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House of Lords: Procedures

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 7 January 2010


Asked By

To ask the Leader of the House what proposals she is considering for reforming the procedures of the House of Lords.

My Lords, it is up to the House itself as a self-regulating body to determine any changes that it wishes to see to the procedures under which it operates. I have recently put proposals to the Procedure Committee relating to Oral Questions to Secretaries of State, the tabling of Written and Oral Questions, and procedures for operating the new powers conferred on Parliament by the Lisbon treaty and the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader for the work that she has done on that and for the work that she has been doing so admirably on the code of conduct and on our expenses and allowances—I understand why those have been taking priority. She has mentioned previously in responding to debates that she is aware that there is a good deal of feeling in all quarters of the House that it is now time that we had a comprehensive review of the way in which our practices and procedures operate. It is nearly eight years since this House last had a look at its procedures and I believe that it is now high time, given the pressures coming from different quarters, for us to look for a degree of change to improve our efficiency and effectiveness. In the best spirit, I congratulate her on the work that she is doing, but I hope that she will return to the Procedure Committee and press through the usual channels for the establishment of a Leader’s Group with the following terms of reference: to consider how the procedures of the House can be improved, to increase its effectiveness and efficiency and to make recommendations to the House in due course.

My Lords, we all want an efficient and effective House. The noble Lord points to the fact that we have not had a review of our procedures for eight years. It may well be that a review should take place, if that is the will of the House, but we should not forget that there have been profound changes over the last eight years—relating to the Lord Chancellor and to the establishment of the Supreme Court and the post of the Lord Speaker—all of which have led to procedural changes. Then we have our expenses and code of conduct. We have made fantastic progress, but those issues have not yet been completed. I made it clear at the Procedure Committee in December that, in view of the recent report from the Wright committee and suggestions from many Members, I was conscious of the desire in many parts of the House for a review of Lords procedure. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on that issue and then perhaps we will take it further.

My Lords, given that the noble Baroness is a senior Cabinet Minister, can she tell us whether any of her colleagues have complained that your Lordships’ House is not effective enough? Can she give us any examples in recent years of where she believes the House could have been more effective?

No, my Lords, I have had absolutely no complaints from my Cabinet colleagues, all of whom think that we in this House are doing an excellent job. However, we should all be vigilant—every Chamber and authority and all elected and unelected representatives should have a view to efficiency and effectiveness. That is our duty as public servants.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reminds us, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is a senior Cabinet Minister, yet she has been on her feet now for 11 minutes without expressing undying support for the Prime Minister. Is this an oversight?

My Lords, the whole House will know of my admiration and full support for the Prime Minister of this country.

My Lords, in looking at ways of strengthening the procedures and using the expertise in your Lordships’ House, does the Leader of the House recall the question that I put to her recently about the desirability of creating a foreign affairs Select Committee, which would be able to harness the considerable expertise and experience available in your Lordships’ House? Will she tell your Lordships whether she has been able to make any progress on that stand-alone proposal?

My Lords, at the time I said that that was an interesting and rather good idea. However, it is not for me to take that proposal forward. The noble Lord needs to take it forward to a committee of the House—forgive my ignorance, but I will speak to the noble Lord after this Question Time and we will find a way of taking the suggestion forward.

My Lords, would my noble friend accept that there is a need to amend paragraph 5.07 of the Companion, which deals with Members’ supplementaries on ministerial Statements? On a recent occasion a Member of the House took five minutes of the total of 20 minutes in asking a supplementary question on such a Statement. Are not such Members making a mockery of self-regulation? If we cannot make self-regulation work in that area because Members are not prepared to respect the request made from the government Front Bench, then surely we should transfer that responsibility to the Lord Speaker.

My Lords, on the whole, self-regulation works extremely well in this House. However, in order to ensure that it functions properly, all Members of the House, including members of the Government, have a duty to ensure that the procedures are properly applied and to show self-restraint in relation to speaking times.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this House greatly admires the way in which she answers questions only with relevant considerations, as she showed on this occasion, until she was misled by the leader of the Liberal Democrats?