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I was in this role for two years, from 2005 to 2007, when the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was Leader of the House. On a trial basis, the Lord Speaker should both call supplementary questions and insist that they are taken in order, as should be the answers. It would change Question Time. I have not done a massive analysis, but we hear a lot from the same noble Lords at Question Time. I ask myself why. I know many noble Lords who do not wish to get involved in a slanging and shouting match in order to get the Floor, but who would stand up to be called by the Lord Speaker if that was her role; they have a contribution to make that they are not prepared to make at present.
My second suggestion-none of these is original, by the way-is that Committee stage should be taken off the Floor and into Grand Committee for a pilot. If we have a dispute, we could start splitting Bills; but we should do it as a regular process.
My third suggestion is that any Bill starting in your Lordships' House should always go via a Select Committee. We could pilot this. These are Bills that have not been in the Commons. We are not revising them. We kid ourselves, but we are not revising Bills that start here. We need some evidence before we start our process, and the Select Committee is the route to this.
I will give two examples of Bills that I was involved in, and which were not my day job. When I was at the Home Office, the Police Reform Bill in 2001 started in this House, as did the Climate Change Bill. In both cases, it would have benefited our debates and deliberations if we had had more evidence. We did not have the evidence from debates in the other place.
I suggest also that for Bills that come from the Commons, we should decline to take any amendments on Third Reading. This avenue leads to a slipshod approach to legislation. When I was a Minister and there were arguments in departments, I would so often hear somebody say, "Oh, don't worry, we can leave it until the last stage in the Lords". That is a route to slipshod, last-minute legislation that later turns out not to do what we intended. I think that we could pilot a Bill on advice from parliamentary counsel, which is, after all, responsible for the drafting in the first place. That would give parliamentary counsel more influence in obtaining clear policy direction from Ministers, because the root cause of the problem is that the policy directions are not clear. If, for Bills coming from the Commons, we declined to take amendments at Third Reading, that would be a catalyst for change: this would be a second Chamber with slightly fewer but more targeted opportunities for amendments, which I think would send a wake-up call to Whitehall.
My fourth suggestion is also very simple. We should insist that when a Bill arrives from the Commons, the Chamber of primacy, it is accompanied by a simple certificate listing the clauses and schedules that have not been scrutinised. We should not require reasons to be given-that would be revolutionary-but simply require a certificate with a list of the clauses and schedules not debated. Again, we could pilot that.
My fifth point relates to the scrutiny and governance of departments. The Commons has departmental Select Committees, which in the main concentrate, rightly, on the big policy issues. There is no question but that that is what they should do. However, they do not systematically review the work of regulators, for example. There are a few dozen of these, and I declare my interest as the chair of one, the Food Standards Agency, which is a non-ministerial department whose prime role is regulation. There is a strong case for this House, via a Select Committee, taking on the role of systematically scrutinising the regulators. I am not suggesting that it should scrutinise every regulator every year but, having
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I believe that without any major legislative change the House could adopt all these modest suggestions. I do not think that any of them require approval from the Commons or the Executive and they could all be piloted. They all fall within the conventions of how we work, which brings me to my final suggestion: conventions.
In the light of what has been said recently by lots of different parties, I think that we should look again at the joint report on conventions of the UK Parliament from 2006. As the report said, we should revisit the issues when the composition of this House is again on the agenda. The report's conclusions specifically applied to the present circumstances and not to future ones if the composition should change. All I seek is a debate before the general election. We will all be here afterwards, and I think it would be useful if we could send out reminders to new Members of the other place about the way that this place functions with regard to the conventions.
There is nothing revolutionary in what I have said but I believe that a modest package of changes such as these, which could be implemented quite quickly, would strengthen Parliament. That was my starting point.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow what the noble Lord has just said because it fits in with my own approach to this subject, and I think that we should return to examine his suggestions in some detail. I agree, too, with the note struck by the right reverend Prelate in his contribution.
One thing that characterises the atmosphere at the moment is that, in many respects, we have been living in a period of diminished confidence in rather too many organs of government-this, to some extent, being one of them. The noble Lord who opened the debate for the Government pointed out that the provisions in the gracious Speech, on which legislation will be forthcoming, are designed to meet that.
Some other people seem to react to the present situation in a rather more self-satisfied way. I have in mind some observations made recently by the present holder of that rather tattered office of the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw. In an article in the House Magazine on 12 October, he wrote:
and that this "quiet revolution" was not over yet. There is a degree of self-satisfaction about that and a degree of threat of further impulsive attitudes. Far
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Another area of that kind of rapid change followed by further and yet further change has been in the field covered by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles-the NOMS aspect of criminal justice-when change has followed other change in a rather reckless way. If the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, were here, I am sure that he would be pointing out the massive frequency of upheaval of almost every institution in the National Health Service without sufficient consideration.
There are some examples that have hardly been noticed because they took place in a rather disorderly fashion. Looking back on it, the transfer of the whole of our alcoholic licensing legislation from the magistracy to local authorities was an important and insufficiently considered step. So, too, was the transfer of the control of gambling-licensing and other controls-from the magistracy to local authorities. Together those changes significantly undermined the value and the role of the magistracy. One has to recognise that not only the present Government have inclined in that direction. I have to confess to being rather disturbed by the proposals being canvassed by my own party for the change in the management of our police authority and for the provision of elected police commissioners. That would be a dangerous step. To introduce electoral conflict into that field and to dismiss the valuable role of the magistracy would not be very sensible steps.
I am anxious about hasty legislation and hasty decision-making, not only in the public sector but elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out, Parliament itself is far from immune from similarly unconstructed change and is not apt to adjust itself as it ought to do. I fear that as a result of the recent upheavals about expenses in the other place, there is a steady erosion of the independence of that House and its collective self-discipline, by transferring responsibility to agencies outside its own remit. The suggestion that membership of the House of Commons should become a "full-time job" is another restrictive and ill considered change, coupled as it seems to be with an obligation to register hours spent out of the House, and worse still, to register earnings outside parliamentary activity. All those changes will diminish the breadth and resourcefulness of the other place. Those of my colleagues in this place today who remember what it was like way back in 1964 and 1970 know that there was a diversity of people with continuous involvement in the real world outside the House of Commons. When I was lucky enough to be appointed Solicitor-General, I was one of at least half a dozen Queen's Counsel on our side of the House. There were not just QCs around, but trade union leaders, business leaders and people with a much wider base than the House of Commons now has.
So, too, the other place has lost the control that it used to have over changes in our electoral law. Whatever happened to the Speaker's Conference, which used to
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So, too, in this House, we have once again to look at the legislation, both in the constitutional renewal Bill but also in the legislation promised about the future shape of this House. On that, I am afraid, I must return to my regular song. Of course I do not oppose the changes which are necessary that are in the Steel Bill. A number of them are already in the constitutional renewal Bill. But we have looked in vain so far-and I think for ever-for evidence to justify the most fundamental change: the introduction of elected Members into this House. I am anxious about that because of the extent to which it would seriously diminish the independence, diversity and expertise of this Chamber. It will have a negative effect, reflecting the right reverend Prelate's observation about the electoral dictatorship. The Public Administration Committee of the other place-a very effective Select Committee, under the leadership of Mr Wright-warned that the risk of electoral majority in this Chamber, or even electoral minority, was that the,
It is of the utmost importance for that pace to be maintained when we look at the future of this House; to take a rash step in that direction would be very unwise. So if I may echo a phrase that I have used in other contexts, if a politician nowadays goes to any staff boardroom in a hospital, school or company and says, "What would you like me to do next?", he will get from everyone the same response: "For God's sake, leave us alone". In my judgment, for the sake of the continuing efficiency of this House and for the sake of the continued governance of this country, that is a message that ought to be heard and taken seriously. Do not let us destroy this place; let us, for God's sake, give ourselves a chance of surviving with the effectiveness that we now have.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am particularly grateful to be here to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, because both are very respected parliamentarians. I think that they will agree with me that there is now a real crisis of confidence in our parliamentary democracy. Both Houses have to accept this collapse in confidence. There may be legitimate complaints and concerns about the way in which this has happened and about the behaviour of certain journalists, but there can be no dispute about the extent of public dismay and disgust or about the disincentive to participate in our political life. Addressing this disenchantment should surely be our top priority in this truncated parliamentary Session.
So why are we wasting time on what is effectively the Government's belated legislative wish list, when everyone knows that-as night follows day-dissolution will come before Royal Assent for many or possibly all of these Bills? The Prime Minister has fundamentally mistaken what needs law and what needs resolve. He says, for example, that he wants to have a recall power for constituents to sack errant Members of Parliament, but his resolve-just saying it-is not enough. On the other hand, he says that he wants to halve the deficit. Even a short and simple Bill is, as my noble friend Lord Thomas indicated, unnecessary. He should just get on and do it, not seek to legislate it in a totally artificial way.
The electorate are not fooled. They know that very few controversial or complicated Bills can possibly reach the statute book by the middle of April next year. In the previous Parliament only four got there by that time, and two of those were routine Consolidated Fund Bills. Raising expectations that the world can be put right in a few months by passing laws is simply going to encourage people to think that we are incapable of genuine legislative intention. However, setting in motion the biggest repair job on our political system for generations in order to leave the next Parliament with a legacy of genuine democratic reform, rather than dismal financial disgrace, could, of course, restore public confidence in our system.
I contributed to the debates in your Lordships' House on the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Throughout the consideration of that Bill, Ministers kept trying to reassure us that its provisions could not, and should not, apply to your Lordships' House. That was nonsense. Of course it will eventually apply, and perhaps sooner rather than later. It was absurdly naive, or perhaps a misguided attempt to reduce opposition to that Bill, to say anything different. In those circumstances, we have to look very hard at the consequences of that legislation. The Leader of the House has stated in correspondence with me that judicial review is now quite possible for IPSA. It will be justiciable. In those circumstances, we could find this whole sorry saga dragged out for months ahead as issues are taken through the courts. The very least we should expect from Ministers today is that they should explain what they intend to do to prevent significant judicial distractions of that sort.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, because he has saved me not only a page of my notes but possibly a minute of my precious time. I agreed with what he said, particularly about Question Time. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made an interesting intervention the other day, given his background, when he pointed out that it is mad for the person responsible for determining the next speaker to have their back to half the audience. I do not think he used that phrase, but that was the implication. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made other suggestions, and they are all things that we could do without legislation. We could do them ourselves, and we could give people new confidence in the way in which your Lordships' House deals with our primary purpose of serving the public in scrutinising legislation and holding the Executive to account.
It is important that we use our time more carefully. The other House clearly does not have time to do some of the things that it attempts to do. I hope that Ministers will accept that when it comes to international treaties and agreements, this House should have a sifting committee to come forward with proposals about which international treaties should be looked at more carefully by both Houses. The same is true of the work that is done in joint committees, and I have had the privilege of serving on several, not least on the sadly and woefully delayed draft constitutional renewal Bill, which has now appeared in your Lordships' House as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. It has 56 clauses, so it is not a jot of legislation, but will it make a jot of difference?
Your Lordships may recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, described the previous Bill as the constitutional retreat Bill. The present Bill before us is actually more of a retreat than the previous Bill. Had the Government moved swiftly when our committee reported last July, we might have completed its consideration by now, in which case we would have dealt with the very important issue of the Civil Service, which is the most important part of the Bill. However, even now we are not dealing with important issues of potential corrosive effect, such as the huge sums of money in our political system or the attempts by foreign millionaires, or even, as revealed by Peter Oborne in his "Dispatches" programme, apologists for the Israeli Government, to buy the next election, which knock for six minor scandals over expenses at the other end of the building.
The Lords reform Bill is still in drafting. I wish I could comment on it. I know that a number of my noble friends will be commenting on the failure to deliver on promises for Lords reform and voting reform. However, I shall say one thing on this issue: I hope the Government will take the opportunity now offered by the arrival of Sir George Young on the Conservative Front Bench in the other place, because he takes a very proactive view about what the Conservatives should do, and it is very close to ours. He wants an 80 per cent elected House, an STV system of election and a transition from patronage to democracy in clear tranches and suggests term peerages rather than new life Peers so that next year we do not have a huge new entry of life Peers. In those circumstances, surely the good news is that consensus is now possible. I have no doubt that the Conservative Front Bench in your Lordships' House will wish to endorse his conclusions because they will wish to have collective responsibility for the Conservative programme.
We must try to make real use of the few months ahead of us to do something really important: to deal with the problems that have arisen in recent months and that have undermined confidence in both Houses of Parliament. Frankly, I doubt that the Queen's Speech has anything serious in it to remedy this parlous situation. Not a single fear will be assuaged or a single constituent reassured, but there is still time to put the posturing to one side. Let us put it on the shelf marked "Election Manifesto" and instead bequeath to the next Parliament a system of election,
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Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I shall follow the road down which the House has been led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Tyler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. The consensus is remarkable.
On 10 June, at the height of the uproar about expenses in another place, the Prime Minister announced his support for the proposal by Dr Tony Wright, chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, to set up a new committee to consider the reform of the procedures of the House of Commons. The avowed purpose was to achieve the stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament through a larger role for Back-Benchers and for the wider public.
The relationship of this issue to the expenses scandal is obvious. The public not only responded angrily to what they saw as the abuse of the expenses system but needed persuasion that parliamentarians were doing the job that they expected them to do in holding the Government to account. There is a widespread view among the public that Parliament should do more to represent their voice in resisting so much ill prepared and ineffective legislation to which they have been subjected and to which, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said, they are about to be subjected again. That feeling is clearly reflected in another place. It took from 10 June to 20 July, the night on which the House rose for the Summer Recess, for the Government to come forward with a Motion to implement the Prime Minister's announcement. The Motion was moved in another place at 10 pm and debate was limited to one and a half hours. Nevertheless, 250 Members of the other place were present and would have carried on the debate if the Government had not applied the guillotine.
Dr Wright's Select Committee report is to be published tomorrow. It is rumoured that the committee will recommend the election by secret ballot of the chairmen and members of Select Committees in another place, a more open system for scheduling business and more opportunity for issues of current public concern to be debated. If the rumours are correct, these are genuine advances, although they do not go nearly far enough. Two task forces that I have advised-the Better Government Initiative, in which members of all political parties, including many distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, have participated, and the Conservative Party's Democracy Task Force-have proposed further practicable measures to reinforce Parliament's powers to insist on well prepared legislation while, importantly, preserving the Executive's power to get its business through. The two are reconcilable.
If I were a Member of another place, I would feel ashamed of the inadequate way in which that place peruses legislation-and I know that many Members of the other place do feel ashamed. I do not believe that Members of this House have a similar need to feel
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However, in one respect the other place has got ahead of us. It has at least set up a committee to propose reforms in the two limited areas covered by its terms of reference. We have to assume, and to hope, that in the remainder of this Parliament those reforms will be carried through. While I believe that your Lordships' House does a far better job in scrutinising legislation-I think that that is undeniable-none of us is so complacent as to say that our own procedures are incapable of further improvement. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has made a number of positive, helpful and persuasive suggestions about that. Reforms have taken place in this House. In due course the Government will review the role of the Lord Speaker, but that is not to be immediate.
I should like to ask the Minister what plans the Government have to consider this House's procedures and whether we can learn anything about them from the recommendations of the Wright committee. I echo the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this House in the remainder of this Parliament should be given a chance to debate the implications of that report and to discuss in the light of it ways in which our procedures might be made even more effective. I particularly hope that the Government will take account of what I regard to be the remarkable degree of unanimity in the succession of the last few speeches.
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