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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a great deal to thank the noble Lord, Lord
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is no doubt that the Barnett formula has stood the test of time from its development 20 years or so ago, although inevitably over two decades there have been stresses and strains on the reports and the formula, and the accuracy of their basis is increasingly subject to challenge. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the three constituent countries of the United Kingdom apart from England have done well out of the Barnett formula.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, the Select Committee report was excellent. It clearly recognised the need for a change that is based on need, but the unpublished response simply said no. Was the response unpublished because it has now been scrapped and the Government are going to come up with a better one that agrees with the committee?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think that my noble friend is a little pessimistic about the Government's response to the position. They very much value the work that he did two decades ago. But it is the case, as I indicated in my response to the first Question, that the Government are looking carefully at these issues. We have two reports now-the Calman report for Scotland and the Holtham report for Wales-both of which indicate that the formula presents some problems in the accurate allocation of resources. The Government are studying the situation carefully.
Lord Elis-Thomas: Does my noble friend accept that there was indeed a general welcome for the Secretary of State's Written Statement in another place on 26 November? However, is my noble friend now able to take the UK Government's thinking a little further? There has been a positive response to Gerry Holtham's report, but surely the basic issue is this: how long will the Treasury continue to be the judge and jury in its own case? Or are the UK Government so afraid of fiscal federalism and the charge that would follow from that in other parts of the European Union that they are not prepared to tackle the basic issue of having an objective assessment of the relative needs, as my honourable friend has indicated?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the problem with an objective assessment is that it is difficult to achieve objectivity. As the noble Lord will recognise only too clearly, some of those who are clamouring for revaluation are not sufficiently aware of the extent to which the devolved Administrations actually benefit from the formula at present. However, serious questioning of the Barnett formula is present in both of these reports and in the House of Lords Select Committee report, and the Government will give their response to them when they have a final considered position.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government are currently analysing the responses to the second stage consultation, which closed on 29 September 2009. The Government take their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights seriously and are committed to implementing the judgments of the European Court. But we must arrive at a solution which respects the judgment of the Court and takes into account the political context and traditions of the United Kingdom.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that predictable reply. Can he explain to the House whether the Government intend either to ignore or take action to prevent what the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe last week expressed as serious concern that the substantial delay in implementing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights given on 6 October 2005 has given rise to a significant risk that the next United Kingdom general election, which must take place by June 2010, will be performed in a way that fails to comply with the convention? Is that a risk that the Government are prepared to prevent?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government note, of course, the interim resolution by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers' Deputies in this case. We have, as I have told the House, recently completed a two-stage consultation. We are carefully analysing the response. We take our obligations seriously, but we have to arrive at an approach which respects the judgment of the court and the political context and traditions of the United Kingdom. If the concerns of the European Court expressed in Hirst were not remedied by the next general election, this would not, in the Government's view, call into question the legality of the elections themselves as challenges go to the right of individual prisoners to take part in the elections rather than the legality of the elections themselves.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can we forget about the general election? May we concentrate on this incessant moan that we are thinking about this and thinking about that and considering the other, and get on with the job that is a humanitarian commitment?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the concerns are slightly broader than the noble Lord will have it. These are complex issues and remain complex issues. They require full consultation and consideration. Apart from the principle of the issue, there are many practical issues
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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Will the Minister indicate how much longer the Government need to come to a decision on this issue, having taken four years already? The order of the Court is quite clear. Can my noble friend give me other instances of when this pick-and-mix approach to decisions of the Court has been put into operation?
Lord Bach: Our record on committing ourselves and effecting the decisions of the Court is a good one over the years. The Court made it absolutely clear that there is a wide margin of appreciation for member states in issues such as this. We are coming to a view and want to ensure that it is right; then, of course, it will be for the British Parliament to decide in the end what to do next.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that for there to be an interim resolution by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of this character is a very serious matter, which affects the reputation of this country to abide by the rule of law. The noble Lord has not answered the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about whether the Government will do what the Committee of Ministers wish and legislate rapidly so that there will not be a continuing breach when the next election comes in respect of prisoners' rights and the judgment of the Court. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to answer that question.
Lord Bach: My Lords, we will respond when we are ready to respond. We hope that it will be soon, but these are complicated and complex matters. I believe that the Opposition agree with us that this is not an easy matter. It is not clear, for example, that popular feeling is anything other than strictly against this proposal. We realise that the Court's judgment has to be obeyed, and we will do so.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, does the Minister accept that one reason for the considerable concern about the extraordinary length of time that the Government have taken to implement a decision dated 6 October 2005 is that they appear deliberately to be delaying this matter until after the next general election? Can the Minister give the House an unequivocal assurance that that is no part and has been no part of the Government's motivation?
That, in the event of the Consolidated Fund Bill being brought from the Commons, Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with tomorrow to allow it to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
Lord Brett: In moving these Motions, I extend an apology to those who participated in the debate on the second of the instruments, the crime order, when in my enthusiasm for brevity I gave an imprecise answer to a question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, at the end of that debate. I have since written to the noble Baroness to clarify the position on the point that she raised and copied the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I understand that the noble Baroness is satisfied on the point in question. I shall lay a Written Ministerial Statement on the subject before the House today.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I do not wish to prolong the debate but I must register that we on these Benches are not happy with the first of the orders, the biometric registration order, although we do not wish to divide the House or have a debate. We have always opposed extension of ID cards.
Relevant documents: 24th Report, Session 2008-09, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,First Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 9 December
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton will repeat the Statement entitled "Future Defence Programme" immediately after the noble Lord, Lord
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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, two reports are listed on the Order Paper and I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak to both of them, since they are in many respects linked. The two reports deal largely with the procedural consequences of the establishment of the Supreme Court, the ending of the House's judicial responsibilities and the disqualification of those Members of the House who serve as senior judges from taking any part in our proceedings.
These changes in the composition and role of the House necessitate corresponding changes in our procedures and Standing Orders. Most of these are straightforward and self-explanatory; they are covered in the second report of the last Session, which was published at the end of October. Some of the changes, however, were less straightforward. In particular, we had to consider carefully the future role and composition of the Committee for Privileges, specifically in respect of peerage claims. Our conclusions are set out in the second report on today's Order Paper, which was agreed and published last week.
I would like to put on record my thanks to the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls for agreeing to provide judges to assist the Committee for Privileges in considering any future peerage claims. I can also inform the House that, since the report was published, I have had an equally positive and helpful response from Lord Hamilton, the Lord President of the Court of Session, indicating the willingness of the senior Scottish judiciary to help if called upon. I hope that the House will recognise our proposals in this area, embodied in our proposed revision of Standing Order 78, as a constructive and workable solution to a potentially difficult problem.
I turn now to the other issues covered in these two reports. I trust that our recommendations on the abolition of the Personal Bills Committee and the use of the Welsh language by committees meeting in Wales will be uncontroversial. With regard to national policy statements, we propose that they should normally be debated in Grand Committee on a neutral Motion-in other words, a Motion to consider the statement. It is of course not possible to debate substantive Motions in Grand Committee, as there is no possibility of a Division in the Moses Room. However, the use of Grand Committees for general debates on national
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Finally, I turn to the recommendation that may be of greater interest to noble Lords-namely, our recommendation in our first report of the present Session that from the start of the new year each Secretary of State sitting in this House should once a month answer Oral Questions that would be addressed to them as Secretary of State. We propose that for the initial trial period there should be three Questions, taking 15 minutes in total, asked on a Thursday immediately following Oral Questions. The procedure will be as for Oral Questions-for instance, there will be an opportunity for supplementaries from around the House. With two Secretaries of State sitting in the House at present, this additional opportunity for scrutiny will be a fortnightly event. I emphasise that we see this as additional scrutiny. It will not impact on other existing forms of scrutiny, such as normal Oral Questions or Private Notice Questions.
I hope that these proposals will enjoy support across the House, as they did across the committee. If they are agreed, the Leader of the House and I will tomorrow move the consequential amendments to Standing Orders. I therefore beg to move the first Motion in my name-that is to say, that the committee's second report of the Session 2008-09 be agreed to.
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