Speakership of the House

– in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 12 July 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 3:16, 12 July 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Motion is part of a process which began in June 2003. I think it would be helpful briefly to set out the background. At that time, as part of a Government reshuffle, the post of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs was created, and the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor was announced, with implications for the Speakership of this House. In light of the lack of consultation, widespread concern was expressed by Members of this House.

My predecessor, Lord Williams of Mostyn, held a wide consultation which resulted in the setting up of the Select Committee on the Speakership, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The committee's terms of reference were:

"to consider the future arrangements for the Speakership of the House in the light of the Government's announcement that it is intended to reform the office of Lord Chancellor".

The committee took evidence and reported in November 2003. The House debated its report in January 2004. The report of that committee remains an essential building block in the process.

Discussion of the Speakership was then put on hold pending the outcome of deliberations on the Constitutional Reform Bill. That Bill became an Act in March this year. The Constitutional Reform Act and the accompanying concordat between the Government and the judiciary have totally transformed the office of Lord Chancellor. Although the title "Lord Chancellor" is retained, when the relevant parts of the Act are implemented the Lord Chancellor will no longer need to swear a judicial oath and will no longer need to be a Member of this House. It will therefore be possible for this or any future Prime Minister to appoint a Member of Parliament as Lord Chancellor. It is therefore my strong view that this is an opportune—

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, when the noble Baroness says a "Member of Parliament", does she mean a Member of another place?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, that is absolutely correct. I mean a Member of the other place.

It is therefore my strong view that this is an opportune moment for this House to return to consideration of the matter of the Speakership of this House. It is a matter on which I think the House needs to reflect rather than be forced into making decisions in haste.

I now turn to the Motion before the House this afternoon. Any decision is, of course, a matter for this House. However, in putting the Motion before your Lordships I have been guided by the following. First, it is my view that this House needs a strong independent voice, a voice for Back-Benchers, not one representing the views of the usual channels. In view of that, I propose,

"that this House should elect its own presiding officer".

I use "presiding officer" as a generic description, with a small "p" and a small "o". "Elect" means a process involving candidates and votes, so that the presiding officer has the clear backing of a majority of Peers; a presiding officer chosen by the House from among its own Members and accountable to the House alone, rather than chosen by the Prime Minister.

Secondly, I refer to the unanimous view in the Lloyd committee report that this House should continue to self-regulate, and that any presiding officer should be the "guardian of the Companion". This House greatly values its culture and ethos, much of which flows from the important principle of self-regulation. I would certainly want to see the continuation of self-regulation at the heart of any future decisions on the Speakership of this House.

Thirdly, I refer to the important role this House can play in raising awareness of the important work of Parliament in scrutinising legislation and holding the Government to account. I would want any presiding officer of this House to have a strong representational role and a strong role in public engagement. The recent Hansard Society report, Parliament in the Public Eye, offers some interesting proposals on these matters.

These are the issues that have shaped my thinking but this afternoon is not the time to go into detail on these matters. In terms of working out the detail, the Motion proposes the reconstitution of the Lloyd committee, with broadly similar membership to before. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for being willing to take on this fresh task. The committee's role will be to come up with recommendations on the many detailed matters that flow from the central proposition. These will include the presiding officer's role and functions, both inside and outside the Chamber, the title of the office, the process of election, pay and pension and accommodation and staff.

The committee's original report covered all these matters and will give the new committee a good basis from which to start. The committee will, of course, want to take account of the debate last year, but will also want to take further evidence from Members of the House. The Motion invites the committee to report by Christmas with recommendations. In the new year I will move a Motion to enable the House to decide on those recommendations.

It is decision time for this House. I do not think it is appropriate for a government Minister to continue to be the Speaker of an independent legislative Chamber. Two years ago the Prime Minister offered to give up this piece of patronage; he deserves a reply. This is an opportunity for this House. I strongly believe that a presiding officer, by whatever name he is known, elected by the House is right for the House and will be good for the House. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved to resolve, That this House should elect its own presiding officer; that a Select Committee on the Speakership of the House be appointed to consider further how to implement this resolution with full regard to the House's tradition of self-regulation; that the following Lords be named of the committee:

L. Ampthill, L. Carter, Bp. Chelmsford, L. Desai, L. Freeman, B. Gould of Potternewton, L. Higgins, L. Lloyd of Berwick (Chairman), L. Marsh, B. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, L. Tordoff, L. Trefgarne; and that the Select Committee shall make recommendations to the House by 20 December 2005—(Baroness Amos.)

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, House of Lords

My Lords, we in this House know from the desperately close votes over the office of Lord Chancellor that this is a debate that half the House would rather not be having at all. After all, many of us are entirely satisfied with the role of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in person and with the role of the Lord Chancellor as Speaker of this House. I believe that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, with her feel for the House, instinctively understands that and has reflected that in her Motion today, which I accept and support.

But there is a little more to it than that. The reality is that no objective observer would say that this House needed to make a change. Our proceedings are in the main courteous, businesslike, orderly—quite unlike many aspects of another place. I have been here a long time, but I have never heard a single person say that the conduct of our House is bad or that Peers need a presiding officer to knock them into order. Frankly, we have never needed such a figure and, if we are wise, I do not think that we should have one now. But that is a matter on which the Select Committee proposed by this Motion will have to deliberate. We can and will debate it again when it reports. Members of the committee will no doubt listen carefully to those of your Lordships who speak today.

Let me be clear about my position. I voted, as did most of the House, to keep the ancient office of Lord Chancellor. My party said that if we won the election we would appoint a Lord Chancellor in this House, and that remains our position. That turned out to be the Government's position too. We still have a Lord Chancellor, who has indicated that he is ready to continue to preside on the Woolsack, although the House has eased the burden of that duty and reduced attendance to about half an hour on only three days of the week at the maximum, and Leave of Absence has never been refused.

The office of Lord Chancellor lends dignity to this House. It underscores the authority and precedence of the House. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will continue to sit on the Woolsack and when the time comes for him to be replaced that the Prime Minister will continue to appoint a Lord Chancellor of weight and substance in this House.

The Prime Minister need not fear, as he says, and as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House reiterated today, that it is wrong to name a Lord Chancellor who presides here. The US Senate does not feel demeaned because the President of the United States chooses its presiding officer. Neither do I; quite the reverse. The Opposition want to see a Lord Chancellor who is a Cabinet Minister as a presiding officer in the House. The system has worked well, and we should not readily change it as a by-product of the mistake of removing the Law Lords from this House; something that I still hope will not happen.

I accept that the Prime Minister now has the freedom under statute to bestow the title of Lord Chancellor as a bauble on a rising star in another place who catches his eye; the Mr Byers or the Mr Milburn of the day. I hope that he does not do that, but we need to plan ahead what to do if he did. That is how I approach the Motion and it is why I favour the reappointment of the Select Committee that it provides for.

The Select Committee will, however, have a different backdrop to its deliberations. Before, it was told to work on the premise that the office of Lord Chancellor had been abolished. Now it must work in the full knowledge that the House has resolved that that great office should be retained. We will await its advice. This is a matter for the whole House, one about which I urge the whole House—new Peers and old—to think very carefully, for the wrong step could alter the character of the House.

I know that some think that is exaggerated. "How can it be that simply by appointing a so-called 'light touch' presiding officer you might change the House?", they say. The answer is simple—human nature. Currently, our Standing Orders constrain the presiding Peer. The whole House is the guardian of its rules and procedures. The whole House is a House of Peers, all of us with equal rights and responsibilities; none with authority over any other. Many fear that once you elevate one Peer above the rest, however slightly, to decide on who may speak next, to enforce time limits, or to be—in that insidious phrase—the guardian of the Companion, that Peer will extend the amount of intervention. Before long, we will have appeals to the Chair, points of order, and more of the characteristics that disfigure the other place. Each intervention from the Chair will become a precedent, a platform from which further advances will be made. We may not want it and we may not intend it, but we would have changed ourselves without thinking. I would rather have the courtesy and effectiveness of the procedures we have now than risk a Chamber in which Peers were no longer the masters of their own conduct. Self-regulation equals self-restraint, and it is that self-restraint that has made the House what it is today.

So I am a sceptic on the case for change. If the day comes when we have no Lord Chancellor, we will still have a Lord Chairman, and it seems obvious that the holder of that office could assume the main presiding role for any period when the House was denied a Lord Chancellor by a Prime Minister. If that person is elected, rather than chosen, as now, by the House, I have no strong feelings about that. The present system has not worked too badly, however, and we should wait and see what the Select Committee recommends. We would all deprecate the emergence of bitterly contested elections in which the House was divided along party lines over a presiding officer we did not need to invent in the first place.

I have one other point, if I may. It is not only the office of Lord Chancellor that is now open to change; so, too, is the role of Leader of the House. The Leader is unlike the Leader of another place—a Mr Hain, for example—who is often an aggressively partisan figure. The Leader of our House has duties to the whole House. Since I became Opposition Chief Whip, I have worked with four Leaders of the House on a weekly, often daily, basis, and all of them served the House with distinction. Alongside the Lord Chancellor, they have reflected the feelings of this House in, and to, Cabinet. In the House they have guided our procedures with a sure touch, respecting the need to carry all parties with them.

The new presiding officer envisaged by some would take away the duties of the Leader as the voice of the House in session. That would be a great pity, not only for the temptations it might place on the Chair, but for the change to the role of our Leader, who could become a more partisan figure.

We began this process, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House did not say, with the attempted demolition of the office of Lord Chancellor as a by-product of an ill-considered reshuffle. We should not end with an irreversible change to the role of Leader of the House as a by-product of a change to the role of the Lord Chancellor. That would be a double whammy to the House. I hope the Select Committee will reflect on that carefully.

The Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House, as this House's twin voices in the Cabinet, have guaranteed that the revising Chamber has two Members around the Cabinet table. That has led to many errors being avoided in legislation, and we should not let that go lightly.

I hope that we will proceed cautiously, will not do more than we have to before we have to, and will jealously guard procedures that have helped this House gain immense authority as a revising Chamber during the 20th century.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:32, 12 July 2005

My Lords, once again I am impressed, nay, overwhelmed, by the confidence that the present Lord Chancellor enjoys on the Conservative Benches. I must say to him that a Labour Minister usually has to die or resign in embarrassing circumstances to get that kind of enthusiasm from the Conservatives.

I must also say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that when I first took the proposal to my group, the reaction was a bit like Metternich when he heard that Talleyrand had died: "What does she mean by this?". The proposal was initially viewed with suspicion after the reshuffle that tried to abolish the role of Lord Chancellor. I am trying to think of a better and more delicate phrase than "cock-up". Alas, I did not find one.

In the same way, speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde bear close scrutiny the following day in the Hansard.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I would not be so rude as to say that when you shake hands with the noble Lord you count your fingers afterwards, but sometimes, on re-reading, the caveats have greater strength than the approval.

The noble Baroness the Lord President has brought forward a very sensible proposal to the House. Nothing could be worse than our suddenly finding that the Prime Minister had reshuffled the Government, as Prime Ministers do on September days when they have nothing else to do, and that our Lord Chancellor was down the corridor. That would bounce us into making decisions.

This suggestion is a sensible look forward for the House, and the noble Baroness has done it in quite the right way. She has emphasised the desire of this House for self-regulation. She has put forward a proposal that certainly has enthusiastic support on these Benches—that the decision on choice of presiding officer should be a matter for the whole House. She has emphasised again the need to preserve the distinctive ethos and culture of this House. However, she has put forward a process that has transparency and time for reflection. Those who have special views will have an opportunity to put forward evidence to a committee that has already proved its worth.

I am confident that our own nominees to that committee—the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—will make a contribution. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, will do so with all the enthusiasm of youth, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will do so as a man who knows where the bodies are buried.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, it is with some confidence that we accept this proposal, and the House would be sensible to do so as well.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, it is perhaps worth asking why the issue of the Speakership of this House has come up now. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is still with us, despite the announcement on 17 June 2003 that the post of Lord Chancellor would be abolished. So far as I am concerned, he seems comfortably ensconced on the Woolsack. We recognise, however, that his responsibilities have increased now that he is also Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and has the workload and responsibility directly resulting from the increased attention being given to constitutional matters. In addition, as has been mentioned, since there is no longer a requirement that the Lord Chancellor be a Member of this House, it is possible to envisage a situation in which he were a Member of the other place. That would then make it necessary for this House to take a decision on a new Speaker.

As many have said, we should start with the practice of self-regulation, which has a wide measure of support in the House and certainly among the Cross-Benchers. I very much welcome the reference in the Motion to paying,

"full regard to the House's tradition of self-regulation".

In the past 34 years, four inquiries by Members of this House have strongly supported that tradition. Those were: the two working groups under the chairmanship of the late Lord Aberdare; the group under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon; and the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, which not only gave its opinion in favour of self-regulation but stated in paragraph 7 of its report that the overriding theme from the evidence was that,

"the House wants to continue with self-regulation".

It follows from that, if the House is to elect its own Speaker, that his or her role and responsibilities must be carefully and strictly defined in order not to trespass on self-regulation. He must complement the self-regulatory role of the House and make his contribution to rendering self-regulation effective, but no more than that. Again, it follows from that approach that if the Motion that the House elects its own Speaker is adopted today, as I believe that it will be, it is indispensable that before any such election is made we be clear on his functions, both within and outside the Chamber. We would need advice on that from the revived Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and I note that it is proposed to have that report by Christmas this year.

We welcome the intention to look again at these issues and we welcome the appointment of the same Cross-Benchers who participated in the previous inquiry—and the addition of a Bishop to the inquiry team. It may be that many of the conclusions will still stand, but, if the Motion is adopted, the question will become live and we shall need to study the new report from the Select Committee carefully.

We on the Cross Benches consider the Motion as part of a two-stage procedure. In particular, there are two occasions when the Leader or the Whips intervene, if necessary, to assist the self-regulation of the House. When two or more Members of the House are on their feet at the same time to put a supplementary question, a decision has to be taken. That might be done by the Speaker, although I do not pre-judge the report of the Select Committee. I brought my family here for Question Time yesterday and the two little girls said that it was very boring. I wish that I had brought them today, but the issue is with us and we shall return to it, no doubt, when we have the report from the Lloyd committee.

The second occasion is when a Member substantially overruns a recommended time. Having observed a few times in the European Parliament the president instructing his officers to shut off the Member's microphone when his time was up, I am more convinced that in our House a light touch is called for, but, subject to that, I see no reason why the Speaker should not advise a Member if he is seriously overrunning his time and reducing the time available for other speakers.

A number of other questions are important, to which we must return in relation to the report of the Select Committee—whether the Speaker should have responsibility for allowing a Private Notice Question; whether the Speaker could, if necessary, take the chair in the Chamber during the Committee stage of a Bill; and how many Deputy Speakers there should be. There are many questions to be settled.

However, there is a large measure of agreement already—a Speaker should be elected, not appointed and, I believe, should give up party politics for life. After all, we are becoming experienced with regard to elections in this House—to start with, the Cross-Benchers elect their Convener, the hereditary Peers elected those of their number to stay in the House and there have been subsequent elections when a hereditary peer has died. I was glad to see the recently elected noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, on the Cross Benches today.

Finally, we believe that the title should be in keeping with the dignity and long traditions of the House. I believe that the majority of Cross-Benchers do not think that the title of "Presiding Officer" would be appropriate. I understood the Leader of the House's comments regarding the use of that term in the Motion, but the Select Committee has recommended a different title, "Lord Speaker". That was approved by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, which, obviously, weighs with me.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, that is quite true. To sum up, we must not breach the principle of self-regulation. We must examine carefully, after the Select Committee has reported, the role and responsibilities of a Speaker, if we decide to elect one, in such a way that we do not damage the traditions of the House.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, the Motion raises a number of important issues of process and I am aware that that word can be used as a delaying tactic. I do not intend to use that as a delaying tactic here, but it seems to me, and to at least two others on these Benches, that we are not quite doing things the right way round—with House of Lords reform, wherever that may lead, in the air, it seems unwise to set up the Select Committee with the express intention of establishing the Speakership before we have first sorted out those other matters. However, that is not where we are.

I wish to speak briefly about the functions of the Speakership. The evidence given to the inquiry of the Select Committee, whose report we all have, indicated a not unpredictable variety of views; and, of course, it is not a case of either/or, as the second part of the Motion makes clear. But I want to put in a plea for some latitude.

No institution has the right per se to stay the same, and if it jogs along on the basis of no change, paralysis can ensue. So the process that we are encouraging is a kind of health check for the institution. Self-regulation and Speakership are not mutually exclusive. But I hope that the full implications of the outworking of self-regulation are not going to be overlooked in the interests of slickness or a desire for political or bureaucratic control.

Self-regulation takes more time, but it involves in the long term a deeper degree of participation. That includes occasions when we get it wrong and someone puts us right, either in the Chamber, when it can be quite fun, or outside the Chamber, when it can be even more fun. It also includes when we are too pushy, or when we are seen to evade some of our responsibilities, at least in the eyes of some, and that can be even more interesting and challenging.

Although self-regulation is a more messy pattern, it has a great deal to commend it. But the House will be aware of the scepticism from these Benches about the whole process that led to the abolition of the Lord Chancellorship, at least in the eyes of the Government. These Benches bask in a kind of admiration that the Government got away with it so easily. I therefore hope that the Select Committee will not be pre-committed in this matter, but will have a rather broader range of reference. That is why it is the first part of the Motion that concerns us slightly, though we are not against change. And here I should like to end with a little topical facetious remark.

Noble Lords will be aware of events that took place not in another place, but in a city, shall we say, in the north of England, which had the benefit of a full-scale Viking invasion that gave birth to its name "York". Noble Lords will also be aware that there will be an Archbishop of York from Uganda who is looking forward to taking his place in this House. I am sure that noble Lords will enjoy his presence. So I end with the topical and facetious remark that the words "Chancellor", "Speaker" and even "Bishop" are no longer gender-specific.

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative 3:45, 12 July 2005

My Lords, I warmly welcome this excellent report—

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative

My Lords, it is this side.

Noble Lords:

This side!

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I found myself a little worried about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I agreed with some it. He spoke a great deal about the changes that are taking place here, but there was one that he did not mention—the change in the nature of the House and its membership. The membership is changing and is likely to change even more in the not-too-distant future.

I agree with almost everything that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about self-regulation, and I agree also with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. It is a crucial point for the Select Committee when it looks at this role. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the newly elected person leading this House, in the sense of sitting on the Woolsack, should not have too much power. I very much agree with that and I hope that the Select Committee will look at it again. It is the most vital point in the whole exercise.

If we give this person too much power, we really will change the nature of your Lordships' House. I would regret that very much. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a good point when he said that we should not elevate this person to too high a position. I am even worried about the title. We should not make it seem as though we have another Speaker in this place, because we do not want a Speaker in your Lordships' House.

I also take the point that we might be becoming too "political" in the party political sense. Not long ago, I remarked in your Lordships' House that it seems a bit silly for either the Opposition or Government Front Bench to make party political points when nobody here has a vote and very few people outside are listening. So, it really is rather silly. I hope that we will not become too party political in that sense. Having sat in the other place for nearly 20 years and here for over 20 years, I know that we are very different from the other place, and I am delighted at the difference. I find that this place suits me very much indeed in comparison with some of the five years that I had to spend replying to questions in the other place.

The resolution which has been moved seems to me a very sensible one. I am sure that my noble friend can confirm that if the Select Committee does not come up with proposals that I or anyone else does not like, we shall have an opportunity to vote against the appointment. I see my noble friend the Chief Whip nodding, because he always agrees with me.

I do not want to go on too long. Whatever the title, the resolution moved today will put the power in the hands of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I should be very happy to see him in that role. We worked closely together on the House Committee and I know that he is a noble Lord of great distinction. He will come up with proposals with which I hope the House as a whole will agree. For my part, I am certainly happy to see him in that role.

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, for not having given way to me because it has enabled me to creep in in his bright shadow and utter a few short tweets after his great flood of persuasive eloquence. I think that puts it succinctly.

This is an excellent report. It has been thoroughly researched and thought through and we should be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his work and also for the work of the other members of the committee. The Motion moved by the Leader of the House, Lady Amos, is also an excellent Motion.

The reason for supporting both the document and the Motion is that there is one golden thread which runs through them both: the self-regulation of this House will be preserved. That is a most important principle to be established. Around that we can have an interesting discussion.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde attacked the record of leaders of the other place. I have no axe to grind on this matter, but I always understood that the Leader of the House in the other place was not a partisan figure and that the secret of being a successful Leader of the House in the other place, as in this one, is to represent the views of the whole House, and if anyone becomes a partisan figure in either place they will bring their careers to an even shorter conclusion than mine was.

That should not prevent us from considering sensible reforms that are governed by this guiding principle. First, transferring the role of deciding between different speakers or would-be speakers—I mean noble Lords who are attempting to get into the debate—from the Leader of the House to the proposed Speaker seems sensible and is something that need not worry us over much.

We all know that geography is more important than history, and the fact is that it is easier to judge the mood of the House when you are at its centre, rather than when you have to look behind you to see who is trying to do what and, equally, looking to the Cross-Benchers and the Bench of Bishops. Incidentally, I am delighted that a Bishop is to be a member of the Select Committee. We too often forget that the Bench of Bishops represents an essential interest in our society and should be heard.

I sympathise with those who feel that there is a danger of a creeping Speakerism. That would be quite in conflict with the ethos of this House. That ethos, although it is subtle and sometimes arcane, is nevertheless extremely powerful. I know no Member of this House who has not come to the House and been influenced by it and had to adapt to it, whatever his or her role in another place.

I commend the report for its distinction between power and influence. In many ways, influence is more important than power. We should recognise that. Bagehot laid down the role of the sovereign in terms of influence, to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. Those are precisely the qualities and subjects that should be within the Speaker's influence. I like the felicitous phrase in the report, "gentle intervention". That is exactly what we expect from the Leader of the House—we had an excellent example of her gentility today; although I regret to say that I missed the first part of it, but it was obviously the greatest show on earth. We need that spirit to be preserved in the House.

My criticism of the report was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in his characteristic incisive way, when he said: what is the good of having these marvellous speeches and great contributions made here if no one is listening to them? I think that put it a bit harshly, because someone is listening to them and someone is reading them. The Speaker of this House does not need to change what goes on in this House at all, but this House needs projection to the outside world. That is what the Speaker should be able to do, to draw people's attention to the work of the House of Lords, to make the House of Lords a centre that could, in its own way, become as important as the House of Commons. I commend the Select Committee, as reconstituted, to consider that matter and make some positive suggestions in that regard.

The Speaker should also be resident in this place, not in the State Apartments, modestly redecorated—at the behest of a Select Committee—for which the distinguished occupant of those chambers was subsequently excoriated. But that is life. It is not only life in general but political life in particular. We all have our crosses to bear. I remember the terrible trouble that I had when I was in the Privy Council and had flowers put in my office every day. There are three things that the public cannot abide: Ministers having wallpaper, flowers or a bath. I remember the terrible trouble that the late Lady Castle got into because she installed a tiny shower in her rooms.

The Speaker should be resident here. I speak from my experience as a former master of a Cambridge college, where the residence of the master was essential. A lot of the infighting that goes on in Oxford and Cambridge colleges involves the master trying to get away and the fellows trying to stop him doing so. He should remain, not because of the fellows or undergraduates, but because that presence enables a college spirit to be developed. Such a presence would enable the House of Lords to develop in the way that I have suggested.

In conclusion, we have marvellous architecture in this House; it is most impressive. People should be given an opportunity to see it. Of course we cannot compete with Westminster Hall but we can certainly compete with the other Chamber. The dignified parts of the constitution remain important, and we should take full advantage of our situation in this place. I hope that when the new Speaker is elected, if the House passes this Motion and it is agreed to, he will have very clear guidance from the Select Committee on this point, which is vital to the future of this House. It is not a question of revolution; it is a question of evolution.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs 4:00, 12 July 2005

My Lords, I wish to speak against the Motion, I am afraid. The Motion says:

"That this House should elect its own presiding officer".

It then says that a Select Committee will produce a report based upon that supposition.

The noble Lord, Lord St John, is worried about creeping Speakerism, but a mighty leap in the direction of creeping Speakerism will take place if we elect a presiding officer. There is no way in which we can go to the trouble as a House of electing our new presiding officer and leave him or her with the powers that currently reside with the Lord Chairman of Committees and his deputies. Those powers are essentially formal; they are not interventionary and, if truth be told, not remotely comparable with the powers of the Speaker in the other place.

My contention is that we will undermine what so many noble Lords have referred to if we proceed on the basis of election. The noble Baroness said that having an independent voice would guarantee the rights of Back-Benchers. As an everlasting Back-Bencher I have never had the slightest fear that my rights in this place were being trampled upon. One of the great virtues of the House of Lords is that, despite its name, it has an innate egalitarianism as regards Members of this place. I am more assured about the continuance of that essential state of affairs when the Leader of the House is looking after our interests than I would be if a Speaker or presiding officer were looking after them. There could easily develop an equal and opposite reaction in terms of the Front-Bench attitude to the House as a whole if an elected Speaker were responsible for the guardianship of Back-Benchers' rights.

Perhaps I am na-ve. However, I have spent 25 years advising voluntary organisations on their governance. I believe that the working of this House is a manmade miracle—a woman-made miracle; I beg your Lordships' pardon. It is an astonishing achievement which we take for granted at our peril. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", and no one has explained to me what is bust.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

My Lords, perhaps I may make a few brief remarks against a background of having been Speaker for nearly 10 years and the Chairman of Ways and Means for four years before that. So I have had some experience of these matters.

I should like to commend the Lord President for her Motion today and take a contrasting view to that of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He reminded me of a speech—some of my former colleagues in another place may remember it—made by Frank Haynes in a debate on new technology. He ended it with the great phrase, "Mr Speaker, sir, I am all in favour of progress as long as it does not mean change".

The important reason why we should change and not, I respectfully say, keep the title of the Lord Chancellor is that, in the order of precedence, the Lord Chancellor stands well above the Speaker of the House of Commons. Now that we have an opportunity to make these sensible changes, I think that the Speaker of the elected House should always take a slight precedence over the Speaker of the unelected House. If we retain the title of Lord Chancellor as the Speaker of the House, that will not occur. The name "The Lord Speaker" is quite appropriate. Our Standing Orders and our Companion are festooned with references to "The Lord Speaker". I see no reason to change that.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said about living on board. The new Lord Speaker should have access to a bedroom. I do not think that he needs to have five or six deputies, as was suggested when we debated this previously. We managed quite well in the House of Commons with three deputies and that should be quite enough for your Lordships' House. However, I think that the Lord Speaker should live on board and have a modest salary and a very generous entertainment allowance. Former Lord Chancellors—particularly Lord Chancellors in my time here, and the present Lord Chancellor—have been very generous in their hospitality and I think that that should continue.

As to who is chosen, I should like to remind the House of an intervention made by a former Speaker who was under the misapprehension that sherry was a non-alcoholic drink. Some noble Lords may remember him. He was unable to rule on a matter which was brought to his notice rather late at night but said he would do so the next day. When he did, very wisely, the buzz went around the Chamber, "Better talk to the Table, Mr Speaker, sir. Why don't you have a word with the Table". I do not think that we want to have a Speaker who will pontificate on points of order or anything like that. For goodness' sake, do not let us have all the bogus points of order to which I was subjected in the other place. So I hope that we shall have no talk about changing the layout of the Chamber, as has been suggested by some, to allow the new Speaker to have access to the Clerks. He must never be seen talking to the Clerks in the Chamber—wise though undoubtedly they are.

Those are the brief contributions that I wish to make to the debate. I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, will make an admirable chairman of the committee and I do not doubt that he will bring forward very sage decisions. But not, please, the Lord Chancellor.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour

My Lords, the Motion we are debating provides for the first time the opportunity for the House to decide in principle whether it wishes to elect its own presiding officer. There is no need for long speeches because the debate is not about functions, title or accommodation. Those issues will come later once we have the report and recommendations of the reconvened committee to be chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, if this Motion is agreed to.

I want to make two brief points, but before I do so, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with what I think was a slip of the tongue, referred to the terms of reference of the previous committee as concerned with the abolition of the Lord Chancellor. The terms of reference actually referred to the reform of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and of course the office has been reformed. Another point that was not made entirely clear in the speech of the noble Lord—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that sometimes one has to listen very carefully to what he is saying—was his reference a number of times to the "reconvened" committee. The committee could be reconvened only if the Motion before us is accepted. Are we right to assume that the noble Lord intends to support the Motion?

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.

Referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Prime Minister has said in terms that he does not wish to retain the power of appointing a presiding officer for this House. The rejection of this Motion would be to say in effect, "We thank you, Prime Minister, but we would like you to go on appointing our presiding officers, at least until you decide to appoint a Lord Chancellor from the House of Commons. We will then have to sort it out". I suggest that that would do little to uphold the dignity of this House and would send an odd message regarding its confidence in its ability to manage its own affairs.

Much mention has been made of the principle of self-regulation. As I pointed out when we debated the report produced by the previous committee, the powers of our Speaker—I use that term now because it was the term used in that debate—will grow only if the House agrees that they should do so by voting to amend the Companion to the Standing Orders. The Speaker will be able to rule on order only if the House wishes it and decides to give the Speaker that power. There is no such thing as a point of order in this House precisely because there is no one to give a ruling. Only the House itself can change that, not the Speaker. Indeed, this House could set an example to other chambers by having an elected presiding officer and self-regulation.

Reference has been made to the Companion and we have heard already from my noble friend the Leader of the House the phrase, "the guardian of the Companion", which was first used by the late and much-missed Lord Williams of Mostyn when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. It sums up well the important role that a presiding officer could perform. Most of it would be played quietly behind the scenes; ensuring, for example, that the rights of Back-Benchers are protected from the depredations of the Executive. As a former chief predator, I know exactly what that means. It is not a role that can be performed by the Lord Chancellor as a member of the Executive and a very busy departmental Minister. An elected presiding officer would certainly have the authority required to perform it. That is a matter of principle on which we have to decide. As I have said, a more detailed debate will follow once we have before us the report and recommendations of the reconvened Select Committee.

I shall conclude as I began. Does the House wish to accept the principle of electing its own presiding officer? If it rejects that principle, it will in effect leave that decision in the hands of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister decides to appoint a future Lord Chancellor in the Commons, the House will then face an undignified scramble to resolve the matter. In my view, it would be far better to take the decision now and then to proceed at a pace of our choosing.

Photo of Lord Dean of Harptree Lord Dean of Harptree Conservative 4:15, 12 July 2005

My Lords, I begin by declaring a past interest. I was a Deputy Speaker in both Houses of Parliament for about 15 years, so perhaps I may be allowed a few reflections. The most important differences between the two Houses stem from their different characters, their different compositions and, most important of all, the different ways in which order is kept.

In another place the party political battle is more intense than it is in your Lordships' House. Members of Parliament feel obliged to speak out in the interests of their constituents and to ensure that their constituents are happy with their performance. As a consequence, it is important that there should be someone to ensure that the Standing Orders, the conventions and the courtesies of the House are observed. It is equally important that that person should have the power of discipline on the very rare occasions when Members of Parliament refuse to accept the rulings of the Chair. In another place, that job rests entirely with the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers.

How different it is in this place, where we pride ourselves on self-regulation. The first thing that impressed me when I came to your Lordships' House fresh from being a Deputy Speaker in the other place was the self-regulation of this place. It works, and it would be a great shame to destroy it. As a consequence, the Woolsack and the Chair have no power to keep order; the House governs itself and, on the whole, does so successfully. On the rare occasion when a noble Lord steps over the mark, the Government Front Bench will intervene, very politely and very courteously. The erring noble Lord will usually take the advice, and that is the end of the matter. I hope that that can continue. It is another fundamental difference between the way in which this House and the other place conduct themselves.

There is another difference, in the drawing up of the speakers list. In another place the speakers list, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, knows very well, is drawn up by the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. They try to ensure that in any debate a fair balance of views is expressed. They would not tolerate for one moment any intervention from the Whips or the usual channels. How different it is in your Lordships' House. The list is drawn up by the usual channels and, as far as I am aware, there is no criticism of that procedure. It is another example of where the system works.

The third point is in regard to the selection of amendments. In another place the selection of amendments is entirely the responsibility of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. They will, of course, try to ensure that all points of substance are discussed, but that has become increasingly difficult these days as the guillotine bites more deeply. In your Lordships' House it is very different. There is no selection of amendments here. All amendments which are in order are on the Order Paper and it is entirely the responsibility of the noble Lord who tabled the amendment to decide whether to move it or whether to say, "Not moved". This is a very valuable safeguard for the House in scrutinising the Government.

The noble Baroness the Lord President has, with her usual charm, moved a Motion. It is very clear to any old hand in this House that this is a compromise. I do not believe for one moment that this compromise will run, but of course we must await the report of the Select Committee which is to be presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

The Motion refers to two important points. The first is that the House should elect its own presiding officer. The second states that there should be,

"full regard to the House's tradition of self-regulation".

I very much doubt whether those two concepts are compatible. If your Lordships' House should decide to elect a presiding officer, we would be on a slippery slope which would lead inevitably to a Commons-type Speaker with all the powers that go with it. I would greatly regret that. It would be contrary to the traditions and spirit in which this House operates. It would destroy something that works and it would make this House less able to do its duty in holding the Government to account.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

My Lords, I must say right away that although I deeply respect the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, I disagree completely with what he has said today. I want to draw in a different way on my experiences in the Commons. I was in the Commons for 21 years. I served under four excellent Speakers, one of whom has addressed us today. I learned an awful lot from my experience. In addition, I also had the rather difficult task of being chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The one thing that I found when I came to this House was that what applies in the other place is certainly not suitable for this House. It would not work, we would not want it and, quite obviously, it would not fit in with the ethos of the House either. Having said that, even though it has been derided by the other side today, I like the phrase "guardian of the Companion". That is what we need in this House. We need someone who can be the guardian of the Companion. I agree that we must proceed in the way that we are doing now in relation to self-regulation, but, we need someone who is independent, who can administer very lightly and who will have the respect of the House. If they are going to gain the respect of the House they must be elected by the whole House. That is the way forward.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that he cannot close the door to progress altogether. If we do, as has already been said, the Prime Minister will take the decision for us. We do not want to be in that position. I agree completely with my noble friend Lord Carter when he says that we do not want to be plunged into that kind of situation when we have not thought about it. Now is the chance for us to determine our future. We should go along with what the Motion suggests in electing a Speaker, but also call on the Select Committee to consider this matter once again and report back to the House so that we can have a debate on it.

The solution that we shall get, whatever we term the person who takes the job—President, Lord Speaker or whatever—will mean that we shall uphold the dignity of the House. We shall improve the efficiency of the House, and show that this House is prepared to accept change when change is necessary.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, I find myself in considerable agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. He said that he could not understand why—there is no particular reason—we are having this Motion now. I agree, unless it is because of the Government's curiously insatiable desire to upheave everything which works well and to notch up a conquest in the destruction of the constitution and your Lordships' House.

We have been through this so many times. On the whole, your Lordships love the office of the Lord Chancellor and are proud of it. Sometimes, depending on our mood and depending on his, we love the Lord Chancellor himself. Think of that. And we love self-regulation. We do not want a Speaker. It all works well, as has been said by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. So why is there this great clamour to get rid of it all?

I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would love to give up that part of his job that consists of being Speaker and even to give up being the Lord Chancellor. For the life of me, I cannot understand why; after all, it is the most prestigious and respected office, admired up and down the country and admired outside the country as well. It is the second most important post in government—and if he did not want it, I cannot understand why he took the job on. But of course he did.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sent his evidence to the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, saying:

"I hope that the Lords would feel able to make different arrangements to allow me to cease to be Speaker".

But he generously went on to say that,

"I will go on doing the job of Speaker of the House of Lords for as long as the House of Lords wants me to do it".

That is quite a good undertaking and guarantee, and one that I believe we all accept. But he went on to say,

"It would facilitate other things that I do if I cease to be Speaker".

What is it that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wishes to do that he cannot do now and his predecessor as Lord Chancellor did not do—especially now that much of the work of the Lord Chancellor, as head of the judiciary in particular, has been taken away by the Lord Chief Justice?

With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, why should the House for ever change its customs and methods of working, which have been established for centuries, just because of the personal whim of one temporary incumbent, however liked and respected he may be? After all, his regular duties as a Speaker take only about one and a half hours a week; now that we have absolved him of sitting on Thursdays and he sits at Question Time on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays alone, one would have thought that that would not be regarded as an excessive workload. It ought to be within the bounds of what one might call manageability.

But because the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wants out, we are to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, to consider the whole position again with his committee and to come up with recommendations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has already done that once before; he suggested that the Speaker, for want of a better title, should be paid £100,000 and should have a panel of 16 deputies—and presumably staff and rooms in the House, too. That is pretty flamboyant and extravagant stuff. Then, of course, we have to find something for the Speaker to do. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said:

"If we are to get a person of stature to serve as Speaker, he must be seen to perform at least some functions in the Chamber".

That is a pretty staggering conclusion, which I think most of us would agree with.

Not surprisingly, several noble Lords, with characteristic modesty, hope that destiny will call them to that high office—and they are doing their best to ensure that destiny knows of their desire. But we must find something pretty substantial for the new Speaker to get his teeth into. What is it going to be? The Motion refers to setting up a Speaker,

"with full regard to the House's tradition of self-regulation".

Unlike the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, I do not believe that these ideals are compatible. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that once you get this you will get a "creeping Speakership", as he put it. I thought that his views were excellent. The two ideals are simply not compatible; they are opposites. Either the House regulates itself, which it does at the moment pretty effectively and which everyone likes, or a Speaker does it for us. You cannot have the two together.

I say this with the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, but the Speaker is a thing which you kick around—anyhow, you do if you are in another place. "On a point of order, Mr Speaker"; "Can Mr Speaker give a ruling on this, that or the other?" The pressures upon the Speaker come from each and every side as Members try to exert their influence for their own devious ends. I can see no reason why that will not happen here if there is a Speaker. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said in his report, at paragraph 23:

"If the Speaker is given any functions at all, they are likely to increase over time, thus diminishing self-regulation".

That is a very fundamental finding of the noble and learned Lord's committee.

If the Speaker does not have any functions at all, what on earth are we all doing? But if he does have functions, they will grow and there will inevitably be less and less self-regulation, and it may even be lost. Most of your Lordships do not want that.

The next thing that we will find is that the Speaker will be selecting amendments, as my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree said. We can only imagine the acrimony that will cause. The Speaker in another place selects the amendments to be debated; in your Lordships' House every amendment put down has to be debated. In the political parties Bill 2000 100 pages of government amendments were put down in the spill-over. Will the Speaker select which of those will be debated? Or, because they are government amendments, will they just motor through the selection process at the expense of other noble Lords' amendments? The mind blossoms with the terrible possibilities.

I really do think that the Government are pushing this train down the wrong railway line, and remember that it is the Government who are doing this, trying to push your Lordships into agreement. As with so many of the Government's proposals for altering the constitution and your Lordships' House, these proposals are undesirable, unwelcome and unpopular, and I believe they will be destructive. They will not be an improvement. I wish that the Government would leave something alone just for a little while to let things settle down, because we seem to be on an endless travelator going heaven knows where.

By all means let the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his merry men look at the problem, and we shall be able to see what we think of their conclusions when they come up with their proposals. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde said that he was a sceptic with regard to change, but he is a mild-mannered fellow. I remain totally convinced that any move towards having a Speaker will be catastrophic for the House as we know it, for the atmosphere in which the House conducts its business and for the ability of the House to perform its functions courteously, happily and successfully.

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative 4:30, 12 July 2005

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down—

Noble Lords:

Cross Bench!

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative

My Lords, will he give me back my phrase of "creeping Speakership"? There is only one thing worse than creeping Speakership and that is flagrant plagiarism.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, I always thought that my noble friend was a creepy-crawly and now I shall remember that.

Noble Lords:

Cross Bench!

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, said, but I am not quite as sanguine as him. When I first came into this House more than 25 years ago, if two noble Lords or more rose at the same time at Question Time to ask supplementary questions, they would both have sat down and said, "After you". Now, as your Lordships are well aware, they stand there shouting, "No, this side". I have been very sad to see that lovely old courtesy die. I have noticed that every time there has been a big intake of new Peers the standards of courtesy in this House have plummeted. Very often they have plummeted temporarily and then they came back again once the new boys have mastered the rules. However, over the years they have slid downhill.

If we are to continue to be a self-regulating House, it is absolutely essential that the leaders and chief whips of all the parties make sure that their new boys study the Companion to the Standing Orders and that when they transgress its rules they are hauled over the coals. Some of your Lordships may remember when Lady Hylton-Foster was convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. My goodness me, if you stepped out of line, you got it, hot and strong. That is what should happen until the new boys and the new girls are familiar with our practices.

I should hate to have a Lord Speaker in this House doing any more than the Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who is sitting on the Woolsack, is doing at present. However, unless the leaders and the chief whips take care, that is what it may well come to.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, the Conservative position as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean, seems to me to be a case of "Yes, but". The idea is that we are self-regulating and we love the Lord Chancellor and therefore we shall not be moved. The logical consequence of that position for a true Conservative would be that, no matter where the Lord Chancellor is, he should preside over this House. After all, Sir Thomas More presided over this House without being a member of it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will propose that if the Prime Minister chooses to appoint a Lord Chancellor in the Commons, be that as it may, we shall have nothing but the Lord Chancellor beside us because that is what we love.

Many of us would not go that far. We have to prepare for the contingency that any day he likes the Prime Minister can choose to reshuffle the Cabinet and remove the Lord Chancellor from your Lordships' House. We now have the legislation at hand. The Prime Minister may decide, like many other imperialists, to set us free. Of course, we do not want to be free. Why would we want to be free? We love domination by the Prime Minister. We love his powers of patronage. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wants the Prime Minister to have more patronage, not less. Therefore, he wants the Prime Minister to continue to appoint a Lord Chancellor in your Lordships' House to preside over us.

Sadly, the Prime Minister is not a Conservative, and he is likely to do radical things. Therefore, we have to be prepared. The fear that many noble Lords have of the slippery slope has been countered by what my noble friend Lord Carter said. The report which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, issued as chairman of the committee states that any change in the procedures of this House will require a change to the Companion, and that any change to the Companion has to be voted by the whole House. Therefore, the slippery slope is not there. There is no slope. There may be other things but there is no slippery slope down which the House will go unless the House agrees by its own volition. That has to be remembered.

Two things combine. The first is the very high probability that we shall lose the Lord Chancellorship because people at the other end of the building are much hungrier for Cabinet posts than we are, and they usually win. Secondly, if we have to elect a Speaker, the safeguard that we have constructed for ourselves is the proposition that there is no change in the procedures of the House without a vote by the whole House. That is why the Speaker is the guardian of the Companion.

I would also like the Speaker to be a friend of the Back Benchers, because I do not like the place to be run by usual channels. I happen to be on the Back Benches and likely will remain there for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I would like the Back Benchers' interests to be looked after by the Speaker. Those two things should persuade us that by and large let us get on with it and let us vote on this proposition. Let us expedite the process whereby the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, can lead us again to a better report.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, four years or so ago, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and I had the experience of listening to a two-hour speech by President Castro. After he had been going for half an hour, it was clear that there was no structure to his speech and therefore when he reached the end of it there was no way in which he could know that he had done so. It was a prime case of heavy-touch regulation and an example to us all.

I was struck when reading the previous Select Committee report of November 2003—so ably chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and of which the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Carter, were distinguished members—by how it was founded on hypotheses. The very tone of the report properly implied contingency planning rather than paving legislation. The procedure implied by the Motion is a classic instance of the empiricist tradition of these islands. We are crossing a slow but broad stream by way of stepping stones. We are testing each stone to see whether it will take our weight before contemplating proceeding to the next one, while allowing for the possibility that we shall. At the same time, no harm will have been done if we pause in mid-stream or decide to retreat to the familiar bank behind us. My remarks are therefore geared, as have been those of a number of other noble Lords, to the imperative of contingency planning, and my stone-testing is directed to whether the desideratum of light-touch self-regulation is achievable under the new scenario.

The first report, when there were necessarily more conditional clauses about, seemed to me rather more a seminar than an inquiry. The very characteristic that critics of our behaviour aim at us—that a Bill's remaining stages are larded with the reiteration of Second Reading speeches—suffused the report. Ostensible questions were often longer than the answers they received and conspicuously free of question marks. The report seemed to me none the worse for that, as a seminar was well suited to a ground-clearing exercise, but the next report will perhaps need to be a more rigorous and targeted inquiry.

That said, if I have to take a sermonic text from the first report as the epitome of its preoccupation with light-touch self-regulation, it would be the second and final sentence of paragraph 43 on page 12. The paragraph is entitled, "Providing guidance to Members". The first sentence reads unexceptionably:

"The new Speaker should play a leading part in welcoming new Members to the House and in ensuring that they are aware of our customs and traditions".

Amen to that. The second sentence, my chosen text, read more memorably:

"Longer-serving Members could also on occasion benefit from the Speaker's guidance".

A secondary text would be the first of the two fundamental responsibilities of the new Speaker or Deputy Speakers, as specified by the late, great Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he said in paragraph 29 of page 5 of the collective oral evidence:

"One, to be the guardian of the ethos of this place".

Despite my late noble kinsman and my late noble relative having sat here, I had no conception of the "ethos of this place", in the phrase used by Lord Williams, before I arrived here a little under four years ago.

Like many present in your Lordships' House today, I attended this morning the memorial service of the late Charles Morrison, whose father sat in this House for many years. Charles Morrison was a Wiltshire MP from 1964 to 1992. Mention was made in today's service to the rancour inimical to his sense of the ethos of the other place, which grew up there in the 28 years that he was a Member. It was a rancour that took root in the thickets of procedure and the spinneys of points of order. That rancour must never be allowed to enter here into the blessed plot that is our inheritance from the late Lord Williams and his sense of our ethos. Avoiding copying the Commons is the paradigm of the road map we should follow.

I offer this, therefore, as one pointer to the new committee: it needs to clothe the skeleton of light-touch self-regulation with a precise index of what it does not involve. I give a single example that has been quoted in a slightly different manner by my noble friend Lord Dean. My admiration and respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, when she was Speaker, and her tenure of office, both within the Chamber of the Commons and outwith it, is without limit. However, I thought one of her recommendations to the first Select Committee was mistaken, however good the foundation of Commons procedure from which it sprang. She took the view, in paragraphs 57 and 93, that her practice of drawing up a speakers' list in the other place was worth transferring here.

I humbly disagree. Not only did the Commons practice of Divisions at set hours sometimes produce shocking speeches by unwilling speakers dragged in by the Whips from the highways and byways to fill the gaps before the Divisions took place, but the Lords practice of dividing the time available by the number of volunteer speakers elevates the quality of what is said through a discipline that is arithmetical, rather than subjectively administered.

The logic flows from the smaller supply of speakers in your Lordships' House. My late noble kinsman was elected to the other place in 1938, in the days before ambitious carpetbaggers arrived as a general species. His view was that the business of that House at that time was actively carried by about a quarter of its nominal strength. My comparable calculation today within your Lordships' House is about the same. Pressure of numbers of voluntary speakers in this House, therefore, does not require us to use procedures that the Commons requires to ration speeches. I mean no criticism whatever of the noble Baroness; I simply stress that the new committee should test any proposal that derives from the Commons to see whether it will actually suit us.

When the IRA Balcombe Street gang reached Parkhurst in 1978, the Kray brothers, who were already resident, learnt that they intended to inject aggro into the prison's affairs to undermine the British authorities. At exercise, the Kray brothers rubbed shoulders with the gang. The brothers said that they had heard these rumours, that they wished the gang to know the present arrangements in the prison were entirely satisfactory to themselves, and that, in the event of the gang changing that situation, they would have to take action. If there was any doubt about what that action might be, the Krays had a scrapbook in their cell the gang could consult.

Lord Williams of Mostyn once said to me privately that however aggressive the intentions of some Members of any party who arrived here from the other place, the ethos of this place always tamed them. The process is more pacific than the Kray brothers intimated, but it is critical that our ethos should remain of a nature to prevent the level of aggression rising.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 4:45, 12 July 2005

My Lords, in introducing her Motion, the noble Baroness used a phrase that had been echoed around the Chamber, "guardian of the Companion". Many people have asked that the new Speaker should be just that, and in the next breath said that they should have no power over our proceedings. I would like to know how anyone can be guardian of the Companion without actually drawing Members' attention to breaches of the Companion and asking them to desist. There is an inconsistency there that tends towards the direction in which many noble Lords have said things will go if we have an elected Speaker. This is quite an important question. What is meant by "guardian of the Companion"? I would like to see that taken out.

I would also like to draw your Lordships' attention to one small item in the original report of the Committee before it was reconstituted, to which I assume, as it has the same chairman, the Committee will be frequently referring. Paragraph 6 proposes that the new Speaker be an ex officio member of the House Committee and its chairman. That considerable accretion of authority was passed without any comment in this House at all. If we are to create a new animal, we need to know of what it is made. We need to remember that that will give it a considerable amount of administrative authority throughout the building, as well as in this Chamber.

If I thought that supporting the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and my noble friend Lord Ferrers in their opposition to the Motion would retain in the Cabinet two Members of this House, I would vote with them with alacrity. However, that pass has been sold with the abolition of the function of Lord Chancellor as we knew it. It is with great regret that I see no way of retrieving that position. If the noble Baroness could say anything whatever that encouraged us to think that the future would not leave us with the solitary, and if solitary often disregarded, voice in Cabinet, I would find the whole proposal far less depressing than I do.

In the mean time, I draw those matters to noble Lords' attention. I also correct a tiny error on the part of the committee. Paragraph 13 states that,

"it is true to say that virtually the only power of the Lord Speaker is to bring time-limited debates to an end at the appropriate time".

I declare an interest as a Deputy Speaker. I brought such a debate to an end on one occasion, and was roundly rebuked for having done so before the Clerk had given me the authority to do so by standing up and bowing to me. The present position is entirely powerless. We are creating something different. We ought to do it with the greatest of care.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, there is an extremely interesting thing that has completely missed the attention of all your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is not sitting in your Lordships' House, because the Woolsack is not in the House. It is also not a legal requirement for the Lord Chancellor to be a Member of your Lordships' House. "Ah", everybody says. I am citing Halsbury's Laws of England. The question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Desai, vanishes as a puff of smoke on a morning breeze.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, I said that the Lord Chancellor did not sit in the Chamber, which is why a Member of the Commons can preside over your Lordships' House.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, if the noble Lord did, I am deeply apologetic.

If Halsbury is right—I assume that he is—we are talking about a situation that need not exist. We want the Lord Chancellor to stay on the Woolsack because he has no power. We do not mind in the slightest the Prime Minister appointing somebody without power. We mind a lot if it is argued that someone there should have power; that is what we do not want. If we put someone there without power, what on earth is the point, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, of producing an annual income of £100,000 plus that of 16 deputies for a minimum of 57 hours' work? That is quite a salary, is it not?

We work well. I have been in this House a long time and have noticed, as other noble Lords have commented, how people come in from a different ethos outside and it is magic how they suddenly and automatically become the equal of the 21st Duke of Buccleuch. It is extraordinary. Some people call it corruption, others a magic process of osmosis. It is greatly to the credit of the large number of new Peers who absorb that ethos and, to a certain extent, throw off their shoulders too great a party loyalty and have been prepared to vote against their own side. We should be proud of that.

We do not want someone sitting on the edge of the House, outside it, bossing us about. We are quite happy working in our own way. I have only one minor exception to that rule. Why do ex-European Commissioners always insist on asking questions on European Statements immediately afterwards and not let other noble Lords get in? But that is only a minor niggle.

Please, let us keep the magic of this House. We do not have to have the Lord Chancellor in this House, but please let us continue the job that we do. I suggest that we are beginning to do it better and better.

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, I have been concerned that we have been spending too much time on our own internal affairs. But perhaps that is necessary and, once the Lord Chancellor is not in our midst, something has to be done regarding the titular head of this place. The Lord President, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, started to say—and it is in the Motion—that the Committee will be set up,

"with full regard to the House's tradition of self-regulation".

I agree with that, but self-regulation has not had the best of days. Normally, it works better and I hope that this will not be a portent of things to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as well as talking about weight and substance, referred to the Lord Chancellor being retained, but possibly being elsewhere. The noble Lord was worried about taking matters away from the Leader of the House. In every speech, noble Lords have said that we must do nothing to disturb self-regulation. My noble friend Lord McNally mentioned counting fingers—but also trust. There is a sense in which we must trust that this work is continued by the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and we look forward to its response.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said that the Lord Chancellor is still here. I say that you never know. We have heard that there is a chance that Mr Blair might give up and Mr Brown might be on the scene. He may have different ideas about the disposition of those he wishes to assist him. So we need to be ready if that is the way things go.

I have noted that there have been 18 speakers and one is tempted to say a word or two about each of them. We do not need that today.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

Therefore, I shall put that on one side. I should not have made any notes about that lot.

A Noble Lord:

Read Hansard!

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

There are three elements to this matter. Reference has been made to residence—that is of some interest and will be of interest to the person who is appointed—the size of the entertainment allowance, which is a significant matter, and salary. But those are not the most important issues. The role of the job is. I am delighted that most of the members of the committee have heard this debate and that is important for their deliberations. So that role, and what Speakers must not do, is very important.

Secondly, the committee's work is important. The report that was referred to earlier and was completed some time ago, is important, but, in a sense, that was a tentative document and was not for real. Now, the committee has been asked to do something for real. Although it has not been mentioned much during this debate, the nature of the Speaker and the role of the Chairman of Committees need to be examined very carefully, to see whether there shall be one job or two.

Thirdly, the title is important. "Lord Chancellor" is historic and has been distinctive. I do not think that "Lord Speaker" has any particular merits and there could be confusion, given that the word "Speaker" is used in the other place. I hope that the committee will be inventive. It could talk about a Lord Guardian or a Lord Companion; those could be titles. I shall not frank them for now, but the Committee should be inventive and suggest a name that is very much House of Lords, and which, we hope, will be seen in the country as that of the titular head.

We wish the Committee well. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said that this is decision time, but it is actually only the little tiny decision to set up the Committee. The decision time will come some time after we have all had our Christmas pudding. In the meanwhile, we wish the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his committee well.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Whips 5:00, 12 July 2005

My Lords, this has been an interesting and valuable debate in the best traditions and customs of your Lordships' House. I believe that to preserve these traditions and customs it would be better not to change our arrangements. We are happy with the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack, as our predecessors have been. After all, our predecessors elected for that to happen when they passed the Standing Order that lays down that it is so. Admittedly, that was a while ago—1660—but until we amend Standing Order 18, the Lord Chancellor is required to sit and the Motion today does not amend the standing order.

I think we are all delighted that the present noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has expressed himself happy to continue. But we are also all aware that since the passage of the Constitutional Reform Act it is even more possible that a future Lord Chancellor will be a Member of another place. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that I believe it would be inappropriate for a Lord Chancellor who is a Member of another place to sit on the Woolsack, even thought I acknowledge the point made by noble friend Lord Onslow that it would not, strictly speaking, be impossible. He would not be ineligible.

But I hope that if the Lord Chancellor comes from another place, that will not mean that there is only one Peer in the Cabinet. On that, I am not quite so gloomy as my noble friend Lord Elton. I do not regard it as necessarily inevitable and I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be able to reassure us on this point when she replies in a few moments. If the Leader of the House were the only member of the Cabinet from your Lordships' House, it would place an even heavier burden on the holder of that office.

In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and recognising the sudden and unpredictable nature of government reshuffles, it is right to consider what we should do if a future Lord Chancellor were not available to sit on the Woolsack. Some people want a person of less seniority, but more power. That is not usually the way things work, but that seems to be what is asked for here. Much has been said about the desirability of self-regulation. Stated as a general phrase, we are all in agreement with that and I am delighted that today's Motion supports it strongly. But this debate has shown that we need to think carefully about exactly what the attributes of self-regulation are, because it is a delicate flower.

Like some other noble Lords who spoke earlier today, I warn against the phrase "the guardian of the Companion to the Standing Orders". That phrase was used in the Select Committee report, but like several other noble Lords who have spoken, I believe that it is incompatible with true self-regulation. Self-regulation essentially means that we are all guardians of the Companion, not one Peer especially. In our conduct, each of us should seek to follow the Companion and each of us should also try to ensure that other noble Lords do so.

I acknowledge at once, particularly to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that whips, and especially chief whips, have an important duty here. I try to discharge it, and the Front Benches do generally. But I think that it is the duty of us all.

Of course from time to time a Peer may stray from the Companion's directions in one way or another, either from inadvertence or by getting carried away with the enthusiasm of the cause that he or she is espousing at the time. But it is essential for good order that they are courteously encouraged back to correct usage by another Peer—usually either a Member of the Front Bench or a senior Peer. When I first arrived here a few years ago the late and much lamented Lord Malcolm Shepherd was particularly good at steering recalcitrant Members back into order.

As I say, we are all the guardians of the Companion. That is how it should be if self-regulation is to be the rule. If the Peer on the Woolsack, whatever he or she is called, becomes the sole or even the principal guardian of the Companion, the duty to intervene will fall on him or her. If another Peer thinks that a transgression is taking place at some point, he will suggest to the guardian that this is so. In other words, he will raise a point of order.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, put the matter well when he said that there is no point of order in the House of Lords because there is no one to give a ruling. If you make the Peer on the Woolsack the guardian of the Companion, he is the person who will have to give the ruling and that is the introduction of the point of order.

There has been a lot of discussion in the debate about what we seek to avoid in connection with references to another place, in which I sat for a good many years. Visitors frequently remark on the pleasant contrast between the two ends of the corridor. The worst feature of the behaviour in another place is often said to be—as has also been said this afternoon—points of order, particularly of course bogus points of order. I do not think that there is any group in your Lordships' House keener to avoid that feature spreading here than those of us on every side who were previously Members of another place.

It is important to realise that the reason points of order are made to Mr Speaker, and the reason he or she has to listen to them, is exactly because Mr Speaker is the guardian of the Standing Orders in another place. If we make the Peer on the Woolsack the guardian, we create points of order. That is to step on to the downward slope towards a presiding officer, like Mr Speaker; indeed, I think it is to grease the slide.

In holding out, as the Motion does, for the primacy of self-regulation, we may seem to be swimming against the tide of modernisation. In every sphere of life it seems that we have to have regulators to control activity. Regulation is one of the growth industries. Wherever there is a regulator, those regulating push against the regulations and sail as close to them as they possibly dare. For that reason, regulations, as we know every day, are constantly being refined, extended and so on.

If holding out against the onward march of regulators looks old-fashioned, well, so be it; we should do so with enthusiasm as an example to others of self-regulation and that vital attribute, self-discipline. As a matter of fact, I do not think that we should be swimming against the tide, we would be in fashion because there is, these days, much emphasis on respect. What we are arguing for is exactly that respect for our fellow Peers which should come from each of us and not be imposed on us by a regulator.

So, in not having an equivalent of Mr Speaker we would be in the van of current thought: schools need to instil self-discipline; professions need to encourage it. We should not go the other way and give up the power of all of us Peers to guard our own Companion and to guard our own customs.

I also tentatively suggest to the Select Committee that we should emphasise in other ways that whoever sits on the Woolsack is our peer—our equal—not our regulator. Take, for example, the name. Like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I fear that if the new appointee is called the Lord Speaker, he or she will tend more and more, as time goes on, to be treated like Mr Speaker. I prefer the individual to be called the Lord Chairman, but there are other possible suggestions.

On dress, the Select Committee suggested that there should be a gown. But that is to follow the legal dress code. The Lord Chancellor wears the robes that he does because of his judicial functions; they are the same wig and robes as those of the heads of the divisions of the civil courts. For many years, Mr Speaker has worn the same robes. Such a gown would imply that the Peer on the Woolsack was, like him, a dispenser of the law—or, rather, of the Companion. I suggest that the Lord Chairman, when accompanying the Mace in procession or representing us on great occasions in Westminster Hall or overseas, should wear the parliamentary robe that we all wear for the State Opening. He or she could put the robe aside later in the day, when relieved from the Woolsack after Questions. That would emphasise that all Peers are equal, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said and as we are all told, but also give the appropriate dignity—a dignity borrowed from all of us because it would be the same robe that we all wear.

The Select Committee also drew attention to the difficulty of the Clerks advising the Lord Chairman when trying to deal with a situation. It suggested electronic communication—that is possible, presumably—and that that was preferable to rearranging the Chamber. We certainly do not want to do that. Even if only the duty to select Peers at Starred Questions was transferred—a matter of which we are all conscious today—that might mean raising the Woolsack a step or two to improve the view. Otherwise, the Cross Benches over here will miss out. In fact, I believe that the Lord Chairman should remain on the same level as us and should not have such powers transferred.

My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley said that the person, whatever he or she is called, should be resident. If the Lord Chairman were the guardian of the Companion, it would be necessary to be resident on the premises. Mr Speaker does so simply because he may be required at any time to come into the Chamber to take over the chair from a deputy and rule on some matter of their Standing Orders. That is another warning to us.

For all those reasons, but above all for the preservation of self-regulation, which we all want and which the Motion requires, the Lord Chairman should not take from us the sole right to be the guardian of the Companion. If I may put it in a few phrases: long live self-discipline; down with points of order; and power to the Peers, not the Woolsack.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 5:15, 12 July 2005

My Lords, this afternoon's debate has afforded the opportunity to have a useful exchange of views across the House. I do not intend to reply to the detailed points raised in the debate. Should the House agree to the Motion, those are points that the committee should consider in seeking to make recommendations that would then be put before this House for it to decide on.

I say at the outset that this is not a party-political issue. There has been a sense from some speakers this afternoon that the Government are in some way trying to force the House to move in a particular direction. That is not the case. The Constitutional Reform Bill has been enacted, and as Leader of the House I have returned to a process that started in 2003. I hope that I made it clear in my opening remarks that I see this as a decision for the House. If the House agrees to the Motion, it will be for the committee to hear the views of Members of this House and then report back to them for a decision.

A strong thread running through the debate today has been the principle of self-regulation and the importance of the ethos of this House. I could not agree more; it is at the heart of the proposals that I have put before noble Lords today. But this House must have some way of ensuring that self-regulation works. Of course it is the responsibility of each and every one of us, but at the same time the House has vested in me a degree of authority to make interventions at certain points, and the House expects the Whips on each Bench to make interventions. There must be a way of ensuring that self-regulation works.

It is clear that this House does not want to become like the other place. It does not want a Speaker with the kind of powers vested in the Speaker in another place. That came through very strongly in the first report of the Lloyd committee on the Speakership of this House.

I do not consider having a presiding officer and self-regulation as mutually exclusive. I certainly do not think that having a presiding officer will take away from the authority of the Leader. Anyone elected by this House would be given pretty short shrift if they sought to move this House beyond the limits that it had agreed. We must remember that very important point.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Baroness envisage the presiding officer having any powers at all?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my personal view, which I will put to the committee, is that I would like the presiding officer to take on the functions that the Whips currently fulfil in this House. That is what I think being guardian of the Companion means and it is what I mean when I say that we must have a way of ensuring self-regulation. It is the ethos and feeling of the House that that individual must put in place.

That is why I say that, if any individual went beyond what the House wishes, the House would make it absolutely clear that that was the case. In that sense, I have absolute confidence that we will not stray into having the kind of Speaker that exists in another place. This House does not want it, and noble Lords would in no way allow any individual to stray into that territory. I have absolute confidence that the Members of this House will work to ensure that that does not happen.

I recognise the concerns expressed. I have to say that some of the fear is misplaced. But that is precisely why in the Motion I proposed that the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, should look at the detail, report back to the House and then give the House an opportunity to decide.

I assure noble Lords that more than one Member of this House will be in the Cabinet. Noble Lords know that it is for the Prime Minister to decide who is in the Cabinet. When I was appointed Secretary of State for International Development, there were three Members of this House in the Cabinet. The Government Chief Whip, although he is not a member of Cabinet, has attended Cabinet since 1997. These are matters for the Prime Minister. I would be a very brave woman to stand at the Dispatch Box and make promises on his behalf.

In my opening speech, I alluded to three issues which I had borne in mind in drawing up the Motion. The first issue is the need for this House to have a strong independent voice. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. While Back-Benchers in this House are perfectly able to stand up for themselves, there is an issue about this House collectively having a voice and, in particular, collectively having a voice on issues such as public engagement and the standing of this House as a House of Parliament.

A number of times recently there have been, for example, stories in the press about Members of this House, which have not been party political. Had I, or the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde or Lord McNally, responded on those issues, it would have been seen as a party political issue rather than an issue of the House of Lords as a whole.

We are in a changing environment in terms of the way in which politicians and Parliament are viewed. That is why I said that a second issue guiding me was that there is a very strong role that we need to exploit to build public awareness and confidence in Parliament. The third issue that I took note of was the important principle of self-regulation.

If the Motion is agreed I will of course give more detailed evidence on those matters from my point of view to the committee. I feel very strongly that this House needs to have confidence in itself and confidence in its ability to move on while retaining the elements that are most important to it. I hope that the House will agree the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.