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At Second Reading, Members who spoke in the debate were overwhelmingly critical of the Bill. I will quote one remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. She made a very good speech. She asked,
The answer by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was "none". In fact, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said that she could not remember a more flagrant example of mismanagement of a constitutional Bill during her very long experience in public life. I believe that the House should take note of the comments of a very experienced, senior parliamentarian who was the Speaker of another place. If that is her view, all noble Lords should take it very seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made the very valid point that many parts of the Bill-particularly the one concerning the Civil Service and the setting up of the Civil Service Commission-are wanted. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, answered that by saying that a Bill could quickly be introduced in the next Parliament. There is of course another alternative: the four, not just the two, Front Benches should go away during the debates on the four Bills that are to be dealt with before the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to see whether they can thrash out something that will be acceptable to most people in this House. Going back to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, perhaps there are matters within the clauses dealing with the Civil Service that can be amended and the Bill improved. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, if he puts it to a vote.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the Government reply, perhaps I may deal briefly with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. In the committee's report, we recommended that the Civil Service aspect should be dealt with in a single Bill. In his evidence, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said that that was the only part of the Bill that was of importance. The Government are making a series of concessions on the amendments. If they were prepared to make a concession in accordance with the recommendation by the committee on which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, served, that could deal with his concerns. I do not know anything about the Civil Service but it is very important that people who do should be listened to.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, in view of the observations that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made about the part of the Bill dealing with the Civil Service and in view of the long history of waiting for such a Bill, I would be extremely sorry to see that part disappear. Will the Leader of the House consider whether that part should be allowed to proceed and the rest of the Bill, some of which at least is highly controversial and certainly very constitutional in its character, be withdrawn?
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, a question before he comes to speak. In the event that the Trefgarne amendment was approved, proceedings on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill would effectively close. Can he assure the House that in those
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Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, or better, could the noble Lord assure us that, if he were to have the opportunity, instead of reintroducing a vast portmanteau of constitutional miscellaneous provisions, as this Bill effectively is, a new Government would follow better practice and introduce discrete legislation to place the Civil Service on a statutory footing and discrete legislation to deal with the IPSA? Would they also enable Parliament to look at those extremely important issues with proper care and not try to steamroller a whole bundle of things through together?
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. This is all very disappointing. Although I have enormous regard for the Leader of the House, I stand on the basis of our duty as a House of Parliament-to some extent a sovereign House of Parliament. Last week, there was a parliamentary Question about a pageant for Parliament and I asked the Leader of the House whether we could not be proud of the House doing its job properly and scrutinising legislation put forward by the Executive. The Leader of the House replied as follows:
Whatever anyone says, this Bill has not been scrutinised; we cannot pretend that this very important Bill has had anything like the scrutiny that it needs. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was interesting, but, quite frankly, I am not sure that it is sensible to pass legislation on the basis that it is possibly deeply flawed and will need correcting in 18 months' time. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker made the point that we must not waste the time that has already been spent on scrutinising it, but it would be much better to build on that time in a Bill in the next Parliament, rather than pass this Bill and then have to undo it all, which would take a great deal longer and would be much more untidy.
I have looked at some of the precedents. The Library has produced a very useful note of all the previous wash-up periods. It is absolutely true, as others have said, that we have moved into a new level of importance of Bills included in the wash-up. This is a crucial one. There is quite a good precedent in March 1997, the tail end of the Conservative Government. There was an attempt by the late Lord Ackner to omit the Crime (Sentences) Bill from the wash-up. I read the debate on that and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said:
"There can be almost no example more harsh of the power of the Executive than an agreement made between the two Front
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The late Lord Ackner moved his amendment, which was narrowly defeated by the then Conservative Government, who, at that time, had some 800 hereditaries still in the House. This is so clearly an important constitutional Bill and there is absolutely no reason to think that this Government, if returned, or the Conservative Government, if elected, would lose significantly by putting forward this Bill early in the next Parliament. I hope that noble Lords will agree with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne.
Lord Elton: My Lords, it seems to me that the issues are crystallising very clearly. It is all about the content of the constitutional reform Bill. If the Government are prepared to accept the proposal that the IPSA and the Civil Service are the only parts which remain in what should be the Civil Service Bill, it would be possible for my noble friend to withdraw his amendment and for us to proceed. If not, I fear that we are here for a very long time.
Lord McNally: On that point, we are flying blind at the moment. I would like to pursue the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We on these Benches would be willing to contribute to discussions to see whether parts of the Bill can be rescued. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that actually the Civil Service Bill pledge is 140 years old: it was made by Gladstone. As I often remind this House, it is 100 years since we first looked at Lords reform, so suggesting that parts of the Bill are a bounce stretches the term.
I offer to contribute the not inconsiderable talents of my noble friend Lord Tyler to any discussions. I put it on record, so that it will save his speech, that my noble friend Lord Rodgers shares many of the misgivings about the constitutional Bill.
Lord Trimble: Further to earlier comments about what the constitutional reform Bill should be cut down to, there seems to be consensus on the Civil Service bit and the IPSA bit. I also mention non-doms. If we had those three things together, we would be happy.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I must first declare an interest as a non-dom, and draw attention to the fact that when it came out in the open that I was not fully legally here, the Government promised that they would pass the legislation before the general election. Therefore, the point that the noble Lord just raised is of great personal interest to me as, without retaining the non-dom provision-I will not be the only one affected, there will be others-I understand that I will not even get a Writ for the next Parliament, which would be very disappointing after 30 years here.
Lord Strathclyde: I cannot possibly resist the invitation by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Howarth, to respond about the intentions of a future Conservative Government-particularly when they failed to ask the same questions of those on their own Front
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None of that changes the fact that this Parliament has only a few hours left to run. A large number of substantial Bills await completion. That is not a satisfactory position, as many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, have said. After 13 years in office, there is no need for last-minute legislation being made up on the hoof. After 13 years of experience, there was no need to overload a short fifth Session of Parliament, but this Government's bad habits continue to the very last minute of the last hour, and we are now where we are.
In the Bills before us there are good ideas, bad ideas and, as in most Bills, unnecessary ideas. Parliament is faced with the dilemma of how to deal with them. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, standing in my place in 1997, told the House:
"It is right ... that an opposition should co-operate with the Government in trying to succeed in providing a sensible ending to the Government's legislative programme. That we have done ... I do not think that it is possible to unravel the package that has been agreed".-[Official Report, 18/3/97; col. 779.]
We have sought to be as constructive as the Opposition were in 1997 and, indeed, as we were at the end of the Parliaments in 2001 and 2005. We have reached an understanding of measures that we believe can reasonably be recommended to your Lordships. There is a long established precedent referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in 1997, that this House should try to bring business to a reasonable conclusion in a seemly and agreed way in the last days of a Parliament. I think that we should stick to that. But-and this is reflected in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne-while the content of the other Bills as amended is far less controversial, we recognise that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is in a different category. It is shameful that Parliament finds itself in this position on the Bill. What humbug when we hear from the Prime Minister today that constitutional reform is his top priority. The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons in July 2009. It had a Second Reading there last October and had two days in Committee before being carried over with a view to getting it here early in this Session. Committee stage in the Commons did not start again until 19 January: 76 days after the previous Committee sitting. Nearly four weeks then elapsed between Committee and Report in another place and three weeks before it was given a Second Reading after introduction here. There is no reason, beyond the wish or the incompetence of the Government and Mr Straw, why we are now right up against the wire, so let no one criticise this House for looking twice at the Bill.
It is in many respects a highly controversial Bill covering a huge range of subjects with a Long Title that runs to 26 lines and fills a whole page. It is also the worst offender of all when it comes to being cobbled together as it went along, with measures such as electoral change being shoved in at the very last minute. In the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
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Significant areas of the Bill that was examined by the Committee have now been set aside, including plans to impose large-scale architecture for retirement without proper consideration by the House. It was quite wrong that your Lordships should not have full time to consider such proposals. Changes to the electoral system have also gone-quite rightly, I believe-but what is now proposed should remain and I believe it has broader support. There is, for example, the Civil Service part of the Bill where those of your Lordships, such as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who have served at the highest level of the service have advised us that, on balance, it should go through. There are arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, with which we have no difficulty, and we would support them if the Government continue to seek progress for them. I should also tell the House that in the event of a Conservative Administration after the general election most of the clauses in the Bill would not be a priority for us. That would include the Civil Service clauses. It is important that we should agree them in this Parliament.
If the House none the less feels that there is need for more time, I hope that what is not put at risk are two core areas of the Bill that have the widest cross-party agreement. The first is the provisions relating to the exclusion of non-doms from active membership of the House. I have expressed the view that, however difficult it was to draft it correctly, those who make UK laws should pay UK taxes. That is agreed by all the party leaders, and, with all respect to those who have honestly and faithfully served this House, I hope that these provisions will pass into law. The second vital area is the provision relating to the IPSA. These clauses affect the other place only. They were extensively discussed there and are wanted by all parties in another place in time for the start of the new Session.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord says that those clauses affect the other place only, but how does a referendum on AV affect us? Does it not affect the other place only? What possible justification can the Official Opposition have for blocking a referendum that was carried by a two to one majority in the elected House?
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Lord simply does not understand where we now are. There are only a few hours left of this Parliament. If the Government continue to leave the clauses in, not only will we not get this Bill
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Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, my noble friend says that he is alive to the mood of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said a moment ago that there are three aspects of the Bill with which it is reasonable that we should agree-the Civil Service provisions, the IPSA provisions and the non-dom provisions-and that everything else should be dropped. Does my noble friend agree that that seems to be the will of the House? The will of the House might be tested on that, but that might be a sensible outcome.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that might very well be a sensible outcome, but I wish to hear from the Government first, because they must have an opportunity to consider the debate that has taken place in the House this afternoon. After all, we will not be dealing with the legislation for a few more hours yet.
Because of everything that I have said, I hope that by now my noble friend will have realised that I cannot support his amendment, as it would frustrate the passage of what will be a truncated Bill, which we and the Government have in good faith agreed and recommended. I hope that, after the Leader of the House has spoken, my noble friend will withdraw his amendment so that we can finish this Parliament as quickly and in as seemly a way as possible and look forward to a new Government and a new Parliament, where I hope that we will legislate a little less and a little better.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, interestingly enough, I think that this has been a good and useful debate. I will answer one point that has been made before I get to the crux of the matter. I hold the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the work of his committee in the greatest esteem. This is clearly not a trivial Bill; it is a very significant Bill. However, I think that most noble Lords are concerned about the process, not the contents, of the Bill. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says about the process. I listened to and read the Second Reading debate and I am acutely aware of the discontent around the House about the process of the Bill. However, it has become clear in this afternoon's debate that there is consensus around three or four parts of the Bill-
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: No, my Lords, I would say three or four. Let me enumerate them. I am talking about the Civil Service clauses, the IPSA clauses, the non-dom clauses and the clauses that are of special importance to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. That is four issues. I think that we could find consensus around those four specific issues.
This is a government Bill, but of course it is not my Bill. As noble Lords would expect, it is my duty to go back to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor to discuss with him how he would like to proceed. I will suggest to him that we have a meeting and that we have discussions of course with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for whose co-operation I am grateful, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The noble Lord says "Hey". Cross-Benchers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, are playing a key role in this Bill. When we look at the Civil Service provisions, we should look at the enormous expertise of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. That is why I suggest that we also listen to the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. I am not saying that this is a precedent-
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: Before the Leader of the House comes to a conclusion, and while welcoming what she has said about further discussion, will she bear in mind that this debate has not expressed the views of all those who have remained silent? It has been dominated by those who for a miscellany of reasons would like the Bill to make no further progress. The fact is that most of us agree with her that the procedure which has been followed was unsatisfactory. But most of us believe, notwithstanding that, that large parts of the Bill were considered by the Joint Committee, and other parts of the Bill were brought forward because of the sheer necessity of restoring trust in Parliament. That part of the mood of the House should not be overlooked in any further discussions.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an excellent point. I completely agree with him that-to use a mixed metaphor-the voice of the silent majority should not be overlooked. I totally understand where the noble Lord is coming from. It may be that there can be even broader agreement in relation to other parts of the Bill. I do not know. These things need to be explored.
At this point, I would echo the views of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I, too, would ask the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to withdraw his amendment and allow us to go back to have discussions with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice to see how we can proceed. Many elements of this Bill are of the utmost importance. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that, should there be an incoming Conservative Government, the Civil Service would not be at the top of their legislative list.
A huge amount of work has gone into, for example, the Civil Service parts of this Bill. There has been detailed scrutiny of that part of the Bill. I would agree that that perhaps was not in this House, but in other parts of Parliament. I certainly-
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