moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 3, line 25, at end insert "We also recommend that the Procedure Committee should be asked to make recommendations for protecting and promoting the interests of backbench members of the House when proposals are made for the membership of select joint domestic and pre-legislative scrutiny committees of the House."
I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. The same subject is covered in the Motion in my name on the Order Paper that comes after we have debated the Procedure Committee report. They are three ways of tackling the same subject. I very much hope that the Leader of the House has a fourth way that we can all agree to.
The usual channels are a wonderful institution. We benefit a great deal from them. They work very hard on our behalf and, in my experience, by and large they achieve an equable and reasonable result. However, as Back-Benchers we must not forget that the usual channels are not us. They have their own agenda. On two or three occasions this week alone, their judgment of what should be done with a particular Motion or amendment has clearly not been the same as that of Back-Benchers.
Most of the time, in the normal operation of the House, that is probably survivable and it is probably a fudge that we can get along with. However, the changes to be brought about by this very desirable report from the Procedure Committee will move it up a notch. Our core business—the consideration of government legislation—will go through a phase in which most Members of this House will not have a right to participate. Only a limited number of Members of this House will be able to participate in a joint pre-legislative scrutiny committee. Even on a committee of this House, only a dozen or so of us will be able to serve. Those Members who have been through that process will be the core of our expertise in later stages of the Bill. They will have done the work and been through the arguments and will have the knowledge.
There must be a temptation for the Government to make sure that those committees are compliant to their wishes. I do not doubt that the same applies to my Front Bench. We have seen that problem arising in another place, where there were famously arguments over the composition of some of their committees, which in their case the Back-Benchers have won and we have reforms to consolidate that.
We do not face the same political edginess in this House, but we are in danger of moving towards it. As Back-Benchers, we must make sure that our mechanisms for appointing Peers to committees that will arise out of the reforms are open to scrutiny and participation.
I have just finished participating in a Select Committee of this House on animal experimentation. I was chosen for it because my noble friend Lord Henley tapped me on the shoulder in the Library one day and said, "I am looking for someone to participate in this. Would you be interested?" That is all very fine and dandy, but how many other Members of this House who might have been interested were offered the chance? There were no committed animal rights activists on that committee. How do we know that there is not someone in this House who has that as a passion? Such a person would have been an appropriate member of the committee and ought to have been offered the opportunity to participate.
It has sort of been an ambition of mine for a long time that I might be a member of the Procedure Committee. After today's debate, perhaps I am losing that ambition. I have never known how to achieve it or how the members of the Procedure Committee are chosen.
We ought to move to greater openness so that we, as Back-Benchers, know what is being done. There will always be the necessary balancing and it is generally for our convenience that that should be done by the usual channels. To try to reduce that to the democracy of the House would be tedious, time-consuming and not necessarily accurate. However, what is done ought to be done openly. My proposal is that we should each have the opportunity to put our names down for committees. In the case of long-running committees we could put our names down to be considered next time a vacancy arises. On ad hoc committees, we should give ourselves a little time in which Members can say that they would like to be considered. Those lists of people who are interested should be open to all of us for inspection so that should the Government do something unthinkable, such as introduce a Bill to lock people up for life merely because psychiatrists think they might commit a crime, even though they have never committed any, there would be a chance for those of us who, perhaps against the wishes of our Front Bench, hold the liberties of the individual above the convenience of the state to be sure that our opinions were represented on that committee. When we came to consider the Motion asking us to agree the committee, we should be able to know whether someone whom the House considered the key expert in the area had put their name forward and been rejected. With that knowledge of the position that had been taken, we would be able to question the usual channels properly.
That is my sole objective in the amendments. I support the reforms, which I hope will go through today, but we should look to their consequences for us as Back-Benchers. We put in a lot of time in this House for the sake of those odd moments of influence on things that we really care about. We ought to find a way of making sure that, when we really want to do something, we have the chance to participate if at all possible. I beg to move.
I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will shortly be told that his amendment is not within the scope of this debate because it is not within the remit of the Procedure Committee to decide how members are chosen for committees. However, before he is rightly told that, perhaps I may say that I strongly agree with the general sentiments expressed in his Amendment No. 3, although not necessarily with the procedure for dealing with it expressed in the more detailed Amendment No. 4.
I believe that the time has come when we should look again at how people are chosen for the various committees. Too often one finds that it is a case of Buggins' turn or a case of, "Oh well, there should be so many members from this party, that party and the other". Incidentally, in relation to the latter, the Cross-Benchers are grossly under-counted, but I leave that small point to one side.
Many committees do not have much politics in them, and, as the noble Lord said, we should do much better if we looked for people who had real knowledge and a real interest in the topic rather than saying, "We must find two Tories, two Labour members, one Cross-Bencher and one Lib-Dem". I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will say to us that he will take away that matter and consider how it should be dealt with.
The Procedure Committee is a very good example of a body that is badly composed and grossly insufficient in terms of Back-Bench members. First, it is far too big; and, secondly, it is grossly over-stuffed with party apparatchiks. Why the Procedure Committee needs to have the Leader of the House, the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Whip, the Deputy Leader—all from the government party—and, let us say, an almost equal number of Front-Benchers from the other parties beggars description. If it were slimmed down, first, it would be a better body and, secondly, Back-Benchers would receive better representation.
While I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendment can possibly be added to the Procedure Committee's report, I hope that we shall hear from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that he will take away the matter and see how it can be investigated.
I rise to say a word in support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I take it that he tabled these amendments not with a view to dividing the Committee but with a view to obtaining a statement on the matter. I believe that he is right to do so.
The interests of Back-Benchers in this House must be protected. Very simply, we require my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal and the Leaders of the Opposition parties to rise in a few moments to say that, when it comes to membership of committees, they are determined to see that the interests of Back-Benchers are protected. At least, I hope that that is what we are about to hear.
I want to build on that point by making two or three other remarks. One partly follows the earlier intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, on the subject of human resources. I am glad that he included we Back-Benchers in the set of people called "humans". The problem is that the approach that we appear to be following will undoubtedly involve more work for us. He is right to draw that to our attention.
It is not often recognised—I say this in a slightly irritated way—that noble Lords sometimes sit on committees because they are prestigious. However, they do not seem to realise that a commitment is involved; namely, if one sits on a committee, one is supposed to attend. One is not doing the House a favour by agreeing to be on a committee. If a Peer is on a committee, he has a duty to be there. Noble Lords who know which committee I chair may guess what my sub-text is here.
However, in relation to all these matters, including pre-legislative scrutiny and so on, I believe that if a Peer says that he wants to sit on a committee and if he is added to the list proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that must mean that he wants to do it and that he will attend and take part as and when required and not when it suits him for the odd hour when he can find the time. Therefore, there are two sides to this matter.
Incidentally, I cannot see that the usual channels will keep we trouble-makers off the Committee stage of Bills. It they were to do so, we should simply spend far more time making trouble at Report stage. Therefore, I do not believe that my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will be tempted to go down that route—in fact, quite the contrary. The correct strategy will be to get the trouble-makers on to a Committee as early as possible and see whether they talk themselves out.
I turn to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. Although it was raised earlier, I believe that we can debate it under this heading—that is, the fear of the guillotine. When we first come to this House, we are often asked what it is like. Certainly when I first came I said, "The amazing thing when compared with academic life is how courteous everyone is in debate. The other thing is that they self-regulate and it works. There is no Speaker. They have a set of rules in the Companion, to which they largely stick to. In particular, when it comes to legislation, any Back-Bencher can put down an amendment and no one can stop him or her from insisting that it is debated". I considered all that to be marvellous.
In terms of the Companion, I have noticed recently, not least with regard to the Education Bill over the past couple of weeks, that we are drifting away from our standards. I believe that at some stage someone will have to remind Peers what the Companion says about how often one may speak and what one is supposed to do. However, that is incidental.
My main point is that I cannot see that I would ever vote for a guillotine and I know of no friends—I do not mean only political friends but friends in this House—who would do so. Therefore, unless something very strange happened to the composition of this House—again, I cannot see that happening in my lifetime—there is not the slightest possibility that a guillotine would be carried. Therefore, I hope that we can scotch that idea during this afternoon's deliberations, if not now.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is right to raise the matter as it provides an opportunity for some of us to say what we think. But I do not believe that the danger of the guillotine looms before us in any way whatever. If it does—to make my usual joke—I hope that someone will then tell the Government Chief Whip what trick he has to pull off to obtain a guillotine because he at least might be tempted. But I cannot think of any way that one could carry off a guillotine. I do not believe that it would be possible to get a respectable vote for a guillotine and not embarrass those proposing it. Therefore, I believe that the one aspect that we can set aside—I am using the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as my basis for intervening—is the danger of a guillotine.
I spoke at length last time this matter was before your Lordships, and I can assure the Committee that I shall make only this one very brief intervention this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House knows that I have severe reservations as to how his package, even as amended by the Procedure Committee, might reflect on the traditional freedoms of your Lordships' House. The imposing of the ten o'clock limit, for example, could conceivably lead to a guillotine of some sort unless more time were made available.
When the noble and learned Lord comes to reply, having heard what noble Lords have said, I wonder whether he will make certain, by giving an absolute undertaking to the Committee, that nothing in this whole package will ever be used by Her Majesty's Government to create even a semblance of a guillotine on the Floor of this House or in any of its Committees. If he did that, I, for one, would feel very much happier.
I return briefly to the subject of the amendment. I, speaking particularly as a Cross-Bencher, support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I consider it to be a very good thing. I have noticed the possible danger of rotating expertise off a committee because the membership is due for rotation. I believe that we should be seeking expertise. With regard to the subject of guillotines, if we are all brief, we shall not need one.
I want to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, concerning the guillotine. In my time, I have guillotined a number of Bills. I have wiped my bloodied hands on my apron afterwards and have never felt much contrition. I suspect that when the proposals now before us are argued through and experienced, we should be very wise not to forswear the possible use at some stage of a more orderly use of time—I use the bromide prescription. I shall tell Members of the Committee why.
It is very modish to say that we are in favour of the pre-legislative consideration of Bills. That is not an entirely new prospect. It was tried in the 1980s in the other place. It was not a great success but nor was it a howling failure. However, what is now being proposed is the consideration of Bills—not only the odd Bill but all government Bills to all intents and purposes—not merely by the chosen Members of this House but by their acolytes, their research assistants and all those wishing to give evidence. Do noble Lords suppose that one can easily anticipate the amount of time that that will take? Do they suppose that the Members who are not privileged players in this drama will quietly accept the subsequent consideration of the Bill in its more conventional sense and will show a suitable reticence appropriate to their status? Not a bit of it. They will try to get in on the act by considering the Bill at its post-pre-legislative stage, and that will be a natural political process.
Those hard-nosed factors have persuaded the management down the road to be very reticent about the idea of pre-legislative scrutiny. I am delighted that that has been breached and that this matter is now to be tried seriously and pioneered in this Chamber. However, in addition to the consequential demand on financial and other resources mentioned by others in the debate, the exercise will, above all, create a great deal of demand in terms of time. That is why the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, with his virginal innocence, would never dream of making heroic statements about guillotines. But it is all being done on a very generous expectation. I am reminded of the old adage about the menu with no prices—that after the feast, you may end up doing the reckoning by doing the washing in the kitchen.
The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, had a majority, but my apparatchik noble friend the Chief Whip is not in such a happy situation. As I understand it, he has about 28 per cent of your Lordships' House. Getting a guillotine with that percentage seems a little unlikely. Even the Official Opposition certainly do not have a majority of your Lordships' House. So the idea of guillotines is not really a serious proposition.
I speak briefly to agree with this amendment. It is a very sensible amendment, but it is not necessary—I thought I saw my noble and learned friend nod—because one cannot impose it on your Lordships' House. I do not like the idea of the so-called usual channels deciding the membership of Select Committees. I believe that the membership of Select Committees, which in my experience do a first-class job, should be made up of those who are likely to do a good job on them, and not necessarily in the kind of proportion to which the noble Lord referred. I hope that we can get away from that.
I hope that this report and the previous report on your Lordships' House will ensure that the usual channels do not have the kind of power that they have previously had and still have now. We are told that the Selection Committee decides on the membership of Select Committees. We all know that, in that sense, a Selection Committee is a joke. The selection committee does not decide; the apparatchiks, the usual channels, decide. It is time that we in your Lordships' House decided the membership of them, which will require us to appoint the members of the selection committee as well, and for that we do not need new resolutions or to amend the procedure. The usual channels should not make the decision.
It is a very complicated matter, about which the other place experienced even greater difficulties, and the usual channels were generally reluctant to relinquish those powers. I know that my noble and learned friend will not be reluctant to relinquish the powers, and I look forward to hearing him tell us that.
I should like briefly to support the amendment. I share the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that the noble and learned Lord who is to reply will exercise a Welsh sense of temperance and be prepared to accept our arguments.
I should also like to pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Biffen. I, too, had a period as a slaughterer-in-chief as Leader of the other place, although my term in that office came to a premature conclusion. Alongside my temporary addiction to that, I set my much greater enthusiastic commitment to the idea of pre-legislative scrutiny. It has been available for a long time, though it has hardly ever been used in the other place. I agree that we need to be cautious in applying it to everything, and I embrace it for one other final reason; namely, that the problem arises from our sheer legislative lust as a modern society. The size and number of Bills of every kind now being introduced is formidable. They go far beyond the bounds of manageability and intelligibility. If pre-legislative scrutiny can curtail that lust, I welcome it.
I still believe—this relates to a subsequent debate that we are to have—that we would be unwise to curtail our sitting hours quite to the extent proposed by these recommendations. A degree of flexibility will be necessary to achieve the outcome that we all want. On this amendment, I am very strongly in favour of our trying to fight in this House the battle that has been carried some way towards success in the other place.
Perhaps I may say a few words on behalf of the usual channels, retired. I do not know what the other parties do. As Chief Whip, I asked all my colleagues on the Whip to let me know whether they were prepared to serve on committees and, if so, on which committees they would like to serve, and I know that my successor will do the same. So far as I could, I tried to put them on to the committees that they chose. In that way, they all served on a committee, though not always on the committee of their choice.
I have just glanced at the membership of the specialist committees of this House, which shows that we have expertise on those committees. I shall not go through the detail. The present system works quite well. All we need do is tidy it up a little to make it perhaps a shade more formal. I would be tempted not to go down the very bureaucratic route in Amendment No. 4, but to seek an exchange of views between the parties in order to get the balance of expertise that we want. If one looks at the membership of all the specialist committees now, one finds that the usual channels have not done a bad job.
I agree with the thrust of my noble friend's two amendments and with his Motion, which we are to consider later.
As has been explained, the selection of noble Lords to serve on Select Committees rests with the Committee for Selection. I have the privilege of being a member of that committee. However, I have to tell your Lordships—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will not mind my saying it—that the selection of names for consideration by the Committee for Selection is sometimes a little perfunctory.
On an early occasion soon after my election to that committee, my first knowledge of a recommendation from that committee of which I was a member was on seeing the Motion on the Order Paper in your Lordships' House. It transpired that apparently a very urgent decision was required from that committee, and that decision was whizzed through. It is true that someone attempted to write to me, seeking my agreement, but the letter was not received and the matter therefore came on to the Order Paper. That will not do. The Committee for Selection must have before it a proper list of names from which it can make a selection. At the moment, it merely rubber stamps the recommendations of the usual channels. I hope that that arrangement can be improved.
There is at least one Select Committee in your Lordships' House that does not really reflect your Lordships' views and, furthermore, clearly does not reflect opinion in the country at large. I refer, I regret to say, to the very important matter of our relationship with the European Union.
I must declare an interest in this, because I served on that committee from 1992 until 1996 and have been trying to get back on it ever since. Simply because that experience led me to the conclusion that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, I have never been allowed back. It is worrying, however, that not a single member of that committee holds that view.
As to opinion in your Lordships' House, we have very little to go on. We very seldom talk about European matters beyond the currency. It is true that in the record vote in your Lordships' House in 1992, one-third of your Lordships voted to support a Motion to give the British public a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. At the end of January 1997, in a record vote for a Friday in the House, your Lordships voted to support the Second Reading of a Bill which would have taken us out of the European Union altogether.
As to opinion in the country, which goes completely unrepresented on the committee, we do not have much to go on. However, in consistent opinion polls, in answer to the question, "How would you vote in a referendum to stay in or leave the European Union?", the come-out vote has not fallen below 40 per cent since 1987 and during the recent general election it reached 52 per cent. I repeat that no one on your Lordships' Select Committee would support that view—at least publicly.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, says that he always did his best in that regard. But I have to remind him that a deputation went to him some two years ago, including Members from his own Back Benches, these Benches and the Cross Benches, and nothing happened.
In that case I take back my comment. However, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, must admit that as, regrettably, Lord Shore is no longer with us the lacuna remains. I merely put the example to your Lordships and hope that in future Back Bench opinion will be better represented.
There are times when one longs for the guillotine. But I am happy to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that there is no prospect or intention of using any of the changes to introduce anything like a guillotine measure in this House. First, I do not believe that the House would vote for the idea. Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Barnett said, it is not possible for this Government to operate it as we have only 28 per cent of the vote. Furthermore, I do not believe that it would chime with the way in which we do our work—which we all know is perfect in every respect. I give that reassurance in the terms required by the noble Lord.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made me the most attractive offer, which I carefully wrote down. He proposed that if amendments similar to those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, were passed, I would no longer have to sit on the Procedure Committee. That is the best inducement I have ever been offered.
I am sympathetic to the thrust of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others. It is important that we do not have the appearance of a cosy stitch-up. I am happy to take the matter away, as the noble Lord invited me to, in order to see whether we can do better. For instance, the procedure mentioned by my noble friend Lord Carter was working. I know because I was party to it and he frequently said that on occasions he had insufficient volunteers to fill committee places. I see the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, nodding. That is sometimes true. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is a member of the European Union Committee and I do not believe that his views differ enormously from those of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.
My noble friend Lord Peston made the point that becoming a member of a committee requires a commitment and that must be so. Local authorities and the Bar Council, for instance, have a rule that if members do not turn up for six months, or a particular number of meetings, they are automatically excluded. That is a thought put forward almost at random.
I undertake to consider the matter. I would caution against a register as it would become too formalised and bureaucratic and many noble Lords would not want to be as unfortunate as to put their names on a register. Your Lordships write in asking to be on committees. I received a letter from a colleague the other day in respect of a particular committee and I passed it to the Chief Whip at once.
I take on board the points that have been made; we need to be transparent and to be able to reassure all sections of the House that their interests are fully safeguarded. As has been said, there is a requirement for Back-Benchers to sit on the Committee of Selection. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was well made; that if one has a Committee of Selection, that simply stereotypes the pre-decision that has already been made. That is unsatisfactory and is a matter for the scruple of those who sit on the Committee of Selection. And of course ultimately the Back-Benchers have the majority in this House.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, invited me to be as subtle as possible. When he used the word "apparatchik", I thought that he was using two words: that it must be some elderly Welshman living in Port Talbot whose name was App Aratchik.
I am grateful for what the noble and learned Lord has said. I am happy to take his advice and seek to pursue the matter through discussions. The key is information. I never know what committees exist, what is proposed and when vacancies arise. Some way of making that information available would be helpful. It would also be helpful to know how my interests should be registered if I am to get on to such committees. If that could be formalised so that I knew how to do it, that would be helpful. However, within that, I am happy to wait and see what ways might suit best the ordinary working of the House.
Having said that, I now turn to a moment of flattery. My noble friend Lord Geddes raised the question of paragraph 12. The answers which the noble and learned Lord gave to the Statement were an admirable example of how to be concise and informative at the same time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 5 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. I believe that the question of carry-over is one of the most important issues which the Procedure Committee considered following the deliberations of the Leader's Group. I recognise at once that there are differing and respectable points of view on the matter. I know that others do not agree with me. I am sorry about that but my view is as follows and I hope that I can persuade some of your Lordships to the same view.
For centuries—at least for generations—it has been the position that any Bill brought before Parliament must be enacted during the course of that Session or else fall. As recently as the previous Session or the one before that, the position was breached with a particular Public Bill which it was decided should be agreed could be carried over.
That may not be quite correct, because that facility has been available to Private Bills for long time. But for a long time Public Bills have carried a restriction that they must be enacted during the Session in which they are introduced. I suppose that that is why, generally, Bills start their passage in another place and then come to your Lordships' House. If they have not passed through all stages in both Houses by the end of the Session, they fall.
I believe that that has always been an important constraint on governments. It is important for governments to be able to persuade Parliament of the merits of their legislation within a reasonable period and one Session has been taken to be that period. That is the basis upon which Back-Benchers are able to contest Public Bills if they disagree with them. They can table amendments; they can argue the merits of different parts of the Bill; and they can insist that the Bill is subjected to proper intervals between stages, as has long been the case in your Lordships' House and the other place.
If we are now to breach that principle fundamentally—and I believe that these proposals do so—that is a retrograde step. I have no doubt whatever that the need to get Bills through a particular Session is an important constraint upon governments and Ministers. It is a way in which Parliament can keep Ministers to account. They have to explain and justify the merits of their legislation within the required period. If that means that they have to stay up late at night, or that they have to delay having their dinner or going to bed, I am sorry about that, but that is the way it has been and the way it should be.
I recognise that a couple of years ago we agreed that a particular Bill could be carried over. That was a departure from the principle to which I have referred, but it would be a great mistake to widen the arrangements for the carry-over of Bills, as I proposed by the Leader's Group and endorsed by the Procedure Committee in its report before the House. I know that other noble Lords want to express views similar and no doubt dissimilar to mine, but in the mean time I beg to move.
Before turning to the question of carry-over, I want to say a word or two about pre-legislative scrutiny, which is dealt with in this group of amendments. Many noble Lords have already spoken on the subject.
The real problem is that we have too much legislation. If we did not have so much legislation we should manage perfectly well—as we have done in the past—without pre-legislative scrutiny. I have many misgivings about it and I have a nasty suspicion. It is all right if we decide to have pre-legislative scrutiny. We shall start with pre-legislative scrutiny and then have the other stages of the Bills—just as we have always had. But I have a nasty feeling that one day someone will have the bright idea that because we have pre-legislative scrutiny it is not necessary to have both a Committee and a Report stage.
We shall end up with one stage less in which the whole House takes part in the scrutiny of a Bill. That stage will be replaced by pre-legislative scrutiny. It will be done by a Select Committee and will not be open to all Members of the House. That is something that I do not like.
I have misgivings also because when the Scotland Bill was passing through the House, some noble Lords were concerned that the Parliament would not have a second chamber. We were told that that would not matter because there would be pre-legislative scrutiny and that the Executive would take account of that scrutiny. I think that they did for quite a while, but when the pre-legislative scrutiny committee recommended something that they did not like, the Executive paid not a blind bit of attention to it. If that has happened once, it could happen again. If it can happen there, it could happen here. That is why I am just a little worried about this issue.
I turn to carry-over. I do not like carry-over for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. To my mind it is an attempt to neutralise—and I would almost say sterilise—the opposition. As such, it is nothing more nor less than an affront to democracy. I also cannot help wondering whether any implications of carry-over on the Parliament Act have been carefully looked at.
I rise to support Amendment No. 5 moved by my noble friend, standing also in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and to which I have added my name.
It is true that the Procedure Committee has suggested certain safeguards, notably that the carry-over procedure should apply only to Bills that have had pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not believe that that safeguard would survive the rough and tumble of parliamentary life. It would quickly be extended and probably moved entirely. Once carry-over were extended we should be on a dangerous and slippery slope. That would be bad for Parliament. It would also be bad for the government of the day because a government needs a strong Parliament.
How far would this safeguard operate? What would happen in the first Session of a Parliament, particularly when we have a new government? Do we really expect that a new government, fresh from the electorate, would sit on their hands for the whole of the first Session while they put their Bills to pre-legislative scrutiny? Of course not; they would be anxious to carry out their mandate. They would say that they had already had pre-legislative scrutiny by the electorate who elected them. I suggest that it would be difficult for the opposition of the day to withstand that argument.
A normal Session of Parliament is four years. Do we really expect that for a quarter of that period—namely, the first Session—there would be no effective legislation because there had been no pre-legislative scrutiny? Of course not; it would not work in that way in the real world.
Also, what about emergency Bills? Most Sessions these days have emergency legislation. Almost by the nature of things emergency Bills are not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. But the Government of the day will say, "This is an emergency Bill. It should go through irrespective of the safeguards built in". Often, as we have discovered already in this Parliament, governments have the tendency to tack on to emergency Bills provisions which are not emergencies at all. Therefore, I suggest that the proposed safeguards are unlikely to stand the test of parliamentary time.
We should not abandon the principle which is hallowed by time, namely that if a government cannot persuade both Houses of Parliament by the end of the Session to agree a Bill, that Bill falls. It is a good discipline on the Government of the day. It may help them to resist the temptation to introduce more legislation than they can comfortably carry. Once we remove that discipline, the chances are that we shall get more and probably worse Bills. What we really need is fewer and better Bills.
Furthermore, it deprives the Opposition of one of its most powerful weapons. Often the Opposition can only talk. It has many voices and a long time to try to persuade the Government that their policy is wrong and should be amended. Once the opposition of the day is deprived of that weapon, it weakens the whole process of parliamentary procedure.
In conclusion, all noble Lords want to improve the working practices of this House. Many of the recommendations by the Leader's Group are welcome. But there is strong opposition from Back-Benchers on all sides of the House—which has been evident from the debates so far—to some of the recommendations. I hope therefore that with a little more time it will be possible to proceed by consensus.
I hope that the Procedure Committee report will not be agreed to today, but that more time will be given, so that there can be more adequate consultation with Back-Benchers on all sides of the House who are unhappy about some of the proposals. I believe that with more time and consultation, and given good will on all sides, it should be possible to reach a consensus.
I approve of carry-over. I think that it will prevent the kind of thing that I have seen sometimes at the end of a Session when the two Front Benches have had to collude in order to get defective legislation through. They want to get it on to the statute books. To restart the whole thing in the next Session would not be time effective.
We should have protections. First, the Parliament Act protection is essential; and, secondly, Amendment No. 8 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is a valuable additional protection. We should look at that.
As to the remainder, I have a nasty feeling that some people are trying to filibuster. I think that is pointless. I shall at be least brief.
Perhaps I may attempt to deal with what might happen in the trial period of two Sessions; and with the legitimate concerns of the Opposition about the effect of carry-over on the number of Bills which might go through.
The first point to remember is that the carry-over procedure has been available to both Houses for three or four Sessions. Only one has been presented—the Financial Services and Markets Bill, now an Act. One takes a view on whether or not that was a success as a carry-over. I believe that in the two Sessions in which we may conduct this experiment the number of Bills available for carry-over will be quite small.
On resources to be made available to deal with pre-legislative scrutiny and so on, the first requirement is to get the departments to produce the draft Bills. That is more difficult than noble Lords realise. They have to be Bills which will be subject to the proper pre-legislative scrutiny laid down in the report. They must be suitable for carry-over: they will not have a time restraint on them. Some Bills have to be dealt with in a certain time for legal and other reasons of policy. They also have to be at the right time of the Session. A Bill would not be carried over which had started in the House just after the Queen's Speech; it would be one which started towards the summer or even in the carry-over period. If one puts all those facts together, the number of Bills available for carry-over in the experimental period will be quite small. We shall have a good chance to see how that works and whether we wish to extend the measure.
Noble Lords have referred to the effects of carry-over on the programme and the fact that the Government will have more Bills dealt with as a result of carry-over. My own view is that the Government will not get more Bills through. Indeed, they may even get fewer through. Noble Lords have to think in terms of a Parliament and not a Session. As a former Chief Whip, I think of Parliament as a pipeline of Bills. Let us suppose that it was a common procedure in each Session to carry over a number of Bills—that will not happen for some years. Bills would be carried over from the first to the second Session. They would crowd out some Bills which would then be carried over from the second to the third Session, and from the third to the fourth Session. The fourth Session would probably be the pre-election Session and would be short. I think, frankly, that in the fourth Session the Opposition will be in a strong position. The noble Lord, MacGregor, with his experience, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, nod. Over the four or even the five Session Parliament, I think that the carry-over will not result in the Government obtaining more Bills. If they are lucky they may obtain the number that they want. They could well find that they obtain fewer. Throughout a Parliament, the Opposition will not have less power with the use of carry-over but perhaps even more than they now have.
I wonder whether at this stage another retired usual channel can add some comments. We have not sufficiently discussed two parts of the overall package. Although I realise that the debate is about carry-over, it is inextricably linked to the business of pre-legislative scrutiny.
I say immediately that during the years I was involved in such matters in another place, as the Government Chief Whip, I was strongly opposed to pre-legislative scrutiny. In my time we had virtually none. I opposed it for the simple reason that I believed that it would prolong the time that each individual Bill took in the House of Commons. I speak from my experience in the House of Commons but I think that it is also applicable to this House.
I opposed it on the assumption that the Government would not cheat in the way that they arranged pre-legislative scrutiny. I take the point ad absurdum. It would be very easy for the Government of the day to get a Motion such as we are discussing through the House and then to say, "You will have one Session of three hours for the pre-legislative scrutiny". That will be very much in the hands of government. I always opposed pre-legislative scrutiny because I imagined that it would take several weeks to take place. But it all hangs on how pre-legislative scrutiny will be arranged.
When the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House responds, it will be crucial for him to tell us in some detail whether scrutiny will be artificially curtailed or will continue for a number of weeks. That is crucial to the package we are discussing.
On carry-over, noble Lords have spoken about the great weapon of time, the Opposition's only real weapon. My noble friend Lord Dean referred to that. But the Opposition's great weapon of time is largely effective only if one can use the time to run the Government's legislative programme up against some buffers. One can talk for ever if one wishes, but various buffers always cause the Government of the day to ask, "Shouldn't we try to put a stop to this? Shouldn't we try to get a deal?" There is the buffer of the late hour of the night. That is not very effective. Governments are usually prepared to continue throughout the night if necessary. They hate to do so but if it has to be done it has to be done. That is one form of buffer.
Another form of buffer is often a forthcoming Recess—whether it is Christmas, Easter or whenever. Oppositions exploit that buffer by using their weapon of time. But by far the biggest buffer is that of the end of the Session. If, as Government Chief Whip, I had ever had the opportunity of carrying over Bills, whether or not they had had pre-legislative scrutiny, I would have given my back teeth to do so. If we agree in this House for a carry-over of government Bills which have had pre-legislative scrutiny, it is one of the biggest gifts we can give to the government business managers. In time it will lead further and further towards doing away with the early Sessions. If the measure is agreed, as one set of legislation rolls into the next Session, the Government will be more and more inclined to ask, "Why do we have Sessions?" That does not mean that I do not have any brief for the State Opening of Parliament but I know that some of my colleagues do.
We must understand that we are being invited to give the Government a massive lead over the Opposition. My much admired and sadly deceased friend, the late Lord Cocks—he was the Government Chief Whip and then Opposition Chief Whip in another place—always used to talk to me about the importance of maintaining the balance between opposition and government. If we allow carry-over to occur, we shall seriously destroy the existing, correct balance between government and opposition. I am strongly opposed to allowing any carry-over.
Inevitably, there is a conflict here between the concept of pre-legislative scrutiny—which, provided it is done properly, is highly desirable—and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that the only power of opposition is the threat of time. The answer to that lies in the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which, for some reason, is not in this group, but to which we shall come.
Surely, the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is a House of Commons speech. All that the procedure allows is for the House to agree a Motion for carry-over where there has been pre-legislative scrutiny. If there has been phoney pre-legislative scrutiny, such as that to which the noble Lord referred of three token hours, or if it is thought to be a government manoeuvre, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, frequently and rightly point out to us, the answer is simple: the House should not agree to the Motion.
Although the solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is much better, I do not see what is the great danger posed by the proposal at present. We will not be pre-legislatively scrutinising—if there is such an appalling phrase—many Bills. If the Government try to cheat, we simply do not agree to the carry-over Motion.
I should have agreed to the amendments, had it not been for Amendment No. 8, in the names of my noble friends Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Elton. I support Amendment No. 8. Therefore I cannot support these amendments. Amendment No. 8 would provide the balance to which my noble friend Lord Jopling referred and impose an effective discipline. So I hope that my noble friends will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Like my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, I find many of the report's proposals acceptable. Paragraphs 17 and 20 are indeed welcome. I entirely agree with my noble friend that we should not be asked to divide today; we should have more time for consideration. Indeed, if we are asked to divide on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, in view of the debates that have ensued and shall ensue, we should be doing an injustice to the interests of the House. I am not so concerned about injustice to any particular noble Lord, but that would be an injustice to the House. Whichever way a forced Division—take the lot or leave it—were to turn out, it would not be understood, it would not be in the interests of the House and it would send a wrong signal.
On a practical point, the proposal is that we should have two Sessions of an experiment and review it at the end. When he comes to reply, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will tell us what will happen to Bills that are candidates for carry-over at the end of the second Session. A Bill that has been reviewed pre-legislatively—I do not know what is the composite word; the Germans would have one—in the first Session is likely to be held over to the second, so the second part of the process falls into the experimental period. But what will the Government Chief Whip do about Bills that he would like to be candidates for carry-over into the third Session, when it is not known what the House will decide about the validity of the experiment itself?
I leave the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Chief Whip to consider that, and turn briefly to carry-over. I feel strongly that the function of Parliament is to control the Executive. A principal means of doing so is that described by my noble friend Lord Jopling. This is the place at which the system pinches; this is the sluice gate that controls the volume of legislation. I have been a Minister in several departments and was struck from the first by the enthusiastic rivalry between departments to have more Bills on the main programme than their rivals. Ministers were tempted to think that their machismo was judged by the amount of parliamentary time that they could secure.
So there is great pressure to put Bills before your Lordships and a need for a counter-balance to that. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, the former Chief Whip, suggested that, however many Sessions there may be in a Parliament, they in fact form a continuous process and that the question is whether we get a blockage here, there or at the end. He temptingly suggested to us that it would be more profitable to us if the blockage were at the end.
I pause at that point and ask the noble Lord to stop thinking about us and to start thinking about oppositions. We will not be here for ever; it is just possible that noble Lords opposite will not be there for ever. One day, whoever is in government, they may be in opposition.
I thought that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees was supposed to be impartial. He should have forgotten his origins and not be gesturing.
I do not want to venture quite as far as that as a hypothesis.
This is a serious matter. We are discussing the functioning of this House, not individual blocs of people who happen to be in it now. The functioning of the House depends on a proper balance between the Government and Opposition of the day and the Cross-Benches. In that light, we should consider proposals to restrict the volume of legislation.
My noble friend Lord Jopling was extremely persuasive, but I also took careful note of what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, when he pointed out that, in the end, the decision whether there will be carry-over will be a decision of this House. I should add in parenthesis that the candidates for carry-over will be numerous. The nearest thing to pre-legislative scrutiny in which I have been involved was in 1983, when I was at the Home Office and in charge of a Bill about the police—a large and important main programme Bill. The 1983 election struck in the middle of Report. I went home blithely for the holidays—for the weeks of the election—thinking that when I returned, my task would be easy because most of the work had been done. Not at all, more amendments were tabled when we returned to the Bill than when we first considered it.
So pre-legislative scrutiny may make for better legislation, but it will not make for quicker legislation. I shall wait to hear the winding-up speeches, but Members will have observed that my name is attached to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. If this amendment fails, I shall speak with vigour and conviction in favour of that amendment.
Unless an infinite amount of time and space is available, a government who choose to carry over a Bill must pay a price. They must give up time and space in which to do it. I was particularly amazed by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. It made no sense. If he carried over a Bill, he would lose another Bill, and he would have to explain to one of his ministerial colleagues that his Bill had been lost because they carried the other one over. He might lose a few friends.
My noble friend's intervention should have saved our having to proceed further with this amendment and the later amendments. He won the argument with no trouble. It is about time we allayed such fears and got on to the matter that really interests me—can we go home early?
My noble friend Lord Bledisloe and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that the decision on whether there should be carry-over would depend on the will of the House. At line 15 of page 4 the report says:
"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".
Judging by those words, it does not seem that it would necessarily follow that this House could defeat a carry-over.
I am in the rather unusual position of being a former member of the usual channels in another place, like the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, having been a Chief Whip at that end. I am now a member of the usual channels here.
I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. It represented the situation in the House of Commons where governments have majorities and oppositions have time. That is not the case here. We are—or we should be—concerned about using time effectively to carry out scrutiny of the Government. We tried to do that in the proposals that the Leader's group and the Procedure Committee have put before the House.
Pre-legislative scrutiny is important. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will read the recommendation of the Procedure Committee at line 23 of page 3 of the report. It says that the committee supports pre-legislative scrutiny,
"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 made it absolutely clear that we did not want just one session of three hours but proper pre-legislative scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said that he always resisted pre-legislative scrutiny in the other place because it took up time. The inevitable price we had to pay was not that there would be automatic carry-over of every Bill that had been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny but that the House should be more prepared to consider for carry-over a Bill that had been subject to such scrutiny and thus had taken more time, if the scrutiny had been carried out in this House.
We have come up with a proposal that is in the interests of the whole House and, in particular, would enable us to achieve something that was recently strongly recommended to me by the previous first parliamentary counsel. He told me that he had tried for years to get governments of both parties to accept the idea of pre-legislative scrutiny because he believed that it would lead to better legislation. We have a chance to achieve that; I hope that we will take it.
I hesitate to intervene in the debate, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to me, I shall do so briefly. I also hesitate to disagree with my noble friend Lord Jopling, particularly as we normally agree on issues. My experience as Leader of the House in another place was different from his. I must also explain why I am speaking about the amendment. I support Amendment No. 8, but, if this amendment were carried, we would not reach Amendment No. 8.
A major problem for us is that, outside Parliament, there is enormous criticism of the way in which both Houses scrutinise legislation. I share that view. I feel strongly that there is great inadequacy in the other place. The proposals—it is only a trial—go some way to meeting those criticisms. The difference between theory and reality is huge. In reality, many Bills are hardly scrutinised at all in the other place and rarely scrutinised here. Often, they are badly drafted in the first place. Pre-legislative scrutiny will not apply to all Bills. Indeed, I hope that it will apply only to a few. However, I can think of cases—the Financial Services and Markets Bill is an example—in which pre-legislative scrutiny would have led to our having a better Bill in the first place. If we have proper pre-legislative scrutiny—not done in a short time—it is difficult to get a Bill through in a Session.
The Financial Services and Markets Bill received substantial pre-legislative scrutiny. It was sent to a Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and was discussed in draft. It received an enormous amount of pre-legislative scrutiny, and we then discussed the proposed amendments to it, which were more numerous than for any Bill for a century.
That does not destroy my point; it might have been worse if the Bill had not had pre-legislative scrutiny. It was a complex Bill, and it was important that we had both stages.
If we have pre-legislative scrutiny for selected Bills, it will be difficult to get such Bills through in a Session. That is my first point. My second point is that the end-of-Session approach will mean that some changes will be made—governments always have to make concessions towards the end of a Session—but many amendments will go through without proper scrutiny by either House. That criticism is rightly made by objective observers outside the House.
If a government have a large majority, they can do what they like towards the tail end of a Session. There may be some exceptions to the rule, but, in general, a government can do as they like. This proposal—Amendment No. 8, in particular—would help to allay outside criticism that we do not do our job of considering legislation properly.
It is likely that, in practice, such scrutiny will be a constraint on governments. If governments carry over a large number of Bills, they will not be able to carry out a substantial programme in the second Session. If I am wrong about that, the trial will show that. I realise that only a small number of Bills will be chosen for the trial, but I hope that the trial will demonstrate that we perform our function of scrutinising legislation better. That is why I support Amendment No. 8.
Carry-over is the most important issue in the Procedure Committee's report. I have never been attracted to the principle of carry-over, mainly because I believe that the individual Sessions of Parliament provide a discipline on the parliamentary process and on governments and oppositions to provide for the Queen's business by a certain point. However, I recognise that the Government have an ambition to see more carry-over.
In the Leader's group, we tied the question of carry-over to the provision of pre-legislative scrutiny, which seems to be generally popular, not just in Parliament but with outside groups directly involved in or affected by particular legislation. It gives such groups an occasion to try to get things changed prior to final publication of the Bill and gives Ministers the opportunity to change their mind. I am happy, therefore, to accept the experiment.
I must take up a point about pre-legislative scrutiny made by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. The experiment will fail if we end up with a situation in which Members of another place do all the pre-legislative scrutiny and this House gets all the carry-over. I urge the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to say that that is not what he has in mind. If it is, he will find that the usual channels will be used, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, and Bills that the Government had thought would be carried over will not be. If the noble and learned Lord can give that assurance, we should embark on the experiment.
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth is to introduce an amendment relating to his plans for carry-over. I must say to him that, in the first instance, the approach that I suggest is a better way forward and is more likely to work in tune with another place. My noble friend's proposals may be right for Parliament as a whole, but that is not the proposition before us now.
I cannot add anything useful to what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lords, Lord Roper and Lord MacGregor, offered. Therefore, in deference to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, I do not seek to do so.
However, I shall answer the specific question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is not my intention to have the pre-legislative scrutiny all, or mostly, undertaken by the House of Commons, with this Chamber receiving all, or most, of the carry-over. As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said, this will not work unless the Government behave scrupulously. This Chamber has the overall lock, which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, identified.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. Legislation is often poorly produced and rushed in too quickly. Thereafter, unintended consequences emerge at far too late a stage; and, generally, Parliament does not do the work properly. We do it a lot better than the Commons. By way of illustration, I cast my mind back to the proceedings on the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill just to remind myself of what happened. I had a schedule drawn up in which two devastating letters appeared alongside relevant clauses—namely, ND (never discussed). We spent much time focusing on clauses that had never been discussed in the other place.
I believe that this proposal is a genuine attempt to improve the legislative programme. The answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is that the House would, of course decide.
I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord could also answer the question raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, about the meaning of the reference to, "one or both Houses" in paragraph 7 of the report. Under what circumstances would the agreement be by one House, and under what circumstances would both Houses be involved? Can the noble and learned Lord say which House it would be in the former instance?
Each House would decide as to whether it was satisfied that the pre-legislative scrutiny had been of sufficient quality to justify carry-over.
I should tell the noble Lord that the House that can carry over a Bill is the House that has possession of the Bill at the end of the Session. I imagine that the House of Commons could now change its procedure and carry over Bills, and we could not object. The Bills that will be carried over by this Chamber are those that are lodged in this place at the end of the Session, and in respect of which we would pass a carry-over Motion. If, whatever we say about this, the House of Commons decides to carry over its Bills in future and then restart them in the next Session, say, three-quarters of the way through, we would have no objection; indeed, no power to object.
My noble friend Lord Elton puts his finger on an important point, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson.
I am afraid that I am unconvinced by the arguments that have been advanced. It seems to me that what we are asked to accept is the panacea of legislative scrutiny, possibly backed up by the usual channels. I believe it to be wrong for this basic and, in my view, crucial principle to be overridden by those considerations. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 4, line 10, after "above." insert-"Our endorsement of Group recommendation (b) is also subject to the proviso that the Procedure Committee has made, and the House agreed to, recommendations for procedures to apply in pre-legislative scrutiny committees that will ensure:- that there is time available for appropriate, thorough and methodical consideration of the draft bill
- that draft secondary legislation is available to members of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee at that stage or, if that is not practical, not later than the formal second reading stage of the bill- that the circumstances under which the House of Commons will undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft bill on behalf of the House of Lords are understood and explained fully."
One of the principal effects of this amendment, if passed, would be to delay our procedures considerably, so I shall not press it. It has been tabled purely as a probing device because I believe that we should make clear to the Government what it is that we expect by way of pre-legislative scrutiny and procedures if we are to grant carry-over.
As my noble friend Lord Jopling pointed out, it is necessary that time is made available for the thorough and methodical consideration of a Bill. I have been involved in one pre-legislative committee, that set up for the Freedom of Information Bill. We were given a month, but that proved not to be nearly enough time. Although the time-scale will always be compressed, we must make it clear to the Government that when they approach us with a bid for pre-legislative scrutiny we expect longer than one month. We ought to set a guideline. To that end, I suggest that a period of three months is approximately what the Government should expect us to spend on the pre-legislative scrutiny of a Bill of any degree of complexity. People from outside become involved; they must gather their thoughts and produce evidence. We must then consider it and bring forward rational amendments.
In this process we also need to deal with the status of secondary legislation. One of the problems of taking Bills through this House is how infrequently we are able to consider draft secondary legislation until we reach Report stage, at which point holding a reasonable conversation becomes difficult, if not impossible. One of the functions of the pre-legislative scrutiny of a Bill ought to be that the department concerned has an opportunity to produce in draft form secondary legislation in sufficient time to be ready for the ordinary processes of the House. That should be made clear to the Government when they submit a Bill for the advantages of pre-legislative scrutiny.
It is clear from the procedures before us that the Government anticipate that occasions will arise when pre-legislative scrutiny is undertaken by the House of Commons alone, and that we are required to give the concessions. I should very much like to understand the circumstances under which that would take place. When would the House of Commons alone indulge in pre-legislative scrutiny? How would this House make known its agreement to that decision? How would this House be involved in the decision reached on taking the Bill through that process rather than through a Joint Committee or separate committees, as was done with the Freedom of Information Bill?
Finally, perhaps I may return to a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and others on the previous amendment; namely, relating to page 4, line 15. I should like to be told what the sentence beginning with the word "Carry-over" would mean in practice. I beg to move.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 8 which has been grouped with Amendment No. 7. We have already held a discussion on the principle of carry-over; my amendment seeks to impose a discipline.
In relation to the proposals before the Committee, I think that we should decouple the recommendations with regard to pre-legislative scrutiny and carry-over; they should stand on their individual merits. Pre-legislative scrutiny is extremely important and I am a strong supporter of it, but much will depend on how it is done and equally, if not more important, what notice the Government take of such scrutiny. I do not believe that there should be an automatic link as proposed in the report of the group on the working practices of the House.
The case for carry-over should be seen on its own merits. I support the principle of carry-over and have done so for a number of years, but not in the form endorsed by the Procedure Committee. I support it, but with a defined cut-off point. Under the proposals before us, the time available to take a Bill through the House will vary depending on the stage at which it is carried over. That could, I believe, be to the benefit of government and not of the House.
In the past, the Procedure Committee of the other place has defended the existing sessional cut-off on the grounds that it constituted "a useful discipline". I have been persuaded of and accept the case for a measure of discipline, having previously taken a more relaxed view of the time that should be accorded to Bills. We have a tighter discipline in the United Kingdom than is the case in many other parliaments, but the existing discipline is not helpful to Parliament.
Bills are introduced early in a Session and go into Committee at roughly the same time, putting a strain on the Members and resources of the other place. Then they arrive in your Lordships' House, creating a heavy burden just before the Summer Recess and during the spill-over period. The process places an unnecessary burden on both Houses and militates against effective scrutiny.
Getting rid of the sessional cut-off would allow Bills to be introduced at different points during a Session and thus allow parliamentary resources to be marshalled more effectively. Imposing a specific cut-off point—say, as proposed in my amendment, 12 months after introduction—would maintain the discipline of the present arrangements. Indeed, it would impose a tighter discipline given that the length of a Session is far from fixed. Sessions can, and sometimes do, last for more than 12 months.
The case for a fixed cut-off point has been recognised in the other place as well as in this House. I cite the words of a Member of the other place in support of a fixed cut-off point:
"The Commons would have much more opportunity to carry out scrutiny of legislation if Bills were carried over from one Session to the next. Plainly there must be a time limit on the period within which any Bill must complete all stages, and the quid pro quo for greater flexibility on the carry-over between Sessions should be a requirement that all Bills must complete all stages within a fixed period of months".
Those are the words of the Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook, in his memorandum to the Modernisation Committee in the other place in December last year. He suggested elsewhere that the cut-off point should perhaps be 12 months.
The Conservative Party's Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which I chaired, suggested 14 months, primarily in order to allow time for Special Standing Committees to be appointed. I am content to opt for 12 rather than 14 months, and I have therefore put 12 months in the amendment.
For the reasons I have given I support carry-over. It will benefit Parliament—but it must be subject to a specific cut-off point. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to discipline. My amendment puts that discipline into words and fixes it. I commend the amendment to the House.
As regards Amendment No. 7, I strongly support the thrust of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. If we knew what was going to be in secondary legislation it would stop a lot of the suspicion voiced in debates at earlier stages and could shorten them considerably. Noble Lords wonder what will happen and often ask for clarification of what is in the Minister's mind. The amendment would be very productive.
I strongly support Amendment No. 8 because it sets a sensible timetable. At the moment, when a Bill is introduced to the House, the amount of scrutiny we can give to it is dependent on whether we have one year or three months. That is illogical. Having one year whenever a Bill is introduced is sensible.
In the interests of brevity, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said that he agreed with everything the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, which was that carry-over is determined by a vote in this House if the Bill is to be carried over in this House. I should hate to see the House having to go back to Ministers and repeating everything with which they agree.
Amendment No. 8 seems to be redundant because there is a timetable. The original recommendation, which has been accepted, is that if a Bill is carried over into a second Session and is not passed in that Session, that is it, the Bill has had it. So there is a timetable. It may be just over 12 months, it may be two years, but there is a timetable. The amount of time allowed will depend on where the Bill comes in the first Session.
In response to the noble Baroness, the amendment will impose the discipline to which I referred on the previous amendment under the extant regime. That will be an improvement in the general parliamentary process. That is why I have supported this amendment and rejected the previous one, although I abstained.
My noble friend Lord Lucas explained that his was a probing amendment. I, too, would like a clearer enunciation of the benefits of legislative scrutiny. We have decided that that will be the way we pre-qualify Bills for consideration for carry over, which, in the minds of your Lordships, is clearly one advantage.
Four other alleged advantages were described in the Leader's Group report. Having read them, I am not very much the wiser. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to enlarge upon those four alleged advantages.
I very much support Amendment No. 8, which stands in the names of my noble friends Lord Norton and Lord Elton. It is an improvement on the proposals contained in the Procedure Committee's report. Naturally I would have preferred the amendment that I proposed to the Committee a few moments ago, to which it disagreed. I strongly support, in substitution, the amendment proposed by my noble friends. I hope that the Committee will also agree to it.
I am not sure that the Committee fully understands the full import of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. As I understand it, it is not only applicable to Bills which are subject to pre-legislative scrutiny but suggests that all Bills should have a fixed 12 months in which to pass or to fall whether or not they have been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. It is a very much wider idea.
I do not believe we can possibly agree it today because it will need agreement with the House of Commons, but I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will take the idea away and set up a Joint Committee with the Commons to discuss it. In my view, it has enormous advantages. It provides all the discipline that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, rightly said we needed, and it also spreads the workload. It would mean that this House could work fairly evenly throughout the year instead of spending the first three months in idle debate and the final three months in hectic ping-pong. That is not only tedious and tiresome but it brings politics very much into disrepute.
If every Bill had 12 months and no more to live, that would be very much better and would provide much more discipline. After all, if the Government wanted to get a Bill through they could extend Sessions. It would mean that our business could be very much more programmed. One would know that a Session would end on a certain date and the programme could be fixed. The amendment has enormous advantages. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will say that he will put in hand steps to consider it.
"We support group recommendation (a)"— which is for pre-legislative scrutiny—
"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".
I very much hope that we will stick to that principle and refuse carry-over for any Bill which does not comply with it. The horror story told by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill he is considering—of a half-baked Bill, half of which is missing; of witnesses kept waiting—is a disgrace to those who sat on the committee, to the witnesses who were kept waiting and to the parliamentary process. If that kind of thing happens, I hope that we will not give a Bill carry over because it would bring the pre-legislative scrutiny procedure into contempt. Properly done it should produce better Bills and enable witnesses to feel that they had had time to express their views.
It would be much easier if the Government could be persuaded to change a Bill before it was printed, rather than their standard response of the Minister at the Dispatch Box being told to defend it come what may because that is what the parliamentary draftsman has put there. It would be a great improvement on that kind of situation.
Perhaps I may speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. Members of the Committee have talked about discipline and balance, and his amendment seems to introduce both those qualities. It proposes a fixed period of a rolling 12 months, as opposed to an artificial date set only by the ending of the parliamentary year.
I also want to say a few words in support of my noble friend Lord Lucas, and in particular in support of his request that draft secondary legislation should be available to members of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. I had the opportunity to take part in the Committee stage of the State Pension Credit Bill. It was a complex, technical Bill, not necessarily highly party-political except in its incidence. Absolutely central to the Bill, forming the guts of the Bill, was the secondary legislation—the regulations that would be drawn up to give effect to its provisions. To be honest, most of those pieces of legislation were not available either until very late on during the passage of the Bill through this House, or indeed they were not available at all. Such pieces of legislation might well be suitable for pre-legislative scrutiny. If pre-legislative scrutiny is to have any effect at all, my noble friend's requirement that secondary legislation be available is essential.
I am intrigued by the amendment. As I understand the proposal, this would apply to all Bills, whether or not they were eligible for carry-over. Is that correct? The amendment states that any Bill that has not received Royal Assent at more or less the same time—12 months after its introduction—shall be deemed to have fallen. I should be interested—
I have before me the anticipatory agreement of my noble friend in whose name the amendment stands. It states:
"We recommend that government Bills should be eligible for carry-over but subject to the provision".
It applies only to Bills that are eligible for carry-over. This is not a great new principle. We are narrowing down the issue before the Committee, not opening up a new proposal.
My understanding of what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was saying was that the proposal was not confined solely to those Bills that received pre-legislative scrutiny. That was my point. I was merely aggregating the two things. I was referring to Bills that were subject to carry-over, which would be a much broader category than simply those that were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.
I am very concerned about the parliamentary year. It is a most distorted one. At the very beginning, we have a large number of Second Reading speeches and virtually no Committee stages. The committee rooms are empty. At the end of it, we have very few Second Reading debates, but the Committee stages continue through the night and so on. This is clearly a nonsense. There is a very strong argument now for having this 12 month period. I should like a 12 month period from the date of the Second Reading speeches to the final Third Reading stage and the passage of the Bill—within that 12 months, whenever it may be. In that way, we could have a more ordered year. That would be more convenient in terms of the quality of the legislation and it would be for the convenience of both Houses.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as I understand it—I shall be corrected by my noble friends if I am wrong—the proposal relates to the extant regime. All it is doing is providing a discipline under the extant regime. It is not related to whether there has been pre-legislative scrutiny.
I have not so far taken part in this debate, but I should like to add my voice to those urging the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to examine this idea again. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has made a very strong case. I have been impressed by the way in which it has attracted support on all sides of the Committee. I instance the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, who has addressed the problem and found the attractions of this case.
There was no logic in connecting the question of pre-legislative scrutiny to the issue of carry-over other than simply saying that this provided an extra trip-wire; namely, that there could be no carry-over if there had been no pre-legislative scrutiny. With the greatest respect to the Procedure Committee, that is illogical.
What one is looking for is an opportunity to spread the parliamentary year in a more balanced way while leaving the discipline of a time limit, imposed on both Houses and on the Government, which nevertheless would allow a Bill to be introduced in the middle or towards the end of a Session which would not automatically fall if it had not been passed by the end of the Session. That seems an extraordinarily sensible proposal. It is an improvement on what is in the Procedure Committee's report. I urge the noble and learned Lord not to dismiss this idea out of hand.
Perhaps I may defend the Procedure Committee and explain one point. The committee did not consider the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and decide on this one instead. The committee had decided on what is in the report, and the report of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, came before it only at a stage when it was too late to consider it. There is no question of the Procedure Committee having rejected the proposal and having made a mistake. The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is a new one, and—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin—a better one.
Perhaps I may add to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I raised the question of the Norton report at the final meeting of the Procedure Committee. Unfortunately, I was told that I was out of order for considering the noble Lord's report because he had not submitted an amendment for the Procedure Committee to consider. It was said to me physically across the table in the committee that, if only the noble Lord had presented an amendment, it could have been considered. As I recorded at the time, I had enormous sympathy with the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I hope that the Committee will consider it.
I endorse what my noble friend Lady Blatch has said. When the report of my noble friend Lord Norton came to the Procedure Committee there was, frankly, ample time for us to have considered his suggestions. Unfortunately, the chairman advised us that we could not consider the proposals because my noble friend's report contained no amendments to the draft report. As my noble friend had not had sight of the draft report—indeed, nor had many others, even members of the committee—that was not possible. Thus it was that my noble friend's suggestions were not considered by the Procedure Committee. I consider that to be most regrettable and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, the chairman of the committee, so decided.
Perhaps I may give some slight explanation. I received the treatise, as it might be described, from the noble Lord, Lord Norton, at a very late stage: the Procedure Committee was not exactly well under way, but I believe that it was the last piece of evidence that we received. It was several pages long and contained a number of proposals, all of which were extremely interesting. But procedurally it was impossible to use, because none of the items related directly to the working group report that we were considering. That was the difficulty with which we were faced. Had someone, or the noble Lord himself, tabled an amendment—
I had not intended to intervene again, but the simple fact is that not only was this matter raised by my noble friend Lady Blatch, but she actually put a Motion to the committee on which we proceeded to vote. The report states:
"It was moved by the Baroness Blatch, in paragraph 6, to incorporate into the report the points made on carry-over by L. Norton of Louth in his memorandum to the Committee".
That was rejected in a vote. To say that the opportunity was not given or that the matter was not discussed is simply not true. It is on the record.
I should be grateful if we could get away from holding a post-mortem on the procedure, which is not what we are here to discuss, and return to the amendment to which I have the honour to have affixed my name—and which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has made so much more attractive to me since I did so, by showing me that it is more widely applicable than I had first understood.
With one exception, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made a speech with which I could find no fault—one that I should like, with his permission, to adopt as my own, thereby shortening proceedings. I should, of course, say that our debates at the beginning of Session are not idle debates, as he suggested. I trust that the ping-pong he anticipates will not be the ineffective ping-pong that he said it would be.
As to what we are about to do, the noble Viscount said that the proposal could not possibly be accepted today because it requires acceptance by the other place. Surely, in that case, the same goes for every proposal in the report. I therefore do not think that that objection stands.
The amendment is an advance on the current situation and much more disciplined than what is proposed in the report. I warmly support my noble friend Lord Norton. I encourage noble Lords on all sides to follow him into the Lobby.
I have just been able to work out the point that I wished to make earlier. The amendment refers to the Bill being introduced "into Parliament"; that is, into the first House. Let us consider a Bill—let us call it the Animal Health Bill—that is introduced into the first House in, let us say, July. It is then carried over. It finishes its course in the other place, for example, and then comes to us, perhaps early in the following year. Will there then be a temptation for the Opposition to table an amendment that the Bill should not proceed into Committee until certain conditions have been met? If those conditions, whatever they might be, are not met, the Bill would not go into Committee. It would therefore not receive Royal Assent by July, and would fall. The Government in this House will always be in a minority. Does not this proposal on a 12-month rule produce a new device for the Opposition by which it can delay the progress of a Bill?
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, particularly asked me a question. I appreciate that it relates to the previous amendment, but, in courtesy, I think that I should say what I understand the position to be. I shall be as brief as I can. It derives from the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson.
If a Bill is introduced into the Commons and is still in the Commons at the end of the Session, the decision on carry-over is for that House alone. That is situation one, and it occurred in relation to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. When that Bill came to this House, we did not inquire, rightly, whether it was carried over. To carry over a Bill which has already reached the second House requires two Motions: one in the first House, to take the Bill through all its stages pro forma in the following Session; and another in the second House, to take the Bill, when received in the following Session, pro forma all the way to the point it reached in the first. That is the answer. It is a good deal more intricate than I had originally understood.
There are, I think, one or two things I need to mention to your Lordships. I would hope, if we can go forward, to take the indications from your Lordships, to deal as closely with the Commons authorities as I can—because their procedures differ. Equally, however, we can move forward on reform generally only if we move forward together.
I take entirely the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I am undertaking that reasonable time and resources will be made available for pre-legislative scrutiny in this House. It will not—I repeat my assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—be the Commons doing most of the pre-legislative scrutiny and our doing most of the carry-over. I do not think that we need anything incorporated into statute. I have given those undertakings quite freely and voluntarily. If I do not abide by them, the House has an immediate and obvious sanction which I am sure it would readily adopt.
On Amendment No. 8, I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, are right. Indeed, I thought that I saw the noble Lord, Lord Norton, nodding. The amendment states:
"We recommend that government bills should be eligible for carry-over"— not government Bills that have received carry-over; but—
"government bills should be eligible for carry-over but subject to the provision that any bill that has not received Royal Assent twelve months after it has been introduced . . . shall be deemed to have fallen".
So I think that the noble Viscount and the noble Lord are right. If the noble Lord, Lord Norton, was indeed nodding, I think he was right to nod—not Homerically but actually.
In any event, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, with a great deal of sympathy. I am quite happy to see whether we can work through alternatives. I think that it would have to be in consultation with the Commons. The reason that I think that 12 months is in a sense too arbitrary is derived from the precise example given by the noble Lord. He thought that 14 months might be more appropriate in some circumstances. I am perfectly happy to take this away and consider it with the Lord President at the other end of the building and see whether we can reach some accommodation.
The other thing that I should say is that we have to be careful that we can go forward harmoniously with the Commons. A certain amount of concern has been expressed to me about the proposal in relation to what we might do about scrutiny of the Finance Bill. One of the concerns is that we might envisage proposing amendments to the Finance Bill at the very time that the Bill was having detailed consideration in Committee in the Commons. The other serious concern that has been expressed to me—I think that I have to share it with the House—is the possibility of damaging the balance between the respective roles of the two Houses relating to financial business, which predate the Parliament Acts by a good 200 years. Whatever one thinks about the validity of these concerns, I am obliged to recognise them. I am certainly obliged to retail them to this House.
I am eager to proceed by agreement. I am happy to give an undertaking that I will try that dialogue. I am happy to refer the financial scrutiny matter to the Joint Committee. It is well within its remit. There is a danger that the future of the sub-committee's effective existence would fail if we did not get an agreement from the joint Lords/Commons committee.
I think that I have dealt with all the questions that have been raised on this amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, thinks that I have been helpful.
I am not entirely certain what the noble and learned Lord meant in his final comments about the sub-committee on the Finance Bill in paragraph 13 of the working practices group. This is an important part of the overall package of change; namely, that the Finance Bill should be treated under a new and different procedure which would allow for far more effective scrutiny by this House, using the expertise that we have readily available. I hope that what the noble and learned Lord meant was that, whatever happens next year, we will be setting up this sub-committee of the Economic Affairs Committee to deal with the next Finance Bill, and we do not need to wait for any recommendation that may or may not come from the Joint Committee on Lords Reform—which, of course, is dealing with an entirely different matter. I wonder if the noble and learned Lord can confirm that.
No; the noble Lord is quite right in his understanding of what I said, which may not accord with what he wishes. However, I cannot pretend to the House that I have not had the strongest possible representations. If we do not achieve a co-operative outcome, the effective future of the sub-committee of the Economic Affairs Committee will be seriously imperilled. I would prefer, if I can, to take forward the proposal of the working party and the Procedure Committee to see what accommodation may be arrived at. I think that one way of usefully doing that is through the Joint Committee. It is well within its remit, because it deals with powers as well as composition. I am obliged to tell your Lordships these things because I have been told them quite plainly.
On the particular point which the Lord Privy Seal has just raised, we have heard what he has said. I think that some of us were aware that this is a sensitive issue because of the Commons privileges in these matters. Clearly, we can go forward only through co-operation. I hope, however, that it will be possible to find ways to do that without having recourse to the Joint Committee. That should be our last resort. That can be done but if we can a way of moving forward without having to do that, it would be much better.
Will the noble and learned Lord elaborate on the attractive remarks that he made about taking further the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth? We have to accept that these matters must be conducted in amity with the other place and that unnecessary conflict is not desirable. Will the noble and learned Lord tell us how, if agreement is secured, that will be done and whether we can expect a further Motion on the Order Paper in the next six, eight or 10 months proposing how the matter should be taken forward, or will it simply be a matter of smoke signals?
Paragraph 9 of the report sets out the procedure for the new finance sub-committee. Am I to understand that even if the House approves that, it will not happen? In which case should not the noble and learned Lord have brought forward an amendment? If the House approves the report, I should expect the Economic Affairs Committee to set up a sub-committee when the next Finance Bill is published, as that is what we are approving. I join the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in emphasising what is written in the report; namely, that there is no intention whatsoever to challenge Commons financial privilege. That is not the purpose of the sub-committee. Its purpose is to help the Treasury and to help the scrutiny of legislation and to improve it, which is what the whole report is about.
I accept that and I have no intention of moving an amendment to a report to which I have put my signature. I am simply telling the Committee as candidly as I can of the difficulties that have arisen and of the way that I hope to navigate through them. I repeat that I am certain in my own mind that if we can get some form of agreement with the Joint Committee, that will give the sub-committee's effective existence much more of a fair wind.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that I believe that the Commons Modernisation Committee sat today. I have been engaged here throughout the day and I do not know what conclusions it reached. As the noble Lord pointed out, the Leader of the House of Commons has raised some questions about the 12-month cut-off. I do not know the result of those discussions. I shall find out and I shall see whether I can get any accommodation. If I can, I shall in the first instance write to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and place a copy of the letter in the Library. If the noble Lord, Lord Elton, then proposed a way forward, that would be a matter on which the House should take a view. However, I suggest that the amendment does not achieve what it seeks to achieve and is unduly restrictive and rigid.
It may assist the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, if I point out that his amendment was put to the Committee. That is the amendment that we have been discussing. When he stood up originally he said that he did not intend to move the amendment, but having made a long speech there is no alternative other than to put the amendment before the Committee so that it can be discussed. We have been discussing Amendment No. 7. If the noble Lord cares to withdraw it, we can move on to Amendment No. 8.
But we have been discussing Amendment No. 8 at the same time. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, wants to respond to that discussion in the usual way, he should do so before I withdraw my amendment and we move on to Amendment No. 9.
However, if the Committee wishes me to proceed, I shall. I am grateful for what the noble and learned Lord has said. It is clear that we shall have to feel our way through this matter. I hope that he feels that some markers have been put down with regard to what we shall find acceptable; namely, that we shall require a reasonable amount of time; we shall want Bills which are not skeleton Bills but allow us to discuss the substance of what is proposed; and, finally, that the circumstances under which the scrutiny is undertaken by the Commons alone are fully explained and agreeable to this House.
I realise that this is a matter that the noble and learned Lord will have to evolve in conjunction with his colleagues in another place. I hope that they do not feel that we shall in any way be a pushover on this matter. We shall not fail to become extremely upset if we feel that they are trying to put one over on us and make us do the carry-over when they have had the benefit of the pre-legislative scrutiny. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his explanation of line 15. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 4 leave out paragraph 7 and insert-
7 The Procedure Committee endorsed the principle of carry-over In 1998. We recommend that the House should take this endorsement further. However, we do not endorse Group recommendation (b). We recommend that government bills should be eligible for carry-over but subject to the provision that any bill that has not received Royal Assent twelve months after it has been Introduced into Parliament shall be deemed to have fallen. 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 has been introduced. We believe that the case for carry-over stands on its merits and should not be tied necessarily to any other recommendation for change."
I shall be brief. I am most grateful to all Members of the Committee who spoke in the previous debate on the amendment. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for his constructive response which constitutes a good way of going forward. In the light of his indications of the way that he wishes to proceed, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 6, line 14, leave out "The Procedure Committee endorses Group recommendation (g)(a) that the House should normally rise by 10 pm on Mondays to Wednesdays." and insert "The Procedure Committee rejects Group recommendation (g)(a) and recommends that the House should normally rise by 11 pm on Mondays to Wednesdays."
It is clearly becoming a practice of this House that if one has an amendment in a group which is not the lead amendment, one can make a speech to it when one reaches it in the Marshalled List. Perhaps we ought to formalise that as it is becoming very much the way that things are being done, rather than everything being consolidated.
Amendment No. 10 has the simple effect of moving the closing time for business from ten o'clock to eleven o'clock. If I am here until ten o'clock—it appears that I shall be here until ten o'clock tonight—I may as well be here until eleven o'clock. I have nothing else to do with the extra hour except go home and read the newspaper. If we could devote an extra hour to business in this Chamber, there would be less pressure on the working day and on other days when we could usefully do other things. We would not find that the business expanded sideways into other days. We would be able to get more into the days which we have already voted to this House. In terms of my working day, an eleven o'clock finish works much better than a ten o'clock one. I beg to move.
We are discussing one of the major issues in the report. I admire the courage of the Procedure Committee and the working party in grasping a nettle I have held in my hand many times over the past few years. One needs only to be here regularly at ten o'clock to realise what a farce the proceedings of this Chamber degenerate into from time to time.
Last week I was present in the Chamber at ten o'clock during proceedings on the Enterprise Bill. For a long time there were just seven people in the Chamber. That figure included the noble Lord on the Woolsack. The Enterprise Bill is an important Bill. However, on that occasion it was important only to the two or three people who wanted to move amendments and attend the discussions. The amendment is a sad reflection on its mover. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wishes to alter the proposed ten o'clock finishing time. My working day starts before ten o'clock in the morning. It is all very well for the noble Lord to tell us what is convenient for him. However, we must consider the impression that we give to those outside the Chamber with regard to the way in which we conduct our affairs.
Of course, I have on occasion been present in a packed Chamber well after ten o'clock and well after midnight. That has occurred on half a dozen occasions in 19 years. Every two or three years a controversial issue arises. I refer to proceedings on House of Lords reform. I remember rising to speak at half past two in the morning and being proud to say that I was No. 183 out of a cast list of 192.
Those events happen rarely, and I know the argument that will be put if in some way or another—not by guillotine, but by agreed convention—we seek to terminate our business at about ten o'clock: what will that do to the rest of the business and how will we do it? Discipline: that is how you do it; by forbearing what noble Lords think is their right, not just to stand up and speak, but to detain the House and the servants of the House and incur expense, in order that they can delete "5" and insert "6", or speak to a brief that has been given to them by an outside interest, as has often been given to me.
If the Committee allows the amendment tonight, it will be sliding away from the self-imposed task of the Leader of the House—whom I commend and applaud for sticking to it—of grasping the mettle over the past two or three years and making the House face up to changing its image. That image is that when it pleases one or two individuals to keep the House going, whether the House likes it or not and whether the Opposition speakers like it or not, whoever it is is entitled to do it.
I do not believe that they are entitled to do so, and if the amendment is pressed, I hope that it is defeated.
I agree with all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Self-imposed discipline on speaking at great length is important, particularly late at night. I realise that many noble Lords are experts in various fields and have risen to great positions. They may want to speak after dinners or they may be invited to functions. It is important that your Lordships are out in the real world and do not live in an ivory tower in Parliament. So I disapprove of regular late-night parliamentary sittings. Noble Lords should be able to go out to dinner and meet real people.
Having said that, I do not agree with the proposal. We should have flexibility so that on great occasions we can run on late if we need to.
I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said about wasting of time. I have not been here very long; about 10 years, but that has not been my observation. This is an important subject and I support my noble friend.
The one lesson we have learned, particularly in the past few years, is the huge importance of this House scrutinising legislation properly in a way that the other House does not. I am against the proposal for a ten o'clock rule on the grounds that it is unnecessary and undesirable. I have looked at the House of Lords' weekly statistics for the 45 weeks so far in this Session to the week ending 20th July, during which there have been 171 sitting days. On 72 of those days we have sat beyond ten o'clock; 42 per cent. It is difficult to take the analysis further because of Friday sittings, of which there have been 12, but in essence the figures show us that the average total time per day for the 171 days is 6 hours 52 minutes.
If one assumes that by definition on the days on which we did not sit after ten o'clock we rose by ten o'clock, it means that on most of the days on which we sat after ten o'clock, we rose a relatively short time after ten o'clock; probably well within the eleven o'clock deadline.
Is that on the assumption that a day starts at 2.30 p.m. and that in a working day noble Lords do nothing before 2.30 p.m. and that their working day starts at 2.30 p.m. and lasts for about six hours? That may be the case for some, but not many.
I am sorry, but what the noble Lord said is totally irrelevant to the point I am making, which is about the business conducted by this House and the length of time the House sits in order to perform its functions. Of course, in that context I mean from 2.30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, from 11 a.m. on Friday and from 3 p.m. on Thursday. It is important the House should be able to sit longer when necessary.
I take a couple of examples; first, there will be occasions when Bills have long Second Reading debates. We know that when Motions are time-limited, the excellent system which the other place does not have is that the total time available is divided by the number of speakers, allowing extra time for the Front Benches, which can mean as little as five or even three minutes per speaker. That is fine for a general debate, but not for a Second Reading of an important Bill. It is an essential part of proper scrutiny of legislation that in a Second Reading debate noble Lords should be able to speak at the appropriate length on the points they wish to make.
Secondly, I turn to Committee stage. I can see a time when, if a ten o'clock rule is in force, in practice there will not be full time for certain considerations. Negotiations made for a number of days in Committee will not prove adequate. I would hate to see this House having the same reason for not considering legislation properly as the other place gave us only a day or two ago, when its Members said that they did not have the opportunity.
The one thing this House has that the one at the other end does not—often because the Government do not think it should—is the proper opportunity to discuss legislation. It is unnecessary to place a ten o'clock constraint for the reasons I have given. It is undesirable because in practice it will limit this Chamber's crucial function in debating legislation. I support my noble friend and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will see the strength of these points.
I understand the reasons for the Procedure Committee's recommendation and the reasons for the amendment. Both will be attractive to many noble Lords. But we have to be careful. At the present time it is possible for the House to be adjourned at ten or eleven o'clock, or at any other time, but perhaps having a guide will persuade noble Lords to get on with the business. But it is extremely difficult for us to do that when undigested legislation is sent here from another place.
When a Bill such as the ratification of the Nice treaty is discussed for only three days by the House of Commons, of course this House wants to take a long time to discuss the important issues involved. When the House of Commons pushes through a Bill such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill in three days; a Bill of 125 clauses and 13 schedules, of course it has to be discussed in this House almost ad nauseam. This House made some very relevant amendments which helped the Bill and helped the freedom of individuals in this country.
There are many reasons why this House sits late, which lie not here, but along the corridor in another place. When we are talking about restricting the time in this House, we perhaps ought to discuss things with the House of Commons to try to ensure that they do the job they are elected to do: scrutinising legislation properly and holding the Government properly to account.
Second Reading debates are not the only ones that might concern us. There are other great debates on great matters, such as hunting, on which many people wish to speak. It is essential that if the recommendation, or even the amendment, is carried, the Government are prepared to give additional days so that everyone who wishes to speak in these debates can be accommodated. That has been the position in this House, which we need to retain. In this place, anybody who wishes to make a contribution may do so.
With those restrictions, the House may well wish to agree that usually we would like to get away by 10 o'clock, but there may be exceptions. Also, we expect legislation that arrives in this House to have been properly thought-out, properly prepared and properly discussed by the elected representatives who sit in the Chamber along the corridor.
I said earlier today how opposed I was to the idea of a guillotine. A number of your Lordships expressed support for that view and the noble and learned Lord said that he had no such intention. I of course accept that that is his position.
However, those on the Government Front Bench will not always be there. Some day there will be other Ministers on the Government Front Bench and other people sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. Maybe they will change over after the next election. I hope so.
Be that as it may, nobody can bind Ministers for ever. I would like to ensure that there is the least possible temptation on Ministers or anyone else even to think about a guillotine. Making the closure arrangements more flexible will move in the right direction in that regard. For that reason, I support the amendment and I hope that the Committee will agree to it.
One of the things that really wastes time in this House and stops us rising at a reasonable hour is Statements. There may be one or even two and sometimes they go on for well over 40 minutes and nearly to an hour. I respectfully suggest that we should be much more careful about taking Statements unless there is a shortage of business. My noble friend Lord Errol thinks that perhaps they should be taken in the dinner hour. If they must be taken, that would be a good idea.
I shall briefly support my noble friend Lord Lucas. I listened carefully, as I always do, to what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said about the image of this House. I am more concerned about the reality of the job that this House does than I am about the image. However, I do not think that it is a bad image. The image in the country seems to be that this House puts its back into the job of revising legislation that, all too frequently, has not been considered at all in the other place. That impression received some validation last night when at about 25 past one in the morning—or perhaps a wee bit before that—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, who is sitting opposite me now, delivered a necessary and searching examination of a provision in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. There were not too many people in the Chamber at the time, but the debate was necessary.
It does not matter whether the House is crammed at some late hour. What matters is what job the House is doing and whether it needs to be done. Because I see in the recommendations an inhibition on the ability of the House to do that, I support at least what my noble friend Lord Lucas proposes.
The problem is that a recommendation to rise at 10 will become an expectation and then it will become something like a moral obligation. There are only a certain number of available days that can be used to make up the time that has been lost. In effect, we will run into something very like a timetable. That is my anxiety.
I support the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Errol, spoke a few minutes ago—or perhaps it was more than a few minutes—about the need for Members of your Lordships' House to go out and meet real people and get real experiences in the outside world. My codified way of putting that is that we are an amateur House in that we get our knowledge, and very often our incomes, from outside the world of politics. For that reason, I hate the idea of being asked to sit at 11 o'clock on Thursdays. If my noble friend's amendment were agreed to, we would save that time and not need to sit on Thursday mornings.
I was away from the House for a couple of hours and accordingly missed the speech with which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, introduced the amendment. I apologise if any of my remarks have already been made by him.
Of course in principle we would all like to rise by 10 p.m. Indeed, I think we would all much prefer to rise by 8.30 p.m. However, our workload must be got through one way or another. Unless noble Lords cut their speeches dramatically at all stages of Bills, which is a vain hope not least for the reasons advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, judging by precedent and according to figures kindly supplied by the Chairman of Committees, we are going to have to sit for an extra 17 days each year in order to get through the same amount of work. That may put a different complexion on things when noble Lords consider the options.
If we were to rise by 11 o'clock, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests, my calculation is that we would have to sit for only an extra eight days each year, which is manageable. Seventeen days certainly is not.
The recommendation from the Procedure Committee was generally approved in the consultation and the responses to the questionnaire. Ten o'clock is late enough to be doing very important work. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, about the importance of the work. Important work of scrutiny and revision is not best done by people who are exhausted.
In that case, I find the noble and learned Lord's rejection of my Motion earlier today puzzling. He said that the idea that this House should close its consideration of this business at 11 o'clock was to invite the whole notion of the guillotine into this House. Yet now the noble and learned Lord is saying that it is impossible to move beyond 10 o'clock in the ordinary way.
It is clear that if we end our sittings at 10 as a matter of general course, we shall have to sit many more days. That may suit some people or it may not. It does not suit me and it seems a matter for your Lordships to decide which they prefer. Are we a House who would rather sit until 11 and have fewer days or would we rather sit until 10 and have more days?
One of the difficulties of generally sitting until 10 p.m. is that the supper break comes between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m. Everyone returns rejuvenated and spends the next hour and a half making long speeches. It is only after 10 p.m. that one again gets down to the ordinary pace of business of the House. Therefore, in a way, that is a very inefficient cut-off time.
I am speaking for myself. If we were to agree to a cut-off time of 10 p.m., then perhaps we should consider other changes, such as moving the dinner hour business to the last hour of the day's business. The few who wanted to stay late for a particular debate could be there from 9 p.m. until 10 p.m. The business attended by people who were hungry for supper would be dealt with rather faster and more efficiently than it would by those who had just been fed.
I have received much support on this matter but am anxious not to waste the time of the Committee. I should very much like to listen to the voices by hearing the Deputy Chairman call for a response. If there is much support for my amendment, I shall press it to a Division. If there is not, I hope we shall remain silent and the Deputy Chairman will declare otherwise.