|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The noble Lord is making valid points but he is trying the patience of the House; at this stage we need to move on. However, I should say three things to the noble Lord. I did not say that this is an unsatisfactory procedure; I said that many people feel uneasy with it. That is why, after the election, we should look at it; it is not an unsatisfactory procedure. I should also say to the noble Lord that the scope of the wash-up has not changed. I hear what he says about the Constitutional Reform Bill, but that has not changed. During wash-up, Governments do not put matters into Bills; they take them out. With that, I shall sit down and turn to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
Lord Tyler: I have never been so popular, my Lords. I hope all Members of your Lordships' House will recognise that this modest amendment simply says that we can improve the process. It is not suggesting that we should throw it out, that we should stop or go on all night; it simply seeks to ensure that we put on record the needs of this House-not of anyone else-for a better process. That issue has been reflected in all the contributions that have been made, except, of course, from the Government Front Bench. The noble Lords, Lord Rooker, Lord Tebbit and Lord Lawson, have all
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1488
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, the second amendment to the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness stands in my name. As this is a manuscript amendment and has not therefore appeared before today, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I read it. It is to the effect that we should add, at the end of the noble Baroness's Motion, "except in its application to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill".
I am not opposed to the principle of a wash-up process. It is right, is it not, that when Parliament comes to an end, particularly in slightly unexpected circumstances-as it did, for example, in 1979-there should be an orderly process of bringing important and uncontroversial legislation to the statute book, particularly where it has far advanced its legislative process. However, I put it to your Lordships that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill does not fall into that category. It is a major constitutional measure by any standards. It has not even been fully considered by the other place. When it was introduced there, there were some 50-odd clauses; it now has 94 clauses. More or less half of the Bill has not been properly considered by the other place and was introduced by the Government only in the very last stages of its consideration in that place.
Now it comes to your Lordships' House. We have had a Second Reading; we are invited now to have a Committee stage to ram through the Bill, not only in Committee but in all its other stages, later today. This is a major constitutional Bill. A large part of it is to do with the Civil Service. I have no serious difficulty with what is proposed there, but we have been talking about legislation to regularise the Civil Service for 20, 30 or 40 years. It is not urgent that that goes through now. It could easily be in another Bill, properly considered in another Parliament. There are many other important clauses of the Bill with which I would not have any great difficulty. The noble Baroness referred to the provisions about non-domiciled taxation for Members of your Lordships' House and of the other place. There are also provisions about whether Peers can leave the House if they are not prepared to comply with those conditions.
The noble Baroness has said that she intends to remove from the Bill the provisions relating to the ending of the hereditary Peer by-elections. Frankly, I do not feel terribly strongly about that. Although I am a hereditary Member of your Lordships' House and had the benefit of being elected here back in 1999, I am one of a minority of Members on my side of the House who are in favour of Conservative Party policy-a largely elected House-on this matter. I recognise that
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1491
In due course, no doubt, there will be legislation to deal with the by-elections and, perhaps, with the hereditary Peers. Last year there was a Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which would have ended the by-elections for hereditary Peers. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who, speaking from the government Front Bench on that occasion, gave me an assurance that the by-elections were part of the deal done back in 1999 and would remain in place until the whole of House of Lords reform was completed. I was very pleased to receive that assurance. I am therefore even more pleased to hear from the noble Baroness this afternoon that the proposals in the Bill to end the by-elections are to be removed.
This is a major constitutional Bill by any standards. It is not right that it should be whizzed through your Lordships' House on a Wednesday afternoon, with all the remaining stages compressed into one and the Bill not properly considered. We will regret what we pass today if we follow that process. I beg to move the amendment in my name.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I support this amendment. We are belittling ourselves and lowering the reputation of the House by indulging the thought that we may look at 45 pages of amendments to a major constitutional reform Bill, running through the evening and the night, and try to bustle them through. It seems so obviously out of place in whatever the wash-up procedure may be that, by any definition, we ought not to attempt any such posture.
We have quite often in this House criticised what has happened in the other place, such as the absence of a proper Committee stage on Bills. There have been Bills that have scarcely been considered properly in the other place. We have criticised that and said, "That it is not the way things should be done; we will do a proper job here". That is, in my experience, what we do to the best of our ability, apart from during this wash-up process. I therefore strongly support the amendment. We should simply drop this constitutional reform Bill and decide that it will not be part of the package that is considered later today.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, very briefly, I support this amendment. I am not against the wash-up in principle, but this-I am told by my friends from all parties in the other place-is an abuse of the process. There has never been anything like this before. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, as a rule, puts his hand straight on the point: there just is not time to discuss anything. That is the desperate sadness of today.
This Bill creates a most astonishing situation. I was a member of the Joint Committee. The evidence of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was that they would never have let this Bill be presented to Parliament as a draft Bill because it lacked conformity with the rule of law and with constitutional principle. Yet here it is today. How did it get there? It was because the Government destroyed the entitlement of the Lord Chancellor to withdraw, or amend substantially, a Bill
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1492
One looks at the number of amendments on this Bill. There is certainly one to which I shall not speak, which proposes that if you have been here for about 30 years, you have to go-you are turfed out because you are too old. That is a matter for other people to decide, certainly not me. That matter is not perhaps so important but there are many amendments here that are. You cannot deal with the mass of these amendments. I wish to support all the amendments of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, but there is no time even to get up and talk to them. Frankly, one way or another, this Bill has to die. It cannot go through. We cannot go on past 10 o'clock to two or three in the morning as we did in the old days. When I first came here we went on all night, but there is no use in doing that. We cannot do it anymore. This Bill should just slumber and be taken away.
Lord Goodlad: My Lords, I rise very briefly to support my noble friend's amendment and concur wholeheartedly with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. Your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution produced a report on this Bill that was referred to by many speakers in the Second Reading debate. I am, as always, extremely grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his response, but time has precluded the normal debate on the report.
"It is inexcusable that the Government should have taken so long to prepare this Bill that it has effectively denied both Houses of Parliament-and especially this House-the opportunity of subjecting this important measure of constitutional reform to the full scrutiny which it deserves".
"In any event, we consider it to be extraordinary that it could be contemplated that matters of such fundamental constitutional importance as, for example, placing the civil service on a statutory footing should be agreed in the 'wash-up' and be denied the full parliamentary deliberation which they deserve".
Last year, the Select Committee on the Constitution published a report on fast-track procedures and said that it was a fundamental constitutional principle that proper consideration should be given to the scrutiny of Bills, even to the extent of taking multiple stages in one day. As my noble friend Lord Lawson said, this is not a trivial and uncontentious Bill; it is highly contentious. I agree, as always, with an enormous amount of what
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1493
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who reminded us of the observations of the Select Committee on the Constitution on this Bill. I agree with the comments in that report. I should therefore be supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, but I, and my noble friends and successors in office in the Civil Service want the Civil Service provisions to take statutory force. They are not perfect, but they are 95 per cent or 97 per cent perfect, and there may be chances at another time to make the small improvements that we seek. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, seeks to divide the House, I shall not be content with his amendment because I want Part 1 to go through. If the Government choose to be as ruthless as they like with other parts of the Bill, I shall be wholly content.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, 162 amendments to the constitutional renewal Bill have been tabled. How many days do we normally provide for 162 amendments? Is it three or four? How many days do we provide for a Report stage with 162 amendments? Probably another two days. I sound almost as if I am in support of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his previous amendment. It is a quarter to five and we have not yet started to debate that Bill. We have another Bill to consider between now and then.
The Earl of Onslow: All right; we have four Bills before then. That makes it worse, does it not? Are we mad? This cannot be the way to consider constitutional Bills. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong; we need a Civil Service Bill, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne-that we have been saying this. I think that Harold Wilson-bless his memory-was saying this. Nothing happened then. Throughout my life I remember editorials in newspapers occasionally saying that we need a Civil Service Bill. Is it absolutely essential that we consider a Civil Service Bill which, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, says, could do with some revision and gallop through it at God-knows-what time tonight? The principle of this procedure is so wrong that I will happily support the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne-not because, as others have said, I necessarily disagree with things in the Bill. There is a lot of good in the Bill relating to the Civil Service, but there is also a lot of waffle about treaties. I see the arguments about hereditary by-elections, but that issue is linked with general reform of your Lordships' House-and we know how easy it will be to get that through, because every noble Lord has a different view about how we should proceed. That is one reason why nothing has been done since my great-grandfather talked about it to Lord Salisbury in the 1880s.
There is nothing new in these problems. Therefore, let us not abuse the system, which is what this is-abuse of the system by a Government who do not show Parliament the respect that it deserves. It is up to us to stand up for Parliament as a whole, to hold Ministers to account and very occasionally to say to them: "No, you cannot have your way. You have had your hands in the sweetie pot for too long and you will not get this sweetie because it is bad for you".
Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, there is general agreement on the significance of the content of the Bill, including the schedules and the amendments that we have received. I have come but recently to this House and am learning about the process of wash-up. I am trying to understand what is going on and why the process exists. However, I find it shocking that we should even contemplate this abrogation of duties-because that is how I would see our conduct if we were to pass the Bill through the wash-up process. We have a duty to ensure that when we make major constitutional change, we do so in a considered and proper manner.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I wish to be consistent with what I said at Second Reading, when I warmly supported the conclusion of your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution. The committee was right to say that this is no way to carry through constitutional reform. I still believe that. I will make one point in addition to what I said the other day. There is much cross-party agreement that most of the content of the Bill is entirely acceptable to your Lordships. If that is the case, what is the problem with waiting until the next Parliament? Whichever party comes into power, there should be no problem, after the Bill has been properly scrutinised, in finding agreement on these points.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for whom I have the greatest respect. I understand from many of my friends in the Civil Service that they want this to happen. Well, let us see it happen early in the next Parliament. If there is that degree of agreement on all sides of the House that the content of the Bill is largely right, I do not see the necessity to push it through now. We can wait until whichever Government is in power after the election, when it will command the support of all sides of both Houses.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, if we were company directors trying to push something through like this on the governance of the company, we would be prosecuted, imprisoned and disbarred as directors: it is as simple as that. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that there should be no problem with either party presenting what will be substantially this Bill to the next Parliament.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. To try to push through in the wash-up a constitutional Bill of 93 clauses, 133 pages and 15 schedules is a constitutional outrage. I sincerely hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will support the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|