Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:12 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat 7:12 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, following the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, I would say that the House of Commons is not undertaking sufficient scrutiny of the Government. That is a change. I spent 35 years in another place. Subsequently, committees were set up to scrutinise the work of different departments, but the legislative scrutiny is defective. It seems to me that this House has a duty to fill that gap, but not without discussing it with the other place.

Professor Meg Russell, in her book on this House published a few years ago, pointed out that 40% of the amendments carried against the Government in this place were ultimately accepted by them. That is indicative of the role of this House. The convention that we rarely look at subordinate legislation or statutory instruments needs to be examined. It ought to be examined with another place. We should be coming together on how to change these matters.

The imbroglio about the tax credits was very well handled at the time by the leaders of that debate. It was a ghastly proposition, with hardship being suffered by the least well- off members of society. It was certainly necessary to ask the Government to consider again what they were proposing. Indeed, that could be said to have been successful, because the Government largely withdrew their proposals.

I would prefer option 3 of the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but it should not be implemented without dialogue with another place. There is one lacuna in the proposal, which is that there is no indication of the time that it might take to allow the Government to reconsider their proposal. I hope that, when winding up the debate, the noble Lord will give some us thought about that. If it was fed back immediately after this House had exercised its exceptional right, it would not be as effective as report of the Joint Committee on Conventions in 2006 wanted. In the report, which was cited earlier, the Joint Committee took the view that,

“the House of Lords should not regularly reject Statutory Instruments, but … in exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate for it to do so ... The Government appear to consider that any defeat of an SI by the Lords is a breach of convention. We disagree”.

That disagreement was very helpful. We have seen five or six statutory instruments thrown out in the past 65 years. I hope that that will be taken into account in considering whether it is necessary to have regulation, a parliamentary Act. It seems to me worthy of consideration whether the convention should be prolonged. I do not necessarily advocate the third proposal without modification.

This debate is very worth while and needs to be taken outside this Chamber, because we all accept the primacy of the other place, yet we all accept that the function of the two Chambers is to oversee and scrutinise with great care what is being done or proposed by the Government.