The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the election for the office of Lord Speaker. Details of the votes cast are being made available in the Printed Paper Office. The successful candidate was Baroness D'Souza.
The Lord Chamberlain (Earl Peel): My Lords, I have the honour to notify your Lordships that Her Majesty the Queen, having been informed that your Lordships have elected the Baroness D'Souza to be Lord Speaker, has pleasure in confirming your Lordships' choice of her as your Speaker.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating the noble Baroness on becoming our next Speaker. I am sure that everybody will wish to join in supporting her and encouraging her not just in this transition period but throughout her term of office.
My purpose in rising now is to inform the House that there will be an opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the Lord Speaker, for her distinguished work as Speaker of this House and for being the first holder of the office of Lord Speaker. That occasion will take place at the start of business on Monday 5 September.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I rise briefly as I realise that now is not the time for tributes. However, as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in this House, I just want to convey the very warm congratulations of our Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. This is another step in the evolution of our House. We have had another successful election for a Lord Speaker. It is extraordinary that we have had two women. I know that the noble Baroness will have the confidence of the whole House and that she will do a splendid job for the Lords, inside and outside Parliament, and for Parliament as a whole.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I intend to follow the example of others and not be present for first business on 5 September. Therefore, I trespass on the patience of the House for a single moment to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. She has been an effective and distinguished Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers and I am certain that she will be an effective and distinguished Lord Speaker. I wish her well in those responsibilities. I express my deepest gratitude to the House for the honour that it gave to me in entrusting me with the responsibility of being first Lord Speaker for the past five years. It has been an extraordinary experience and I owe a debt of gratitude to many people in the House for their support during that time.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, the Thames Tunnel proposed by Thames Water would reduce the frequency of spills of untreated waste water into the Thames from the current average of once a week during rainfall to three or four times a year, and reduce spill volumes from 39 million cubic metres annually to around 2.3 million cubic metres. This would meet the dissolved oxygen standards identified by the Thames Tideway Strategic Study and protect local ecology.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I agree with him that the tunnel will help to clean up the Thames but in the process it could make a serious mess of London. One of Thames Water's proposals is to concrete over most of Barn Elms Playing Fields and other greenfield sites and to remove spoil by road, involving some 500 trucks passing through London every day. Will the Government insist that Thames Water takes the majority of the spoil out by water down the river, because the line goes under the river? Secondly, will the Government safeguard the necessary brownfield sites, such as the Battersea power station site, to avoid the need to use greenfield sites in the construction?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for stressing the importance of the fact that it will clean up the Thames. That is very important, both in itself and in order to avoid infraction proceedings under the urban waste water directive. I note the noble Lord's other points, which are really matters relating to planning issues. Thames Water will be consulting later this year on the route and where to put the various access points for the tunnels. After that, these are matters that should be left to the planning process rather than to Government.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the London Group had the benefit of a presentation on this project? It said that one of the important features was to allow drainage in London, as the water level is now rising so high that it is becoming a problem, particularly with the development of more basements and sub-basements.
Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct in talking about problems of drainage. We have seen, since Bazalgette built the original sewers some 150 years ago, a vast expansion of London, a vast increase in the number of people here, and a vast increase in the number of impermeable surfaces which allow water to drain off far quicker than it did in the past, creating serious environmental problems. As part of this process we need to look at all of those factors and all appropriate solutions.
Lord Aberdare: My Lords, in view of the fact that major projects such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel often fall short in delivering the environmental and community benefits expected, will the Minister consider encouraging Thames Water to establish an independent trust to provide a vehicle for ensuring that those benefits are achieved and maximised and that the tunnel project leaves a lasting legacy for London along the lines that Sir Joseph Bazalgette achieved with the original sewer project?
Lord Henley: My Lords, that is exactly what Thames Water is proposing in the plans. That is why it wants to consult on them and why it will have to go through the planning process in due course. At the end of that planning process we hope that it will be able to produce the right tunnel, in the right place, that will produce the right benefits.
Viscount Hanworth: In the 1960s when we were digging the Victoria line tunnel I remember that we caused minimal disruption around London and that the spoil was carried away directly. Can the Minister tell us why this cannot happen in the case of the Thames Tunnel when there is an easy way of carrying the spoil away-by the river?
Lord Henley: Again, it is a matter for the planning process and planning authorities to propose what conditions they think appropriate to impose on Thames Water. Since it is proposed at the moment that the tunnel should follow the river down, I would have thought it might be possible to have a lot of the access points close to the river. It should therefore be possible. However, it is not a matter for Government but for the planning process to consider using the river, rather than roads, for disposal of that spoil.
Baroness Kramer: I must declare an interest in that I live by the river and am a member of the Skiff Club in Teddington and therefore a supporter of the Thames Tunnel. Does the Minister agree that the reason why greenfield sites such as Barn Elms are at risk is that they are cheaper than the brownfield alternatives and that therefore it is a Defra issue? Will the Minister
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Lord Henley: Obviously, we would want to encourage the use of brownfield sites, where possible, rather than greenfield sites. However, I do think that this should be a matter for the planning authorities and the planning process rather than for a diktat from Defra itself.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, Defra is currently consulting on these sorts of projects becoming national infrastructure projects and at that point the Minister would have the leverage that he currently tells us he does not have. I understand the point that he is making. However, should he not take a lead, for example, from the Mayor of London, who is very happy to interfere and to pass comment wherever he sees fit? Should he not use his influence in this case and listen to what noble Lords have said about the importance of using the river to transport spoil in order to protect our greenfield sites and to preserve the brownfield sites? A meeting would be fairly straightforward and I am sure that Thames Water would want to listen to what the noble Lord has to say.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I would have thought that what I have said has given some idea of where Ministers in Defra stand on these matters. Again, I think that the planning process should decide the appropriate route, how it is done, where to dig the access tunnels and so on. In the end, we want the right solution for London and for the customers of Thames Water to ensure that we can get rid of that waste water and that we do not have, again and again, the kind of environmental disasters that we have seen, on a number of occasions, further up the Thames, with vast quantities of dead fish and other such things.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I declare an interest as a waterman and lighterman. It seems to me that the Government have to take an overview of this. Leaving the matter to separate planning authorities can lead to things like the green aspects of using the river, which are dramatically less harmful to the environment, being forgotten. The Government ought to take an overview, if not pass legislation on it to make it happen. I notice that as regards the Olympics we have failed abysmally to use the river as much as was promised. That is a great failure and a loss to the nation.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I had a sneaking suspicion that a number of noble Lords in this House, who live further west up the Thames, would want to declare an interest in how these building works are to take place. Fourteen planning authorities are affected by this and it is one of the problems that has to be dealt with overall at government level. That does not mean that Defra should make the decision; the appropriate planning process should take place. Obviously, we will feed in our views and I have given some indication of a desire to use brownfield sites where possible rather than greenfield sites. In the end, we must leave this matter to the planning process.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we are closely following the DRC elections. Despite delays, there has been considerable progress. The election calendar has been published, the electoral law passed, and over 30 million Congolese have registered to vote. There have been reports of harassment of political activists and demonstrations in Kinshasa earlier this month led to violence. However, so far we have seen no sign of systematic attempts to undermine the process. The Department for International Development is providing significant support.
Lord Chidgey: I thank my noble friend for that response. Is he aware that, during a recent visit to the DRC, we found that CENI's electoral calendar was unrealistic and unworkable? For example, in spite of a completion date for voter registration at the end of June, by July only four out of 11 provinces had been signed off. Is he also aware that, perhaps more worryingly, the most serious threat to forthcoming elections is the increase in LRA activities, with numbers back at 2008 levels; and that MONUSCO, with just 5 per cent of its peacekeepers active in the LRA-controlled areas, is deeply frustrated by the lack of resources to utilise the intelligence gathered for DDRRR purposes?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I was aware of my noble friend's recent visit to the DRC and I appreciate his concerns about the timing of the election. We reckon that the independent national electoral commission, to which he referred, CENI, is going reasonably well with its operations. Of course the timetable is tight, but we think that it is just realistic and that it is managing to get wider participation and better registration than some feared earlier. The Lord's Resistance Army is a plague, as it were, a trouble which affects both the DRC and other countries in the region. Our aim is to get the African Union to support and work with MONUSCO, the UN force, in meeting this continuing threat. I fully recognise that it is a problem but if we can get the African Union fully engaged, as we are trying to, we believe that we can create the conditions in which the problem can be addressed effectively.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was right to direct the Minister towards the depredations of the Lord's Resistance Army, in a country where, after all, between 5 million and 6 million people have died in the last 25 years, mainly as a result of marauding militias. Has the Minister seen the report in today's Telegraph online about Makombo, where 321 civilians died and 250 were abducted at the end of last year, and where 26 died and 53 were abducted in another raid on 6 July? Given that in 2005 the International Criminal Court issued indictments against Joseph Kony,
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Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is quite right to deplore the endless slaughter and activities which are associated with the Lord's Resistance Army. It seems to be a negative force both in this country and in many others. As I said earlier to my noble friend, it is our aim to get the African Union to work very closely with MONUSCO, the second largest UN mission in existence, in meeting this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me why it has not been so effective so far; I cannot answer that precisely, but I can only say that we are working extremely hard with other countries, with the EU and with our colleagues and allies, to reinforce the determination of MONUSCO and the African Union to meet the problem. This is the way forward that we think will be most effective.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, does the Minister share concerns about what is clearly the international community's Congo fatigue, and the consequent much lower level of engagement in the November 2011 election process compared to what occurred in 2006? Is the Minister aware that, contrary to what we heard from him, there are predictions that as things stand we risk a situation in Congo such as we saw in Côte d'Ivoire, which also had a deeply flawed election?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I hope that on this matter the pessimism of the noble Baroness, who follows these things very closely, is unfounded. Our information is that 31 million people have been registered and that the organisation of the whole election is going reasonably well. Obviously there are bad examples: there were disturbances in Kinshasa earlier this month, as I mentioned. No doubt there have been some instances of irregularity, but overall we believe it is going reasonably well. As for the level of participation compared with 2006, she is right that the donor support for the election this time, as a percentage of the total costs of the election, is down somewhat from the 2006 levels. However, it is still a substantial amount at $176 million, of which we have contributed £31 million. I hope that she is wrong, if she does not mind me putting it bluntly, but her warning that this needs watching very closely is very apposite and well taken.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, if the electoral timetable is not achieved, what plan B is in place to avoid a constitutional vacuum? Considering the large sums of money that we and others have invested in these elections, have representations been made to the Government of the DRC to rescind the ban on Radio Lisanga Télévision and to refrain from taking any other extra-legal measures against freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in the run-up to the elections?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We have certainly played our part, again with international colleagues, allies and the European Union, to urge that there should be proper freedom of expression and freedom of access, as well as opportunity for the media and the printed press to have full say in the election; that is a very important aspect. We have pressed on that, as well as
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The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Government strongly support ongoing initiatives at the European and international levels to improve transparency in financial markets. The International Organisation of Securities Commissions, IOSCO, has recently agreed a set of principles for regulating dark pools that will help inform the European Commission's ongoing review of the markets in financial instruments directive, MiFID.
Baroness Kramer: I thank the Minister for that Answer. He will be aware that Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England, in a speech a week ago, pointed out the dominance of dark pools and their high-frequency trading in many financial markets. Does the Minister agree that the lack of transparency, the price differential suffered by small investors, the implications for corporate governance of nanosecond share ownership and, above all, Andrew Haldane's concern that liquidity could disappear rapidly in times of stress all point to a serious risk to financial stability? Will he continue to follow the issue and look at more action by the British Government, not just at the European level?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we should distinguish-as I am sure my noble friend Lady Kramer does-between the two issues of dark pools and high-frequency trading, both of which I am sure noble Lords are very familiar with. Dark pools are akin to what used to be called "upstairs trading"-off the floor of the Stock Exchange. We need to make sure that the benefits of being able to trade in such an environment, such as competition and choice for investors, do not impinge in any way on the transparency and the price-discovery ability of markets. The FSA has done work on that and is content that the price-discovery mechanism is not being damaged.
High-frequency trading is a very new and slightly separate area, although I agree that it is related, and it is one on which the Government are doing considerable work. A research project led by the Government Office for Science is looking at the possible evolution of computer-generated trading and its implications, and will produce up to 20 papers on the subject during 2011.
Lord Peston: Are dark pools the same as dark matter, which the astrophysicists tell us permeates the universe but which no one can observe? Is not the problem that for a considerable period banks and other financial institutions marketed paper assets that had
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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am no great expert on dark matter and black holes, but I think the distinguishing point about dark pools is that they are a venue for trading that enables confidential orders to be submitted and matched using a reference point that comes from a transparent market. As soon as the trade is done, the details are reported publicly. Therefore, there is confidential trading and then full reporting, which is the critical feature of the market. Various platforms are available for the market, which accounts for something of the order of 7 per cent of UK and European equity trading. It is not a dominant part of the market by any means, but it is one that we are watching.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, one of the best moves in the mid-1990s was the creation of the alternative investment market, AIM, which has been a great success. I was a director of an AIM company that is now a FTSE 250 company. However, the biggest problem with AIM was always liquidity. Liquidity is an also issue outside the FTSE 250 on the main market. Can the Government do something to improve liquidity? Should more be done or are they happy with the situation?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I certainly agree that mechanisms that help liquidity such as dark pools, which are run by investment banks, multilateral trading facilities or independent operators, are indeed aids to liquidity if they form a proper part of the market. The proponents of high-frequency trading, too, cite them as an aid to liquidity. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the last thing we want for example the European Commission to do is to restrict sensible increases in liquidity in our markets without looking at the evidence base that needs to be assembled.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Yes, my Lords, and to the biggest black hole of them all in the shape of the European Commission. Do the Government agree that we can surely rely on this body to come up with an honest solution to any problem, if only because it has not been able to get its own accounts signed off by its internal auditors for the last 16 years?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I certainly do not think we should relax on the issue of high frequency trading. We only have to think back to the events of 6 May 2010. I do not need to remind your Lordships that there were two crashes on that day: one was the crash of the outgoing Government; the other was the so-called flash crash in which the Dow Jones index plummeted in a number of minutes by 9 per cent but fortunately, unlike the Labour Government, recovered by 9 per cent
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think the country should be on its guard when euphemisms such as "black pools" are used. I agree with the noble Lord that they are an aid to liquidity but he will know-and I am grateful to him for identifying that the Government are expressing some anxiety in this respect-that they restrict transparency in the marketplace. We all know the price that we have paid for a lack of understanding of what has gone on in the world of finance and the importance, therefore, of the Government being concerned to get as much openness and transparency as they can.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, if they were black holes as the noble Lord suggests, we would be worried, but for dark pools, IOSCO, the international regulatory organisation, has recently laid down six principles to guide the operation of the regulatory framework of dark pools, and the FSA's assessment is that the UK and the EU are fully compliant.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, we have been taking forward the commitment to develop an alternative way for disabled people to demonstrate their suitability for an apprenticeship. We have developed an initial recommendation. The next steps are to confirm wider endorsement of the proposed model and focus on implementation. External experts continue to advise officials on this and other disability access issues in apprenticeships. We are currently reviewing these advisory arrangements and would welcome specialist input on dyslexia.
Lord Addington: I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will she confirm that it is an absurdity that people can get special arrangements to help them through the A-level system whereas dyslexics are failing a communication test which they have to take in the apprenticeships process and are thus not being allowed to qualify, when direct access to this qualification would allow them to earn a living? Is this situation not an absurdity, and will the Government assure us that they will report back to the House when they have corrected it? If not, we are going to go back to it again and again.
Baroness Wilcox: The noble Lord is an expert in this area and has spoken to me about this question so I am able to give him my hope for the reassurance that he is asking for. He is talking about the option of key skills as opposed to functional skills in apprenticeships. We have looked at this and extended the options of
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Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in the plea that he has just made. As somebody who is involved in apprenticeships at many levels, this has been an issue for me as well. The sector skills councils have been looking at how they will overcome this and I think that some of them have been giving advice to government on it. The parallel which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned is awful. People can get all that support for an A-level, and the Government are trying very hard to make sure that apprenticeships are as widely available as possible, but they cannot get the support that will enable them to learn a skill and get a job.
Baroness Wilcox: The noble Baroness is absolutely right; it is one of those things that happened. As she will know, one or two very poor cases have highlighted the problem, and we are all working very hard to see how we can overcome it. Any input that we can receive, particularly from people with dyslexia, will be an enormous help. We are consulting very widely on it.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, my younger son has dyslexia. It was lucky that a kindergarten teacher spotted it early so that from that time onwards we have been able to give him help which we hope will allow him to go on and do anything later on in life. Are the Government doing enough to train teachers to spot dyslexia at as early an age as possible and to provide the learning support? The Minister's response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was very encouraging, but are they doing the same to help pupils at school?
Baroness Wilcox: As the noble Lord will know, the education Bill is currently going through the other House and will introduce many things. When it completes its passage a duty will, I hope, be placed on schools to make sure that there is good independent advice, particularly on careers. However, we are carefully monitoring the position at the earlier ages to make sure that all our children have equal opportunities. We really aspire to equal opportunities in this matter as well.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I recognise what the Government are doing in relation to this particular problem. However, there is a huge demand for apprenticeships generally and for apprenticeships for people with disabilities specifically. Does the Minister agree that it might help if the Government stipulate the need for apprenticeships when they let procurement contracts, placing a special emphasis on those with disabilities? Should they not act similarly in relation to government departments?
Baroness Wilcox: You did, did you? Okay, then I have no doubt that we are carrying it forward, as we do with many of the things that you did. What support is available for disabled apprentices? Additional funding is available, and we are taking forward the work that you were doing in the past. I am sorry, that was cheeky.
Baroness Brinton: Is the Minister aware that the Joint Council for Qualifications guidance is clear on support for students with special needs? Does she think that providers should be required, rather than just following guidance, to ensure that all elements of the courses are accessible for students with disabilities including dyslexia?
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, does the Minister speak only for people in England who suffer from dyslexia, or is this also an opportunity for those in the other countries of the United Kingdom?
Baroness Wilcox: I am speaking for England today, so I am assuming that this is a devolved responsibility. If it is not, I shall come back to the noble Lord with more information. I think that it is definitely a devolved responsibility.
That the Commons message of 14 July be considered and that a Committee of thirteen Lords be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Commons to consider privacy and injunctions, including:
(2) how best to strike the balance between privacy and freedom of expression, in particular how best to determine whether there is a public interest in material concerning people's private and family life;
(3) issues relating to the enforcement of anonymity injunctions and super-injunctions, including the internet, cross-border jurisdiction within the United Kingdom, parliamentary privilege and the rule of law; and
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on its Amendments 1, 2 and 9. I am sorry-I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, what it is when one does not have the crib sheet Depending on which way we vote, if the opinion of the House is tested, we may-or may not-be approaching the home straight of this Bill. However, it is worth putting on record that it is exactly one year ago this week, on 22 July, that the Bill was introduced in the other place. By any reckoning, for a Bill of seven clauses and one schedule this is quite some time. We are now down to the fact that there is one remaining and outstanding issue. Your Lordships' Amendments 1, 2 and 9 provide that the provisions of the Bill are subject to a sunset clause after the next general election, and each subsequent Parliament would have a choice whether to be a fixed-term Parliament or not. These amendments were passed by your Lordships' House by a majority of six. The other place has considered these and has sent back a strong message in relation to this group of amendments, which they voted to disagree by 312 votes to 243. The reason on the Commons Disagreement and Reasons paper indicates that Commons disagreed because they,
It is worth remembering that the Government have been prepared to consider amendments which improve the Bill, and indeed we have taken on board a number of your Lordships' suggested amendments. We were persuaded that the provision to allow the Prime Minister to move the date of the election earlier by order was unnecessary, and that if there was to be an order to delay by up to two months, it should be accompanied by a statement of reasons. We have tabled amendments to put back elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly from May 2015 to May 2016. This issue was of concern not only in the other place but also when the Bill came here for Second Reading. In particular, and thanks in many respects to the work done by and discussions between the former distinguished Speakers the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who took the initiative with an amendment, and others, we redrew the architecture of the circumstances in which a vote of no confidence or of dissolution could trigger or lead in turn to an election. This indicates that the Government have been willing to listen, and on these points the other place has recognised that this House has done its task as a revising Chamber and has agreed to these amendments.
However, we were not prepared to support amendments that we believe undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill-a purpose which was welcomed by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in
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In addition to this, many of your Lordships noted that the certainty of a fixed-term Parliament would create better facility to plan across Government, within Parliament, and beyond. By contrast, if these amendments are accepted, the electorate turning out in May 2015 will not know what they were voting for. Will they be giving the next Parliament a fixed and predictable term within which to govern or will they be handing to the leader of the next Government a trump card; namely, the ability to call an election whenever he or she thinks it is most opportune?
During the debates on this on Report, I indicated that the assumption behind these amendments must be that in the event a subsequent Parliament is not a fixed-term Parliament, the current rules about calling elections should apply to that Parliament. I again highlight what a somewhat anomalous and strange position this will result in. In particular, we presume that the drafters of the sunset-they are sometimes referred to as sunset or sunrise-provisions would mean that the royal prerogative power to dissolve Parliament would be summoned back into existence for that subsequent Parliament. I assume that that must be the intention, for how else would Parliament be dissolved other than by the prerogative unless the drafters intend Parliament only to end by reaching the five-year limit set in the revised septennial Act?
I wish to make two points about this. First, is it right that the existence of a royal prerogative be dependent on resolutions of each House not being carried? It seems very undesirable to the Government that the prerogative power may sometimes not exist and sometimes be revived in this way. Secondly, if this is the intention of the drafters, it is not at all clear that it has been achieved in the drafting that they have provided. In particular, the presumption in Section 16 of the Interpretation Act is that where an enactment of a temporary duration, which the provisions abrogating the dissolution prerogative appear to be, expires, it does not ordinarily revive anything not in force at the time of the expiry. Admittedly, that may seem to be a technical point but I urge noble Lords to consider that
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As I have indicated, it is important to note that this Parliament did not include sunset clauses when legislating for the fixed terms for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Indeed, in this Bill we are extending the fixed term of this parliamentary term for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly but doing so by primary legislation. I have heard no convincing arguments to explain why we should sunset the fixed terms of the United Kingdom Parliament.
Is a sunset clause necessary to ensure that the issue of fixed terms, and the merits of this piece of legislation, are properly reviewed? Arguably, it is not. This Bill has received thorough scrutiny by four Select Committees-your Lordships' Constitution Committee, the PCR in the other place, the JCHR and the Delegated Powers Committee. It has had all of its stages on the Floors of the respective Houses and the Government have reflected during the progress of the Bill and, as I have indicated, have made amendments where they feel that these improve the overall package.
If a future Parliament decides that it wishes to move away from fixed terms, or if it wishes to amend what we have provided for, we cannot bind its hands. Perhaps it has not been said in this Chamber but it has been said in some of the commentary that somehow we are trying to bind the hands of future Parliaments. Perhaps I may make it clear that that is not the case, nor is it the intention. It is clear that we believe that, if there is to be a change, it should be done through primary legislation, and can be done by means of primary legislation.
A change to the fundamental structure of Parliament is not a small matter and we believe that it should be subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament. It should not be a default option if a resolution fails to be tabled or passed to sunrise provisions for fixed terms. Many noble Lords have expressed concern about what these amendments would mean for the relationship with the other place. Arguments have been made that by providing that the Bill could be revived only with a resolution of both Houses, we could be undermining the primacy of the other place. This House would be given a power to veto the will of the other place on this matter. I would ask your Lordships to recall comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who has contributed notably in our debates on this Bill, when he spoke in the debate on 22 June on the reform of your Lordships' House. I think that what he said would be echoed by noble Lords across the Chamber.
"We are a revising Chamber and a debating Chamber, and valuable in both functions, but we cannot prevail against the House of Commons if it wishes to insist. The House of Commons is sovereign in the matter of law-making".-[Official Report, 22/6/11; col. 1257.]
In the case of this Bill, the other place has clearly indicated that it wants to establish fixed terms as a rule that applies equally to each Parliament. Both your Lordships' House and the other place finally decided
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"All Parliaments legislate for the future. Laws passed by one Parliament do not contain a sunset clause at the Dissolution. The real point is whether a government can, in law, make it difficult for a future Parliament to amend or repeal the legislation it has passed; in our view it cannot. Our conclusion therefore is straightforward-that an Act of Parliament applies until it is repealed".
That should be said also of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. Should a future Parliament wish to amend or repeal the legislation, it can do so, but it should do so through the normal legislative process, not simply by passing a resolution.
I repeat that, in a number of respects, this House performed valuably the revising and reforming function to legislation which is at the core of your Lordships' business and that the Government responded to these proposals, but the amendments run contrary to the spirit of the Bill and raise more questions than they answer. Your Lordships have raised a matter of concern and have asked the other place to reconsider its position. The other place has done so. Consistent with the role of your Lordships under our parliamentary system, a role which many noble Lords have been at pains to suggest does not amount to the making of law but only to its scrutiny, I urge your Lordships to accept the verdict of the other place and not to insist on the amendments. I beg to move.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Pannick, but with his support, it falls to me to urge your Lordships to cause the Government to think again about these amendments which this House passed to the Bill. My noble friend asks me to express his regret that other unavoidable business prevented him being here today.
The amendment which your Lordships passed would give the next Parliament and subsequent Parliaments the opportunity to decide whether the provisions of this Bill, subjecting them to a fixed term, should apply to them. It does not nullify the Bill. It merely gives future Parliaments the right to disapply it without having to go to the lengths of repealing it.
In essence, the case for your Lordships' amendment is that a permanent constitutional change to fixed-term Parliaments should not be made without more preparation and consultation than this Bill has had. In the substantial
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As for those who argue, as the Minister did today, that it would be open to a future Government who disagreed with the provisions to repeal the Act, the Minister in the other place gave the game away. He asked, if the Bill became law and fixed-term Parliaments became the norm,
The main case advanced by the Government for the legislation-what the Minister called today the "fundamental justification"-is based on a fallacy. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who argue for it, but it is a fallacy none the less. It is that the power of a Prime Minister to seek a dissolution at a time of his or her choosing gives the governing party an unfair political advantage. The Minister went so far today as to describe it as a "trump card". In the real world, the Prime Minister's room for manoeuvre is heavily constrained. In normal times, and with a workable parliamentary majority, it is simply not practical politics for a Prime Minister to call an election in the first, second, third or even fourth year of a parliament. It is true that the fifth year becomes open season for elections and Prime Ministers often seek a dissolution before the last moment in order not to be at the mercy of events, but the practical advantage this gives is very limited-it is far short of a trump card. Even the proponents of the Bill accept that there should be some flexibility in the fifth year to allow for unforeseen events such as the BSE epidemic.
It follows that it will be only in exceptional circumstances that a Prime Minister will seek a dissolution in the first, second, third or fourth year of a parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, pointed out in our earlier debates, history shows that these occasions are never dictated merely by political advantage. In 1966 and 1974, general elections were called in the second and first years of the parliaments respectively in the circumstances of a growing economic crisis when the Government did not have a sufficient majority to deal with it. In 1974, a general election was called in the midst of a miners' strike when the incumbent Government had exhausted their means of resolving the strike. Can it be denied in these circumstances that it was in the national interest rather than in the Governments' political interest that the Governments should seek a reinforced mandate to deal with these national crises?
In such circumstances, what would have been the effect of this Bill? The Government would have had to rely on the Opposition's support to obtain a dissolution. Proponents of the Bill may say that, in practice, general elections would always be available in such circumstances because Oppositions would never deny themselves the opportunity to throw the Government out. In that case, the legislation is pointless. However, let us suppose that they have a point, that there would be circumstances in which a Government would want a reinforced mandate to deal with a national crisis and the Opposition, for whatever reason-shortage of party funds or whatever-denied them the 75 per cent majority necessary for a dissolution. Would that be in the national interest? Can it be right that in such circumstances the Government should be dependent upon their political opponents in seeking a fresh mandate from the people? The purpose of this constitutional change is misconceived.
A further argument used by the Minister in another place, over several columns of Hansard-although I noticed that the Minister made only a glancing reference to it today-was that because a decision to reapply the provisions of the Bill would require a resolution of both Houses, your Lordships could deny an elected House of Commons the right to apply the Bill and thus undermine the supremacy of the elected House. To my mind, it is appropriate that, if a law is to be reapplied, it is constitutionally right that it should be reapplied by both Houses of Parliament. I find it inconceivable that in a future Parliament, if the newly elected House of Commons voted for a fixed-term Parliament, your Lordships would overturn that decision. The fact that the Minister relied so much in this argument on another place illustrates, to my mind, the weakness of the Government's arguments against the amendment.
Finally, the Minister in another place and the Minister in this House today were critical of the drafting of your Lordships' amendment. The Minister in another place was particularly critical of Section 7(4), which states that a number of parts of the Bill would only have effect until the first meeting of a new Parliament. His argument was that this would cause confusion by reviving provisions repealed by the Bill, and the Minister in this House said something similar today. This, too, suggests to me that the Government's arguments are weak. We all know that if the Government were minded to accept the principle of the amendment, it would be open to them-and indeed normal practice-to table a revised set of amendments in order to avoid technical defects in your Lordships' amendments.
It is clear from the debates in this House and in another place that many Members, on both the government Benches and the opposition Benches, are uneasy about legislating in this way to make a permanent change to our constitutional arrangements without proper consultation, preparation or consideration. It is open to your Lordships, even now, to ask the Government in the other place to think again and provide an opportunity for future Governments and Parliaments to make their own decision whether to subject themselves to this legislation. It would cause the Government no loss to do so, and it is the proper, constitutional way to proceed. I beg to move.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, has set out fully and powerfully the case for your Lordships' House to insist on these amendments. Nevertheless, I would like to say a few words in support of the excellent case that he has made. I do think that it would be right to ask the other place to think again. I do not think that it had the opportunity to consider this legislation properly when, in the new Parliament, it was sent sailing through-if I may put it this way-a very inexperienced new House of Commons.
The Bill was only hastily examined by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee; I do not criticise the committee for that because it had all too little time between the publication of the Bill and the date of Second Reading that the Government had scheduled very early on indeed. It was then rather perfunctorily examined in the Chamber of the House of Commons before it came to this House. The other place should have looked at it much more carefully. After all, among our powerful objections to the legislation as the Government presented it was that the Government were playing fast and loose with the role of the Speaker and with parliamentary privilege, matters that surely one would have expected the House of Commons to ponder and take very seriously, but it did not and the legislation went through quickly.
This is not the moment to rehearse again all the flaws in this Bill, but, as we bottomed out the issues that the Bill gives rise to in our proceedings here, it became more and more evident that it was bound to be a bad Bill because it was seeking to give legislative force to a bad idea. It was addressing a non-problem. There is no evidence that there has been abuse by successive Prime Ministers of the right to choose the date of the next election or that the country has suffered because successive Prime Ministers have exercised that right. I do not think that the "will he, won't he" issue that Mr Harper made so much of in the other place is a serious problem, and I do not think that the country considers that it is.
This legislation was dressed up as a project to reduce the power of the Prime Minister and increase the accountability of government to the people, but it did not do that. In fact, it did exactly the reverse. It secured for this Prime Minister the assurance of a five-year Parliament and bound the coalition, however unhappy the marriage, into a five-year Parliament. Far from increasing accountability, it reduced the frequency with which electors can be expected to have the opportunity either to throw the Government out or to renew their term at a general election.
The typical interval between general elections in most of the 20th century was, we are told, some four years. By extending the term of Parliament rigidly to five years, without allowing the sensible pragmatic flexibility that our unwritten constitution has hitherto permitted, the legislation would make Governments and Prime Ministers less accountable to Parliament, not more.
The measure would still have been bad in principle, but it might have been somewhat less objectionable had the Government accepted the amendment tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of
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The amendment that your Lordships passed and which built a sunset clause into the Bill was the best damage limitation that this House was able to offer, because we rightly have a convention that we do not reject government legislation at Second Reading. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and his ministerial colleague in the other place, Mr Harper, have raised various objections to the amendment that we passed, but they seem to me to be quibbling amendments. None of them creates such difficulty that, had the Government been willing to accept the advice of this House, they would not have been able to refine the legislation to deal with those problems.
We could certainly have thought about whether your Lordships' House should approve an order under this legislation in a normal way. An argument could have been mounted that it would not be appropriate for your Lordships' House, unelected as it is, to decide itself whether the fixed-term provisions of this legislation should have been renewed, although I am attracted to the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, on that point. Issues such as the royal prerogative or the exact stage in the new Parliament in which the vote on the order might take place could have been sorted out consequentially had the Government been willing to accept the advice of your Lordships.
Nor am I impressed by the argument about consistency. Just because we have not proposed that we should undo the fixed terms for the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, which are being extended under this legislation, it does not follow that we should not seek to amend the provisions relating to the Parliament at Westminster. A constitution benefits from sensible anomalies; a constitution that is pragmatically designed and evolves to take account of the political realities in different places at different times stands a much better chance of working successfully.
I appreciated the fact that the Government accepted some of the amendments that we passed in this House. They should, after all, surely accept this provision. It is simple and effective, and would give the House of Commons the opportunity, after the experience of this five-year Parliament, to confirm or not to confirm that a fixed-term Parliament would be a permanent arrangement. It would, in effect, be an exercise in post-legislative scrutiny. It seems to me that the Government would do well, in the light of experience, to have the modesty to allow reconsideration of a very contentious and experimental piece of legislation such as this, in the convenient way that the amendment provides for.
As the Minister has emphatically reminded us this afternoon, it would be open to the new Parliament-or, indeed, to this Parliament should the coalition fall apart within five years, which is not at all inconceivable-to repeal the legislation. It is, however, much more of a performance to repeal, whether in this Parliament or
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Lord Rennard: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will no doubt recall very well from the period in early 1992 that there was much speculation about the likely timing of the general election then due. Options of April, May and June were all under consideration by John Major, and his choice was based simply on when was most likely to favour his party in what was expected to be a very close contest. Indeed, it was a very close contest that was well described in the book I much enjoyed by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, entitled Too Close To Call. It was clear from that account that the advantage of being able to choose polling day possibly made a decisive difference.
At the time I was involved in helping to prepare the campaign led by my noble friend Lord Ashdown. I was quite shocked to receive a call one day in the run-up to that election from someone who ran a printing firm.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: The noble Lord says that John Major was much advantaged by being able to choose the date of the election, but he actually chose the last possible date. Is that an argument for a fixed-term Parliament?
Lord Rennard: My Lords, the last possible date was June of that year. A date that was widely considered was the May of that year, which coincided with the local elections. In fact, the date chosen was 9 April, which was rather earlier than the last possible date, and was chosen-as the book I have just described accounts-for his advantage. I asked the printer, who told me that the date would be 9 April, how he could know. He told me he was breaking commercial confidence by telling me, but he knew because he was in the process of printing the election address of a then Cabinet Minister who was able to tell him that the date would be 9 April, and that this date was on the front of his leaflet. It seemed to me that that Cabinet Minister had an advantage over other candidates in that election, and that the ability to print election literature at a time of one's choosing is just one of the unfair advantages afforded to the governing party over all other parties in our present arrangements.
As I have said before in these debates, it is rather like allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to pick the dates for all the Manchester United games. In 1992, the advantage of choosing polling day was possibly crucial to the
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I know that many noble Lords opposite were candidates for the Labour Party in that election, in which they were led by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. I ask them to remember the words of their manifesto in 1992, which said:
"This general election was called only after months of on-again, off-again dithering, which damaged our economy and weakened our democracy. No government with a majority should be allowed to put the interests of party above country as the Conservatives have done".
The principle of this Bill is to do exactly that. It upholds a principle that was also in last year's Labour manifesto, which guaranteed to ensure that legislation would be introduced to make sure that we have the principle of fixed-term Parliaments. That principle was also in last year's Liberal Democrat manifesto and was one that David Cameron agreed in opposition to consider seriously before committing his party to it in the coalition agreement.
The Motion under consideration is not a minor revision to the Bill, the central principle of which is that Parliament should decide whether there is good reason to have an early general election, not just a potentially opportunistic Prime Minister. The principle of this Bill did not come out of the blue but has been debated for at least 20 years-sufficient time, I suggest, for consideration of that principle. The Bill enacts a principle that puts more power in the hands of Parliament and reduces the power of Prime Ministers to manipulate electoral timetables for partisan advantage.
In many of our debates in this House, I regularly hear many noble Lords expressing concern about the degree of power that can be exercised by a Prime Minister with an overall majority in the other place. If carried, the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will help to maintain that power for Prime Ministers in future. We should recognise that the effect of abandoning the principle of the Bill is simply to leave the timing of future general elections to the whim of a Prime Minister who will inevitably choose the timing to party advantage, not national interest, to his or her own benefit and in ways calculated to disadvantage opponents.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, but I feel that he is making a bit of a Second Reading speech. I hope he will not mind if I ask him a question that has been puzzling me on the idea of the abuse of prime ministerial patronage. If we know the date of the election, is that patronage not going to be used to ensure that all kinds of goodies are announced before that date, and are Governments not going to plan their programmes accordingly? Is the problem not going to be much worse, not better?
Lord Rennard: My Lords, I think the problem would be rather less serious when we all knew when the election would be. The amendments strike very much
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Again, comparing this with football, would we consider it fair if Sir Alex Ferguson was allowed to call off a football match if he was worried about the form of his team and to rearrange the match for another day when it might perform better? Of course we would not. I see the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who obviously regards football as a very serious matter, sitting opposite. I recall my own sporting hero Bill Shankly saying that football is not,
However, I would say that democracy is even more important. At the moment, in this period of great turbulence and concern about the rules of fair play, fair competition and fair enforcement of the law, we should take this small step towards making the rules of our democracy fairer. If a future Parliament wishes to take issue with the fixed-term principle or with any of the detail of how it operates, it should go through the same parliamentary processes that are currently necessary with this Bill.
On the principle of the Bill, let us consider finally that neither the Scottish Parliament nor the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the European Parliament, the Greater London Assembly or a single one of the hundreds of local councils across the United Kingdom appear to have a problem with the fixed-term principle for elections. Neither should we in this unelected House.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, has returned to the principles of this Bill because it enables me briefly to return to the report of your Lordships' Committee on the Constitution, which I have the honour to chair and which I note the Minister did not refer to. Well, he referred to it only in passing; he did not refer to the fact that the Committee was on the whole opposed to the idea of the principle of fixed-term Parliaments and was very much in support of the idea that if they were to be undertaken they should have four-year terms rather than five-year terms.
In supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, it is more appropriate to refer again to the Constitution Committee's strictures on the processes that produced this Bill. Your Lordships will recall that one of the things that the Committee felt most strongly about was that the Bill had been brought forward with as many political concerns and ambitions in mind as constitutional principles. In fact, we were very concerned that this was seen as a short-term measure designed to extend and protect the five-year
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We also referred to the fact-as the Minister said in his opening remarks-that there was some time in Parliament for the Bill to be considered, although I noted that my noble friend Lord Howarth referred to the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny that we felt was desirable in this case. None of the pre-legislative scrutiny or any of the processes that we as a committee felt should have been undertaken to ensure that the Bill had widespread support in making a major change to the constitution had been undertaken. There was no Green Paper and no White Paper, and although Ministers appearing before the committee said at the time that this was because it was early in the Parliament-as the Minister said-we felt that there was no time limit on this Bill in the way that there was on the referendum legislation that was brought forward with equal speed early in the Parliament, so there was nothing to prevent this Bill being considered in what we would have thought was the proper way for a constitutional Bill of this significance.
I add in conclusion that your Lordships' committee has now undertaken, partly because of our concern about this Bill, a full-scale inquiry into the process of constitutional change that we have just completed and which I very much look forward to having the opportunity to debate with your Lordships following the Recess.
Lord Tyler: I agree very much with the noble Baroness and respect the views of her committee. In thinking about process, does she think that the novel constitutional process that the amendments introduce is a short-cut, without proper process, to look at major primary legislation by resolution of the two Houses, which could be in conflict, or does she think that that is a proper constitutional process?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the committee's position, and certainly my personal position, is that given the inadequate processes that have produced this legislation, some form of post-legislative scrutiny was needed. I do not remember whether the noble Lord was present when the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, led the previous debate on a similar subject, but the discussion included the issue of whether there was some way not perhaps of preventing the present Government fulfilling their five-year term, which the Constitution Committee certainly thought was the primary aim of this Bill, but of giving Parliament an opportunity to think again about whether this was an appropriate way for the constitution to be changed.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I wish to make a brief speech in support of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and to focus the House's attention on one or two points. First, whatever our views on fixed-term Parliaments, we have debated that. The House, in its wisdom, has made its decisions and has not stood in the way of another place. We are to have a fixed-term Parliament and the next general election will take place in May 2015. That is not the issue this afternoon. However, we have also decided that it is entirely proper to seek to improve and amend what many of us
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This Bill is the creature of coalition. It came into being because of the coalition agreement. None of us has sought to deny the right of the Government to decide when the next general election will be. As I said, it will occur in May 2015. Attempts to bring forward that date were defeated-in my view, understandably, and probably rightly-when we sought to amend the Bill. However, because this Bill is the creature of coalition, there should be an opportunity for the next Parliament to consider whether it truly wishes to continue with this experiment. The next Parliament may well be one with a Conservative majority-I sincerely hope that it will be-but whether it has a Conservative majority or a Labour majority it is unlikely that it will be another coalition. This amendment merely gives the opportunity for the new Parliament to make its decision. Indeed, this has already been recognised on the Floor of this House by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford when he was dealing with the sunset clause on the European Union Bill. He pointed out that the two things were different. He said:
"The coalition exists, and I hope that it continues to exist in strong fine form during this fixed-term Parliament, but after that we have a new landscape. Who knows who will govern? Who knows what the pattern will be? It made perfectly good sense for that legislation to have a limited life before coming to be re-examined".-[Official Report, 25/5/11; col. 1861.]
We have before us the opportunity to say to the other place, "Please reflect on what you have done. Please recognise that we have not wrecked the Bill that you sent to us and that we have made no attempt to change the date of the next general election, but also recognise that what we have done is to give an opportunity for the Parliament elected in May 2015 to re-examine this matter and to decide whether, in the light of experience, it wishes to continue with fixed-term Parliaments". We are giving that Parliament the opportunity to make that decision without burdening it with the necessity of introducing full-scale constitutional legislation at the beginning of a new Parliament if it generally desires to move away from what we have decreed.
As we know all too well, constitutional legislation takes a long time to get through Parliament. We may learn that lesson yet again in the not too distant future, so we are being exceptionally kind to the next Parliament in giving it that opportunity to ratify or nullify without long, protracted debate. Because of that, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, will be listened to and heeded, and that if he decides to put this to the vote the majority will be more than six this time.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: As one who put his name to the amendment on Report, I rise briefly to add to the comments of my noble friend Lord Butler of Brockwell and others. I do not need to go through the defects of and objections to the Bill again. For all the reasons given in earlier stages, and again by my noble friend Lord Butler now, I share his view that the Bill is neither necessary, nor desirable, nor satisfactory.
There is something very rummy about a Bill in which one clause decrees that a Parliament should last for a full term of five years, and the next clause tries to provide for the circumstances in which, despite the first clause, it may be dissolved prematurely. It is all Lombard Street to a China orange that the time will come when a premature Dissolution would be to the manifest benefit of the country, in circumstances which have not been foreseen or provided for by the legislation. The Prime Minister will have to resort to some artificial device to enable him to request a Dissolution from the Queen-for instance, by calling for a vote of confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and advising his supporters to abstain or even vote against it.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has pointed out, the Bill has been introduced as part of the glue to allow the coalition to stick together and stay in office as long as possible while it takes through the unpalatable measures required to restore a measure of stability in the finances of the Government, and a climate more conducive to growth in the economy.
It is said that the legislation is intended to deprive Prime Ministers of the opportunity to request a premature Dissolution for the sake of supposed party-political advantage. If Prime Ministers are so deprived then, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has pointed out, they will be forced to trim the timing and the quality of their policies to the electoral timetable. They will defer good news, such as tax benefits, until near enough the election to affect the result. That may not be in the best interests of the country. Either way, the Prime Minister is going to retain some form of discretion about how he or she responds in these circumstances. Therefore, in reducing-though not, I suspect, eliminating-one risk, there is reason to fear the risk of unforeseen and adverse consequences. One devil-if it really is a devil-may be stunned, if not slain outright, but seven other devils may be released.
After the next general election, a new Government and a new Parliament should be obliged to review the arrangements for and against legislation of this kind, decide whether to be bound by the provisions of this legislation in future, and consider the case for reverting to more flexible arrangements of the kind that have prevailed until now. Passing this amendment would ensure that that would happen, so I hope that your Lordships will vote accordingly, if they are asked to divide, and invite the other place to think again.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, the other place has rightly rejected these amendments because they rest on a fundamental misconception that, merely by enacting legislation that is not time-limited, Parliament is seeking to bind its successors by passing permanent legislation. That proposition needs only to
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These amendments, with their ungainly hybrid of a sunset provision and what might appropriately be called a Lazarus clause-rather than a sunrise clause-would kill off the effective provisions in the Act after the next general election automatically and without any parliamentary consideration whatever, contrary to the assertion of my noble friend Lord Cormack. They would then allow one or any number of future Parliaments, by simple resolution of both Houses, to reinstate the legislation for a single Parliament at any time and at any stage of the Parliament in question. That would not then be a fixed-term Parliaments Bill; it would be no more than an unedifying muddle with no clarity for the electorate-or for parliamentary candidates, for that matter-when they go to the polls.
The amendments offend against constitutional principle on three main grounds. It is notable that your Lordships' Constitution Committee, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did not at any stage suggest a sunset and sunrise clause in the form proposed. The first offence against principle is that the amendment threatened to remove from Parliament the right to insist on full and detailed consideration of any proposal to repeal or re-enact the legislation by introducing a mechanism for re-enactment by resolution of both Houses. That re-enactment, as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness pointed out in opening, would apply to the Schedule, which contains historic and important repeals, and would apparently be reversible by a resolution of both Houses.
Secondly, the amendments would increase the power of your Lordships' House beyond that generally permitted by the Parliament Acts because they would give this House the power to thwart the will of the other place, not merely to delay its implementation, if a resolution were passed by the House of Commons but denied passage by the House of Lords.
Thirdly, the amendments would offend against the Salisbury/Addison convention, if not in the letter certainly in the spirit. Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had commitments to fixed-term Parliaments in their manifestos, which were then agreed by the Conservatives in the coalition agreement. The settled view of the House of Commons, expressed on two occasions, is that this Bill should pass. Yet these amendments seek to time-limit it in a way that would remove its impact altogether. I say that because as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and a number of other Lords pointed out at earlier stages of this Bill's passage, no legislation whatever is required for this Parliament to last until May 2015.
As always, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, put his argument seductively and persuasively, but the reality is that far from being asked to act in this House as guardian of the constitution by these amendments, we are in fact asked to challenge the primacy of the elected House and to usurp the revising and scrutinising role of this House by effectively emasculating this Bill.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Perhaps the noble Lord could help me with a point. I may be wrong, but I believe that we still retain the power in this House to prevent the other place from extending the life of a Parliament. Is there not a parallel there?
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I do not accept that there is a parallel. There is indeed the exception in the Parliament Act for a Bill to extend the life of Parliament, and that was the case with this Bill, with the power to extend by two months. That is not the case in respect of these amendments.
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I must say that it seems to me that they are making an enormously unnecessary mountain out of this. What has happened is perfectly straightforward. Many parts of this House do not like this Bill, and for good reason. Your Lordships' Constitution Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit, did not like it either. But in the way that this House often finds compromise solutions, instead of saying, "We won't have the Bill at all", the House said, "You can have your Bill. You want a fixed term this time around, but don't force this down the throats of every successive Parliament. We will make it easy for you. We will not even require you to go through the full process, though you can if you want to"-I think the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was at one stage proposing that, and I will come back to it. The House said, "We will leave it on the basis that if each House resolves that in its turn it wants a fixed-term Parliament, it can have one".
That seems to me to be an eminently suitable compromise. What the noble Lords say, inter alia, is that this somehow gives this House the ability to prevent the Commons from having its way. But no; if the Commons wants to pass a Bill-a full Act-against the wishes of this House, it can still do that in the next Parliament. There is no constitutional aberration about this at all. It is a sensible compromise, it is a good British compromise, and it is the sort of compromise that this House is good at finding. I too hope that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will divide the House. If he does, I will gladly join him in the Lobbies.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: Does the noble and learned Lord accept that the will of the House of Commons is that this Bill should pass in a way that does not last just for one Parliament, and that this Parliament does not need any legislation to sit until 2015?
Lord Goldsmith: I have two answers for the noble Lord. First, that is one of the reasons why this Bill has never been necessary. It would have been perfectly possible for the Prime Minster to have made it very clear-on his honour, on his commitment, or whatever-
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Lord Goldsmith: This House has put forward sunset clauses which have been agreed a number of times; the precise mechanism does not matter. The point is that this House has said from time to time-for example, in relation to control orders-"All right, Government, you can have them for the time being, but you are not going to keep them without some further legislative process". That seems to me to be a very good idea.
Lord Tyler: Can I ask the noble and learned Lord whether in his consideration within the committee-to which I made reference earlier-he thought it appropriate for a constitutional Bill of this sort, over which a great deal of concern has been expressed on his side of the House, to be subject to this fast-track, quick process, which is an entire novelty? It is not given to any other legislation whatever. Will he address in particular what would happen if one resolution were "Yes" and the other resolution in the other House were "No"? Would that not then raise questions about the adequacy of the process?
Lord Goldsmith: The noble Lord is tempting me to tell him what I think about the legislative process that has taken place so far in relation to the Bill. It is deplorable-not the consideration in this House, but the whole way in which this has come forward. This House is making the best it can of that job by taking poor, inadequately consulted-on legislation and putting forward a compromise that I believe will work. In answer to the noble Lord's second question, the amendment is very clear. Both Houses need to give their approval. However, if they do not, it is still open to the other place to bring forward legislation and to use the Parliament Act if it wants to do so.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I will come at this from a slightly different angle. Before I do, I will say that it is to your Lordships' great credit that the Bill before us is much improved, especially the completely revised Clause 2. I regret that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for whom I have great respect, on this Motion, which drives a coach and horses through what the Bill has the potential to help us as a Parliament begin to achieve.
On many occasions during the passage of the Bill, several noble Lords have argued that our political system is not broken. I agree with that. My argument has always been that the problem we need to address is the public's lack of confidence and trust in the system. To fix the problem, we need to look for opportunities to change-not change for the sake of it, but change that delivers the kind of result that shows people we mean it when we talk about putting the public interest before our own.
I support the Bill not because I believe in fixed-term Parliaments; I support it because it is a means to a positive end. The Government and Opposition will have to face the electorate on a predetermined date, whatever the political conditions at the time. In other words, the Bill provides certainty to the electorate that the politicians have less room to manipulate the system for their advantage. It is not a silver bullet but a small step in the right direction-and it is change with a purpose. That makes it very different from changing the voting system, with which some noble Lords have compared it.
I did not support AV, and I believe that voters rejected it because it was only a means; it delivered no end. It was obvious that AV would not mean, as the leaders of its campaign tried and failed to argue, more hard-working MPs and fewer MPs likely to fiddle their expenses. If I were minded to make a party political point, I might say how ironic it is that the person who keeps telling the rest of us that we "just don't get it" was in favour of AV and is, based on his Front-Benchers' response to the Bill, at best confused as to whether he supports fixed-term Parliaments.
Even though the case is different, some noble Lords have argued that the public should be consulted on this matter as well: that if a referendum was held for AV, why not for fixed-term Parliaments? I would not have held a referendum on AV, either: but the reason a referendum on fixed-term Parliaments is not necessary is that our job is to find a solution to the problems that people have identified, and to take responsibility for the changes that we make.
I will offer my own analogy, which is not based on football. It is bit like Marks & Spencer asking loyal shoppers who have abandoned it because it has stopped supplying the kind of fashion that 40-something women want, to design next season's women's range. It is not the job of shoppers to fix the problem; it is up to Marks & Spencer to listen, understand and come up with the right solution to meet its customers' concerns. If it starts supplying what people want, they will return.
Over the past few weeks, many commentators have made the point that the recent phone hacking scandal is the latest in a series of similar scandals that have already affected bankers and politicians. I agree with that. One common thread running through all three is the public's reaction to the evidence in front of them. It can be summarised as: "Now we know for sure that you're all in it for yourselves". Although expressed at varying speeds and to varying degrees, another common thread is the way the institutions responded to that dreadful public indictment. We have seen shame, apology and promises to put the House in order. Sadly, when it
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At his press conference a couple of weeks ago, when he announced the public inquiries now under way, David Cameron concluded his remarks by saying that after all the inquiries had finished, we need to have a political system that people feel is on their side. If we are to achieve that, we need to restore public confidence in the system which currently we think works okay. That means changing things which might not be broken, but by doing them differently, which could create a different result: one that people can see clearly is in their interest and that therefore gives them greater confidence that we are truly on their side. Committing ourselves to fixed-term Parliaments without the get-out-of-jail-free card that this amendment offers is something that we can and should do.
The problem with this amendment is that it looks as though we do not really mean what we say. In short-and I hesitate to say this, because I know that it is not what your Lordships intend-this amendment is symptomatic of the problem that we are trying to solve. At the moment, we are demanding leadership in banking, in policing and in the media; we are asking them to make changes that might not be in their interest in order to show people that they operate in theirs and, in doing so, will, we hope, help to restore public trust. We cannot and should not demand of others that which we are not willing to do ourselves.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Before the noble Baroness sits down, let me say that I follow her argument. She sees this Bill as a way of increasing public trust and public involvement in the political process. Does she accept that had fixed-term Parliament legislation been in place since the Second World War on the five-year basis, there would have been four fewer general elections?
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As I said in Committee, when we talked about the length of Parliaments being either four or five years, I really do not think that that is the issue. People are not looking for more general elections. They are looking for a system that gives them the confidence that we want to work in their interest.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I believe that the issues that we are concerned with turn upon three very simple matters. First, the argument against the amendment is seen to be founded on the idea that in some way or another it brings about a revolutionary change in our constitutional situation. It does not. The point has already been made-and due to a late train I am sorry that I was not here when the noble and learned Lord dealt with this matter-that the flexibility is still there,
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My second point-and I hope that I am not making a Second Reading argument now, because I think that is very much the backcloth to this very amendment-is what I would call the William Lovett point. Do you remember the last point in Lovett's charter-annual general elections? God forbid. But the reason for it was that Lovett and other brave people of his day were convinced that the more you defended a Parliament and a Government from the will of the people, the greater the disservice to humanity and to democracy. If you gave them a certain five-year term rather than a much shorter term, that as far as Lovett was concerned would be a betrayal of democracy. Therefore, one should approach the idea of a five-year full term with very great reservation on that point alone.
My last point is the question where the onus of proof lies. This is a major constitutional change from any point of view-nobody would dispute that. Where is the evidence in support of it? It comes either from an idealistic direction or from a cynical direction. If it comes from an idealistic direction-and I can see that that may be so-it is based upon the theory that there is evidence within, say, the last half century of Prime Ministers beating the gun and going to the country when it was wholly unnecessary to do so. It certainly did not happen in 1935. It did not happen in 1945. There were elections in 1951, 1966 and 1974 that have already been referred to. In each case, the country was crying out for the chance to decide the matter there and then. If there is any criticism to be made about the abuse of the privilege of a Prime Minister to decide the exact date, it is against those Prime Ministers, of more than one party, who have stayed too long rather than against those who have gone to the country too soon. Where then is the case for this amending legislation? Therefore, one doubts whether there might not indeed be some faint cynical reasons for it.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I shall not delay the House long. I supported the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for a sunset clause when it first came in front of us. I totally accept the rationale to which my noble friend Lord Cormack referred: this was part of the coalition agreement. Whether, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, this was written on the back of an envelope or a fag packet, I do not quite know, but it was certainly cobbled together to try to cement the coalition together. I always took the view that it was quite legitimate for the coalition Government to decide, if they wanted to, that they wanted to go the full five years. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, made the point that that undertaking could be made by the Prime Minister because it did not need legislation.
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However, I will not be supporting the concept of a sunset clause this time round because the whole idea of a fixed-term Parliament is completely nonsensical and is not even worth the paper the Bill is written on. The reasons for that are those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. I think the Prime Minister of the day could organise things so that a vote of no confidence was achieved which would bring down his own Government even if his own Back-Benchers voted against the Government. Therefore, we could well end up with a four-year Parliament if the Liberals decide no longer to support the coalition. Indeed, four-year Parliaments could happen in the future with this Bill existing. That is the real flaw in the whole thing. There would obviously be an amazing row and accusations of bad will if the Prime Minister organised things that way but, on the other hand, knowing the way that elections kick in, that row would last 24 hours and then we would all be campaigning on the election and who we wanted as the next Government so we would all forget about how the election was brought about in the beginning.
Lord Dobbs: My Lords, I am rather torn over this issue-after all, I am much in favour of opportunistic Prime Ministers. I enjoy sunsets and I also enjoy flexibility and preparations for the unexpected, which is the point raised by the noble Lord. After all, I was an aide to Margaret Thatcher when, as leader of the Opposition, she advised us all to store tins in our larders for just such an event.
This is an important constitutional Bill, and sunset clauses are entirely inappropriate here. Noble Lords have questioned the manner in which this Bill has been conducted and introduced, and I share some of those reservations, but surely, even if they believe in their claim of constitutional purity, they cannot respond with a constitutional absurdity, which is what a sunset clause would be in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, suggested that no Minister in a future Parliament would ever dare argue-I quote him as far as my memory will allow-that this Bill should be overturned in order to give power back to Prime Ministers for narrow party-political reasons. Surely Prime Ministers acting for narrow party-political reasons is entirely the point. Where is the constitutional purity in that?
I wish to be very brief because we must move on. As to the call for second and third thoughts on the part of the other place, we should be clear about the purpose of this amendment. We are not looking into a sunset here. What we are looking at are the lamps of wreckers, lined up on the cliff top, waiting to lure the ship of state on to the rocks and destroy it. No matter how much better dressed they may be than their forebears, and how much better their manners, that is still the purpose of this amendment.
This issue has effectively been decided in this House and in another place, whether we like it or agree with it or not. I would not say that to support a sunset clause on this occasion is unethical, but it is entirely inappropriate. We do not use it on any of the other constitutional Bills; it is not the time to start doing it now.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this has been an extremely good debate. If I may respectfully say so, the opening speech from the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said almost everything that could be said and I support everything that he has said in relation to this.
We support this amendment because we think the Bill is a bad Bill. We respect the right of the coalition, because of the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, to have what they wish-which is a Parliament that ends on 15 May 2015-but if you analyse the detail, this Bill damages rather than improves the constitution. Mindful of our obligation to respect the primacy of the Commons, we suggest that we give the Commons what they wish but do not affect the constitution further than is necessary. Before I come to the detail of that argument, I will just get rid of some of the truly appalling points that have been taken against the amendment.
First, I turn to the point that the provision is badly drafted. It was drafted by the noble Lords, Lord Pannick, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I do not think you could have a more powerful team in relation to this. What the amendment says-and it says it incredibly clearly-is:
is passed, then the next one will be five years after that, and if a resolution is not passed, the other provisions do not apply. It could not be clearer. Please ignore all false remarks made in the other place. With respect to the noble and learned Lord, there is nothing wrong with the drafting of this.
The second point that has been made is that it is suggested there is something unconstitutional about this provision. First, it is said a sunset clause is inappropriate. We know that there have been sunset clauses in what may be described as constitutional Bills, for example the EU Bill and the control order Bills. The idea that a sunset clause in a constitutional Bill is inappropriate has been rejected by this House on a number of occasions and accepted by the other place.
The third particularly bad argument is that the provision increases the power of this place by allowing it to defeat orders. Yes, we can defeat orders, and the Parliament Act does not apply, but we always behave responsibly, and I would expect us to behave responsibly should the Commons indicate after the next general election that they want to have a fixed-term Parliament. If, however, that was the objection to this provision, then speaking for myself I would readily agree to an amendment to deal with that.
The final particularly appalling technical argument that has been advanced is that this is contrary to the Salisbury/Addison convention. I have never heard this being said until this afternoon. The Salisbury/Addison convention effectively says if the electorate have indicated it supports something this House should not resist it. I do not know if Members remember the election in 2010, but the one thing I can tell you, and it pains me to say it, is the one party that unquestionably lost the election was the Labour Party. Yes, a fixed-term Parliament was in our manifesto, but the public appeared very unattracted to it, so I do not think the Salisbury/Addison convention can be relied on by anybody remotely sane.
We know why this has been put in because we have had the privilege and the pleasure of Mr David Laws's book, which was read many times on the Floor of this House during debates. Noble Lords will recall that Mr David Laws, who happily for this House was present during negotiations, gave us an account of how we got the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. It is lovely to hear the highly principled noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and the splendid noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness-neither of whom were there and neither was I-but have I got news for you. It was not on the basis of a desire to change the constitution; it was because the Tories and the Liberal Democrats did not trust each other to hold on to the convention. As David Laws explained, that is why they said that there had to be a Bill.
I respect the decency of the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord to whom I have referred but that was not the reason given by David Laws for why this has been done. It is because of the coalition agreement. I could not put it better than Mr Shepherd, the Member for "somewhere". He is facing a House of Commons laughingly about to pass this Fixed-term Parliaments Bill without the sunset clause. He says:
"I hope that this cheerful Chamber will look askance at the Minister and his colleague, the Deputy Leader of the House, who are sitting on the Front Bench and trying to seduce us into thinking that there is some immaculate constitutional conception behind the Bill. There is not. It is the raw politics of 'We want to be there for five years, in the hope that something turns up at the end of the fifth year'. That is what it is about, and we know it. I urge the House to vote for the Lords amendment, and damn them".-[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/11; col. 378.]
Moving away from the technical points to the point of this Bill, let us think about history for a moment. In 1924, the Labour Government were defeated in a vote because the Labour Prime Minister had interfered with the Attorney-General in the exercise of his discretion. The moment he was defeated on the Floor of the House of Commons, there was a general election and the Conservative Party was returned to power. Imagine if Mr Ramsay MacDonald had been faced with the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill in 1924: first, being defeated on the proposition that he had interfered with the Attorney-General would not have led to a general election. There would had to have been a vote of no confidence put down by the Opposition. Let us assume that that had passed but that would not have been the end of it. Mr Ramsay MacDonald would then have had 14 days to try to cobble together a bit of support. Let us remember that he had a small majority in relation to this. He could have tried to survive on that basis. Is it seriously being said that that sort of behaviour would have led to the public having more confidence in the Government?
Moving forward in time to 1974, Mr Edward Heath perfectly legitimately wanted to test who governed the country because the country was in a major crisis in relation to the miners' strike. Despite the fact that he legitimately wanted to go to the country, he could not have gone because he would not have been allowed to under this Bill unless he had tabled a vote of no confidence in his own Government. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, who said that perhaps he could have done that. But what would people think of a Government who put down a Motion of no confidence in themselves?
Finally, the father of my noble friend Lady Jay in 1979 was defeated in a vote of confidence on the Floor of the House of Commons. The most quoted extract from political history in the course of this debate was what Mr James Callaghan said when he was defeated. He said, "I have been defeated in the House of Commons. I must now take my argument to the people". After this Bill has been passed he would have to say, "Now that I have been defeated on a vote of no confidence, I must see if I can scrabble together a majority to stay in power because this beastly Act gives me 14 days in which to try to do it".
Okay, I say to the coalition, have your miserable Act so that you can stick together until 5 May 2015, because we respect your right to force that upon us. However, there is nothing unconstitutional in saying that it is appropriate for this House to stick with the principle that says, after that, let the next Parliament decide whether it wants to continue with what I say is a terrible Act. We will support the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, in his excellent sunset clause.
It is clear that a number of noble Lords who spoke in the debate approached the amendment on the basis of whether they supported fixed-term Parliaments. My noble friend Lady Stowell and my noble friend Lord Dobbs gave compelling reasons why they believe
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Back in 1992, as my noble friend Lord Rennard reminded us, fixed-term Parliaments was a policy of the Labour Party on which it fought the election; it is a policy which my party has espoused for many years; and it is a policy of the coalition. The argument that the legislation was meant to last only until 5 May 2015 is nonsense. The coalition agreement makes a clear commitment to legislate for fixed-term Parliaments in the future. The title of the Bill refers to fixed-term Parliaments in the plural, so it was never intended simply to be a fix for the current Parliament. Many of the arguments brought forward, particularly when we were debating four or five years, related to the ability to plan government business over a period of time. Whether one could test the feasibility of that in this first Parliament, when we do not have the Bill on the statute book, is doubtful.
I want to put to rest the idea that the Bill was meant to be for only one Parliament. It is very clear in the coalition agreement that it was intended for future Parliaments, subject crucially to the fact that no Parliament can bind its successor, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said. The important point here is that if a Parliament cannot bind its successor and future Parliaments do not want fixed-term Parliaments, they should bring forward legislation. That would be the proper way of scrutinising whether the fixed-term Parliament has worked. As things stand with this amendment, no resolution whatever would be required if one did not wish to continue with fixed-term Parliaments. There would be no post-legislative scrutiny, no opportunity to consider whether the idea had delivered what those of us who support it claim it would. If one had to bring forward a Bill repealing the legislation, it would provide ample opportunity to debate the pros and cons.
I say with all due respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the idea that, somehow, Acts of Parliament should be suspended or ended at Dissolution and that, if you wanted to continue them into a future Parliament, you should bring back a new Bill to do it, rather than what we have thought for years, which is that if you wish to repeal an Act of Parliament you do so by primary legislation, was a very novel constitutional proposal which I certainly would not like to argue before the Constitution Committee if it became an act of faith.
Lord Goldsmith: It is the answer to the point that is being made. The amendment as it stands enables future Parliaments to decide whether to go the same way without having to go through the full process. The objection that is raised is that that might lead to the
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the more appropriate approach is in the ABC of constitutional law, whereby, if one does not like legislation passed by a previous Parliament, one brings forward primary legislation to repeal it and does not simply let it lapse, particularly on matters of such constitutional importance.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Rennard, who said that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, introduced his negativing of my Motion in a persuasive way, but I ask your Lordships to consider some of the things that the noble Lord said. He sought to suggest, first, that the power the Prime Minister was giving up was not much of a power at all, which is contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hennessey, said at Second Reading. Indeed, in his remarks supporting the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred to the abuses which many Prime Ministers had inflicted on the country. I think he used the word "abuse" in regard to choosing the date of the election.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I said there was no evidence of this power having been abused. Indeed, would not the noble and learned Lord agree that Prime Ministers who have attempted to string things out, who have dithered, hesitated and dragged out the life of their Governments until the last possible moment, have usually been heavily punished by the electorate for doing so?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Prime Ministers have tried to divine the times to see when would be the best time to call an election. Indeed, in an earlier debate I quoted from the book of my noble friend Lord Lawson, The View from No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical. He said about the then Prime Minister, now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher:
In other words, a partisan political judgment was clearly being made. As my noble friend reminded us, in September/October 2007, Mr Gordon Brown did a calculation in the third year of that Parliament as to whether or not it would be in his party's best interests to go to the country. There is more to this. The power that the Prime Minister is giving up as a result of this Bill, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessey, at Second Reading, is important.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, said that it was not much of a power, and then he said that no Prime Minister would have a straight face in trying to reverse the situation in the future. He is absolutely right. If a fixed-term Parliament became law, it would be very difficult for someone to come before the House and say that they wanted to revert to the position where the Prime Minister could choose the date of the election because of party advantage. They would get pretty short shrift-it would be difficult to do-but no one
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Why does my noble and learned friend use the phrase "because of party advantage"? What happens if a Prime Minister thinks it is the country's advantage-as happened in 1974 when the Prime Minister felt that the issue of the power of the unions needed to be settled? Why take that away? Secondly, I struggled with the speech of my noble friend Lady Stowell when she said that having a fixed-term parliament would restore people's trust in Parliament. How does giving people absolute job security for five years help to restore people's trust? Can my noble and learned friend explain that to me?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the answer is the same to both parts of my noble friend's question. On the position in February 1974, which has been raised in the debate, if the Conservative Prime Minister of the day believed that it was necessary for an election, it is beggaring belief to suggest that the Labour Party would not also have agreed to an election and that the 75 per cent majority for a dissolution would not have been achieved. This does not mean absolute job security for five years because, if a Government lose confidence, the Bill contains within it mechanisms which can lead to an election. This can also happen if there is an agreement-as I believe would have been the case in March 1979. The then Prime Minister, Mr James Callaghan, could have said that he had lost a vote of confidence and that the following day he would table a Motion for dissolution, which I am sure would have been overwhelmingly carried by more than the majority required under the Bill. To suggest that he would have had to go scrabbling around trying to find a means of living on until October would not have been the case. There are mechanisms in the Bill to deal with that kind of situation.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, sought to dismiss the suggestion that there could not be tensions between the two Chambers, although I do not think that he actually denied that that was a possibility. However, he did say that this House would not stand in the way of a newly elected Government who sought to establish a fixed-term Parliament. Part of the problem with the noble Lord's answer, apart from suggesting that this House might simply rubber-stamp the Bill-heaven forbid-is that the amendment does not say that the resolution would be brought forward by a newly elected Government. It actually says that it would have to be brought forward at some time during the Parliament. Therefore it might be brought forward some years into the Parliament. At that point, who is to say that this House might not think that they were at it at the other end, bringing forward the resolution for partisan advantage? This House might take a different view about that in those circumstances. Therefore it does change the balance.
My noble friend Lord Forsyth asked whether this does not parallel the position in the Parliament Act
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There is a crucial difference between a Bill that extends a Parliament beyond five years and a resolution as to whether there should be a fixed-term Parliament. In that respect, it is not proper that this House should be given a veto in these circumstances.
I have already indicated that this course can be revived in each succeeding Parliament. It is not just a case of seeing how the Parliament from 2010 to 2015 would go. It may not happen under the amendment here-there may not be a fixed-term from 2015 to whenever-but it could be revived in the following Parliament. It is another unsettling uncertainty about this Bill that it can switch on and off fundamentally important constitutional proceedings.
There has been considerable debate on this Bill. As I indicated, it was introduced a year ago this week. It had its Second Reading in another place in September last year, extra time was made available in Committee, and Report and Third Reading in the other place took place in January. In your Lordships' House, the Bill was introduced in January, Second Reading took place in March, the Committee sat on three days in March, Report was heard on two days in May and Third Reading also took place in May. It has been very fully debated. I note that the noble Baroness, the chair of the Constitution Committee, referred to the committee's report on the process of constitutional change, which I believe was published overnight. One of the conclusions was as follows:
I cannot think of any more noted significant new parliamentary procedure than the one that is promoted by this amendment. If the Constitution Committee is sceptical about using new parliamentary procedures with regard to even very sensitive and important constitutional Bills, this is one about which we certainly should be very sceptical. I do not believe the view of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that we are doing a service to the constitution by saying that we do not have to go to the length of repealing. Repealing is what we do if we do not like legislation that was passed by previous Parliaments. If we depart from that principle on a matter of constitutional importance, I believe we should only do so with very great caution. I would urge your Lordships not to insist on the amendment because I do not believe that the case has been made for such a serious constitutional departure.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I agree that this has been a very good debate. I do not need to go over the arguments again except perhaps to assure the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, that, like Mark Twain's death, reports of the advantage to a Prime Minister of being able to decide when to call an
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who spoke about the report from your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution. The Minister quoted one of its conclusions in his last remarks, but I would like to quote the two main conclusions. The Minister said that the Select Committee on the constitution in another place endorsed the proposal, but I shall quote what your Lordships' committee said. If I may say so, your Lordships' committee contains distinguished constitutional lawyers from all parties, who trump those who are members of the constitution committee in another place. They said:
Our national constitution is too important to be tinkered with as a bargaining chip in the negotiations of a temporary coalition. The British people have decisively prevented that from happening to the voting system for the House of Commons. They are not to be given a chance to express a view on this constitutional change, so it falls to your Lordships to insist that the Government and the House of Commons refrain from making a permanent change and give future Parliaments and Governments the opportunity to make these decisions for themselves. I would like to seek the opinion of the House.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, I beg leave to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Statement is as follows.
"Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the resignations of Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates, the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking and allegations of police corruption.
As the House will know, last night Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. As I told him last night, I am sorry that he took that decision. He has led the Met through difficult times and, although current circumstances show there are still serious issues to be addressed, the Met is stronger operationally today than it was when he took over. I will turn to those difficult circumstances in a moment, but first I would like to update the House on today's developments and the next steps for the Metropolitan Police.
I have already started work with the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police to arrange an orderly transition and the appointment of a new commissioner. I have agreed that Sir Paul Stephenson will leave his post as swiftly as possible. In the mean time he will remain commissioner in post at New Scotland Yard and in operational command. Sir Paul will be replaced by Tim Godwin, who will again become acting commissioner, a role he filled very effectively during Sir Paul's illness between December and April this year. With Tim Godwin as acting commissioner, the mayor and I are clear that additional resilience is essential from outside the Metropolitan Police. I am therefore pleased to announce that Bernard Hogan-Howe has agreed to take on the responsibilities of deputy commissioner on a temporary basis. We are looking to expedite the process for selecting and appointing the next commissioner.
The House will also know that within the past couple of hours, Assistant Commissioner John Yates has also resigned. I want to put on the record my gratitude to John Yates for the work that he has done while I have been Home Secretary to develop and improve counterterrorism policing in London and, indeed, across the whole country. I can confirm to the House that Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick will take over his role.
I want honourable Members, Londoners and the whole country to know that the important work of the Met-its national responsibilities, such as counterterrorism operations as well as policing our capital city-must and will continue. That important work includes the related investigations, Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden.
Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, is now going through the thousands of pieces of evidence relating to the allegations. Unlike the original investigation into phone hacking, Operation Weeting is proceeding apace, with officers interrogating
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Operation Elveden, also led by Sue Akers, is investigating allegations that police officers have received payment from the press in return for information. This investigation has independent oversight by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At this stage, this is a supervised investigation, meaning that the IPCC sets the terms of reference and receives the investigation report, and as soon as individual suspected officers have been identified, IPCC investigators, overseen by an IPCC commissioner, will take over and lead a fully independent investigation of those officers.
In the future, both of these matters will be considered by the Leveson inquiry established by the Prime Minister. In the mean time, I can tell the House that Elizabeth Filkin, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has provisionally agreed to examine the ethical considerations that should in future underpin the relationships between the Metropolitan Police and the media, how to ensure maximum transparency and public confidence, and to provide advice. The management board of the Met has agreed a new set of guidelines relating to relationships with the media, including recording meetings and hospitality and publication of information on the internet.
These allegations are not, unfortunately, the only recent examples of alleged corruption and nepotism in the police, so I can tell the House that I have asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate contractual arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships with the media and other parties. I have asked HMIC to make recommendations to me about what needs to be done to address it.
There is nothing more important than the public's trust in the police to do their work without fear or favour, so at moments like these it is natural that people should ask who polices the police. I have already asked Jane Furniss, the chief executive of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, whether she has the power and the resources to get done the immediate work at hand. She has assured me that it does, but additional resources will be made available to the IPCC if they are needed.
I can also tell the House that I have commissioned work to consider whether the IPCC needs further powers, including whether it should be given the power to question civilian witnesses during the course of its investigations. Given that the IPCC can at present investigate only specific allegations against individual officers, I have also asked whether the commission needs to have a greater role in investigating allegations about institutional failings of a force or forces.
Finally, I want to say one last word about the future of the Metropolitan Police. The Met is the largest police force in the country and has important national responsibilities beyond its role policing our capital. The next Metropolitan Police Commissioner will lead thousands of fine police officers, community support officers and staff, the great majority of whom have spent their careers dedicated to protecting the public, often at risk to their own safety. Just three
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I echo her tribute to the thousands of police officers who perform their duties in the metropolis, often in dangerous circumstances.
The noble Baroness rightly paid tribute to Sir Paul Stephenson and his work. He has done excellent work in London, backing neighbourhood policing and action to cut crime in the capital as well as vital work on counterterrorism. His is an honourable decision to protect the crucial operational work of the Met from continuing speculation. However, his departure raises serious questions for the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. It is clear that the Met commissioner and the head of counterterrorism have now gone because of questions about this crisis and the appointment of the former deputy editor of the News of the World. Yet the Prime Minister is still refusing to answer questions, or apologise for his appointment of the former editor of the News of the World. The judgment of the Metropolitan police force has been called into question by appointing Neil Wallis, but so too has the judgment of the Prime Minister by appointing Neil Wallis's boss, Andy Coulson. People will look at this and think that it is one rule for the police and another for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister agreed to that this morning. He said:
"The situation at the Metropolitan Police is really quite different to the situation in Government, not least because the issues that the Met are looking at, the issues around them, have a direct bearing on public confidence into the police enquiry into the News of the World".
But the Prime Minister runs the country, and the issues that he is looking at, and the judgments that he makes, have a direct bearing on public confidence in the Government's ability to sort this crisis out. Sir Paul has very honourably accepted his ultimate responsibility for the position the Metropolitan police force finds itself in. Why does the Prime Minister not similarly accept his responsibility?
The Home Secretary is right to have concerns about the appointment of Neil Wallis, and she is right that she should have been told about the conflict of interest. This does raise serious questions for the police force. But the Met commissioner says that he could not tell her, or her boss, because of the Prime Minister's relationship with Andy Coulson. How did it come to this? The most senior police officer in the country did not feel able to tell the Home Secretary about a potential conflict of interest for the Met because of the Prime Minister's compromised relationship with
18 July 2011 : Column 1110
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