My Lords, I am flabbergasted by the number of Peers who have put their names down to speak this afternoon. For a moment I wondered whether they realised that we are discussing statutory instruments, then I thought that perhaps I had been more controversial in my review than I had originally intended. I think, however, that it is a sign of the importance that we attach as a House to the way that we pass legislation and to the powers that we have. All are, therefore, extremely welcome, perhaps none more so than the two maiden speeches that we will hear this afternoon, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Roulanish. The noble Lord, Lord Darling, brings recent and genuine breadth of experience and knowledge from the House of Commons, which I know will be extremely valuable to this House. Another reason I welcome his words is that I think he was probably the Minister responsible for the introduction of tax credits in the first place. So long as he can keep his words uncontroversial, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.
This debate goes to the heart of what we believe we are here to do—what we are for. It goes to the heart of the relationship between this House and the House of Commons and how we conduct our affairs, particularly given that the Government are, and always are, a minority in this House. There has been nothing new in that since 1945. I have heard some people say that the Government have overreacted in all this because it is the first time that a Conservative Government find themselves not in control of the House of Lords. I have some sympathy with why people say that. I do not think that it was always quite as easy as some people imagine when we had about 400 Peers in the House of Lords, mainly because they did not always turn up, but I understand the point that is being made. The answer to that, of course, is that the Government need to learn lessons about how to handle the House of Lords. However, it is also the first time that the Labour Party finds itself in a position of power and authority as the Opposition in this House and, therefore, a great responsibility falls upon its shoulders.
I also presume no greater qualification than anybody else to be leading this debate, but between 1994 and 2013 I was either the Chief Whip or Leader in opposition and in government. Therefore, I had a rare view and a period of study of the theory and practice of how we deal with secondary legislation in this House, particularly how statutory instruments are dealt with, and of the various conventions that guided us during that period. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, is not here, because it is what he might have said was a study in the emotional geography of the House, and in how it has changed over the last 20 years.
We need at least to understand and agree on the nature of this House. Without a government majority, it is a very strange beast. I was in opposition for 13 years, and there is always an obligation in opposition to know that there is often an opportunity—a requirement, in fact—to pull your punches: a self-denying ordinance. If not, the House can virtually always defeat the Government, and that way chaos lies and the patience of the House of Commons will be tried. You have only to look at the history of the 20th century. The House of Lords behaved foolishly in the run-up to the 1911 Parliament Act, and of course the 1949 second Parliament
Act is a reminder of what happens when the Commons loses trust in the ability of the House of Lords to complement its work.
To avoid these problems, in the latter part of the 20th century we developed a whole series of practices that developed into conventions of the House, such as the one I contend existed on statutory instruments. There are others on reasonable time and, of course, the far better-known Salisbury/Addison convention on Second Reading amendments. I am delighted that one of the speakers this afternoon is none other than the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. When he was in the House of Commons, he chaired a Joint Committee that did a comprehensive study about the conventions that govern the relationships between the two Houses.