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Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:19 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 10:19 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, I offer sincere thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It is an important part of the process of the Government considering my noble friend’s report. I scheduled this debate today because I wanted to hear from noble Lords. I know that it is a big investment of time to contribute to a debate that starts mid-afternoon and goes on until now, so I am very grateful to everybody who has contributed. I must congratulate the two maiden speakers: the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted—I welcome her to your Lordships’ House—and the noble Lord, Lord Darling. I hope he will not misunderstand if I say that I will just call him “Darling” as I do not think that I can pronounce the place in his title where he is from, but he is warmly welcomed. We are very pleased to have both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord among our number.

I am grateful for all the contributions today, I think that they have been interesting, constructive and helpful to me in my consideration of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report. I want to thank my noble friend for doing his review, outlining a clear set of options and, today, setting out very clearly, when he introduced the debate, the route to how we got to where we are and why it is that the Government asked him to carry out that review.

There have, understandably, been a range of views expressed, but one thing that I found pleasing was that we are all united in our desire to uphold this House’s very important role as a revising Chamber. What has also been acknowledged in the debate today is that our relationship with the other place is at the heart of how we fulfil that important role. Also, as has been mentioned already, we have acknowledged an understanding that we are here to complement and not compete with the elected House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, was right to highlight the risks when we do not properly respect and understand that relationship.

For us to work together effectively with the House of Commons, it is important that there is clarity on how we work together. When it comes to primary legislation, we are clear on how that relationship works; there is a dialogue between the two Houses and a mechanism, through ping-pong, for us to ask the House of Commons to think again, but there is also a way for the will of the elected House to prevail, with the ultimate back-stop of the Parliament Acts when all else fails.

With secondary legislation, the relationship between the two Houses is not structured as clearly. We cannot enter into a dialogue; we may only give or withhold our approval to a statutory instrument. If we choose to withhold approval, there is no mechanism to allow the will of the other place to prevail. That is what gives us this absolute power of veto. Given how significant that power is, it is essential that we have a shared understanding within your Lordships’ House about how it should be used. Yet, right now, we do not. That is a very important point to stress, because several noble Lords have said today that, in October, we asked the House of Commons to think again. We did not do that, because we cannot do that. We do not have that facility. What we did was to overrule the House of Commons, because it had already decided.