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House of Lords: Procedure Committee

Volume 715: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2009


Asked By

To ask the Chairman of Committees what proposals regarding House of Lords procedure and practice are under discussion in the House of Lords Procedure Committee.

My Lords, the Procedure Committee met on Monday. It agreed a report recommending the introduction of Oral Questions to Secretaries of State in this House, amendments to Standing Order 78, which governs the composition of the Committee for Privileges, and the abolition of the Personal Bills Committee. It also discussed the procedural implications of the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty and new editions of the Companion and Erskine May. As always, the Procedure Committee is pleased to consider proposals put forward by noble Lords.

My Lords, with 240 Members of this House indicating that they want a review of the Speaker’s powers and responsibilities, the introduction of a new code of conduct, the reconstruction of the Lords expenses system and the Wright report in the Commons seeking wholesale modernisation of the handling of legislation, what is our Procedure Committee doing in the area of major changes which many Members are asking for and which would bring us into the 21st century?

My Lords, I am aware that there is interest in change, as has been expressed on a number of occasions recently by noble Lords speaking on the Loyal Address and at various other times. However, I do not believe—nor does practice have it—that the Procedure Committee is the best means of bringing about such change. Major changes of the kind that the noble Lord refers to are best considered normally by a Leader’s Group and occasionally by a Select Committee. It is then for that group to report to the House and for the House to consider any proposals. The Procedure Committee then implements those proposals. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Leader of the House has already responded to these suggestions—most notably on 25 November and at the Procedure Committee this week—and she is, I understand, considering whether to proceed.

My Lords, has any consideration been given to the possibility of having Monday’s debate on the SSRB report deal solely with the principles enshrined in that report, with detailed consideration of the individual points in the report taken on some other day?

My Lords, that was certainly not discussed at the Procedure Committee; it would not be a matter for the committee. The Motion for Monday’s debate, which I shall be opening, is to recommend acceptance of the House Committee’s report, but it also recommends setting up an ad hoc group to look into the recommendations.

Is the Chairman of Committees aware that, although the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is very much in favour of some sort of powerful Speaker, many Members of the House are very concerned and feel that that would be a retrograde step? For that reason, I hope that there would be no movement on it unless it had been put to the whole House and considered in great detail. We all support the comments of the Leader of the House that the present system is working very well, especially in relation to the Lord Speaker.

As I indicated in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that would not be a matter best dealt with by the Procedure Committee as such; it would be a matter that should be discussed in either a Select Committee or a Leader’s Group. Then, any recommendations would have to come to the House as a whole and be agreed by the House. It would then be up to the Procedure Committee to implement any recommendations put to it.

Does the Chairman of Committees agree that the other place has received considerable kudos by setting up the Wright committee and giving it a fairly tight timetable to bring forward suggestions? As the noble Lord pointed out, the system can be cumbersome and slow. Perhaps a Leader’s committee—a Campbell-Savours committee springs to mind—

The Chairman of Committees will immediately see what strong support there is for that idea. We have very few weeks left in this Parliament. Why do we not use the opportunity, as they have done at the other end, to look at improvements that could be made to make this place, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, fit for purpose in the 21st century?

The noble Lord mentions the Wright committee. That was a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It was not dealt with by the House of Commons Procedure Committee. It has come forward with recommendations, some of which may affect our procedures in this House. For this House, that would be exactly the sort of thing that would be dealt with either by a Leader’s Group or by a Select Committee.

My Lords, in his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the noble Lord mentioned the Lisbon treaty. Can he please explain what effect the Lisbon treaty will have on the procedures of this House?

My Lords, it is all to do with scrutiny—with which, I imagine, the noble Lord will be in favour. A paper by the Leader of the House was put before the Procedure Committee on Monday. I believe that it is in the Library of the House. The noble Lord will no doubt wish to get a copy before they all run out. There is also a copy of a paper from the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the chairman of the European Union Committee. We had useful discussions on this and will be returning to the subject in February, but procedural changes will need to be made regarding the scrutiny of matters.

My Lords, although this may not be directly related to the Procedure Committee, would not the noble Lord agree that the scrutiny procedures introduced through the Lisbon treaty will enhance this House’s role in scrutiny and strengthen our role in legislation coming fromEurope?