House of Lords: Strathclyde Review — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 11:44 am on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 11:44 am, 17th December 2015

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to make a Statement on the review of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on secondary legislation and the primacy of the House of Commons.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who commissioned the review, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to the expert panel who assisted him. Before coming on to the review itself, it is perhaps worth rehearsing briefly the circumstances in which it was commissioned.

We have a clear purpose in this House as a revising Chamber, and in so doing, we complement the work of the other place. When we consider primary legislation, the conversation between the two Houses is clear. We can ask the House of Commons to think again through the process of ping-pong, but ultimately the will of the elected House can prevail, with the Parliament Acts available as a backstop.

Secondary legislation works differently. This House can only give or withhold its approval and there is no dialogue. If your Lordships’ House refuses to give its consent, the whole process grinds to a halt. It means that, unlike on primary legislation, we are able to exercise a veto, a very significant power, and so by convention we have exercised that power only in exceptional circumstances, doing so on only five occasions since the Second World War.

So withholding agreement to a statutory instrument is rare enough. To take that step on a Budget measure, as we did in October, was unprecedented, and to do that on a Motion where different sides of the House still disagreed as to its effect took us into uncharted territory. Yet only a day after the House exercised its veto, it was invited to do so all over again in respect of an order made under the Electoral Registration and

Administration Act 2013. What had happened previously on two occasions in 13 years very nearly happened twice in two days. The exceptional was becoming a little less rare.

These events put a long-established convention in doubt and raise constitutional questions about the primacy of the elected House which needed to be examined. My noble friend was asked to examine whether there is a better way to handle secondary legislation in order that the elected House of Commons could have the decisive say, just as it does on primary legislation. My noble friend did that in his customary way, with careful thought and extensive consultation with parliamentarians in both Houses from across the political spectrum. The result is a considered report with three aims in mind: to provide clarity, simplicity and certainty in the passage of secondary legislation.

My noble friend outlines three options as to how the other place can be given the decisive say. Option 1 would remove the House of Lords from the statutory instrument procedure altogether, as already happens in respect of some categories of SIs. Option 2 would retain the present role of this House in relation to secondary legislation, but seek to codify the convention that has been put in doubt by clarifying the restrictions on how the House’s powers to withhold approval or to annul should be exercised, whether by resolution or changes to our Standing Orders. The third option would create a new procedure in statute. It is a compromise option that in exchange for removing the power of veto would give this House a new power to ask the House of Commons to think again. But the other place would have the final say, allowing it to insist on its primacy and override a rejection by the House of Lords.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in submitting his review to the Prime Minister, has clearly recommended the third compromise solution as the way forward. I should add that he has recommended that the Government, with the involvement of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, should review the circumstances in which statutory instrument powers should be subject to already existing Commons-only procedures, and he recommends that the Government should ensure that both primary and secondary legislation are used appropriately.

My noble friend’s report is thoughtful and measured, and deserves proper consideration by the Government before we respond fully. That is what we intend to do. Of course, noble Lords will have views as to the best way forward. We want to listen properly to those views, and to those of Members of the other place, as we decide on our preferred approach. That begins today with this Statement and it will continue with a full debate on my noble friend’s report in the new year before the Government respond in full.

As we consider the way forward, it is important that we do so with those aims of clarity, simplicity and certainty in mind. All Governments require and indeed benefit from a strong Parliament holding them to account and providing scrutiny and, as my noble friend’s report highlights, the House of Lords has long played its scrutiny role very effectively. But in providing that scrutiny and challenge, it should be the elected

House that has the decisive say on secondary as well as on primary legislation. It is by ensuring that balance that we can complement the other place and best serve the core purpose for which we are here.

I commend the Statement to the House.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 11:50 am, 17th December 2015

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his team for the uncharacteristic speed in which it has completed a government review. However, it has not taken long, has it? This is the first wholly Conservative Government for nearly 20 years and it is the first ever Conservative Government without an automatic majority in your Lordships’ House, yet within months they are already trying to change the rules, on the pretext that this House has exceeded its powers.

From the outset, I want to be clear: we do not set our face against change and improvements. It is Labour Peers who have proposed immediate changes in how we operate. We have also proposed significant change through a constitutional convention. The Government have declined to hold such a convention. Instead, we have today’s announcement on the Government’s growth area of legislation—statutory instruments.

At this point, most normal people’s eyes will glaze over, but SIs are the Government’s secret weapon. Traditionally, they were not used for issues that should be in primary legislation or for major policy changes where there should be full scrutiny and consideration. But their use has grown over a number of years and, more significantly, at a faster rate since 2010. The tax credits changes originally proposed were a major policy shift, and it would have been entirely appropriate for them to have been considered in primary legislation. But the Government chose to use an SI.

We will want to consider the report from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in more detail, but I say to the noble Baroness that the process he recommends is a very significant change. First, it is a major departure to use legislation to address this issue. Secondly, in terms of procedure, a statutory instrument is not sent to your Lordships’ House from the House of Commons but from the Executive—from the Government. It is not like legislation where proposals are considered and sent from one House to another.

In terms of statutory instruments, both Houses separately consider measures proposed by the Government. Either House can accept or reject, and rejection by either House is in effect a veto. That is why this House has so rarely rejected a statutory instrument. Since 1999, it has happened just four times in 16 years—approximately once a Parliament. The noble Baroness referred to this, but let us be clear that in this Parliament three attempts at a so-called fatal Motion to reject an SI have failed.

The recommendation from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is that your Lordships’ House could send an SI back to the Commons, but there is no guarantee that the Commons will have considered it first and there is no indication of the timescale. This proposal denies your Lordships’ House the opportunity to ask the Government to reconsider. It instead sends it to the House of Commons. I know that other noble Lords share my concern about the degree of scrutiny for statutory instruments in the other place. We know that any Government with a majority would just ensure that a small committee will consider and pass the SI.

Why do the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the Prime Minister consider such change is needed? We are told that it is because of the tax credits vote. This House fulfilled its duty in scrutinising secondary legislation. Contrary to some reports, we overwhelmingly declined to block the measure through a fatal Motion but supported asking the Government to reconsider and bring forward changes. That is the right and legitimate role of a second Chamber. Indeed, it allowed the Chancellor to reconsider and to bring forward even more substantial changes than suggested by your Lordships’ House.

We are also told that the Labour Opposition and the Lib Dems are ganging up on the Government and forcing through legislative change. The evidence for that assertion is feeble. There have been 42 votes in your Lordships’ House since the election. The Government have lost 23 and won 19. But, significantly, 16 of those government defeats were on Bills that started in your Lordships’ House with no pre-legislative scrutiny and no prior consideration by the other place. We would have been failing in our duty as a second Chamber if we had not appropriately scrutinised that legislation. Those concerns were raised by the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee.

The Government’s collective memory is at fault. Between 2005 and 2010, the Labour Government lost 105 votes, including a Second Reading and a fatal SI Motion. Between 2001 and 2005, we suffered 245 defeats, and that was with an elected Commons majority of 167. That was when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was Leader of the Opposition. I think there are two Lord Strathclydes: there is the one who used to do my job as Leader of the Opposition, who would make, and I am sure has made, the very points that I am making now, and then there is the new version that we see today. The only difference is this Government.

The other point is that we lost major and very serious votes on terrorism and security legislation. I cannot recall a single vote that this Government have lost that is of that magnitude or seriousness. It has to be taken into account that we vote far less than the other place. They have voted 143 times in this Parliament; we have voted just 42 times. That is because, in recognising the role of a second Chamber, we are more selective and cautious in choosing when we vote.

So let us be honest with ourselves: this is not about tax credits or any other issues on which your Lordships’ House has disagreed with the Government. If it was, it would be a massive overreaction. It is far more serious than that, so let us look at these changes in the wider context of: the misnamed lobbying Bill, or the gagging Bill as it was nicknamed, which has made it so much harder for charities and campaigning organisations to be effective in their campaigning and lobbying; the weakening of freedom of information legislation; and the fact that, for the first time ever, a Government have instructed the Boundary Commission as to how many constituencies there should be, knowing that the reduction favours Conservatives over Labour; and at the same time appointing Members of this House at a faster rate than any other Prime Minister in our history, with the greatest ever proportion of government Peers.

The Government are also making it harder, through individual electoral registration, to register to vote, and we have had English votes for English laws—who knows where that will lead? Also, leaping in where the late Lady Thatcher chose not to tread, there is the Trade Union Bill. Not only does that Bill make it harder to fund and to campaign for trade unions, but it will also completely undermine the funding of the Labour Party, while keeping very quiet about Conservative Party funding.

All this paints a very unattractive picture of a Prime Minister and a Government who will not tolerate challenge. They loathe scrutiny; they fear questioning. The evidence base for the changes proposed today are weak. I guarantee and assure your Lordships’ House that we are very open to genuine suggestions for clarification, modernisation and changes, but that has to be in the context of fulfilling our duty and our legitimate constitutional role, not just because the Government and the Prime Minister did not like losing a vote.

I ask the noble Baroness four key questions. When will the Government respond to the report? Does she accept the assertion on page 23, and, indeed, throughout the report by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that too much legislation is being undertaken by statutory instruments and that that should be changed? What consultation will there be prior to a decision by the Government, other than a debate in your Lordships’ House? And can she comment on suggestions that the Government intend to use the Parliament Act to force through any legislative change?

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Leader of the House for making the Statement and giving us advance sight of the report from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I also add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his team. The noble Lord promised the report before Christmas and he has delivered.

My party believes that both Houses should be examining better ways to work together to achieve more comprehensive, more informed and more effective scrutiny of government legislation and the actions of the Executive. We continue to reject the notion that any Government achieving a majority in the Commons should have the absolute power to prosecute their business without the burden of proper checks and balances, particularly as voter turnout declines and Governments are elected by a smaller and smaller share of the vote. We believe that a second Chamber, however it is constituted, should not be a mere echo of the House of Commons. We are interested in ways to strengthen the role of Parliament as a whole, not to convert the House of Lords from a revising Chamber to an impotent debating society.

We firmly believe that there is a strong case for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation. This is particularly important when the primary legislation introduced by the Government is a skeleton Bill, with the statutory instruments flowing from it containing provisions which are more suitable for primary legislation. Already in this Parliament, the Government have introduced two such bills: the Childcare Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. If Governments make increasing use of skeleton Bills, it stands to reason that the SIs stemming from them should be afforded much closer scrutiny.

To that end, my party submitted formal evidence to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggesting two different mechanisms by which this House could propose amendments to statutory instruments. We firmly believe that such a mechanism would allow the House of Commons to think again and would, in fact, reduce the incidence of this House withholding its approval of a statutory instrument—which, incidentally, has occurred only six times in the last 50 years. We do not believe that this House should be required to give up its power of veto, when this is such a rare occurrence. To do so would change the arrangements agreed by both Houses following the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions in 2006.

Does the Leader of the House agree that this is not simply a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government, but for Parliament? As there are wider implications, not least for the Parliament Acts, does she recognise that a simple amendment to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 is clearly not sufficient to deal with this important issue? Does she agree that the proper way to proceed would be to reconstitute a Joint Committee of both Houses to ensure that the matter is fully debated?

We will have a further opportunity to discuss this issue and we will certainly have more to say at that time.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for not rushing to their own conclusions on the report of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which was published today. I was encouraged by what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said about how she and the Opposition are very much interested in change that helps this House fulfil its purpose, because that is what I am interested in, too. This House has a very important role in the legislative process and in Parliament. We are here to scrutinise, challenge and hold the Government to account, and I say that as a member of the Government. I know that that is what this House is here to do, and I want it to be very effective at doing all those things. I want its purpose to be fulfilled properly.

Where I differ from the noble Baroness is about what happened in October. That is the problem. We are now confused as a House. We do not quite know how to deal with secondary legislation because the procedures that we have before us have become confusing. We have this massive power of veto and we have a convention which says that we should not use that veto except in exceptional circumstances.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Absolutely, my Lords, we should use it in exceptional circumstances. However, back in October, a new process was introduced concerning how this House exercised its veto. We have debated in this Chamber whether the amendments were fatal or non-fatal. We exercised that veto on something that related to taxation and spending; we have never done that before. That was unprecedented.

As a House, we need to look at—what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was asked to look at—how we could provide certainty and clarity so that we carry out our role of scrutinising and challenging the Government more effectively and remove this confusion. He has set out in his report three options and has recommended one. His recommendation is, if you like, a compromise solution. It means that instead of that theoretical power, which we do not use very often, the House will have a new power to ask the House of Commons to think again. That was what a lot of noble Lords had been asking for recently, after the events of October. I urge the House to consider very carefully what is in my noble friend’s report. He has canvassed widely in this House and the other place and has come forward with a set of proposals and one that he is recommending. It merits our strong consideration before we rush to any decision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked me some questions. She asked specifically when the Government will respond. We will do so in the new year, as I said, but we will not do so until we have had a substantial debate. We can discuss in more detail the contents of my noble friend’s report.

The noble Baroness made reference to the use of secondary legislation. My noble friend’s report does not say that this Government, or previous Governments, have been using secondary legislation more than in the past. The graph in his report shows that the use of secondary legislation has been quite consistent over about 20 years.

The noble Baroness asked whether we would be consulting further. Clearly, we are listening; I want to hear from noble Lords today and we will again hear what noble Lords have to say in the debate in the new year.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned that he and his party do not want to give up the veto of this House. He suggested that there should be a Joint Committee to look at this matter. He referred to the Joint Committee on Conventions, which the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, chaired back in 2006. There was a convention in this House—the Joint Committee reviewed it when it did that important work in 2006—but, regrettably, that convention has now broken.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

We are now looking for a way forward that provides that certainty and clarity, and I hope very much that we will be able to achieve that soon.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now have a period for Back-Bench questions and I hope that noble Lords will recognise that there is a lot of interest in this matter. As my noble friend said, there will be an extensive debate on this early in January, when noble Lords will be able to make their comments.

It would be helpful if this period were used for brief questions, so that the maximum number of people can participate.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 12:08 pm, 17th December 2015

My Lords, will the Leader agree with me that, for many years now, there has been dissatisfaction in all parts of the House with the binary choice that is open to us for either accepting or rejecting statutory instruments? Will she also agree that it is relevant that the procedure recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is very similar to that which was recommended by the all-party royal commission under the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, by the Leader’s Group in 2011 and by the Hansard Society and others? It would therefore be unfortunate if the circumstances in which this issue has arisen were to close people’s minds to positive consideration of the procedure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has recommended.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am hugely grateful to the noble Lord for that very important contribution. My noble friend has drawn on some of the extensive work done over the past decade or more by the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, is right; my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has come forward with a recommendation that deserves proper consideration, and I really hope that that is what this House will give it.

Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative

The noble Lord, Lord Butler, has pointed out that we recommended something like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s third consideration. I was on the Opposition Benches at the time of the report, if I recall rightly. We made that recommendation because we wanted a better way for this House to discuss statutory legislation. It was deliberately designed to do that and, from talking around the House, I know that a lot of people believe that such a proposal is right. While I understand that Front-Benchers have their role in these matters, there is a great deal more support in this House for a proposal of this sort; my noble friend Lady Stowell can take comfort from that. I hope that she will consult widely with people before we finally reach a decision.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks, and I very much take on board his advice about my approach over the next few weeks.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

As something of an expert—if I may modestly say so—on government defeats in the House of Lords, can I put it to the Leader of the House that this is no way to effect a substantial constitutional change that would strengthen Government in relation to Parliament, and fundamentally affect the relationship between the two Houses?

The Leader of the House refers constantly to the events in October. They were bizarre. A Government propose a reduction in the income of people in the lowest-paid families. The House of Lords says, “We think you should think again about this”. The Government say—amazingly—“We are thinking again, and we’ve decided that we agree with the House of Lords”. Yet the Government persist in what can be seen only as a malevolent way to set up a committee like this to cut the wings of the House of Lords.

This is a significant suggestion to the Government, I hope: if you want to effect change of this sort, do it in the proper, conventional way. That is by proper scrutiny—for which we have the 2006 example readily to hand; it came to conclusions not helpful to the Government, I may say—putting to both Houses the proposal of the Joint Committee of senior Members of both Houses, and then for the Houses themselves to decide whether they want to go ahead with this substantial change. A government-inspired report with no witnesses listed, no evidence taken in public, no calls for evidence in a way that we can understand—this is no way to effect constitutional change.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and I listen carefully to what he says. The key thing that I am trying to identify in my remarks today is that we are in disagreement about what happened in October. That is what I find regrettable. It means that the important convention, which stood the test of time for so long, has been broken. He refers to the Joint Committee of 2006, which predates my time in the House but I understand from all my reading and research how important and respected it was. That committee reinforced the convention, but the convention that it reinforced has now broken. So what we have done is come forward with something which offers that clarity and simplicity. It draws heavily on previous work that has been done by other groups, such as my noble friend Lord Wakeham’s distinguished royal commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has come forward with a proposal and all I ask at the moment is that the House considers it—as indeed we in government are considering it.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I sat on the Cunningham committee and I remember the background to it being set up, which was the irritation of the then Labour Government at the behaviour of the House of Lords. The phrase then used was that part of the intention was to clip the wings of the House of Lords. The truth is that Governments do get irritated by this House. I think that I may have expressed the odd irritation myself occasionally from the Dispatch Box. But where the noble Baroness is misleading herself is that the convention laid down by the Cunningham committee has not broken down, because in that convention it very carefully and clearly states that the House of Lords must retain the right to say no. That was a red line for me. The reason for it was that put by my noble friend Lord Dholakia: that without retaining the right to say no, used sparingly, carefully and rarely, we become a debating society.

The noble Baroness has been a very good Leader of this House but I urge her to recognise that the Leader has those responsibilities, beyond government, to lead this House in a way that protects its powers. We must let go of that right to say no only with very strong arguments to do so. They have not been made today. Go back to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and perhaps even consider the fourth option: that statutory instruments could be amended by this House. That would be a way forward.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and enjoyed working alongside him in government. I understand how seriously he takes these matters but I am afraid that I also disagree with his description of what happened back in October. In considering that piece of secondary legislation, we did two things: we overruled the House of Commons on a matter of taxation and finance, and we used a type of amendment to a Motion that has never been used before. That is referred to in my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report.

The point about the power of veto is that we should retain it if we retain our convention not to use it except in very exceptional circumstances. What I am arguing is that we are no longer clear what those circumstances are and by what kind of method we would use that veto. So I am afraid that I feel that we need to be able to reach some agreement and come up with a convention with which we all agree. We have to understand that conventions require all parties to agree. At the moment, I am afraid that we do not agree.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his report, and in particular the recommendation in his third proposal, which could be a useful way forward. I also support strongly the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. But the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, repeatedly refers to confusion: she says that we have a disagreement, that we have broken a convention, and so on. I remind the House that on the tax credits issue, we did indeed have a very exceptional set of circumstances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer used a statutory instrument—regulations—to introduce £4.4 billion of cuts affecting very large numbers of extremely poor people across the country. The second aspect of this completely exceptional situation was that we in this House knew that the Government no longer had the support of the elected House of Commons on the issue, now that Conservative Back-Benchers understood the enormity of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was attempting to do.

Could the Leader of the House agree that this House acts in the way that we did on that occasion only in completely exceptional circumstances? Can she therefore honour this House with a recognition that the House acts very properly and, indeed, acted properly on that occasion in offering the Government an opportunity to listen to the elected House?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Like the noble Baroness, and as I have already said, I feel very strongly and care passionately about this House having the right to scrutinise and challenge the Government and to do what it is here to do as far as primary and secondary legislation, and policy more generally, are concerned. I welcome what she said about my noble friend’s report.

However, by her contribution she has also illustrated what I am trying to say to the House. I do not want to debate the substance of the policy, because we are talking now about procedures. Back in October, the noble Baroness was at pains to tell the House that her amendment was not a fatal Motion but that it would allow the Government to think again. But it was never established in fact that what she was doing did not amount to a fatal Motion—we were in disagreement about it. There is no definition of these things in the Companion. We have a choice: we either withhold our consent or we give our consent. It was not possible for this House, using the method that the noble Baroness chose, to ask the Government or the House of Commons to think again, because we do not have that facility. We either approve or we do not.

If the noble Baroness is arguing for this House to be able to ask the House of Commons to think again, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in his paper, is suggesting a way which would provide the very thing that the noble Baroness is arguing for today and argued for back in October.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am sure the House would wish to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but it is the turn of the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful. I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend for what she has said, but I would ask her two things. First, it is right that we should have a full and extensive debate. However, as this report has been produced on the eve of the Christmas Recess, can we have a week or two after we come back where we can talk together informally, across the House, and then have a well-informed debate? Secondly, can that debate be informed by the fact that it is the Government who are answerable to Parliament—not the other way round—and by the fact that we are in this mess largely because of the appallingly inefficient way in which the other place deals with secondary legislation? It is therefore crucial—I ask my noble friend to talk to her colleagues in Cabinet about this—that the other place also debates this matter in detail, so that we have a more satisfactory balance in the way both Houses look at secondary legislation.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As my noble friend may not have had an opportunity to study my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report, he might not yet have spotted that it includes a reference to the other place and its role in secondary legislation. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons is also making a Statement today in the other place about this same topic.

As for when we will schedule the debate in January, clearly we will have to consider the timetabling of it alongside other matters when we return. However, my main commitment to this House is that there will be a substantial debate; it will be in government time; and we will do so early in the new year.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, will the Government kindly recognise, if they have not already, that a balance has to be struck between the existing powers of this House and the way in which government carries out its business? There is a good case for this House giving up its veto—I accept that—but there is an undoubted quid pro quo that has to be demanded for it, which is that the Government stop playing games with statutory legislation. The reason why we got into this mess in October was because, on a major issue of government policy, not just a minor financial issue, they chose to do it by statutory instrument rather than by primary legislation. There has to be a recognition on both sides in this argument that, if this House is asked to give up a power that it has got but very rarely exercises, the Government and the other place must recognise that in matters that are proper for primary legislation that is how they should do it. I am fortified in that by remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, when this matter was last raised in this House. If the Government can give that sort of assurance that they will not have these wheezes and play the silly games that they have been playing, I am sure we can make progress.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, makes an important point about the use of the proper legislative vehicle. I agree with him on that, and it is referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his report as a recommendation as well—and that is why I refer to it in my Statement, because it is important that we acknowledge that as well as his other proposals on the powers of this House. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord’s description of what is happening in the use of secondary legislation by this Government or, indeed, other Governments, but I accept the argument that he makes, and I accept that we have to be constant and vigilant to make sure that we always choose the right vehicle when we bring our measures to Parliament.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I have long supported improving Parliament’s scrutiny of statutory instruments. In that spirit, I say to the Leader of the House that this is certainly a useful report and we should give it proper scrutiny. I have to say also that that proper scrutiny will not be enhanced by the constant repetition of the idea that the convention was somehow broken. It will not be enhanced by suggesting that the tax credit scheme was killed off by this House, when it was killed off by the Chancellor of the Exchequer after this House gave him the opportunity to think again. It is important that we do not allow a mythology to grow around this issue.

Would the Leader of the House agree that, if this House is asked to give up the power to negate in favour of a power to delay, it has to be in circumstances that that delay can be effective, as it was effective in this case? Therefore, there has to be adequate time for the House of Commons to re-examine. Furthermore, the Government have to take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, that,

“it would be appropriate for the Government to take steps to ensure that Bills contain an appropriate level of detail and that too much is not”— as it was in that case—

“left for implementation by statutory instrument”.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I do not want to rehearse again the events of October. When the noble Baroness has had an opportunity to study the report carefully, she will see that it refers to delay. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde recommends Option 3, and in it he sets out his argument about why delay should not feature as part of his recommendation. That will be something which we will no doubt debate further when we have the debate in January, which I have already committed to.