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Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:18 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 6:18 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, it is a very real pleasure for me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Darling, on his fascinating—indeed, outstanding—maiden speech. It is, of course, a much easier task for me than it would be for a shadow Chancellor to try to reply at short notice to one of his speeches from the Front Bench in the other place. At least I have that advantage. I can look back over the noble Lord’s career for over 40 years, ever since he joined the Faculty of Advocates, of which I was already a member, in 1984. For a time he was a member of a remarkable group of members of that body, which included the late John Smith, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and Lord Selkirk of Douglas, who sought to combine practice at the Scottish Bar with politics. He was already a member of Lothian Regional Council, if I recall correctly, when he joined the faculty. Not long after that—I think within three years—he became a Member of the other place for an Edinburgh constituency. That led to a decision, for very good reasons as we now all know, to give up a future career in the law and instead move into politics. It is as a result of that that he comes to this House with a remarkable fund of knowledge and experience. We also owe him an immense debt of gratitude for the work he did as leader of the no campaign in Scotland last year. It was an outstanding service to the country, appreciated very much in this House. It is against that background, too, that we all welcome him to our number. I am sure that we all look forward very much to many contributions from him on that subject and others.

I shall say a few things about the review by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, not in my capacity as Convenor, but in my personal capacity. I begin by drawing attention to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who unfortunately cannot be here to speak himself, on 17 December last year in reply to the Leader’s Statement on the publication of the review. He pointed out that for many years now there has been dissatisfaction in all parts of the House with the binary choice available to us for either accepting or rejecting statutory instruments. He was speaking, after all, with some knowledge, because he was a member of the commission under the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which reported on that issue as long ago as 15 years, and of the Leader’s Group under the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, which reported a year later. For that reason, he encouraged us to look positively at the proposals as pointing the way forward to resolve a problem that has been with us for far too long. He urged us not to be diverted by the circumstances that gave rise to the review, but rather to concentrate on the way forward. He emphasised, as other Members of the House have today, that the problem is one of long standing that needs to be resolved, and the sooner that happens the better.

Of course, a balance has to be struck. I welcome the careful attention that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, gave to the work of the scrutiny committees—both the Joint Committee and the committee of this House—and that work’s importance. It is vital that it should continue. Of course, for that reason, option 1 is not one that anybody in this House can take seriously at all. To add to the point that others have made, I draw attention to a memorandum that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, sent to the noble Lord’s review, in which he drew attention to some important examples of the use of statutory instruments that now have statutory authority. We have moved far away from the primary purpose of delegated legislation, as set out on page 667 of Erskine May, which is to deal with,

“details of an essentially subsidiary or procedural character”.

The noble and learned Lord gave two examples of that, one from the European Communities Act 1972, where, in Section 2 and Schedule 2, provision is made for remedial legislation to cure incompatibility with convention law; and the other from Section 10 of and Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998, to deal with incompatibility with convention rights. A mechanism is a statutory instrument. It really would be absurd if this House, in dealing with issues of considerable difficulty and, indeed, possibly constitutional importance, could not comment on and examine them.

I shall say nothing about option 2, except to endorse the point that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made, that it really would be a recipe for continued argument. We really do not want that any more.

So we are left with option 3, which certainly has its attractions and which I, for my part, would endorse, but certainly there is more work to be done. I shall mention just one or two points. First, I welcome the point that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made about the need for clarity over what amounts to a denial of approval. We simply do not want to go through the kind of arguments that we had last term on that point. Although there may be difficulties about a fixed period, it is crucial that we have clarity as to what happens next if the thing goes to the other House. We really need to be sure that something proper will be done, that proper scrutiny will be given and, furthermore, that good reasons are given by the Executive if the decision is to reverse the decision of this House.

I endorse the point that others have made, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, about amendment. Amendment has a great value. If you make an amendment it focuses the point of dispute. It requires an answer designed to deal with the particular point raised by the amendment. I hope that that point can be taken very seriously.

Lastly, I go back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised. He drew attention to what would happen if the reform takes the form that option 3 suggests. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has played down the extent to which use would be made of that option. If given legitimacy, I am sure people would begin to use that route. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I do not think that it would be overused, but it would be unwise to assume that it would not be used. I suspect that it would be used quite frequently in circumstances where, in the past, quite rightly, we have shrunk back from something that would, in effect, run the risk of contravening a convention of which we were rather uncertain.