My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on his report. Its recommendations on secondary legislation are in line with those of the royal commission, chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, and those of the report of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, which I chaired—option 3 in my noble friend’s report—to create a new procedure. I think that is the way forward. Although I entirely agree with the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Cunningham, that that convention must be maintained, the time has come for something more to be done.
I strongly support the report’s suggestion that future Governments should ensure that Bills contain more detail. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that less is contained in primary legislation, with implementation by statutory instruments, and that Henry VIII clauses should be discontinued as far as possible.
In my experience, your Lordships’ House plays an extremely effective role in scrutinising secondary legislation. When I chaired the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which is now chaired by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, its work—not mine I hasten to say—led not only to well-informed debates in your Lordships’ House but to essential revisions to ill-prepared statutory instruments before they ever came to this House. The work of the clerks in this process was, in my observation, beyond praise. I do not see how the other place could in practice do the same job.
The primacy of the House of Commons has been accepted for well over a century. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about an elective dictatorship, but I have to say that when I was Chief Whip in the other place for the Government about 20-odd years ago, it did not feel like an elective dictatorship. I see a number of heads nodding on the other side, including those of the noble Lords, Lord Grocott, Lord Howarth and Lord Beith. I do not think that is a danger. What is needed now is a redefinition of the roles of the two Houses.
During recent decades, the world has changed radically—technologically, socially, economically and in every other way. It will continue to do so in the future with ever-increasing velocity, which will lead to the continuation of the torrent of legislation coming before us, and the distinctive roles of the two Houses of Parliament will be ever more important. In the absence of a written constitution, we must proceed, as we usually have, by negotiation, compromise and agreement. There are many details to be addressed in option 3 of my noble friend’s report. We can make progress only by agreement, which would be best achieved by discussing his excellent report, as my noble friend has suggested, in a Joint Committee of both Houses, despite the fact that we do not know which way it will go off.