginning of every Parliament.

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I look forward to the review, and note that in its decision, which was approved by the House, although in general the Motions for reappointing the existing committees will be delayed until the review has been completed, there is an exception for the European Union Committee. The report states:

"In conducting such a review, the special position of the European Union Committee as a committee of scrutiny of EU draft legislation will be recognised and the committee's appointment will not be delayed".

I am sure that those who will be appointed to the committee in the next Parliament will maintain the high level of scrutiny of European Union matters that has been provided for the past 36 years.

1.32 pm

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on securing this debate. I am so pleased that Lady Luck was with him in the ballot, because it has given us an opportunity to move the subject further forward. Also, like other noble Lords, I am very pleased to see that the leaders of each of the parties are present today, and we have the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, from the Cross Benches.

In particular, I am heartened to see the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with us, given that he has a long record of being associated with major changes in procedures and practices in the House. I recall first working with him way back in 2002 and 2003 on the committee on which the noble Lord, Lord Roper, also served, when we were working with the late and lamented noble and learned Lord Williams of Mostyn-Gareth. We had not only an intensive but an entertaining exercise that produced some major changes for the House, which in the main have been well placed.

At that time, I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was very radical-but not radical enough, I regret, to embrace the then Leader's recommendation that we should have a Leader's session periodically in the House so that the Leader could account to the House for his or her performance. It is interesting that we now have Secretaries of State with sessions devoted to their areas of activity-we had one this morning-but we still do not have a Leader's session in this House. I hope that that item will be on the agenda as we move further forward. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will reflect on his position and that we can introduce a Leader's session.

I have had some conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the slow progress we have been making in trying to establish a Leader's group. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will give full support for it; I know that the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, is in favour of a Leader's review of our procedures; but I understand my from conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that there is hesitancy on his part. I await with interest his response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, to see whether there are any remaining obstacles.

When I talked to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he felt that the agenda was not sufficiently strong for action to be taken. I hope that, in the light of our debate in the past few months-and, in particular,

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today, with some extraordinary and outstanding contributions, which are to be followed up by papers to be submitted to the next meeting of the Procedure Committee-all the leaders of parties in the House are now of the view that we can move forward. I hope that the papers will be before the Procedure Committee in the first week in March; I hope that there will be a unanimous view on them; and, like my noble friend Lord Rooker, I hope that we will not have to wait until the new Parliament is formed before we start to see some movement. If we do, I suspect that the Procedure Committee will not look at this until some time in June or even into July. Then, before we know where we are, we are into the Recess, we disappear for two months and the process will not be under way until the autumn of 2010 and, I suspect, we will not have a report completed by the end of the year. We will be into 2011. If we can huff and puff, as some people can in some committees, we might even run this through until the Olympics in 2012.

Having teased the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, a bit, I now have some firm questions for my noble friend the Leader of the House, whom I know has been doing her utmost to move this forward. Will she be raising the issue at the forthcoming Procedure Committee? Will she give a firm recommendation that we should establish either a Leader's group or a Leader's conference? Although there may be problems in getting the formalities moving before we prorogue, does the committee agree in principle, at the beginning of March, to establish a conference or a Leader's group, of whichever party is in power, to continue that work? Will it open invitations for evidence to be submitted? Will she also extend an invitation to all the officials and staff of the House who, from my experience, have some very good ideas about changes that they would be willing to embrace and which we should consider? They should be included in such an event.

We need to get that process well under way so that we can look forward to changes that will be about effectiveness and efficiency-not, as I hope that people will now be convinced having listened to so many contributions, about or against the interests of the Government, but about the interests of the House and the nature of our relationship with the public, which we are trying to rebuild.

I take up two final points, while leaving those questions for my noble friend, whom I am sure will do the utmost to answer them today so that we have that firm commitment and know that, even if we cannot get all the details finalised, we have a date in the new Parliament by which the review will get under way.

I served, 12 months or so ago, under the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who is in his place, for six months on the hybrid committee, the Crossrail Select Committee. People said, "You must be crazy going on that". It was an extraordinary experience, quite different from anything else that I have done. I have been on pre-legislative scrutiny committees that have taken evidence, but in that instance we took petitions from the public; we worked our way through them all. To pick up on a point previously made in speeches by the Lord Speaker, I would like the noble Lord, Lord Norton, to think about our running an

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experiment whereby we could combine petitions with a post or pre-legislative draft scrutiny exercise. We found that many members of the public participated. Probably about 20 per cent of them went away having secured what they came to us to petition for, but I would guess that 80 per cent or 85 per cent of them went away satisfied that they had been heard by Parliament in a way that they had probably never believed would happen before they came. In the time that I have been in this Chamber, that is one of the most satisfying experiences that I have had.

I also have views on European Union legislation, but I am conscious of the time and will come back to them later. We do great work on it, but it is important that we maintain standards. The Lisbon changes present us with some big challenges to ensure that we continue to do the work to the same level as we have done it in the past, but I hope we can find ways in which we, perhaps working on a joint basis with the Commons, might do it even better in future.

1.40 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on obtaining this debate, but the greatest tribute paid to him is the quality of the speakers who he has attracted. I fully endorse the campaign waged by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I should give him a belated apology. A few weeks ago, he had a Question, and I promised my full support. As the Question unfolded, I had the choice between giving him statesmanlike support and making a cheap political point. I am afraid noble Lords know the outcome.

I am rather shocked by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Butler, posing questions to the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition about what happens after the general election. I commend to all Members of the House the poem that ends:

"But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet".

Neither have the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and, until they do, those Benches would be wise not to count any chickens.

We know that in 31 years Labour and the Conservatives have missed opportunities to give impetus to parliamentary reform. It is no use ignoring the elephant in the room, which is reform of this House. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Grenfell, that that matter will be taken to the hustings where all three parties will make clear their attitudes to reform of this House. In the mean time, I can say very clearly that a vote for the Liberal Democrats in the general election will be a vote for Lords reform and voting reform. I give the noble Lord, Lord Butler, the assurance that he did not ask for: these Benches will press forward with the procedural reforms that he spoke about.

It has already been demonstrated that there are many good ideas about. I praise the initiative of the Lord Speaker in initiating a seminar last October, which spun off three committees that have been looking at various matters. The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Roper, are right that progress can be made now. We will all be back after the general election-that is

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one of the things that makes this place so attractive in looking dispassionately at the general election to come-so why can we not establish a Leader's Group now, either by the usual channels or, as was suggested during a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, by election by the whole House? It could sit in public and take external evidence. There is an opportunity to do this. I say to the Leader of the House that she should not let the dead hand of Strathclyde stop her taking action. I like the idea of the dead hand of Strathclyde. It is like a 1930s black-and-white thriller, but make no mistake, it is present, and the House should not allow it to stop us moving ahead.

Neither do I think we should stop looking at the situation of the Lord Speaker. It is time that some noble Lords, particularly on the Conservative Benches, stopped being like Jacobites dreaming of the king across the water and assuming that somehow, at some stage, they can restore the Lord Chancellor to the Woolsack. That time has gone, and whatever happens in this House, they will not find a majority for that course of action. It is time to look at the role of the Lord Speaker in the light of experience. Much as I love the Chairman of Committees as he sits on the Woolsack, we must look at the overlap in the roles of the Lord Speaker, the Chairman of Committees and other key committee chairmen.

Taking up the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Puttnam, we have to look at how we can involve the public better. I welcome the BBC's new website on Parliament, which was launched last September. It should be given wider publicity. It is a gateway into a lot of the activities, often live, of the committees and the Chambers, not only of this Parliament, but of the devolved Assemblies. I am a long-time fan of BBC Parliament. It is still too much of a hidden gem. I would like to see much clearer scheduling, so that people know what to find and where to find it, and more cross-promotion, which would draw people into the Parliament channel. The excellent "The Record", the television equivalent of "Today in Parliament", could quite easily be shown on BBC2 after "Newsnight". That would be a way of messing in to what we have been talking about today to get a better understanding and awareness of what is going on in Parliament because, apart from the sketch writers, the print media have now abandoned the field completely in terms of trying to report accurately what goes on in Parliament, and that is a disgrace.

I, too, am in favour of post-legislative scrutiny. I had the honour of serving on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on the Communications Bill, and I still count it as one of the best parliamentary experiences that I have had-that was pre-legislative scrutiny. On post-legislative scrutiny, the Gambling Act and the Licensing Act are worth having a look at in the light of experience of how they have impacted on our society.


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