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Like my noble friend Lord Alderdice, I deplore the lack of communication and links between the two Houses. An idea off the top of my head is that as well as the joint meeting of both Houses presided over by Her Majesty at the State Opening, what about a joint meeting of both Houses at the beginning of a Parliament,

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perhaps held in the Royal Gallery or Westminster Hall, and jointly chaired by the Speaker and the Lord Speaker? It would at least be a symbolic gesture that we are in the same business and are complementary in the work that we do. That is just a passing thought.

I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, who have been doing this ad hoc work following the Lord Speaker's seminar. The fact that those ad hoc committees have worked and produced some interesting thoughts that they will publish shortly means that a lot of the groundwork has been done.

I hope that the lesson that we take from this debate is that there are lots of good ideas about, there is certainly enough of an agenda-if that is what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is worrying about-to get a Joint Committee, however it is formed or elected, to work now. I ask the Leader of the House to send this debate to the Prime Minister in the hope that he will send back a famous directive from a non-bullying Prime Minister: action this day.

1.50 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is a rare pleasure, which is too often denied to me, to speak after the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I must tell him that whenever I see the Liberal Democrats I am reminded of another great black and white film called "Up the Creek". I join all others who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on securing a place in the ballot for this interesting and extremely useful debate. I can assure noble Lords that not only shall I have listened carefully to all who spoke, I will also read the many distinguished contributions with equal care.

Perhaps I may start on a slightly sour note: it is better to get these things out of the way at the beginning. I was struck by the number of Peers who spoke about public involvement in the scrutiny of legislation. Yet when this House was asked, only four of those who spoke today supported the idea that the British people should have a say in agreeing the Lisbon treaty. That is a stain on this Parliament, which will not be removed, particularly because the three parties gave a promise in their manifestoes. The 2005 Labour Party manifesto-the most recent-said:

"We will legislate to place reasonable limits on the time bills spend in the second chamber-no longer than 60 sitting days for most bills".

I take it that the Government have changed their mind on that objective. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell us when and why they changed their mind, and that it will not reappear ever again in a Labour Party manifesto.

When I read the terms of the Motion, to enhance,

it struck me that this went to the heart of what this House and Parliament have been about since the earliest days. Issues of how to contain the Executive and to hold the King's Ministers to account were exercising Members of this place in the 13th and 14th centuries. Some of their statues are above us as we speak. It is thankfully a lot less bloody these days, but, sadly, it is also a lot less effective. We are all agreed on the need to

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expose those in power to more effective scrutiny, but as a small-part player in the events of recent years, I have to say that we should not be too downhearted.

This House has had a significant impact in the past 13 years. It has protected the right to trial by jury; limited the most draconian emergency powers to terrorist-related crimes; prevented the imposition of compulsory ID cards; upheld the right of every election candidate to send a free election address; defended controls on night flights to airports; blocked super-casinos; and prevented 90-day detention without trial. That is just part of the record, which is not bad for a House regarded, whether we like it or not, as far less legitimate than the other place.

But our weakness has meant that while we were right on 24-hour drinking, regional assemblies, home improvement packs, the risks of electoral fraud and, I would contend, the use of closed lists in elections, we had to give way on all those occasions. The issue was not one of deficiency of scrutiny-your Lordships filleted all those propositions-it was a deficiency of authority. However we react to the issues raised in this debate, that deficiency cannot be mended by changes in our practices or Standing Orders. Some confuse bad strategic decisions by government with less-good scrutiny. We exist very often to make bad Bills a little better. It should be the job of government to make sure that we get better Bills, which is why I very much commend the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and his group in the Better Government Initiative.

Parliamentary reform-by which I mean strengthening the authority of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive-has to involve both places. We are part of a process that will change. The use of guillotines in another place has been monstrous as regards the number of Bills that arrive in this House not having been debated. I totally agree with what noble Lords have said on this and with the proposition that we should find a way of flagging up those areas that have not been debated.

Since 1997, we have seen huge changes in procedure in this place. I have been a willing participant in that. After the reforms that followed the discussions initiated by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, we agreed on a cross-party basis a range of changes. That was in about 2000-01. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, sat on that group as well. I must say that I had no idea of how growingly irritated he has become, so that in these dying days of the Labour Government, he at last erupts and says that everything that has gone before was quite wrong and that now we must go for change.

The important changes we made included much greater use of Grand Committees. On the whole, these have worked well. However, I note that there is still some disagreement between the views of the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Higgins about whether they should become the default mechanism. I note a lessening of the use of Grand Committees for legislation and a greater use of them for other business. This is ripe for review and could include, perhaps, the suggestion that Grand Committees should have the ability and power to sit in the mornings. Equally, another effect of the Williams

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reforms was to bring in tighter rules on procedure at Third Reading, which, too, should be revised. I very much welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about that.

There are advantages and disadvantages in all changes, but I refute the claim that we on this side have been resistant to it. We, for example, proposed and would maintain the Delegated Powers Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee. But, given the limited resources of the House, we may wish to look again at the distribution of resources between the committees of the House, especially if we do more pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. No one could help but notice the enormous share of resources that is taken by the European Affairs Committee family overall. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, is bidding the other way on that to make sure that there should be enhanced resources.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Will the noble Lord support today the establishment of the Leader's group to consider these matters?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I will come to that in a moment, but this is a time-limited debate and I am not allowed any extra time. I always hold to one principle; namely, that this House should not be the same as another place. I do not accept the argument that we need to become more like the other place, sit on the same days or run our internal arrangements in the same way. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said about September Sittings, which may be a way that we should move.

There will be an election in a few weeks' time, after which there will be enormous change. There will be a new House of Commons. Some of the Wright committee proposals no doubt will have been taken up. Because we are part of a process, we should react to those changes and those, if any, that are taken up by the Better Government Initiative. Of course, there is a need for the House to respect the right of the Queen's Government to get their business. We have respected that right these past 13 years. I hope that if the Labour Party finds itself in opposition, it will do the same and, likewise, on the Salisbury doctrine, as was upheld in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats will sign up to that, too.

The glory and strength of this House, which I have no desire to see changed, is the right, not given to Members in another place, to table an amendment or a Motion, and to have it heard and replied to by a Minister. Few other legislative bodies have that right-there may be none for all that I know. My noble friend Lord Norton put it very well and he will know the answer to that. But it is an extraordinary freedom that we should maintain.

Many excellent arguments have been put forward in this debate, especially that of using technology better, which we should do. I assure the House that having spent 13 years upholding and defending the rights of the Opposition with, perhaps I may say, a very fair hearing from most Leaders of the House with whom I have dealt, I will not change my tune simply because

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I may change my seat. That would equally be true for any other Leader of the Conservative Party who became Leader of the House. So long as this House continues in the performance of the constitutional role it staked out for itself after 1911, it need fear nothing from any Conservative Government.

I have said that the next Parliament will be different. Whoever wins, we will see a very large change in the House of Commons and have an influx of new Members into this House. And whoever becomes the next Leader of this House should take this debate very seriously, and in my view should meet very early on in the next Parliament to decide how to take forward in a positive manner some of the suggestions that have been made so that we keep our processes up to date and improve the work of scrutiny and of holding the Government to account. That is in the interests not just of this House but also of the Government and, in the long term, the people of this country.

2 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, this has been a stimulating debate that was much needed in many ways. I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for calling attention to the case for enhancing the means available to the House for scrutinising legislation and public policy. As Leader of the House, it is my duty and my privilege to assist the House in such endeavours, and in a moment I will respond in detail to some of the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and of course by other speakers in the debate.

I often wish I was a student again, and in difficult days I can see that Hull University is becoming a more alluring place. The noble Lord was right to say that the issues being discussed are essential elements of a healthy political system that links Parliament's relationship with the Government to Parliament's relationship with the people, and I would also agree with my noble friend Lord Puttnam that today we are talking about matters of good governance-not so much good government, but good governance.

Before I turn to the suggestions made in the debate, I should like to take the opportunity to dwell for a moment on the considerable contribution that this House makes at present to the scrutiny of legislation and public policy, and on the ways in which we have been able to enhance that contribution over recent years. All of us here present have witnessed the painstaking work done both in this Chamber and in Grand Committee to examine and improve legislation, and to air issues of public policy, although of course much more needs to be done. Noble Lords might recall, for example, the 11 days that the House spent in Committee on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill during the last Session, after pre-legislative scrutiny, or the prolonged and authoritative debate over the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, to the Coroners and Justice Bill last autumn. Thankfully, not all our scrutiny is quite on that epic scale, but those episodes should remind us of the quality and magnitude of the contribution made by this House to the crafting of legislation and public policy.



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Nor should we overlook the work done outside the Chamber and the Moses Room, although of course there is much more potential to be grasped. I am taken by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we should use Grand Committee in the mornings. That is a simple change which would be welcomed by many people, but I shall come back to those issues in due course.

I hardly need to highlight to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, as a former chairman of the Constitution Committee, or to my noble friends Lord Filkin and Lord Grenville, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, just how vital a role is played by our Select Committees in examining draft legislation and public policy, and indeed in equipping the House with the information we need to perform our scrutiny function effectively. Many of our Select Committees have built up formidable reputations for themselves in this respect, and produce authoritative work. My noble friend Lord Grenfell reminded us that if the membership of this House is to be changed, which under my party would happen, we have to give careful consideration to the impact on scrutiny, which benefits greatly from the expertise of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, reminded us that the qualities of this House must not be lost in any reformed Chamber.

I make remarks about our Select Committees not in a spirit of complacency, but because I believe that in what has been a difficult year for the House and for Parliament as a whole, it is important that we should not lose sight of our strengths and achievements, and indeed redouble our efforts to raise awareness of them outside. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rightly reminded us of the power of this House. So although we have dwelt in the debate on the ways in which we might enhance the contribution that this House makes to our system of governance, let no one be in any doubt that our present contribution is considerable and that we can take pride in it. However, I think it was my noble friend Lord Rooker who said that the bells should be ringing. The bells certainly are ringing. Indeed, one might even detect a note of admiration in the Wright committee report, which surprisingly no noble Lord cited in their speeches. Paragraph 104 of that report noted this House's,

Indeed, I read through the committee's report and felt that it thought we are doing quite a good job in many ways. But that is not to say that we should rest on our laurels, nor have we been in danger of doing so. Many reforms have been suggested during the debate, and I would remind noble Lords that reform is a process, not an event. This House is engaged in such a process. Looking back over only the past year, we have made advances in our ability to scrutinise legislation and public policy in a number of areas. Evolution and not revolution, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, put it.

Earlier this month, we passed the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which was subject to the fast-track procedure. In doing so, for the second time we followed a new set of arrangements based on

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the recommendations of the Constitution Committee which are intended to ensure that the House has at its disposal the information it needs to give proper consideration to such Bills, and to the case for fast-tracking the legislation. During this week, the first of a series of national policy statements, the policy statement on energy, was considered in Grand Committee. That arrangement is another innovation intended to enhance the House's ability to scrutinise government policy formulated under the Planning Act. And earlier today we continued our experiment with Question Time for Secretaries of State based in this House, which I think has been a success and provides a new opportunity for Members to air issues of public policy. I could go on, notably to speak of the new powers that the House has with respect to European Union policy and legislation as a result of the Lisbon treaty and the adoption of the European Union (Amendment) Act. These examples should serve to dispel any notion that we have been standing still. In spite of the challenges we have faced on other fronts over the past year, we continue to find new ways of improving our performance as a legislative Chamber. But, of course, that process must continue.

There is a wide spectrum of opinion among your Lordships on reform of the House: on reform of its composition and means of entry, on the proper role and function of the House, and indeed on reform of our practices and procedures. Focusing as we are today on our practices and procedures, I am conscious that there is an equally wide range of views on the way forward. However, I acknowledge what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. We are moving towards a consensus on many of these issues and I welcome this.

I have said before in response to an Oral Question from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that I believe that a Leaders' group should be set up to examine some of the issues raised by noble Lords today. Although I believe that it would make sense to do this in a new Parliament in order to ensure that the momentum behind such a project is not sapped by a dissolution, I have heard the calls for action now. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was being practical in many ways. We have four and a half weeks before-well, I don't know.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: We have four and a half weeks before the Easter Recess, and that is not very long. However, I will say to my noble friend Lord Brooke that I again undertake to raise the issue at the next meeting of the Procedure Committee. I believe that a Leaders' group could usefully look at how Members are appointed to Select Committees, how we can avoid duplication with the other place when we repeat ministerial Statements and Urgent Questions, and how we might ensure that in scrutinising Bills that have arrived from the Commons, we focus on the provisions that receive the least attention in the other place. These and many other issues raised today, such as Grand Committees, the use of carryover and so forth, should be considered by such a group. Moreover, it could certainly consult widely, including with the staff of the House.



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There is also room to examine how we can ensure that our procedures are more transparent and accessible to Back-Benchers on all sides of the House. Although individual Back-Bench Members can exercise great influence in this House, it often requires close familiarity with our practices and ways of doing things, which can put those who have only recently joined the House, or who attend less frequently, at a real disadvantage.

I should also say a word about the role of the Lord Speaker, who provides an excellent service to this House. I have said previously in response to a Question that my personal view is that, at some point after any new post has been created, there should be a review, but such a review should be conducted separately rather than forming part of the remit of a Leader's group. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, mentioned the role of the Lord Speaker at Question Time. That should be looked at in the review of the Lord Speaker's role.

My noble friend Lord Filkin spoke of the better use of technology, through having Bills on the internet, with explanations of where a Bill has got to in its legislative process. That is a fantastic idea, but much of the information is already available on the Parliament website in the form suggested by him. Moreover, the National Archives are redeveloping their online legislation service to replace the two existing websites and bring together the revised, as-enacted versions of legislation for the first time. The service will also integrate supporting documents such as Explanatory Notes and impact assessments. My noble friend was perhaps speaking of other things that should be on such a website. If there should be, we must put them there, because it is mad not to make proper use of all the technology available to us.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, made a strong case for Joint Committees on pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. I naturally agree with the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch in Grand Committee yesterday. We should certainly consider these issues further, but the noble Lord was right that both Houses would have to agree. There are also resource implications. While I accept that frugality should not impede us in doing a better job and do not think that democracy should come on the cheap, we have to think of resources.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, suggested a Joint Committee to look at the quality of legislation, which is another interesting suggestion. However, we have already discussed today three new Joint Committees; we are having a plethora of new Joint Committees. That may not be a bad thing, but these matters need proper consideration. I have carefully read the document on good government to which the noble Lord contributed. There are some excellent suggestions in it, and I look forward to receiving the report from the group that he chairs. Various noble Lords mentioned carry-over, whose greater use in this House we very much welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, spoke also of committees in this House. As has been mentioned, the Liaison Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of the House's Select Committee activity early in the new Parliament. That would be the most appropriate forum in which to consider many of the suggestions made today.



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My noble friend Lord Rooker and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, quite rightly said that there are many areas of public policy which are not properly scrutinised-obesity, for example, was mentioned-and that there should be a greater role for committees in this House. We should perhaps ask the Liaison Committee to look positively at that.

Many noble Lords understandably spoke of pre-legislative scrutiny, the benefits of which are clear: the delivery of better legislation and its more efficient passage through Parliament. I agree with noble Lords that more pre-legislative scrutiny assists in the development of strong and effective legislation. Wherever appropriate and practicable, it should be the norm. The Government currently have six draft Bills published, and we remain committed to publishing as many draft Bills as possible. While pre-legislative scrutiny is not appropriate for all Bills, alternative forms of consultation should ensure that policies are robust and well considered. My noble friend Lord Puttnam made a very persuasive and practical argument in favour of pre-legislative scrutiny, saying how we as legislators and the legislation suffer if there is a lack of it. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, made a very interesting contribution. There have been notable successes with draft Bills that have been scrutinised by Joint Committees of this House and the other place. I would cite the Bribery Bill, which recently completed its passage through this House, and the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which was of immense assistance to me and my colleagues in government when I took it through the House.


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