My Lords, last July, I appointed a Leader's Group to consider the working practices of the House and the operation of self-regulation, and to make recommendations.
Under the distinguished chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Goodlad, the group prepared the report that was delivered to me at the end of April and is the subject of this debate today. On behalf of the whole House, I take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Goodlad and the other members of the group, as well as the staff who supported them, for their contribution to this review of the working practices of the House. My intention in leading this debate today is to provide an opportunity for noble Lords on all sides of the House to comment on the group's recommendations.
I am conscious that 68 Members of the House took advantage of the opportunity to make a written submission to the group. But as was observed in the report, an average of 452 Members have attended the House each day since last year's general election. By implication, fewer than one in five of those Members have made their views known so far. I am conscious that there are Members around the House, including many of those participating in today's debate, who wish to make swift progress on the majority of the group's recommendations. I assure them that I am fully seized of your Lordships' appetite for urgent, incremental reforms-in this area as in others-and I believe that the report from the Leader's Group offers ample scope for such progress. It contains many straightforward ideas that could be implemented immediately should they find favour with the House. I therefore intend to ensure that a large number of the group's recommendations are considered promptly by the relevant committees of the House so that the House may take a view on them at the earliest opportunity.
However, it is my responsibility as Leader of the House to take account of the views of the whole House, including the large number of Members who do not take a close interest in our working practices but whose contributions are no less valuable for their lack of frequency. That is why today's debate is an important milestone and why I should like to take this opportunity to encourage noble Lords who did not make a written submission and have not put down their names to speak today to consider making their views known to me.
The Leader's Group has structured its recommendations around what it concluded were the House's three core functions: holding the Executive to account, scrutinising legislation and providing a forum for public debate and inquiry. In respect of each of these functions, there are specific challenges and dilemmas that I hope that noble Lords will address in their contributions today.
Conduct in the Chamber, particularly at Question Time, has for some time now been a matter of concern to Members all around the House. The Leader's Group confirmed that successive Leaders of the House had acted with complete impartiality in their role of advising the House on matters of procedure and order, including at Question Time. I am nonetheless conscious that some Members wish to see a greater role for the Chair at Question Time and that the Leader's Group has made recommendations in this area which I hope will attract comment from noble Lords over the course of the afternoon.
There is also the wider question of whether we can make better use of time in the Chamber-for example, by making it a presumption that the Committee stages of Bills will take place in Grand Committee, or by taking second and subsequent Statements off the Floor of the House. A good example of the time spent on Statements could be seen this afternoon. Although there are trade-offs involved-for example, the ability to divide in Committee-these are recommendations that may commend themselves to your Lordships.
I am also interested in views from around the House on whether items of business, and particularly those items of business that are led by Back-Bench Members of the House, are sufficiently topical, varied and of general interest. The Leader's Group has suggested that a sifting mechanism for Back-Bench business might serve the House better than the ballot and first-come, first-served systems through which topical Questions, balloted debates, and Questions for Short Debate are selected at present. A sifting mechanism might of course erode individual Members' current ability to bring attention on the Floor to subjects that they alone have chosen, but your Lordships may take the view that that trade-off is warranted.
There has long been much hand wringing around the House over the volume of legislation that the House is asked to consider and the level of preparation and consultation that have preceded the introduction of specific Bills-in the past I have myself been known to indulge in that well-known lament. I regret that, when presenting figures on the number of Bills published in draft-which is paragraph 79 of the report-the Leader's Group did not include the record of the current coalition Government since May 2010: five Bills have already been published in draft, and four Joint Committees have now either been set up or are in the process of being set up to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny on: the draft detention of terrorist suspects Bills, the draft defamation Bill, the draft House of Lords reform Bill and the draft financial services Bill. Our record thus far should demonstrate that this Government do take pre-legislative scrutiny seriously and are matching words with deeds.
As regards post-legislative scrutiny, I am well aware of concerns that once legislation is passed, insufficient attention is devoted to its implementation and effects. It is of course already open to committees in both Houses to examine and report on the post-legislative memoranda published by the Government, but the Leader's Group has suggested that this House may wish to approach post-legislative scrutiny more systematically. Whether that should extend to a standing post-legislative scrutiny committee is a matter on which noble Lords will no doubt comment today. My own instinct is that our Liaison Committee is well placed to perform that strategic function and that we might make more targeted and flexible use of the expertise and experience of Members of the House by setting up ad-hoc committees whose membership is tailored to the Act under scrutiny.
The Leader's Group has also considered whether there might be scope to take evidence on Bills introduced in this House and make recommendations in that respect. We already have procedures that allow the House to send Bills for evidence-taking-to Special Public Bill Committees or to Select Committees-but we have thus far used them sparingly, not least because wider use of these procedures would detract from the principle, which I value, that every Peer can contribute to scrutiny and amendment at every part of every stage of a Bill. Although I believe the Leader's Group was right to explore ways in which the House might enhance the way it conducts scrutiny of legislation, I doubt it will come as a surprise to noble Lords if I suggest that government support for such measures is likely to hinge on whether they extend the overall length of time a Bill spends in this House.
It should be clear by now that there is a theme underpinning many of the recommendations in the Leader's Group report; namely, the extent to which Members of the House are prepared to trade off certain aspects of self-regulation in pursuit of other objectives. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will address that question in their contributions today.
Before opening the Floor to those contributions, there is one consideration that I should like to draw to the attention of the House. The Leader's Group has quite rightly attempted to cost the implications of its recommendations. Noble Lords will be aware that, under instruction from the House Committee, we are attempting to keep our resource costs constant in real terms. It is my strong preference that overall the recommendations that we take forward should allow us to adhere to that principle. That does not mean that we cannot take forward recommendations that have resource implications, rather that where we do so, we should examine whether those additional resources can be freed up elsewhere.
As I made clear at the outset, I intend to arrange for the relevant committees of the House to consider specific recommendations in the report. I envisage that in due course the House will have the opportunity to approve or reject more detailed proposals for implementing individual recommendations based on reports from those committees. I thank again my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his group. I very much look forward to this debate and I shall give answers to as many contributions as possible at the end of it. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a rare pleasure to follow the Leader of the House and particularly to welcome his commitment to a swift response to the report from the group of which I had the privilege to be a member. It was an harmonious committee and we benefited hugely from the inclusive and incisive leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. Very distinguished members of it from all across the House are flanking me at this very moment. I see this report, informed as it is by the views of your Lordships, as a timely contribution to the current debate on the future of this House as an effective, indispensable revising Chamber.
Before I turn to the few key elements of the report, I want to focus on myself. I have to declare a second interest, which is now as a member of the Joint Select Committee which will look at the reform of your Lordships' House. This is a very great honour and responsibility. I should also say that, after the many good wishes that were offered in the debate last week, it is beginning to feel like winning a place on Sir John Franklin's expedition to the Arctic. Without wishing to recall the rollicking style of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as he wound up, our great helmsman, my noble friend Lord Richard, who I think is in his place, will bring us safely into harbour. Our little craft will also benefit enormously from the clarity, historical reference, political wisdom and objectivity of the views of your Lordships in the debate last week.
What we did not hear in that debate was the sense that nothing must change. In fact, there were many references to the need for change-including references to the work of this committee. Indeed, in sharp contrast with the White Paper on Lords reform, our committee started with first and fundamental principles: the functions of this House as a revising Chamber, which assists without threatening the primacy of the other place, and how best to improve on them. I hope that we have been able to show that by modernising our working practices we will reinforce this proper role of the House and strengthen Parliament as a whole.
In contrast to the White Paper and the House of Lords reform Bill, we did not start with a best guess about what should be done and did not specialise in heroic assertions. Instead, we identified how we could more effectively bring collective experience to interrogate Ministers and policy and how we might improve our scrutiny of legislation and extend our influence by the urgency and content of our debates. In doing that, it addressed some of the systemic issues in the relationship between the Houses, not least in the inherent difficulties that the other place has in challenging and changing premature and often, frankly, unworkable legislation.
As we know, too often it is left to this House to dig the Government out of a pit of their own making. This is not to make moral or political judgments about the other place. It is simply a fact of history, time and its procedures. Finding ways to strengthen that, rather than damage the alliance between the two Houses, is the task of this generation in this House. But if we are to continue to win the compelling case for ourselves as an expert and independent revising Chamber, we have to address all the aspects of the working practices of our House which make us less relevant, less effective, less visible and less heard than we could be. This has been done before in this House in many different ways, but in this report we bring together a greater narrative of what it will mean to make use of all our resources: our time, our space and our unique range of expertise. This is urgent at a time when the House is larger and therefore fewer expert voices find opportunities to be heard.
Let me start briefly with that part of the report which deals with opportunities for better debate, especially Back-Bench debate. The question we sought to answer is: when we are supposed to be so expert, why are the opportunities to challenge or explore policy issues so limited and frankly so random? The recommendation we make for the Back-Bench committee is self-evident. That committee should now manage the time and topicality of Back-Bench debates, when that experience can be better deployed. That is also why it is right, uncomfortable and difficult though it might be, that the House considers its working hours, to make more room and space for Members to be heard.
I hope that in the same spirit the House will also look kindly on the recommendations for two additional Select Committees. Our Select Committees are masterclasses in how expertise can be made accessible but there are whole areas of policy that we do not touch, and we not have a cross-cutting facility to enable us to consider whether or not the Government are internally contradicting themselves.
The test will be whether we can have a greater impact on the quality of legislation. However, there is a prior step. Ministers need to acknowledge that much legislation leaves departments unfit for purpose and sometimes contradictory to purpose. The spectre of the Public Bodies Bill is the worst, but by no means the only, example in this Session alone of legislation conceived in haste and abandoned in humiliation. That is why the committee recommended a legislative standards committee that would require Ministers to get a grip on the legislative process inside their departments. That may seem like a counsel of perfection-I have some experience of this-but it is significant that Ministers have never been challenged to show, for example, why legislation is the only course possible. Is that not a revolutionary idea?
I hope that it will be hard to argue against that innovation in principle and impossible to argue against the next, to which the noble Lord has already drawn attention to. I refer to pre-legislative scrutiny. Although that habit is growing, we could have avoided some car crashes this year, notably on the Health and Social Care Bill. From there, it is a small step to make the case for post-legislative scrutiny, which is long overdue. For too long, Ministers have got away with thinking that the Bill is the end of a process rather than the beginning of the impact on individuals and communities. We would do communities a great service if we were to look systematically at that.
My final point is about self-regulation, a fundamental point that runs through the report as a seamless argument for the genius of this House in the way that we conduct ourselves. However, it is under strain because of the sudden expansion of the House and the new geopolitics of coalition. It was in that context that the question of the limits to self-regulation and the role of the Speaker was raised by the committee itself, and its importance was confirmed by the fact that it was on this subject that we received the majority of responses. The committee rehearsed the options thoroughly because we know that self-regulation is a rare prize that should not be compromised lightly. I believe that we have put forward an honourable compromise for a trial period. I hope that it is something that the House can agree with.
I know that many noble Lords will not agree with many of the recommendations-maybe some will agree with none of them-and, because personal circumstances differ, life could be made more difficult for some of us and for Ministers. In fact, I am partly in favour of making life difficult for Ministers. Ultimately, though, I hope that the main recommendations will be accepted because your Lordships need to take control of their future, to recognise and enhance what we do best and to make an irresistible case for this Chamber as a continuing, revising part of Parliament. I believe that the report does that, and I hope that your Lordships will be able to support it.
My Lords, this is a comprehensive, imaginative and authoritative report, and the group is to be congratulated. If only half the recommendations were implemented, they would transform this House, making it more effective in getting business through, making better use of the talents of the Members and meaning better scrutiny and more opportunities for all Members to contribute. It is quite an achievement on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and indeed the group.
The broad themes of the report are saving time, ensuring that the Back-Bench voice is heard, more accountability on the part of Government and better scrutiny. I understand that many of the recommendations contained in the report could well be implemented in the near future, while others will require more discussion and even legislation.
I shall speak briefly about the reforms about which I trust there will be less dissent and which might thus go ahead speedily. These are about providing more opportunity for scrutiny and thus enhancing accountability. More specifically, I am referring to: pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny; a legislative standards committee; and the setting up of two cross-cutting Select Committees on domestic policy. These three recommendations are all concerned with ensuring that legislation that comes before the House has already undergone a fair degree of scrutiny-in the case of post-legislative committees, the lessons learnt will also feed back over time to legislative drafting-and that some contradictions at least will have been resolved.
Furthermore, the main task of a legislative standards committee, as envisaged by the group, would be to assess the technical and procedural compliance of government Bills with the standards of best practice in Bill preparation. The recommendation has force because it would also allow the House to decide whether or not a given Bill was granted a Second Reading, and that is a pretty strong force. Another striking feature of that recommendation is that it would involve the public in providing evidence. This could of course slow down legislation but surely it is preferable to the current system, which tends to foster prolonged and sometimes bitter arguments in the Chamber, which is extremely time costly and not constructive. Nor would a check on the torrent of legislation necessarily be a bad thing.
Pre-legislative scrutiny takes place already, of course, but much less so than was promised in 2003. Today the average number of Bills subject to pre-legislative scrutiny is three, compared with 10 in the 2002-03 Session, though I hear what the noble Lord the Leader has said about very recent arrangements.
Recommendations 14 and 15 of the report make it clear that all Bills embodying important changes of policy, especially constitutional Bills, should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The recommendation goes further in making it a requirement, if there has been inadequate public consultation, for the Government to justify any decision not to produce a Bill in draft. There is, after all, ample evidence that such scrutiny has proved a very useful tool for both Ministers and officials.
I shall take a brief look at committees. The report proposes two additional sessional Select Committees and sets out criteria, among which are that they be cross-departmental and composed of Members who have particular expertise and that they complement the Commons departmental Select Committees. I earnestly hope that that will not be a controversial recommendation. It would require additional resources but I really think that the return on any investment would be substantial. Scrutiny of domestic policies is not well catered for and cross-cutting inquiries even less so, yet most domestic issues are cross-cutting. Day in and day out we debate in this Chamber policies and Bills that touch on myriad interests, to the extent that many Bills could be viewed as hybrid. For example, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill incorporates local funding, decentralisation, foreign policy, security, the disabled, transport and licensing laws, to name but a few areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has argued in the past for three cross-cutting committees to cover public service, national infrastructure and welfare. His rationale is that the cross-cutting nature of the committees would enable broader inquiries than are presently undertaken by the other place, and he indicates that a public services committee would encompass public service employment and recruitment policies, the application of market mechanisms and devolution within public services, accountability processes and the role of local government across the public services. In the noble Lord's view, the reports resulting from those committees would provide valuable material for subsequent topical debates and questions from the Floor of the House. I wholly agree.
I believe that additional committees with undoubted experts and sufficient resources would result in reports of immense value to this House, the Government and the other place. I very much hope that the Government will agree that this is not a controversial matter and could be implemented very soon.
The report, which addresses how the House deals with legislation, is of paramount concern and priority. When it is implemented, this House will be far more effective in its chief role of scrutinising legislation and holding the Government to account. I sincerely hope that this will happen in the near future.
My Lords, there was a remarkable degree of consensus in what was a very enjoyable series of meetings, and when there was not consensus, our Chairman tended to move us on with the comment, "Let's see what it looks like on paper". That is a line that I shall use myself on future occasions. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the clerks who supported us so well and effectively.
As has been said, we covered a lot of ground, with underlying principles which boiled down to intelligibility and openness to the citizens whom we serve, and making the best use of what the House has available to it. That includes the experience, expertise and knowledge of our Members and the officials who advise us. We should use those to the maximum-not in a "random" way, to use the term used by the noble Baroness.
We criticise the Government-every Government-for not joining up, but so should we as a House take a joined-up approach. Cross-cutting committees are well overdue; we have some but we need more. Cross-cutting issues are the most difficult, so they are the most important to tackle. It takes two to tango, but the more we can work in conjunction with the House of Commons the better. We might think, too, about developing links with other spheres of Government. The Centre for Public Scrutiny-I am on its advisory board, I should say-put in evidence suggesting this.
We all say there is too much legislation, it is not good enough, and there is frustration all round. It must be very frustrating for those who are not Members of either House-stakeholders, if you like, and normal people-who have little opportunity for dialogue. We owe so much to the NGOs, individuals and all the organisations who contribute. Lobbying has a bad name, but what they do is more than poor lobbying and it is often very informative.
Public Bill Committees in the House of Commons have arrangements for taking evidence. From my reading of Hansard, I have often wondered whether anyone comes away from those completely satisfied, either Members or witnesses, because so much is crammed into such short sessions. I hope that in this House, we look at building upon the Commons experience in considering Bills which start here. The evidence from the Hansard Society talked about building on that experience and mentioned, for example, the role of the Chair, how witnesses are selected and how questions are chosen. All of this could be developed.
I join those who support the move to pre-legislative scrutiny, because it seems to me that at that stage positions are not as polarised, as inevitably they must be once the Bill has gone beyond the draft stage and is introduced to either House. By that time, defences are often up, over both substance and style. Of course, drafting is more than style, and a legislative standards committee might even-who knows?-advise whether legislation is necessary, which is something that post-legislative scrutiny might also reveal. I also support systematic arrangements for this.
Legislation is sometimes an occasion for grandstanding, but I think that we need to be very workman-like about it. The noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to the time taken. I think that the Grand Committee has a great part to play in this. The physical arrangements are actually very helpful for the work one has to do in Committee-there is a lot of paper-where one needs the modern physical arrangements. A lot of money has been invested in the Moses Room and on rooms in the Committee Corridor. Some years ago I took part in a Committee stage upstairs, and I think we should use the facilities better, including having more than one Bill in Grand Committee on one day.
One small recommendation is supported by my noble friend, Lord Clement-Jones, who has e-mailed me to say he cannot be here but he thinks the report is superb-I will pass his e-mail on to the Leader. His recommendation is that a response that cannot be given at the time from the Dispatch Box should be printed in Hansard so that it is on the record, available and accessible.
The debates that we have in this House have a number of functions, and I support very much the proposal for a Back-Bench business committee to bring greater transparency and accountability. I welcome recommendations about making the work of the usual channels more accessible to the House as a whole, including the role of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers and the chair of the Back-Bench committee, should we have one.
We can be less arcane in our working methods and our language. We can operate in a way in which the world outside operates in the 21st century without losing what is good and works well among what has accumulated and developed over so many years. I hope all of the recommendations will find their way into the way in which we work.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for his detailed and comprehensive report, and for his chairmanship of the Leader's Group. In the usual circumstances the response from these Benches would be from our Convenor, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester. He was here for two days last week for your Lordships' debate on the Lords reform Bill, but he has had to return to duties in his diocese.
The debate today falls very much in the light of those two days of debate last week. As my colleagues on these Benches have often said, reform of your Lordships' House is long overdue. The report of the Leader's Group is a timely reminder that reform of this House is an ongoing and incremental process, a gradual evolution, ensuring that in each new era the Lords adapts and adjusts, keeping the best we can with the demands and expectations of contemporary business and Parliament as a whole.
As my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester said, we on these Benches would not wish to see either the principle of self-regulation or the revision and scrutiny function of this House impeded through any changes to working practices. An additional concern is how such changes might help those many Members who have significant responsibilities outside this Chamber, but who nonetheless also want to be enthusiastic and effective participants in the life and work of this House.
In both these respects, there is much to welcome in this report. There is a clear desire to simplify procedures so that they might be more understandable, not only to outsiders but also to parliamentary novices such as myself. The suggestion that there be reserved Question Times for matters relating to this House, and to future Secretaries of State from this House, also sounds sensible.
Perhaps because we are not Peers but Lords Spiritual and are not part of the usual channels, I can see the benefits mentioned by the noble Baroness-not just for ourselves-of there being more openness about the processes that govern these practices. I note with interest the suggestion that Ministers from either House might in future answer to Members of the other in limited circumstances. As our current deliberations over the draft Bill on Lords reform have shown, there is a real need to increase the appreciation and understanding of our work here by those at the other end of the Corridor. It is good to hear that debate of this kind is happening at the moment.
I would also like to offer a broad welcome to the report's proposals for pre and post-legislative scrutiny, and for a new legislative standards committee. For those of us who are not able to be full-time attendees at this House, but who wish to involve ourselves with the scrutiny of Bills in Committee, the suggestion that memoranda be prepared by the new legislative committee to show which parts of Bills arriving from the other place have not been subject to scrutiny seems extremely helpful.
The most common difficulty for a Lord Spiritual in attending to the business of your Lordships House is wrestling with the competing demands of the diocesan diary. Business that goes on until late in the evening means that those of us who live outside London and the Home Counties have to knock out nearly two days of work in order to travel to and fro and participate in business in your Lordships' House. For example, Grand Committee meetings in the morning would be a welcome step, as is the suggestion of starting 30 minutes earlier three days a week. We shall hold out for more regular morning sittings combined with earlier finishes, while not holding our breath.
One of the great defining features of this House is its ability to get through by self-regulation. Such a set up appears to me to be part and parcel of that spirit of independence and distance from party control that membership of this House is meant to foster. We have already heard from the noble Lord the Leader of the House about activities at Question Time during the past few months. I note recommendation 51's implied reminder to us all that self-discipline is a partner and guarantor of self-regulation. I wonder whether it might not be a small admission of defeat by this House if it concluded that it lacks the self-discipline required to control itself without appointing a permanent referee, even if that person is as admired and respected as our Lord Speaker and her deputies.
There is a significant problem for some of us in the House over access to slots for parliamentary Questions. Those of us who live and work outside London are disadvantaged when it comes to getting Oral Questions on the Order Paper. The innovation of a Back-Bench business committee, already mentioned, though unlikely to help immediately in that respect, is interesting. Whilst supportive in principle, I wonder whether the need for Members to submit or to attend to give supporting evidence might create a further obstacle for those who are not able to be here every day.
I am also slightly concerned that one of the leading criteria for the Back-Bench business committee's decisions, suggested in recommendation 44, might be the influence brought to bear by external organisations, NGOs and the like. This reads to me as though it might offer undue advantage in terms of access to parliamentary time to those individuals and organisations that are better resourced and are able to amplify their voices the loudest.
I finish with some words about the Lords Spiritual and Prayers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, as our Convenor, has listened to the views expressed by some Members about the desirability of making some minor modification to our daily routine of Prayers. In relation to introducing communal saying of the Grace, and some seasonal variation to the Collects, my right reverend friend is persuaded that some change would be welcome. He will take this forward in the appropriate way with the Chairman of Committees, and the House will be informed in the usual way when there are some changes to announce.
My Lords, it was a great privilege to chair the group. On its behalf, I express gratitude for the kind words which have been uttered. We agree with Adlai Stevenson that flattery is harmless provided it is not inhaled.
The shadows are lengthening and I shall be very brief. We were extremely grateful to all noble Lords who gave written evidence, which is summarised in the reports. We were equally grateful to the noble Lords who gave verbal evidence, which was reflected in our deliberations. In Microcosmographia Academica, FM Cornford described his frustration as a don at Cambridge at his inability to walk from Trinity Street to the Mill Lane Lecture Rooms without having his elbow taken and his ear bent by colleagues urging their points of view on him. The process was known as squaring. Well, members of the group, for several months, had the same experience when trying to proceed from the Printed Paper Office to the Library. I have to tell your Lordships that if you had been squared by certain noble Lords, however square you were before, you would become squarer and, indeed, you may stay squared. However, it was a worthwhile process, and I agree with my noble friend that more comments would be welcome.
I should like to thank, too, Sir Michael Pownall and the present Clerk and his staff, particularly those who advised the group, for their invaluable help; those who work here, particularly in the Library and the Doorkeepers, for their contributions; and those outside bodies who submitted evidence, which is set out in the report. I also thank personally the members of the group for their forbearance, encouragement and patience during what was, for me, a very enjoyable experience.
Sir Barnett Cocks, when Clerk to the other place, said that a committee is a cul de sac down which ideas are quietly lured and then strangled. Elsewhere, a committee has been described as a group of people who individually can do nothing but together can decide that nothing can be done. Times have now changed. There is not all that much that is original in the report before us today-many of the recommendations are similar to those made previously, particularly in the report of the royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham-but I hope that we have rehearsed the options open to your Lordships the better to serve public interest.
The House has the opportunity, if your Lordships so wish, to reform by self-regulation. I know that noble Lords take it as seriously as the group, most of whose members are in their places today. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, has asked me to apologise for her absence. She is unable to be here today, but we hope to see her back again soon.
When Montagu Butler was the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, he summed up a meeting of the fellowship at which all his proposals had been unanimously rejected in the following terms: "Gentlemen, I thank you for the expression of your opinion, and shall adopt the course I propose with the utmost regret". I hope and believe that my noble friend the Leader of the House will not follow the Montagu Butler precedent, but will take account, which I am sure he will, of everything that is said, for, as we know from his repeated assurances, he is a committed democrat.
My Lords, I greatly welcome the report. It is extremely insightful and makes a whole set of useful recommendations about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny as well as about Question Time. Therefore, I shall concentrate not on what I agree with but on five or six areas where the report is either silent or does not go far enough.
I start with something which is extremely simple. It has to do with the quaint and sometimes arcane language in which we speak about ourselves. If I had the choice, I would propose to your Lordships' House that that the expression "your Lordships' House" could easily, and should, be got rid of. It is a mouthful and it is time-consuming. I am told that if we were to drop it we would save about nine and a half minutes a day. It is also incorrect, because it is not simply your Lordships' House; the speaker is part of it.
I would also propose to the House that we dispense with such expressions as "the noble and learned Lord" and "the noble and gallant Lord". Everyone is gallant in his or her own way and everyone is learned. At one level, ever since I came to this House, I have thought that we academics who write huge tomes are no less learned than lawyers, QCs and judges, but we are not included in the expression "noble and learned". My simple suggestion is that it might not be a bad idea to simplify our language and to make it more relevant to our times.
My second suggestion has to do with debates. The topics of debate are by and large a matter of party choice, chance or first come, first served. Sometimes, some extremely important issues, either because they are topical or because they are reflective and deal with the long-term trends of our country, get neglected. If I had the time, I would list half a dozen topics on which I would like to see major debates in this wonderful House.
I therefore greatly welcome the idea of a Back-Bench business committee. However, such a committee could easily monopolise the job of selecting topics. Therefore, if it is going to be set up, as I think it should, it should be bound by clearly laid down rules. The report mentions one of them: that those who have not asked a Question for Short Debate in the current Session or ever before should be given preference. The committee should also be required to choose topics of debate from those that are proposed by Members, rather than suo moto.
Many of us spend a lot of time trying to think through subjects for debate and make constructive suggestions. It is therefore very disappointing not to get well considered responses. Even when a response is made in the winding-up speech by the Minister, it is made in passing, it is fleeting, and is disposed of in about 10 or 15 seconds. It is very important that the Minister should be required to make a considered written response to all the substantial points made, and that these should either be published in Hansard, or made available in the Library.
I sometimes find it very disappointing that the debate is limited to either two minutes, or sometimes even to one minute. I ask myself what on earth one is doing speaking for about a minute, composing no more than 10 sentences. There must be some way in which we can have proper debates in which a minimum of at least three minutes is given to the speaker. That could be achieved in several ways: the number of speakers could be limited, or those who have written out their speeches and are going to read them out might simply submit copies which would be published in Hansard, but need not be orally delivered in your Lordships' House. If they are easily available they can easily be included in Hansard.
My third suggestion is to do with Select Committees. It is very important-and I can say this from some experience on the Select Committee on Human Rights-that no one should be able to serve on a Select Committee for more than three or a maximum of four years. I have seen Select Committees where people have been there for five, six or seven years, and the result is that they tend to get dominated by one or two members, and there is no circulation of fresh blood and fresh ideas.
My fourth suggestion has to do with the State Opening of Parliament. We have been talking a great deal about the primacy of the House of Commons. That primacy is not reflected in the State Opening of Parliament. I and many people outside your Lordships' House find it very strange that someone as dignified as the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, at the time of the State Opening of Parliament, has to stand without the Bar and listen to the speech being delivered. There must be a better way of doing things. For example, the State Opening of Parliament, at which wearing robes should not be required, could take place in Westminster Hall.
My final suggestion, which, although it might appear rather trivial, is emotionally quite important, because it bonds our House. I would have said "your Lordships' House" but having criticised the expression I will say "our House". When a member of your Lordships' House dies, it is simply mentioned as a news item. I think that this is unfortunate. We must find ways of observing at least a minute's silence. I am told-by no less an authority than the Leader of the House-that there is one death every fourteen days. That would mean that a maximum of 22 or 23 deaths a year would be announced, and 23 minutes of standing for your Lordships' House is not too difficult an exercise to undertake. I should also suggest that before a minute's silence, it should not be too difficult for the Leader of the House to pay tribute on behalf of the House. There is always a memorial service, but that memorial service is organised either by the family or the party to which the deceased belonged. No collective tribute is paid by your Lordships' House, and it is sad that when someone who has served this House with distinction for umpteen number of years, disappears simply unmourned, unnoticed and unrespected.
My Lords, as a member of the committee, it is not my intention to express wide views about the recommendations, which I broadly agreed with, but I do want to express my appreciation of the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Goodlad, who was wise, patient, perceptive, and seemed to me to pull together quite a disparate group in reaching a consensus, which I hope will commend itself to this House.
The two points which I wish to animadvert upon briefly are the proposed establishment of the legislation standards committee, and I hope that that will commend itself to this House. It would make sense to have a joint committee to consider legislation which is brought forward by the Government, some of which originates in another place and some of which originates here. That would depend upon agreement with another place, and it might be worth while considering establishing such a committee to deal with Bills which originate in this House, which would fortify both the ability of the Government to justify what they are doing, and of those who are scrutinising the legislation to judge whether or not it meets the required needs. As legislation increases in volume, and as it becomes apparent that some departments of state consider that legislation is the only way in which they can seriously draw the attention of the public to their urgent need to do something, there is a risk that the quality of legislation will decline. The purpose of the legislation standards committee is to put a block in that direction. It would look at the matters spelled out in paragraph 94 of the committee's report, such as giving a clear justification for why legislation is the appropriate means of dealing with a problem, and also looking at the effect it has on other legislation, whether or not new criminal offences are created, and how it would fit into the wider system of justice. These are just some of the reasons why such a committee should be established. I believe that it would be an important part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process, and one which would encourage people to look rather more before they leapt. I very much hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give a favourable response to that proposal. I think it would bring together the Executive and the legislature in a most helpful way.
The second matter that I wanted to consider was the recommendation regarding the consideration of the executive role in relation to this House. The matter has been considered over some time, but on which we have not yet reached a very satisfactory position. The royal commission, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham recommended in 2000 that there should be a sufficient number of Secretaries of State and Ministers of State in this House. That number has fallen off, and is particularly low in this Parliament. If the Executive are going to take full note of the spectrum of views, and the individual contributions that are made by this House, not only to legislation, but to policy generally, it would make great sense if the responsible Minister were required to give the Statement to the House himself, to answer the questions himself, and, I would say, although this goes beyond the report, conduct the legislative process. Too often, one has the impression that those who are answerable for the policy are not answering to those who are raising the questions. Some of the less well conceived legislation of this Session would have greatly benefited from having the responsible Minister here and hearing the arguments early in the debate. Time could have been saved and minds could have been moved; I very much hope that that will be given due consideration. The committee recommends that that issue should be considered by the two procedure committees of the two Houses. As the Commons Procedure Committee in the Session 2009-10 recommended in its third report, if Secretaries of State are in this House, ways should be found to enable them to make Statements and to answer Questions from another place. I very much hope that that will be given the attention that it deserves.
My Lords, the report on working practices is an excellent piece of work. The chairman and the members of the working group deserve our profound thanks and gratitude for their thoughtful and well considered report. I also pay tribute to the Leader of the House for setting up the group. I agree with the majority of the recommendations. Taken collectively, they will enable us to engage more meaningfully with the public, make us more open and accountable, increase our effectiveness in holding the Executive to account and increase our efficiency.
I wish to comment on the sections of the report which deal with the scrutiny of legislation and explain my reservations about the working party's recommendation that,
The recommendations relating to pre-legislative scrutiny and legislative standards are fundamental to our core function with regard to legislation. In recent years, the quality of our legislation has not been of the expected standard. That is partly due to the volume and the speed with which Bills are introduced. These pre-legislative scrutiny recommendations are eminently sensible and will help to improve the quality of legislation, illuminate the thinking and the policy underpinning any draft legislation and provide a more effective and meaningful way of engaging with the public.
As someone who has worked in different capacities to help implement legislation, I agree in the strongest terms possible that the case for post-legislative scrutiny is compelling. We pass legislation and then do not allow ourselves the opportunity to examine how it is working; what, if any, have been the unintended consequences of the legislation; what lessons can be learnt; and what changes, if any, are needed. Lack of this opportunity means that legislation which may not be suitable continues to remain on the statute books and there is a danger that some of it even falls into disrepute. I regret that the response to the recommendations of the Law Commission's report in 2006 was so weak. I agree with every word of the working party's rebuttal to the Government's response and the recommended way forward in paragraphs 128 to 141.
I am also attracted by the recommendations in paragraphs 178 to 181 for a House of Lords Back-Bench business committee to be established and for it to be charged with selecting types of Back-Bench business. This is attractive for two reasons. It will strengthen self-regulation and, coupled with the interim recommendation in paragraph 221 that,
"evidence of support from outside bodies, such as non-governmental organisations ... be adopted by the Backbench Business Committee as one of its criteria in selecting subjects for debate in the House",
will enhance openness, accountability and transparency in decision-making.
I am uneasy about the recommendation in paragraph 38 of the report, which would confer,
"upon the Lord Speaker the role currently performed during question time by the Leader of the House".
I agree with the concerns expressed both by the working group and those Members who gave evidence. I also note that this has not been an easy issue for almost a century. Yes, there has been a deterioration in our behaviour but conceding to this recommendation would not be the answer. We would be setting a dangerous precedent, which would be a slippery slope.
We are rightly proud that we are a self-regulating House but self-regulation means that we must all take responsibility for our behaviour and respect the working practices and conventions of the House. As the report says in its introduction:
"Self-regulation and the accompanying freedoms enjoyed by individual Members are essential to the conduct of business in the House of Lords".
Self-regulation creates an obligation on all of us. Improving our working practices is part of the answer. We need to pay equal attention to our behaviour because democracy is not just about an elected House of Lords. It is also about how we conduct debate and dialogue, deal with dissent and listen to arguments, engage with each other and, occasionally, change our minds following discussions. That is democracy at work.
Inappropriate behaviour in Parliament has contributed to public cynicism. If we want to win back respect and trust from the public, we not only need to adopt working practices which will enhance public involvement, as so admirably recommended in this report, but we also need to model the behaviour which embodies the working principles of a democracy. We should not, therefore, implement the recommendation in paragraph 38, even for a trial period of one year. Instead, we should strengthen our resolve to make self-regulation work better. If we slip towards even a semi-regulated House, we will start losing our responsibility. This excellent report rightly reaffirms the fundamental principle of self-regulation but this one recommendation, in my view, is the thin end of the wedge. Let us not go down that road. We need to implement the core recommendations of this report as soon as practicable and at the same time take steps to strengthen self-regulation. None of that should be delayed because we must take control.
My Lords, there is a great deal in this report, some of which is comparatively minor and much of great importance. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his committee on giving us this menu. I want to concentrate on those points which recognise the experience and expertise of this House, and which strengthen our ability to make use of them in a way which is certainly complementary to the other place-soon I hope that I can say "the House of Commons"-and perhaps add a dimension appropriate for us to make but which is in no sense confrontational with the other place.
I shall be broadly supportive of the report and its recommendations but I begin with two comparatively minor points with which I disagree; that is, starting in this Chamber at 2 pm and morning sittings on often important matters in the Moses Room. Many of us have outside jobs or other commitments of a voluntary nature-indeed, it is those which strengthen our experience and expertise-so as much as possible we plan our diaries on this basis. Many of us attend working lunches close perhaps to the Houses of Parliament but to have to leave at 1.30 pm in order to attend proceedings in this House would defeat the object of the exercise. Although I would not go to the wall on this, I would urge caution.
On the major recommendations, a thread is running through much of the report, which I suspect partly reflects the fact that four former Members of the other place were on the committee. The report continues to recognise the expertise and experience of this place, and the time that we can give to matters. In the other place, Members of Parliament often have much to do every day. The report refers to their constituency work, but it is a lot more than that. Particularly in this internet age, the workload on Members of Parliament is very much greater than when I was in the other place. In Select Committee work, there is not the same party political, confrontational or partisan aspect that inevitably occurs in the Commons.
What is interesting about many aspects of this report is that this House can have the time, the expertise and the non-confrontational approach to produce excellent work, which is in no sense to detract from what goes on in the House of Commons but adds to it. I turn therefore to pre-legislative scrutiny, of which I have long been an advocate. Recently, I had an interesting example on the Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee, which has just reported on this year's Finance Bill. We looked, to quite a large extent, at the new budgetary approach of the Government in producing draft Finance Bill legislation.
This year was a mixed experience. We had evidence from a large number of expert bodies outside Parliament in this area. A common thread running through their remarks was that this House often has the expertise and experience to look not at the policy or the rates of tax and so on but at the technical details of legislation, which so often go badly wrong and went badly wrong this year on the Finance Bill. Many of them recommended that this House should look at draft financial legislation in detail, not after the Bill has been published but beforehand, and bring that experience to bear. That is a very good example of pre-legislative scrutiny. It was not for our committee to make a recommendation that we should do this, but we have put the suggestion forward and hope it will be considered by the House Committee.
Post-legislative scrutiny is also extremely important. It is disappointing that the Government's initial reaction was that departmental Select Committees should do this. I strongly believe that it can be done in this House. The key question that the committee raises is on the role of the Lords in that regard.
We all know the arguments about the defects in parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation. There have been various attempts by Governments, through primary legislation, to extend the use of delegated legislation, often substantially. We have seen recent evidence of it, to which this House has rightly and successfully objected. In paragraphs 155 and 156, the committee puts forward a well thought out and far from revolutionary set of proposals to make good progress on this matter. As the committee says in paragraph 152:
"We also consider that such an approach would be more consistent with the House's role as a revising chamber ultimately respecting the primacy of the House of Commons".
That is extremely well argued and takes forward some of the objections that so many of us have raised as to the inability of either House to deal with delegated legislation.
On a separate point to do with scrutiny, I also welcome the recommendation in paragraph 128 concerning clauses or parts of a Bill that were not debated in the other place. We see that happening rather more often these days. I say to my noble friend the Leader of the House that this recommendation would hardly add to the costs of this House. Because of guillotines in the other place and the other pressures to which I have referred, we now see that much legislation is not properly looked at in the other House. That is becoming much more common. It is also further justification for the complementary work of this House, which is increasingly recognised in the world outside as being where we can add value. I hope, therefore, that that small but important recommendation can be taken forward quickly.
I have always felt that Select Committees are one of the great strengths of this House. They are also read or listened to by outside bodies. A very good recent example was our Select Committee on Economic Affairs, which produced a report on the oligopoly of auditors today-a subject that has not advanced far, despite many good intentions in recent years. The committee's main recommendation has now been taken up by the OFT, when many thought that it would not be. I hope that many of our other recommendations will be pursued in the relevant quarters. In the section on Select Committees, the report is admirable for highlighting some of the contrasts between the ways in which the two Houses deal with Select Committee work. Therefore, I also hope that the recommendation to have two further Select Committees can be agreed to fairly soon.
In short, the report has produced practical recommendations for how this House can add value in several very important areas, but these in no way threaten the primacy of the other place.
My Lords, Clement Attlee once said:
"The House of Lords is like a glass of champagne that has stood for five days".
I have some sympathy with that remark. I suppose what the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his committee have done is to produce a superb report that could put some fizz into our work-or put some in for the first time. It builds well on the three papers from the cross-party informal groups that preceded it. It does not go quite as far as I should have liked in rescuing this parliamentary House from the predations of the Executive, so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, last week in the debate on Lords reform. However, if we grasp the nettle, the report provides several opportunities to improve the governance of this organisation as a scrutinising and revising House of Parliament.
I like all of the report and would like to see its recommendations implemented as soon as possible. In particular, I like the improved role, in pilot form, for the Lord Speaker in playing a role in the Chamber at Questions; the proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny; and the most important proposals for a legislative standards committee, which would not half sharpen up what arrives on our doorstep. The increased use of Grand Committee and the proposal for a Back-Bench business committee is also very welcome.
In the past seven years as a Member of this House, I have often pondered why I have felt so underutilised and not able to use my modest skills very effectively. Conversations with colleagues suggest that I am not alone in my disappointment. In my field of interest, which is broadly health, welfare, social care and education, in my time here we have never had a serious discussion on future health policy, examined international trends in health or social care or considered future policy in education. I can jockey for a two-hour stand-up debate every now and again-it is interesting that I recently won my Cross-Bench debate on dementia in a lucky straight vote against South America-but there are no cross-cutting Select Committees to look at the effects of public sector policy across the House. The report makes an admirable suggestion on this, which we should take up.
I have my policy discussions in these areas outside this House with other policy wonks like me. That cannot be right. Therefore, I would like an opportunity to serve on such a Select Committee. Therefore, I very much welcome the idea of a Back-Bench Select Committee that would steer the business of this House. The proposals in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, would greatly improve life for Back-Benchers. If and when the House becomes an elected House, as I hope it will one day, these changes would add greatly to the House's ability to perform its functions well.
I return briefly to the unsatisfactory governance of the House. I used to think that this House should be like a well conducted symphony orchestra, but I have come to the conclusion that its governance will always be more like improvised modern jazz: the outcome is heady but unreliable. Parliament is bound to be dominated by politics, I have no quarrel with that; it is probably right that it should be even more the case. However, the running of this House should surely be independent of the urgencies and compromises that dominate party politics. We need continuity of governance in managing the business of the House, separate from the negotiating machinery of day-to-day business. This is why we have so much trouble managing the irritations of difficult minor matters. It would be a start to think about the role of our Lord Speaker, and to have some recognition that our Speaker speaks for us. Ours could then truly be a self-governing House, rather than the poodle of the Executive.
The report is truly excellent and I hope that its current recommendations will be implemented very soon. However, we need to go further.
My Lords, I spent part of the weekend reading last week's two-day debate in which I was unable to take part. One thing that struck me was the number of noble Lords who referred to the fact that many outside organisations-voluntary bodies, NGOs, trade associations and so on-find it much easier to make their points to noble Lords in this House than they do at the other end of the Palace. That applies particularly to legislation. Therefore, in my few minutes I shall reinforce what has already been said by other noble Lords.
There is the question of how we could deal better with legislation. The first proposal, which has already been discussed and I can deal with briefly, is that we should have a more settled process for pre-legislative scrutiny. I was intrigued by what my noble friend the Leader of the House said in opening the debate: more draft Bills have been introduced in the past year than for some time. I welcome that, although I am not sure that I welcome the House of Lords Reform Bill. However, the fact remains that this is a very important process.
I say this with the experience of having served on what was not technically a pre-legislative committee but a committee on a Bill in draft. That Bill was originally called the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. Anyone who served on that committee will recognise the enormous value of hearing expert evidence from a variety of sources, which enabled us to make some very important recommendations on the Bill-not least those that persuaded the Government to abandon one part of it. It was brilliantly chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough-Phil Willis MP, as he then was-and was an extremely effective process.
That is the way to do it. The other place might find hearing evidence for a day or so just before Second Reading useful; I found this pre-legislative or draft Bill process to be much the most effective process and I hope that we might do it. I am moved to suspect that, had we done that on the Public Bodies Bill, a very different Bill would have finally been presented to Parliament by my noble friends.
Secondly, on legislative standards, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was a Member of the group and will be speaking later. I suspect that he might have had a good deal to do with the proposal as it has found its way into the report because he and I were both involved with Sir Christopher Foster's Better Government Initiative, of which this was a very important part, which tried to make sure that legislation that comes before Parliament is much more fit for purpose than it so often is. The main purpose of having parliamentary scrutiny on the lines spelled out is that it will sharpen the minds of those who prepare Bills in government departments when they realise that this is what they are going to have to put before Parliament. I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, has to say about that later. I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Maclennan that it should of course be considered by a joint Committee, as indeed was the Bill that I referred to a few moments ago.
Finally, it has become apparent, and there is very wide acceptance, that post-legislative scrutiny is now essential. It is not just "motherhood and apple pie", as the report quoted; it has become absolutely essential to see not only whether legislation has achieved its purpose but, almost more importantly, that no unintended consequences have flowed from the Bill, which so often do the damage. Again, I agree with my noble friend Lord MacGregor that this activity must be a joint one. This House must be involved; it cannot be left to the departmental Select Committees at the other end, because we look at these things. This point has been made by a number of noble Lords. We are complementary. We have a different perspective, often a longer-term one that is not so immediately pressured by the immediate political pressures that one is under in the other place. This will be hugely important.
To finish, I have tabled an amendment to the Localism Bill that will provide a measure of post-legislative scrutiny.
My Lords, as a member of the committee, I must say that I have been enormously encouraged, as I guess other members of the committee have been, by the friendly and positive remarks that have been made about it so far. We were quite a diverse group but we produced a unanimous report, which was important, and we are clearly getting quite a lot of support here today. The fact that our report was unanimous was in no small measure due to our chairman, Lord Goodlad. There are not too many laughs around when you discuss parliamentary procedure, but if there were any, Lord Goodlad normally managed to find one.
I shall confine myself to three or four points that come under the broad heading of making this House more user-friendly. By that I mean user-friendly to the public, to the people we serve and to the people who work here and who help us do our job, and that includes of course the staff who serve us. Number one is the enhanced role of the Speaker. Well, no; the language is wrong there. It is not an enhanced role as such; the role currently fulfilled by the government Front Bench is being transferred to the Speaker. This does, I suppose, enhance the role of the Speaker, but it does not give any more powers-it is very important to note that. This is long overdue and I appeal to anyone who doubts this to please watch a recording-I obviously have not seen it, because it will not have been produced yet-of the first Question at Question Time today. There can be no more serious issue for this House to be exchanging its views on than disability hate crime. There is wide experience across the House-indeed, people we know have personal experience of the subject-and there is a shouting match to get involved. Really, the role must go to the person in the position of every other chairman in every other body, worldwide and historically: the person in the middle who can see the whole Chamber. It is ridiculous, frankly, that it lies anywhere else.
The other aspect of user-friendliness is something which, if I may say so, I feel particularly proprietorial about. The report, in paragraph 38, insists on-or reminds the Government about the importance of-our target rising times. No Government have a perfect record-I am quite sure that figures could be found to show that the previous Government did not do wonderfully well-but we are supposed to finish at 10 pm. I doubt whether we will finish at 10 pm tonight and it is the Leader's report that we are discussing. There has to be some irony there somewhere. It is the Leader's responsibility, ultimately, to ensure that the rising times are met-as well as that of the House as a whole. A debate with 44 speakers, which has been known about for some time, was scheduled following Question Time and a Statement that we knew would have to be taken today on the report on the Brussels summit, so we knew we would be short of time today. I simply implore the leadership, the Leader of the House and his colleagues, not to put the clock back on that. It was hard enough getting target rising times in this House.
That also applies to giving the House firm recess dates. That was almost won through blood, as was matching, normally, the recess dates for the Commons. Since we are a bicameral legislature, we should both sit at the same time. Obviously not precisely, but broadly speaking, that should be the case. It was extraordinarily difficult to reach that position and I fear that we are slipping very badly on that. There is not much excuse. I am not going to criticise the Government, because these issues are always very difficult and no Government are perfect, but this Government have a two-year Session. That is a world record-certainly a parliamentary record since World War II-and we should not be sitting late a year before the end of a Session. We have late sittings towards the end of a Session because Bills are jammed, but, please, let us start respecting again-this requires no change of procedure-the target rising times that are laid out in the Companion and the deal about recess dates. I was flooded with gratitude-I am not exaggerating, I really had no end of gratitude from the staff who serve us-when I, or rather the previous Government, initiated the business of announcing recess dates in advance. People are entitled to book their holidays. We can be flexible-we have the enormous honour of being here-but the staff are entitled to know and we should reinforce that.
The final thing about user-friendliness that I want to mention again relates to the public. It should not really be necessary to argue this too much because we could do it ourselves, but I must mention the arcane and only randomly used different titles that we give to one another. I cannot remember half of them myself, but I know that almost the first thing one is told when one arrives in this place is to make absolutely certain that one knows the difference between "gallant" and "learned" and all the rest of it. Well, I roughly do, but I routinely ignore it. I was advised to do so by one of the great parliamentarians of this House-indeed, of any House, in my view-Andrew McIntosh, who said he would never refer, for example, to "the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad". He did not say that personally, but he would simply refer to "Lord Goodlad", as I did at the start of this contribution. The heavens did not fall in; I did not hear anyone shout, "Order, order".
I do not refer to "the other place"; I refer to the House of Commons. What a revolutionary concept: the House of Commons. I say simply that this is only a trivial change, not a big change. We could do it tomorrow. Why not start today, in this debate, and see what happens? Within a very short time we would all wonder why on earth we troubled ourselves with that kind of thing in the past. Just call people by their names. You can inject all sorts of emotions into a simple referral of the name, whether you approved or disapproved of what has been said, or found it boring, but let us stick to the names. Those are my observations, but I say finally: let us do it quickly, because none of these procedures could possibly survive the introduction of a fully directly elected House.
My Lords, I, too, think that the report is masterly. I congratulate the committee and its clerk and endorse its recommendations.
I will concentrate on the section on delegated legislation and what the group has proposed. On first reading that section, I confess that I got the wrong end of the stick, so I thought that I would use my speech to try to unpack it a little-as much for my benefit as anyone else's. I hope that in doing so, I am not teaching my collective grandmothers to suck eggs, but here goes.
The whole purpose of that part of the report is to encourage the House to be bolder if it really does not approve of a particular instrument. The House is, perhaps understandably, squeamish about voting instruments down, and has found all kinds of ingenious ways around taking that fatal step. I myself have tabled reasoned amendments of a "regrets" nature on which I have called a vote, and the opposition Front Bench has become particularly keen on that course of action.
The reason why the House is so weak-kneed about voting down instruments is that if the Government lose the vote to approve an affirmative instrument or on a prayer to annul a negative instrument, that instrument is dead. It does not hover between life and death, it is dead, even if it has been passed by the other place-which we must now call the Commons, fair and square, if the report is agreed to.
The report, as I understand it, suggests that we all need reminding of what can happen next if an instrument is voted down. Although that is the end of the story for that particular instrument, the Government are perfectly within their rights to bring back another very similar or even identical instrument, the very next day if they want, to try their luck with that one. It would certainly be inconvenient for them, because both Houses will have to find time to consider the new instrument, but the Government do not have to wait for a new Session. Although the original Motion was fatal, it does not mean that the door is slammed in the Government's face for that particular policy. One would hope that such a defeat would mean that, if the Government were intent on going ahead with the policy, the instrument would be redrafted with a change reflecting the debate, and perhaps with an interval of at least a few weeks to allow for that reflection.
The report suggests that the House passes a resolution asserting three things: first, the House's freedom to vote robustly on the Motion to approve the instrument in the first place; secondly, that the purpose of the use of the fatal power is not necessarily to do more than to make the Government think again about the policy; and, thirdly, that if the Government, having considered the matter again, worked to lay a substantially similar instrument that had been passed by the Commons, the House would not vote the instrument down a second time.
In some ways, the last matter appears to be a curious one to concede, because one can foresee circumstances in which the House may be giving too much power away. If, for example, the previous Government were furious that the Lords had voted down the instrument allowing a super-casino to be built in Manchester a few years ago, all they would have needed to do was to introduce a broadly similar instrument a few weeks after the fatal Lords vote, put it to a compliant Commons, and then wait until the Lords passed it without a murmur. In that case, the Government of the day could have used a broadly similar instrument, but they chose not to. I guess that, with the recession looming, they were relieved that the Lords had saved them the considerable embarrassment of having a half-built super-casino at the height of the recession in a poor part of Manchester.
The Government did not take that course of action, and the only time it was taken in recent memory was when the House voted down the instrument to bring in sanctions against Southern Rhodesia in 1968. When the Government re-laid a broadly similar instrument a month or so later, the House passed it, although talks on Lords reform broke down as a result of the shenanigans. The House has never turned down a second instrument that anyone can remember. That means that the power that the House would sacrifice has never been used, to anyone's knowledge.
I believe that the House should take the risk of taking the steps suggested in the report. I cannot see that that would result in all hell breaking loose and the Order Paper being littered with lots of "decline to approve" Motions. After all, Governments change and there is usually inbuilt caution before an Opposition decide to take such a drastic course of action, because they know that it could be used against them sooner or later.
My Lords, I, too, pass on my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his team for an excellent report and to the Library for its fascinating historical note on the many changes to working practices which, like the Lords itself, have evolved over the years.
I find that there is a lot to agree with and one or two things to disagree with. I give pre and post-legislative scrutiny my total backing and agree with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, about the earlier sittings. There is so much that one needs to do-not least, cope with the flood of e-mails-whether you go out to a lunch or not.
I shall concentrate my remarks on just two aspects of the report. The first is a general point on the timing for implementing some of the proposals; the second is to welcome the change of approach suggested for House of Lords Select Committees. On timing, the issue is the uncertainty surrounding the future of the House of Lords combined with its current size. That makes me really doubtful whether, quite apart from it being relevant in future, now is the right moment to remove this House's civilised system of self-regulation and self-discipline and replace it with rulings by the Lord Speaker.
Currently, presumably by agreement, the political parties decided to flood the Lords with proportionate political numbers of additional Peers with little or no regard to the effect that that overcrowding would have on how the second Chamber conducts its business. The result, as most noble Lords would agree, has been, to put it mildly, fairly disastrous. Whether that situation was anticipated-I certainly hope that it was not deliberately planned- the effect has been an increasingly tense atmosphere in the House, as Members either give up trying to be heard or bad temperedly compete for opportunities to contribute. That is certainly the case at Oral Questions, and today was a good example of that. Even at Second Reading of Bills, the limit of 15 minutes is now reduced to something like a "suggested" eight minutes. More general debates are often limited to two to three minutes and, as we have already heard, in one case it was as little as one minute per person. Surely, now is not an ideal time to test a change to a House of Commons style Speaker in charge of questions.
I turn to a more enthusiastic comment. I was delighted to see that the report suggests a change of approach to the appointment of Select Committees: that they should in future be allowed to cover the same ground as Select Committees in the Commons and that they should be able to choose their chairmen, rather than, as now, having the usual channels making that important decision for them. When I think of the battle we had to get the Lords Select Committee on Communications set up after the Communications Act 2003 became law, it is worth reminding ourselves that that has been a step in the right direction. With that Select Committee's history, there should surely be no bar to these committees covering the same area as the House of Commons Select Committees. Equally, they should work across government departments as well when that makes sense.
I certainly hope that the Communications Select Committee will continue to exist as what goes on in this constantly evolving media world of ours is now of crucial importance to all citizens. This House was particularly lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, with his journalistic experience and expertise, as its first chairman. Much more valuable work can be undertaken by that committee and, indeed, by other Select Committees that can now, I hope, be set up under the proposed new terms.
Again, my thanks to the noble Lord and his team. I think we have a lot of work to do to get all that is workable onto the statute book.
My Lords, as a new face in the Chamber, I am hesitant to voice opinions in the debate. However, having read this truly excellent report-I congratulate everybody associated with it-I felt that there are two or three points I can make drawing on experience from three other Chambers in which I have served in the past.
First, I welcome the recommendation to sharpen the focus of Oral Questions. Is there any way in which they could be made more contemporary? Could Questions perhaps be tabled 14 days ahead instead of a month ahead? Could supplementary questions be briefer to include more participants? If they were called by the Speaker, perhaps judgment could be used as to whether to use the full seven minutes on every occasion. Perhaps there could be more than four Questions on the Order Paper.
I warmly welcome recommendation 13 that Ministers from either House could answer in the other Chamber. Surely what we need is the most expert and authoritative answer to Oral Questions. Sometimes, one bleeds for Ministers who are trying to answer questions on matters on which they have not been fully briefed. I also strongly support recommendation 14 on the presumption to have pre-legislative scrutiny. It is before Bills are cast in concrete that the experience of this House can really make a difference and Governments can take ideas on board without the fear of losing face. Some recent Bills would have greatly benefited had this taken place. I also ask whether there is some way in which a degree of pre-legislative scrutiny can be formally facilitated for the National Assembly for Wales to consider those aspects which affect it-for example, cross-border issues which seem to arise more frequently these days.
Incidentally, while reviewing the workings of this Chamber, might there be a wider role for our second Chamber, however it is composed, to bring together the co-ordination necessary between the Administrations and legislatures in other parts of these islands to avoid unnecessary confrontation and misunderstanding? While the UK is clearly not a federal state, growing numbers of quasi-federal dimensions are emerging. Perhaps in the future this House might have a role to play in that dimension.
I also support the way the committee has called for an end to the current petition system in this Chamber and is open to a new system, provided that there is an understanding of the role of the Commons and this Chamber. There are lessons to be learnt from the experience in the National Assembly for Wales with regard to petitions. It was, for example, a petition from the people that came before the Assembly that led to a new policy concerning charging for plastic bags. One may agree or disagree with that but it was clearly a matter that had public support, and the system lent itself to that approach. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas in the Chamber. He played a significant part in the development of these systems in the Assembly.
With regard to statutory instruments, I also welcome the attempt in the report to establish a more significant and relevant system. I fully endorse recommendations 27 and 28, re-establishing the practice that the House can refuse to rubber-stamp orders with which it disagrees. I believe that they should be amendable on occasions. I also welcome the proposal to create a Back-Bench business committee-recommendations 29 to 32. This could create a more transparent system and it would certainly be beneficial to people like myself, who are outside the large parties.
There is a chapter heading on time-saving. There is one omission from the report-I do not know whether it was discussed-and that is to pay attention to modernising the way in which we vote. Walking around in circles, quarter of an hour at a time, is surely the least productive way of spending valuable time which could be used for addressing other issues.
Finally, I welcome the proposed simplification of the manner in which we refer to each other. Quite clearly, there is a role for improving the understanding of the people outside this Place as well as ourselves. I believe a change in nomenclature would help. I thank the Leader and all those who worked on this committee. I hope the efforts will be turned into reality very soon.
My Lords, as a member of the leader's group, I join the tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who was brisk enough to lead us through a mountain of ideas-many contributed by your Lordships and others-but liberal enough to allow sufficient discussion to enable us to feel that we had done these ideas justice and also to guide us away from some of the zanier ones.
I also pay tribute to our Clerks, led by Christopher Johnson, who are always efficient, always expert in advice and skilful in drafting. I will not say more about the purposes of safeguarding the self-governing traditions of the House, or of using our time and resources better in contributing to the work of Parliament as a whole because that has been very well said by others.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, was very kind in attributing to me credit for the proposal for the better legislative standards committee. He was too generous. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, has been a champion of it, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, championed it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and, indeed, all Members of the Committee. It is not surprising. With great respect, I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, in only one respect-when he said there was a danger of the quality of legislation declining. It is widely regarded that the quality of legislation has declined. One only has to quote in aid the 70 or so Home Office Acts passed under the last Government-many of them amending deficient previous Acts and many containing provisions which have never been brought into force. Even worse, all too often, the Government do not explain why legislation is necessary, what its objectives are, what it will cost and what consultation the Government have had in preparing it. It is common ground among observers-not just the Better Government Initiative, but also the Hansard Society and the Institute for Government-that action is needed to deal with this problem.
Parliament cannot itself make good these deficiencies in the preparation of legislation but it can, through a committee, put pressure on the Executive to go through those processes. That is the purpose of a legislative standards committee. I emphasise that the role of such a committee would be not to deal with the policy in individual Bills but to be a gateway for all legislation introduced, I would hope, in Parliament but certainly in this House, to test whether the Government have gone through the necessary steps to prepare legislation properly and have provided the necessary information to show that they have done so.
Such a better legislation committee would report to the House before Second Reading debates, just as the Merits Committee reports on statutory instruments does now before they are considered by the House. I believe that the knowledge in the Executive that such questions would be asked would improve the rigour with which legislation is prepared and presented to Parliament.
Secondly, there has been considerable reference in the debate to the proposals relating to the House's consideration of statutory instruments. As has already been said, the House can pass a fatal Motion against a statutory instrument but it does not so because it would sink that statutory instrument completely. I commend the proposals in the leader's group report that would enable the House to fulfil its role of causing the Government to think again, while stopping short of destroying a statutory instrument.
Next is the Back-Bench business committee. Here the House would be following a recommendation of the Wright Committee in another place, which has been implemented and has been successful. I believe that it would increase the topicality and profile of our debates here. I particularly hope that here, as in the Commons, some debates would be on a specific Motion that would enable the House to express an opinion on a topical matter. Also on government business, to which not much reference has so far been made in the debate, I hope that the House can make the scheduling of business more transparent by including the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers, the chair of a Back-Bench Committee, and, if I may say to the Leader of the House, providing an opportunity for the House to let off steam from time to time by the Leader periodically submitting himself or herself to a period of questions. Such changes would help to avoid the rupture in relations which occurred on the Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
I join others in hoping that the committees to which these recommendations will be referred will consider them positively and report back to the House in time for those which find favour to be implemented in the near future.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend, Lord Goodlad, and the members of the Leader's Group on producing what I regard as an excellent report. It is wide ranging and constructive and, in my view, acts as an essential road map for the reform of this House.
In the time available, I, too, wish to focus on the legislative process. When I had the honour to chair the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, we published a report in 2004 on Parliament and the Legislative Process. We looked at the legislative process as that, encompassing pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny as well as how a Bill is considered, once introduced. This report builds on and reinforces our recommendations and I wish to reiterate what needs to be done. Once a Bill is introduced, Ministers tend to be rather wedded to its contents. For Ministers, success in legislative terms is Royal Assent rather than the effects of the measure, once implemented. Parliament needs to focus more on pre-legislative scrutiny before Ministers' minds are made up, and on post-legislative scrutiny, to determine whether an Act has achieved what it was intended to achieve. We have made some progress with pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, but we need to do much more. This report embodies some essential proposals.
On pre-legislative scrutiny, I commend the recommendations of the group. The group endorsed the Constitution Committee's view that pre-legislative scrutiny should be the norm and not, as now, the exception. Many of the reasons given by government for avoiding pre-legislative scrutiny do not hold water. I have made the point in the House before that, if a Bill is not to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, the Minister in charge of the Bill should be required to make a Statement to the House explaining why not. Even if we cannot compel pre-legislative scrutiny, we can at least ensure that Ministers justify their actions. We need to work on government to get Ministers away from the mindset that they must rush to legislate. There is a culture of legislating almost for the sake of it. We need more rigorous mechanisms in place to limit the urge to legislate.
Once a Bill is introduced, it should be subject to more rigorous scrutiny than is presently the case. We tend to think that our scrutiny is better than that of the other place. When it comes to taking evidence, the Commons is way ahead of us. I very much welcome the Leader's Group recommendation that Bills should be amenable to scrutiny by a Public Bill Committee, similar to that employed in the Commons. I would be somewhat more radical than the Leader's Group. The Constitution Committee recommended that every government Bill should be subject to examination at some stage during its passage by an evidence-taking committee. I think that it should be the norm for a government Bill starting life in this House to be examined in a Public Bill Committee. That applies even if it has had pre-legislative scrutiny. Committee scrutiny may be necessary to see to what extent the Government have taken on board recommendations made at the pre-legislative stage and to examine what new material, which may be substantial, has been included by government. I think that sending all government Bills to Public Bill Committees should be the default option, with reasons having to be given on why a Bill should not receive such scrutiny.
The Leader's Group recommends, as we have heard, the appointment of a legislative standards committee. I think that its reasons for so doing are persuasive, but I wish to link the recommendation with that for more rigorous post-legislative scrutiny. In the light of the Constitution Committee's report, progress was made in respect of post-legislative scrutiny, or rather post-legislative review. We need to build on that to ensure effective scrutiny by Parliament. The existing mechanism, as the report recognises, is inadequate. The Law Commission recommended a Joint Committee to undertake post-legislative review. If we cannot get a Joint Committee, I would establish one in this House. What I would propose, though, is merging it with the proposal for a legislative standards committee. This would enable us to make more efficient use of our resources and enable the committee to maximise expertise in the legislative process. We could thus have a committee that considers the form of legislation and advises on best practice, both in terms of the construction of Bills and post-legislative review, as well as undertaking substantive inquiries on particular Acts.
I attach great importance to these recommendations. They would allow the House to play to its strengths and enhance the scrutiny of legislation. They are proposals that are essentially within the gift of the House. We can move quickly to establish a legislative standards committee, resolve that government Bills shall normally be referred to a Public Bill Committee, and require Ministers to explain why any Bill introduced without pre-legislative scrutiny should be considered by the House. I therefore commend these proposals. I think that the other recommendations of the report merit serious consideration. It is an excellent report. Reform is necessary and urgent.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the proposals of the group and, like others, extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his colleagues, on such a comprehensive review. I also extend my gratitude to the Leader of the House for keeping to his word and establishing the Leader's Group. Some of us thought at one time that we might lose it but he has happily redeemed himself.
I will say little on the legislative processes because previous speakers have said far better than I ever could how best the recommendations can be taken forward, but I will comment briefly on working time. The Leader opened the debate by saying that we must make better use of our time. We all like to develop evidence-based policy but one of the issues that struck me was that I do not know how we use our time. I know the number of days that we attend in the year. My noble friend Lord Grocott, probably from his previous government experience, knows about the number of hours that are worked overall, but I do not think the House knows. When we come to review how we are working, we ought to know the number of hours we work and an attempt should be made to divide the number of hours that go to the Government, Back-Benchers and party politics. That would help us to ensure that we are developing evidence-based policies that we fully understand.
Speaking from an opposition point of view, I would say that one of the few things we have is time, or an opportunity to try to influence the way in which time is used, in the Chamber, Grand Committee, and so on. We need to have better knowledge on that. In this instance, I am not sure whether the Government or Back-Benchers are the major gainer, or whether the Opposition lose. The Opposition now seem to be prepared to accept that more legislation should go into Grand Committee but I recall the Leader, when in opposition, being very reluctant indeed to let more legislation go into Grand Committee. He was fearful of losing the opportunity to have Divisions, and I suspect that a similar problem may arise again if we let that go too easily. I would like more facts when we come to address these topics.
On the role of the Lord Speaker, I broadly agree with the experiment we have before us, but I fear that unless somebody is prepared to have a look at the fundamental problem that is causing difficulties in the Chamber, the Lord Speaker, whoever they may be, will be in trouble in the future. We need clarification and we need to get back to the former practice we had when we were in government, where you had a government speaker, then someone from the Opposition and then, if they wanted to come in, someone from the Lib Dems and then a Cross-Bencher. We now have the problem with the coalition Government that there is a misunderstanding, certainly on this side of the House, about whose turn it is next. Should the Government have one speaker or two speakers? My view is that we should go back to the past practice and there should be one speaker only for the Government. I believe it is important that clarity on this is secured fairly soon in this experiment; otherwise, the Speaker, whoever he or she may be, will be in trouble with the House. I earnestly hope that the usual channels, or whoever may be appropriate in this instance, will take an early decision on this.
This is a minor issue, but I welcome the proposal that Select Committees should elect their chairman. I am sorry that the group has not gone a stage further. I would have thought that, having taken that democratic decision and given confidence to the chairman, the chairman should have the role and responsibility of answering directly to the House, on the Floor, whenever the committee produces a report. The chairman should respond to any questions that might arise during the course of the debate on the committee's reports.
Of course, that would mean that we would no longer need the Chairman of Committees to perform the functions he performs at the moment. Do we really need a Chairman of Committees in the changed circumstances that we are moving into? Should the committee or the usual channels have a look at whether we will need the Chairman of Committees in future, given that we have not done the job we should have done on the Speaker's role by examining fully what they are doing and where they may go in the future and recognising that there are opportunities for the Lord Speaker to take on more duties in the areas where the Chairman of Committee undertakes a number of functions at the moment? I hope that those issues may be looked at.
One benefit of those proposals would be that we would save a minimum of £150,000 a year. I looked at the section dealing with costs. It is a nice saving for the Leader of the House to secure, if he so wishes. That £150,000 could go towards using what is the most innovative piece of work-if we get it put into place-which is the introduction of post-legislative scrutiny. That would be a major breakthrough for the House in parliamentary terms, and I believe that if we do it, before long, the Commons would, in due course, endeavour to follow on similar lines. It should also be linked with deregulation, which would certainly make the business case for its effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness.
Those are my comments on the report. Overall, I am very pleased with it, but I hope that the two or three points that I have made will be looked at urgently.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. He has made an important speech, and I agree with most of what he said. I am really encouraged by the tone of the debate so far. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to this earlier. I think it is right. For the first time, certainly since I arrived here in 2005, we are beginning to get a sense that there is a desire for change. I welcome that, and I think it is largely down to the way that this report has been put together, the vision that the Leader had for the need for this report, and the setting of a serious man, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, to do the job, which has been done in a way that has done great credit to the committee and a service to the House.
As a direct result, I want to say that I think and hope that this is a process, not an event. I was encouraged when the Leader opened the debate by saying that his ears, if not his door, or maybe even both, are still open. Therefore, if people have ideas and if new issues emerge, we have some method of considering them and responding sensitively and reasonably quickly to change. That way, we will become a much more relevant, up-to-date, modern and understandable institution that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, more user-friendly to the public.
Some colleagues, such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar and Lady Howe, and, to a lesser extent, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, have raised concerns. I agree with the noble Lord about the issue with the 2 pm start for those trying to get to important lunches by pressure groups and others. The key safeguard is that for the first time we have the concept of trialling some of these suggestions. I think that should be a comfort. I am for all of this. I want it all, and I want it now. I am for radical change, and I want it immediately, but I am not stupid, and you have to carry colleagues with you. Therefore, the trialling process-and, if a trial is to be worth anything, an evaluation process-must be built into what we are discussing this evening, so that if some colleagues are a bit more nervous about moving too quickly and losing some of the important culture and traditions, which I understand perfectly well, I will stand full square with them at the evaluation if the processes have not worked properly. We then need to be sensible about what we do in the long term. These recommendations are all worth trialling, and I hope that the committee will go ahead, but we need to be able to give comfort to colleagues who think that there are dangers ahead by saying that the trial is for real, it is meaningful and we will get an evaluation at the end of it.
The Leader of the House specifically asked for suggestions and opinions about paragraph 38 on the role of the Lord Speaker. I support everything that has been said, although one or two colleagues took a slightly different view. I think that if we do not get the shift in the role, I am much more comfortable with a Lord Speaker whom I have a chance of electing, and that quite soon. I am looking forward to that. If I get a chance to elect somebody, I have more confidence in them than I have as a Back-Bencher with the government Front Bench dictating things, although, as has been properly said, it has done it perfectly properly in the past.
There are a couple of other points that have not been drawn out. I have said that I am in favour of everything so-except on the Lord Speaker's role-I do not have to go into any more detail. We should consider information technology in the process of changing the ways we work, partly because it is the way that the modern world works and partly because it can provide us with some of the saving that the Leader of the House rightly alluded to. We cannot go around creating new structures that have manpower, capital and revenue expenses involved without being careful about how we can make savings. On the appropriate use of technology, again there have to be safeguards because some colleagues will not be comfortable with technology, but information technology can be used in a sensitive way to make progress in future.
We also need to pay close attention to style and language. It is a barrier to understanding. Public involvement, which has been alluded to earlier, is so important, but it can be made more difficult by the style, format, tone and language that we use to one another, so I hope that that will be looked at.
For me, it is very important that the Leader appears at the Dispatch Box monthly. That is a very good suggestion. I think the usual channels need to be a bit more transparent about the way that they discharge their business. I know that they do the best they can to try to get information spread as these changes are made, but as a Back-Bencher, I can foresee increasing pressure-this is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy made-in trying to get opportunities to participate in future. Finding more time and ways and the usual channels respecting the honourable and traditional role of Back-Benchers' opportunities in this place are extremely important, but more than anything else, I exhort the Leader, nobly and ably assisted by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, to keep up the momentum and sustain the energy that is necessary to get these recommendations in front of the appropriate committee and get them crystallised, brought back, voted through and started. The sooner, the better, as far as I am concerned.
My Lords, it is very gratifying to have had support, so far, for this report. All of it is due to the able and excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his 11 soldiers. I thank the Leader of the House because in setting up this group we have been able to face some challenging, demanding and quite intellectually robust issues and it was very enjoyable. My observations about the running of the committee are twofold: first, I miss the weekly Wednesday mornings and, secondly, there are an awful lot of human beings off the Floor of the House.
The introduction to our report gives the reasons the Leader deemed it right to have this inquiry, and all are valid. However, the big elephant in the room is not actually listed, and I appreciate why not. There has been a marked deterioration in the general behaviour of the House, in the Chamber-not in Select Committees or the constant ongoing discourse in the corridors, the Peers' Guest Room or at the Long Table. However, the only chance for the general public to see the House of Lords at work is on TV or visiting the Chamber. Radio broadcasts do extend the reach, and the amusing, trenchant and somewhat biased political commentators in the press supposedly extend information of the workings of this House to the general public. The elephant in the room is that the reputation of this House has suffered severely during the last couple of years, both by the extension of the opprobrium resulting from the expenses scandal in the other place and by some decidedly less than acceptable behaviour here. Whether we acknowledge or deny it, our reputation among the general public has suffered a knock. All of us are mired in it and feel diminished by it. Now is the opportunity to restore that confidence, built up over so many years. The Leader's Group quite rightly decided to eliminate this factor from our deliberations because it was viewed as a one-off or something that would right itself. I hope so.
Now that we are some months removed from the publication of the report, I have looked again at all the recommendations in chapter 6. All are pertinent; all were subjected to both evidence and forensic scrutiny. Inevitably, some are more urgent than others. Some, of course, have been greeted by some fairly negative comments from Members of the House away from the Chamber. As a member of the group, I am not going to push hard for all of the recommendations, although I agree with all of them. I guess we will not get them all. However, I will push very hard for those that I think are more important and in particular will resonate with all Members of the House.
The recommendations that truly-and rapidly-need to be implemented fall into six categories. The first concerns recommendations 1 to 3, on Oral Questions. The current situation gives very little credence to our claim of being a Chamber full of people with experience and expertise. Sadly, too often the session is hijacked by Members with good basic general knowledge on many issues and/or the ability to digest press comments on topical issues rather than giving space to those who are all recognised as having great experience and detailed expertise in certain fields. A bit of self-denying ordinance is called for and the three recommendations would probably do the trick. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has already spoken forcibly on this point.
Secondly, recommendations 14 and 15 concern pre-legislative scrutiny. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, who is not in her place, has already given all the reasons why these could be so valuable.
My third recommendation concerns post-legislative scrutiny. This recommendation would be so useful in improving the overall business of legislation. It would grow in importance and impact, in that those who drew up the original legislation would have to think very carefully of how it could look a few years hence. Of course things change and even with all the pre-legislative scrutiny and threats of post-legislative scrutiny in the world, mistakes will be made. However, the likelihood of mistakes would be lessened substantially if they did go through proper post-legislative scrutiny. My experience in post-investment scrutiny leads me to believe that implementing this recommendation could be very worthwhile indeed.
My fourth category has not been mentioned so far tonight: simple language, which is covered by recommendations 39 to 41. Oh, for a lucid, easy-to-read successor to the Companion-I am averting my gaze from the clerks at the Table.
Fifthly, recommendations 45 to 48 deal with committees, committee chairmen, the mode of appointment and the Chairman of Committees and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. All these recommendations are so important and should be implemented as soon as possible. They are of fundamental importance to Members of the House who want to feel included and that they have a say.
Sixthly and finally, business management and self-regulation are covered by recommendations 51 to 55. Again, these are all very important, but if I had to choose the one that I would go to the stake for it would be recommendation 52, on making the work of the usual channels more accessible to the House as a whole. The oldest trick in the book is to ensure that management knowledge remains in the hands of the favoured few, and here there is a feeling that there are some who are very favoured and very few. We have to encourage every Member of this House to give of their best. If they feel excluded they will probably exclude themselves physically. We must not give up on our task of holding the Government to account, scrutinising all legislation and giving advice based on our experience and expertise-not that of just the loudest people. I hope that this report will be accepted in full.
My Lords, there is much I agree with in the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, but a few things I do not, as he well knows. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Kirkwood, will not agree with me, but here goes.
I ask those of your Lordships who would like to dispense with our traditional appellations and our convention of addressing other noble Lords in the third person to consider this. If you address people in the second person, that is as "you", it is not difficult when you are angry or irritated to be quite rude to them. It is much more difficult to be rude to somebody when you have to address them in the third person. It is worth the time and the effort, simply because it cools things. Make no mistake, we do our work just as well when we are courteous and friendly to one another-in fact, we do it rather better than when we are ill-tempered because it is easier to work together to try to find a way forward.
The report at Chapter 6, paragraph 40, recommends giving up our traditional forms of address: the noble and gallant Lord, the noble and learned Lord-there are not many of them about nowadays. The correct forms of address matter too, for the same reason, as you may have to pause and think, and that does none of us any harm. While I am on the subject of conduct in the House, there is something-not in the report-which has happened on a number of occasions lately, which never used to happen, and that is constant interventions when a Peer is speaking in debate. This is quite out of order except to ask for clarification on some point, as is made quite clear in Chapter 4, paragraph 29 of the Companion to the Standing Orders. Interruptions in order to argue are not acceptable. On one occasion recently it was done to the point where it was as if a cabal had decided to torment the Peer speaking. They were like sharks that had smelt blood. I ask Peers to go and read the Companion. This kind of behaviour is customary in another place, but that is one of the ways in which we are different from another place, and I hope we shall continue to be so.
Turning back to the report, Chapter 6, paragraph 5 contains a totally nonsensical recommendation. It wants to scrap the formula:
"My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the order paper"
-all of 17 words, some of them very short, and substitute:
"My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government",
followed by the Question in full, which admittedly should not be more than 40 words. That makes 50 words altogether-and that is supposed to save time. I do not see the logic of that one.
The idea of sitting at 2 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays horrifies me. Will the Dining Room start serving lunches at noon? What about the committees that sit in the morning? Will they rise half an hour earlier? Then they would probably have to sit half an hour earlier. That would mean that not only the Peers sitting on them would have to get here earlier, but so would the clerks and the doorkeepers and probably all the rest of the staff too. However much your Lordships want to make life tougher for other Peers, who do not matter, it is not right to make life tougher for the staff, who do. When is it envisaged that the party meetings would take place?
Have any discussions taken place with the Director of Facilities or whoever is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the Palace of Westminster about the House sitting for a fortnight in September? I have always understood that it was essential that those responsible had at least 10 weeks clear and uninterrupted in order to do the maintenance work necessary. If we return in September, they will not get this. When and how is this essential work going to get done?
My Lords, after 41 years in Parliament and nearly 24 years in this House, I should be used to finding myself in the kind of business management mess that we are in today. It is a mess that proves the need for urgent action. Much of what is required is set out in the important report prepared by my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his committee.
Here we are today, a Motion debated without a list, two Statements and then this debate with more than 40 speakers asked to comment in five minutes on the many details of a long report. It is not a sensible way of going about our business. Substantial improvements in the conduct of our business could be achieved by observing rather than ignoring the guidance given in the Companion, a subject well covered in the report except for two recent breaches of our conventions-speeches delivered after the Motion that the Bill do now pass has been moved; and, last week, amendments moved at Third Reading after identical amendments had been tabled and withdrawn on Report.
I carefully did not refer to the noble Lord by name, although I warned him that I might address the subject. The Companion is quite clear on the matter and I suggest that it should be referred to the Procedure Committee to consider whether there could not be firm and enforceable rules. As I say, what is convenient for some may cause inconvenience for others. More generally, I think that the Government Front Bench could have been more robust than it has been in the recent past in reminding the House of the conventions. The previous Government quite rightly did so frequently and effectively.
This brings me to the report's recommendations on the possible role of the Lord Speaker at Question Time. It is suggested that the Lord Speaker is physically better placed than the Leader to interpret the will of the House. However, I am told that it is impossible for anyone on the Woolsack to see many Members at the opposite end of the Chamber. I fear that it will be necessary for a clerk to stand beside the Woolsack to identify noble Lords-and then we are getting close to the practices of the other place and a move away from self-regulation. I would be against that. Reluctantly, I am prepared to see what lessons are learnt by an experiment, but they could be learnt quite quickly; a period from September to the Easter Recess should be ample.
I doubt the need for a monthly Question Time dedicated to Questions on House of Lords matters addressed to the Leader. I fear that we would soon find ourselves in a Lords version of Prime Minister's Questions with the subjects raised going far wider than House matters. The proposals about Statements head us in the right direction. Fifteen minutes should provide ample scope for the Opposition spokesperson to make a response and put questions. If we are to have a more liberal interpretation of PNQs, the congestion of business will be made even worse than it has been today unless the proposal about second Statements being taken in the Moses Room is accepted as a general rule.
On the scrutiny of legislation, the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, will place a report before the House very shortly about the process of constitutional change, which will include a number of proposals about strengthening the role of Parliament and dealing with such matters as pre and post-legislative scrutiny. Its conclusions will reinforce the conclusions of the Leader's Group. The report we are debating attempts to define what constitutes good effective scrutiny. I would add seeking to ensure that the established constitutional conventions are observed. I support the recommendation to appoint a post-legislative scrutiny committee but I hope it will review more than four Acts each year. We need to submit a more rigorous and demanding process for post-legislative scrutiny applicable, certainly, to all significant constitutional legislation.
I part company with the Leader's Group about the proposals for sitting times. I am completely opposed to the suggestions about sittings in Grand Committee starting at 10.30 am, which I believe would alter the character of and seriously damage the effectiveness of the House. A large number of Lords have other occupations, and they include a high proportion of the younger Members of an excessively elderly Chamber. Those Peers need to earn a living. Many make distinguished contributions outside Westminster and we need their contributions here as well. The effectiveness of the other place has been substantially undermined by similar changes. There are other objections. Many of our Select Committees meet in the mornings. Is it seriously suggested that all the hard-working members of those important committees are to be excluded from playing their part in scrutinising legislation? I hope not.
What is proposed is a disastrous move in the wrong direction. The pressure on our business timetable has developed because we have too much legislation, much of it ignoring clear guidance given by committees of both Houses, rushed and often badly drafted and almost all of it inadequately examined by the elected Chamber. Morning sittings would remove a discipline on government and make all these faults even worse.
I turn to the proposals I can support. These include those asserting our freedom to vote on delegated legislation; I like the idea of a Back-Bench business committee. Some of the suggestions for the use of simpler language are sensible, but I would regret it if we were to abandon the appellations that are used because I believe that they are helpful in maintaining courtesies that seem to be under threat.
Finally, I agree that it would be helpful to make the work of the usual channels more accessible if it is coupled with a recognition that the Government of the day are entitled to get their business in reasonable time and that it is in the interests of everyone to have a sessional programme that is seriously disrupted only rarely and for good reasons.
My Lords, this is an excellent report and my comments are essentially tinkering. I particularly welcome the proposals for transferring the monitoring of self-regulation in Question Time from the Government to the Lord Speaker. The report sets out the new role in principle, although in application we need more detail. An implementation recommendation should make it clear that when the Speaker rises to guide the House on which Bench-and, if necessary, occasionally, which individual-should be heard, Members should immediately take their seats. Furthermore, the Lord Speaker should be able to guide the House towards Members who are unused to the rough and tumble of political debate and rarely rise to ask supplementaries due to the intimidating nature of Question Time.
I turn to the issue of supplementary questions, both in Question Time and on Statements. I support the 40-word limit proposed in paragraph 48. It will help those outside understand the background to Questions asked. However, the report fails to establish a procedure for the enforcement of a more disciplined approach. I am afraid that some Members, out of ignorance or inflated ego, hog Question Time and abuse our procedures with long, rambling supplementaries. We need clearer guidance, which should be based on no more than two questions during the course of a single supplementary. The Lord Speaker should be empowered to write to Members, either collectively or, if necessary, individually, drawing attention to abuse.
As for Statements, I support the proposal for curtailing the repeating of Oral Statements in the House. However, I have a reservation about the use of the terms in the report. It states:
"To avoid speech-making, and with a view to increasing the number of Members who can intervene on statements, we recommend that backbench contributions should be limited to questions to the minister".
In theory, that means curtailing long preambles. In practice, it will not. This all needs tightening up. Prolonged preambles are an abuse. On two occasions to date, in conditions of some embarrassment, I have personally intervened to seek enforcement of the Companion. One Member once took nearly five minutes to ask a question. Such selfishness denies others the right to speak. I suggest a one-minute limit on questions on Statements. That is not as restrictive as during Question Time. It is generous and would put an end to the abuse.
On draft Bills, greater pre-legislative scrutiny is welcome. However, I am much opposed to reliance on Commons Select Committees doing this work. Commons Select Committees often include Members who have no interest in Bill scrutiny. MPs may be bright, but it does not necessarily follow that they are good at questioning on areas where they have little interest. A Member who is first class on criminal justice may be completely uninterested in areas of constitutional reform-both MoJ functions. The best forum for pre-legislative scrutiny is in Joint Committees, where interested people apply to join.
On the handling of legislation prior to prorogation, in paragraph 90, the report states:
"In the last Parliament the Government tended to avoid confrontation in the spill-over, preferring to accept Lords amendments rather than risking loss of an entire bill".
That is an aspect of the Lords' role that has worried me over the years. It provides conclusive proof of the fact that Commons privacy can on occasion be a myth. The report fails to deal with this problem. It almost suggests that such a problem arises out of deficiencies in legislation. That is not my view. The problem arises because opposition parties have realised that time is a weapon in the Lords and wash-up can be used to amend Commons decisions irrespective of the merits of argument. That happened under the previous Parliament.
I welcome the delay mechanisms in the handling of SIs. They deal with the concerns I raised with Labour Whips over the use of fatal amendments.
Finally, I turn to paragraph 258 on self-regulation. The report states:
"The House is self-regulating: the Lord Speaker has no power to rule on matters of order. In practice this means that the preservation of order and the maintenance of the rules of debate are the responsibility of the House itself, that is, of all the members who are present, and any member may draw attention to breaches of order or failures to observe customs,"
to which I referred before. The facts are that the House does not carry out this function. It is just too embarrassing. The principal occasions when attempts are made to enforce the Companion are when we are dealing with controversial legislation-most recently the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Those enforcement interventions are invariably for political partisan advantage.
The abuse of our procedures and the Companionare far more widespread. They are routine and there is a need for proper enforcement mechanisms. The House needs seriously to consider whether the person in the Chair should be given the same powers as that enjoyed by persons in the Chair in the Commons, particularly in the handling of legislation.
My Lords, I am of course a new Member of the House and therefore hardly an expert on our procedures. However, what I hope to bring to this debate are some first impressions of how the current system is working and something from my own experience elsewhere.
This House is a giant exercise in corporate self-control. The problem is that not all individuals manage to exercise that self-control. As other noble Lords have said, Question Time is particularly shambolic and undignified. I endorse many of the comments made in evidence to the Leader's Group and I endorse its recommendations. The group recommended, as a start, that the responsibilities of the Leader in Question Time be transferred to the Lord Speaker. It seems much more appropriate for the calling of speakers to be given to someone who is, by definition, outside party politics. If the Lord Speaker were firmly in charge and following agreed rules we would get through at least another supplementary question to each Question on the Order Paper.
I may be new here, but I come with experience of 12 years in the National Assembly for Wales. There I was a member of the Business Committee for nearly six years and for four years I chaired that committee. In that role, I visited other legislatures to study the operation of their procedures and their own business committees-in Scotland, Northern Ireland and several in Canada. I also chaired the committee that rewrote the Assembly's standing orders when it gained legislative powers. From my experience, I strongly believe that a business committee would greatly improve the efficiency of this House and would increase, not diminish, the dignity and courtesy of proceedings and improve the confidence that individual Members have in the fairness of our proceedings.
Briefly, this is how it works. The business committee needs to reflect all sides of the House fairly. It is particularly astonishing that the Cross-Benchers, who last week were repeatedly lauded for their outstanding contributions to this House, are not included at all in the usual channels. That is unacceptable.
Business committees usually meet in private but they publish their minutes. That would increase the transparency of decision-making on timetabling of business here. I would envisage that the first task of any such committee would be to agree certain basic principles on the allocation of time for government and non-government business and crucially, the conventions governing the order in which speakers are called. My long experience of such a system has been that, as long as the rules are based on the application of proportionality, when they are applied they are accepted, virtually without question. The end result is that Members argue about the issues in hand not about procedures. That is much more dignified. The only time that scheduled business is argued about is when the usual rules are departed from.
I would go one step further than the Leader's Group, which recommends a Back-Bench business committee. I believe that the business committee should have oversight of all business and proceedings. That does not mean that it would dictate government business, but it would take account of government business and would be the forum where allotted timescales were agreed and then published. The Leader's Group suggests that the committee deals with balloted debates and QSDs. It could sensibly also deal with the scheduling of ministerial Statements, Select Committee reports and indicate the time limit for speeches based on the number of Members who wished to speak and so forth.
Such a committee, chaired by the Lord Speaker, whose independence is not questioned, would transform our proceedings with only minimal change needed to the conventions of debate. It should be an invisible calming influence.
We pride ourselves on our self-regulation. We already have rules. The problem is that it is not clear whose job it is to enforce them. A Lord Speaker in charge of the proceedings would do that.
My Lords, I very much enjoyed listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson-she was very interesting. I congratulate the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the committee. It is a first-class report.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made a good point. She is quite right. When someone uses the term "you"-the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is here and was the Deputy Speaker, and I wish I had a penny for every time she stood, as the occupant of the Chair, and told people to be careful of using the term "you". Using "you" puts some heat into the situation. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, also makes another good point. We should go carefully about throwing some of our old traditions away. These traditions are valued not only by us but by the public who come here and are made very welcome indeed.
It is right because of the bad-tempered and perhaps shambolic nature of our Question Time that we should have a trial of putting the burden on the Lord Speaker. I use the term "burden" carefully because it will be a burden for the Lord Speaker to pick who shall be called on a supplementary. We should be careful because we keep talking about an overly powerful Executive; if there is anyone with power to call someone, an Executive will try to make approaches-"Call Lord such a one before the other Lord". The Lord Speaker has got to resist that. No Member of the House of Lords should approach the Lord Speaker before Question Time to say they would like to get in Question 4 or Question 3 or fall out with the occupant of the Chair because they do not get called. That happened down the Corridor and I would not like it to happen here.
I would welcome the monthly business of the Lords because our Government, for good reason, have said we will have to cut back. As we speak, some of our dedicated staff, cleaners and ancillary workers, are being faced with redundancies. Why should we not have a monthly Question Time to find out how our staff, who look after us so well, are getting on? I have expressed an interest in apprenticeships and training and I want to know more about it. Also, about three years ago this House jointly with the other House invested £8 million in refurbishing the Press Gallery. I would like to know whether that money was well spent because I said when I opened the gallery that we had had not one bit of bad publicity about this matter. In fact, we have had no publicity at all. We could ask whether the £8 million has been money well spent.
On Oral Questions, once again I go back to what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said: it is time-wasting to read out the Question verbatim. Visitors to the building, watching the proceedings, can have the Order Paper we have and online. The organisation we have broadcasting is, I think, called PARBUL-at least, that is what it used to be called, and it was chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons. PARBUL can make arrangements when our Questions are being televised to include the words of the Question. There is no need for the Questions to be read out. It is sufficient to say Question 2 or Question 4.
Also, it is a bad practice for noble Lords to read supplementaries into the record. How do they know what the Minister is going to say before they read the supplementary? In other words, they are indicating that they are not interested in what the Minister has to say-they are reading into the record and it makes it look good in Hansard. It is not good, it is artificial.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, initiated a wonderful debate. I sat here and listened and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was about the female agents who went into occupied France. It was excellent. Each speaker had only three minutes. That debate was a tribute to those wonderful women who sacrificed so much-some of them their lives-for us so that we could have this democracy we enjoy today. Had it been any less than three minutes there would have been no proper tribute at all. Thank you for listening to me.
My Lords, I dare say I shall not endear myself to my noble friend the Leader of the House when I say that last week that two-day debate depressed me completely because I thought that if the Bill that was in draft form were actually implemented it would be the complete destruction of this House as we know it. Today I am much more optimistic. I believe that we have before us a most far-reaching and excellent report which gives us real, practical suggestions which we can work on and will make the working of this House very much better. That is the way we should go-gradual changes, gradual improvements. In 1958 the life Peers were introduced, again gradual if you like, but it made for good changes and that is the way we should proceed.
Turning now to the report itself, I agree with the idea of the Lord Speaker helping in Question Time but I believe it is a more modest proposal than some previous speakers have suggested. My understanding is that the Speaker would intervene only when the Front Benches would have intervened; in other words, when there was disagreement as to who should speak and nobody sat down. I hope I am right; if that is the case, the Lord Speaker has a far greater opportunity to see than anyone on the Front Bench. I know how difficult it is turning around on the Front Bench compared with when I am sitting on the Woolsack. It is at least worth the experiment that is suggested. I am all for experiments where there may perhaps be controversies.
With Statements and Questions, it is very wise to tighten up the proceedings so that somebody has to ask a Question without the so-called brief comment. We had wonderful examples this afternoon-I mention no names-where the brief comment and several questions ensued. When there is a time limit on Back-Bench contributions this is very difficult indeed and it certainly needs tightening up. I also welcome very much the idea that when Statements are of immense importance there should the opportunity for a lengthier proceeding. I think 30 or even 40 minutes were suggested, rather than our usual 20.
I turn to the question of the greater extent to which Grand Committees will be used. I share some of the misgivings already expressed about a burden placed on Members who have outside jobs if there are many more morning sessions, bearing in mind that there may be Select Committees as well as the Grand Committee. I urge a little caution on that.
This is another issue which will very much affect the Deputy Speakers. At the moment we are on the Woolsack or in the Chair or in the Grand Committee to some extent. The workload is going to increase enormously. Either we shall all have to agree to do a great deal more or we shall have to increase the number of Deputy Speakers. There are some practical implications there which need looking at. I would suggest that we might proceed with rather greater caution on morning sessions for Grand Committees until we see how they work and what the effect is going to be.
I am very much in favour of pre-legislative scrutiny and was very interested in the very pertinent and interesting suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, as to how this might be carried forward. I know from my own experience of serving on the Joint Committee looking at the draft Bill that finally became the Mental Capacity Act that it was an excellent way of proceeding. We had some wonderful evidence. It was also an opportunity for Members of this House who were not on the committee to give expert evidence. I am thinking here of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and I call in mind the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who gave some wonderful evidence to that committee. That could be extended to others. It greatly increases the range of opportunities, which would be extremely helpful. I remember hearing about this being done in Sweden many years ago when I was in the other place. I thought what a good idea it was and I am sorry that it has taken so many years to catch on.
Equally, post-legislative scrutiny is very wise. It is so easy to pass legislation and anything which deters Governments from doing too much is to be recommended. There is something of "Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width" about how many Bills have gone through, and that should be greatly discouraged. Finally, no doubt there will be an evaluation if, as I hope, the report is accepted but I believe that there needs to be a re-evaluation at intervals as things change. That should be built into the system.
My Lords, first, I join many others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, on producing an excellent report. Having said that, I am going to disagree with it-but only with one aspect of it, about which I care passionately. I shall disagree with paragraphs 29 to 42, which relate to Question Time and the Speaker's powers in the Chamber. I was a member of the Speaker's Committee when we were first asked to formulate the duties of the Speaker. I think it was understood among the members of all different parties-the noble Lord the Leader of the House was a member of it-that if we were going to preserve self-regulation, we could really have only a Speaker with minimal duties in the Chamber.
Unlike many noble Lords, I am not distressed that occasionally at Question Time we have a bit of a kerfuffle. What has happened is that, first, in the past year we have had many new Members who are eager to make a contribution, which is a perfectly good thing. Question Time is more crowded than I remember in my 20 years here. Secondly, there is a structural problem. The coalition is a new thing and because it is new to the coalition itself, not only to the rest of us, it did not quite make up its mind whether it was one party or two. When it comes to holding the balance between different groups about who gets a turn, it is a difficult thing for the Government Front Bench because within those behind them there are two views on whether they are two parties or one. We on this side very much wanted to enforce the idea that it was only one party so that each time a noble Lord opposite got a chance, we had to have a go-as, of course, did the Bishops and the Cross Benches. I think things will settle down.
As I have not come from the House of Commons, I am not at all enamoured of its culture in this matter. I very much appreciated what the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said with his experience as Mr Speaker but I do not want us to get into that culture at all because what will happen is that there will suddenly be 10 people standing up to attract the attention of the Speaker. It is like a Mexican wave in the House of Commons; every time something happens, 15 people get up. I do not know why they do. What do they mean to accomplish by that?
There have been difficult times for the House but, usually, the noble Baroness who is the Chief Whip or the Leader of the House have managed to calm nerves down and we have had business done. I am not one of those people who want to hurry us, even gently, towards having a more powerful Speaker within the Chamber. If we do that and adopt the recommendation of the Goodlad committee, I very much hope that after the one year of experiment we are given a genuine option to reject. We should not blindly go on renewing something like that because that way lies the thin end of the wedge, and very soon we would have the Speaker intervening in Statements and debates and so on.
Self-regulation can be preserved. During the debates on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, the House got into a very bad mood about filibustering and this and that but then it came back from the brink and re-established itself as a self-regulating Chamber. I very much hope that we trust the House to do its thing. We hope that the newly arrived Peers will get a bit more mentoring and that we will all get better manners and calm ourselves down. I hope that we do not begin to lose self-regulation and boost up the Speaker. I can see noble Lords shaking their heads because they come from another place and they want to bring that old heaven on earth here, but I say no. I have lived on this flat earth and I want to go on living on it for a long time.
My Lords, I must start by apologising profusely to the House for being a few minutes late in arriving for this debate. I hope that it will still be permissible for me to make a few quick comments. Like so many noble Lords before me, I found this report to be absolutely excellent. It was so clear. It was well written and well argued, and it drew on the evidence. For me, as a newcomer to the House, it fulfilled a very helpful function. Frankly, so many things which I had found so baffling about this House finally fell into place. It was such a key part of my induction that, for me, reading this report was-I think this is the term-a light-bulb moment. I should like to focus on a few aspects of it.
I found the proposals on the scrutiny of legislation compelling. Taken in the round, the three key recommendations on pre-legislative scrutiny, the establishment of a legislative standards committee and the proposed focus on post-legislative scrutiny would very much strengthen the House's role in undertaking that function. I was particularly taken with the recommendation for a post-legislative scrutiny committee-I think it is recommendation 26-to see whether legislation is having the effect for which it was originally designed and whether sufficient thought was given to its implementation when the Bill was being drawn up.
Over and above that, lessons could be drawn up and shared as to the essential characteristics of successful legislation. Given the vast experience and expertise this House possesses in its function of scrutiny, it seems almost bordering on the criminal for that expertise not to be used for wider educative purposes for policy makers in both Westminster and Whitehall. I recognise, of course, that everything that has been proposed has cost implications. I was pleased to see that those cost implications are set out in Appendix 1 to the report but my overall stance would be to say that less but better drafted and scrutinised legislation would be very much in the wider public interest and, in the longer term, a more cost-effective way of implementing public policy.
Like so many others, I very much support the proposal for a Back-Bench business committee, the proposals for the use of simple language and, indeed, that for simplifying the titles by which we refer to each other. I think we could still do that while observing the normal courtesies. For me, my first experience of Question Time in the Lords was, frankly, quite a revelation. I would simply say that it was not at all what I was expecting. We have heard a lot in the debate today about the reasons for that and about some of the underlying tensions and frustrations. I strongly support the recommendation of a trial period for the Lord Speaker to take on the role currently performed by the Leader of the House. I feel that that would be enhanced if the existing conventions about the allocation of supplementary questions to the various political parties and other groupings were clarified. A number of speakers today have explained the need for that, and I think that it would help.
I would like to say something that I know will be slightly controversial. I have listened carefully to previous contributions that have put other points of view, but I would like to see a corollary added to the effect that should matters not improve during the trial period, however long it might be, the Lord Speaker should be given the power to call supplementary speakers, as happens in most other legislatures around the world. As others have said, I think that that would speed things up and we would get through more business, which I think everyone would find more satisfactory.
I turn to the House's other key role in public debate and inquiry. The report makes a strong and very welcome case for the establishment of two additional sessional Select Committees. As others have said-I particularly welcome the eloquent words of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, on this point-there remain large areas of public policy that are neither scrutinised nor debated. I would greatly welcome more opportunities to scrutinise government policy that is not connected to legislation. I shall finish by giving my two reasons for that.
First, if my almost 20 years in Whitehall taught me anything, it was that the big challenges facing this country are generally of a cross-cutting nature and do not fit neatly into departmental silos. The really difficult, often deeply intransigent issues that bedevil Governments of all colours-sometimes called the "wicked issues"-require, frankly, a long-term cross-cutting response. Be they about meeting the needs of an ageing population, tackling poverty and social disadvantage, climate change or perhaps resilience and emergency planning for major disasters, these things all need a multifaceted response.
This House, possessing a vast amount of expertise that is not primarily departmentally based, is very well placed to scrutinise government policy at a strategic level and look across the piece. This would help to ensure complementarity with the work performed in Select Committees in the other place, to which I also hope we can soon refer as the House of Commons, that generally are departmentally based. It should also help to provide continuity. The less partisan nature of the scrutiny would also fit better with the longer-term perspective that is much needed to tackle some of those issues.
Secondly, I suspect that many Peers in this Chamber-we have already heard this today-often feel frustrated at the lack of opportunity to use their knowledge and experience, and as a newcomer I count myself among their number. I was very surprised to read in the report that one of the reasons why additional Select Committees were not set up a few years ago was that it was thought there would not be enough Peers to fill the places. I think that the reverse would be the case now, and the difficulty would be in selecting whose expertise would be the most relevant. The work of the House and the value that it provides to the country would be greatly enhanced if we could have the two additional Select Committees that the report proposes.
My Lords, the report is indeed a useful document and I am happy to endorse many of its recommendations, particularly those in relation to pre-legislative scrutiny, post-legislative scrutiny and the rescheduling of some of the work of the House. However, the House should continue to be self-regulating. It is one of the great strengths of the House that, for the most part, we can respectfully manage our business. When I have been engaged in Lord Speaker's outreach, I have been very proud to point to the courtesy with which, for the most part, we manage our business. We do it for the most part without jeering, barracking, shouting or sneering, and there is something profoundly important about modelling the behaviour that we would ask of society. We can be very proud of ourselves when we can be respectful, listen and still have a proper debate.
Electronic recording of access to the Chamber and voting could save quite a lot of money. That is something that we should think of. It has seemed to me, in contemplating what we do here and how we do it, that we should consider not just our own perspective of our understanding of what would make us more effective, but also that of the public and those who provide services to them in the exercise of powers, duties and responsibilities created by Acts of Parliament and governmental action.
I want to address the simple issue of Written Questions. There is no question that they serve a very useful function in allowing Members to hold the Executive to account and to participate in the forum for public debate and inquiry, which is such an important part of the work of the House. In raising this issue I fully acknowledge the importance of the Parliamentary Question in calling to account not only Government but those in public office, and of placing issues on the public agenda. I also welcome the use of PQs to inform decisions about, for example, calling for a Question for Short Debate. However, there is very little reference to the issue of Written Questions in the Companion or in the Leader's Group report, and the Cabinet Office Guide to Parliamentary Work contains probably the most useful information.
Very often a Parliamentary Question is asked as the result of a genuine desire to secure information. That is entirely proper, and the public bodies that I have known and in which I have served have been fully respectful of and responsive to questions asked by noble Lords. However, there is no process to address the issue of the use of the Parliamentary Question process in what I would describe as an unnecessary manner. In the wider public domain there is perhaps a tendency to judge us by the number of questions that we ask, but that does not reflect the work of the House when you contemplate the content of this report.
The report states that the House should make the best use of all available resources. It would be good if we could consider the resources not only of the House but of those others to whom Parliamentary Questions are directed. HM Treasury estimates the cost of dealing with a Parliamentary Question at £154 but that does not reflect the cost to the organisations outside Parliament and Government. Some 9,000 Parliamentary Questions are asked each year, and my guess is that we are talking well over £2.5 million for answering them. We could argue that that is a proper use of public funds, and in many cases it is, but there are occasions on which one asks oneself why the questioner is not capable of looking up the Answer or, in appropriate cases, asking the very helpful Library and research staff here to find it. For example, I was asked in a Parliamentary Question who my accounting officer was, and I was asked under what law I operated as police ombudsman. I have also known of organisations being repeatedly asked the same question in different forms. It happens sometimes to such an extent that one begins to wonder what the purpose of the question is. Why is so much money and resource being used to provide the answer to questions that could easily be answered by the questioner? It can be simple to approach the organisation concerned and ask the question. We also now have extensive freedom of information laws that enable one to get access to information. I wonder whether it would be possible for the House to consider the inclusion of further guidance on the use of the Written Question process in order to avoid a situation in which public money might be wasted. I think it is a matter of both integrity and probity. At a time of economic and financial difficulties, it is important that as a House we are seen to act properly in the exercise of our powers and the use of our resources.
I want to address briefly the consequences of the change of method of paying Peers allowances on the working practices of the House. We recently moved to a single payment, consequential upon the difficulties resulting from previous abuses of the expenses system. It is not impossible that we have not quite got it right. By paying a single sum of £300 a day to all Members, we have created a degree of inequity. Those Members who must pay for accommodation while in London inevitably have less money to procure research assistants and so on to enable them to fulfil their parliamentary duties than Members who live in London. In an era in which we seek to establish wider membership of the House than existed hitherto, the current situation will not facilitate that.
I want to consider the issue of debates which stretch over more than a day. The House of Lords reform debate was one such example. I wanted to speak in that debate, and I put my name down, but as the timetable was not available at the time, I had other appointments on Thursday morning in Northern Ireland. Many other people have said they had a similar experience. I sat through much of the debate on the first day and on the second day I would have been happy to sit all day. I had to leave at 6 pm to get the last flight back. The debate finished at 10 pm that night so I could not speak. You could say there were sufficient speeches anyway to deal with all the issues, but I did want to speak. Our convention that we must be present at the beginning and the end meant that I had to withdraw. It is not a unique situation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham averted to this also.
There is a solution to the problem, which would be in appropriate cases to split the issues encompassed by a topic into two separate days' debate, inviting contributions on particular elements of the issue on a particular day, and allowing for any additional conclusions at the end of the second day. I have no doubt that noble Lords would always wish to be here and to participate throughout, but circumstances do not always permit. For those who live a considerable distance away, such flexibility would enable greater participation. I welcome the report and the increased efficiency and effectiveness to which it will inevitably lead.
My Lords, I want to comment on a few of the proposals in this wide-ranging and valuable report, on which I congratulate my noble friend and his committee. I agree with a great deal of the most important matters dealt with in the report, on pre- and post-legislative scrutiny and legislative standards, but there are some aspects with which I do not agree.
I strongly believe that we should not increase in any way the role given to the Lord Speaker. I do not believe that our system of self-regulation is under critical strain. It is a remarkable system-an admirable one and a source of pride for the House-and I agree with what the right reverend Prelate had to say. Incidentally, our system has outlasted that of the House of Commons. Until the 19th century, the House of Commons also had this system, but with the disaffected Irish Members in the House it had to be abandoned. What happened in the Commons, I suggest, shows that to give powers to the Speaker is a slippery slope and there is no climbing back.
We have not reached anything quite like that situation here. In so far as a strain has recently been placed on the system, one of the factors causing that, in my opinion, has been our excessive numbers and in particular the fact that so many new Peers were created within a short period of time. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, added some other factors and I agree with him that the House has come back from the brink at which it stood and that we should continue to give self-regulation a chance.
We should concentrate now on reducing our numbers. We should change our practices to the least degree possible until we have done that. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and my noble friend, Lord MacGregor, I do not think that we should increase the number of our permanent Select Committees-the most expensive proposal in the report. That would put obstacles in the way of reducing the number of Peers in your Lordships' House by creating new vested interests. We should not create more jobs for Members unless they could be maintained by a House of the size that we would like to see-say, 500.
There are other things that we could change, but I would not change the sitting hours, either in the Chamber or in Grand Committee, save that I do not see why the Grand Committee cannot start on Thursdays at the same time as business in the Chamber. The chief function of the House of Lords is, and should be, legislating, whether revising or taking Bills first. This is far more important than expressing opinion on the latest topical subject. Therefore, I would not be in favour of the recommendation that the Lord Speaker should interpret the criteria for allowing PNQs more liberally. Ways should be pursued of limiting, not increasing, the time spent in the Chamber on Statements and PNQs.
If there is to be a Back-Bench business committee-I can see the appeal of it and it would not be particularly expensive-I would not want it to be issued with recommendation 44, to consult outside bodies when selecting subjects for debate. We should be masters in our own House.
As for styles of address between Members, I follow what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said. I would be careful about changing them. They are there as a precaution to ensure civility. I am not so sure that it would be safe to abandon them. I am also sorry that there was not a sentence in the report to remind noble Lords that they should not address each other in the second person. There are today still notable offenders in that regard, even on the Front Bench.
Every decision on our working practices should be taken with a view to ensuring that they are suitable for a House two-thirds if not one-half the size of the present House. How to achieve that outcome is the principal task that we should set ourselves.
My Lords, I join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his committee on an excellent report. Perhaps I may couple that with my apologies for not having submitted written evidence. It would normally have been my practice to do so. The honest truth is that I found the subject such a wide one that the task I found too daunting. All the greater, therefore, is my admiration for the comprehensive nature of the committee's report. Frankly, I have been surprised at how wide it is and how radical some of the solutions proposed have been. I do not think that we shall see all of them, but I hope that we will see most of them, and very quickly.
Perhaps I may open up and unfortunately disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Reay, on the issue of the Lord Speaker. All that we are talking of here is removing the artificial constraints that we have put on the role. Going back in time, I think that this can be dated to the House still smarting from the cack-handed attempts made by Tony Blair to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and subsequently to remove it from the House of Lords and put it into the House of Commons. For that reason, we probably had a feeling that we did not want to give the newly created post of Lord Speaker too much power. I am against giving it too much power, but it is ridiculous, and particularly unfair to Government and Liberal Democrat Benches, that somebody on the Front Bench-unless they have eyes in the back of their head, which most politicians should have-cannot see who is clamouring to speak. The sensible way to do it is to leave it to the Lord Speaker.
I support the committee's proposal to transfer the power presently residing with the Leader or Government Whips to the Lord Speaker rather than the idea which found most favour among members; that is, the Lord Speaker calling Members. I do not like that. In a funny kind of way, in the House of Commons, it always strikes me as "Who has done the deal beforehand?" It all looks to be more like a stitch-up. I would be much happier with the Lord Speaker simply adjudicating between the rival claims of the different sides of the House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke that we have to face up to the issue and make it clear to all sides of the House whether we are dealing with one party on the other side of the House or two parties, because a lot of the fundamental problem stems from that.
I warmly welcome the idea of taking Statements as read. It really is a waste of time to have a Minister reading them out. The only point on which I would disagree with the report is relegating a second or third Statement to the Moses Room. Frankly, if a Statement is important enough to warrant repeating in this House, it should be before the whole House. Let us take today's Statement as an example. The idea of a defence Statement being made in the Moses Room is just not right.
I warmly welcome also pre-legislative scrutiny. I make a plea that this be done by Joint Committees of both Houses. That is good for Parliament; it gets both Houses together when there is very little opportunity for them so to do. It would also be very good for the public and for the interests affected by legislation. The great problem is that White Papers nowadays are so glossy that they are like election manifestos. People do not get excited until they realise that Clause 4(2)(c) of a Bill could effectively put them out of business. Then they get to work and start lobbying people. Pre-legislative scrutiny would give us the chance to harness the lobbying industry to the service of Parliament rather than the other way round. I would also give the committees the power to take evidence. Post-legislative scrutiny, too, is long overdue. If cars need an MOT, so does legislation.
On taking Committee stages in the Moses Room, I am not particularly uptight about that. I realise that there would be a loss of the power to call Divisions, but that still exists on Report. I find the atmosphere of a smaller room more conducive to constructive committee work rather than adversarial committee work, which I hope we could avoid. However, I am in profound disagreement with the committee's suggestion that its working hours should be 10.30 am to 12.30 pm, and then 2.30 pm to 6.30 pm. Most of us here have solved the problem of bilocation, but trilocation is one step too far. The fact is that a lot of people are involved in Select Committees, particularly in the morning. It is quite wrong that you should miss out on something you might be interested in, simply because you are doing your duty as a member of a Select Committee. I would rather have the Moses Room sitting from 3 pm till 10 pm, for example,. With an hour's break for dinner that still gives you six working hours; that is exactly the same as the committee's proposal, and I think it would be a more helpful solution.
For all that it sounds good, the Commons will flag up issues that it has not discussed. It will find a way of giving the impression that it has discussed everything. We are talking about issues it has not really debated, which will be quite difficult to define. Broadly, however, this is a very good report, and I hope that we will see some action on it.
My Lords, it is comparatively unusual, in recent times, for me to take part in debates in your Lordships' House. This is because I have a marked aversion to wasting the House's time by repetition, which is why I did not take part in last week's debate on the abolition-and I use the word advisedly-of this House, despite having strong views on the subject. Had I spoken, I would have strongly supported the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I have equally strong views on a number of recommendations in the report that is being debated, and this time I will risk repetition.
I have had the very real privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House for 36 years, for 11 of which I have been a Deputy Speaker. I have also sat on nine committees, chairing one of them for three years. I hope, therefore, that I can claim to have some knowledge of how this House has worked and is working, and have views on how it should or should not work.
First, I believe most strongly that we should continue to be a self-regulating House, and I therefore disagree equally strongly-and here I use chapter 6 for reference purposes-with recommendation 1: the increased powers of the Lord Speaker at Question Time. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, got it absolutely right: if we can just get clarity on how the system should work, then-dare I use an old-fashioned word-manners should be able to allow us to cope with that problem. Like my noble friend Lord Reay, I regard that recommendation as the start of a very slippery slope, and I do not like it.
In the interests of brevity, I shall only instance other recommendations with which I disagree. It can be assumed, therefore, that I am either neutral or in favour of such recommendations that I do not specifically mention. Like the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I do not care for recommendation 5 on reading out questions. It seems to me to be counterproductive. Nor do I like recommendation 12, for the same reason that I do not like recommendation 1, on the Lord Speaker's role during Oral Statements. Nor do I like recommendation 40: the change of appellations. I declare right now that if that should be agreed, I shall continue to use those currently in practice. As far as am concerned, a right reverend Prelate shall ever be a right reverend Prelate.
I disagree with recommendation 20: all Government Bills to be considered in Grand Committee. I have been in the Chair of countless Grand Committees, which are, to put it rather bluntly, no more and no less than talk shops that serve to push our normal procedure one down the line, so to speak, with Report becoming Committee, and Third Reading becoming Report.
Even less do I agree with recommendation 22: Grand Committees to sit at 10.30 am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Like other noble Lords, Thursdays I can accept. In the latest House of Lords Committee bulletin, I note that two European sub-committees, the Science and Technology Committee and the HIV/AIDS committee, currently meet on Tuesday mornings. A further two European sub-committees, the Constitution Committee, the Delegated Powers Committee and the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill currently meet on Wednesday mornings. Presumably, all those would have to change their days and times. Ministers, clerks, Hansard writers and, dare I say it, chairmen would be required for such Grand Committee morning meetings. As other noble Lords have said, we are a part-time House with many Members able to pursue their non-parliamentary business only in the mornings. Like other noble Lords, I do not like recommendation 55: that the House should sit at 2 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Like the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I particularly would not like sitting at 2 pm on Wednesdays when three Back-Bench group meetings are at that time.
Finally, I strongly disagree with recommendation 48: the election of the Chairman and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. In 2006, the House decided on an election for the Lord Speaker, with which I have no quarrel, but, from experience, I submit that the skills required from the Chairman, and perhaps even more from the Deputy Chairman of Committees, must complement each other and the Lord Speaker. It is much more likely that the individuals chosen by the usual channels, and then approved by the whole House, will be of the right calibre to serve the House, rather than those chosen in the somewhat random shot of a secret ballot.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his working group for the comprehensive, very perceptive and occasionally downright ingenious report. I have no problem with 50 of the 55 recommendations. Fifty-five recommendations in a main report of 62 pages tests one's mental digestive system, but it remains a very good and challenging report. This leaves me with five recommendations against which I have either questions or exclamation marks, thus indicating a need for clarification, caution or rejection. But to a few of those of which I approve, I say a very loud hallelujah indeed, particularly the proposal for a legislative standards committee, for pre-legislative scrutiny and for the establishment of a Back-Bench business committee and two additional sessional Select Committees.
Let me focus on the five recommendations about which I have some questions. Recommendations 1 and 12 ask us to consider conferring the Leader of the House's role at Questions and Oral Statements on the Lord Speaker. Some object to this on the grounds that this is a slippery slope leading to a Commons-style Speakership. I have never signed up to the slippery slope argument because a properly self-regulating House does not have to go anywhere it does not want to go. It simply says, "So far but no further".
My concern is over any reduction in the responsibilities of the Leader of the House. He or she is the Leader of the whole House and needs to be seen as such as much as possible. I would hazard a guess that if and when, God forbid, this Chamber is abolished and replaced with an all or partly elected Senate, the powers and duties of the Speaker of that Chamber will be very different from those enjoyed by the Lord Speaker in this Chamber. I suspect that this recommendation will be adopted for a trial period, which is quite right, but I hope that the effect on the role and standing of the Leader will be as carefully assessed as the effect on the conduct of Questions and Oral Statements.
In recommendation 5, Members are asked to read out the text of their Oral Questions with a 40-word limit on them. That is not a bad idea, but why is this proposed under the heading "Saving Time"? The present formula is only 17 words long-some time saver. While we are talking of time saving, to have the House sit at 2 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays strikes me as very ill-advised, to put it politely. I share the view of the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, that the benefits of creating up to two additional hours of business per week are far outweighed by the inconvenience caused to those who have jobs outside and have far to travel. For many of them the 2.30 pm start provides valuable time to prepare for any afternoon's business in which they may be involved. By the way, have the originators of this proposal never heard of Parkinson's Law?
Recommendation 48 raises the most doubts in my mind. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has already addressed this. The preceding recommendation-recommendation 47-which would charge our Select Committees with electing their own Chairmen, seems eminently sensible, although it raises, as elsewhere, the question of party balance. I come to that in the context of recommendation 48, which recommends that the Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees be elected by a secret ballot of the whole House. I declare an interest, having occupied the Principal Deputy Chairman's office from 2002 to 2008. In paragraph 247 of the report, the working group acknowledges,
"that further thought may have to be given to the means whereby a system of election can be reconciled with achieving party balance among the House's three elected office-holders".
On the face of it, this is a circle that cannot be squared. If the objective, which I am convinced is right, is to elect to these three offices the persons judged most capable of discharging them to the standards that we have a right to expect, something has to give. Either we abandon the concept of party balance or we trust to luck that the elections will come as close as possible to finding the right people for the offices with the appropriate party labels. I doubt that the abandonment of party balance will prove acceptable to this House, however beneficial it could be to its functioning.
We are therefore left with the alternative, which is to come as close to balance as possible under a secret ballot system-but how do we do that? My first recommendation is to hold the election of the Chairman of Committees by a secret ballot of the whole House ahead of the election of the Principal Deputy Chairman. If the party already holding the office of Lord Speaker exercises restraint, as I am sure it would, and discourages the candidacy of its members for the office of Chairman of Committees, we will, following that election, know which of the three parties has so far missed out on gaining an office. There would follow an election for the office of Principal Deputy Chairman.
There is of course no guarantee that the party that has so far missed out will have a successful candidate; nor should it have such a guarantee. That third office also carries the chairmanship of the European Union Select Committee. Nine years after my selection by the usual channels, I can speak with some objectivity on this. For as long as the EU Committee post is linked to the office of Principal Deputy Chairman, which makes few demands on the holder but carries a salary that reflects the full-time work of chairing the EU Committee, election to these twin posts is not best determined by a ballot of the whole House. If Select Committees should, according to the report, elect their own chairman, why should the EU Select Committee not do so?
I go further; I should like to see the EU chairmanship voted on in a secret ballot not only by the Select Committee members but by the membership of the Select Committee and its seven sub-committees. That would mean an electorate of around 85 Members of your Lordships' House, all of whom would know what was expected of the chairman. Maybe 90 per cent of the chairman's working hours will be spent on managing the committee and participating in its varied work, with 10 per cent being spent on the limited functions of the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. Moreover, I believe that the party that missed out in the elections for both Lord Speaker and the Chairman of Committees would be perfectly capable of fielding experienced candidates for the EU Committee's chairmanship from among the membership of the Select Committee and its sub-committees.
Once again, I congratulate the working group and its chairman on giving us such rich food for thought. I am sure your Lordships will find many of these proposals fit for early implementation, which will in turn contribute greatly to the incremental reform-rather than the abolition-of this House. However, I offer a word of caution; instant implementation is a popular cry, but let us be sure that there are no unintended consequences. There are 55 separate recommendations. Most, but not all, will be implemented, but we must be sure that those that are fit together in a comfortable, coherent and mutually reinforcing whole.
My Lords, half of today's speakers participated in last week's two-day debate, yet the mood and tone are totally different. I confess that my wife, having witnessed last week's debate, wondered why I was spending this evening here, rather than celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary with her.
In passing, I must say that we should be careful about how we present our arguments. I have heard noble Lords suggest that truncating our lunch hour is what the move to starting at 2 pm would mean. That is not a serious issue. I recall that I used to advise-not as a Member of either House-environmental groups about lobbying Members of either House that any MP or Peer who had time for lunch was probably not worth talking to. I am still of that opinion, so we should be careful about how we present that argument.
Not only the Committee, led by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, but the Leader of the House deserve all our thanks for moving smartly on these issues and bringing forward these particular concerns. I particularly take on board my noble friend the Leader of the House's point that there is clearly an urgent need for incremental reform. Some might see that as a contradiction; I do not. I think this is very much the mood of the House now, as has been apparent from all the contributions. Self-regulation, which is of course the key to a lot of the discussion we have had today and to a lot of the discussion in the report, is to my mind something of an illusion if we do not understand precisely what it may mean in practical terms.
I used to be part of the usual channels in another place, in a very minor role-I suppose I was the usual gutter. Of course, we need something there, but we should recognise that a great deal of what happens in your Lordships' House is not self-regulation at all. It is by careful discussion between the parties-it used to be very binary; it is rather less so now, I am glad to say-and the Cross Benches, but it is not self-regulation. A theme of the discussion today has been moving responsibility-on occasion very tactfully when it looks as though the House wants to hear from a particular Peer-from the Front Bench to the Woolsack at Questions or at Statements. That is not the end of self-regulation; it is the fulfilment of self-regulation. That is what we elected a Lord Speaker to do and I think it absurd that the chief representative of the usual channels, the government Chief Whip-she is not here, I am glad to say; I hope that she does not read what I say, because I am a great fan of hers-the disciplinarian responsible for getting the Government's business through, should be put in the invidious position of deciding who should be questioning the Government and scrutinising the Government's actions.
That would be a very sensible move, on a trial basis-I entirely endorse what has been said on many sides of the House. I notice that people who have great experience in the House, far longer than me, and who have had great responsibility in the House, think that there are both practical and political reasons for such a move. That is the theme of the Leader's Group. It is practical, it is pragmatic; it is not doctrinal and dogmatic. That is why its recommendations have had such a very warm welcome from all sides of the House today.
It is also significant that the initiative for this process, which stemmed from the process in the Commons led by Dr Tony Wright, started with a seminar that brought people from outside as well as from all sides of your Lordships' House under the aegis of the Lord Speaker. It did not result from any party initiative, let alone a government initiative. While I give full credit to my noble friend the Leader of the House for taking this a step further, we owe a debt of gratitude not just to the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, but to the Lord Speaker herself, to the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, who has spoken today, and to the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Filkin, who led some very careful analysis of different aspects of the work of your Lordships' House.
I am very sympathetic to the general trend of the recommendations. I cannot think of any that I completely object to. I understand, of course, that there is a need to work them through, but they are a package; the approach is holistic and it would be a pity, therefore, if we were to unscramble them, to take them all to bits again. I hope that in looking at them in the various committees, there will be a feeling that this is a coherent and cohesive approach to the work of our House and that it can certainly improve our game. The people who have been involved in this, if I may spare their blushes, are scarcely revolutionaries. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, cannot really be described as a hot-headed radical. I hope I am paying him a compliment.
Last week I felt that there were rather too many people in your Lordships' House who were adopting the early attitude of St Augustine: "Make me virtuous, but not yet". This evening the mood, the tone, has been quite different-more positive, more forward-looking-and I welcome that.
My Lords, I am not sure that I can quite follow my noble friend in describing the excellent report as holistic. It seems to me that it has many different facets which do not all tie together.
At this time in the debate, one throws one's speech away and tries to cull some comments from what has already been said. Some people have concentrated on relatively minor matters-such as whether we should start at two o'clock-but others have taken a much more in-depth approach. I take as my theme what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, which was that the standard of legislation had already deteriorated-not that it was in danger of doing so. In pursuing that theme, I introduce a note of caution. We have to be careful about what we can achieve and what it might be going a step too far to think that we could. The thrust of this debate, if I may be so bold, has been-along the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell-about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, about the legislative standards committee and a slice about secondary legislation. I am sure that we will hear a bit more about the latter shortly.
This House does not command any of those things. Chapter 2 of the report of my noble friend Lord Goodlad is entitled "Keeping the Executive to account"-or something closely approaching that. I submit that the only time that the Executive is called to account in any meaningful way is at a general election. For the rest of it, we cannot really look at the accounts. Accounts, such as the European Union's accounts, are supposed to be an accurate record of what has happened. Accounts are not about what will happen next. That is much more difficult. You cannot measure it; you have to wait to see what actually happens. Except with pounds and pennies, the measurement of what has happened is extremely difficult to achieve.
What was said about pre and post-legislative scrutiny, about standards and about secondary legislation is absolutely admirable, but I introduce a note of caution: can we deliver that in this House, or are we really looking for something that is different? I suggest that we are. First, we want half about as much legislation as is routinely put forward by Secretaries of State. It seems to be a badge of honour that you must have a Bill enacted. If we look at the number of criminal justice Acts, to take but one example, we are clearly submerged in the flood of legislation. Not only that, a lot of it is in secondary legislation. That is no doubt as advised by Permanent Secretaries-with the greatest of respect, again, to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who knows about Permanent Secretaries. They will say, "Well, Minister, I think that I would put that into secondary legislation if I were you. If we have a framework Bill, an enabling Bill, you can retain the flexibility. You can either do this or not; you can do it in various different ways. Of course, their Lordships will never throw it out and, down the other end of the Corridor, they will not even consider it for more than about two minutes".
My note of caution is that I think the issues are much more complicated and lie at a much greater depth in our public life than has been illustrated, if I may be forgiven for saying so, by the debate or even the excellent report.
My Lords, as has been mentioned several times this evening, last week your Lordships spent two long days discussing the future of this House, as outlined in a document in which, to be frank, I could find little merit. In stark contrast, we have today before us a document which I believe is of great value and, at the outset, like other noble Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the other members of the group. I believe we are indebted to them for producing such a helpful document. The report has the merit of being very well researched; it is clearly expressed and is both practical and timely. I mean it as a tribute to its authors when I say that it is a good read because it is very persuasive.
My Lords, this House has a long record of change and development. Those who doubt that will be confounded if they study the evidence in this report. But the report goes further by setting out a number of reasons why more change is necessary and, helpfully, providing guidance on the best way of achieving those changes. The report puts before us a range of very practical measures to secure greater efficiency and effectiveness in the way we conduct the business of the House. Many of the recommendations could be implemented very quickly, and I urge the House that we do just that.
Clearly, the main objective of our work is to hold the Executive to account-despite what Viscount Eccles just said-to scrutinise legislation and promote debate on key issues that confront our society. I have always been hugely impressed by the vast range of expertise and experience throughout the whole of your Lordships' House so, without any hint of complacency, I believe that we are well placed to fulfil these functions. But the report sets out a numbers of ways in which we could do a great deal better and we have to take that seriously.
For example, I understand the frustration that is often expressed regarding Oral Questions, but in addition to the recommendations in the report we must also address aspects of our own behaviour, as has already been touched on this evening. The remedy to some of this frustration is in our own hands. Self-regulation depends to a large degree on self-discipline. It would be of enormous benefit both if it could be generally accepted that the opportunity to ask a Question is actually to put the Question rather than to introduce a mini debate and if Ministers would recognise that their sole task is to answer the Question rather than to outline the general policy of the Government. If that were to happen, our time would be put to much better use.
I do not tweet on Twitter, but I am attracted to the suggestions in the report about limiting the number of words because I am told that important matters can be conveyed in few words by means of Twitter. The frustration caused by long questions or tedious replies can sometimes provoke what might be called, by the standards of this House, unseemly behaviour. I hope that, in addressing these issues, we will attach considerable importance to retaining the courtesy which is a tradition in this House and which sometimes has been allowed to slip.
Regarding the scrutiny of legislation, it is clear that too often legislation comes to the House, not well considered in another place. It demands the time and energy of this House to address those matters more carefully and more thoroughly. At times it may be irksome to the Government, but it would be extremely helpful if we could follow the Companion more closely and ensure that Second Reading speeches are confined to Second Reading and do not follow through into every other aspect of Lords business.
It is important that we take these matters seriously and move forward in a positive way with the help of this document, and that we recognise that the contribution of Members of your Lordships' House is not to be measured by column inches in Hansard. Everybody in this House is fairly bright-perhaps not me, but even I can generally follow the thrust of most of the points raised in your Lordships' House.
I agree with the report very much indeed. I hope that it can be taken seriously and speedily implemented.
My Lords, I must be the 40th speaker to say that this is an excellent report but perhaps the second to say that it was very fairly introduced by my noble friend on the Front Bench. I am glad that it will clearly receive the proper consideration that it deserves.
I have three particular favourites: voting on delegated legislation is one. It is time that we took a step in that direction. We may have to turn the screw a little tighter and start to involve some delay in that. It is a question of what it takes for us to be taken seriously by the Government. At what point do they start to listen to what we are saying, rather than reversing it in the Commons in two minutes and expecting us to behave? I am very glad that we are doing post-legislative scrutiny. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that there should be ad hoc committees, and I like the little recommendation 42. It is important that key letters coming from the Government to people who have taken part in Committee or debate are recorded in Hansard both in the bound version and, perhaps more importantly, online, to provide a full picture of what is going on for people outside this House.
I have some grouses, the principal of which is the proposals for Grand Committee-particularly putting all Committee stages in Grand Committee. This House is about its Committee work. I know that we all enjoy the other aspects of it, but how much effect do all those other theatrics have? How many Starred Questions have resulted in the Government being held to account effectively? I can remember one in 1992 but I am hard put to think of a second one. How many debates have resulted in changes to government policy? I can remember a few. On how many occasions have we dealt with a Statement that resulted in changes to government policy? I cannot think of any. However, it is extremely hard to think of a Committee stage that has not had an effect on a Bill being debated. That is the principal point of our effectiveness in this House.
There were 50 speakers at Second Reading on the Education Bill. How will we fit all of them into the Moses Room? The answer is that we will exclude most of them. They will not feel like coming. They will think that they have had their say at Second Reading and go away. The Chamber is the theatre in which we ought to be handling Committee stage. It is open to everybody and has lots of room. There are plenty of chances for people to drop in to listen to the points they are interested in and plenty of chance for Members to form an opinion about points that are being pushed in Committee. If one looks at the Bills taken currently in the Moses Room, Report stage rarely results in real turnovers for the Government because the House has had no chance to develop an opinion and Report stage is far too formalistic for that. If we want a House that is really effective we have to have an open Committee. Taking that away from this Chamber will be a great mistake.
I also think that morning sittings are a great mistake. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Sittings of Committee stages are entirely unpredictable. I have a life to live and want to be able to plan when I am meeting people, going up to the midlands, or whatever I want to do. If that might get hit by a change of date in a Committee stage, that renders my whole participation in Bills in this place extremely difficult.
My noble friend raised the question of cost control and implied that some of the recommendations in the report were expensive, so to keep the budget balanced, spending more money would mean spending less elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, drew careful attention to what that might mean in practice. I have a simple solution for my noble friend-reduce the numbers in this House. Take out 100 Peers and save £1 million. That is about the measure of it.
I come back to the suggestion I made in the previous debate of offering 100 hereditary peerages. There were two people 400 years ago who earned the peerages that I have and they are remembered by me. Is it not a great prize to offer someone? You will be remembered 400 years hence by at least one person. It costs nothing. I hope my noble friend was listening when the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan, made her suggestions. She should be co-opted immediately on to his cost control committees. On the idea that we should impose a measure on the Written Questions we ask and whether they are they really worth while, perhaps sharing the savings with the departments could produce an income.
Automatically recognising our presence in this Chamber and quicker methods of voting as ways of saving money and time would cause problems only when there were identical twins involved. Lord Thurlow used to share his seat with his brother, but I am not aware of any present Peers doing so.
I was very attracted by what my noble friend Lord Kirkwood said about technology. There are things we can do to reach out to the grass roots. We think the idea of aping the Commons and getting people into a bit of pre-leg is high-tech. No, it is not. We can reach out much further than that. We can really involve people out there in having a say on what is going on in a Bill. We can condense it and control it through modern technology. We really ought to explore that because it is not expensive.
The last thing I want to press upon my noble friend is the need to look at this report to see if we can find more ways of generating Back-Bench influence. With 870 Peers in this place, no central organisation can know what we are all capable of and interested in. The creation of a Back-Bencher committee is all very well, but it will not really be any better informed than anybody else in the House, even if we have elected the members. We have to find ways of flowing information into the committee. On the question of debates, how is it to know which debates we all want? We have to find a way of indicating that to it with a sheet we can sign up on or whatever.
When it comes to the membership of committees, earlier today, we approved a committee on privacy and related matters. How does anybody in the usual channels know where the expertise and interest is in this House? They will know a few of the obvious suspects, but there are far too many of us for the usual channels to have a proper influence on that. There must be some way of us registering that interest and knowledge when an opportunity comes up. I am not suggesting that we should have the selection, but there should be a way making these things known so that the usual channels or the Back-Bencher committee can take sensible decisions. I think that is a great idea.
I very much hope that the Back-Bench committee expands its influence but, echoing something that my noble friend said, I would hate to lose the randomness of balloted debates. Otherwise we will merely get the consensus debates, the ones that everybody likes and the off-centre-something that is really important that none of us understands or knows about-will never come before us, and that would be a great shame.
My Lords, it has been a real pleasure to hear the debate and to get the sense that there is a broad measure of support across the House and across party for some of the most important recommendations. That was how we worked as a group. We were superbly and subtly led by our chairman. It is not the first time that he has heard that. All the members of the committee worked together, and we were extremely well guided by Christopher Johnson and Susannah Street in the way that they supported us. They were a delight.
In part, that helped us to bring in a consensual report on difficult issues on which we all had strong opinions. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to one of the origins of this report, which was that it was very much the Lord Speaker's initiative to have a proper, discrete reflection, in the wake of the destruction of this House's reputation, about whether we could do our job for the public better. That has been a central question before the committee. It has not simply been about whether we like to start at 2 pm or 2.30 pm, but about how do we do our job for the public for whom we are charged with scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and being a proper forum for debate. Those questions are the leitmotif that we have tried to bring throughout the report.
For many of us, the central clutch of recommendations is about trying to scrutinise legislation better. Again, it has been an enormous pleasure to hear almost universal support for pre-legislative scrutiny, a legislative standards committee, post-legislative scrutiny and for the subtle change in delegated legislation for which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, so clearly and cogently expressed the rationale. I thank her for that because it is easy to think that this is the end of the world.
The only voice against was of great concern to me, that of my good former colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I think he was arguing that we should not overreach our hand or overview our power and influence. Of course, he is right. We should always have a sense of modesty-perhaps not always the House's best skill. However, the argument that we cannot make it perfect is not an argument for not trying to make it better. The test of those changes in terms of legislation is: is it more likely that chipping away, challenging, questioning, having proper processes will mean that legislation will be better done? I believe it will be.
Of course, legislation should sit on a proper bedrock of good policy and reflection and public consultation on that policy. Often it is; too often it is not. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, put it beautifully: many of us are sad creatures who are really interested in public policy but we have to exercise that secret sin elsewhere because there are so few opportunities to do it here. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, no doubt will say something on that. It is a phenomenal waste of this House's talent that it does not address major cross-cutting issues of public policy. It is unbelievable to the thoughtful general public that we do not do that. Therefore, after very careful consideration, we recommended two additional Select Committees-because one sounded trivial but we should not be silly and go too far because things do have a cost. I very much hope that the House will treat this seriously and the authorities and powers-that-be will put it into practice because we have the strength and resources in this House to add a lot of value and benefit to the public if we scrutinise unscrutinised areas of public policy.
For many of us, the dog that has not barked in this debate is: what happens next? We know in theory what happens next: the usual channels will refer some things to various committees and eventually they will bring back recommendations and the House will decide. That is what we will be told and it is true. Of course, what the House will decide will partly depend on what is served up to it, and what is served up to it can colour the form of debate and the form of decision-making, because that is the way in which we work. Some of us have great concerns about ensuring that we look at these issues.
I give the greatest thanks and respect to the Leader of the House. He has continued to surprise me on this agenda by being more open-minded in process than perhaps his good soul naturally feels and allowing us to play and to have a good chairman and bring in some pretty thoughtful but at times radical recommendations. I hope that he will continue with that stance because he is earning our respect and admiration for doing so.
What worries me is "cost neutrality". With the greatest humility, I suggest a slight emendation: "cost neutrality in time". It is an Augustinian concept. I say this for about four reasons. The first is that these costs are trivial. They are trivial in our costs: they are 1 per cent of this House's costs. I will not make the cheap joke about the number of Peers; you know what I mean. Secondly, they are utterly microscopic in public expenditure terms. Scrutinising a Bill better or challenging a piece of government policy-again I will not mention some pieces of public policy; I do not wish to be contentious-would help the Government and force them to think better. The yield on that expenditure would be phenomenal and we must have the confidence that we have the skills and ability to do so.
The third reason why cost neutrality is an insidious argument is that it massively favours the status quo. It basically says that the existing cost base of this organisation is sacrosanct and that any bit of additional expenditure has to make the case for change. If we are going to make the case for change, it should be on all expenditure being scrutinised, not just on the new expenditure at the margin. We will not review everything, so we should not fetter these recommendations with the shackles of saying they have to have cost neutrality immediately. I am sure it was not so intended but that phrase is at risk of killing the report.
I look forward massively to seeing where we go next. Of course, the biggest way in which we could reduce the cost of these recommendations is to have a proper discussion with the other place-the House of Commons, as my noble friend Lord Grocott would encourage me to say-because if we could do some of these processes jointly the cost would suddenly reduce substantially, at least to this House. I look forward enormously to hearing how the Leader of the House is going to lead us forward to the promised land that we hope we will move towards.
My Lords, as the evening has unfolded I have become increasingly pleased to be able to say that I, too, was a member of the working group so ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. I would like to think, in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that I was the hot young radical but there may be others who will lay claim to that. I can see them looking at me now.
Early in the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said that this report and this debate were an opportunity for us to take control of our future. This evening the House has seized that opportunity. We know that there are many observers outside the House who are looking at us to see whether we are so transfixed by the debate on the future of the House, its form and its membership that we have lost the appetite to reform our own procedures, and maybe even lost the appetite to stimulate and influence debates of national importance. This evening's debate has provided a resounding answer to those sceptics. Like many others, I feel much more optimistic than I did this time last week.
The report has tried to answer two very important questions: first, can we be more effective at scrutinising and revising legislation; and, secondly, can we be more successful in stimulating those national debates? It reaches the conclusion that we can be more effective in both respects but only-I stress only-if we make better use of the talent, experience and expertise that exists in this Chamber. I found it interesting that during the course of the working group's existence several recent entrants to the House approached me-perhaps because I was the newest member on the working group-to say how quickly they had become committed to the work of the House, but also how frustrated they sometimes felt at not being able to contribute in a really meaningful way, particularly those who continue to have important responsibilities outside the House.
We now have a number of new Members who can make a contribution and the capacity that they bring with them can help us to do three important things: first, to set up the two additional Select Committees; secondly, to set up a legislative standards committee; and, thirdly, to set up a post-legislative scrutiny committee. These will exploit the talent better and they are urgently needed. Properly managed and effectively deployed, Select Committees of this House can and already do make a major contribution to the national debate. Yet, as has been said by a number of Members today, very few are in the field of domestic policy, notwithstanding the fact that so many Members of the House and the House itself have so much to offer. We need these two new Select Committees. They do not need to clash with what is going on in the House of Commons, because, as has already been said, the Select Committees in the other place are there to shadow individual departments. This House has long acknowledged that the problems and issues in the real world do not organise themselves satisfactorily around Whitehall bureaucracies. We have long been theme-based and the new Select Committees, too, should be theme-based.
I was initially sceptical about the need for a legislative standards committee. I thought that perhaps there were some other ways in which we could achieve that within our existing arrangements. With some regret, however, I have to say that every hour that I have spent on these Benches has convinced me that we need something to raise the standards of draft legislation. In the recent past, some Bills, frankly, have not been fit for purpose, with little pre-legislative scrutiny and some pretty embarrassingly poor drafting. That does not allow the House to use its ability and resources effectively and that needs to be addressed. A legislative standards committee could do that.
Finally, it is surely time for our parliamentary system to give more systematic attention to post-legislative scrutiny. After all, we spend days in this place considering legislation. Should we not spend some time considering whether it is effective or whether, as another noble Lord said earlier, it is having some unwelcome side effects? Select Committees in the other place have not been able to give that a priority. We could break new ground by setting up a post-legislative scrutiny committee. With great respect, I must say that this is an area where I do not agree with the Leader. This should not be left to ad hoc committees to achieve. We need a committee that can give it focus, build expertise, be effective and develop a coherent strategy for post-legislative scrutiny in this House.
I hope that the overwhelmingly positive response tonight can now be reflected in action-considered action certainly, but urgent action too. I rather hope that we can find some way, maybe by reporting back to this House on occasions, of following how the 55 recommendations have fared rather than only looking at them individually from this point on.
My Lords, this has been an excellent and enjoyable debate. Just last week, we debated for two days the role, function, powers and composition of your Lordships' House: what we do and why we do it. Today, we have debated the working practices of this House: how we do it. Both are important and we need to get them both right.
Working practices are challenging, but they are not an impossible subject. In the other place, the issues looked daunting, but thanks to the work led by Dr Tony Wright, the Commons has brought in a significant series of reforms to help make the Chamber work better. What is before us today is broadly the equivalent for this House-a set of reforms to improve our working practices. One of my Back-Bench colleagues, who has long championed such changes, said that they were beyond what could conceivably have been hoped for when the discussions that have led to today's report first began.
Of course, there are reasons for how far and how fast these issues have moved-the decline of trust in politics and politicians, disengagement with traditional politics and perhaps especially with parliamentary politics, the burgeoning numbers of Members in this House-all these and more have led to pressure for change, for reform of the way that Parliament works.
I, too, pay tribute to those whose hard work and application has brought us this far-to the Lord Speaker, to those who chaired and served on the Lord Speaker's discussion groups, to those who served on the Leader's Group whose report we have before us today, to the Clerk and especially to the excellent chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and to those among us who have pressed for this kind of reform to your Lordships' House for many years.
We have before us separately the proposals from the coalition Government on further large-scale reform of your Lordships' House, which have now been referred to a Joint Committee for scrutiny. We do not know what that Joint Committee will produce but we believe that whatever happens to the Government's wider proposals we should proceed with the broad programme of reform set out in the report before us today from the Leader's Group.
We on these Benches welcome the report from the Leader's Group. It is a very good report and makes sensible and constructive proposals that offer a clear way forward for this House. I am delighted that there has been such a positive response this evening, but clearly not all Members of your Lordships' House are as enthusiastic about or as comfortable with some of the reforms proposed. Indeed, on these Benches, we do not necessarily agree as individuals with each and every recommendation contained in the report. I was of course pleased to hear that the ears and door of the Leader were open. This should, as one noble Lord said, be a process, not an event.
So many proposals have been raised today, including the new one from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and my noble friend Lord Parekh in relation to responses which come from the Government after a debate. I very much welcome that specific proposal. The Leader of the House is right to take the report forward through the range of means and mechanisms available to us including both through the Procedure Committee and the Liaison Committee and he is also right that this should be done promptly.
I would like to touch on a few of the recommendations which seem to me to be of especial merit. There are many, of course-for example, the role of the Lord Speaker in relation to the role currently carried out by the Leader of the House or the recommendations on delegated legislation or the recommendations on Private Notice Questions. I would like to mention three issues in particular, all of which have been well discussed this evening already.
First, I agree with all noble Lords who believe that the proposal for a legislative standards committee is a very welcome development. Regardless of whichever party is in power, all too often in this House and in the other place we see legislation being brought before us which, at times, is barely finished and requires extensive amendments, not by the Opposition but by Government, who have on occasion introduced legislation before it is in fact ready to be introduced. Those who have been in government know why and how this happens. The pressure of events sometimes makes it inevitable but it happens too often for what should be a proper and considered legislative process.
The establishment of a legislative standards committee, as recommended by this report, in setting agreed criteria against which government legislation would be measured in terms of technical and procedural compliance rather than policy, would be a considerable step forward for the standards of government legislation, for the legislative process itself and for public regard of the work that we, as politicians, do. We believe that the House should move as quickly as possible to establish such a committee and we commend the recommendation to the House. While agreement on the committee with the other place would of course be preferable, in relation to Bills starting in this House we believe there is a strong case for this House proceeding with this reform alone if necessary, as the report proposes. Allied to that, we very much welcome the group's recommendations for extending pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, but I do so with one reservation, to which I will return.
Secondly, we very much welcome the proposal for new sessional committees. My noble friend Lord Adonis has argued cogently that the House of Lords' committee structure does not provide for proper scrutiny of whole areas of government policy and that new committees should be set up to fill this gap, especially dealing with a range of cross-cutting issues on areas such as infrastructure, welfare, or public services. We have had that argument put very strongly this evening. We are glad that the Goodlad group has taken up this idea and is recommending its adoption in the form of two new sessional committees. We believe that the House should again move as quickly as possible to establish these committees to harness the knowledge, experience and ability of Members from all sides of the House to scrutinise what otherwise can very often be overlooked areas of government activity.
The report does not specifically recommend a review of our current system of committees, though my reading of the report suggests to me that the group thinks it has done so. However, the intention of the Leader's Group is clear from the report and we would strongly support such a review. At the same time, I hope that the Liaison Committee will look at innovative ways of working to ensure that the recommendations for the various new committees can be met.
Thirdly, the Leader's Group report makes a strong case for a Back-Bench business committee to take on the responsibility for debating days currently assigned to non-party Back-Bench business-that is, the one Thursday each month currently allocated to balloted debates. I hear what noble Lords have said but I believe that making the case for what it calls "intelligent selection", the Leader's Group points to the establishment in the other place of such a committee. This has been a successful innovation in the other place and we on these Benches believe it would prove equally successful in your Lordships' House.
Good though it is, the Goodlad report does not dispose of all the issues about reform of our working practices and some difficult issues still remain. For example, many Members on my Benches who are not in their places this evening have drawn my colleagues' attention to the Leader's Group's proposals for the increased use of Grand Committee and in particular to recommendation 20, as detailed in paragraph 122 of the report. That proposes that all government Bills introduced in the Commons should be considered in Grand Committee, apart from Bills in three specified categories: major constitutional Bills, emergency legislation and what is termed "other exceptionally controversial Bills". We have concerns about what constitutes such concepts and how they would be defined and deployed. Given that much government legislation by any political party in office is often inherently controversial, any threshold of controversy would have to be sufficiently high so as to ensure that this Chamber was able to consider such legislation.
We also have concerns about proposals on the timing of Grand Committee sessions, especially among Members across the House who work outside it, as they are entitled to do. As has been pointed out this evening, there would be conflicts with committee work. One suggestion might be for Grand Committee sessions to be in the evenings rather than the mornings. While we value both the opportunity to take legislation to Grand Committee and the work done there, we believe that fuller and further consideration needs to be given to this proposal and to the exceptions-and definitions of the exceptions-that are proposed. We believe that the issues involved need to be considered with care before any move is made in this area. Indeed, if there were more Committees taken in Grand Committee, consideration should perhaps also be given to more amendments at Third Reading.
I mentioned earlier our approval for increased pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, mentioned the committee which considered the draft Bill on human fertilisation and embryology. I did not sit on that Committee but, as one of the Ministers who steered the Bill through this House, I benefited enormously from the pre-legislative scrutiny process. Yet I also have a reservation. The recommendation that all Bills embodying important changes of policy, particularly constitutional legislation, should be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny is a good one and we support it. I acknowledge that the coalition Government have introduced pre-legislative scrutiny for many Bills, but still not enough-and not for the important constitutional legislation that we have had before us. The way that this Government have introduced important constitutional legislation has been, to use as neutral as possible a word, deficient in many ways. Any process which would help to prevent any repetition is indeed to be welcomed.
There is a question about the mandate that this coalition has for many of the actions it has taken, but we recognise that a Government who have been voted in by the electorate want to get on and put into place legislation that they believe people have voted for. We did that in 1997 with our own programme of constitutional reform so, while we wish to have pre-legislative scrutiny for each and every Bill, we understand the reservation that the proposal on this issue from the Leader's Group might place restrictions on a new Government that might not sit appropriately with the swift discharge of their electoral mandate. Again, this proposal perhaps needs fuller and further consideration on that point. I also wonder whether the noble Lord might consider the current problem of pre-legislative implementation in which enormous changes are introduced, for example to the health service or in abolishing RDAs, before legislation has completed its parliamentary process.
On current working practices, we particularly welcome the report's reaffirming not just that there should be changes for the future but that some of the House's current practices should be fully reinstated and properly adhered to. In particular, it stressed that the minimum intervals between stages of a Bill should be properly respected, that the House should have reasonable time to consider government business and that the firm convention that the House rises by 10 pm should be respected.
This is a good programme for reform. It needs working through and some of it needs further and fuller consideration but it is a very good way forward. We must all now work to try to ensure as high a degree of consensus as possible on the direction in which this report points. Our principal focus should be on giving full consideration through the appropriate committees to all the issues involved in working towards implementation as soon as possible. We on these Benches look forward to working to make that happen.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition for her speech. As I made clear at the outset, my intention in leading this debate was to provide an opportunity for noble Lords of all sides of the House to comment on the recommendations that the Leader's Group has made. Forty-three speakers have taken that opportunity. It is now my job to try and respond to them. There have been a lot of speeches and a lot of points made in each speech, so this may not be as neat a wind-up as noble Lords might like. Because I do not mention a recommendation, it does not mean that I am either against it or for it. However, there needs to be a process for moving them on from here.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said that there was a broad measure of support for these recommendations, and I agree with him. It is a testament to the committee that that is the case. My noble friend Lord Tyler said that the report was pragmatic and not doctrinal. He was right about that; it crosses party lines. Even in this debate, different Members have taken different views on some of the details, but the broad thrust has been basically supportive.
Even the Leader's Group recognised at paragraph 9 of its report that only a subset of its recommendations could be implemented with immediate effect but, as I made clear, I believe that a good number of the group's recommendations fall into that category. That is why I intend to ensure that the House has the chance to approve or reject proposals for implementing a range of the group's recommendations on the basis of reports from the relevant committees of the House at the earliest available opportunity.
There are of course other recommendations from the Leader's Group that could not be put into practice without further detailed consideration being given to their practical ramifications, including costs and possible unintended consequences. The noble Baroness herself just mentioned one or two of those. While I am on the question of costs, I was impressed by what my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan, said about that issue. That is what I mean: around the House, the clerks, the House Committee and the other committees can look at our priorities. If we want two new Select Committees, we should look at how we can shave some costs elsewhere. It may be only 1 per cent off the total cost of the House but that does not mean that we should not search for efficiencies. I would not want cost to stand in the way of doing some of the very good things that have come out of the report and which the House clearly wants.
I was amused by my noble friend Lord Lucas's suggestions on hereditary Peers. However, I am thrilled that as from today my noble friend will be able to write to the Clerk of the Parliaments, taking permanent retirement. That would save us some money, and he would be leading by example. Others may be following in his footsteps, although he would not know that when he wrote his letter.
It is only right that the House should not be invited to take a definitive view of all the recommendations in one go until they can each be presented in their full context. That is not about delay; it is about practicality.
What has changed in the House? There has been change over a long period of time. I do not think that anything immediate has happened, apart from some things that are obvious-the general election, for instance, and Labour going into opposition. I think that some 75 per cent of the Labour Party in the House of Lords had never known opposition in this House, so inevitably that is a bit strange. Coalition has thrust up a whole bunch of challenges, such as how we deal with Questions. In fact the greatest benefactors of that have been members of the Labour Party; they get between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of Questions at Question Time. I do not mind that because one of the features of good scrutiny is that the main party of opposition should be in the vanguard of that scrutiny.
There are many more former Members of Parliament who are now Members of this House. What I have found about former Members of Parliament is that they are so used to the firm smack of discipline from the Speaker that they find it quite odd coming here-but more of that in a moment.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of Peers, more than 100 in the past 12 months. There have been issues of assimilation. There is a great deal of expertise. A lot of people have high expectations when they come into this House and there are a lot of high expectations of them among outside groups, but of course when they get here it is all a lot more difficult. We have also had a more substantial and far more active Cross-Bench group. These are all good things, and of course Peers want to justify why they come here so they want more activity. One of the best things that has come out of the report is that we are going to give Peers more opportunities to get involved, to speak in committees and to take part in pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny and a whole bunch of other things. That is one of the reasons why I think that we have to change.
The noble Baroness the Convenor of the Cross Benches said something good at the start of her speech: if only half the recommendations were implemented, that would transform the House. I am sure that we will do far better than half, but that is a sign of what can be achieved.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked about statistics. My understanding is that the really wonderful annual report of the House of Lords, which has clearly not been required reading by the noble Lord, has an enormous amount of statistics on all the kinds of questions that he asked.
I was surprised that the issue of the Leader's Question Time did not come up more often. I think the House knows how much I enjoy being at the Dispatch Box. It is only because I do not want to hog it selfishly that I am not here far more often.
The noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, raised a question about redundancy. I am glad to be able to tell him that no member of the House of Lords staff has been made redundant due to savings cuts. However, those are not really matters for the Leader. They are quite properly matters for the Chairman of Committees-
I hope they will not be, but it would be for the Chairman of Committees to answer those kinds of questions. I am not sure that I would answer in terms of my own responsibilities, as business management is done by the Chief Whips, but that is another idea that could be looked at.
Some noble Lords have welcomed the idea of getting rid of the second Statement and putting it into a Moses Room. There is some merit in that.
On the question of Grand Committees, morning sittings have not found a great deal of favour-they are quite controversial. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, made the suggestion of having them at night. I think that is a rather good idea. If we are going to have Grand Committees, there is no reason why they should not sit until 9 or 10 pm. The Procedure Committee can look at that suggestion, which is something that is very good that has come out of the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that I had been opposed to Grand Committees when they were much extended by my very eminent predecessor, Lord Williams of Mostyn. He was right about that, but I conceded the point when we introduced the 10 pm cut-off because I realised that you could not have both: you could not have no Grand Committees and a 10 pm cut-off-the one forces the other. Prior to that change, we regularly sat in Committee at midnight or 1 am, and Lord Williams of Mostyn rightly made the point that we should not make legislation at that time, as 10 pm is late enough. I agree that, if we are going to have the 10 pm cut-off, then we have to have business off the Floor of the House. As more Peers wish to play a part in the business of the House, it means more Bills have to go off the Floor of the House. The House of Lords cannot pride itself on revision and then not actually get enough done to maintain its very excellent reputation.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, highlighted the issue-I wrote "Shameless!" on my piece of paper-of the 10 pm closing time. Having been a government Chief Whip, which is a very eminent post in this House, he knows as well as I do that the Opposition decide the times of Bills. There is a recommendation in the report that the government Chief Whip should stand up at the beginning of business to explain why we are going to sit beyond 10 pm, but it should, of course, be the opposition Chief Whip who should stand up at 10 pm to explain to the House why they have spent so much time on an amendment. However, we shall fight that one out on the Procedure Committee.
On the word "Shameless", the reason why the House sits longer than it needs to is because of the size of the Government's legislative programme. No one could sensibly suggest that in one short year you should, for example, have two major constitutional Bills and one huge constitutional proposal without having any effect on the capacity of the House to legislate. What the Leader needs to do-let us have a private conversation about this-is occasionally to suggest to his Cabinet colleagues that maybe one or two of them could possibly postpone one of their Bills until the next Session, and then we would not need to have all these late night sittings.
My Lords, I very much look forward to that private conversation. I can assure the noble Lord that, as a Government, we are not moving any faster than previous Governments have done.
There are so many aspects to the issue of self-regulation, but I was very much impressed by what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said. He observed that self-discipline is the corollary of self-regulation, which is at the heart of everything that we try to do. We have too many lengthy speeches, too many interventions, too many amendments at Third Reading and too many speeches on Bill do now pass. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, had it right that we break the rules far more than we stick to them. Part of that is lack of knowledge; part of it is that people think that they can get away with it-but that was mentioned by so many noble Lords.
My noble friends Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market and Lord Jenkin, the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar, Lady Hamwee, Lady Murphy, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and so many others talked about pre and post-legislative scrutiny. We all want it. This Government's record so far has been good, given that we are into only the second year of office-I mentioned that when I opened the debate. I am very keen on post-legislative scrutiny, partly because, after 13 years of Labour Government, there seem to be so many opportunities to go back and have a look at what was done in our name and whether it was right.
I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said about an expert committee on post-legislative scrutiny as opposed to an ad hoc committee. I have leant towards an ad hoc committee because I want experts to be involved-for example, charities to look at the Charities Act or experts on gambling, I suppose, to look at the Gambling Act. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and others have taken a slightly different view, which needs further consideration.
Another big issue in the debate was the legislative standards committee. It was mentioned by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, my noble friend Lord Maclennan and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I think that I know what the fundamental problem is here. It was my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield who said that we should have less and better drafted legislation. I agree with her; I have thought that for a long time. I have not quite got to the bottom of why that does not happen, because people want it and it makes perfectly good sense. The previous Government wanted to do it and failed. We, too, want to do it and I accept that we have not got it quite as right as we would have liked. I have been ambitious in this and it has not quite worked.
A legislative standards committee needs further investigation. I do not give the idea full marks, although I give its underlying intention full marks. Why is that? Well, I listened with interest to what noble Lords said about it. There is a tension between the House's role as a revising Chamber, which many noble Lords have stressed today, and the idea that one of its committees, composed of a small group of Members, should have the right to "block"-the term of my noble friend Lord Maclennan-the progress of a government Bill. The idea that the Government need to present a business case for their legislation calls into question the basic constitutional principle that a Government with a majority in the House of Commons can expect to have their programme considered by Parliament. It would be a bit odd to have a group in the House of Lords which said, "Well, actually, we don't like the way this has been drafted". Presumably, it is not about policy; it is about how it all hangs together and whether a Bill is a skeleton Bill.
All that the report says is that in principle we should apply to primary legislation what already happens to secondary legislation. In the case of secondary legislation, a set of standards for good legislation is defined by the Cabinet Office and a check is then made as to whether they have been complied with. The Butler report is clear; most people say that those are good standards. All the House would do is say whether they had been complied with. It would not look at policy; that would not be its job. Nor would it have the power to say no. It is a decision for the House-it is most unlikely that it would use it-to deny a Second Reading.
Denying a government Bill that had already passed the House of Commons a Second Reading would be an extraordinary thing. There would be another problem. For Bills that started in the House of Lords, if this were not a Joint Committee-I think that there is much more merit in being a Joint Committee than a House of Lords Committee, which I know was the recommendation of the committee-the business managers would seek to avoid starting Bills in the House of Lords. As Leader of the Lords, I think that would be a very bad thing. There are issues here that need to be explored further. There are downsides too, but the basic aim is a good one.
Before my noble friend leaves that point, would he perhaps give us some indication of who is best placed to give consideration to this core recommendation of the report and the sort of time-frame that he would have in mind for that consideration?
My Lords, first, I think that we should invite the clerks to come forward with a proposal. The proposal should be put to the Procedure Committee and of course within this we need to decide whether it should be a Joint Committee or a House Committee. If it is a Joint Committee, there need to be discussions with another place and we would have to find out about how it felt about such things. I have no idea about a timescale, but we could get an initial view relatively quickly, and I think that that is what we should do.
The role of the usual channels got a bit of a battering; I think the usual channels and how it operates needs clarifying. Perhaps the most interesting part of the debate concerned the role of the Lord Speaker. The report has trod carefully between self-regulation, Leader's powers and Speaker's powers, and has come to the conclusion of an experimental period, simply to shift the Leader's power to the chair. I am not entirely convinced that that is a solution to the problem. What has happened is that more and more people try to get in at Question Time. It is an immensely important part of the day. The House is full. The leaders, Chief Whips, Convenor-everybody is here. The Lord Speaker is in the chair. It is a focal point for the start of our day. It is Peers wanting to get in and ask their question that creates the problem.
I increasingly think that we do have to make a choice on this, and I think we ought to have an early vote and make a decision. Part of that is that you cannot have both a firm chair and self-regulation. We have to choose between one and the other. Noble Lords have said, "Well, you can have a little bit of direction from the chair and that doesn't affect self regulation", but I think that it does. I do not think that that is a bad thing. One noble Lord said that this House is the only legislative Chamber that does not have a firm chair. It may be that that era of self-regulation-of politeness and giving way-has moved on, for a whole variety of reasons. It is that the nature of the House and the nature of the way we do legislation have simply changed. That is the decision that I think will face us. If we move the Leader's powers to the chair we will very quickly get into names being called. Some noble Lords are concerned about behaviour in this House. I always remind people to go a couple of hundred yards down the corridor and see a House where there is very firm authority from the chair and to really take a view. Is there better behaviour in another place? It is worth doing.
The noble Lord is not offering an alternative solution.
That is why the House has to decide, and I am not sure that there is an alternative solution. You either push power to the chair or you do not. Perhaps more assertiveness from me and the government Dispatch Box may help and encourage. Noble Lords might like a firm smack of authority from the Dispatch Box. I accept that there is a difficulty and a problem. When I first came to the House, Members would regularly give way.
My Lords, I wonder whether it might be helpful to have clarification as to the way in which at Question Time the right to ask supplementary questions moves around the House. Is the order Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Cross-Bench, or Conservative, Labour, Cross-Bench et cetera? That would be helpful to the House.
The noble Baroness is right; it is an art and not a science. Since I have been doing it, it looks a lot easier from the other side of the House than it does from here. It slightly depends on who is speaking. When I first came here, Peers would give way to Peers who they believed were more senior to them or had more authority or more knowledge. There is much less of that now and a certain order is quite hard to impose.
With the coalition, there has been broad agreement that we do not have a Conservative Peer followed by a Liberal Democrat Peer. Whoever is next-the Cross-Benches or the Labour Party-rather depends on the question. It all goes wrong when a right reverend Prelate speaks but that is not what I meant. It really all goes wrong when another Peer, such as a UKIP Peer, speaks, which upsets the smooth flow. I am not offering any solutions. There is tougher authority either from the Dispatch Box or from the Woolsack. You cannot have both.
On the usual channels, I felt that there was again a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of this House. That might be borne of the fact that many Members come here from another place, where the Executive are powerful and have a majority. The Executive in this House have no majority. Therefore, the usual channels, in my long experience as being a part of them, work very much in the interests of the Back-Benchers. They try to put the Back-Benchers' interests first because the usual channels know that at any stage something can be rolled over by the Back-Benchers. That is how it works.
I believe that there needs to be more clarity about how the usual channels operate. Huge advantages and privileges are given to Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, and I understand why that should be. I will discuss with the noble Baroness ways in which we should clarify how the usual channels work, what part the Convenor, the Liberal Democrats and the Back-Benchers and so on play, and what role the Private Secretary to the Leader and the government Chief Whip play in managing the business. It is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but once you understand how it all interlocks it is much simpler than many people believe. I am going to ask the clerks for a list of new Peers who have not been on an induction course and who therefore do not understand how the House works, yet have very strong views on how the House should be reviewed. I shall write to them to encourage them to go to an induction course.
I have completely lost my place in my speech as a result of all that, so I will move on swiftly by saying that this has been a wide-ranging and timely debate. I have probably given the impression that I am less keen on some of these proposals than I gave at the beginning. I have picked out some of the more difficult ones. This has been an immensely useful exercise, in part because my noble friend Lord Goodlad has found the kitchen sink of procedure and process in the House of Lords. He has put it all out and there is something for everyone. I thank noble Lords for their different strands of opinion. There is now a great deal of work for the Procedure Committee, the Liaison Committee and the other committees to do, but it is right that we should do it. I hope that we will have an early opportunity to have a report back with a substantial number of these recommendations on which the House can take a view and therefore see that real progress has been made. I beg to move.