Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Crossbench 7:20 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, I begin by joining in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the noble Lord, Lord Darling, on their engaging maiden speeches. As a Perthshire resident I also echo the thanks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, to the noble Lord, Lord Darling. I do not thank that he has ever really been thanked enough for his efforts. In very trying circumstances he was immensely dignified and effective. We should also thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his review. It is much more difficult to write a short letter than a long one. The review is short, well written and readable. Really, it contains everything that one might want to have on the topic.

I will confine myself to three areas or themes that came out of the review. The first is that of clarity. I notice that the word appears on the first page and the last, and it appeared in the speech of noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, earlier on. As a relatively new Member of the House, I found it interesting to be asking on 26 October quite a lot of more experienced Members of the House about the conventional position. There was a total lack of clarity among the membership of the House, particularly among the more junior Members, as to what the position was. So I thought that I would do a bit of research on this, because, as a newish Member, I had recently been handed all the relevant bits and pieces of paper—and that was difficult.

My first suggestion, on which it will be very interesting to hear a comment, is that there could be in some place some recording of what the conventions might be. I say very carefully here that I have read the relevant parts of the Joint Committee on Conventions report of 2006 and I agree that it is fresh—a word used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I agree with it all. I am not suggesting that anything should be codified in any way. I am merely suggesting recording it, so that there is at least somewhere to which people like me can go in order to form a view on what the conventions are.

My second point is about skeleton Bills. In my mind these have been rebranded by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, as Christmas tree Bills. That is a better way of thinking about them. I will read out again the relevant bit that appears twice in the review, about the Government taking,

“steps to ensure that Bills contain an appropriate level of detail and that too much is not left for implementation by statutory instrument”.

As a quid pro quo that is good news if the third option is taken. However, it deals with future Bills and not with the problem of Christmas tree Bills already on the statute book. In six minutes it is not possible to develop that, but it occurs to me, considering this point further, that one has to deal with old Christmas tree Bills and old provisions for statutory instruments as well.

I will make some more general points, and my next comment is on timing. As has often been observed today, there was another choice for those tabling legislation for the Government as to the route that they took. There was a certain route and even if that was a bit clunky, the Government have the ability to conduct their business. As we grapple with the issues that have been raised in this debate, I do not therefore feel that this House or the other place should be in any rush; it is important to get it right.

Building on that, of course the functions, powers and composition of this House are interrelated. If you are going to tinker with those functions and powers, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, there are quite a few difficulties that, as you scratch the surface, you come across. A number of people have suggested that a Joint Committee of the two Houses would be appropriate, and I would support that. But anyway, the document is pithy and would be very valuable were such a Joint Committee to be formed in the future. However, I do not feel that the document is a good basis today for piecemeal constitutional meddling.