Companion to the Standing OrdersQuestion

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 25th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour 2:53 pm, 25th October 2011

To ask the Leader of the House who is responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Companion to the Standing Orders are respected.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, as Leader of the House I have a particular responsibility to advise the House on procedure and order. However the Companion makes clear that because the House is self-regulating, the preservation of order and the maintenance of the rules of debate are the responsibility of the House itself, of all the Members who are present. It is open to any Member to draw the House's attention to breaches of order at any time.

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that response. I am sure that he is absolutely right, but is he aware that during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill, at Report, the usual channels managed to stitch up a deal apparently in order to avoid Divisions at Report of that Bill, and postpone them to Third Reading? The deal transgressed not only the letter but the spirit of the Companion. Will he give us an assurance that that sort of deal will never happen again?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I am well aware of the situation that arose on Report of the Armed Forces Bill. The reason why an agreement took place was so as to allow the Health and Social Care Bill Second Reading to be postponed from Tuesday 4 October to Tuesday 11 October. I think the whole House would have approved of that decision. These decisions were made by the usual channels, as I made clear, so as to help the House as a whole. I do not think there was any detriment in taking that decision.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

I speak as one who took part in the discussion about this. Was not the real reason for the decision on the Armed Forces Bill to accommodate the Conservative Party conference and the ability of Members of this House to attend that conference? Am I right in thinking that the same problem is going to arise next year, when this House will be recalled during the Tory party conference? Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House look at the position for next year to ensure that the House's business takes preference over that of the Conservative Party?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord from personal observation that there were very few Members of the House of Lords-of all parties- present at the Conservative Party conference. They were far more likely to be attending to their duties in your Lordships' House. It is true that the Chief Whip has announced that the House will sit next year during the week of the Conservative Party conference, but this is in large part due to representations that have been made to me and others from all parts of the House that they would rather come back earlier in October than sit in September, as we did this year.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Will my noble friend confirm that there is no such person in this House as "the noble Minister"? There is "the noble Lord the Minister and "the Minister" but there is no such person as "the noble Minister".

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I can confirm that my noble friend is entirely correct.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, if there is an agreement between the usual channels to breach the Companion, should we not have an arrangement whereby the agreement of the House is sought?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it is an intriguing idea. I have very recently proposed in a paper to the Procedure Committee that, in tightening up the rules at Third Reading, we should think of mechanisms whereby the House itself agrees to them so as to give those decisions greater power.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, if over a period of time the usual channels find it difficult to reach agreement or to carry the support of all Members of the House, a time may come when it is necessary to look at the establishment of a business committee for the House to take into account not only the Government and the Opposition but the Cross-Benchers, the Bishops and others within your Lordships' House?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it is true that there have been some difficulties in reaching usual channels agreement over the past 12 months, but there are some signs that that period of difficulty is coming to an end. My understanding from the government Chief Whip is that relations at the moment are extremely good. I think it is too hasty to say that we should throw away a system that has served the interests of the House and of the different political parties extremely well over a long period.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Labour

My Lords, on the eve of the memorial service for the late Lord Ampthill, who passionately championed respect for the provisions of the Companion, I find the Question of my noble friend Lord Williams particularly apt. Does the Minister agree that those minded to abolish this House have a very special duty to ensure from now onwards that any lack of respect for the rules in a new Chamber is not excused by its elected Members on the grounds that they were not respected by the House that they have replaced?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, if a successor House were to be created, it would of course be up to that House to decide on its rules, how to manage its affairs, how to co-ordinate itself and, indeed, how to regulate itself. My role as Leader of this House is to make sure that the Companion is stuck to and that everyone is aware of the rules. However, as I said in reply to the original Question from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, it is up to every Member of the House to play a part in that.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that an elected House would consist of Members who would actually want to go to the party conference, and is that not an added reason for keeping things as they are?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My noble friend has very cleverly introduced yet another subject. Of course, it would be entirely up to them whether they went to the Conservative Party conference.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the whole House will understand that some of the difficulties that have arisen in usual channels and throughout the House as a whole have emanated from the fact that we have too much legislation and too much badly drafted legislation. We all agree-I am sure that the noble Lord will agree-that what we need is more pre-legislative scrutiny. At the moment we have five Bills in pre-legislative scrutiny. Does this mean that we will only have five Bills in the next Queen's Speech?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition reiterates an old saw. I can assure her that we have not been any more ambitious in this session than her party was in the first Session of the previous Government. There are a good number of Bills in pre-legislative Committee at the moment-the noble Baroness said there were five, I thought there might have been six-I am sure that there will be more, and equally sure that there will be more than five Bills when we get to the Queen's Speech.