My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. On
Moved, That the Commons message of
V. Bledisloe L. Carter L. Cunningham of Felling L. Elton L. Fraser of Carmyllie L. Higgins L. McNally B. Symons of Vernham Dean L. Tomlinson L. Tyler L. Wright of Richmond;
That the committee have power to agree with the committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;
That the committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the committee do report by
And that the committee do meet with the committee appointed by the Commons tomorrow at 10 am.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
My Lords, this Motion gives me the opportunity to point out briefly that, out of the 179 noble Lords who voted for the Motion on
The second reason why I find this Motion useful is that it presents another opportunity to express my feeling that the appointment of a Joint Committee to look into the conventions of this House is out of place and odious. I do not think that one can be blamed for repeating those sentiments again and again. I fear, and the Government must hope, that the committee's study of the conventions will somehow help them on a further step down the road to the reduction of your Lordships' House to the status of a laundry. I do not say that a laundry is not needed to tidy up the legislation which comes before us in such bulk, but the idea that we should simply wash and tidy up and iron the laundry and then deliver it again to its source seems unacceptable.
I just wish to say a word about the respect and regard in which we who belong to political parties—I exclude those who have the distinction, and I mean "distinction", of being Cross-Benchers—all hold those who sit in front of us on the Front Benches. But there are moments when that respect begins to wither slightly, and there is a degree of concern and even alarm when one is confronted with the spectacle of the Front Benches of opposition parties combining to give aid and comfort to the Government in getting out of difficulties which are entirely of their own creation.
I know that your Lordships do not wish to listen to a long speech from me—I am very glad to have the noble Lord's agreement to that—but I turn to my amendment. I dismiss at once any notion that may be abroad that it has a content of hostility towards the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I have spoken to him and have explained my reasons for putting the amendment down. I have also ventured to express, absolutely genuinely, my regard and admiration for him. On
"We must split off our task as parliamentarians putting in place a Parliament that can keep an over-powerful executive"—
I repeat: can keep an over-powerful executive—
"in place and the desire of some on those Benches to make life easy for the government Chief Whip of the day".
It could not have been put better. At the end of the same column, the noble Lord went on to say—I was so pleased to hear this:
"I am determined that it should still retain the right to say no. Unless it retains that right, we are on our way to a unicameral Parliament, with a debating Chamber at this end, and with that would come all threats of the elective dictatorship which Lord Hailsham warned", of some years ago. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord on that. I hope he will forgive me if I say that, with a rather abrupt change of gear, he reached a somewhat eccentric conclusion, when he said:
"We on these Benches will enter into these discussions with good will, generosity of spirit and a determination to succeed".—[Hansard, 25/04/06; cols. 78-79.]
Those words, too, would have been welcome had there been the slightest sign of them on this topic coming from a government source. They never have.
I do not wish to dwell on my impartiality in these matters, from a party point of view, but had the noble Lord, Lord Cope, my friend of long-standing, been named as a member of this committee, I would certainly have included him in my amendment today. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, he made an admirable speech. He gave a serious warning that members of the committee would need something—perhaps short of the wisdom of Solomon, but certainly miraculous powers—to sort out this difficulty. My noble friend perhaps took too much comfort from the weasel words in the terms of reference, which were,
"to consider the practicality of codifying the key conventions".
It is hard to believe that a committee of 24 or 25 people will sit down to the serious consideration of merely codifying them. It is beyond human nature that they should be expected to confine themselves to such limits. Of course, they will do nothing of the kind.
My noble friend might also have given a thought to something that I have mentioned before. These conventions are House of Lords conventions. One wonders, even if it is not strictly speaking a convention that one House does not interfere in the affairs and rights of another, whether good manners and common courtesy might have prevented this unfortunate intrusion on this occasion. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out "L. McNally".—(Lord Peyton of Yeovil.)
My Lords, when I first saw this on the Order Paper, my eyes went to the two lines below, and I thought that it applied to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill. I have looked and listened to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, whom I always enjoy when he is usually attacking a feckless Minister or a malfunctioning department. To suddenly find myself subject to quite interesting readings from my collected speeches, I can only bring to mind the immortal words of the late Kenneth Williams: "Infamy, infamy, he's got it in for me". The noble Lord's amendment gives me the opportunity to explain and perhaps for Ministers to listen to why I am on the committee.
When, over six months ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, proposed the setting-up of this committee, I resisted the Liberal Democrats' making nominations. It came shortly after one of those infamous Downing Street briefings where we were told that the Prime Minister was finally exasperated with the House of Lords and was going to clip our wings. I said then that we were not going take part in a wing-clipping exercise, and that we could only look at the conventions in parallel with issues such as powers and composition.
Two or three months ago, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke to me and reported a Pauline conversion by the Prime Minister to House of Lords reform, and that the noble and learned Lord was going to set up a committee to look for a broad consensus between the major political parties. I reported this to my colleagues at both ends of the House, and some of them expressed great scepticism about the Government's intentions. I, being younger, more idealistic and perhaps more naive, said that we should trust them at their word. I forcefully argued that, since those two committees now existed and that the cause of Lords reform was being championed by no less a person than the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself, it was worth taking the risk to see whether the prospects for Lords reform existed. So this committee went on the Order Paper.
At four o'clock this afternoon, we would have been having the first meeting of the Lord Chancellor's committee—except that, last Thursday, I got a letter from a private secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department telling me that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had been removed from all matters concerning Lords reform. It said that the new Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Jack Straw, had decided to stand down the Lord Chancellor's committee, and would consult individuals on the wider issue of reform from time to time, as needed. When I reported this to my colleagues, a number resisted saying "I told you so", but they certainly looked as though they were thinking it.
My reason for going on this committee, and the Lord Chancellor's committee, was that we can proceed only by looking at a complete package. Mr Straw has since modified his comments about the Lord Chancellor's committee, saying that he will bring it together at a suitable time. But both Houses deserve to see the wider package. Given our experience so far, the Prime Minister seems to take an interest in Lords reform only when he is getting his feet singed with problems elsewhere. He takes the matter away from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who had done a great deal of preparatory work, and hands it to Mr Jack Straw, whose record on constitutional reform does not put him in the ranks of radical reformers. That starts this process off on a very bad foot. When you add the fact that we are in the twilight of the Blair years—so this whole process might be interrupted by a change in head of government—I share some of the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.
However, we are where we are. The wonderful briefings that we get tell us that my good and old friend the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, might chair the committee. Again, with the greatest of charity, his record as a constitutional reformer has not set radicals' hearts beating, but perhaps Pauline conversions are spreading like bird flu through the Government. Mr Straw and the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, might take this issue and move it forward—who knows? That is why my name is on the list. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I am glad he heard what I said two weeks ago. I believe that. I have great determination to protect this House and perhaps one thing the Joint Committee can do is to cure some of the great misunderstandings about the work of this House just a few hundred yards down the corridor. In all parties, we have an education to do with our colleagues in the Commons about how this place could be reformed, while leaving the supremacy of the House of Commons, which so many of us believe in.
My Lords, it is clear to me that my noble friend Lord Peyton did not mean any ill will to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, did not quite say it, but I expect that he will not support my noble friend's amendment this afternoon, unless he has changed his mind about sitting on the committee. My noble friend also said that it was another opportunity to air this issue. He is right to have taken that opportunity because almost as every week goes by, there is a new piece of information— a new nugget written in the newspapers—about what the Government have planned for this House. That raises, quite rightly, enormous concerns, not only on the combined Benches of opposition, but right round the House.
First, those concerns are centred on what this process is about. You had only to read the Guardian newspaper on Saturday to see a headline which read:
"Blair turns to Cunningham in drive to curb Lords powers".
That is the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. I do not associate him at all with that piece of paper, but somebody had briefed the journalist. It is hardly surprising that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and my colleagues behind me, are so deeply suspicious of this process. It looks as though it is intended and designed purely to curb the powers of this House. Since the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, is in his place, I hope that he will take the opportunity when he chairs this committee—as I very much hope that he does—to look at strengthening, not just curbing, the powers of this House.
My second concern is about who is, overall, in control. Since 1997, this role has been carried out by the Lord Chancellor—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton. At the latest reshuffle, only a few weeks ago, that role was given to the leader of another place, Mr Jack Straw. It is the first time that I can think of where responsibility for the future of this House resides not here but in another place. I cannot believe that that is the best way to create confidence in this process.
My third concern is that this process is being driven to a conclusion as soon as possible. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, reminded us that we were originally approached about this Joint Committee before Christmas. Then it seemed perfectly reasonable that it should report by the Summer Recess. Here we are now, in the week of the Whitsun Recess. The committee has yet to meet, yet it is being asked to report by
Perhaps the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees can also tell me about the committee's meeting. The Motion states that it is meeting tomorrow at 10 am. Does that mean that all the proposed members have been told about the meeting and where the committee is meeting? Is that usual practice or is this new?
My Lords, this side! I want to agree with what has already been said. However, I want to ask the Chairman of Committees a question on the chairmanship of the committee. Is it within the Government's gift to decide who the chairman should be; or is it the committee which should decide; or is it the usual channels who should come to agreement about the chairmanship? It is important that the House should know the answer.
Secondly, in relation to the involvement of noble Lords in the discussions, will they be invited to make submissions in the short time available between now and
My Lords, it might help the House if I respond to the points made about the Guardian article and on timing. The idea that any Members who have been proposed for the committee either in this House or in another place will meet to discuss curbing the powers of the House of Lords is patently nonsensical. Furthermore, I found it hard to find anything in the Guardian article which was accurate.
On the deadline, the House may recall that when we first debated the matter in this House, I said:
"It would be up to the committee—having met and decided what it is going to look at—to come back to both Houses to seek an extension if it thinks the timescale is too short".—[Hansard, 25/4/06; col. 93.]
"if the Committee comes to the view that it needs more time, we can return to the House to seek an extension—it will not be my intention to stand in the way of such a request from the Committee".—[Hansard, Commons, 10/5/06; col. 449.]
The comments of both of us in that respect are clear.
Finally, on choosing the chairman of the committee, if noble Lords look at the proposal on the Order Paper, they will see that the first item below the names reads:
"That the Committee have power to agree with the Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman".
It is for the committee to decide who chairs.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she explain the situation because some of us are a little puzzled? Does she accept that the deadline of
The Government put the Motion on the Order Paper, but what is the hurry? Why was
My Lords, we started negotiations on this matter last June. I have made it absolutely clear, as has my right honourable friend in another place, that there is a view that the timescale is too short. Given the delay—and there was a delay in the House of Commons—of course it is open to change the deadline. The deadline of
My Lords, the committee will decide on its work programme.
My Lords, the noble Baroness spoke of a deadline. During the previous debate on this topic, almost every noble Lord who spoke said that it was open to the committee to put in an interim report. Upon advice received from a short distance to the noble Baroness's right, I said that the committee did not have to come back to the House, but could merely put in an interim report and get on with it later. Is the noble Baroness now saying that is wrong?
My Lords, the advice I have always received—which is why I made the statement I did in the previous debate—was that we would have to return to both Houses.
My Lords, I agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Peyton when he moved this amendment. I, too, very much regret that the Government have embarked on this attempt to codify the practices of this House. I equally regret that, as many other noble Lords have said, the House of Commons—the other place—should have a role in deciding what happens to our conventions. Our conventions have been enshrined in tradition for a thousand years and, in my view, ought to remain like that.
However, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees how his committee arrived at the list of names that is before your Lordships this afternoon. As I understand it, the committee received 11 nominations for 11 places, so there was not much competition. I regret that. As a matter of fact, I was hoping to be a member of this committee. Sadly, my name was not even considered by the noble Lord and his committee, and I regret that very much. I know that it is normally the practice for the Committee of Selection to consider only those names that are submitted through the usual channels. But I have a bit of news for your Lordships. I understand that it is open to any noble Lord to make a proposal to the Committee of Selection, and, in future, armed with that knowledge, I am going to make lots of recommendations to the noble Lord, which I hope he will take fully into account in his committee. The fact of the matter is that, at the moment, the Committee of Selection is a creature of the usual channels. The establishment has decided upon these names, not your Lordships and I think we should agree with my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I would like to support the amendment put forward by my noble friend. Like him, I am second to none in my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, not least for the splendid speech in which he vowed that he would not see any reduction in the powers of this House. However, it seems to me that my noble friend made one mistake when he said that we were being treated like a laundry. If my noble friend sent his shirts to such a laundry, they would come back dirty. It would not even have had time to dry them, let alone wash them properly.
When the original Motion was put before the House, I asked the Leader of the House about the timetable. I think that was on around
My main concern, which the Leader of the House refuses to address, is why the
We now learn that the Lord Chancellor, who has not stayed to hear the remainder of the debate—an initiative that he started—is no longer having meetings with the party leaders. We hear instead that the former Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, will have meetings from time to time with relevant people. What does "from time to time" mean? Which people will he meet, and as part of what process? Does "from time to time" fit in with the committee's leave to report from time to time, which is in the Motion?
My third question, to which my noble friend has alluded, is how on earth a committee of more than 20 people can tackle these issues. If they all spoke for five minutes, that would take up most of the time available for one meeting. Members of the House of Commons—I plead guilty as a former Member of the House of Commons—are not as knowledgeable or as aware of the good work done in this place as they should be. The whole process of simply introducing them into our procedures and deciding how they will operate will take time.
I regard the Motion as yet more contempt for the processes of this House. It is a wonder that the Government bother to lay Motions before the House at all, because the party leaders are talking behind the scenes about the future of this institution, and no party has a right to determine the future of this institution. The issues at stake are important, and are worthy of wider consideration and public debate. This timetable and way of proceeding make a farce of it all.
My Lords, I have two brief points to make. I shall not repeat the debate that was held some little time ago when the House took this decision, but will instead respond to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, whose point I take well. The committee will decide the chairmanship, but it does of course have a government majority, so the government majority will decide who the chairman will be on the assumption that Members in another place actually turn up to meetings—they do not have a very good reputation on Joint Committees, but that is by the by. I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, why in those circumstances he wants to reduce the number of opposition members on the committee.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will have his turn after I have finished when he decides whether to press his amendment to a vote.
I will not attempt this afternoon to revisit our debate on
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, although I think that the question has already been answered, as the Motion clearly said, the choice of chairman rests with the committee. It is not in the Government's gift. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a point that the meeting is at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. I agree that that is very quick. However, I am told that the proposed members of the committee were alerted to this fact on
As has been said, there will be 22—
My Lords, I apologise for that. I was given the impression that noble Lords who were to serve on the committee had been advised that the first meeting would be tomorrow morning. However, the idea of going around the Houses to get agreement on a first meeting from 22 Members would not be easy. Therefore, it is best if a date is proposed. On tomorrow's Order Paper, noble Lords will see that I am proposing another Joint Committee of both Houses, probably of a less controversial nature than this one. But that is due to have its first meeting on Thursday, which is two days later, instead of one. So that is not unusual.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, pointed out rightly that there will be in total on this Joint Committee of both Houses 11 Labour Members, six Conservative, three Liberal Democrat and two Cross-Benchers. If my mathematics is right, at present there is parity of membership between the Labour Members and the rest. However, if the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is agreed, that would give the Labour Party a majority.
My Lords, I should not have said that, lest I tempt the noble Lords behind me. I am not sure whether there are any other questions which are specifically addressed to me as chairman of the Committee of Selection. All I would say again to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is that membership of the Committee of Selection is not entirely the usual channels. There are three Back-Bench Members and also the Convenor of the Cross Benches on it. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was himself a member of the Committee of Selection once upon a time when he was Chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers. I would also say that this committee's membership was agreed by the House at the beginning of the Session, as is usual with these committees. If Members have any proposal to alter the membership of the Committee of Selection, that would be a different matter.
My Lords, I hope that I can still come in to support my noble friend Lord Peyton. The Leader of the House said that the question of curbing the powers of the House was completely untrue. As I remember it, there was a proposal that this committee should consider the whole question of timetabling the amount of time that it took Bills to go through this House. If that is not a curbing of the powers of your Lordships' House, I do not know what it is.
It is very important that the committee represents the views of the majority of Members of this House. As I see it, there is an overwhelming majority on the Labour and Conservative Benches, and probably on the Cross Benches, for an appointed House. It would be a great pity if the committee did not represent that. The Liberal Democrats of course pretend that they are in favour of an elected House, but, as on many other issues, they are split half and half.
I had intended to say that I was totally sympathetic to the idea of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, being on this committee, but since I have heard him speak, he is clearly part of the half of the Liberal Democrats who believe in an elected House. For that reason, I am rather uncomfortable about having him on the committee at all. Therefore, I am afraid—
My Lords, I am getting increasingly confused as we go through the speeches from the supporters of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, indicated that this is a conspiracy to get an elected Chamber. Now we are getting an entirely different conspiracy theory from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton.
My Lords, I think we all have to be responsible for our own conspiracy theories. It strikes me that whether we are to have an elected House or an appointed one is absolutely critical to the role of this committee. In my opinion, if we continue with an appointed House, we know that it works extremely well. Those of us who are appointed come here and accept the rules set by your Lordships' House and don't bother to exploit them; therefore, there is no need to codify the conventions of the House anyway. On the other hand, an elected House would be a totally different ball game altogether. Is this committee the right one to be setting down the powers of this House? If anyone were elected to this House, I believe that they would be honour-bound to exploit the system as much as they possibly could for party advantage.
On Wednesday, I raised with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the whole question of the composition of the House of Lords. He said that there would be a free vote in both Houses on the composition of the Lords. When will that happen? There should be a free vote in this House as soon as possible. The views of this House on its future composition are being completely ignored. At the moment, our future is being decided somewhere else and we do not seem to be having a lot of input into what happens.
If the other place decided that there should be an elected House of Lords, and there was resistance to that here from the great majority of your Lordships, that would make life extremely difficult for the government of the day to get anything through this House at all. Perhaps the noble Baroness could come in on this, as I would like to know whether there will be an announcement in the Queen's Speech about having an elected House of Lords. I believe we should know that.
I find it very mysterious that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor somehow suddenly disappeared off the committee that was supposed to decide what happens to our House. He is no longer on it. Why has he gone? I heard a terrible rumour that he had a meeting with Labour Back-Bench Peers and that the whole experience was so bruising for him, and he found himself in such a small minority with regard to his views, that he was reckoned to be totally non-representative of the Labour Back Benches and was not much use on the committee from thereon. If that is true, it would be nice if it could be confirmed by the Government. It is rather strange that the Lord Chancellor has no say whatever in the committee that is deciding the future of our House.
My Lords, I am sure noble Lords do not wish me to make another speech. It was always my intention to withdraw the amendment. To vote on it would be to deny and to contradict what I have already said about my regard for the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Like some of the other things that I have said in your Lordships' House, what I said about the noble Lord today was not tinged with sarcasm or irony. I meant it and I hope that he will accept it.
Before I withdraw the amendment I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that if he reads what I have just said, he will find in it an answer to his question.
I regard the whole of this scheme, this Motion, as a step that your Lordships are invited to take towards the noose which has always been threatened from what the Government have said, both offstage and onstage. If your Lordships should decide to vote against the Motion, that is not a matter for me, but I should certainly go into the Lobby supporting the Motion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.