Procedure of the House (Proposal 1) — Motion to Resolve

– in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 8th November 2011.

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Votes in this debate

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

To move to resolve that the role currently performed by the Leader of the House or Government front bench during oral questions and oral statements be transferred for a trial period to the Lord Speaker, or in her absence the Chairman of Committees or another Deputy Speaker;

That the role thus transferred includes the responsibility to arbitrate between groups within the House, but not any responsibility to arbitrate between individual members by name;

That the trial begin at the start of the 2012-13 session of Parliament, and continue until the start of the summer recess 2012;

That following the completion of the trial, the procedure at question time and during oral statements should revert to its current form, pending a review by the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative 3:15 pm, 8th November 2011

My Lords, I declare an interest in these matters. I am a member of the Procedure Committee, a former Leader of this House and the only living person who has been Leader both of this House and of another place-in fact, only the fifth person in British history who has ever held both jobs. I say all that because I think what I am going to say will be pretty disagreeable to a great many people in the House, and I thought that if I said it now, at least they could not accuse me of a lack of experience. My view is that proposal 1 is grossly unfair on the Lord Speaker, is bad for the House and would be the end of self-regulation.

First, the proposal is bad for the House. The working practices report seems to be based on a number of misconceptions. The Leader's role is not to make decisions but to advise the House of what he thinks the will of the House is, and that expression of view can of course be challenged. The Leader, as is clear from the proposal before us, advises only which group or party he suggests the House may like to hear. That, of course, leaves a big gap regarding what happens, as is often the case, when two Peers from the same party rise to speak.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

A document was issued by the Government Whips Office saying that the Lord Speaker should call sides at Question Time, but the Order Paper talks about calling groups. Which is correct?

Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative

I have no idea. I am speaking only on proposal 1; that is all I know about. I have had many years' experience of whipping and I consider that, like other things, it is best done in private.

Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative

If I may resume, the first point that I was making was that the Leader of the House does not direct the House but it offers advice. The second point is that the proposal before us today deals only with which party or group the Leader thinks should have the next turn; it does not deal with the question of two Peers rising from the same Benches.

The third point on this matter, and in my view the most crucial, is that the working party committee completely omitted what is very clear in both the Companion and Erskine May: that the Leader of the Opposition and the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers have a role to play in the order in the House. That is very important. In my view, in the circumstances when two people from the same party or two Cross-Benchers get up, it should be for the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the government party or the Convenor to advise the House which of the noble Lords he thinks the House should most like to hear. It is these failures to implement self-regulation over recent years that have got us into our present difficulty, and the sooner that we get back to proper self-regulation, the better. In my day, the Leaders of the opposition parties, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not here, and the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, were both very helpful to the House over matters of order.

Secondly, this proposal is unfair on the Lord Speaker. When we set up the office of Lord Speaker, the House had the benefit of three separate Select Committees manned by some of our most experienced parliamentarians, taking evidence from virtually all the other experienced parliamentarians who were not members of the Select Committee. Those reports were very strong in saying that our unique system of self-regulation needed to be preserved and those conclusions from such an authoritative source should not be overthrown from a report which was based on misconceptions and did not in any case consider many of the issues, nor as far as I can see took any evidence from those with the appropriate experience.

The recommendations that the role of the Leader should be taken over by the Lord Speaker poses this problem for self-regulation: will the advice of the Lord Speaker be capable of challenge as is the advice of the Leader? It is not a comfortable thought. It would be disastrous if it were and the end of self-regulation if it were not. It would produce a regime for this House which is more restrictive than even the House of Commons which deals with these matters by points of order. So we need to think very carefully.

Secondly, we are asking the Lord Speaker to assume responsibilities not just from the Leader but also from the Leader of the Opposition and Convenor that are not even written down or clearly defined. There are also some very practical matters to be considered. I just wonder whether the lonely Woolsack is the right place for a Lord Speaker with these roles. When I was the Leader of the House sitting here, it was the nods and the winks from the Leaders of the other parties, plus, if I may say so, the mutterings of the Clerk, which were very valuable in making sure that I did not make mistakes. Even if we pass this Motion, the Lord Speaker stuck up there will not be in a position to administer it in any fair way. Therefore, my advice to the House is not to pass this Motion, and, secondly, to go back to self-regulation as it should be, because I do not believe that there are many people in this House who properly understand what self-regulation is.


The relevant section of Erskine May, p515 states:

"When two Lords rise at the same time, unless one immediately gives way, the House calls upon one of them to speak; if each persists, precedence may be decided upon division. If the Leader of the House rises to address the House, it is customary to give him precedence over other Lords who may rise at the same time."

While the book states: "The opposition front benches and the Convenor of the Cross bench Peers also have a responsibility to draw attention to transgressions of order." this is not directly related to resolving questions of which member gets to speak next.


Richard Taylor

Submitted by Richard Taylor

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

My Lords, I did not expect to be intervening quite this early in this debate. When we last discussed the report by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, I used the expression that this recommendation was a "slippery slope". I do not move away from that consideration. I intervene with a decade of experience as a Deputy Speaker and very much in support of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. There are practical problems in this proposal. I will mention just one or two of them.

The first is that from that position it is impossible to see the original Cross Benches. You simply do not have a view. Earlier this year, my noble friend Lord Colwyn had a brilliant suggestion for resolving that: he would use his dentistry experience and get an elevated Woolsack. That had considerable appeal. More seriously, of course your Lordships will know that in another place-and I use that expression advisedly-the Speaker sits in an elevated position, so he or she is able to see the House. Believe me, from the Woolsack that is not possible.

The only other point I would like to mention is that if this proposal were agreed to, the Lord Speaker or the Deputy Speaker would be able to call groups. However, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham said, if three members of Labour Party-I am not picking on the Labour Party, but use it merely as an illustration-were to rise simultaneously, they would all have to sit down again as the Lord Speaker rose, so there would be confusion to start with. Secondly, if none of those three or only one gives way, there would be a confrontational position and the Lord Speaker would be almost obliged to start naming names. That is not in this recommendation and I would vote very strongly against it. This means that the Leader of that party or the Leader of the House would then have to nominate or suggest the Peer concerned. In that respect, we will have gone round in a circle and will be back to self-determination. I do not approve of this proposal and I will certainly vote against it if it comes to a vote.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill [HL] Committee, Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill [HL] Committee

We considered this question at very great length when we had the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House six years ago. My view then was, and still is, that intervention at Question Time is a job for the Leader of the House as leader of the whole House and not as a member of the Government. If the Leader is not present, then it would be a job for the Deputy Leader of the House as deputy leader of the whole House. It was never my view that it was a job for the government Front Bench and therefore I do not understand the terms of Proposal 1, which refers to the job being,

"currently performed by the Leader of the House or Government front bench".

That is not the job that we conferred on the Leader of the House six years ago. To insert "Government front bench" at that point in the proposal seems either to beg the question or, at any rate, to muddy the waters.

The question for the House is quite simply this: has the present Leader of the House and his predecessors on this side of the House impartially performed the function that they were then given during the past six years? I believe that they have. My only criticism, if I may say so, of the present Leader of the House is that when everybody is shouting together to get in, he does not intervene quick enough. It is very important that he should intervene as quickly as he can when that situation arises. If in future he does intervene quickly, I see no possible advantage in transferring the job from the Leader of the whole House to the Speaker and I see many disadvantages, some of which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Inevitably it will, in the end, lead to a loss of self-regulation.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Labour

My Lords, I am not particularly happy with this proposal and never have been. My views have been somewhat confirmed by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has just said. However, I wish to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who has several times in recent times referred to the "slippery slope". I simply do not buy this argument about the slippery slope for the following reason: in a properly self-regulated House, the House does not need to go anywhere it does not want to go. It has the power to say, "This far and no further". Whatever changes might be made, they do not automatically mean that we are living in fear of a slide down a slippery slope because they can always be stopped.

My second point is that I am not very keen on trial periods. The trouble with a trial period is that the determination of whether that trial period has yielded positive or negative results is very difficult to judge and can be extremely contentious because we do not have clear criteria about how we judge whether they have been positive or negative. Making that determination could simply cause more problems for the House.

On the whole, I feel that the House works well enough with the system it has, provided, as the noble and learned Lord said, the Leader of the House and others on Front Benches take the responsibility necessary to make it work. If they do not, then you are inviting a tsunami of requests for some sort of reform which would probably in the end destroy the self-regulation of the House.

Photo of Baroness Boothroyd Baroness Boothroyd Crossbench

My Lords, I intend to support the proposal before us this afternoon. I am in a great minority of one in believing that this House is self-regulating. I have not found that to be so. I have found it alien to me that a member of a political party who sits on the government Front Bench, whichever party may be in power, as a Minister of the Crown intervenes, interferes and determines which group in this House should be next to put the question. That is not a decision for a Minister of the Crown-a political animal, if I may put it like that-to take. To me that is for the judgment of an independent body, and that is the Lord Speaker, in whom we all have confidence. We would abide by the decisions of that Lord Speaker. I would therefore like to see this for a trial period, and I favour the proposition that is before us this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 3:30 pm, 8th November 2011

My Lords, I also had the privilege of being on the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House, which, as has been pointed out, came out very strongly indeed against the proposal which is before us this afternoon.

I would just make one other point, which has been touched on earlier, and which I would have thought might possibly have appealed to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. In the House of Commons, the Clerks sit immediately in front of the Speaker and can lean backwards to give advice. It may be very often that the Speaker in the other place does not need that advice, but there are occasions which are highly technical and where such advice may be useful. It would be quite impossible in this House, as it is presently configured, for the Clerks to give advice to the Speaker without it being very apparent-it is not always apparent in the other place-that the advice has been given.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

My Lords, I do not claim to have the unique experience of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, but having been a member in the other House for a number of years, like many people I think, I often compare and contrast the proceedings between both Houses. In many ways, the experience of being in the House of Lords is a very favourable one in that respect. However, for the reasons advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I feel that it is worth at least having a trial period where we have these matters judged by the independent voice of the Speaker.

On this occasion, I would actually like to consider going further down the "slippery slope", although I normally like the self-regulation approach very much. These days, however, I have to say that Question Time-certainly for me and, I think, some others-can be quite stressful when one is competing so much with very active and well prepared Members on one's own side, as well as trying to intervene in Questions in relation to other groups. In many ways, we should consider the Speaker as having the ability in the future to call Members because I think that it would create a fairer distribution. Not all of us have booming voices or towering physical presences, and sometimes it is not pleasant competing with one's own side. Therefore I would like further consideration of this matter in the future.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, for two years while the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Leader of the House, it was delegated to me to perform the functions of the Deputy Leader. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that the Lord Speaker can see more people around the House than the person sitting on the Front Bench can. There were a number of times when I had to be elbowed because I could not swivel my head to see other groups. That is a fact. On the other hand, the configuration of this House is not the same as that of the other place, where not only do the Clerks sit in front of the Speaker but the Speaker's secretary usually stands alongside him giving tips if he does not spot something.

I take very much what the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said. As a government Minister, it is not appropriate to choose who asks questions of the Government. That is the fundamental principle we are dealing with here. That should not be the role of a government Minister, and we need to find a suitable way. I can understand those who do not want change. Those who did not want a Lord Speaker in the first place can see, in years to come, the neutral person in the Chair calling the supplementaries. That in itself would be an advantage. I do not have the statistics in front of me, but something like 50 per cent of the supplementaries are asked by 10 per cent of the Members. That is because they have the loudest voices. It is a bully boy's tactic. We try to encourage people to come into this House in order to use their expertise, but when it comes to Question Time, they look at what happens and say, "I am not playing a role in this". Doing it that way is not professional and there has to be another way. I think that this is just a small modernising step.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, I have been in your Lordships' House for 38 years and I should just like to say that I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I think that the Leader of the House should be on his feet rather more quickly when two people are trying to ask a question.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I want to make a very short intervention because everything I have on my notes has been said by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, so really there is little more to say but this. The question is: are we to retain a self-regulating Chamber? If so, why dabble with the concept of opening a gateway that can never be closed? To what end and where is the justification for it?

Last night I read the official reports on this. There is not a shred of evidence to support proposal 1. Whatever was said about the Leader of the House and the Convenor of the Cross Benches, it forgot to mention the interests of the spiritual Benches. They are all the people who will decide what to do; they have the authority. You cannot land this job on a Speaker who does not have the authority and should never have it. I am not criticising any person or Speaker; I am talking about how the House should be run. It should be run by the arrangement of consultation that was referred to by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

The last thing is that this is a question of crucial importance which also relates to other outside concepts that would have to be considered in legislation. It is quite wrong that we should now, without justification or evidence simply to please some concepts, do away with the maintenance of self-regulation of the House. It is the same sort of problem that we will have later on with retention of the ethos of the House.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I know the concerns that are being expressed principally, although not exclusively, on the other side of the House. They basically imply that we are in danger of ending up with a situation like that of the Commons Speaker. I sympathise with those concerns. We do not want a Speaker in the sense of someone who has to adjudicate constantly on points of order and decide on balance whether difficult issues should be debated and so on. We do not want to go in that direction for all sorts of reasons which I think are well understood. However, I strongly support the proposal because I do not think there is any risk whatever of that happening under this change.

Indeed, I would offer as a kind of reassurance to those opposite that all these kinds of anxieties were expressed five years ago when the Speakership in its present form was established in this House. It was pretty vehemently opposed in all sorts of ways, while all sorts of forebodings were expressed as to what it would result in. I put it to the House that those forebodings have simply not been fulfilled. The Speakership has worked extremely well. I think that should be of some reassurance to those who feel that something serious, even cataclysmic, will happen if we support this proposal.

My main concern for wanting to be assured that this proposal will go through, and why I support it, is the issue that has not been mentioned. We are here to serve the public and part of that is for our procedures to be intelligible. Let us leave aside the term "self-regulation" at the moment-if there is regulation in any debate or at Question Time, it comes spasmodically from the government Front Bench. That is totally unsatisfactory for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and for the practical reasons given by my good and noble friend Lord Rooker that you physically cannot see. In no Chamber anywhere on this planet or at any time in this planet's history has the person responsible for order had half the audience sitting behind them. We are an absolute one-off on that, which is the position that we are in at the moment.

I simply put it to the House that we should do as every other representative organisation that I, or I guess anyone else in this Chamber, have ever had any experience of by having the person with a kind of responsibility for easing things along sitting in the centre and at the front-so far as there is a front here-of the audience, which would make it immediately intelligible to people watching in this Chamber or on television. It is such a minimal change. It does not advocate any new powers; it simply says that the power should be transferred from somewhere that-let us be blunt-does not operate that wonderfully at present. I defy anyone to say that it is a model in how it operates at present that others should follow. It is a small change in the right direction without any fear that has been expressed or any likelihood of being justified in the exercise. I urge the House to support this unanimous proposal from a committee on which I was very proud to serve. It was a very diligent committee that took evidence from everywhere across the House, and we should let this proposal go forward.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I suppose that all of us come to these matters very much with our own experience, so it is perhaps no great surprise that a very distinguished Leader of your Lordships' House should take the view that things should stay with the Leader, and a very distinguished lady who was Speaker in another place should feel that the Speaker is the more appropriate person. I therefore confess to having a good deal of sympathy for what the noble Baroness said, as I found myself in that situation some time ago.

Of course, the way in which one conducts oneself as a Speaker is not identical in different Chambers. Whatever the sense of authority might be in the other place, in the place in which I served there was the idea that the Speaker should exercise authority over some of the Members of that place rather than facilitate and persuade them. I need only state that idea for noble Lords to understand my point. In fact, I took as my guide Speaker Lenthall, who when confronted by the monarch and asked to identify Members of the other place said that he had neither eyes to see nor lips to speak other than the House gave to him.

That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about an end of self-regulation because we are not talking about new powers for anybody. We are simply talking about an element of the responsibility that lies currently with the Leader of the House to be taken not by the Leader but by the Lord Speaker, who has been elected by noble Lords. It is not a change to the procedures, the authority or responsibilities. It is simply that a different person undertakes those responsibilities on behalf of the House and in sympathy with the House-not exercising authority over the House.

We should not think of this as an end of self-regulation or even a change to self-regulation. This is simply a question as to who is the most suitable person and in the most suitable place to undertake this. I have no criticism of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who conducts himself with great decorum and a good deal of subtlety and has helped us through the difficult expansion of our numbers and the pressure on the work of the House. I must say, however, that there are some points of difficulty in our work, particularly at Question Time.

I did not find it a particular difficulty in coming to your Lordships' House to force my way to the fore to ask questions-with my background I had to pull myself back a little from time to time because I knew I was no longer competing with the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and others in another place-

A noble Lord:


Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

Never. However, I appreciate for many other noble Lords coming into the House from other places-many of them not political chambers-it is not a great encouragement to involve oneself in the business of questions. I take very seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, says about the number of people who engage at Question Time not being entirely satisfactory.

We might, by this very, very modest change, be able to send a signal to ourselves and others that we want to see a greater involvement of the House as a whole. I accept that there is no ideal place to sit in this Chamber to see everyone. The Lord Speaker would obviously have some difficulty seeing those who are in wheelchairs but, as has already been observed, the Leader of the House has considerable difficulty seeing those who sit behind him, so there is no ideal place.

However, some things have been adduced in the debate that really do not apply and are actually a protection against the slippery slope over which noble Lords have great anxiety. There is no need with this particular change for technical advice to be provided to the Lord Speaker. There are no points of order, and no complicated questions of procedure apply in this case. Therefore the experience that I had to have, as indeed do Speakers in other places, of having a Clerk either in front or beside to give the kind of technical advice that is not easily facilitated in your Lordships' House, simply does not apply with this very modest change. All that is being asked for-

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

What would the noble Lord suggest should happen if people from those Benches, his Benches or this Bench got up at the same time and would not sit down?

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

I am very grateful indeed to the noble Countess for raising that question. I think my noble friend the former Leader of the House raised a very interesting question that I saw raised a few eyebrows. He indicated that that responsibility lay with the leaders of the groups. I am not sure that I have observed the leaders of the groups and the Convenor intervening in that way. That would be a move away from self-regulation of the Chamber as a whole. The Lord Speaker move that is being proposed would not change that question; it would simply change identification of the groups, not the sides of the House, whether we are talking about the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or indeed the Bench of Bishops.

However, if the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and pointed to by the noble Baroness were to be adopted and it was for the leaders of the various groups to indicate which of their colleagues should address the House, it would become extremely inappropriate for the Leader of the House to undertake that as the leader of the Conservatives. If it were to be taken in that way-and I am not sure that we actually are in that position-it would be even clearer that it should be the Lord Speaker who undertakes that. However, I find myself somewhat doubtful that that really is the way the House sees itself functioning. I think it wants to hold to a degree of self-regulation whereby the House as a whole calls for the Peer they wish to hear. That is really the preferable position for us to hold to, but there does seem to be a little uncertainty.

In conclusion-

Noble Lords:

At last!

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for the indulgence of the House. In conclusion, this is the most modest of changes, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says, would be much more comprehensible to those outside-and we hope that an increasing number is observing our procedures-and would in no way take away from the self-regulation of this House.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I shall speak a little more softly than usual. I regard this proposal as a sad reflection of the decline in standards of courtesy, of self-regulation, of discipline and of brevity in this House, and I shall oppose it.

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

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that the Speaker we elected has virtually the same powers as the Lord Chancellor, who was summarily dismissed by Mr Blair. The role of the Speaker is no different from what went before. When this House was discussing whether we should have an elected Speaker, one of the reasons given in favour of having an elected Speaker was that there would be no difference from the previous situation. One of the arguments against it was the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument: that although there would be no initial plans, there would be moves later on to give the Speaker more powers. And so it has happened, because that is what is proposed today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in one respect: the House should not vote for this proposal today. I do not agree with him about handing power to party leaders, which really would be a retrograde step.

When I came here 28 years ago and saw how the House of Lords worked, I said, "It simply is not possible that a Chamber like this can regulate itself", but I quickly found that it could, and did, regulate itself, and that its self-regulation was good for democracy -much better than in the House of Commons. I really enjoyed it. That was in a House not of 823 Members but of 1,183 Members. It should be easier for the House to regulate itself now than it was when there were a lot more Members.

One of our present problems-and there are problems; there is a lot of shouting, which ought not to go on-arises from the fact that there is a coalition Government and that the House is not sure whether the Liberal Democrat party should have a voice apart from the coalition. Frankly, that has to be settled. The only people who can settle it are the political parties and the usual channels. I wish they would set about it, and then we would know who was entitled, and when, to speak, particularly at Question Time.

My final point is a personal point. All we have heard about is the political parties and the Cross Benches. Although I sit among the Cross-Benchers, and they are very kind to accept me among them, I am an independent Labour Peer. I have not yet registered myself as a political party and I do not want to have to do so, but if parties are going to be called rather than individuals-the recommendation is that people should not be named-I shall be in some difficulty. I shall have to register myself as a political party, the Independent Labour Party, the previous one having become defunct quite a long time ago. For all those reasons, including the personal reason, I believe that the House should vote against this recommendation.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the House of Lords has a reputation for courtesy and good manners, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, has already said. The basic system is very simple: speakers at Question Time and in debates rotate around the various political groups. I believe it is the responsibility of every Member of your Lordships' House to understand this simple principle and to give way gracefully, as appropriate. That is what self-regulation means. It is also what good manners mean. I hope very much that your Lordships' House will continue to operate in an effective and efficient manner without having to make this change.

Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench

My Lords, when I came here two years ago, I looked forward to asking questions, because as a Speaker I was not able to. Of course, in politics, many of us do not go and read a big book as to how things are done-we watch and we listen. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned the bully boys and those who get in more than others. I watched and listened, and the person that seemed to get in a great deal more than others was the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner; and she could not be described as a bully boy. I said to myself that I would take a good example as a good thing and listened to the noble Baroness and how brief her questions were. I would be delighted if a Speaker or the Leader of the House was able to help an individual by saying that a particular individual should be called. However, the proposal is not to call an individual; it is to say which section of the House should have their turn, which is very different. To me, that is not going to help the person who is quiet-voiced and quiet-minded. If the proposal did say that an individual would be picked, I might have a different point of view.

It seems shambolic, but, in a way, this place seems to work at Question Time. There is a fairness about it, such that the quiet person often does get called. We talk about the Leader of the House being a Minister of the Crown, but the Leader of the House in the other place is a Minister of the Crown. The Leader of the House, although a Minister of the Crown and a member of a majority party, still has an obligation to look after the needs of the House and to be fair. I have seen that fairness demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he has said whose turn he thinks it is. Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the term that is used: "I think it is the turn of the Cross-Benchers"; "I think it is the turn of the Labour Party". That narrows things down such that when it gets to the stage of two Labour Members arguing with one another, they should have the good sense to allow someone else to get in; or to say to themselves, "Last week, I got in and perhaps I will let a colleague do it this week".

I very much enjoy being able to ask questions, including about apprentices. I remind the House that I came out of engineering. One of the loveliest things that my old foreman used to say was, "Michael, if it works, don't fix it". I would leave things as they are.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 4:00 pm, 8th November 2011

My Lords, I go back to the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, because they raised two very important issues. They pointed to the need for the Front Bench to retain the role that it currently has. I will argue quite simply that it is impossible for the Front Bench to carry out that role. That has always been my position. In the correspondence that I had with about 500 Members four years ago, when 300 or so Members replied and gave their views on the matter, an overwhelming majority of those who responded said that they were in favour of changing the role of the Lord Speaker. It was clear that there was considerable concern about the role of the Front Bench-Labour was in government at the time-in carrying out that responsibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, both referred to the need to intervene earlier, but therein lies the problem, because the Front Bench cannot intervene earlier without appearing to be political.

A noble Lord:


Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

The noble Lord opposite says, "Rubbish!", but some of us, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, watch what is happening on the government Front Bench during Question Time. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, very effectively seeks to have some influence on what is going on in the Chamber and often talks among her colleagues on the Front Bench as to who should be called. We are pointed to by Ministers on the government Front Bench, almost inviting us or identifying us to intervene during the course of the debate.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Labour

This may be a hypothetical question, but it comes to my mind. When the noble Lord says that it should not be in the gift of the Leader of the House because of the political implications, would we now be granting those powers to the Woolsack if we still had a Lord Chancellor-because he was a political figure, too?

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

We do not have a Lord Chancellor; we now have an independent Lord Speaker. I am arguing that we should take that role away from the political and give it to the independent Chair of our proceedings, thereby enabling early intervention in a House which, during Question Time, is often unruly, and which has led to public criticism when people see adults on television standing screaming, shouting and bawling at each other across the Floor of the House. Anyone in this House who can claim that that is a dignified spectacle misunderstands what is expected of this House.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I am absolutely staggered that any Member of this House who has served in the other place-or the House of Commons, I am pretty agnostic on what we call it-should be advocating greater authority for our Speaker. I fear that I do not remember the halcyon days of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I remember her authority being constantly challenged on totally bogus points of order. You have only to pick up a Hansard from yesterday, which will be like any other Hansard from the House of Commons. It will show that after every Question Time, people leap to their feet with points of order which are not points of order. They are people who missed out on Questions-they have not managed to get in, so they ask their question anyway-or they bring up some constituency matter that happens to concern them. That is all completely bogus. The authority of the Speaker is constantly challenged in the House of Commons, and it will be challenged here if we give authority to our Lord Speaker. We do not want to go down that path; it is a very retrograde step. We should learn from the House of Commons and stay with a system that works very satisfactorily as it is.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, I am finding this a very strange debate indeed. I always thought that when we had a Leader's Group, the Leader of the House was on the group and presented the report to the House. Then it went back to the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee then went through the report and then presented its report with recommendations which it unanimously backed. We knew precisely where we stood then and had very strong leadership. Times change, and the report has been presented today in a very different way, in a neutral fashion. I have been waiting to see who will speak on behalf of whom in defending the current position or advocating change. It looks as if we have a new style of neutrality, which we have not had before. In those circumstances-and I say this as someone who saw the House regulating itself well when I first came in, with civility, courtesy and discipline; and no doubt I am now as much part of it as anyone else-it has changed. We should recognise that we have changed, and move on. I have again heard criticism of the Leader today, saying that he does not intervene in the way that Leaders intervened in the past. I am moving then to say that I am going with the change, and I am hard pressed on this. I do not like the state that we have got ourselves into, and therefore if changes come, I have got to go with them-unless, of course, somebody will stand up firmly and say "No, we are stopping it. We are going back to what it was like before, and I am the individual who will ensure that that happens". I do not know who that individual is in the House, and who is going to say it. But the question I pose to the Leader is: is he going to speak this afternoon?

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I have the feeling that our procedures work pretty well on the whole. However, the one area where they do not work well is at Question Time. All I would say is that a House that approaches matters with more dignity than the Commons becomes extremely undignified when we get to Question Time or questions on Statements, and I do not like that. Your Lordships will notice that everybody who has spoken is what I would call an old hand. I do not think that any of the newer Members have spoken. But I have talked to some of them, and they said that they do not like Question Time, and do not take part in it, because they feel that they do not get a fair share of it. They do not like having to outshout the bullies, and they feel that it is more dignified not to do that. That we should allow new Members to feel this way is a condemnation of our procedures.

I believe in the dignity of this House, and I do not believe that this change will make us become like the Commons. All it will do is transfer responsibilities from the Front Benches to our Speaker, who we voted for, and who we all respect. We are not going to challenge our Speaker if we do not agree with which groups she points to. We will accept her decision with good grace, as we accept with good grace what the Leader of the House does from the Front Bench when he points to one group or another.

There are, of course, other difficulties, which have been referred to already, and I would like us to go a bit further. It is all right to say which group or side is going to come next, but what about those who are not members of a group or of a side? What about UKIP or Independent Labour? How do they get a fair share? It is quite hard for them. In the Commons, the Speaker makes a point of ensuring that small minorities get a share, probably a bigger share, but there is no such safeguard here. Yes, we defer to the Bishops' Bench; we do that because we do that, and we have always done it, and that is not a bad thing either. However, we have no tradition of knowing how to cope with UKIP or Independent Labour, or any individuals. Though the proposal does not go this far, I would have thought that the Lord Speaker, from the Woolsack, would be in a better position to be fair to all the Members of this House. This is a small but important step. It will add a bit to the dignity of the House and keep us as a self-regulating House.

Photo of Lord Ribeiro Lord Ribeiro Conservative

My Lords, as a new Member who has not spoken, I would like to say a few words. Few of my friends would consider me a shrinking violet, but there is no question that, for new Members, speaking in this House is a steep learning curve. I have been fortunate to have two or three Questions at Question Time. One thing that is very surprising is that the Member who puts the Question often has less time to ask their question than do those who ask questions afterwards. Brevity is the key. It has been emphasised that some of us are able to keep our questions fairly brief. Self-regulation is not just about the Leader of the House determining who speaks and when; it is about the Members themselves recognising that they have 30 minutes in which to deal with four Questions, and that that can be done satisfactorily only if people keep to time and allow others to have a say as well. I do not think that there is a problem with the system as it stands. It is for us to look at how we behave.

Photo of Lord Kakkar Lord Kakkar Crossbench

My Lords, I have had the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House for only 18 months but I have received the warmest of welcomes, particularly at Oral Questions. I have also learnt three unique characteristics of your Lordships' House. The first is that all noble Lords are equal. There is no stronger manifestation of that characteristic than at Question Time, when one has the privilege to be heard because it is the will of your Lordships that one should be heard. Secondly, this is a self-regulating Chamber and noble Lords hear from whom they want to hear in the context of the Question being discussed and the expertise that is present in the Chamber at the time of the discussion. Finally, I have learnt that there is a very important constitutional role for the Leader of the House which goes far beyond his responsibility as a member of the Cabinet and far beyond his responsibility as leader of the governing party in this House-the obligation to every Member of your Lordships' House to serve their interests and to ensure that the will of the House is properly communicated and understood. To divide the Leader of the House from the specific responsibilities that we discussed at Oral Questions today runs the risk of removing this overall obligation which the Leader of the House has to all noble Lords.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench

My Lords, after the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am very tempted to say-as yet another fairly recent Member of this House, having joined just over five years ago-that I am not entirely happy with the way in which Question Time is seen by the public. We do not behave as well as we should. However, I do not think that the current proposal would make it much better, for all the reasons that have been given. It seems to me that two things should happen. First, I think that the Leader of the House or the Chief Whip should occasionally make it clear whose turn he or she thinks it is. That is not always as clear as it might be. Secondly, it is time that we, as Members of this House, used self-regulation to mean self-regulation of each individual-we should behave better. We should sit down when other people are standing and hope that we will have a chance, but if we do not get a chance to speak, we should hope that we will have a chance next week. That is one of the reasons why I do not speak very often at Question Time. I feel that others have something to say and I want to speak only when I really have something to say. If we are proud of self-regulation, we have an obligation to regulate ourselves.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am for self-regulation but I think that the usual channels could help us a little. We could be clearer, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said, about whose turn it is and what the rules are. I think that there is a blockage in the usual channels which should be cleared. It creates conflicts every Question Time, which is unnecessary. I also think that the leaders of individual parties should be much better at disciplining their own members-either those who speak too frequently and stop others speaking or those who speak at too great a length. I get the impression that there is no effective discipline in that respect. It would help if one knew that someone who sins will be dealt with afterwards.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I was very impressed with what my noble friend Lord Wright had to say and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said about courtesy and observing other people. I think that this is a temporary problem. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that we are a smaller House than we used to be, but in fact an extra 100 people sit in the House each day, so there is more pressure on the House. We have had a sudden influx of people who do not understand the rules. I think that they are now bedding down, so the proposal is unnecessary, if not premature.

Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench 4:15 pm, 8th November 2011

My Lords, I have a quick question of clarification. If this Motion is agreed, are we going to adopt the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, to actually raise the Woolsack? As the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, mentioned, you cannot physically see these Benches from the Woolsack. I would be grateful for the Leader's response.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

I should thank my noble friend Lord Stoddart-if I may refer to him as that-and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for what they said about the minority parties and independents in your Lordships' House. I would comment further, however, by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others who feel that we behave extremely badly at Question Time, and that this does not do us any good with the public, that I think that the public see a substantial difference between Questions in your Lordships' House and Questions, particularly Prime Minister's Questions, in the House of Commons. The members of the public who I talk to always say how well behaved your Lordships' House is in comparison to the other place.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Perhaps I may just refer to this myth about the distinction between the two Houses and ask the noble Lord whether he appreciates that in the Commons people do not stand and bawl at each other across the Floor of the House.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

No, they do not. I would suggest that Members go to the Public Gallery in the Commons and see what goes on there. This is one of the only Houses in the world where Members bawl at each other to be heard on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

I simply cannot agree with the noble Lord. As someone who tries to get in on Questions quite a lot-only because I am interested in a subject which is quite topical at the moment-I would have thought that when noble Lords get up who have not spoken and do not speak very much, the courtesy in your Lordships' House is definitely there, to hear the new person, to give them a chance and so on. So I think that this aspect of our bad behaviour-and I speak also as someone who gives way a lot, and I am very happy to go on doing it-is exaggerated.

I am not sure that this Motion on the Order Paper really helps us. As I understand it, the Lord Speaker would simply choose a group, whether the Conservatives, the Cross Benches, Labour or the Bishops-though we normally give way to Bishops in any case. Time would be taken because it would go to the leader of the chosen group to decide who was going to speak. I am not sure that, as drafted, this takes us forward at all.

Finally, I would ask the Leader of the House, if he is going to speak, if he could clarify a doubt which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned, and which is in the minds of many of us when we decide whether we are trying to get in at Question Time. Are the Government one group, and does each speaker from the Government count as a question asked by the Government, or are we in fact dealing with the Liberal Democrat party and the Conservative Party, and therefore do they each get a shot at Questions as the groups revolve around the Chamber?

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

My Lords, what an extraordinary debate. I have never seen the House so impeccably well behaved, gracefully giving way to each other without being asked and without any intervention from me or anybody else. If it were like this all the time we would never need to have this debate.

This debate has been in gestation for some years, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, published his initial report, which settled the position for two or three years. It has become an increasingly hot topic and I very much welcome the debate that we have had today and the report of the Leader's Group. It is important that we have this discussion.

I ought to lay out my cards at the very start of this debate. I do not favour the proposal. If it is called to a vote, and I am sure that it will be, I shall vote against it. Why? I think that the Leader's Group sought to find a compromise, and in that it may well have created the seeds of doubt. I do not think that it will work. Simply moving the powers that I hold to the Woolsack-and many others have made this point-will not make things any better. If there is a failure in the current way that I interpret the rules, I am not convinced that the Speaker will do it any better. Whether or not we want to change the role of the Chair, it is not the proposal that we have before us today.

Secondly, it is the start of the end of self-regulation. I very much pray in aid the brief speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who said that we should pause and reflect before we let go of the ancient way of self-regulation that has served the interests of the House for so long.

Thirdly, as a result of that, it will lead us inexorably to the Lord Speaker being given the power of calling individual Peers, which in turn will lead us to the system of the House of Commons. I have never been a Member of the House of Commons. I have been to see it from our own Peers' Gallery and I have watched it on television. Presumably, the House of Commons has its own ways of behaviour, customs and traditions. However, I wonder whether any fair-minded, reasonable citizen who sat in our Gallery and then that of the House of Commons would really believe that the House of Commons is better behaved. I think not.

A number of Peers, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and my noble friend Lady Sharples, said that part of the problem was that I am not up on my feet quickly enough to bring order to the House. I will respond to that. I do not see my role as that of a Speaker bringing order. As others, including the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, said, I see my role very much as trying to guide the will of the House to put itself back in order. However, if the proposal is not agreed and the powers are retained by the Leader, I would not mind having my own little experiment of leaping to my feet with greater alacrity and seeking to guide the House more urgently.

The second criticism of my role was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Campbell-Savours, and others. They said that my role is essentially political as a Minister of the Crown and that these powers should not be vested in someone who is so clearly a politician. I understand the impeccable logic of that, but I still think that it is completely wrong. Ministers in all sorts of roles also have to be able to carry out an independent role of leadership, which is what I very much try to do as Leader of the whole House. I hope that the House can recognise when I am being nakedly political and also when I am representing the interests of the whole House, which is what I try to do at Question Time.

A number of questions were asked about my interpretation of the rules. The usual channels, through the Chief Whips, have decided and agreed that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party at Question Time are treated as one group. Therefore, we take it in turns. That gives an advantage-contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, might believe-to the party of opposition. It is right that the party of opposition should have the lion's share of Question Time: after all, it is trying to scrutinise the Government. For instance, today there were 24 supplementary questions, of which 15 came from the Labour Party. I am bound to say that if this power were moved to the independence of the Woolsack and the Lord Speaker, I am not so sure that that arrangement would be maintained. One has only to listen to the speech of my noble friend Lord Alderdice to see that.

It is not so much a question of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"; there is always room for improvement and for doing things better. In the first year of coalition, we had a substantial increase-more than 100-in the number of Peers in the House. There was a difficult sense of assimilation. There were certainly Members of another place, on all sides of the House, who thought that they had arrived in a House of Commons without any rules. That was not the case; it is not the case. As the first anniversary kicked by there was a sense of settling down in the House. I have noticed that the House seems to be happier in its skin, with new Peers and the coalition working together. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was quite right in pointing that out.

The most difficult decision at Question Time is what to do, if I can put it as politely as possible, with the Bishops and the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart, who clearly represent a view-not the Bishops; I must not confuse the Bishops with the noble Lords-that is live outside this House. As an act of great courtesy, and rightly, the House always gives way to the Bishops. I think that we should maintain that, but I am not sure that this proposal allows for that.

I have learnt a lot from listening to this debate. I think that we have had a very good opportunity to air all the grievances and potential problems, and, I hope, also the benefits of the system that we already have.

Division on Motion 1

Contents 169; Not-Contents 233.

Motion 1 disagreed.

Division number 1 Procedure of the House (Proposal 1) — Motion to Resolve

Aye: 167 Members of the House of Lords

No: 231 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name