Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 8:45 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the maiden speeches of our two new Members. I have not been privileged to know the noble Lord, Lord Darling, who was in a different establishment from me. But I served in the same Parliament as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, who was a very widely respected United Kingdom chair of one of its committees. In the

European Parliament, many people look and say, “What country are you from?” and not “What party are you from?”. She represented our country admirably during her period as chair. I am afraid that that is about the only thing I am going to say that is not controversial.

First, it is no use having a House of Lords if it cannot defeat the Government. Secondly, I did not contribute to the debate on 26 October but I sat through it. I have to say to noble Lords on this side that not only did we lose the vote, we also lost the argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, deployed her arguments extremely effectively and legitimately. Paragraph 2.4 of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, states that the 2006 committee,

“concluded that ‘the House of Lords should not regularly reject Statutory Instruments, but that in exceptional circumstances it might be appropriate for it to do so’ … A number of specific circumstances were identified, for example, when the provisions of an SI were of the sort more normally found in primary legislation or in the case of certain specific orders”.

There are three areas in that where this vote was justified. First, the House does not regularly reject; it does that very seldom. Secondly, there were exceptional circumstances and the fact that the whole issue was withdrawn by the Chancellor is a pretty clear indication of that. Finally, surely expenditure of this level should be in primary legislation.

There has been a mission creep in SIs over the years. They are seen as a very convenient way for the Minister to get something put through the Commons where, as someone has said, the first reaction of any MP to being put on the SI committee is, “Why me?” and the second is, “How long do I have to stay here?”. The SI procedure needs looking at. It is not the reference as to how we deal with it in this House; it is the whole procedure and the way in which this mission creep has allowed SIs to get a place in the British constitution and law making that they were never intended to have.

I am reluctantly in favour of option 3 as a starting point. Above all, if we are to change the regulations, we have to have consensus. Having been in both major parties, I am always conscious that one day the positions will be reversed. We have to make the democracy of this House work. In other words, we cannot say, “We have a majority today and we are going to run away with it”. Whatever way option 3 is developed, we have to have a consensus broadly across the House.

Going back to what I said as regards the Lords having to be able to defeat the Commons, for 10 years in the European Parliament I was fortunate to have a job which took me around the Community on behalf of the Parliament. I can claim to have been in every Chamber of every Parliament in the original 15 member states, before the big enlargement of 2004. Whatever our defects may be, there is great admiration for the fact that the House of Lords is seen as an independent and an intellectually credible Chamber. I do not want to get into trouble with too many embassies, but if noble Lords look at a number of other Chambers, the Irish Chamber is completely tribal, to the point where, if the elections for the second Chamber produce the wrong result, the Prime Minister can top up the second Chamber to give the Government a majority.