House Committee - Motion to Agree

– in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 21st July 2016.

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Moved by Baroness Evans of Bowes Park

That the Report from the Committee Implementing the Recommendations of the Leader’s Group on Governance (1st Report, HL Paper 19) be agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I rise to introduce the several Motions before us today which mark the last stage of a process begun and driven through by my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Stowell. Last March, she appointed a Leader’s Group, chaired by my noble friend Lady Shephard, to consider governance arrangements in the House. The group’s report was published in January and was warmly received across the House. I thank all the members of the group again for their hard work.

When the report was debated in May, it was clear that there was much support for its proposals from noble Lords on all Benches, and as my noble friend concluded when winding up the debate, that gave us a solid platform from which to move forward. Since then, I am pleased to say that there have been a range of constructive discussions to identify how best to implement what the Leader’s Group proposed. Today’s business is the culmination of that process.

The House Committee and Procedure Committee reports, together with the other Motions, put the proposals made by my noble friend’s group into practice from 1 September. There will be a new House of Lords Commission at the top, providing strategic direction. Beneath that there will be two new committees—the Services Committee and the Finance Committee—supporting the commission in its work and looking after day-to-day policy in line with clear delegations. This new framework offers the potential for greater transparency, clarity and accountability in our internal decision-making.

A new framework alone, though, will not be enough. As the Leader’s Group report and May’s debate made clear, there must also be a commitment from those involved to change behaviours, too. That is something I will bear in mind as I take on my domestic committee responsibilities, and I know that there is a shared desire among my counterparts to see change through.

A key part of the success of these new arrangements will be the post of Senior Deputy Speaker. I am therefore very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, has been nominated to take on this role. Noble Lords will be familiar with his far-sighted and collegiate style, in both the other place and in your Lordships’ House, and I have no doubt that he will bring the same approach to his new responsibilities.

His predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has been the best possible steward since taking on the role in unexpected circumstances last year. There will be an occasion to pay proper tribute to him when we return from the Summer Recess. For now, I will simply say that I am glad we can continue to rely on his wisdom as chair of the new Services Committee. I am also pleased to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, as chair of the new Finance Committee.

I should stress at this juncture that, while we are all optimistic about what the future holds, we also know we do not hold a monopoly on wisdom. So built into this new approach is a commitment to reflect on how it is working at the end of the Session, to consider whether anything needs to change. I hope this will give comfort to noble Lords who may have some views about adaptations they may wish to propose in due course.

For the sake of completeness, the Procedure Committee report before the House proposes to make permanent the process for allocating Oral Questions by ballot during the Recess. The system has been piloted successfully for the past few recesses. I hope that noble Lords agree that it provides a fair and clear system to allocate Questions when many of us may be away from the House. The report also notes that, when the Clocks in the Chamber and Grand Committee are replaced, they will display seconds as well as minutes.

I am afraid that, taken together, these Motions leave a rather weighty impression on the Order Paper today. Noble Lords will, I hope, be patient as the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker and I go back and forth in taking them through. I hope that she will not mind being put to so much trouble in what is likely to be her final day in her role in the Chamber.

I will detain noble Lords no longer, but, as I conclude, I would like to pay tribute to all those who have got us to this point: my noble friend Lady Shephard and her group for their work; to those in the administration who have worked on the fine detail; to the many Members who have fed in their thoughts; and to the leaders of the parties and groups for their efforts in getting us to this point. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Chair, Works of Art Committee (Lords), Chair, Works of Art Committee (Lords)

As chairman of the Works of Art Committee, I wish to make one or two comments. During the process that put together what we are debating and trying to agree today, I took part in explaining what we do and how we should go forward, given the changed status. I wish to express my disappointment that nobody came to me when the final decision was made about what would be in the proposals. I had to find out myself, and it was quite difficult because it was the week before the final Works of Art Committee meeting. I wish to put that on record.

Having said that, I am also concerned that I have had no discussions with anybody about how we will hand over and the transition—the status is quite different—so that the work we have been doing to protect the heritage of our House carries on. No consideration has been given—at least nobody has told me—as to how that transition will go. It is not that I disagree with what is there, but I am disappointed about how it has affected me as chairman of the Works of Art Committee.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

In light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has just said, would it not be wise perhaps for the chairmen of the previous committees to speak to the new Services Committee when it finally meets? That might help us to take forward the agendas that are to be inherited.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader for her introduction and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for their comments, which are perhaps helpful in taking forward the kind of things that the House should consider.

Looking at the Order Paper and the Motions before us, I think that they are quite weighty issues for our last sitting day before the Summer Recess. The main part of the report is the governance business, but I also welcome, and have supported, the two proposals from the Procedure Committee. The first is to make the balloting of questions during recess permanent, which is certainly an aid to those Members not based in London who wish to take a full part in our proceedings. There is also the extremely radical proposal that the House of Lords Clocks will now show seconds, as well as minutes. That will be helpful to colleagues speaking in time-limited debates, but I am sure that the Whips’ Offices and the usual channels will find it extremely helpful.

Hear, hear.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

It is rare that I get a cheer from the Whips.

Although this is a fairly brief debate, the work undertaken to get to this point has been considerable. The noble Baroness the Leader is quite right: there has been a very consensual approach from the start. I am sure that she will take on board the points made about picking up the work undertaken by previous committees of the House. Not everybody will agree with every detail, but at no point has any view on the structure been ignored or dismissed without proper consideration.

On governance, I first pay tribute to the Leader’s Group on Governance, wisely set up by the former Leader, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. There was widespread acceptance that our structures were not as effective as they could be, but once you look at one part of a structure and seek to change it, it can quickly become overcomplicated and messy as each change highlights something else that could perhaps be changed and creates another issue to consider. Perhaps that is something we should consider when we look at constitutional reform. But with this we were given an opportunity to examine our structure as a whole, and, under the excellent guidance of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, who chaired the group, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness that they applied to their work was very impressive. I record our thanks and appreciation to all those who worked on that committee, including the staff of the House and the clerks.

I also place on record our thanks and appreciation to those who served on the existing committees over many years. For a number of colleagues there is, as we know, some sadness at leaving committees on which they have worked so diligently. I am very aware of the time and commitment so many across the House, from all groups, have brought to their work on issues that are not at the heart of our legislative work. Often little is known about what they do, but it can be complex and time-consuming. Whether colleagues have dealt with admin and works, catering or information, for example, these are not committees about which the public—or indeed many Peers—are aware of their day-to-day work, except when something goes wrong. Then everybody wants to know and, of course, everybody can give advice. So we are genuinely deeply grateful to all those who have served on these committees.

As the noble Baroness the Leader said, we are also very grateful to the outgoing Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for taking on his responsibilities, shall we say, at short notice and for fulfilling them with his customary relaxed style of good humour and humility, which belies the amount of work he undertakes.

When we return in September, we will see significant changes. There will be new committee structures, a new Lord Speaker and a new Senior Deputy Speaker instead of a Chairman of Committees. All of us who will serve on those committees will take on new and additional roles and responsibilities. We welcome the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and look forward to working with him in his new role, and my noble friend Lord McFall. They will become pioneers of these new structures—particularly my noble friend, who is undertaking a new role as it changes—alongside those chairing the new Finance Committee and Services Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming. In a previous debate on one of the many meetings we have had on this, I said that those who hold these posts for the first time will have a great responsibility, because how they conduct themselves and how they fulfil these roles will become the marker against which these roles will be judged. I have no doubt at all as to their ability and commitment. I look forward to working with them and all those on the new committees.

I add, though, that I have one doubt about the new committees. I am disappointed about the gender balance on them. I say to the noble Baroness the Leader that the only nominees from her party were all male. We have to look at this issue across the House. We should have a better gender balance on all committees. I am disappointed at the make-up of these committees. That is not said about the individuals, but as a House that seeks to be progressive and representative in the wider sense, we should look for a better gender balance.

Finally, as the noble Baroness said, it is right, as we embark on these new structures, that we recognise details will emerge where, having put policy and principle into practice, we find that the practice may need some tweaking. Those who have served on previous committees and organisations, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and my noble friend who chaired the Information Committee, will know that that tweaking will have to be taken into account as we move forward in creating these structures—we should reflect as we go along. The noble Baroness the Leader is right to say that we should reflect not only at the end of this Session but, as we progress the work we do, we should at all times question and challenge ourselves to make sure that we have this right and consider whether tweaks are needed.

Finally, I concur entirely with the noble Baroness the Leader’s thanks to all those who took part in this challenging exercise. The governance group did this House a great service when it first took on this task. We look forward to ensuring that we will make these structures work in the interests of the whole House.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 11:45 am, 21st July 2016

My Lords, I wish to make two brief points which I have made before but which I do not think find much favour in the House. I notice that sub-paragraph (2) of the implementation report states that the House of Lords Commission is responsible for supervising,

“the arrangements relating to financial support for members”.

However, if you look further into these recommendations, you do not find who is responsible for giving them something to supervise. I consider that the House needs a structure that can look at Members’ benefits and the way forward. I reflect particularly on the stories about regional imbalance. We appear incapable of devising a system whereby Members who live a long way outside London can claim for a hotel bill. That puts us out of line with the Civil Service and virtually every public body in Britain. I hope that we can look at this because we cannot for ever say, “We will never touch allowances. People will never trust us”. At some point, we must have a transparent procedure for looking at the way in which this House is run in that respect.

My second point is probably even less popular—namely, that we should introduce a little bit of democracy. All these committees will do extremely good work. However, not a single member of them is elected by the Members of this House. There is absolutely no opportunity for the ordinary Members of this House to have any representation through electing members of these committees by ballot. Therefore, I ask that we dispense with perhaps just a small portion of the “chumocracy” and replace it with a small portion of democracy.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I, too, support the Motions moved by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, with regard to Members’ allowances will be very much on the agenda of the new House of Lords Commission, as it has been recently on the agenda of the House Committee.

With respect to the Procedure Committee report, I, too, welcome the fact that the pilot scheme for having ballots during recesses for Oral Question slots has now been put on a permanent basis. The pilot schemes have shown that this works and helps those who live outwith London. I also very much welcome the fact that we are to have Clocks showing seconds, as I think that will help to get us through debates. If noble Lords are given an advisory speaking time of seven minutes, there is a tendency—this is only natural—when we see seven minutes up on the Clock to think that we are still within the advisory time when, in fact, we have run over. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned the Clocks being replaced. Can she indicate when the Clocks are likely to be replaced and we will have Clocks showing seconds?

With regard to the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on Governance, I echo what has already been said. I pay tribute to and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for the work that she and her group did on this matter, and, indeed, the previous Leader of the House the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who set all this in motion and gave it the impetus to see it through to the Motions before us today.

My noble friend Lady Maddock made an important point and I hope that, when she replies to the debate, the Lord Privy Seal will be able to offer some reassurance on it. My recollection of the governance report is that it indicated the intention that there should be a Speaker’s advisory committee. I think that continuity in that regard was anticipated. However, if the noble Baroness can offer reassurance on that point it would be very welcome.

If we are to perform our duties in this House in scrutinising the Executive, we need facilities and services to enable us to do it. Therefore, it is important that when we take decisions on how we administer these services and facilities they are taken in an open, transparent and accountable way, and they meet high professional standards.

During the consultations that were undertaken by members of the Leader’s Group, many people on the Back Benches in particular spoke of the need for some radical change. I believe that this is what the report came forward with and what we are now delivering. We have a strong senior committee and now two other very important committees, the Finance Committee and the Services Committee. It is important that they examine the culture of committees as well as basic administration and the way that it is undertaken.

I hope that all members of the new committees will embrace this philosophy and find new and innovative ways of working that engage more Members from right across the House in the decision-making processes. I know that my noble friend Lady Doocey—I am delighted that she will be chairing the Finance Committee—is keen to explore how to do things differently. I am also delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who has given such service in particular in the last year, will be chairing the Services Committee. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McFall, of whom I have been a colleague in both Houses; I know that he will discharge his duties as Senior Deputy Speaker in a way that will engage colleagues. I therefore confirm my support for the recommendations from the Leader’s Group and for the Motions before the House today, which implement these much-needed reforms.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, I just add a word from these Benches in support of the Motions that the Leader of the House has moved and endorse all that she has said in introducing them. For my own part, I emphasise two points. First, on the identity of the two key people chairing the Commission and the Services Committee—and also the Finance Committee, because so much rests on its shoulders to progress into the new system—the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will chair the Services Committee is particularly important because he can carry through into the new system his knowledge and understanding of how the previous committees worked.

The other point that I stress is one that the noble Baroness made in her few remarks—that built into this approach is a commitment to reflect on its operation at the end of the forthcoming Session. It is important that we should have that amount of flexibility, so that we can assess exactly how things are working out. Inevitably with a new structure, one has to set up the structure first to see how it works in practice, given the personnel who make it work. I endorse exactly what the noble Baroness said about the reassurance that Members who may have some concerns should feel, given the willingness of everybody involved in these new structures to look again at whether they need any changes—they might not—and to see that everything is working as we would wish. Without repeating them, I also endorse the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and I shall pick up on a couple of the points raised. In relation to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, the new Lord Speaker will be working with the old committee to consider the best way to proceed but continuity, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord, Wallace, said, will be an important consideration. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, the Services Committee chair can help with that—we will certainly look forward to working closely with her.

My noble friend Lord Balfe mentioned the election of Back-Bench Members. We do not operate elections for any other committees in this House but, if it is something that he wishes to pursue, I suggest that the new Senior Deputy Speaker would be the appropriate port of call, with apologies to him for handing over that grenade. I am sure that he would be delighted to have a conversation, although he is not looking so happily at me. We have got off to a good start.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about Clocks. I am afraid that I do not have a timescale but it is apparently likely to be months rather than years, which I hope will please him. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, we want to make sure that these structures work and we need to reflect—I agree that we need to have a period of reflection. There will be an opportunity at the end of the Session to consider whether there are worthwhile changes that we can make.

On that note, I again thank all noble Lords and I wish everyone a very relaxing Summer Recess. With that, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.