Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

– in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 24th July 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords 3:11 pm, 24th July 2002

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the 5th Report of the Procedure Committee.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the 5th Report of the Procedure Committee.—(Lord Tordoff.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the 5th Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 148) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

INTRODUCTION

1. On 21 May 2002 the House debated a report by the Group appointed "to consider how the working practices of the House can be improved, and to make recommendations".1 The House remitted the Group's report to the Procedure Committee with an instruction to make by 8 July recommendations, to be approved by the House, to implement the report. In our 4th report to the House on 8 July we explained why we were not able to meet this deadline.2

2. Before turning to the Group's recommendations, we remind the House that the recommendations would be subject to a trial period of two parliamentary sessions and the House itself would have to approve any continuation thereafter. At the end of the trial period the House should review how the new practices have worked and decide whether they should be continued.

3. Many of the Group's recommendations would require extra resources: more clerks, more Hansard reporters, more committee rooms. They would also increase the workload of Members of the House, for example, in sitting on pre-legislative scrutiny and other committees. We have not been able in the time available to us to assess the full implications of these extra requirements. In some cases, it is for the Offices Committee and its sub-committees to do so. It seems to us unlikely that all the Group's recommendations can be implemented immediately. We recommend that with effect from next session (2002–03) implementation should be phased, as resources become available.

4. In this report the Group's recommendations are printed in italics. The recommendations of the Procedure Committee are printed in bold.

5. We now turn to each of the Group's recommendations.

Group recommendation (a): virtually all major government bills should as a matter of course be subject in draft to pre-legislative scrutiny by Parliament (paragraph 7 of the Group's report)

6. This is not a procedural issue. We support Group recommendation (a), provided that the quality of pre-legislative scrutiny is maintained at a high level and also that pre-legislative scrutiny committees are not required to work to unreasonably tight timetables or to consider draft bills that are incomplete. We draw attention to the resource implications, especially the number of members of the House needed to undertake additional regular pre-legislative scrutiny.

Group recommendation (b): subject to the right of the House of Commons to determine its own procedures, bills that have received pre-legislative scrutiny in either House should, on a motion moved in the House in possession of the bill at the end of the session, be allowed to be carried-over into the next session; but if a bill that has been carried over does not reach the statute book by the end of the session following carry-over it should fall, as now (paragraph 10)

7. The Procedure Committee endorsed the principle of carry-over in 1998.3 We recommend that the House should now take this endorsement a stage further and agree to Group recommendation (b), but only for Government bills and subject to the provisos on pre-legislative scrutiny in paragraph 6 above. At present, carry-over is restricted to bills that have not yet left the House in which they originated; eligibility of bills for carry-over is settled by informal discussion in the usual channels; and bills are carried-over by ad hoc motions. If Group recommendation (b) is implemented, as we propose, carry-over would no longer be restricted to bills that had not yet left the House in which they originated: any bill that had been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny in either House would be eligible for carry-over. Carry-over would be achieved, after discussion in the usual channels, by a motion agreed by one or both Houses, depending on where the bill had been introduced. We would expect the fact that a bill had been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny would influence significantly the judgment by the usual channels in this House on whether the bill should be carried-over.

8. The question of the application of the Parliament Acts to a bill that is to be carried over was raised in the House's debate of 21 May 2002. In theory, the Parliament Acts could be applied to a bill which, having been received by the Lords at least one month before the end of a session, was carried-over but not passed by the end of the next session. In the case of the Lords carrying-over a Commons bill, in order to avoid the Parliament Acts being implemented, the Commons should be invited to agree, before the Lords agrees to the carry-over, to a formal direction that section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911 should not apply to the bill in the ensuing session.

Group recommendation (c): while we do not intend in any way to encroach upon the financial privileges of the Commons, a procedure should be established to enable the House to deal more effectively with Finance Bills (paragraph 12)

9. We accept Group recommendation (c) and propose that the Committee on Economic Affairs should be given the power to establish a sub-committee to undertake the task of considering the Finance Bill and a power to co-opt additional members to the sub-committee exclusively for its consideration of the Finance Bill. The terms of reference of the Economic Affairs Committee are wide enough to encompass this additional scrutiny work but, in relation to scrutiny of the Finance Bill, they should be amended specifically to prohibit the sub-committee from investigating the incidence or rates of tax, and to allow it only to address technical issues of tax administration, clarification and simplification. As the Group's report makes clear, there is no intention to challenge Commons financial privilege.

Group recommendation (d): a new Lords select committee should be established to examine the merits of every statutory instrument subject to parliamentary scrutiny (paragraph 16)

10. There is a large body of support for a new select committee of the Lords to examine the substance of statutory instruments and determine whether they merit debate.4 The creation of any new committee is a matter for the Liaison Committee. However, we endorse Group recommendation (d), as elaborated in the first sentence of this paragraph and invite the Liaison Committee to give it early and sympathetic consideration. We would point out that the present right of any member of the House to table motions on statutory instruments for debate on the floor of the House would continue unfettered after the appointment of the new committee.

Group recommendation (e): on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the time for starred questions should be extended to 40 minutes; the number of starred questions on these two days should be increased from four to five; and the additional questions on these two days should be topical questions (paragraph 18)

11. The number of Starred Questions has been increased over the years in response to the wishes of the House. No Standing Order is involved. Topical questions have become an important feature of the House's procedures. So the Procedure Committee endorses Group recommendation (e). We would however remind the House that topical questions should be topical.

12. We have noted that the number of supplementary questions at Question Time has fallen over the years, due not only to longer questions being asked but also to longer ministerial replies. Front-bench interventions reduce the opportunities for back-benchers to ask supplementary questions. We therefore draw to the attention of all Members of the House the need for both shorter questions and shorter answers.

13. We recommend:

— the new topical question on Tuesday should be tabled by 2pm on the previous Friday, for selection by ballot;

— for the additional topical question on Wednesday, members of the House should be restricted, as now, to one question only for the ballot that day; and

— the present limitation of two topical questions per member per session be increased to four to take account of the extra two questions a week.

Group recommendation (f): the House authorities, in consultation with the Government, should draw up and make available to the House a timetable that would allow each Minister one sitting day a week free of starred questions (paragraph 18)

14. We do not endorse Group recommendation (f). It should be left to ministers to decide whether to answer questions themselves or leave them to be answered by a Whip if, for example, they are absent from the House on official duties.

Group recommendation (g): as a package of measures (a) the House should normally rise not later than 10pm; (b) this should be coupled with greater use of Grand Committees for the kind of bills considered suitable by the Rippon Group; and (c) after second reading there should be a motion in the House to commit each bill to the appropriate committee, usually a Grand Committee or a Committee of the Whole House (paragraph 23)

Group recommendation (h): a new standing order should be adopted to provide that no new item of business (which would include a new Group of amendments) could begin after 10pm (paragraph 24)

Group recommendation (k): on Thursdays the House should sit at 11.00am and adjourn not later than about 7pm and this recommendation should be incorporated in a standing order (paragraph 27)

15. The House of Lords can sit (and has sat) at any convenient time. Sitting times do not need the express approval of the House. So there is no procedural issue in the sitting and rising times of the House. It is a matter of convenience and practice. The Procedure Committee endorses Group recommendation (g)(a) that the House should normally rise by 10pm on Mondays to Wednesdays. Group recommendation (g)(b) on Grand Committees follows from recommendation (g)(a) and we endorse it also.

16. We recommend however that only one Grand Committee to consider a bill should sit on any one day.

17. The Procedure Committee endorses Group recommendation (g)(c) that after the second reading of a bill a separate motion should be moved by the Lord in charge to commit the bill to the appropriate committee. Accordingly, we set out below a revision of Standing Order 47 (committal of bills) to give effect to this recommendation:

Standing Order 47, leave out paragraph (1) and insert—

(1) After second reading, bills are committed to a committee on a motion in the name of the Lord in charge of the bill (except that in case of a Bill of Supply or a bill certified by the Speaker as a Money Bill the House may order that the bill be not committed.)

18. It will be important to ensure that Bills which do not attract amendments and which would have their committee stage discharged on the day of the committee stage are not committed to Grand Committees. It would be undesirable from a procedural and administrative point of view to discharge the Grand Committee stage on the day it was to take place (although it would be possible on the day before to vacate the order of commitment to a Grand Committee and commit the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House which could then be discharged in the normal way). The waste of resources incurred in setting up a Grand Committee for a non-controversial bill and then cancelling it for want of amendments, or having it meet but only briefly, would be considerable.

19. For these reasons we recommend also that any member of the House in charge of a private member's bill should not table the motion to commit the bill without consulting the clerks. This would help to ensure that only suitable bills of the type recommended by the Rippon Group were referred to Grand Committees.

20. In the debate on 21 May 2002 Lord Jenkin of Roding asked the Procedure Committee to consider the possibility of splitting a bill between a Committee of the Whole House and a Grand Committee. House of Lords procedures are flexible, and there is no procedural reason why a motion to commit a bill should not do as Lord Jenkin has proposed. However, Lord Jenkin based his suggestion on the Commons practice of dividing the Finance Bill in such a way, and it seems to us that few other bills lend themselves to being split in this way.

21. Group recommendation (h) proposed that a Standing Order should be drafted to ensure that the House should not begin new business after 10pm on Mondays to Wednesdays or after 7pm on Thursdays (and presumably Fridays). The Procedure Committee does not endorse this recommendation because a Standing Order would not allow enough flexibility. We recommend instead that it should become a firm convention of the House, underpinned by guidance inserted into the Companion to Standing Orders, that the House normally rises by about 10pm on Mondays to Wednesdays.

22. The Procedure Committee considered Group recommendation (k) that on Thursdays the House should sit at 11am and rise by 7pm. In discussion it emerged that the Group's proposal did not take into account the desire of the parties and groups to break from business in the middle of the day for party meetings. If there were to be such a break, the lost sitting time would have to be added at the end of the day. The Procedure Committee also considered the timing of Starred Questions if the House were to decide to sit on Thursdays at 11am. Taking these two issues into account, we invite the House to consider whether to accept the following timetable for Thursday sittings:

11 am–1.30 pm House sits for public business
1.30 pm–3 pm House adjourns during pleasure
3 pm–7.30 pm House resumes, starting with Starred Questions
7.30 pm (or earlier depending on business) for 1- hours Unstarred questions (if desired)

Group recommendation (i): urgent steps should be taken to correct the Moses Room shortcomings and consideration should be given to holding Grand Committees and other business in the Robing Room where the House has sat in the past (paragraph 25)

23. We strongly support the first part of this recommendation because the Moses Room is at present unsuitable for holding Grand Committees. The second part concerning the Robing Room raises a number of difficult issues, including public access and the installation of a suitable sound system and recording and broadcasting facilities. We recommend that the suitability of the Robing Room for Grand Committees should be considered by those responsible for the Robing Room.

Group recommendation (j): three additional Wednesdays should be allotted for backbench debates in each session, and more debates on select committee reports and on general topics should be held in prime time on the floor of the House (paragraph 26)

24. The Standing Orders of the House already state that general debates have priority on the Order Paper on Wednesdays5; but it has become increasingly the case that Wednesdays in June have been used for Government business. The Procedure Committee therefore supports recommendation (j). To give effect to it we recommend that in a normal full session every Wednesday from the beginning of the session until the end of June should be set aside for general debates. This should be stated in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

25. Under Standing Order 40, debates on select committee reports already have the same priority on the Order Paper as proceedings on public bills. We recommend that the Companion to the Standing Orders should also state the desirability of regular debates on select committee reports and general topics in prime time. This would encourage the usual channels to give prime time for at least some reports to be debated. We recognise that other reports, in particular European Union Committee reports on documents subject to a scrutiny reserve, might still have to be debated outside prime time because they might need to take place urgently at short notice in order that the reserve can be lifted.

26. Paragraph 19 of the Group's report raises the possibility of extending the scope of Grand Committees from consideration of legislation to the holding of debates on general subjects. Nothing in our present report should be taken as ruling out such a possibility and a procedure could be established at a future date to give effect to it.

Group recommendation (l): the House of Lords should be willing to sit in September, and in return the House should have longer recesses at Christmas, Easter or Whitsun, or rise earlier for the summer recess (paragraph 28)

27. This is not strictly a matter of procedure. However, we support the Group's aim of a more balanced parliamentary year. We are conscious that from 2003 the House of Commons is likely to rise in mid-July and to sit from the beginning of September with a break during the main party conferences. We do not believe that it would be desirable for this House to rule out the possibility of also sitting regularly in September. The Group made it clear that in return for sitting in September the House should have longer recesses at other times. We believe that the House will wish to express an opinion on this possibility before a change with such important effects on the lives of members of the House and their families is implemented. We therefore recommend that any proposal for the House to meet in part of the following September, rather than at other times of the year, should be put to the House with clear guidelines early in the session.

Group recommendation (m): Grand Committees may sit in September, whether or not the House is sitting (paragraph 29)

28. This is largely a matter of business management and raises similar issues to September sittings of the House. It is desirable that more Law Commission Bills should be introduced. A procedure already exists for the scrutiny of Law Commission Bills, namely Special Public Bill Committees. But this has not been used since 1995 because no Law Commission Bill has been introduced. The aim of recommendation (m) is to encourage Governments to introduce more Law Commission Bills, and we endorse it for that reason. However, it is essential that the Government business managers give reasonable notice when Grand Committees will be meeting in September so that members of the House can arrange their other commitments accordingly.

29. We must point out to the House however that a number of procedural issues would arise if Grand Committees were to sit in September without the House sitting at the same time. These include authority to print the bill as amended, the implications for minimum intervals between stages, the status of the Hansard report of the proceedings in Grand Committee, and the impact on praying time for statutory instruments. We invite the Clerk of the Parliaments to consider these and any other issues which may arise in connection with Grand Committee sittings when the House itself is not sitting and to propose for our consideration any necessary amendments to the Standing Orders and to the Companion to the Standing Orders. These various issues would need to be resolved before Grand Committees could begin to sit in September.

Group recommendation (n): there should be a review of the House's scrutiny of European legislation, including the appropriate balance between the scrutiny of general policy and that of specific legislative proposals, and the desirability of a greater number of shorter and more focussed reports (paragraph 30).

30. We believe that this is a matter for the European Union Committee and it is already conducting such a review. It would be desirable for the results of the review to be reported to the Liaison Committee in due course.

CONCLUSION

31. Implementation of the Group's recommendations is likely to lead to a significant increase in the House's committee work. It is likely that there will be some days when a pre-legislative scrutiny committee is sitting at the same time as bills are being considered in a Grand Committee and also in Committee of the Whole House. It will therefore be essential for the business managers to plan the legislative timetable in order to ensure that ministers, Opposition spokesmen and other members of the House are not faced with conflicting demands for their time and presence. Certain administrative and resource problems will arise in the short term and ways will have to be found to overcome them.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

I should like to make a few observations which will help me shorten my remarks when we discuss the amendments in a little while.

I was a member of the Procedure Committee which prepared the report which is now before the Committee. Although I accept that the report broadly reflects the view of the committee, I take a different opinion on at least some of the issues and will in due course propose certain amendments for the Committee's consideration.

I start with the observation that it was a great pity that the committee was asked to complete its work so quickly. My noble friend Lord Denham indicated at the time how unusual, not to say unprecedented, it was for the committee to be so constrained. The proceedings of the committee which led to this report were rushed to say the least. It was hardly ever possible for our hard working Clerk to provide documentation in a timely manner. Although, no doubt, our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, did his best, we were often faced with the need to consider verbal amendments of an important kind. I caused some irritation by repeatedly intervening for clarification of what was being discussed or considered. I apologise to colleagues if that was so. Again, no doubt as a result of pressures of time, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was not always able to guide us through the intricacies of the various proposals and counter proposals as clearly as I am certain he would have wished.

Another issue, which is reflected in the amendments which I shall move later, was the question of resources. The plain fact is that it is clear that no consideration of any sort had been given to the likely cost of the enhanced facilities which these proposals will require. We were simply told that whatever additional resources were required would be found because the parliamentary budget is apparently not cash limited. I believe that that is a wholly inappropriate approach to the process of modernisation and I hope that the Committee will in due course agree. I emphasise that I intend no criticism of the staff and others involved. There was simply not time to consider these matters properly. That, of course, includes the officials of this Chamber.

There was also some suggestion that some of the points contained in the Leader's Group report, which we are considering, were not matters for the Procedure Committee. I take the view that the whole of the Leader's Group report, not just part of it, was referred to the Procedure Committee by the Chamber. I believe that the Chamber has the right and the authority to direct the Procedure Committee as it pleases. For the committee simply to refuse to consider matters on the ground that they are for some other Select Committee is just wrong. I hope that that doctrine will not be advanced again. The truth is that the Procedure Committee has often considered matters which may or may not have fallen precisely within its terms of reference when directed to do so by the Chamber. That must surely be the correct way to proceed.

I believe that this package, which we have repeatedly been urged to take as a package both in the Chamber and in the committee, has the effect of facilitating the passage of government business. Although a few of the detailed proposals may not be directly so intended, that is the effect of the package of proposals. I use the word "effect" advisedly. I am, of course, aware that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has protested that that was not his intention. But again I say that that is the effect of the measures now before us.

It is, I believe, of overwhelming importance that in formulating the procedures and protections available in this Chamber we are careful never to undermine the capacity of minority groups to express their view and to have their position considered. In the end the only pressure that a single voice or perhaps a small group of like-minded noble Lords can bring is one of delay. We are in this Chamber an adjunct to the democratic processes of the other place. We have a right, indeed, a duty, to revise, to amend and to have the other place think again. That means that it must be possible for even just one noble Lord to keep a Minister from his dinner or his bed at least for a while.

Of course, ultimately the Chamber will decide. There are procedures already in place to prevent abuse of that right. However, the package now before us in my view further erodes the power of Back-Benchers and especially minority groups of Back-Benchers. I confess that I should have much preferred our procedures to be left as they are. However, we now have a package before us. I shall therefore seek the Committee's agreement to certain amendments which I believe remove the worst of the proposals now before us and perhaps go a little way to ensuring that the rights of Back-Benchers are not unacceptably eroded.

Before I turn to the amendments I make two final points. I have said that I see the effect of these proposals being to facilitate the passage of government business. I fear greatly that if we are to move to a situation where the Chamber is expected to finish business at a certain time or within a certain period, it will not be long before business managers think in terms of a guillotine. Nothing has more undermined the capacity of the other place to consider, amend and revise legislation than the draconian use of the guillotine procedure which has become so prevalent in recent times.

I, of course, recognise that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has disclaimed any such intention, but we have to look to the time when other Ministers will occupy the Government Benches who may feel less constrained. I believe with complete conviction that if we were to move to a guillotine procedure in this Chamber the capacity of Parliament—that is both Houses taken together—to hold the Government to account and to have them explain and justify their actions and their proposals would be almost completely eroded.

I turn to my final point. These proposals have emerged from a Leader's Group and the Procedure Committee. In truth it is the so-called "usual channels" that bring the proposals before the Chamber. Even the Procedure Committee consists principally of distinguished denizens of the usual channels. When noble Lords such as myself seek to offer a different view, we are very soon seen off.

I accept that for routine matters the usual channels serve a good purpose, but for matters of principle particularly affecting the Back Benches they are unsatisfactory. My fears were underlined during the Procedure Committee deliberations when the Lord Privy Seal sought to defend a particular proposal by claiming that the rights of Back Benchers would be protected by, as he put it, the lock of the usual channels. At that moment I became resolved to challenge the conclusions of the Procedure Committee report now before your Lordships. I support the Motion before the House.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I too served on the Procedure Committee. I found it an uneddifying experience. The report is a fair summary of the Procedure Committee's debate, but we were not shown it before—

Noble Lords:

Order!

Photo of Baroness Nicol Baroness Nicol Labour

I am confused about what procedure we are following. Has the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, moved his amendment, or did he make a Second Reading speech, and are we being asked to listen to another?

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

This is not a Second Reading speech, but a comment on the question before the House about the Procedure Committee. I think it is helpful for the House—

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

The Motion before the House is that the House resolves itself into a Committee.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

In that case I shall reserve my remarks for later.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

moved Amendment No. 1:

Paragraph 2, page 3, line 8, leave out "At the end of the trial period the House should review how the new practices have worked and decide whether they should be continued." and insert "We recommend that a further report of the Procedure Committee on the new working practices be made to the House near the end of the trial period. This report should review how the new practices have worked and recommend whether or not they should be continued."

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

During the Procedure Committee's deliberations there was considerable discussion—

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I am sorry, but on a point of order, the Chairman of Committees said a moment ago that the Motion before the House was that the House resolved itself into a Committee. Surely the fact that a noble Lord is sitting in the Committee Chair shows that the House is already in Committee? Can the noble Lord explain?

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

I apologise. The Motion before the House was in fact that the report be agreed to, and we are now on the amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My remarks are not addressed to a particular amendment; they concern the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

The Motion before the House is that the report be now received. The normal procedure is to move to the first amendment, which I understood has been called. I am sure that that is the convenient way to proceed.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

During the Procedure Committee's deliberations there was considerable discussion of how we should proceed at the end of the trial period. It has been agreed that the proposals before your Lordships in the Procedure Committee report, however they may be amended during today's discussion, should be implemented for a trial period only, with further consideration being given to them in due course. The point I put to your Lordships is how the outcome of that trial should be assessed, considered and decided on at the end of the two-year period.

Some of us held the view that the Procedure Committee should be asked to consider the matter on the basis of the two years' experience and make a further report to your Lordships. I am certain that that is the right way to proceed. The alternative, which is proposed in the report and with which I disagree, is that the matter should be decided by the House.

I fear greatly that if we leave it to be decided by the House, as proposed, the matter will not be adequately considered because the House will not have the proper information before it and it may be agreed or disagreed to without the benefit of proper advice and consideration. The correct procedure is for the matter to go back to the Procedure Committee after the two-year trial, for the committee to consider it again and then report to your Lordships. That is the effect of my amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

I oppose the amendment because it is inconsistent with Amendment No. 2, which I wish to support.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I support the amendment. Before speaking to it I wish to make a comment about the Procedure Committee because I found it an unedifying experience. The report is a fair summary of what was discussed, but we did not see it before it was published and it was not agreed by the committee.

As the Leader of the House said, we were presented with a package. It seemed to me on many occasions that it was a package created by wise men and that comments on it from Back Benchers were an unwelcome irritant.

When we discussed the report, many of the amendments were not written down and there was no order for them; some were oral, some were made on the spot. It was therefore difficult to follow at times exactly what the Procedure Committee was doing. Some of the amendments were passed over and we had to return to clauses to deal with the amendments that were written down. Some of the evidence presented to us, in particular, the paper presented by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, was not given the attention it merited. It was given scant regard.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne about the sources, to which we shall come in a moment. The Leader of the House repeated today that this was a package. But he himself moved an amendment to alter what the working group had said. This amendment seeks to replace what it said and to undo the effect of the noble and learned Lord's amendment.

On this experience, I believe working groups chaired by the Leader of the House to be bad and divisive. It has signed up noble Lords to something that pits the Front Benches against the Back Benches. Although it was probably right for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde to take part in the working group, I hope that he will look at another with a great deal more circumspection.

The Leader of the House was right in the way he described the role of the House when he introduced this debate a moment ago. But while much of the report is welcome, some of its recommendations will weaken the House's role.

I turn to Amendment No. 1. What concerns me is when the trial period is going to begin. As the report states, the proposals are to be phased in over time as resources allow. There will therefore be no precise time to start the two-year period. I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne that the House will have great difficulty in assessing how the trial period has worked unless a committee such as the Procedure Committee has investigated it and asked questions. One of the advantages of the Procedure Committee looking at the working group's proposals was that we began to ask questions that had not been asked before. The more we asked them, the more the package started to unravel and the more faults were found.

The House would be doing itself a great disservice if it allowed the trial period to end without having a report before it in order to assess what had happened during the trial period.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 3:30 pm, 24th July 2002

Before the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, sits down, he said earlier that he did not see the text of the report before it was published. The end of the report states that the committee resolved that the report, as amended, be the report of the committee. He did not vote against that. Therefore, did he not read it; did he not have it in front of him; or was he not there?

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I was certainly there. The noble Lord is kind, but I do not have to answer before I sit down because this is Committee stage. What happened was that we reached the end of the last day and the Chairman of Committees said that he would prepare the report and have it published because we had, in any case, overrun our time. We did not see the final version of the report, and I did not see it until it was printed. In fact, I do not believe that any members of the Procedure Committee saw it.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

With due respect, I believe that the noble Earl's memory does not serve him well. I specifically showed the final draft to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, as well as to some other members of the committee.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

I do not know whether or not the memory of my noble friend Lord Caithness is at fault, but I was a member of the Procedure Committee and I did not see the report until it was published.

The points that my noble friend Lord Caithness made are important. In certain areas of the House I detect an irritation that this issue has been raised. If noble Lords look carefully at the report of the Leader's Group or, indeed, at the report of the Procedure Committee, which we are considering today, they will see that the issue is confusing and contains complicated matters.

The portrayal given by my noble friend Lord Caithness of how the Procedure Committee operated was fairly accurate. I have been in your Lordships' House for quite a long time and have sat on all-party groups, Back-Bench groups, Procedure Committees and Committees of the Whole House. I have to tell noble Lords that taking part in this Procedure Committee was one of the most unhappy experiences that I have had during the 16 or 17 years that I have been in this House. That does not mean that all the things proposed in the Leader's Group report and all the things that the Procedure Committee discussed were bad or wrong. This House must evolve; of course it must, and we must change our practices.

However, as we started to go through the issues of this package, it became perfectly clear that many of them had not been considered in huge detail or been thought through. Indeed, over the past week or so since the report was published—I may be very slow; I probably am—I have thought of a number of other things that we did not discuss or consider which we should have done. I asked myself, "How does that work? How will that knock on?" These issues are important. I do not believe that individually any of them are particularly earth-shattering. I do not believe that any one of the measures in the report will change the House overwhelmingly or destroy the work that has gone before. However, I believe that, as a package, it will change the way that the House conducts itself. That will not necessarily be for the bad but it will change it.

I am clear that the report of the Procedure Committee before noble Lords today does not give the full flavour of what the Committee is being asked to consider. The reason that your Lordships sent the report of the Leader's Group to the Procedure Committee was so that we, the Procedure Committee, could give Members of the Committee guidance on how to make a decision today.

I am clear that we, the Procedure Committee, have failed noble Lords in that duty in that the guidance given in the report before the Committee today is simply not adequate. The Committee is not in possession of enough information or facts to make an adequate decision. If the Committee were to make a decision today, undoubtedly it would be one that stored up possible problems for the future. I suspect that that is perhaps because we set about the task rather too quickly and, if I may say so, rather like a bull in a china shop. We did not pick off the issues and discuss them at length as we should have done. The last meeting of the committee took place at 48 hours' notice, when one or two members were unable to be present. In my view, that is not the way for a committee of this importance to conduct itself.

Therefore, I believe that Amendment No. 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne is helpful. If Members of the Committee decide today, as I believe they should, that what is before them is not wholly adequate but, at the same time, is not the worst thing on earth, and if they decide that they wish to proceed and see how the proposals work—I am not sure that I would consider that to be wise but Members of the Committee may decide that that is what they wish to do—an insurance policy and check are needed. My noble friend Lord Caithness is right with regard to the trial period. I am not clear when it should start or finish, and Members of the Committee need to be clear about that before coming to a decision. However, assuming that Members of the Committee decide to proceed with the two-year trial period, the obvious insurance policy and check that noble Lords will decide upon at the end of that period will be to say to the Procedure Committee, "Would you have a look at this in rather greater depth, in rather more detail and in a rather calmer atmosphere than was the case two years ago? Could you report back to the House and advise it as best you can on whether this should be adopted as there are question marks over it?" However, the report is not all bad, and Amendment No. 1 may at least go some way to solving some of the problems that lie within it.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

With regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is right. We had before us a draft report. The issue and various alterations were discussed and agreed to in principle. The Chairman of Committees took away the report to redraft it. Unless he sent it to one or two members specifically for approval, the committee as a whole did not see it before it emerged. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, obviously did his best to encapsulate in wording the feeling of the Procedure Committee. But the wording before this Committee was not seen by the whole committee before it was published. That is the answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

I turn to the amendment. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to enlighten us as to the version which appears as his proposal concerning what will happen after the two Sessions of trial period. I suggested that all those changes should be subject to a sunset clause so that they had positively to be re-enacted if they were to happen. The Committee will not be surprised to hear that I did not get very far with that suggestion.

The Leader of the House has undertaken that, in their own time, the Government will bring the matter back before the House. However, supposing that we do not adopt the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I want to ask the Leader of the House what he contemplates will happen. Does he contemplate putting forward a Motion with perhaps one or two alterations to the practice and then it being open to people to table Motions to change other practices; or does he anticipate a general debate and then, if it emerges that some changes are considered desirable, that the Procedure Committee should implement them? I believe that we need to be clear about that before we decide whether or not the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is necessary.

It would not be satisfactory if the Government simply brought the matter back to us after two Sessions saying, "It's working well, except that I think it should be 6.45 p.m. instead of 7.15 p.m.", and if no one else was in a position to lay before the House alternative specific proposals. Therefore, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will enlighten us before we have to decide whether or not to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I hope that it is in order for a Back-Bench Peer who is not a hereditary Peer to take part in this afternoon's proceedings. Some Members of the Committee may recall that, when we last looked at the Leader's Group report, I made a number of disobliging remarks about the Procedure Committee, to put it in the simplest terms possible. I believed that it was an idiotic idea to give this report for consideration to that committee, which I considered to be a useless committee. That managed to offend several people. I know that, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was offended by my remarks, as he told me so.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

I do not recall the noble Lord making the remarks. I was not in the least offended.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

The noble Lord was present when I said that we should not remit the matter, and he told me the following day that he was upset by my remarks.

What troubles me is that we have heard four members of the Procedure Committee agree with me that they do not care at all for the Procedure Committee. They served on it and they thought, to put it in common parlance, that it was a stitch up. But have they not noticed their own contradiction—that, having said that, they now want the Procedure Committee to do more? The idea is preposterous.

I am addressing only the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. However, to save time—noble Lords will be aware how economical I am—my remarks will apply to several of the other amendments. It is absolutely barmy, if I may use that word as parliamentary language, for Peers to say that they dislike intensely the way in which the Procedure Committee has carried on and then propose that the same Procedure Committee, rather than your Lordships, should in a couple of years' time decide whether we have made progress. In due course, the committee members will become great experts on cost, efficiency and such matters.

I hope that we shall throw out all the amendments—and it would be a good idea to do that forthwith, because there is rather more serious business for your Lordships to address today. I hope that at least we can deal with these matters with some dispatch and not be taken in with the idea that we will waste any time with the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

Perhaps I may respond to the quite appropriate personal remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I can assure him that I do not mind at all what he said.

The matter should go back to the Procedure Committee, not because that is the perfect body for everything—it is not, as I hope my remarks have already indicated—but because, provided it is not unduly constrained by time, as it was on this occasion, in my view wholly inappropriately, it would at least have the capacity to take evidence, to receive information and to receive the advice of the Officials of the House on all the detailed matters that will cause your Lordships to reach a final decision on this trial when it is complete in two Sessions' time. It would be preferable to do it that way, rather than to put it to the House as a whole. One has only to imagine how it would be done. Is the House to consider all the detailed implications of the trial, which by that stage we shall have completed over a two-year period? I believe that that would be impracticable.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I look forward to hearing how, if my amendment is not agreed to, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal intends to proceed with this matter.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

As a non-member of this august committee, I do not pretend that I can ever be as rude as my noble friend Lord Peston

Noble Lords:

Try, try!

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

But I shall try. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who told us that he would have preferred no changes at all to be made, that it would have been simpler and more sensible if he had moved one amendment to delete everything, so that we could have a vote or go home. It occurred to me to move an amendment of that kind, but I did not want to be provocative.

Having read this amendment with very great interest, I believe that it is rather rude to the Leader of the House. We are told in paragraph 2 that at the end of the trial period the House itself, not even the usual channels, should review how the new practices have worked and decide whether they should be continued. That is quite straightforward and quite simple. I look forward to hearing my noble and learned friend's reply. I am sure he will be able to tell us that that is precisely what he intends to do, in which case I shall have no need to say anything else.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

Irrespective of the views held by noble Lords on the Procedure Committee, it is worth remarking that we are today debating a report of the Procedure Committee, which was used as a filter to put flesh on the bones of the report of the Leader's Group. Because we are debating it today in the form of a report of the Procedure Committee, I, like my noble friends, believe that it is perfectly reasonable to expect that in two and a half years' time we should revisit the subject by way of a filter, whether in the form of a Procedure Committee or some other committee of the House. If as a whole House we were to review the activities that flow from this report, we would get into a terrible muddle.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative 3:45 pm, 24th July 2002

I intervene briefly to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Some of the matters that we are discussing may be seen as essentially housekeeping matters. However, in so far as some of the proposals embodied in this report affect the relationship between Parliament and the executive, we are considering a very important matter, and I hope that we can discuss it at that level.

Secondly, I believe that it would be appropriate for a committee of the House, though not necessarily the Procedure Committee—it is not necessary today to decide which—to conduct a review of the practices, once in place. That body should assess the practices on the basis of one clear criterion, which should also be the criterion that we employ today in considering the recommendations and the amendments before us; namely, whether they strengthen Parliament in calling the Government to account. That should be the primary criterion used to inform the House, and I hope that we may debate the matter at that level.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

Of all the amendments that we are considering today, this is the only one that I find in the least compelling. If we have a Procedure Committee, why do we not use the wretched thing? As noble Lords and my noble friends in particular have said, some detailed matters require a certain amount of expertise. Therefore, the Procedure Committee is the right body to form an initial view of whether, after the end of two Sessions, this experiment has worked.

Accepting this amendment would do very little harm and could do a great deal of good. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will think very carefully about whether he can accept what is in practice a very minor amendment but one that could be of great benefit to your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I shall confine myself to the two important themes enunciated by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.

I endorse entirely the wording and the spirit of the single criterion that he specified, which are very similar to those that I have used on many occasions in this House: not least, our scrutiny of secondary legislation; Europe-derived legislation; and the necessity, to which I referred earlier and now repeat, that Opposition parties and Cross-Benchers should be properly resourced and equipped to do their work. After all, the Government in the nature of things will not be able to scrutinise themselves. I believe that if the Norton criterion is put to the report of the Leader's Group and to the report of the Procedure Committee in its present form, it will pass. I am quite happy to be judged by that question alone.

The noble Viscount asked what should be done at the end of the trial period. I remind your Lordships—the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Peston, are quite right—that this came from page 1, paragraph 4 of the original report, which is in bold for a specific purpose: its importance is recognised. Your Lordships will remember that this was not a committee of placemen, nor a committee with a government majority. The noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Waddington and Lord Roper, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, served on the committee. It was a unanimous report. Paragraph 4 of the report states:

"Acceptance may be more readily forthcoming if the package is endorsed on the basis that it is for a trial period of two Sessions".

Then there is the citation by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett:

"And the House itself would have to approve any continuation thereafter".

Nothing could be plainer than that.

The noble Viscount's question was: what should be the procedure at that stage? It is a perfectly legitimate question. I anticipate that I would suggest that we have as wide a debate as possible with the opportunity for Members of the House, who, after all are the people who matter here—this is a House matter essentially—to say whether or not they found the changes acceptable. Nothing could be fairer and more transparent than that.

I advise Members of the Committee not to bind themselves today inevitably to returning to the Procedure Committee. That occurred to me long before my noble friend Lord Peston pointed out the slight internal inconsistency of members reviling in vigorous terms—not of course in words of asperity, but getting close to it—the quality of the Procedure Committee but of insisting almost simultaneously that the Procedure Committee was the beast which should be entrusted with this work.

My advice to the Committee is to see how we get on after the two-year period. We can then discuss among ourselves what we want to do. But let us keep the situation flexible and at least try to make changes work to the benefit of the House.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

Perhaps the noble and learned Lord can answer one simple question. I have no desire to attack the Procedure Committee. I would not dream of entering on to the ground of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who was so uncivil about it. On the whole I agree with what the Leader of the House has just said. There is little point after what has been said in our sending the matter back to the Procedure Committee. It might then use all its ingenuity to make things even more complicated than they are now.

My question for the noble and learned Lord is: exactly what does "pre-legislative scrutiny" amount to? Are they just weasel words to cover up a shortening of procedures? Or do they mean—something which I would personally very much welcome—a pre-legislative examination of every Bill, which could then be thrown back in the event that it sinned through being incomprehensible either in whole or in part—I should like that to be regarded as a vice fatal to a Bill—or was the product of the bad habit of incorporating three, four or five Bills in one cover under one title, which would similarly be regarded as an offence? If that kind of provision was covered by "pre-legislative" scrutiny, I would be very much in favour of it. If there was some other hidden reason, I would be less keen.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I am always happy to oblige the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. His questions about pre-legislative scrutiny attach themselves appropriately to subsequent groups of amendments. I can perhaps more helpfully reply at that stage.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

I have no faith in trial periods; I have no faith in trial periods ever coming to an end. I am glad that this one is to be limited to two years. But at the end of the two years its success or failure should be discussed by the Procedure Committee whose job it is to make recommendations to the House on such matters. After that the trial period should be considered by the House; it should not be allowed to continue, possibly by default, on account of unfortunate timing of a discussion in this House such as the last day before the holidays when many noble Lords may already have left. It is important that this issue is given proper consideration with plenty of time allowed. I do not have any faith in that happening unless it goes back to the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

I share the concerns that have been expressed. However, the noble and learned Lord said—I hope that I understood him correctly—that he did not rule out the possibility of this matter returning to the Procedure Committee at the end of the trial. That is highly desirable. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

moved Amendment No. 2:

Paragraph 3, page 3, line 14, leave out from "so." to end of line 16 and insert "The Procedure Committee recommends that none of the proposals in this report should come into operation until detailed estimates of their cost and the availability of the financial, human and accommodation resources needed to give effect to them have been presented to the Procedure Committee and the other relevant committees or sub committees of the House. The House itself should, as always, take the final decisions on how such resources should be allocated."

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

During our discussions in the Procedure Committee, there was some surprise among members that we had so little information about the cost and other resource implications of the proposals before us.

I understand that the budget, as it applies to the costs of your Lordships' House and of the other place, is not cash limited. That is no doubt so. Nonetheless, it is imprudent for us to proceed with bringing in these proposals and for the Chairman of Committees to bring his report before the House without our really having any idea of what the costs might be. I accept at once that in the short time the Procedure Committee had available to carry out its work it was not possible to make the necessary calculations—in detail in any event—although I know that our officials did their best.

I hope that it is now possible for the Chairman of Committees to explain in more detail what the resource implications are. I hope that he will do so now. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative 4:00 pm, 24th July 2002

I made it perfectly clear to my colleagues on the committee that, like a number of noble Lords who spoke on the previous amendment, I was dismayed by the way in which our business was conducted. I must make it equally clear to the House, which may otherwise be under the impression that the report before us provides reliable guidance based on a full and adequate examination of the issues, that it does not.

On 21st May the Procedure Committee was asked,

"to consider the practical implementation of the [working] group's recommendations".

We got off to a bad start with a paper before us that told us that two of the most significant recommendations—pre-legislative scrutiny and September sittings—did not concern the procedures of the House. They were a matter for the Government or the "usual channels", with the implication that we need not spend much time on them. Far worse was the fact that at no stage in our inquiry did we receive a single paper dealing with costs, resources, staff, options or the practical consequences of the various proposals before us.

In a paper to the committee which commented on the first draft, I wrote:

"I believe that the House will think it incredible that paragraph 3 about 'heavy burdens', prompted substantially by comments that I made to the Committee about the experience of the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill, has not led to an assessment of those burdens or any analysis by the Committee of the manner in which they will be handled".

We were told, as my noble friend Lord Caithness informed the House, that it was the practice "to find the resources" to make possible what the House wanted.

There are two objections to that remarkable revelation about the way in which the business of Parliament is conducted. Experience tells us that even if resources are provided they may be inadequate or their arrival may be long delayed. Certainly, that has been the case with the European sub-committees which have had to struggle on for long periods with too few research assistants.

More important is an objection of principle, raised with vigour by my noble friend Lord Caithness during our proceedings. He argued that it was wholly wrong that we should take decisions that might have substantial cost implications without any examination of the costs or the way in which they were to be met. If I had attempted to run the business of the National Rivers Authority in that manner, the department and the National Audit Office would have assailed me, and the Public Accounts Committee would have torn me in little shreds. If any commercial company ran its business in the same way it would not survive for more than a few weeks.

Whatever may have been the practice in the past, it seems to me shocking that Parliament should still operate in that way. For that reason, I shall certainly vote for the amendments standing in the names of my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Caithness and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy.

I must make it clear that there are a good many proposals that I can support. Because some of us dug in our heels and pressed our points, and because the Leader of the House sensibly accepted amendments—I thank him for his wise and pragmatic approach on several issues—there are sensible suggestions that I can accept. For example, with two exceptions, the carry-over proposal is close to a form that would be acceptable and would avoid the damaging consequences that many of my noble friends have identified as being inherent. The exceptions are: any satisfactory assurance that pre-legislative scrutiny should normally (certainly with important Bills) involve both Houses; and the time limit proposed by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. I think that we should insist on those points when individual carry-over Motions are moved.

I want to deal with two particular issues where the examination of practicalities and resource implications has been disastrously inadequate. The first concerns the proposals about which my noble friend Lord Peyton asked a question: the proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny. The second concerns the proposal that we should rise in mid-July and sit regularly in September.

I am totally in favour of pre-legislative scrutiny. However, I am also a member at present on the Joint Committee on scrutiny of the Communications Bill and, with my colleagues on that committee, I have been learning some practical lessons about what is involved. I cannot think of any task in which I have been involved which has involved such a heavy workload. The quantity and complexity of the evidence—written, oral and the 500 submissions received on our website—has been immense. If the burdens have been heavy for the committee members, and in particular for our admirable chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, they have been even heavier for our Clerks, special advisers, officials who have managed our website, the Hansard Society and the many others in the very large team which has made our work possible. Our own Lords Clerk had to be appointed at short notice and it was unhelpful that he was given a new job and replaced before our work was anything like completed.

The penultimate sentence of the report that we are debating contains a statement that is incapable of fulfilment. It states:

"It will therefore be essential for the business managers to plan the legislative timetable in order to ensure that Ministers, Opposition spokesmen and other members of the House are not faced with conflicting demands for their time and presence".

On every occasion on which the Procedure Committee met, I had to leave well before the end of the meeting in order to attend the joint scrutiny committee and make it quorate. Tonight I shall have to leave this debate for exactly the same reason; and I apologise to the House for that fact. When the time comes to vote in this Chamber, the Joint Committee will have to adjourn. Because we have arranged to meet upstairs, it will not be entirely disruptive. But when witness sessions are being held in Portcullis House the consequences can be quite serious. On one occasion we sat from six in the evening until 10.15 and kept some of our witnesses, the heads of great companies, waiting for lengthy periods while Members of the other place voted in Divisions in which the government majority was never less than 200. Because of the distance to Portcullis House each Division involves an adjournment of at least 20 minutes.

On this occasion, the problems have been just about overcome. But if several Joint Committees are meeting at the same time on important Bills they will be very great indeed. And do not imagine that Committee stages will be shorter than in the past. Because of the weight of evidence provided and the many questions identified, I am confident that the Committee stages are likely to be longer. I do not believe that we should leave it to ad hoc future arrangements for these formidable resource and business management problems to be resolved. The report of the Joint Committee on the communications Bill which will be published next Wednesday morning will contain some tough words about the things that the departments got wrong on this occasion and will suggest some essential ground rules for the future. We should not support the recommendation of the Procedure Committee until we have much more satisfactory guarantees that the resource and business management arrangements will be dealt with adequately and proper ground rules are in place. Here are further reasons for voting for the amendments.

My general prejudice against September sittings on a regular basis arises from reasons well set out by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in the May debate, and I need not repeat them. Paragraph 27 of the committee report recommends that the House can reach this decision early in future Sessions. If no amendments had been tabled for today, under the procedure which has been adopted the House would not have been given an opportunity to express a view about the question at present. It is for that reason that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I have tabled amendments to remove paragraphs 27 and 28. Surely it is desirable that the House should have the opportunity to decide on the general issue this evening. The first draft of the report included a recommendation that the House should always rise by the middle of July and return at the beginning of September. The sentence was deleted but the House should be clear that that is what the business managers have in mind.

Unfortunately, there has been no examination of some pretty fundamental questions. Because we follow the other place in dealing with many important Bills, that is our most busy time. It is also the prime time for pre-legislative scrutiny. Surely we need to consider pretty carefully the consequences of suddenly postponing all that activity for a month and a half. It is also a very busy time for the European Union Committee and its sub-committees. At my request, the European Union Committee is now considering the impact on our consideration of European business.

At present if pre-legislative scrutiny is completed by the end of July, the Government have three months to consider the recommendations and redraft the Bill. If the scrutiny committees have to continue their work in the autumn, it is hard to see how the final Bills could be introduced before the year end. Are governments really going to be content with such long delays to their legislative programme? I doubt it. None of these subjects was considered by the Procedure Committee. We received no information about the impact on the staff of the House or about the impact on the maintenance programme, except that in the last hour of our deliberations the Clerk to the Parliaments suddenly slipped in the information that at least six months' notice would have to be given so that contractors could plan their programmes.

The report states that whether Grand Committee sittings are to be held in September when the House is not sitting is largely a matter of business management. I do not agree. In addition to the points identified as requiring resolution, we must insist on information about costs, resources and staff. My suggestion in the committee that it would be necessary to bring back quite large numbers of staff, including those in the Clerks' department, messengers and security staff and to make substantial changes to the arrangements made for visitors was not challenged. Until there has been proper consideration of all these issues, I do not think that the House should contemplate so fundamental a change in our practices. For that reason, I shall support the amendments. I hope that many others will do so. As I have explained, I shall have to be absent for much of the remainder of the proceedings. However, I shall support other amendments. If my noble friend Lord Trefgarne moves amendments about September sittings, I hope that I shall be back so that I can support the amendments which stand in my name.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I thought that we were debating one amendment. The remarks we have just heard were debating them all. It indicates to me that were we to have the horrible elected House we should have to have a Speaker to decide which matters were out of order. I thought that we were debating one amendment. If noble Lords want to speak to all the amendments, I shall be happy. We can have one debate, one vote and call it a day. But the noble Lord spoke about every single amendment on the Marshalled List.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the challenge which has been thrown at me. I responded to those issues which were affected by resources. We are dealing with one amendment. Every single point I made is covered by that amendment. I intend to make only one speech today. For the reasons I have explained I cannot be present in the House again. If the noble Lord wants me to make more detailed speeches on the other amendments, I shall come back and do so. But I think that he is being discourteous and unreasonable.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

I wanted only to make a brief speech agreeing with some of what the noble Lord said and some of what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said—for different reasons. The plain fact is that I do not like this paragraph of the report either, for one simple reason. We are told that we will do all that and phase it,

"as resources become available".

This is the second Chamber of Parliament. We should decide what resources are available to us, not the usual channels, not the Procedure Committee, but this House. That is what we are talking about. To that extent, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I do so reluctantly, because I disagree with just about everything else that he said and is doing in this debate, because he wants to kill it—I know that.

But the plain fact is that there should have been and should be in the near future the preparation of a budget. That is crucial. I speak as a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and someone who had a little to do with the Treasury. I object to the form of words used in the report because we are asking the Treasury for money. We tell them what money we need, what resources we want to spend. We should not be asking it favours. As I said, this is the second Chamber of Parliament. That is what I do not like about that phrase.

I hope that my noble friend—I beg his pardon; I mean my noble and learned friend; I know that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, likes us to be correct in these matters—can tell me that he does not intend to slow down any implementation of the report's recommendations simply because the Treasury does not allow him the money. He must tell the Treasury: we decide. We should not allow it to tell us what resources are available, especially when one considers how little we spend in this House in comparison with another place and with most other Parliaments around the world.

So, for the reasons that I have explained, I support the amendment. I do not wish to delay matters, so I shall say only that I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to assure me that he will not delay implementation for the reasons implied in the report.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

If the introduction of the any part of the Procedure Committee's recommendation is to be phased, surely the trial period must also be phased.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

Perhaps I may form a bizarre and unusual partnership with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in support of his final point. He may recall that when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was a member of the House of Commons Commission, deciding how much the House of Commons could spend. I endeavoured to subject the commission to cash limits, but found that I was unable to do so from the Treasury. Some years later, when I was Leader of the House of Commons and my role was reversed, I took some pleasure in imposing the same conclusion. I think that my right honourable friend John Major was then Chancellor, but whoever it was, what the noble Lord said is absolutely right.

That is a serious point. We cannot allow the Treasury to dictate to us the pace at which we implement the recommendations. Even so, one would have hoped that the matter had been thought through rather more fully than it has been, because there is every risk that our achievement will be inhibited by lack of preparation.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

I rise to speak briefly because I am probably the only Member of the House who is not totally committed to the idea that we should have another committee to consider the procedures of this House. The extraordinary way in which the matter has developed leads one to wonder why some members of the committee did not either issue a minority report or leave the committee.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

They are not allowed to.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

Well, there are ways to get around that, as the noble Lord has been here long enough to know. I shall happily discuss with him how that can be done to make some protest.

I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 2—I say that so that there is no grave misunderstanding. First, I fundamentally object to the amendment for a similar reason to the two previous speakers. There is not a complete, clear, logical analogy with the Welsh water board. As someone who has been involved in several companies, I think that that is a dangerous idea. I find the idea that measures that we believe are essential to good governance and our legislative efficiency—if that is what we decide—should be constrained for the lack of a budget or the need to keep within a budget, is deeply offensive to our whole system.

We are talking not of billions of pounds but of what the Treasury from time to time describes as candle ends and paperclips. The amendment is fundamentally wrong. The House must decide what it believes is the necessary way of working that enables it to produce the best possible contribution to legislation. When it arrives at the conclusion, the means must be made available. We are not talking of vast sums, but even if we were, we would have to stand on that principle.

Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour 4:15 pm, 24th July 2002

Perhaps I may bring the House to face the realities of the situation. The Public Accounts Committee frequently commented on expenditure of public money, and it was right to do so. Sometimes, the Public Accounts Commission, which looks after the finances of the National Audit Office, made approaches to the House of Commons Commission about its need for money for certain things. As far as it could, the House of Commons Commission implemented its decisions, but it was certainly leaned on by the Government.

The same thing will happen here. My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will, rightly, strongly advance all the arguments and make the case on the assumptions that we have discussed, but there will be a reaction from the Treasury, and I fear that there will be compromise. Do not think that we need only to pass a Motion to get some money and we will get it. What we can do is use our best endeavours to try to get as much as we can. It will be phased. The best solution that we can arrive at is the phasing that we expect in due course.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

The phasing needs to be in our hands and cannot be made logical if we do not know what the different items on the list cost. So we need a procedure such as that suggested by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I add that not all of the necessary resources are financial. My noble friend mentioned human resources. We are a large part of those human resources. I have already had to resolve a conflict between whether I should attend debate on a Bill in which I had an interest in Grand Committee or on another Bill in which I had an interest on the Floor of the House.

Having been a Minister in four departments and answerable for a fifth, I frequently find that I have strong views on legislation passing through your Lordships' House. If we are to have a multiplication of debate under the proposed Grand Committee scheme, it will be a question not so much of bi-location as tri-location or quinque-location if one is to discharge one's duties to the House. That must be taken into account before the recommendations are put into effect. I therefore support my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I rise briefly to add to a commonsense approach. Having served on the Libraries and Computers Committee a short while ago, I know perfectly well that resources are limited. When I said, "Do we not run things? Cannot we decide?", I was told, "No, you are more of a user group". In other words, matters are determined outside and we are constrained by pre-set budgets. I am sure that all of that can be organised over a period of years behind the scenes, through all sorts of channels about which I do not know, but we need an element of common sense. We cannot just ask for money and expect to get it. That is the reality.

On the question of our splitting our resources and time, I suspect that we shall have to consider other voting patterns. I refer to the business of trying to get here from meetings in Portcullis House to vote and back again. I have been in various committee meetings there. Suddenly, everyone gets up and off, and a meeting that may be quite important is completely disrupted. Members of the public are trying democratically to lobby their democratically elected Members, but those Members are on the telephone, on the pager or voting and are not there to be lobbied. We need to consider how to handle that.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

I support the amendment not only for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell but because it is a key amendment. If it were to be agreed, it would give time for consideration of the merits of the other amendments to which my noble friend referred—I shall not refer to them, and I shall limit my speech to this amendment. I agree with the amendments that he mentioned, to which I shall come later.

Acceptance of the amendment would be an effective resolution of our difficulties. Our difficulties are complex. On any showing, it will be difficult to achieve a wholly intelligible and comprehensive result today. Further time is needed, and the amendment would provide it.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Conservative

I shall reinforce the comments just made by my noble friend Lord Elton. We are talking of resources, and, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I should like to have seen a budget. However, we are not talking only of resources financial; we are talking also of resources human. That involves a large number of people, including Members of your Lordships' House, Clerks, Hansard writers and Doorkeepers. There are tremendous human resource implications.

There is another thing that bothers me, about which I must ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. Lines 14 to 16 of the fifth report, which the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne would change, read as follows:

"It seems to us unlikely that all the Group's recommendations can be implemented immediately. We"— the committee—

"recommend that with effect from next session (2002–03) implementation should be phased, as resources become available".

In paragraph 2, the report discusses a trial period of two parliamentary Sessions. I must be hypothetical for a moment: what will happen if something is delayed for 15 months? Will that mean that there will be only nine months of trial? Does the two-Session period start at the end of the 15-month period? The noble and learned Lord should tell us about that. We may have a very short trial period for some of the recommendations. I hope that the noble and learned Lord can tell us that it will all be done quickly, but the matter worries me.

I do not want to get to my feet any more than I need, so I must also say now that I am concerned about this afternoon's procedure. I want to raise a short point regarding paragraph 12 of the report. However, as we are restricted to talking about amendments and as no amendments to paragraph 12 have been tabled, I am not sure when I can bring the matter up. Can the noble and learned Lord help me on that?

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

The noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Geddes, have reminded us that it not just a question of resources but of human resources. There is a third element, to which the amendment draws our attention: accommodation resources. That is an important factor, and no amount of money from the Treasury will remedy the accommodation deficit in the short term.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Geddes. He raised again the point that my noble friend Lord Mancroft and I raised about the first amendment and to which we did not get a reply.

I put my name to the amendment for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned. It is a matter of principle whether we should allow the report to go through when we have no idea of the resource implications. That is a major defect in our proceedings. As other noble Lords said, there are also questions of human and financial resources, but we have no idea what will be needed fully to implement the report.

Like my noble friend, I have served on a pre-legislative committee. It was on the Freedom of Information Bill. The committee was hurried; we were short of time in which to do the job properly. If we want proper pre-legislative scrutiny, we must be properly staffed, and we must be given adequate time. That is not happening at the moment, and we have no idea of what is needed to remedy that defect.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

I do not have a particularly suspicious mind, but, having listened to most of the contributions this afternoon, I wonder how many were intended to be constructive and how many were intended to delay things. I would like to live long enough to see the recommendations implemented.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I have a precise question for the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. The report says:

"We recommend that with effect from next session . . . implementation should be phased".

Who decides on the phasing? Who decides on the priorities? Is it the Procedure Committee? Is it the usual channels? Is it the House as a whole? Is it the noble and learned Lord?

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

I shall say just a word because I know that everyone is anxious not to speak more than once in the debate. This is my twopennyworth.

There is undoubtedly a general mood abroad that we should drag our practices out of the 19th century and into the 21st. Some Members, to judge by their practice, upbringing and general demeanour, would prefer, for legitimate reasons, to make as little change as possible. I understand that. I have no quibble with those who hold that view. However, when the Leader's Group was set up, we charged the best people available, on the basis of experience, with investigating the changes that could be made. They did so and made their recommendations.

I supported the Leader's Group out of respect, first, for my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House and, secondly, for those in the group. Then, we had an interesting debate here, in which my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, played a major part. He confronted the House with the consequences of accepting that report. At the end of that debate, we decided that the Procedure Committee—a committee of experienced people from all parts of the House—should examine the matter. After debate—and some division—the committee put before the House what my noble and learned friend described as a package, a description that I accept.

Some aspects of the report meet my concerns, and some do not. However, ultimately, I must decide whether I support the democratic process in which I have been involved—delegated democracy—and whether I agree, in general, with the report. Some Members want to make changes: where the report says "six", they want "five" and where it says "may", they want "shall". They want to know how long the changes will take and when the process will start. To them, those may be important matters; to me, the issue is whether we want to see the House do something about its procedures, regardless of whether the amendments are pressed.

Having been here for 19 years, I have some experience. I have served at various levels. At times, Members who believe that they are doing the House and the country good are, in fact, being selfish. I sat here many nights, well past midnight, and found that Members on both sides of the House were dead beat. They were still here simply because the procedure said that any amendments that were put down would be dealt with, unless they were withdrawn. We crucify ourselves by sticking to established procedures. Of course, we can discuss the amendments relating to times; people will have a view about working on Thursday mornings and finishing at 7 p.m. Some of the things may not be to my liking. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others have said that the point of the changes was to aid the Government. We should wait and see. My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House and my noble friend the Chief Whip may feel that they have got an easement of their burden, but "It ain't necessarily so". We do not know how it will pan out.

I am prepared to trust my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House and his committee, which includes the usual channels. They are made of flesh and blood. They are not automatons, sent here simply to do somebody else's bidding. They have families and personal priorities too. Above all, however, as Members of the House, we ought to try to do things in such a way as is to the aid and comfort of all of us.

I very much hope that this amendment will not be accepted; and that the other amendments, which, undoubtedly, are designed to be helpful, will be withdrawn at the appropriate time. The House—which means the Leader, the usual channels, and the Procedure Committee—should proceed as best it can.

Reference has been made to the fact that we need to be careful about money. I merely reflect upon the experience in the other place. They have not just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds; they have spent millions of pounds in efforts to make their task as legislators easier. The noble Lords, Lord Sheldon and Lord Barnett, and others, can tell us that there are checks and balances involved and that you do not always get what you want, but you could have fooled me. One has but to compare the easement of conditions in the other place with the purgatory that has arisen here just because some of us wish to make our lot just a little easier.

We must recognise that thousands, perhaps millions, of people outside this Chamber will not readily understand the reaction to this opportunity, which has been provided by the Leader, the other party leaders, as well as the usual channels. It is an opportunity for us to do something to make our job as parliamentarians a little easier. Therefore, I do not think that we ought to look this gift horse in the mouth. I very much hope that that will also prove to be the attitude of all noble Lords.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 4:30 pm, 24th July 2002

Perhaps I may make a very simple observation at this point. If the Procedure Committee had been able to tell us what the costs of such changes would be as regards both human resources and money, there probably would not be a problem. However, the problem is that the committee has not been able to do so. I cannot imagine any situation in private life in which one would embark upon a course of action, which clearly will be expensive in many ways, without having an idea of the eventual cost. It seems to me to be practical common sense that we ought to have that information before we make any final decision.

I am not disputing the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, or the fact that we need change. However, it seems to me to be quite extraordinarily irresponsible for this Chamber to be prepared to make such a move when we have been told by members of the Procedure Committee that they do not yet know what it will cost, and that they are going to tootle along and see what happens. That does not seem to me to be a common-sense approach.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Perhaps I may deal with the noble Baroness's general observation. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, we are not analogous to running a public company. We do not attempt to run our business exactly replicating the directors of Enron or of WorldCom; we are doing something infinitely more important. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rightly said, we are attempting to discharge our duties as a House of Parliament.

The noble Baroness, and many other speakers, asked about the costs involved in these changes. The answer is that we cannot say because, by its very nature, the process is incremental; and, indeed, is intended to be incremental. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, persuaded a large majority of noble Lords of his view—I am offering no comment of my own—that a significant injustice might well have been done to two dead members of the Royal Air Force. That was the noble Lord's view. Assisted by other noble Lords who were of the same view, the noble Lord persuaded your Lordships that a committee should be set up to investigate the fatalities in the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre. I am taking no position as to who was right, or who was wrong. Did any noble Lords think that they should challenge the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on how much such a procedure would cost? Indeed, due to the nature of things, how could he have answered? It would have been quite impossible for him to do so.

Time and again, we have said that we hope to reform this Chamber gradually and incrementally. There is a hope expressed in the recommendations of the Leader's Group that, eventually, virtually all major government Bills will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. All those in the Leader's Group knew perfectly well that that would be a matter of years, not months. Unless I know which Bill will have pre-legislative scrutiny—whether by the House of Commons, the House of Lords, or by both Houses—how can I conceivably cost it? We know that there will be significant savings, because the cost of staff overtime will decline if we finish business at about 10 o'clock at night; and that applies also to the cost of transport, and so on.

I echo what my noble friend Lord Graham said. At the end of the day, it comes down to this fundamental question: do we wish to improve our practices to make our true work achievable? If that is so, we need to go forward incrementally. I accept the challenge put forward, but it is not possible to cost such reforms. The noble Baroness and I both participated to our mutual benefit in the Grand Committee proceedings on the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, but I could not possibly have costed that process before we knew how many days that committee would sit.

As the noble Lords, Lord Geddes and Lord Elton, along with other speakers, have said, we are not simply talking about cash resources; we are talking about accommodation. That is why, when your Lordships were all engaged on a beach somewhere last August, my noble friend Lord Carter and I obtained authority to buy Fielden House for quite a significant sum. We did so because we believed that we would need that accommodation resource. It will take a little while for it to be refurbished, and the final plans have yet to be completed.

We need to take a view on such matters. Are we going to bring about reform in this Chamber? I accept that we need resource by way of training the Committee Clerks, who are admirable in quality, extremely diligent, and very often overworked. But we already set up committees without costings. I can give other examples, but I fear that I would be straining noble Lords' patience.

I am sorry to put it quite so plainly, but, at the end of the day, we must decide whether we want these changes to take place. Thereafter, incrementally—patiently sometimes—we will have to will the resource. I shall give noble Lords but one example. The Liberal Democrats, the noble and gallant Lord the Cross-Bench Convenor, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, all put forward their bids and the resource has been obtained. I do not say that by way of self-congratulation; I say that because I think that it was a worthy, moral purpose to bring about. We can do it if we want to. But if we want to clad ourselves again with the carapace of the past centuries, we are all in the wrong place.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Conservative

Will the noble and learned Lord be kind enough to tell us how any Members of your Lordships' House can broach a subject in this Committee that is not actually the subject of an amendment?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

There are two points at issue. First, I wish that they would not do so; and, secondly, if they do, your Lordships' ingenuity knows no bounds.

I have considered the noble Lord's point about questions being too long and answers too lengthy. I believe that to be a general view, of which the Procedure Committee took note. I am sure that those who are guilty in that respect—that is, of course, anyone but oneself—will pay due regard to those comments.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

With the Committee's permission, I shall bring to an end the debate at least on this amendment. Surely it is common ground that these proposals will cost something. It is common ground that they will be introduced over a year or so. Similarly, it is common ground that no doubt the Treasury will provide the funds being sought. I seek only to ask noble Lords to inquire what it is that we are asking for.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 63; Not-Contents, 192.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

Aye: 61 Members of the House of Lords

No: 190 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.