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Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 7:30 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I shall take a slightly different tack, but first I say that I have great respect— indeed, affection—for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although he organised the Conservative campaign against me election after election in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. Mind you, my majority went up each time, so maybe I should thank him.

We have to remember that this report was not requested by this House or Parliament, but was instructed, as it were, by the Government in a fit of pique, and we have to take account of that. The heading of this debate is “Secondary Legislation and the Primacy of the House of Commons”, but, as others have said, it is not really about that at all. This is really about Parliament’s scrutiny of the Executive. That is coming up again and again in this debate.

We could ask why we need a second Chamber. After all, not all countries’ parliaments have a second Chamber. Mind you, as my noble friend Lord Darling said in his excellent maiden speech, in Scotland, we are seeing the effect of having a one-Chamber Parliament with one party in control, and that raises some concerns.

There are other arguments. For more than 50 years, I have supported first past the post for the House of Commons. It was right and defensible, not just because of the link with Members, as I found in my constituency, but because when nearly 80% of the electorate voted—as happened in my constituency, certainly in 1979—about 80% of the people who voted did so for one or other of the two main parties. Now we have a multiparty system, and a lot of people—even me—are beginning to question whether a party with less than one-quarter of the electorate supporting it really has a mandate and can say that this House must accept what the other place is doing because of that mandate. We must remember that the legislation is put forward by the Government in that place.

Meanwhile, we particularly need an effective revising Chamber. I am in favour of major reform, of a senate of the nations and regions replacing this unelected Chamber with a more responsible and accountable Chamber. Meanwhile, we need to look at how we can improve the existing system. The current proposals are entirely the wrong way of doing it, as a number of people have said. Look at yesterday’s House of Commons Hansard and see whether anyone here can understand what was happening. There was absolute chaos in the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, predicted exactly what would happen. It was total chaos as the Speaker ruled that the Bill could be voted on only by English Members. The Deputy Speaker took a vote by acclamation. I think she had to work out whether only English accents were saying “Aye” or “No” to decide whether the legislation passed. What happened was absolutely ridiculous.

We have had too many of these quick political fixes, as my noble friend Lord Darling said. We need a comprehensive review. The Labour group in this Chamber produced an excellent report. My noble friend Lady Taylor was one of the joint chairs. It did not just deal with how SIs are dealt with in this House but looked at the whole question of the structure, composition and role of the House. With respect to the current Leader of the House, she has paid scant attention to that report. A lot of work was put into it by a lot of people over a long period, looking at all aspects of the House. Frankly, unless we look at the House in that comprehensive way rather than go on with this piecemeal reform, we will get into more difficulties.

This has been an excellent debate. I have sat through most of it and found it really fantastic. I enjoyed Monday’s debate on the Trade Union Bill, but this debate has been even better. A tremendous range of suggestions has been put forward by noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and my noble friend Lady Hollis. The Leader of the House needs to treat this debate really seriously. I do not think anyone here would expect her to deal with the individual suggestions and proposals—there have been so many really good proposals—immediately in her reply, but we need to get from her an assurance that the Government will look at each and every one of the proposals, alternatives, additions and suggestions that have been put forward. With no disrespect to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—he is my personal friend—I do not think his is the only way forward. There are many other ways forward. I hope the Leader of the House will look at this in a comprehensive, coherent and holistic—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who used that term—way. I hope that will be the guiding principle as we look forward so that we do not continue with piecemeal reform, which is causing so much disrespect and so many problems within not just this Chamber but in the other Chamber, and does not enhance the reputation of this Parliament.