Skip to main content

House of Lords: Procedures

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2010


Asked By

To ask the Leader of the House what proposals there are for reform of the procedures set out in the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords.

My Lords, we have adopted a considerable number of procedural reforms recently. I know that there is a wide spectrum of opinion around the House on this issue but I believe that we could find consensus around various ideas that would merit further exploration. I believe that the establishment of a Leader’s Group is the right mechanism for considering possible innovations and I hope that a group will be established following the general election.

My Lords, now that the Butler, Filkin and Murphy cross-party working groups, along with the Grocott group, have separately all proposed reform of House of Lords procedures and practices, has my noble friend had the opportunity to discuss with the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Cross Benches, and in particular leaders of the Official Opposition, whether, irrespective of who is in government after the election, they support the establishment of a Leader’s Group to take forward this whole agenda?

My Lords, since receiving the reports, all of which I have read with great interest—copies are available in the Library of the House, should any noble Lord wish to read them—I have not had any further discussions with the leaders of the other parties or the Convenor of the Cross Benches. As I said in my earlier reply, I believe that a Leader’s Group is the proper mechanism through which to discuss these reports in the next Parliament.

My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s admiration for the initiative of the Lord Speaker in setting up these groups and for the very useful reports that have emanated from them. I make it clear that if I am Leader of the House after the general election, I shall carry on the good work that she has done as Leader. I regret only that my very good friend Lord Strathclyde is not in his place because I am quite sure that, if he were, he would be on his feet immediately to make a similar statement.

My Lords, I look forward to working with the noble Lord in whichever capacity we find ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, expressed some of his views in a very good debate that we had on a Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I suggest that noble Lords might wish to read that debate.

My Lords, would it not be circumspect to analyse whether abuses of procedures actually occur before proposing, or deciding to make, changes? Has the noble Baroness studied the statistics that I furnished after an orchestrated challenge to my Oral Question on 9 February? May I suggest that some of us, professionally, speak more slowly and distinctly than others?

My Lords, on the first point, as the noble Lord knows, I do not agree with his view that there was an orchestrated challenge, but I am very grateful to him for providing me with the interesting statistics. I wholeheartedly agree with him that some noble Lords take longer to express their views in the same number of words than others might.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the Leader’s Group in itself would not be sufficient, as leaders often do not speak for the Back Benchers? I can think of one major issue of reforming this place completely where they do not speak for Back Benchers. Would the Leader of the House think of having some of us in that group?

My Lords, there are various sorts of Leader’s Groups, as I understand it. For example, the Leader’s Group that I established under the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, did not have one leader in it; so there are various ways of establishing a Leader’s Group.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House bear in mind the wise words of the noble Lord, the first Viscount of Falkland:

“If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”?

My Lords, I agree that where it is not necessary to change, there is no need to change. However, I think that many noble Lords would accept that there are some potential changes in this House that are worthy of discussion. I am sure the noble Lord would agree.

Can compliments from a Back Bencher be paid to the manner in which the Leader of the House has sought to protect the interests of the House beyond a particular political domain?

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, in the event of a Leader’s Group being set up, it should consider all the recommendations, without exception, of the groups that I referred to in my supplementary question?

My Lords, many proposals were put forward in the various newspapers. I think that it would be necessary to prioritise them, but that would be a matter for the Leader’s Group.

My Lords, since the late Lord Falkland has been mentioned, his last words, when he turned to the enemy and got himself shot, were that he was leaving a world that he no longer liked and no longer wanted to live in. Let us hope our legacy is not that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the reports produced by the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, were about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the House and in no way were based on a party political approach?

My Lords, I entirely agree. One refreshing element of the reports was that there was cross-party action. That is a good means of establishing a future consensus on these issues.

Is it intended that the work of the Leader’s Group will replace that of the Procedure Committee? Will it bypass it or will it be referred to it?

My Lords, I think that we should use the tried and tested procedure, which is to establish a Leader’s Group to discuss these issues. That Leader’s Group would then report to the Procedure Committee which in turn would report to the House. Ultimately, the decisions would be for the House as a whole.

My Lords, is it not important that the recommendations of the various committees get not just to the Leader’s Group or even the Procedure Committee but to the Floor of the House? The House needs to make the decisions, whatever the views en route might have been of the other committees to which I have referred. Even if some of the proposals do not find favour with the committees, they may well find favour with the House as a whole, which is obviously the sovereign body and must remain so.

Yes, my Lords, the House as a whole must decide. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is a huge number of proposals on a potential table. It would be necessary to prioritise, but I hope that whoever might be members of a future Leader’s Group will be able to represent the views of the people in their own political groups or on the Cross Benches, for example.