Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:39 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 5:39 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, it may help if I explain my background as Chairman of Ways and Means in the other place. First, it was a post that I held when the Government of the day had a small majority rather similar to that of the present Government. Secondly, we took through the Maastricht treaty, which has probably been the most controversial piece of legislation since the war, with four clauses, 500 amendments and four all-night sittings. Our guidance then was not convention; it was that wonderful bible Erskine May, and, when quoted from the chair, every Member accepted the ruling.

Furthermore, there was a secondary role for the position of Chairman of Ways and Means and it related to SIs. They were handled primarily by Speaker’s Counsel and the clerks, but when an SI was controversial I was shown it and, if I thought it really was controversial, I shared that with the Leader of the House. If we both thought it was controversial, the Secretary of State was called in and the matter was discussed in some depth. I suspect that that procedure has gone by the board. I cannot believe that it happens today, otherwise the SI that arrived here would never have been in the state in which it was, and it most definitely should not have ever got to this House. I say in parenthesis that I suggested to my party that the whole thing should be pulled.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin. We all knew that there was a convention in this House. We all knew that this was a major issue with £4 billion at stake. A number of my former colleagues from the other place sitting on the opposition Benches did not vote for the Motion before the House that night—they saw how important it was that that particular convention was not abused. However, we are perhaps all politicians and the temptation was for the Opposition to give the Government a bloody nose, which they certainly did. We have to recognise that that is what happened.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde was asked to look at this issue. He has produced a report with three recommendations. I reject the first but think that both the second and third are possible. If option 3 has more certainty, I should like to know what safeguards there are to ensure that the other place does think again and does not just nod through a measure, producing exactly the same result. There needs to be some clarity there. I also commend my noble friend on the last paragraph on page 6 of his report. It says in patent terms, “You must look again at what used to happen to SIs and clearly is not happening today”.

However, I am sorry to say that I question Appendix C to the report. I have worked with the Library and have carried out research using legislation.gov.uk. That shows that in recent years, on a calendar basis, the volume of SIs has increased—from around 2,000 in 2009 up to nearly 3,500 in 2014, and, looking at the graph in the appendix, it seems that in 2015 the record will go even higher. It is not just a matter of the numbers. When I used to look at SIs, they consisted of just two pages; now, on average they consist of four pages and some are considerably longer. Added to that is the size of an average Bill today, which I would guess is at least double what it used to be in the early 1990s.

From that research I am now much clearer about the issues. I think the word “convention” has to go. Of course, we have our Companion. I have it here, and it is a wonderful document, but the other place has Erskine May. Erskine May has 1,097 pages and our Companion has just 296, including the contents and index. But the really interesting point is that there are 432 pages in Erskine May of direct relevance to and with mention of your Lordships’ House. I suggest to my noble colleagues that the time has come for a complete review of the Companion, including the parts that are in Erskine May, and for putting the whole lot together. Colleagues may ask what that would really achieve. It would give this House, in our bicameral Parliament, a framework similar to the Commons but geared to our needs and to the needs highlighted by Erskine May on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament as relevant to your Lordships’ House.

In conclusion, unless we take such action ourselves along these principles, I foresee ever-increasing arguments and diktats from Governments of the day. Surely it is wiser to pre-empt such action and produce our own comprehensive equivalent of Erskine May.