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All these missed opportunities could even now be achieved if Ministers really care. The 1997 precedent, to which I made reference in the House yesterday, gives a mechanism for Ministers, if they so wish, to make serious progress on issues where there is cross-party agreement, not necessarily complete consensus around the House, but at least enough to carry the day in the normal democratic way in the Division Lobby.
This morning the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, tried to pin the blame for yet more postponement of reform on these issues on the Conservatives. He asked us to believe that the 13-year delay had been caused simply by waiting for the right moment. With mind-boggling cheek, he said, "This is the beginning of reform". This is not even the beginning of the end, it is not even the end of the beginning; we have not started. This is a sad, bad day for your Lordships' House. The Government are treating us as pawns in their electoral game. As so many Members of your Lordships' House have been saying in the past 24 hours, this is no way to do serious business. My noble friend Lord Shutt yesterday put it so well,
At the very least, there should be some mechanism by which the whole House is involved in discussions in the open with due time to assess priorities and practicalities. In the mean time, we are determined that there should be a proper process allocated for the limited changes that will be available to us in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and in other Bills this evening and tomorrow. That is the purpose of our amendment. However, if the two other Front Benches are determined to defend the hereditary principle to the death-or perhaps I should say beyond-let them at least do it in full debate today, after this business Motion, rather than skimming over it at the bitter end, the fag end of this Parliament. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, rose, I was going to intervene to suggest that for the convenience of the House and to progress business we might usefully and valuably hear from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I was not proposing to trouble your Lordships with my thoughts on my amendment at this stage. I thought that it might be preferable for your Lordships to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and to consider, discuss and dispose of his amendment before we moved on to mine. However, I am in the hands of the House and will do whatever the House prefers. It seems from the various nods that I can see that your Lordships would like to hear from me now and I will formally move my amendment in a while.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I suggest to your Lordships that the first instinct of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was right. What the noble Lords,
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: If it is the will of the House, I will respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. We can then do whatever the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, wishes to do, after which we can move on to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler-
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I do not wish to be difficult, but things seem to have changed somewhat. I understood that these were two separate amendments and I was speaking to the first of them. Then the Government Chief Whip intervened to say that it had been agreed that both amendments should be taken together, which I accepted. However, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has now said that he had not accepted that the amendments should be taken together. As he rightly said, the amendments are totally different; they are about different things. I wish that we could get this cleared up, because I want to say one or two more things about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. Are we taking them together or are we taking them separately?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is a self-regulating House. It seems to be the will of the House that, first, we take the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, to which I think that the noble Lord is going to speak. When we have disposed of that, we will move on to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I thank the noble Baroness very much. I am glad we have got that clear. As I was saying before I was interrupted, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has made many good points in support of his amendment. But I am shocked that the discussions have been so narrow and between only the Government Front Bench and the Official Opposition Front Bench. I should have thought that in matters of this sort, there should be a wider discussion involving the Liberals and the Cross-Benchers. As an independent Labour person, I would not expect to be consulted, but it would be very nice if others could be consulted as well.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have no difficulty whatever with my noble friend's Motion and I disagree very much with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has said. This is not the first time that this situation has arisen. There is a precedent; namely, every general election. It is not a satisfactory way to make law. What worries me-it has happened in the past, but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to say so in either House-is that the laws we will pass will go before the
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No one ever goes back and says, "How on earth did Parliament pass this?" and someone then says, "Hang on a minute, it was done in wash-up". I say that things are agreed between both sides in a very general term because of one good example that I always use; that is, the very first child support legislation in the 1990s. Everyone agreed that it was a good idea, but it was never properly scrutinised. As those who were Members of Parliament in the other place know, it was an absolute disaster and it was unwound because of the lack of scrutiny.
I have a suggestion. We are not very good at post-legislative scrutiny anyway and pre-legislative scrutiny has only just started. The consequence of not having fixed-term Parliaments is that we will always have a situation whereby there will be a great deal of legislation that we do not want to waste. Substantial effort has been put into a lot of it, although not all of it. It would be ludicrous beyond belief to waste it all. I shall make no point about any particular part of the legislation.
However, not all of that legislation is properly scrutinised. I think that there would be a case for institutionalising that this House-jointly preferably, but this House is the revising Chamber-should systematically say that an ad hoc committee of the House should look and monitor the wash-up package after six months and 18 months. It should get a report from the Clerk, the Clerk in the other place and the relevant department on how that legislation has worked. If defects are caused by the lack of scrutiny, the committee should find an institutional way to put them right before they become a disaster.
That would not need a lot of resources or cost a lot of money. Nor would it stop the difficulties and the rows that we will have now. But it would stop our fellow citizens being disadvantaged by laws being passed that have not been properly scrutinised and challenged. In a way, it would give this House a chance to get off its knees regarding scrutiny and revision relative to the other place. It would be a golden opportunity for us, while we still have our powers of scrutiny and revision, to say, "Look, we will do the wash-up, but by heavens we will monitor its effects on the public". I think that that would be good for law-making in the future because it would mean that each wash-up would be a bit more efficient than the one before.
This would not solve the problem of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, although I think that his suggestions are completely impractical, but for those of us who want to strengthen both this place and Parliament, this is an opportunity for us to say to the two Front Benches: what about having a look at monitoring wash-up legislation afterwards?
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify whether he is suggesting a format such as the introduction of an amendment to each of the Bills going through in the wash-up with the proposal that such a monitoring exercise might be instituted, or does he have another proposal? It seems to be such a
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Lord Rooker: I am not proposing this for today, but for after the election. When we come to set up our structures, there is no reason, whatever the fallout of the election, why this House should not look at how to progress through the next Session. I have suggested periods of six and 18 months. You cannot look at the legislation straightaway because it may not come into operation directly after Royal Assent.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, funnily enough, I have some sneaking sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which I know is probably quite an unpopular thing to say from the Tory Benches at this moment. But I say it because had the noble Lord been in the smoke-filled room, he could not have got out of the consequences, which now he can.
The noble Lord is right when he says that an enormous number of the things the Government said they were going to do have not been done, and that makes it even worse that everything is coming through right at the end during the wash-up period. I am going to go on saying this tonight again and again because I feel so strongly about it. Things that would take a two-thirds majority of American states and a similar majority of the Senate to get passed are going through in our Bills without even being looked at in the Commons, let alone here. That is a completely and utterly disgraceful way to deal with legislation.
If we are going to have a wholly appointed House, I would accept that there is no need for hereditary Peer by-elections. As I have conceded several times in your Lordships' House, I am the first to say that the reason I am allowed to boss you about is because one of my forebears got drunk with Pitt or Walpole-a form of "Thank you very much for that last bottle of port"-but that is not acceptable in a modern state. However, we were left here quite specifically to make sure that the House was not an appointed Chamber. My noble friend Lord Cranborne said, certainly privately to me and probably on the record, that he did not trust anybody to go to stage two because a fully appointed House would be too convenient for the occupiers of those smoke-filled rooms. That is why the Liberals have got it wrong about hereditary peerage by-elections. I know that I am in a minority in this opinion, but the dottier the system, the more it forces people to consider an at least partially elected second Chamber. That is what we have to have so that we can use our very considerable powers properly.
On the noble's point about the referendum on voting, that was a choice of one rather than between all the different kinds of proportional representation. It was a sort of galloped-at fence, hoping that nobody would notice, as well as being a sop to the Liberal Cerberus. It has not worked because they have whipped the sop away.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will forgive me for intervening briefly to say that the issues he is raising in this debate relate to policy. Later on, when the constitutional reform Bill is before us, there will be many opportunities to debate policy. At the moment, however, we are speaking specifically to the Motion I moved and to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I was trying to make it exactly relevant to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, but I concede that what the noble Baroness says, as is often the case, has some wisdom in it. I will allow myself to end on that little note.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I shall respond to two or three issues that have been raised. In response to the amendment to suspend Standing Order 49, I understand the arguments that the noble Lord has put. However, that has not been customary in recent wash-ups and we have done very well without the suspension of that standing order, so I would personally prefer not to suspend it today.
Lord McNally: The Chief Whip used the word "tradition" about four times yesterday, and now the noble Baroness is using the term "tried and tested". What she and both sides have to realise is that this system of wash-up is washed up. It has no credibility.
The reason why I am intervening, and I hope that I am being constructive, is that I wish I had said what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said. We are going through this process now, but this has to be the last wash-up of this kind. If the noble Baroness has any sense-I hope that the Bench opposite her has as much sense-she will listen to what he says and act on it to ensure that this never happens again.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The noble Lord had not finished listening to what I was going to say. I was going to say two things. The first was a bit cheeky: in government, we have understood for many years how wash-up works, and perhaps it is because the Liberal Democrat Benches have not been in government for some time that they are not aware of these procedures. However, that is a rather cheeky thing to say.
The Earl of Erroll: I have watched some bad things go through in wash-up; there have been mistakes, which have been acknowledged and have had to be tidied up later. My recollection of wash-up is that it is non-controversial things that go through, not highly controversial issues. This is a misuse of the wash-up process.
I was going to say in response to my noble friend Lord Rooker that he made some very good points. This is a process about which many people clearly feel uneasy, if I might put it like that, and so perhaps we should be looking at it. However, now is not the time to do that. We are where we are. Today I have an obligation, as Leader of this House and Leader of the government Benches, to get our legislation through. I am delighted that we have found a consensus with noble Lords opposite-
Lord Tebbit: Will the noble Baroness give a little thought to the proposition that over the years, instead of the wash-up procedure applying to a small number of Bills, a larger number of Bills have been subjected to it? There is great resentment about that.
The only point on which I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is that he referred to the mischiefs that arise because we do not have a fixed-term Parliament. On this occasion, it was a fixed-term Parliament-everyone has known that it was going to end round about now-and it really was not sensible of the Government to bring forward so much controversial legislation so late.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying. He would not expect me to agree with him on every point he makes, but I accept what he says. As I say, following this election, we should all, as legislators and Members of this House, perhaps in discussion with the other place, seek better ways of engaging in the wash-up process. That, though, is for then. Now we have the Motion in front of us that I have moved, and an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, with which I fundamentally disagree.
With regard to issues relating to the reform of this House, which will be dealt with later on in today's debate, I would point out that this Government have done more than any other Government in 100 years to reform this House.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: As is common on all sides of the House, I have the greatest respect for the noble Baroness. However, she admits that this is a highly unsatisfactory process and that we should seriously look at changing it in the new Parliament. If it is highly unsatisfactory, we should not go along with it now in the way she would like us to.
I have been a Member of one or other of the Houses of Parliament for 36 years-I realise a number of noble Lords have been here longer-which is a reasonable amount of experience. I have never known the wash-up process to be used on this huge scale, which is quite exceptional and undesirable. When I say "huge scale" I mean in the light of the criteria which
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The wash-up is needed. I was involved in a wash-up before the 1979 election when the Labour Government introduced a finance Bill which, for practical and legal reasons-including the income tax laws and the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act-had to be rushed through. That is one category that has to go through. There were meetings between the noble Lord, Lord Healey-
Lord Lawson of Blaby: It is a long intervention. The noble Lord, Lord Healey, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett-I am anxious to hear what the Leader of the House has to say-and I took part in those meetings and we agreed on that Bill. Other legislation which has been given a great deal of scrutiny in both Houses reasonably needs to be completed, and legislation of an emergency nature-such as terrorism legislation-also needs to be rushed through.
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