Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 13th January 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 5:12 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to have been placed on the list after the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted. As a member of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee for a number of years, I watched with fascination and admiration the work that she did in the European Parliament. The work that she did then was inestimable. The Ancient Mariner was always said to have stopped only one in three, but the noble Baroness quite often stopped two or even three in three of the dafter ideas that came out of the Commission or the other members of her own Assembly. We all hold her a debt of gratitude for the way in which, as chair of that committee, she handled the large amount of legislation that came forward after the crisis of 2008.

In my view, she has in her maiden speech this afternoon demonstrated very clearly the sort of skills that she will bring to this House and her knowledge of financial regulation, which is remarkable—and that subject occasionally comes before us. I am sure that her plea to consider enhancing this House’s power to send an amendment back to the other place—which we do not have at the moment—is very wise. So I look forward very much to her future work in this House.

Turning to the matter we are debating, I suggest that we should not focus too much in today’s debate on the events which triggered the Strathclyde review last October. Panicky and opportunistic its origins may have been, but, in truth, a review of the way we handle secondary legislation was long overdue. The present arrangements are hard to sustain and hard to defend. Of course, one might have hoped for some recognition by the Government that this House, by the action it took last October, enabled the Government to avoid falling into a trap similar to the one which their predecessors fell into over the poll tax in the 1980s—but I am not holding my breath for that recognition.

The noble Lord’s review is admirable: short, crisp and persuasive. Of the three options for reform that he considers, I am sure that he is right to have excluded the idea of simply cutting this House out of any role in secondary legislation. That would have been to make a mockery of the very existence of this House as a scrutinising and revising Chamber. To place the House, as the other two options do, in a position that is analogous to that which we have on primary legislation—being able to propose amendments and ask the other place to think again—must be the right way to move.

The loss of the so-called “nuclear option”, which we hardly ever dared to use, is no particularly serious cause for regret. Incidentally, I have doubts about the noble Lord’s speculation that we would not often make use of the new powers—the “non-nuclear options”—which he suggests that we should have: I suspect that he may find that that will not be borne out by events, but time alone will tell. As for the choice between a new system based on primary legislation or one based on convention, I share the noble Lord’s view that the former is clearly preferable. Surely we do not want to risk falling back again into muddle and dispute.

Putting the preferred option into primary legislation will not be without its complexities. There is the issue of time factors that has been referred to. I agree that the Government will need to be able to return a measure again, overriding this House’s view, within the same Session of Parliament—which is a difference from the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. It is important to note that the noble Lord’s review was silent on whether the measure to be returned by the House of Commons could be an amended version of the original statutory instrument, perhaps taking account of the views expressed by this House when it sent the matter back. Such a possibility is sensible and desirable, but it is not what is envisaged in the Parliament Act, which requires that the overriding measure be identical to the one that was first rejected. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response on that point.

There is also the tricky issue of financial privilege, which the noble Lord managed to duck. That, too, has given rise to plenty of controversy, most recently when it was invoked, unnecessarily in fact, in the case of the EU Referendum Act last month. The least that needs to be done is to introduce a bit more proportionality and transparency into the system’s operation. Invoking financial privilege over a sum that represents expenditure of a vanishingly small percentage of overall government expenditure, as happened in December, risks bringing every single piece of legislation and amendment that this House proposes within the ambit of financial privilege. That would not be a defensible or proper use of the power and I hope that the Government will now consider how in future to bring about a more proportionate and transparent approach to those determinations.

In conclusion, I congratulate the noble Lord on his review and hope that the Government will move ahead and introduce primary legislation on the basis of his preferred option. That could well result in a more effective House, but one operating clearly within the spirit and parameters of the 1911 Act.