House of Lords
Monday, 12 July 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Introduction: Lord Spicer
Sir William Michael Hardy Spicer, having been created Baron Spicer, of Cropthorne in the County of Worcestershire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Goodlad, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Wills
The right honourable Michael David Wills, having been created Baron Wills, of North Swindon in the County of Wiltshire and of Woodside Park in the London Borough of Barnet, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Blackstone and Lord Bach, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Popat
Dolar Amarshi Popat, Esquire, having been created Baron Popat, of Harrow in the London Borough of Harrow, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Strathclyde and Lord Sheikh, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Leave of Absence
Supreme Court: Retirement Age
My Lords, the Government are considering the issue in consultation with the judiciary and others.
I am grateful to the Minister. Will he congratulate the Lord Chancellor on his 70th birthday earlier this month, and suggest to him that to require Justices of the Supreme Court to retire at that age, if they were appointed to the Bench after March 1995, is a terrible waste of judicial experience, wisdom and knowledge? It is especially unfortunate when some Supreme Court Justices are only appointed to that court in their mid to late 60s.
My Lords, I first assure the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Lord Chancellor and I share the view that reaching 70 is not the end of a contribution to public life. In fact, in this House most think that it is only beginning. The age limit of 70 was brought in by the reforms of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. The Lord Chancellor is examining it, and he is also consulting carefully with the judiciary.
My Lords, I declare an interest: I am only 58. Does the noble Lord, who is a great friend of the Supreme Court, agree that the problem is now urgent? There is a member of the Supreme Court—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Collins—who will be forced to retire after only 18 months in the job of Supreme Court Justice. If the matter is not looked at and dealt with quickly, it will be a great loss to law in this country.
I hear what the noble and learned Lord says. As he knows, there are ongoing arguments for making maximum use of the undoubted talent in the Supreme Court—his point—and about what others rather inelegantly call “bed blockers”. How to bring forward and rejuvenate the Supreme Court must also be fed into this debate.
My Lords, further to a point that has already been made, may I remind the Minister that age is not the only consideration that must be borne in mind when finding a replacement for one of the Justices of the Supreme Court? In particular, there are members of that court who have a special expertise that is very difficult to replace. Although we have not mentioned his name, the member of the Supreme Court who is due to retire next May, and will then have been there less than two years, is probably the outstanding private international lawyer in the judiciary as a whole. The argument about keeping people there while holding up others does not apply when it comes to replacing that sort of expertise.
My Lords, I hear entirely what the noble and learned Lord says. Without prejudging the issue to which he referred, dare I say that hard cases make bad law? However, there is a wider issue about our Supreme Court. It would perhaps be revolutionary to get our second woman and our first ethnic minority representative in the Supreme Court. A lot of work has to be done if we are to have a Supreme Court that reflects Britain in the 21st century but there is clearly room for 58 year-olds in it as well.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the finest judgments of the past century have been made by Law Lords in their 70s? Does he not think it sensible to retain people who in all probability are at the height of their intellectual powers when they are over 70 and ensure that they are not lost to the judiciary just because some slightly younger people aged 58 or 59 perhaps also ought to be there? You can always create more posts in total.
These are very powerful arguments, which may be why the Lord Chancellor is looking at the matter. However, as I said, in parallel with the concern to retain the talent of the Supreme Court, there is, or should be, a similar concern to ensure that our Supreme Court better reflects our society in the 21st century.
Bearing in mind the comment just made by the noble Lord that breadth is important, and given that so many women have to take time out of their career, does he agree that one of the ways of ensuring that breadth is by identifying talent—not age or gender—as the criterion which should determine appointment to and retention of these posts?
Prisons: Muslim Prisoners
My Lords, the Government welcome the report. We are pleased that it recognises the considerable progress prisons have made in meeting the religious needs of Muslim prisoners.
The National Offender Management Service has an ongoing programme of work to ensure that all prisoners are treated with respect and decency and that service provision is fair.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he accept that it is a matter of serious concern that Muslim inmates constitute 10 per cent of our prison population as against a representation of 3 per cent in the community? There is no evidence that this group is proportionally involved in more crime than any other racial or religious group. Will he therefore undertake to ensure that the sentencing guidelines and the sentencing variables have no adverse impact on this group? Will he also develop a strategy for effective staff engagement with Muslims in which prison staff and the Muslim community are involved?
My Lords, there may be several reasons why the proportion of Muslims in custody is as it is. I was surprised to find that they constituted 3 per cent of the population but 10 per cent plus of the prison population. Further study is needed to see whether we can identify some of the reasons for this.
On training, we are committed to developing effective communication between prisoners and staff. We have already taken a number of actions aimed at ensuring effective staff engagement with Muslim prisoners. During my briefing, I was shown a card issued to all staff on how to engage with Muslim prisoners. It very much emphasises a respect for their faith and how it should be handled within the prison.
I do not have precise figures on conversions, but I know the background to this question of whether or not there is radical Islamisation in prisons. The studies that I have been shown reveal no conclusive evidence of this, although there are examples which give rise to concern. The staff and the wider Prison Service keep a close eye on imams in prisons. Bringing them in to lecture, preach and minister within prisons has been one of the benefits, but we must make sure that it is a positive influence, as the noble Lord suggested.
My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the work of imams in the Prison Service, which is warmly commended in the report? Does he agree with my own experience that a general difference between a good prison and a bad prison is the relationship between the staff and the inmates and that what is so significant about the report’s findings is that there are so many negative perceptions of Islam among wide sections of prison staff?
First, in parallel, I pay tribute to the role that Anglican and other Christian pastors play in our Prison Service, which is greatly appreciated. On the dangers of radicalisation in prison, in many ways prison staff reflect the fears of our wider society. Therefore, it is worth reminding people that only 80 of those in prison are there for terrorist offences and that the vast majority of convictions are not terrorist-related. What we must not do—and we have some hard lessons to learn from drug regimes—is think that people go to prison as Muslims or having converted to Islam and are then radicalised. There are dangers that prison could provide this kind of background. I was, in fact, talking with my noble friend Lord Dholakia about the idea of perhaps encouraging more young and successful Muslim entrepreneurs from society in general to become prison visitors or mentors, make contact with these young people and demonstrate to them that there is a positive role. I said at the beginning that there is an impressive training programme which is trying to educate the staff to deal with this problem.
My Lords, given the chief inspector’s recent report, can the Minister find out what proportion of prisoners are Muslim by conversion and let those who have asked questions today know the answer, given that it would affect the statistical discrepancy?
I will find out, write to the noble Lord and put a copy of the letter in the Library. It is clear that the statistical discrepancy is not explained by mass conversions in prison. There is a suspicion by old hands that some people may convert because they think that it will give them a more privileged regime. However, I suspect that sometimes people—well, I will go no further. We are looking at conversion as an old soldier’s way of missing out some of the more onerous parts of the prison regime, but the main discrepancy lies far deeper. I will get the exact figures and put them in the Library.
House of Lords: Royal Gallery Frescos
My Lords, the Waterloo and Trafalgar murals in the Royal Gallery are painted on plaster using the water-glass technique, and no safe and effective method for their cleaning has yet been established. Early next year, the Curator’s Office will subject the paintings to a full condition survey. The feasibility of improving the appearance of the murals through conservation or lighting techniques will be considered by the Works of Art Committee.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am glad to hear that some action is going to be taken. Does he not deplore the present state of the murals in a place that is a showcase for Heads of State as well as many members of the public? Does he not agree that the Japanese experts who did a wonderful job in the Sistine Chapel should be consulted on the future of these murals? Finally, does he realise that “son of a gun” is not an American expression but an English one? Many women can be plainly seen in those murals, women who sewed, cooked and nursed—so “son of a gun” is an English expression.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the last part of her question. The water-glass technique was originally developed in Germany in the mid-19th century and adopted by Maclise for painting the Royal Gallery murals. They were begun in 1859 and finished by 1866. By 1869, only three years later, there were comments in the press that the paintings were already substantially faded. It is not known why this happened. The technique was successfully used elsewhere in the Palace. It is not a question of not having done anything about it, but a question about finding a way of doing something about it and so far no way has been found.
I am of course aware of the work done to the frescos in the Vatican. They are a different kind of fresco from our water-glass technique frescos. They were substantially and very successfully restored in the 1980s and the results are very striking, as the noble Baroness says. However, the same techniques could not be used on the Royal Gallery murals because of the water-glass technique that they were originally painted in. The Vatican work cost several million dollars, which is another factor.
My Lords, have any other frescos in the British Isles needed similar restoration? Both the splendid pictures that adorn the Royal Gallery are rare in terms of their size and indeed because they are frescos, which do not thrive in our climate. The German technique, introduced by Prince Albert, was very experimental at the time. If we have knowledge of any other work done with a similar technique, would it not be helpful to see whether they can be restored at all and what the cost may be?
Of course, other frescos in the Palace have been restored, but they were not done using the water-glass technique—that appears to be the difficulty. Other frescos elsewhere have been cleaned, dirt and dust have been removed and they have been greatly improved. I point out to noble Lords that Maclise painted a quarter-sized version of the Trafalgar mural on canvas in rich colours. It is in the Walker gallery in Liverpool and is available to look at on the internet, which I did before I came to answer this Question. It gives some idea of how magnificent the colours must have looked when they first went up, but unfortunately they have not survived 150 years.
My Lords, although the technique used in the Royal Gallery is different from the technique used by Michelangelo in painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, would it be worth consulting the Vatican Restoration Laboratory, which established new rules in 1978 for restoration, before we abandon any idea of restoring our own wonderful murals?
My Lords, we have not abandoned the idea. Over the years, the Curator and the Works of Art Committee have looked many times at ways in which we might be able to do this, but so far no method has been found. Tests have been done on the murals which have not really had any satisfactory results. Lighting has been considered and perhaps could be improved. New lighting techniques will be adopted for the Armada paintings which might help, but even good lighting will not restore the colours to the murals as they are.
My Lords, if the frescos proved difficult or impossible to restore, as the Minister seems to be implying, would it be total heresy—I suspect it would—for me to suggest that we should commission a contemporary artist to replace the pictures in the Royal Gallery?
My Lords, as I said earlier, the House has looked at this issue over a number of years. I can only guess that the Germans would have been asked, although this technique was established in the middle of the 19th century so there is not likely to be anyone around with an original view on it. We have looked into ways of doing this and, so far, nothing has been found.
Law Reform: Murder
My Lords, we are mindful of the recommendations of the Law Commission’s report, Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide. This is one of the issues at which the Government will be looking in their review of sentencing policy in general.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he accept, as I think he does, that reform of the law of murder is now long overdue? If so, I have two questions for him. First, is he aware of any other country, whether in Europe or the Commonwealth, that has a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in all cases of murder, including, for example, cases of mercy killing? Secondly, does he agree that it is the mandatory sentence which distorts this branch of the law and stands in the way of much needed reform?
My Lords, I would not presume to give my own judgment on that, but I suspect that the noble and learned Lord is right that there are few precedents for that very broad sweep of our law. He is also right to say that the Law Commission's report puts forward a variety of alternatives which would give a degree of flexibility to the judiciary when dealing with this matter. I know that the Lord Chancellor is sympathetic to the line taken by the Law Commission. It is a matter of consulting and then finding time to bring forward proposals on the second part of the commission's report. As the noble and learned Lord knows, the previous Administration brought forward partial proposals, and we are now looking at the matter with a sense of urgency.
My Lords, the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House on Medical Ethics, which I was privileged to chair, strongly recommended that the mandatory life sentence for murder should be abolished and that judges should be given some degree of flexibility, because we had reported to us 23 cases where family members had ended the life of a loved one suffering from a painful terminal illness. In every case, a charge of murder was originally proposed, but in all but one of them, the charge was amended either to attempted murder or to manslaughter because it was felt that no jury would be likely to convict. Is it not time, therefore, for the position to be revised?
My Lords, the short answer is yes. Such strong recommendations from a Select Committee carry weight, but we must be careful to ensure that in addressing the issue of the mandatory sentence for murder, we do not slip into other issues which have caused problems, such as mercy killing and euthanasia, which I think need to be considered separately as a matter of law.
Does the Minister recall that the recommendations from the Law Commission on the disposals for child homicides found that an adult with a mental age of 10 was treated more leniently than a child aged 10? Will he look carefully at that matter in his considerations?
I can assure the noble Earl that we will. It is a broad issue where the groundwork has been done by the Law Commission. I know that the Lord Chancellor is taking a close personal interest in the matter. We will be bringing forward precise proposals to Parliament in the near future.
My Lords, I am looking across at some very distinguished former members of the team at the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that not one of them would have given the kind of precise date that the noble Lord asks for. As for kicking it into the long grass, that is simply not our intention.
I was a member of the committee on murder set up more than 20 years ago in this House. Our recommendations were not implemented. Without going into the details of any case, will the Government now take it as an urgent priority to amend the law on murder?
The Minister will recall that the piecemeal reform of the law of provocation carried out by the previous Government was described by the Law Commission as “bizarre”. Will he assure us that if there is a reform of the law of murder, it will be done as a whole?
Arrangement of Business
House of Lords: Working Practices
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, we have a fine number of speakers on the speakers’ list this afternoon, and I welcome the opportunity of hearing the views of the many noble Lords who have set their names down for this debate. Others who have not will, no doubt, make their views known over the next few months.
A number among us think it may be time to review our working practices and, at the outset of a new Parliament, I share that view, which is why I proposed that this debate should be arranged. It is my intention that this debate should pave the way for a systematic review of our working practices to be conducted by a Leader’s Group that I will appoint before the House rises for the summer. I will ask the group to investigate what improvements could be made to our working practices to allow us to carry out our work effectively, while maintaining our efficiency in terms of the timeframes within which legislation is taken through the House.
That does not mean that I believe there are fundamental problems with procedure in your Lordships' House. Indeed, in the years I have been here, there have been times when I have contemplated ill digested legislation coming from the other place and reflected how much better the other place might operate if it introduced some of our own procedures. The privileges enjoyed by every noble Lord, the ability to table an amendment and have it answered, the wide freedom to speak and to question Ministers, the lack of restraint from the chair and other freedoms are immensely valuable to the House, and they are not shared by Members in another place. These open procedures enabled the House to carve out, after 1911, a role as the pre-eminent revising Chamber. Consider, for example, that over the last two full-length Sessions of the previous Parliament—2007-08 and 2008-09—we made on average over 80 amendments to each government Bill passed by this House.
As Leader of the House, I see it as my duty to defend that role and those freedoms. The essential self-regulating character of the House—rare in any legislative body—is something that I believe that noble Lords on all sides greatly value. Nothing this Government would suggest would set that at risk. I have never set my face against change; indeed, I was the other half of the conversation that led to the initiatives of my predecessor, the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, which resulted in some significant changes in the modern House, including the wider use of Grand Committees and the introduction of carry-over Bills. Furthermore, the House has regularly reviewed these matters—I need only mention the group set up by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, in 2004, Lord Williams’s review or the Jellicoe committee of 1992—so it is time to look again at our working practices and consider ways we might refresh and improve the way we go about things.
However, we should not forget that one of the advantages of this House is that self-regulation allows us to adapt and change as we go along. Take, for example, the way we revise legislation in Grand Committees, which many of your Lordships rightly favour. After the Williams review, the number of Bills sent to Grand Committee, with full co-operation from the Opposition, rose from five in 2001-02, to 11 in 2002-03 and 18 in 2003-04. In 2005-06 there were 23, but since then their use has fallen away. In the past two Sessions, only six Bills have gone to Grand Committee, the same as in the last years of the old House in 1997-99. In 2003-04 and 2004-05, more than half the hours that your Lordships spent in Committee were spent in Grand Committee. In every year but one since 2003, the proportion of Committee time in Grand Committee has fallen from more than 50 per cent in 2003 to under a third in 2008-09 and less than 30 per cent in the previous Session. Yet the total number of hours spent in Committees of both types in our previous two full Sessions was more than 813, against 744 in the last two years of the old House and 404 hours in 1994-96. We are definitely talking more.
I use these statistics to show that our procedures are constantly evolving. It may well be that we should renew greater use of Grand Committees. The usual channels routinely consider whether the Committee stage of Bills could take place in Grand Committee, but the Leader’s Group could investigate whether morning sittings in the Moses Room might be introduced on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for Bills or for other types of business. Then again, we already have procedures to send Bills for evidence-taking to Special Public Bill Committees or to Select Committees but, save for famous examples such as the Constitutional Reform Act, we have been sparing in our use of them. A Leader’s Group might consider whether that is right.
In the case of the Constitutional Reform Act, some who were most angered by the use of the Select Committee procedure, including the then Lord Chancellor himself, came to acknowledge its value. Indeed, our Select Committees have played a vital role in examining draft legislation, including secondary legislation, and scrutinising public policy. They have provided us with the authoritative analysis and advice that enables us to perform our scrutiny function effectively. On the other hand, wider use of these procedures would detract from the important principle that every Peer can contribute to revision and amendment at every part of every stage of a Bill.
In seeking to review how we scrutinise legislation, the Leader’s Group might also consider whether we could make better use of the minimum interval between the First and Second Readings of Bills. That interval could be used to invite evidence on Bills ahead of Second Reading, as some noble Lords have proposed, without prolonging the overall timetable for the passage of the Bill. The group may even wish to look at whether the case for minimum intervals of the length we currently observe is as compelling today as when they were introduced in 1977. The House has changed markedly since then, as have the technologies used to reprint Bills and Marshalled Lists of amendments.
Having re-examined its own practices, the other place is implementing many of the recommendations put forward by the Wright committee. Over time, they too might have an impact on this House, not least if legislation is more thoroughly scrutinised by the time it reaches us, so it is a timely moment for us to look at our own ways. In addition to some ideas that I have already mentioned, the group may wish to explore how we could ensure that, when scrutinising Bills that have arrived from the Commons, we focus on the provisions that received least attention in the other place. Some noble Lords have called for the provision of information on which clauses of Bills arriving from another place have not been subject to debate. I understand that this would not be as straightforward an exercise as it sounds, although I favour the idea behind it, but it merits further investigation.
There is much that a group might consider without extending the time that a Bill spends in this House. The Leader’s Group might wish to look at other areas of the House’s activity. It could, for example, examine how we might avoid duplication with another place when we repeat Ministerial Statements and Urgent Questions and consider whether the Moses Room would be a better venue for such matters. It may also wish to explore how we could ensure that our procedures are more transparent and accessible to Back-Benchers on all sides of the House, including those who have joined only recently or attend less frequently. This might, for instance, mean taking another look at how Private Members’ Bills are introduced and how Questions for Short Debate are tabled, with a view to widening the range of Back-Bench Members who successfully use these vehicles to raise matters of interest.
The overriding principle of self-regulation underpins all our work. The self-restraint that characterises this House has ensured that we have never needed to resort to selection of amendments, enforced groupings, programme Motions or guillotines. I sincerely hope that we never shall. We equally need to recognise that that would change if the freedoms that we have were unnecessarily abused. I am glad that they never have been, and long may that continue.
The usual channels are essential to this alchemy. They are a conduit for the different interests in the House and a vital lubricant in the conduct of business in a self-regulating House with no overall majority. I am conscious that there are some in the House who wish to see a greater role for the chair, notably at Question Time. My view is that our existing practice, whereby it is the responsibility of the whole House—of all the Members present—to draw attention to breaches of order or failures to observe custom, continues to serve us well. The government Benches of course have a special responsibility for assessing the mood of the House and intervening accordingly, and I take my responsibilities in this matter most seriously, as I know that former Leaders have done as well. It is not as easy as it looks perhaps and sometimes there are complaints of unfairness or favouritism to certain Benches. All I can say is that, on the anecdotal evidence, the party of the Opposition is hugely favoured in Question Time, but we are looking for the scientific proof to demonstrate whether that is the case.
This does not amount to a power of direction, and nor should it. Such powers, whether exercised from the—
My Lords, let me make it clear: I believe that it should consider that. It should be a widely drawn committee on working practices and not simply on the procedures of the House, so that it can examine all sorts of matters which are not strictly speaking procedural; that should, of course, include the role of the chair in the House.
As regards appointments to Select Committees—an aspect of the reforms in the other place which a number of noble Lords are keen to emulate—there is nothing to stop individual groups or political parties in this House from introducing elections for particular positions. Some have already done so, and I believe that it very much suits those groups.
I trust that this brief tour d’horizon has made clear that the Leader’s Group will have a wide-ranging remit. It will also have plenty of time in which to conduct its work, which I hope will culminate in a major piece of work that sets us on the right course for the years ahead. I hope that today’s debate will lend momentum to that process and serve as a reference point for the group in conducting its review.
There are many speakers and the debate will be wound up by my noble friend the Deputy Leader, who will also speak in his capacity as leader of the Liberal Democrat party in this House. All contributions are important in this discussion, including those from Members who will not speak today; I am sure that they will be invited to put evidence forward to the Leader’s Group. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an important debate for this House and for the Members of this House. It is, too, I believe, an important debate beyond this House, because how this House works and how it does its job, helps to set how the House carries out its important role in our politics, in our legislative process and in our constitutional arrangements. So this is a very welcome debate. I welcome as well the announcement by the Leader of the House to set up a Leader’s Group to review the working practices of the House. That is absolutely the right thing to do, although, like the noble Lord, I recognise that our procedures have evolved over the past few years.
To some, a review of working practices might sound rather dry and boring. But this is not just about more efficient and effective practices. It is about the health of our political system. It is about good governance. It is about our working relationship with the other place and our ability better to engage with the public. It is about building on the value of our House.
I believe that the review has assumed greater importance since the formation of the coalition Government. Why is that? It is because the fundamental role of this House as a revising Chamber has been changed by the new arithmetic. Evidence from the Constitution Unit at University College London in a paper by Meg Russell and Maria Sciara entitled, The Policy Impact of Defeats in the House of Lords, shows that,
“many Lords defeats are substantially accepted”,
“furthermore, many of these are on key policy issues”.
They show that in four cases out of 10, Lords amendments were accepted after defeats in the Lobbies and, of course, many more were accepted without a vote. The Leader of the House informed us that more than 80 amendments were carried in the previous two Sessions of Parliament. That was right and proper, although sometimes painful for the Government. With the coalition Government, this situation is bound to change, and I think it has changed already, with a profound impact on the constitutional role of this House. The new voting pattern in this House of the new politics is putting into question the traditional role of this House as a revising Chamber. If the Government have a permanent inbuilt majority, the prospects of this House being able to carry out that role are limited. This is not sour grapes. We know we lost the election and we know that that had consequences, but it is the new reality of the House. I hope that the Leader’s Group will keep this in mind as it reviews our procedures.
I pay tribute to the staff in the Library for their excellent notes for today’s debate. I pay tribute as well to all those who have doggedly pursued these issues over many years, and especially to those who have been members of the various more recent groups, including the group of Labour Members chaired by my noble friend Lord Grocott.
My contribution today will be brief. There are so many suggestions on the table for the Leader’s Group to consider. I hope that, in its work, the group will be able to take soundings from all Members of this House who wish to make their views known. In debates such as these it tends to be the aficionados who speak and make very fine contributions to the debate, but there are many others who have clear views on these issues. In our debate in February on the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, noted that we have increasingly refined our views and increasingly a consensus has emerged that this matter is coming to a point where action must be taken. I agree with the noble Lord, but for real ownership of any changes—which of course must be agreed by the whole House—all those Members who wish to make their views known should be able to do so. To be clear, I want to see change, but I also subscribe to the process of evolution, not revolution.
It is clear that one of the recurrent themes since the Leader’s Group established in 2001 by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn is the desire for pre-legislative scrutiny. That group suggested that virtually all Bills should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, but it was later agreed that while the growth in pre-legislative scrutiny was welcome, the aspiration that it should include virtually all Bills was unrealistic. That is obviously a matter for the new Leader’s Group, not for debate today, but I would suggest that we have not quite got the balance right. Pre-legislative scrutiny is an opportunity to improve draft legislation, to ensure that it better meets the needs for which it was designed, and to engage with experts and members of the public who are interested in the subject in question. There was more and more pre-legislative scrutiny under the previous Government, but the demands of government often meant that not enough time was built into the legislative timetable. We need to do better. All Governments should be in favour of enhanced pre-legislative scrutiny. It is one small but very important way of rebuilding trust in our political system.
In a similar vein, there have been demands over the past years for post-legislative scrutiny. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken on this in the past, I believe that the House is particularly well suited to this scrutiny. We have the expertise, we have the time, and it would be an opportunity to identify good practice in terms of process and content. One suggestion that has been made by my noble friend Lord Puttnam is that the recent Digital Economy Act 2010 should, in due course, be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. I believe that that is an excellent suggestion.
Should pre- and post-legislative scrutiny be undertaken only by Joint Committees of both Houses or is it something that on occasion the Lords could do alone? Again, that is a matter for the new group. However, having noted in the previous debates the demand for a plethora of Joint Committees, I suspect that in practical terms we might have to consider some Lords committees. We certainly have capacity in terms of members with our ever-growing numbers, but I recognise that it would mean extra demands on the Clerks and on financial and spatial resources. At a time of financial constraint, it is not easy to make a case for extra resources, but we are talking about enhancing our democracy.
Pre-legislative scrutiny takes time and, having recently had the privilege of both leading your Lordships’ House and being a Member of the Government, I am acutely aware of the need to take the timing of business into account. Some new procedures would take preparation time but would not require additional time on the Floor of the House; for example, the flagging of clauses when a Bill passes from the Commons to the Lords in order to identify clauses not already debated. I know this is more complex than at first it would seem, but it is the right way forward if possible. Other new procedures could save time in the Chamber, as the noble Lord said, by dealing with Statements so that we are not merely repeating what has been said in the other place.
In the previous debate, several noble Lords raised the issue of cross-cutting areas of public policy which are never properly addressed or scrutinised because the government machinery does not exist. This may well be something that we in the Lords should do through the adaptation of our committee system. I realise that the House has recently agreed the proposals of the Liaison Committee in relation to committees during this Parliament, but I suggest that, following the decisions taken on the basis of the recommendations of the Leader’s Group, the Liaison Committee might re-convene with new criteria.
The Leader’s Group is also a timely initiative because it will enable us to respond to the impact of changes made in the other place as a result of the Wright Committee. The way in which one House considers legislation and wider issues is bound to have an impact on the other. It is important that we work together as an effective Parliament but we should also maintain the differences and distinctions of our House—not for the sake of difference but because the two Houses should complement, not replicate, each other.
There is much more that I could say but now that we have a process with the establishment of the Leader’s Group, I think it more appropriate that I make my views known to that group. I do not envy the group in its task of prioritisation but, undoubtedly, it has an important task before it. This House has made great strides forward over the recent period, with a new code of conduct, a standards commissioner and, I hope shortly, new arrangements for the financial support of Members of your Lordships’ House. The work of the group announced today will add to that progress. I look forward to that work starting and producing proposals for this House to consider.
My Lords, I can say one thing without doubt: the first real improvement in working practice is that today I am privileged to be the first to be called on the Back Benches. I hope that that tradition continues indefinitely.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for convening the debate and for adopting a positive attitude towards the question of working practices in this House. I welcome, too, the fact that he is setting up the Leader’s Group to study these matters. I speak as someone who has been a member of one of the three committees—which has been working under the title of Strengthening Parliament—and it is from that experience that I wish to contribute a few views. However, I do not think it would be right to do so without putting into context my view on the broader picture of the Government’s proposals for reform of the Lords.
I start from the concept stated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the powers and role of the House of Lords is likely to remain the same. That puts a heavy onus on the Government and the committee under the Deputy Prime Minister to convince us that an elected or partially elected House will lead to improvements—I use the word “improvements”—in the capacity of the House to revise, scrutinise and persuade the other place to think again. At present, I think that the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for improvements and modernisation of an appointed House are the right way forward. The present policy of the Government looks like a form of populism in order to appease an electorate who are genuinely dissatisfied with Parliament. The Deputy Prime Minister’s description of this House as “an affront to democracy” illustrates this point. What are most needed are hard-headed, practical, unexciting adjustments to improve the performance of this House on behalf of the public. We in this country tend to be better at the rolling, pragmatic, incremental and more coherent evolution of the way in which we operate. In the past decade or two, we have fallen short of that. Our approach has often been shoddy and incoherent. I go along with the view of Edmund Burke, that we should have a,
“disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve”.
I cannot resist reminding the House of the vicar father and his English son travelling through Nebraska. The son said to his father, “You know, Dad, you can fit the United Kingdom into Nebraska”, to which his father said, “To what end, dear boy?” That is the question that we have to ask on every aspect of reform that we consider. We cannot, of course, afford to be complacent; we cannot afford to be self-satisfied in our procedures at any time and we have a duty to the public. But we should acknowledge that there have been many adjustments, in the past decade for example, to the working practices of this House.
The cross-party groups which have been looking at working practices have produced a wide range of ideas, some of which will be acceptable to the House, some of which will not. They are all worth examining as a way to improve the performance of this House. They range from recommendations to improve the scrutiny of primary legislation to ideas for strengthening the means of challenging the Executive more effectively and improving our internal governance and accountability. Many of these thoughts need looking at seriously by the Leader’s Groups.
Without examining all the proposals, which I have no intention of doing, I shall make one or two reflections on them. First, there is a continuing tendency on the part of successive Governments to produce too much legislation. Often, that legislation is badly thought out. It has become too much of a virility symbol for Ministers that they must produce a Bill. But when you look at the quality of the Bill, you really should question it. One of the proposals to come out of the committees’ work is that Bills should be much more fully justified before they are brought before Parliament for examination.
Secondly, there continues to be—it was the case in my day when I was a Member of the other place—a complete lack of contact and understanding between the two Houses. I hardly ever came to this Chamber in 21 years in the other place. But if we are discussing these reforms, including overall reform, there needs to be a much better mutual understanding of how we work. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the working groups recommended a more bicameral approach to many of the issues that we are tackling. I acknowledge that the coalition Government will follow up with a Joint Committee to look at the overall proposals for reform of the House.
The third factor is to redress the balance between the Executive and the legislature. Here, although our procedures are different, we should seek encouragement and learn from the work of the Wright committee in the other House in the previous Parliament. There are certain ideas there from which we, too, can benefit. We had only to see how refreshing, for example, were the recent cross-party elections to the Treasury Select Committee. The proposals of that committee to have more say on the part of the Back Benches in business management of that House are also relevant to this House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the usual channels are an essential lubricant to business, but I also think that Peers on the Back Benches need to have more influence on the management of the House.
My fourth point is that public ignorance of the Lords is profound. Here, we need to seek ways in which we can involve the public more effectively in the affairs of the House. Again, in these working groups there is a recommendation that we should produce proposals for public evidence hearings on some kinds of legislation; there will be other ways to pursue this matter.
Fifthly, the time is coming—I am glad that this has been acknowledged—when the Lord Speaker’s powers should be looked at. There are arguments for extending the powers of the Lord Speaker, perhaps in certain, somewhat limited ways. I will come to the governance point which refers to the Lord Speaker in a moment, but here I come to something which I realise is controversial in this Chamber and where a lot of people, who have had far more experience, would not agree with me. However, for my part I find Question Time pretty undignified. Possibly it is because the attendance in the Chamber has got much bigger and it is much more difficult to handle self-regulation in that way. While I am totally in favour of self-regulation, for my part it makes much more sense for the Lord Speaker of the day to have the say, as opposed to a partial part of the House—even though the Government are totally trustworthy—deciding which group should be called upon next. That might help a bit to get rid of the slightly undignified aspect where sometimes the person who shouts the loudest is the one who gets in.
On the question of non-legislative matters, I would ask the House not to underestimate the value of topical debates. I have been very fortunate to have had two topical debates in the past two years, which I think have brought some influence to bear on government decision-making. The proposal in the working groups that topical debates should be part of a regular weekly one-hour procedure, at whatever time of the week is agreed as being the most suitable, should be adopted. We should have a more coherent system for that.
I come to the question of governance and accountability, which is my last point. I do not know whether I share this with very many other noble Peers, but my ignorance of the governance of the House was almost total until I joined the committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Murphy. I say without hesitation that this House is certainly very lucky to have the present incumbents who look after its governance, led by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and his team of colleagues. However, we need to be not only a self-regulating House but one with a credible system of self-governance which will command public confidence and meet acceptable standards in today’s age. I, for example, do not feel that I can criticise the Press Complaints Commission as much as I could if I am not quite confident that we have the right self-governing system.
The Institute of Government has produced proposals —I think it was last week—for the governance of the other place: for the commission and the Board of Management to be more open and transparent; for a role for non-executives and for the national audit committee; and for occasional external reviews or financial health checks. It would do us no harm to look at those kinds of things to see whether it would strengthen our own systems of governance. At the same time, there is a case for looking at our lines of accountability. I ask myself what would have happened had there been a police raid on one of my noble friends in this House, as opposed to the other place. Would we have had clear lines of accountability and responsibility for dealing with that? I am not absolutely convinced that we would.
There is a strong case, as we recommend, for the Lord Speaker to provide leadership for the strategic governance of the House and to chair the House Committee with an open election system for that committee and the ability occasionally to co-opt if it needs outsiders to help it in that work. At least we should undertake an independent review of our governance system. I for my part welcome most warmly the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in setting up the Leader’s Group.
My Lords, it is for me personally a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in this debate. We have been in partnership together more than once; he was for a long time my parliamentary private secretary and a ministerial colleague. His own career has been so diverse and distinguished that he is in himself one of the best advertisements for this House. He served in the colonial service for some years and resigned from that on a point of principle. He also had the privilege of serving alongside my noble friend Lord Carrington and, for different reasons, resigned from that, too. He then came back to a second career as a Foreign Office Minister and then, when that came to an end, became a Minister for arts. When that came to an end—I think that I have this sequence correctly—he became vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, governor of Gibraltar and Lord Chamberlain. There are not many legislators in many legislatures in the world who can match that kind of career, and we welcome him most warmly. I agree with almost everything that he had to say in his speech.
I have only a very modest point to make in this debate, not addressing a number of the issues already raised but addressing the simple question of whether we will make the best of the resources in this House that can serve us in so many different ways. I set the context with a rather unusual quote from the San Diego Law Review, from tax law professor, Alice Abreu:
“If taxes had existed in the Garden of Eden, the Serpent wouldn't have needed an apple; the promise of a simpler tax system alone would have seduced Eve”.
That could be said again and again. We are always looking for a simpler tax system or a way of delivering such a thing. A lot depends on the perceived scale and nature of the taxes themselves, the objectives and the philosophy. A great deal depends on the mechanism for making, scrutinising and enacting the law, changing monetary objectives into intelligible legislation.
This is clearly an area where Parliament as a whole has a very important part to play. Every professional and business institution has offered some prescriptions as to how we might improve it. Two basic prescriptions have emerged—first, that there should some kind of agency at least semi-detached from government to keep in mind the objective of tax simplification, to prevent Chancellors letting their imagination run away with them or inspectors of taxation achieving the same effect and producing great complexity. That is one need on which there is agreement. Secondly, we should have the right parliamentary institutions for tackling the enactment of legislation. There have been a number of recent commissions and bodies that have made recommendations about those things. My noble friend Lord Forsyth presided not long ago over a Tax Reform Commission, whose report was entitled Tax Matters. I was invited to undertake a much humbler organisation, a working party to study the methods for making tax simpler. We both agreed with the prescription that has generally commended itself to many other people. The Government have now announced that we need something like an office for tax simplification, an independent body to focus on that all the time.
The second conclusion reached by all these bodies is the necessity for a Joint Committee of Parliament on tax legislation. I emphasise the word “joint”. That is almost universally supported by all the organisations outside the Government that have considered this: the CBI wants such a Joint Committee, as do the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Financial Studies. The reason for that, I am sad to say, was set out some years ago by Sir Alan Budd in one of the earlier studies as long ago as 2003. He and his colleagues had this to say:
“The truth of the matter is that the House of Commons has neither the time nor the expertise nor, apparently, the inclination to undertake any systematic or effective examination of whatever tax rules the government of the day places before it for its approval. The irony of the Commons’ failure is that, because current constitutional arrangements allow the House of Lords no participatory role in the scrutiny of tax legislation, taxation legislation receives less Parliamentary scrutiny than other legislation. The criticism of Parliament implicit in this statement is not new. Parliament has rarely attracted praise for its role in enacting tax legislation. The longevity of this problem, however, is no reason for the continuing failure to address it”.
As I say, there has been very little dissent and disagreement about the general nature of what needs to be done. A few weeks ago we had a response to that set of specifications from Her Majesty’s Government in the document produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tax Policy Making, where the Government propose, among other things, two things. The first is, in order to promote simplicity, to create an independent office for tax simplification, with further details to be announced shortly. I say hurrah to that. The second proposal, in order to provide for greater scrutiny, is for the Government to publish more tax legislation in draft to allow for pre-legislative scrutiny. That is all right. Then, hesitatingly:
“The Government will welcome any consideration by the Treasury Committee”—
that is, the Treasury Committee of the other place—to review how to strengthen the role of Parliament in scrutinising tax legislation. The point that I make today so clearly is that that consideration by the policy committee in the other place must, if it is to be effective, be to the conclusion that all others have reached. We need a Joint Committee of both Houses because thereby we shall be able to mobilise alongside what is, alas, a relatively slender body of people with qualifications in the other place. Professional politicians have increasingly dominated it, and it is a far less well informed place on tax policy than it was 20 or 30 years ago in the days when it was almost fun to join the Finance Bill Standing Committee, with a range of experts doing combat against, for example, the capital transfer tax.
If my noble friend will forgive me, I am just making a point. I may find a slot where I can make way for him.
The point that I am making is that it is important to have both Houses represented in this joint parliamentary body if we are to make the Lords’ talent as available as it should be, and if we are to encourage the Commons’ talent to work together.
I have one last point but I am curious to know what provokes my noble friend.
My Lords, for those of us who are less expert in these matters than my noble and learned friend, will he tell us whether the legislation he is speaking of would have no financial content? I assume that tax legislation always has numbers in it. If that is the case, would it not always be subject to a Speaker’s certificate as being a finance Bill? In that case, how does my noble friend see the other place reacting to his proposals?
I am not quite sure that I follow the nature of my noble friend’s question, to be honest. It must be either so penetrating that I am overwhelmed or so obscure that I am completely innocent.
Let me come to my final point. The anxiety of the other place at seeing us becoming involved in the joint study of this question is that that would in some way encroach on its legitimate and important financial privileges. That is fundamental; indeed, it may be the point about which my noble friend was asking me.
I am delighted that I have inadvertently answered my noble friend’s question as well as asserted my principles.
Great care has been taken to prevent such fear of encroachment. Some years ago, this House established a Finance Bill Sub-Committee of its Economic Affairs Committee. There was anxiety in the other place then that the fact that this House was studying finance at all, even with an attached condition, would risk encroachment. When this House decided to establish that sub-committee, there was an accompanying prohibition. The House decided,
“to prohibit the sub-committee from investigating the incidence or rates of tax and to allow it only to address technical issues of tax administration, clarification or simplification”.
That was designed to address the concern on the part of the other place. The Cunningham committee—the Joint Committee on Conventions of the UK Parliament —concluded:
“The Lords committee should continue to respect the boundary between tax administration and tax policy, to refrain from investigating the incidence or rates of tax and to address only technical issues of tax administration, clarification and simplification. Provided it does so, we believe there is no infringement of Commons financial privilege”.
Since then, our Finance Bill Sub-Committee has gained a good track record of scrutinising separate and important aspects of the past five or six Finance Bills. It has published its reports in time for consideration at Report stage in the Commons. Both in and out of Parliament, the reaction to its participation has been distinctly positive.
The case that I am making, lest it be at all obscure to my noble friend the Leader of the House and, indeed, to the House as a whole, is that here is an opportunity for the House to enlarge its role and to take part in the Joint Committee of Parliament that the Forsyth commission recommended and which everyone else would like. It is another opportunity for us to exploit our ability in an effective way. I hope that this idea will be accepted with good will in the other place as well as here. That ends my, I hope, tolerably clear presentation of what I was trying to say.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for facilitating this debate and very much welcome the tone in which he set out the issues and raised the prospect of real reform.
I am contributing to this discussion conscious that I am still, relatively speaking, a new girl, having joined your Lordships’ House only four years ago. I am also very much aware that greater minds than mine, many of whom are speaking today, were working away on these issues for a considerable period prior to my arrival. Nevertheless, in the hope that I could at least bring something of a fresh perspective, I agreed to join the small working group on procedural reform established by the Labour Peers and chaired most ably by my noble friend Lord Grocott. Our discussions ranged widely but ultimately focused narrowly on some practical recommendations for reform that could complement the incremental changes that have already been made and which could be introduced quickly. I commend the recommendations to your Lordships.
It seems to me that any procedural reforms should meet two key criteria. First, they should enable wider participation in the work of this House to take maximum advantage of the wealth of wisdom and experience that undoubtedly exists here. Secondly, they should help the outside world better to understand our processes so that we become more accountable, more accessible and more transparent.
In that respect, I have to confess to having been mystified and occasionally alienated by some of the more arcane procedures with which I had to come to terms when I first joined this House. Since then I have become quite affectionate towards some of the rituals and ceremony that distinguish our work. I suppose some might say I have gone native. A key objective should still be to deliver proper respect for our history and traditions, but not when they get in the way of effective participation and scrutiny. In this context, I highlight the following recommendations from our report.
First, it is true that Question Time is, in many ways, very popular and it is certainly well attended. However, it is far from inclusive and sometimes downright scary. It has the capacity to hold Ministers to account, yet many of the noble Peers best able to do so would not dream of participating in what sometimes degenerates into an undignified shouting match. I am grateful for the research provided by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, which unearthed that in the previous Session, of the 3,039 supplementary questions asked, almost half were asked by the same 57 Peers. There appears to be no tradition of giving way to those who speak less often and, as a result, questions can be repetitive and predictable. At the same time, as the Leader of the House acknowledged, there is inevitable pressure on the Front-Benchers responsible for order to demonstrate that they are not being partisan—which, frankly, some achieve better than others—while, at the same time, they have their back to half the Chamber.
Part of the solution to this problem requires a change in culture rather than procedure. Perhaps, for example, if we issued a questionnaire to those in the Visitors’ Gallery, asking what they thought of the spectacle, the outcome might shock us into a change of behaviour. In the mean time, I hope noble Lords will take on board the more practical solution in the Grocott report—to take advantage of the Lord Speaker’s undoubted authority by transferring responsibility for order and conduct to that position for a trial period. This has the added advantage that the outside world already believes that this is the Lord Speaker’s role.
Secondly, there is an urgent need to streamline the Committee stages of Bills. As a relative newcomer it has been a struggle for me to distinguish on occasion between the Committee and Report stages, with their endless opportunities for repetitiveness and near identical speeches, whereas the legislative stages in the other place appear much more transparent. This repetition is most marked when both the Committee and Report stages take place in the main Chamber. As our report pointed out, there are physical and deliberative reasons why the Committee stages of a Bill are better suited to debate in Grand Committee. The layout allows better communication and is less partisan, and the slightly more informal style allows Ministers and participants to get to the heart of the issue and work through solutions.
As the Leader of the House recognised, it has previously been recommended that all but the most important government Bills should be dealt with in Grand Committee and I very much endorse this view. I also endorse the view that using rooms other than the Moses Room for Committee stages of a Bill—and even allowing morning sittings—should be considered. Interestingly, one of the facts that came to light as we were debating these issues was that the Commons currently spend up to a third more time scrutinising and revising individual Bills than we do. If we are to justify the added value of a second, revising Chamber, we have to set aside the necessary amount of time to deliver effective scrutiny, use the right facilities and use that time wisely.
Finally, I add my voice to the campaign for the Lords to carry out post-legislative scrutiny. There is currently no authoritative process for reviewing the effectiveness of legislation. Did it achieve what we had intended? Were there any unforeseen consequences? Did those at whom it was aimed really understand what was required of them? Were the resources made available for the legislation to be properly enacted? I could go on, but I am sure noble Lords will have their own list of questions they would like to be probed in a follow-up to legislation being passed. One small example quoted in our discussions is that we always seem to require new bodies which we set up to produce an annual report as a way of holding them to account. What is the cost of those reports? Are they actually produced and, if so, who reads them?
The point is that we are too quick to pile on new layers of legislation without taking stock and learning the lessons from the Bills which have already been passed. I know that some will point the finger at the previous Government as a sinner in this regard, but we were not the only culprits. You have only to look at the forthcoming Bills listed in the Queen’s Speech to realise that nothing much has changed.
Your Lordships' House is ideally placed to carry out a post-legislative function with the aim of improving the quality of legislation in the future. Obviously, this would need to be taken up proportionately; for example, it would not be possible to subject all Acts of Parliament to this process. But a suitable process of scrutiny by a post-legislative committee could provide real learning benefits for both Houses. I hope that it will be given serious consideration.
These are relatively modest but practical examples of the changes that could help to modernise our procedures and, in so doing, make us more relevant and effective. As I said at the outset, we should measure reform against the need to widen the participation of Peers and increase public understanding. I believe that these proposals, as well as those contained in the report of my noble friend Lord Filkin, would achieve this.
From the debate so far, there appears to be a growing consensus for reform. I hope therefore that the outcome of this debate will be more than congratulatory words and that, in summing up, the Minister will be able to set out a precise route map, with timescales, for taking these issues forward.
NHS: White Paper
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the future of the National Health Service. The NHS is one of our great institutions and a symbol of our society’s solidarity and compassion. It is admired around the world for the comprehensive care it provides and for the quality, skill and dedication of its staff. I begin today by paying tribute to the staff of the NHS and the commitment they show to patients.
This Government will always adhere to the core principles of the NHS; a comprehensive service for all, free at the point of use, based on need not ability to pay. This principle of equity will be maintained, but we need the NHS also consistently to provide excellent care. The NHS today faces great challenges: it must respond to the demands of an increasing and ageing population, advances in medical technology and rising expectations; it remains stifled by a culture of top-down bureaucracy, which blocks the creativity and innovation of its staff; and it does not deliver outcomes in line with the best health services internationally—many of our survival rates for disease are worse than those of our neighbours. The NHS must be equipped to meet these challenges—we believe it can do much better for patients—so today I am publishing this White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, so that we can put patients right at the heart of decisions made about their care; put clinicians in the driving seat on decisions about services; and focus the NHS on delivering health outcomes that are comparable with, or even better than, those of our international neighbours.
For too long, processes have come before outcomes as NHS staff have had to contend with 100 targets and more than 260,000 separate data returns to the department each year. We will remove unjustified targets and the bureaucracy which sustains them. In their place, we will introduce an outcomes framework to set out what the service should achieve, leaving the professionals to develop how. We should have clear ambitions, and our approach to this will be set out shortly in a consultation document. For example, our aims could be: to achieve one and five-year cancer survival rates above the European average; to minimise avoidable hospital-acquired infections; to increase the proportion of stroke victims who are able to go home and live independently—in short, care that is effective, safe and meets patients’ expectations. The outcomes framework will be supported by clinically established quality standards, and the NHS will be geared across the board towards meeting them. We will do this by rewarding commissioners for delivering care in line with quality standards; strengthening the regulatory regime, so that patients can be assured that services are safe; and reforming the payment system in the NHS, so that it is not just a driver for activity, but also for quality, efficiency and integrated care.
Patients will be at the heart of the new NHS. Our guiding principle will be, “no decision about me, without me”. We will bring NHS resources and NHS decision-making as close to the patient as possible. We will extend personal budgets, giving patients with long-term conditions real choices about their care. We will introduce real, local democratic accountability to healthcare for the first time in almost 40 years by giving local authorities the power to agree local strategies to bring the NHS, public health and social care together. Local authorities will also be given control over local health-improvement budgets. This will give an unprecedented opportunity to link health and social care services for patients.
We will give general practices, working together in local consortia, the responsibility for commissioning NHS services, so that they are able to respond to the wishes and needs of their patients. This principle is vital, bringing together the management of care with the management of resources. With commissioning support, GPs collectively will lead a bottom-up design of services.
In addition, we will introduce more say for patients at every stage of their care, extending the right to choose far beyond a choice of hospital. Patients will have choice over treatment options, where clinically appropriate, and the consultant-led team by whom they are treated. They will have the right to choose their GP practice. And they will have much greater access to information, including the power to control their patient record.
We must ensure that patients’ voices are heard, so we will establish HealthWatch nationally and locally, based on local involvement networks, to champion the needs of patients and the public at every level of the system.
To achieve these improvements in outcomes, we need to liberate the NHS from the old command-and-control regime. So all NHS trusts will become foundation trusts—freed from the constraints of top-down control, with power increasingly placed in the hands of their employees; and we will allow any willing provider to deliver services to NHS patients, provided that they deliver the high-quality standards of care we expect from them.
Our aim is to create the largest social enterprise sector in the world. But it is not a free-for-all. Monitor will become a stronger economic regulator to ensure that the services being provided are efficient and effective, and that every area of the country has the NHS services it needs to provide a comprehensive service to all. The Care Quality Commission will safeguard standards of safety and quality.
An independent and accountable NHS commissioning board will be established to drive quality improvements through national guidance and standards to inform GP-led commissioning. The board will allocate resources according to the needs of local areas, and lead specialised commissioning.
In the coming weeks, detailed consultation documents will enable people to comment on the implementation of this strategy, leading to the publication of a Health Bill later this year.
I recognise that the scale of today’s reforms is challenging, but they are designed to build on the best of what the NHS is already doing. Clinicians are already working to facilitate patient choice—giving patients the information they need to make an effective decision. GP consortia are already established in some areas of the country, and ready to go. Local authorities in some areas are already working closely with local clinicians to co-ordinate health and social care, and improve public health. Payment by Results already gives us a starting framework for building a payment system that really drives performance. Foundation trusts are already using the freedoms that they have to innovate.
We will build on this progress, not dismantle it. With this White Paper, we are shifting power decisively towards patients and clinicians. We will seek out and support clinical leadership. That means simplifying the NHS landscape and taking a further, radical look at the whole range of public bodies. We will reduce the Department of Health’s NHS functions, delivering efficiency savings in administration costs. We will rebalance the NHS, reducing management costs by 45 per cent over the next four years, and abolishing quangos that do not need to exist, in particular if they do not meet the Government’s three tests for public bodies—shifting more than £1 billion from the back office to the front line.
Form will follow function. As we empower the front line, so we must disempower the bureaucracy. After a transitional period, we will phase out the top-down management hierarchy, including both strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. Later in the summer, we will be publishing a report setting out how we see the future of NHS-related quangos. I can say now that this will mean a reduction of at least a third in the number of such bodies. This is part of the wider drive, across government, to increase the accountability of public bodies and reduce their number and cost. The dismantling of this bureaucracy will help the NHS realise up to £20 billion of efficiency savings by 2014—all of which will be reinvested in patient care.
Today’s reforms set out a long-term vision for an NHS which is led by patients and professionals, not by politicians. It sets out a vision for an NHS empowered to deliver health outcomes as good as any in the world. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. It was certainly a help to me to read the contents of the White Paper in the Daily Telegraph and in other media outlets over the weekend. However, the coalition Government must recognise that it is far from satisfactory that Parliament should be the last place to learn about matters of such importance.
In opposition, the Conservatives promised that there would be no more pointless reorganisations. The Prime Minister gave this promise to the Royal College of Nursing last year. The coalition agreement states:
“We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care”.
However, now it is in government, the coalition proposes the biggest structural upheaval in the NHS for 60 years —for which GPs are unprepared, which NHS staff do not want and about which patients were never asked. Inevitably, my first question to the Minister is: why have the Government broken their word on this matter? The Minister will be aware that I have never said that there was not more that could be done to make the NHS better, or indeed to give more say to patients and clinicians.
In the past two weeks, there have been two sources of independent comment on the effectiveness of today’s NHS. A couple of weeks ago, the Commonwealth Fund said that the changes Labour had made had given the NHS a fantastic rating on quality, and that it was the most efficient health service in the world. I am sure that we all welcome the report published today on the survival rates for sufferers from bowel, lung and ovarian cancer. It shows huge progress and experts have said that this is due to the waiting guarantees that Labour introduced on access to cancer specialists, so that people have their cancers diagnosed early. Of course, that is another part of the system that Andrew Lansley is now wiping away. My question is: why is this great upheaval necessary when we have a health service that is providing good care to the vast majority of people and when waiting times are as low as they have ever been? Does this policy mean that there will be a grave risk that the NHS will go backwards?
This Statement is full of “coulds” and “might bes”: it is remarkably lacking in doing words. If the coalition Government had found an appalling situation, as we did in 1997, they might have had some justification for radical solutions; but this is not the case. The White Paper and the Statement talk throughout of building on the work done by the previous Administration, which is all well and good, and which I welcome, but I am very sorry that, in our view, it has led them to the wrong conclusion.
Today, the NHS is not on its knees. We saved it by investment and commitment to its values. A period of stability is needed so that energy can be focused on the financial challenges ahead and to do that it needs a confident and motivated staff to continue the development of the many services that we initiated; for example, specialist trauma services; the reconfiguration that has been necessary to deliver stroke services; the co-ordination of partnerships to make the best use of expertise for diabetic care at local level; and the investment in and the building of special expertise for kidney dialysis so that more people can look after themselves at home.
What will happen to all those services which require regional and local strategies and—a matter close to the heart of many in this House—how will the many hundreds of GP practices in London cope with the way in which TB manifests itself and spreads in London? A pan-London strategy is needed. How will a bottom-up service cope? It would be unsurprising if people conclude that this White Paper and the proposals that it contains are ideologically driven. That is why there is a betrayal of the promises that were given by the coalition. With that betrayal one also has to take a second glance at the patient voice mantra that we hear from the Secretary of State. We have to question whether that is a convenient cover for a concerted attempt to change completely the way in which healthcare is delivered in this country and is part and parcel of the determination of the Conservative Party to shrink the state. It is best to be honest about such matters and I ask the other partner in the coalition to say whether that is its view too.
Many will believe that this is tantamount to the privatisation of the commissioning function of the NHS. Will there be any restrictions on the use of the private sector to support GPs? Added to that, the Government are bringing in a series of market reforms for hospitals. The Secretary of State has previously admitted that his plans would allow hospitals to go bust. Can he confirm that if a foundation trust got into financial difficulty he would step in to protect it, or would he allow it to fail? Even more important, if all the NHS delivery is done through foundation trusts, what will that mean for patients?
Frankly, I do not believe it is good enough to conduct a huge experiment on an organisation that is delivering for its patients an improving service. The staff of the NHS do not need years of uncertainty about the future of their organisation and their jobs. The NHS needs confident, motivated staff, but today the noble Earl has opened up uncertainty for the 1.3 million people who work for it.
Let us turn to accountability for £80 billion of public expenditure. I ask the noble Earl to confirm that the Treasury also had something to say about accountability in this respect. GP practices are mostly small enterprises; they are small businesses. If, for example, another network of small businesses, such as the Federation of Newsagents, was about to be handed £80 billion of public money from the Treasury and told to spend it how it liked, I suggest there might be some small concern. We support a strong role for GPs but we have to question the wisdom of wiping away oversight and the handing over of £80 billion of public money to GPs, whether they are ready or not.
We are not alone in our concerns about this. Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, says that only about 5 per cent of GPs are ready to take over commissioning responsibility. So what will happen to the other 95 per cent? Sir David Nicholson has judged that even the best GP practice-based commissioners are only about a three out of 10 in terms of the quality of their commissioning and that is not good enough to give them £80 billion of public money to spend. So what sound evidence does the noble Earl have that 100 per cent of GPs are ready, willing and able to commission services for the entire population?
The Statement talked of rewarding commissioners who hit outcomes. Does that mean yet more money for GPs and, if so, how much?
How many jobs do the Government expect to be lost, and how much money have they put aside for redundancy costs? What guarantees can the Minister give the House that people will not simply be paid off by the NHS to be re-employed, doing the same job, by someone else? Crucially, where is the public accountability and the accountability to Parliament? The Patients’ Association has said that nothing can replace the accountability of the ballot box. I absolutely agree, and I invite the noble Earl to join me in that support.
How will GPs be held to account for the £80 billion of public money for which they will be responsible? Chris Ham of the King’s Fund has questioned whether the independent NHS board, the world's biggest quango, will be able to hold more than 500 GP consortia to account in an effective fashion. What does it mean for the accountability to Parliament if the Government go ahead and set up the NHS board? An annual report is not sufficient. Those of us who work with a lot of voluntary organisations in the health sector know that they will not think that that is sufficient. MPs at the other end of the building will really think that that is not sufficient when they want to raise questions asked by their constituents.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken for nine minutes. I thought, and it has been my experience in 30 or 40-odd years in this House, that you are supposed to ask questions concisely, not to make a 10-minute speech—because I see that she has some more pages to read.
We are the Opposition, and the only Opposition here. I have asked five or six questions so far and I have more.
That leads us to look at the bureaucracy involved in the proposals. The White Paper has managed to unite progressive views in opposition to it with the unlikely figure of Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail. She wrote:
“Oh dear. The last thing that's needed right now is yet another massive reorganisation, which may well incur even greater costs … it could mean yet more paperwork - and that GPs would be likely to demand more money for the additional responsibilities”.
In my experience, PCTs are staffed with decent, hard-working public servants who care greatly about the NHS and its patients. How does the Minister think that they felt when they read the quote from a senior Department of Health source—I apologise to the House for the language—who anonymously briefed the Health Service Journal this week, and said:
“PCTs are screwed. If you’ve got shares in PCTs I think you should sell”.
Is that any way to treat staff who have served the NHS loyally? What does the Minister think about bureaucracy. The Government may find that what they think of as bureaucracy is the system for accounting for the expenditure of public money. Can the Minister tell me precisely how the replacement of 130 PCTs by more than 500 GP practices and consortia will reduce bureaucracy and paperwork?
The White Paper represents a roll of the dice that puts the NHS at risk in a giant political experiment with no consultation, no piloting and no evidence. The sadness is that the Government are taking an £80 billion gamble with the great success story that our NHS is today. Of course we welcome positive change and benefits for patients. We saved this NHS. At a stroke, this Government are removing public accountability, demoralising NHS staff at a time when we need them. For patients, it opens the door to a new era of postcode prescribing which will vary from street to street. We know that the streets and the patients who will suffer most are those whom we on this side of the House are determined to defend. We will be challenging the proposals along those lines.
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful for the noble Baroness’s questions, although I have to express considerable disappointment that she finds so little to commend in the White Paper, which to me is a very exciting document, and one which builds in many important respects on the structures which her Government put in place. Lest it be thought otherwise, I am the first to knowledge the improvements in the health service which the previous Administration effected. They did so with the benefit of a great deal of extra public funding and no doubt we should be grateful for that. The problem that we perceive is that despite the progress that was undoubtedly made during the 13 years of the Labour Government, one thing did not keep up with funding: the outcomes that we saw emerging from that increased investment. The fact is that we are not matching the performance of our counterparts in Europe in a number of respects: in cancer survival rates and an array of other conditions. That has to change. We have asked ourselves how we can best deliver those outcomes and the quality of care that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, envisioned in his strategy when he became a Minister. We want to build on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, and we believe that this programme of action will do that.
Our plans for GP consortia are very much based on practice-based commissioning arrangements and clusters. Our plans for economic regulation build on the work of Monitor. Currently, many of the functions of the NHS commissioning board already exist within the Department of Health. We are carving them out and slimming them down by stripping out avoidable layers of management. We have always been clear that we want to have GP commissioning, and our plans are the logical extension of that.
I must comment on the noble Baroness’s first remarks about the leaks to the press. I very much regret them. We do not know where they came from and are making the kind of investigations that she would expect. Our policy and our aim are always to make announcements of this kind to Parliament in the first instance. I am sorry that that has not happened in some cases. The press coverage has not been accurate in all respects.
I hope that when the noble Baroness digests this White Paper, she will come to view it rather more favourably than she has indicated. She suggested that our proposals are ideologically driven. There are only two pieces of ideology here: the desire to continue the quality agenda that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, started and a desire to bring health and social care much closer together. The proposals for the role of local authorities will achieve that and, at the same time, they will introduce a greater degree of democratic accountability. Accountability will operate on several levels, and the noble Baroness asked me about it. There will be accountability to Parliament through the Secretary of State via the NHS commissioning board, which will hold GP consortia to account for the money they receive. At a local level, there will be accountability through HealthWatch and local authorities. That dimension of local authorities’ remit to enable them to have a say in the planning and configuration of services at a local level is a very important development because it will enable public health, social care and the NHS to be looked at in the round.
The noble Baroness asked whether we envisage any limit on the use of the private sector by GP consortia. The principle that we will adopt is that GP consortia should take on as much responsibility as they wish. The national commissioning board will support them in developing the necessary expertise but, if they want to, we are proposing that they should be able to seek support from elsewhere, including the private sector, within their budgets. In no sense are we proposing a privatisation of the NHS. In particular, lest anyone should think otherwise, our proposals for foundation trusts do not do this. I refer noble Lords to paragraph 4.21 of the White Paper, which makes this unequivocally clear.
There are certainly risks in managing the transition. Indeed, managing risk is not a new problem in the health service—it has happened since time immemorial—but the NHS chief executive and Ministers are extremely mindful of the need to control and manage risks, particularly during the transition. David Nicholson has set out the framework for implementation, with clear plans to minimise risk such as shadow-running bodies for a period of time.
It will take time for these changes to become fully embedded. That is a good thing. We recognise that not all GPs will be able to go at the pace of the fastest, and those who are not in the vanguard will be supported appropriately, but we are clear that GP commissioning is the way forward. It will align decision-making for clinical care with decision-making for financial flows. These are segregated at the moment. If you bring them together, commissioning is much more likely to be cost-effective and in the better interests of patients. While I recognise that the noble Baroness has anxieties, I hope that my colleagues and I can reassure her over the weeks and months ahead that this is a programme to be excited about, rather than the reverse.
My Lords, does the Minister recall and accept that I have said on a number of occasions in the past few years that what the NHS needs least is another major reorganisation? We have been beset by too many reorganisations over the years, but, having made that point, I should say that there are many valuable things in this White Paper on which we shall all wish to reflect over the coming months before the legislation is laid before the House. The development of outcomes, measurement and framework is very important.
There is also a case to be made for making all trusts foundation trusts, but only if Monitor and the Care Quality Commission have the strength and improved ability to monitor behaviour so that we avoid the kind of disasters that have occurred in one or two foundation trusts in the past few months.
I have said on a number of occasions that the NHS is beset by the activities of an intolerable quangocracy. There are far too many quangos, which have the right to examine and assess the performance of health service bodies, and a reduction in the number of these will be very valuable. However, we wish to know which quangos the Government have in mind. Valuable, too, will be the reduction in bureaucracy.
Many of those who are so proud of the NHS have major concerns about the GP-commissioning element of the White Paper. No doubt the Minister will remember GP fund-holding under the previous Conservative Government, which was not a great success and had to be withdrawn in the end because it failed to fulfil the objectives. I know, and the Minister will agree, that a number of general practitioners are very enthusiastic about this idea, but many are deeply concerned and anxious about the new responsibilities that will be imposed on them. What administrative support will the GP consortia be given to enable them to fulfil this very arduous responsibility? Is it really right that every form of regional strategic planning should be abolished? What is to prevent overambitious foundation trusts embarking on programmes to bring in highly expensive—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. He will know that our plans do not constitute reorganisation for its own sake. The only purpose of the reorganisations that we are proposing is to embed higher-quality practice and better outcomes for patients, and for no other reason.
The noble Lord asked several questions about GP commissioning. As he will know, the previous Administration introduced practice-based commissioning more than five years ago. Some consortia are doing an excellent job, but many GPs have been frustrated by not having clear responsibility and control. They find very often that PCTs get in their way rather than help them. I think that it will be music to their ears that they will be able to create structures and management systems for themselves that will help them rather than get in their way. We are going to enable them to learn from the past. We are engaged in talks with the profession about how we implement the change, which will, I emphasise, be bottom up.
The noble Lord also referred to GP fund-holding, which as the House will know was a policy introduced by the Conservative Government. There were good points and bad points about fund-holding. The good points were that it empowered GPs and, in many cases, delivered good quality care. But the criticisms revolved around high transaction costs, bureaucracy and, in many ways, inequalities that resulted. We want to avoid those pitfalls. The support that GPs will get will not be prescribed from the centre. A range of support is already available for commissioning, including PCT teams, local authorities and independent commissioning support organisations. There will be no shortage of help out there.
My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House, as invited, that this is a brief Statement. We have 20 minutes all together and we are already five minutes in. Many people want to intervene on this extremely important Statement, so if people can be brief we will be able to cover as much as possible.
My Lords, the Minister talked about an NHS that was stifled by top-down bureaucracy. Given the impressive outcomes that we have seen with improvements in cancer treatment, I do not think that many people would recognise that story. Does the Minister accept that medicine is a fast-changing field where innovation needs to be translated into practice on the front line as quickly as possible? Does he further accept that there needs to be leadership in a complex system like this if patients are to have access to the improvements in innovation and care? How does he see that leadership working?
How will patients be represented throughout the system? For example, how will they be represented at the NHS board? How will GPs ensure that they can access fairly and without bias the views of all their patients, not just those they see regularly? How will GPs translate those patient perspectives into commissioning in line with this new strategy that the local authorities will be responsible for developing? I want to hear the Minister answer that important question in some detail.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point about innovation. We are clear, as is the White Paper, that driving innovation through the system will remain an extremely important part of what we mean by quality. The QIPP agenda is alive and kicking. For those noble Lords who are not familiar with the acronym, QIPP stands for quality, innovation, productivity and prevention. The innovation part of that will be driven in several ways, not least by the NHS commissioning board, which will have access to sources of advice from NICE, the NHS quality board and many other sources. But we also plan to put in place incentives in the tariff, which will drive innovation and high-quality care. Our proposals for those will be forthcoming.
The noble Baroness asked about patient representation. She was absolutely right about clinical leadership, but she was also correct to say that we need to ensure that the patient’s voice is heard at every level of the health service. At the local authority level, there is no doubt that Health Watch will have a presence as the voice of local patients. We are also creating a national Health Watch, which will act as the national voice for patients, feeding directly into the Care Quality Commission so that assessments of quality can be informed by patient experience on the ground. We are not planning in any way to dilute the duty under Section 242 of the 2006 Act to involve patients in the configuration of services. It is important that local people feel that they have a say in the way that services are developed. Our proposals for this will be laid out in an engagement document that is to be published in a short while.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Earl, and in particular the fact that it builds on many of the best innovations developed by the previous Government such as the commitment by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, to clinical excellence as the lead factor in the development of services. What I also welcome is that, unlike under the previous Government, the default position is that power will be vested in local communities rather than with the Secretary of State, particularly the commitment to ring-fenced funding for public health and, even more so, having a public health strategy that includes mental health.
I have two questions for the Minister. The first concerns the choice of provider. A large section of the paper emphasises the right of patients to choose a provider. Is it not the case that, in order for there to be a choice of provider, there has to be overcapacity in the system? Can the noble Earl tell us what estimate the department has made of that, given that the White Paper also talks about the challenging financial position in which these plans will go forward? The second question concerns a statement in the papers that the Government intend to create the biggest social enterprise sector, which no doubt will be welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, as doing such a thing was also a policy of her Government. Can the noble Earl explain whether that means that many, if not most, of the existing providers of health services will cease to be providers of those services in the future?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her positive comments. On public health, she will see in the White Paper that we will be publishing a further White Paper later in the year specifically about public health. Quite deliberately, there is only limited information on that subject in this White Paper. As regards choice of provider, she will see in the White Paper that our policy is clear: it is a policy of “any willing provider”. That means that any provider who is able to provide services to the NHS at the right level of quality and at or below the tariff will be allowed to do so. However, as I said in the Statement, this will not be a free-for-all because providers, if they provide services to the NHS, will be subject to the scrutiny of Monitor, and there will be a joint licensing system between Monitor and the CQC in respect of financial systems and quality, so that those providers who offer their services to the NHS will be regulated on a level playing field. I shall take away the concern she raised at the end of her question, and if I have not covered it adequately in my answer, I will write to her.
Does the Minister accept that this is not a reorganisation of the National Health Service being proposed by the Government, but a balkanisation of that service? Did he not notice the lack of enthusiasm for these proposals of those on the Benches behind him, particularly his junior partners in this alliance? Where is the sense in taking away powers from primary care trusts and strategic health authorities and giving them to individual GPs—ironically, to those in the one group who are not employees of the National Health Service? How will it be possible to continue with a unified National Health Service throughout the United Kingdom if hundreds, if not thousands, of GP practices all promote their own ideas in their own specific areas? These proposals will kill the National Health Service, as the Government well know. Why their allies are supporting them, only they will know.
My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord’s question was but I profoundly disagree with his analysis of the proposals before the House. Far from killing off the National Health Service they will give it added life. What is the National Health Service about? It is there to serve patients. If we take as our guiding principle that patients matter more than anyone else—more than the system and more than PCTs—and that we want to take care of patients in the best possible way, we need to enable doctors and patients, working together, to take ownership of the patients’ state of health and to take decisions together. If you arrive at that conclusion, the structures that we are proposing are the logical outcome. The noble Lord’s concerns are for the system, which has often got in the way of patient care. The whole point of these proposals is to remove those obstacles. I hope he will have cause to change his mind as he reads the White Paper.
My Lords, I preface my three questions by declaring that I am the chair of an NHS trust. First, does the Minister think there is scope for organisational reconfiguration, to use an awful phrase, to contribute to the achievement of the Government’s objective of higher quality in a cost-effective way? Secondly, if he does, does he think—as I do—that such experience as there is suggests that the road to such reconfiguration is strewn with bureaucratic obstacles, delays and unnecessary costs? Thirdly, if he agrees with that, will he do something about it?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There is no doubt scope for reconfiguration but we are not going to prescribe it from Whitehall. The structures that we propose in the White Paper will facilitate reconfiguration in a much more coherent and structured way on a local level because, with the buy-in of patients, local authorities will have a major say in the way in which services are configured, as will GPs, acting in consortia, jointly. The key issue is whether reconfiguration makes sense from a clinical perspective. Politicians are not in the best position to decide that. Having said that, there will be occasions when people will be unable to agree at a local level and we have plans to cater for that situation: ultimately, the Secretary of State will stand as arbiter in such difficult cases. However, in the majority of cases, we see decisions as properly lying at a local level.
I have two brief questions. First, in the Statement the Minister referred to outcomes. Given that secondary care sometimes has patients—sadly too often—referred late because of delayed diagnosis in primary care, how is the clinical care of the general practitioner going to be held to account in this system? My second question relates to the Minister’s mention of “any willing provider”. What security will there be to ensure that a provider cannot introduce a loss-leader service with clearly defined boundaries in order to gain a market share, and to prevent complex and difficult cases not covered by that provider being dumped on the NHS? This has been the experience with some private practices where patients are in private hospitals but, when things become too complicated, they are shipped down the road to the local NHS intensive care unit.
My Lords, the noble Baroness identifies two particularly important issues. How will GPs be held to account for the clinical care that they provide? The data emanating from their performance will be transparent and published. The consortia will monitor the performance of each practice. They will identify outliers, whether good or bad, and act accordingly. We do not have those information systems sufficiently in place—I hope that, over the next 18 months or so, there will be time to develop the systems needed for consortia to do this—but it is vital that GPs are held to account for their performance and they will be incentivised in their remuneration to provide high quality.
The noble Baroness made an important point about loss leaders among providers. The NHS commissioning board will license a provider only if it is satisfied that the quality of care delivered by that body is of an adequate standard. I think that the board will look with great care at the practice of introducing loss-leader services and rule out, if there is any doubt at all, quality being compromised in the process.
My Lords, I warmly welcome some of those ideas in the White Paper that build on the previous Government’s reforms such as choice and competition. However, is the Minister aware—as am I from my own experience as a Minister—that many in the NHS do not wish to be liberated? What will be his approach to those areas where GPs’ consortia do not live up to the standards required of the commissioning board? What will he do to ensure that we do not lose the benefits of regional specialised commissioning, which it has taken many years to bring to the level of quality that exists today?
My Lords, I shall be brief because time is against us. I agree with the noble Lord that we must not lose the gains that we have made in specialised commissioning following the Carter reforms. He will see that the national commissioning board will retain responsibility not only for national specialised commissioning but for regional specialised commissioning. That will safeguard the quality of those services.
The noble Lord referred to GPs who do not wish to commission or who are in some way found wanting in their performance. Our experience to date—a number of consortia have been formed around the country, all of which are working encouragingly well—suggests that those GPs within the consortium who are in the lead and are the most go-ahead are best placed to bring up to standard their colleagues who are perhaps struggling. We have witnessed that in a number of instances. Those GPs who are incapable of being brought up to an adequate standard may be subject to a question over their future. In certain consortia, we have seen GPs retiring from NHS service.
House of Lords: Working Practices
Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, perhaps I may cross the bounds between the Statement and what we are about to debate by drawing attention to the recommendation of the Back-Bench Peers’ informal group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, that time for Statements might best be found in the Moses Room or in Grand Committee. However, this has been an extraordinarily important Statement and I know that the whole House will have listened to it with great interest.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for announcing at the beginning of the debate that a Leader’s Group would be established to consider its substance and, I assume, many of the reports which have preceded it, including those of the three informal groups established by Back-Benchers, which have produced a range of extremely important and detailed recommendations—and which there is certainly not time to cover in a debate of this kind. I also thank the Lord Speaker for the important address that she gave to the Hansard Society last December on strengthening Parliament. She put forward a number of propositions, the relevance of which is clear and which ought to be among the first matters to be considered by the Leader’s new committee.
In particular, however—here I hark back again to the Statement—we ought to know whether it is procedures, processes or outcomes that we are most concerned about in considering these issues. In the Statement that they have just made, the Government have taken the view that outcomes are more important in the National Health Service context than processes. I beg to suggest that it is important that in considering the reform of our processes we are clear what we are trying to achieve. There is a degree of ambiguity about this. It was made somewhat clear by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in her remarks that we must be complementary to the workings of another place. Sometimes, that may seem like taking crumbs from the rich man’s table; sometimes, it may seem as though what is required is for us to pick up the ball when it has been dropped in another place.
I suggest that this ad hoc approach is really not appropriate for a modern Parliament and that there ought to be a much clearer delineation of the roles of the two Houses. Of course, we touched upon that in our recent debate on the reform of composition and powers and I do not wish to go over that ground again, but we have to know what is in mind before we can judge the suitability of the changes of process. It seems to me that that needs to be made explicit by the Leader’s Group both before it starts operating, so that the evidence it takes is geared to answering that question, and in its final report on how it sees these process changes actually assisting the goals which it has set out.
In her speech, the Lord Speaker made the point—it was a very valid point—that when one House changes its way of working it has an effect in the other. She particularly spoke of the timetabling of legislation in the Commons leading to the Lords taking on its line-by-line scrutiny role. We are told, and reference has been made to it in this debate, that another place is considering the recommendations of the Wright committee. While that is good, it affects what we do here. It therefore seems to me that we cannot at this point in time consider more than a number of discrete proposals that might have immediate relevance. We should certainly not attempt to rewrite the Companion or any of the guidance in a wholesale manner. That would be untimely, not least of course because of the wider debate on powers and composition but also because we do not yet know how another place will tackle its role and what should be the complementary role, at the very least, that this House plays.
I ask my noble friend how the Government see the interaction with the other place during these discussions. We should not simply tweak our timing here and there, whether we sit during the Summer Recess in September or take on certain ways of handling prelegislative scrutiny, which we can do only in an interim fashion until we know what prelegislative scrutiny arrangements may be favoured in another place. What we should be determining today is how we interrelate in these discussions with another place. I would have hoped that we might have some kind of Joint Committee with another place to consider how best to distribute the work between the two Chambers. Yes, second-guessing is sometimes of value, but separation of functions and priority to one House for one set of issues is to be preferred to always second-guessing. As we have discussed, money Bills are primarily for another place, but in this place there are some areas of policy that our procedures should allow us to take particular account of and be apt in delivering the outcomes. I hope that we will look at that. We have heard from the Leader of the House that the mandate or remit of his committee will be very wide. It would help us a little in feeding into that work to know exactly the areas or topics that it would consider appropriate for evidence purposes.
One subject that I would suggest the committee considers, because it has not been considered anywhere else in this House, as far as I am aware, although I cannot possibly cover all the recommendations made by these three significant sub-committees or Back-Bench informal groups, is a post-legislative review. That is crying out for attention. We have had a lot of talk about overlegislation; it in a sense pre-empts the consideration of legislation that has ceased to be of value. We should also consider the flagging up of legislation mentioned on both Front Benches that has not been properly considered in another place. That is of very great importance because we cannot allow Bills not to be properly considered. There may be difficulties in determining procedurally what is appropriate to flag up, but that is a very significant task, and it is a new constitutional development because the practice of timetabling has become so much more common.
The noble Baroness, in opening the debate from the opposition Benches, raised a number of issues on which I support her. She was right to draw attention to the number of occasions on which this House has carried amendments to legislation that have gone unchallenged subsequently. The quality of the input into that scrutiny depends upon the expertise and knowledge of those who are participating in the debates. As we move towards a differently structured House, it may be necessary to make different procedural arrangements to ensure that evidence is taken on a more standard basis in pre-legislative scrutiny and during the passage of legislation if this House is going to do more than replicate the political arguments that may have been heard already at the other end of the Corridor. These are wide matters but what I am most interested in hearing in the conclusion of this debate is how the Government propose to open this discussion up to evidence and ensure that its wide remit is fulfilled, answering all the many questions and suggestions that have been made.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having provided this opportunity for discussion on the case for reviewing the working practices and processes of your Lordships’ House. I think that all who greatly value the bicameral parliamentary system that we enjoy welcome this opportunity for discussion.
There is no doubt that your Lordships’ House works well and I strongly believe, from my short experience here, that it has delivered well for the people of our country. It is important, however, that we review our practices and ensure that we are able to provide most effectively the functions that the people of our country expect of us. In this regard, all three areas that were covered by the cross-party groups that reported in March this year are important, but I shall confine my comments principally to the scrutiny of legislation.
I was compelled by the suggestion that there should be a committee that looked at legislative standards. This is important. It would be a sad situation to have a parliamentary system that did not expect of the Executive careful thought regarding what legislation was being brought to Parliament and what each part of that legislation was expected to achieve. It is also important that we look at how scrutiny of legislation is undertaken between the other place and your Lordships’ House. It is clear from the debate that we have heard so far that changes to working practices in the other place are under review, and it is important that those changes are well understood when we look at how we might change our working practices and processes in your Lordships’ House. Will the Minister be able to make some reference to how questions of changes in practices in the other place and in your Lordships’ House might be considered together so that at the end of this process, which may take some time, we have the most effective strategy for the use of Parliament across both Houses?
The flagging of clauses that have not been properly scrutinised in another place is important, and I wonder if that could be addressed more quickly. With a new Government, a lot of legislation will be coming to this House, and for your Lordships to be more effective we need to be able to identify where we should put our efforts to ensure that the people of this country ultimately enjoy the very best laws after a period of careful scrutiny.
The next issue is post-legislative review. This has not always been at the forefront of the minds of either your Lordships or Members of another place, but it is terribly important. The people of our country must be confident that as laws are passed and they start to be implemented, there is a body in this Parliament that determines whether the laws indeed achieve the purpose that was originally set out and that all the time, effort and expense have been for a good and rightful purpose. A way of identifying that early on would also be a useful approach to improving legislation as it passes between the two Houses and eventually becomes law.
The debate about reviewing the working practices of your Lordships’ House is important, but it is part of a continuum. In the short time during which I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House, we have seen the adoption of a new Code of Conduct and the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards, and we are in the process of reviewing the finance and allowance arrangements for Members of the House. Taken with the vast range of proposals that will now be dissected and eventually agreed on by the Leader’s Group, these changes should show that your Lordships’ House is committed to reform, but reform to ensure that this House remains and is improved as a Chamber for scrutiny and revision of legislation, working with the Government of the day to ensure that the people of this country enjoy the very best laws.
This debate is somewhat different from the one that we had some weeks ago on the question of membership of your Lordships’ House, so the final point on which I seek some clarification is how the two processes will run together. The process of looking at working practices will be taken forward by the Leader’s Group, but it will be considering issues at the same time as your Lordships’ House receives the draft Bill on creating a predominantly or fully elected second Chamber. How will we ensure that these two important pieces of work have appropriate time for consideration in your Lordships’ House and that they do not cancel each other out or result in a situation that looks somewhat inappropriate and implausible to those who are looking from the outside at what we are trying to achieve?
My Lords, I have shared responsibility for the arrangement of business as a Whip in both Houses over more decades than I like to think about, both in government and in opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, this debate is part of a continuum. The procedures and practices of your Lordships’ House have been under almost continuous scrutiny and change for the past decade and more. That is well set out in the Library note issued before this debate, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition pointed out.
I welcome the setting up of the committee by the leaders to consider these matters, but I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Kakkar, that there is a problem with how this fits together with the proposals for changes to the constitution of your Lordships’ House. The proposals that are before us—from the four reports and so on—are all for changes to the present House. A fully elected House would both need and want different procedures to reflect the fact that the elected Members would each have to take an interest in a far wider range of questions—those issues that concern their constituents—than your Lordships currently do. We each have our interests and, for the most part, we do not interfere with others.
The time pressures on an elected House are much greater, as those of us who have been involved in the management of or been Members of the House of Commons know well. That is why the other place has, over the years, adopted guillotines, the selection of amendments, the grouping of amendments and all the other things for speeding up the business and trying to fit more into the time available.
In considering procedure, we should recognise clearly that the provisions that are appropriate to a House such as your Lordships’ House, which contains a large number of Peers who are high in expertise on specific matters, are very different from those that are appropriate to a House in which everyone has to take at least some interest in practically everything. Of course, if this House were to become a hybrid House—partly elected and partly appointed—it would need hybrid procedures, as it were; it would need some parts from both. Even that would mean a significant change to the procedures and practices of the House. It is important to remember these differences, particularly when considering the adoption of some of the Commons practices.
I was surprised to read in the report from the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that the usual channels are considered opaque. The usual channels are defined in the Companion with some care. I was a member of them as opposition Chief Whip from 2001 to 2007. The results of their daily and more or less continuous negotiations are announced to the House in the form of agreed business, together with frequent Statements to the House by the government Chief Whip about particular modifications and what is happening. Speaking with personal experience only of my party, and with only hearsay from the other parties and the Cross Benches, no one is more accountable to the members of their party than a Chief Whip in the Lords.
Every week the Chief Whip reports to the party group—the Association of Conservative Peers in our case—the results of the usual channels’ discussions on the business of the House, is openly questioned and pressed on various matters, and has to do his or her best to respond to what is said and wished for. Every week the Chief Whip also has a private meeting with the officers of the Association of Conservative Peers. What is more, every day the Chief Whip is about the House, open to informal questioning or lobbying. I can assure noble Lords that Members approach the Chief Whip every five minutes, it sometimes seems, about one matter or another. They do not always say the same thing; they press alternative views and different points, which is the central difficulty. It is impossible to please everybody all the time. All you can do is try to please as many people as possible within your group for as much of the time as you can.
The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, acknowledged, as has been said, that some process of this kind is necessary to lubricate the business of the House. That is right. The Chief Whip, the Leader of the House and the leaders of the various other parties are under pressure from other directions—from the Government themselves, the other place and their colleagues. These are pressures to which the Chief Whip and so on are subject, in a sense, on behalf of the House. There are many other people who are interested in and affected by the progress of legislation, as well as the membership of your Lordships’ House.
It is suggested that it would improve the transparency of the usual channels if the Leader of the House were to have a weekly question time. I think that is an error. Such a procedure would not have the intended consequence. The Leader would quickly be asked questions designed to score political points, not to elucidate information about the scheduling of business. Those who have listened to Leader’s Questions in another place know exactly what I mean. Every week the Chief Whips and the Convenor are formally questioned in the group meetings. That is the better way to proceed. By the way, this is a highly detailed point but the usual channels are nothing to do with the refreshment department’s hours, as is suggested in the report, except to suggest to the refreshment department when the House is likely to be at its fullest. That is obviously right.
As I say, one cannot please all the people all the time. That applies in spades to appointments to committees. All appointments to official committees of your Lordships’ House are put to the vote on the Floor of the House. It is very rare that any amendments are made when the recommendations come forward. That is because of the very wide consultation which takes place between the parties about balance and the individuals who might serve. The difficulty is that Peers are reluctant to serve on some committees and have to be persuaded to do so. On the other hand, other committees are extremely popular and the difficulty is to select the right people to serve on them. There are a lot of other proposals in the various reports—far too many for me to respond seriatim. I record my support for the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and for his proposals on tax simplification. However, as I sat on his working party, I suppose that I could be expected to support those.
To my mind the most important recommendations are those concerning pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. There are some valuable proposals there. I should also like to see renewed consideration of how Bills are drafted. A very important report by our late lamented colleague Lord Renton was published a few decades ago. The recommendations of that excellent report have never been properly implemented by any Government between then and now. Like others, I am strongly in favour of a self-governing House but wish to make it clear that that obviously calls for self-discipline and self-restraint. However, that is not the whole thing—self-governing means that the House is governed by everybody in it and that we are all responsible for the rules being followed not only by ourselves but by other people as well. Peers can, and should, draw attention to possible breaches which they think may have occurred, either openly in the Chamber or in the committee—that is sometimes done—but also privately outside if somebody has said something which is not within our normal rules. Each of us is responsible for all of us in a sense. I remember very well—as I am sure some of your Lordships do—the occasion when the late lamented Lord Russell thought that a Minister had been rude to him and invoked the Standing Order on asperity of speech. We all voted on whether the Clerk should read that Standing Order. The vote was carried and he did. Lord Russell was a notable expert on your Lordships' customs, but that is not something which should be allowed to fade entirely into oblivion. Let us adapt our customs but do so in a thoughtful manner, conscious of the unintended consequences.
My Lords, the Leader of the House with his customary suaveness has shot the fox that a number of us were pursuing, in that we expected that we would have to spend some time arguing the case for a Leader’s Group with wide terms of reference. He has taken the wind out of our sails and I am delighted that he has done so. This must, of course, mean that our debate will finish that much sooner this evening, which will be a comfort to us all.
I will confine my remarks to two points: first, the working group on the scrutiny of primary legislation, which has been referred to previously; and, secondly, some points on governance. First, the cross-party group, of which I was pleased to act as convener or chair, set out a number of recommendations. I shall speak to the most important of those, which has been touched on briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. It is essentially the argument that, before legislation enters this House, the Government should commit to ensuring that it is properly prepared and ready for this House. This, of course, causes no fear to the Leader of the House as his party, like mine, was never guilty of a sin in that direction, as I am sure he will concur. However, to be more serious, all parties sin in this respect at times. I think the paper is suggesting that, before legislation is introduced, the Government should have set out: the policy argument and evidence as to why they are legislating; the underlying policy objective that the legislation is part of a process of achieving; what they seek to achieve—in more specific terms, what success might look like and by when—and the processes by which they will achieve those objectives, of which legislation is of course only a small part in many cases.
The purpose of all that is not to be tedious and to employ civil servants, but to try to ensure that when this House is scrutinising legislation it does not just dive for the detail of clauses—which it must do, of course—but looks at the larger picture and actually holds the Government to account as to whether their policy objectives are clear and whether or not they are likely to achieve them. We spend little time in our legislative scrutiny processes on such an agenda, but we spend a lot of time repeating—as has been mentioned —the detailed, clause-by-clause element. We would be better served if the process I described were to be carried out. It is not that difficult. It would do for primary legislation essentially what the Merits Committee already does for secondary legislation. There should be a set of standards set by the Cabinet Office which the Government of the day say they would seek to fulfil, and the House should have a process looking at whether those standards are met, and make a report at Second Reading.
Is the noble Lord suggesting that that is a job for the existing Merits Committee or for a separate committee?
There could be a separate committee; the Merits Committee is quite busy enough already and its focus is different.
The process that I am talking about would logically apply only to legislation that started in the Lords, because it would be slightly strange for this House to say, “We have looked at this Bill. It does not seem to us to be ready for legislation”, when another place had spent a lot of time on it. That may be slightly self-denying, but it is almost common sense. We could hardly argue for reversing a process that was already under way. Therefore, the process would not apply to a lot of legislation, but it ought to apply to all Lords starters.
Let me say a few words about governance—the principle, not the detail. I hope that the argument that the House should review its own governance does not need making. I assume—and I hope that I am right, given the warm tones with which the Leader spoke—that the governance review will be part of the working group that he announced would be set up as a Leader’s Group.
Why we need to review our governance does not need labouring. We have not had a happy year or two and we do not have the confidence of the public. I will not provide statistics; there are plenty of statistics as to how this House is seen, and they are a disappointment and a point of regret for this House, because most of us believe that we generally do a good job. The challenge for the House is to ensure that we meet the high standards expected of a public body. That goes beyond whether we think that generally we are good chaps and do a good job, to whether the wider public think and understand that our governance is: transparent; comprehensible to them and us; instils confidence in them, or at least in the informed public; and is well able to prevent—or, if not, address— crises, because crises will occur in the future as they have done in the past.
Noble Lords can tell by my tone that I am not taking a view that all our governance is self-evidently flawed, but it needs to be reviewed and needs to be seen to be reviewed thoroughly and thoughtfully. That is even more important because, as has been mentioned by many speakers, we are a self-governing House. Self-governing institutions start with a problem, because most of the public believe that it is difficult to be judge and jury in your own court. It is difficult to convince the public that we keep separate our personal interests and the wider public-policy interests that the institution serves. I will not labour the point, but noble Lords can see why we might feel that we have a case to prove. I shall not go into grisly detail on that, but it is a fact that self-governing institutions have a harder case to make that they actually act in the public interest than have that public interest tinged at times by the interests of players. I make no sweeping accusation about the House, but that perception increases the challenge for us to be seen to carry out a proper review.
While we have had many reviews, I cannot see any evidence in recent times of a proper review of the governance arrangements of the House. Therefore, such a review would look at the governance of finance—because as a House we will be challenged on that—and at performance.
Finally, to have confidence that a review process was well done, it would be desirable for the Leader’s Group to ask someone independent from the House to cast an eye over what we have learnt about good governance standards from Cadbury, the Audit Commission and elsewhere, and bring back, without making it a long business, a short report to the Leader’s Group on what the process looked like from the point of view of an outsider of eminence and authority by comparing our governance standards against the standards that can be found in other public bodies and public companies. That would accelerate the discussions about governance and give confidence to those outside who had an open mind that we were treating this process seriously.
I thank the Leader again for his clear statement and thank all those on my group and others who worked to advance a little of the agenda that I am delighted we are now discussing seriously.
My Lords, one of our new colleagues asked me last week how it was that the House was self-regulating when there were so many things that he could not do. That led us to talk about self-regulation starting one step back from day-to-day procedures but it being important that the process should take the House with it when agreeing what our procedures and rules should be. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I have been thinking about some of the things that Lord Russell used to talk about. He felt strongly that if we had a Speaker with a role similar to that of the Speaker in the Commons, we would all rapidly begin to behave rather badly. We would push at the boundaries and wait to be pulled back, and our behaviour would worsen significantly.
I do not know whether my noble friend’s “Hear, hear” was a comment on the rest of us or himself.
There has been a band of brothers and sisters working energetically on these issues, many of whom are speaking in this debate and are to be congratulated. I should like to speak mostly about the “what”—what we do—rather than the “how”, but it is time to review the role and remit of the Lord Speaker, because if we do not do that now, it will be some time before we can do it. We are coming to the end of the first term of the Lord Speakership. I doubt that its role and remit will make it into the manifesto of candidates in future campaigns for the Lord Speakership or that the House would welcome that. We would not be comfortable turning the election of an individual into a referendum on the role.
Four years ago, we resolved to elect our own “presiding officer”—that was the term. The outside world and many inside the House would expect a presiding officer to have more of a role within the Chamber. Self-regulation has meant that Question Time, for instance, has become quite a noisy affair, as other noble Lords have mentioned, and the logic of the government Front Bench rather than the presiding officer acting as the traffic warden is not obvious to everyone. If we are to look at the role of the Lord Speaker, some changes to the role of the Deputy Speakers would naturally follow, but, as the governance group identified, there is scope for the development of their roles, and what was once a logical distribution of work between the Chairman of Committees and the Deputy Speakers may no longer apply.
Huge strides have been made, many at the instigation and under the guidance of the Lord Speaker, in demystifying the work of the House. One of our guiding principles—this was very much the thrust of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—should be not just transparency but intelligibility and accessibility. Democracy demands this. At a time of reform, there is a danger in being seen as having our gaze fixed on our collective navel, and we should be aware of what the public expect and want—although I am aware that they are not one homogeneous entity. Much of this comes down to common sense.
One thing that most people would expect of any organisation is that it reviews and evaluates what it has done to help it in future. That is why I am keen to see a development of the scrutiny of legislation both before and after its enactment. I declare an interest as a co-president of the Centre for Public Scrutiny. Most of us are alert to this House being complementary to the House of Commons—and we are all spelling “complementary” with an “e” this evening. This House is particularly suited to undertaking the work that many noble Lords have described. Parliament has a role that is distinct from government. I am perhaps the first this afternoon to say that we have a coalition Government, not a coalition Parliament. It is inevitable that Back-Benchers on the government side will be teased if we say anything mildly critical of the Government, but I have never seen scrutiny as equivalent to opposition. If you are on the government side, you hope to be a critical friend. Friends and opponents working together can do a very good job of scrutiny. Both want to test a proposal; the opponents because they want to show that it will not work, the friends because they want to ensure that it will. That was an observation that I gleaned fairly early on when I was chair of the London Assembly, the main job of which is scrutiny of the executive in London.
I hope that we will be able to extend our pre-legislative scrutiny. Once we in this House get stuck into a Bill that has had only partial attention in the Commons, we can be like terriers; but by this stage—and this applies also if the Bill has started here—Ministers are defending rather than debating. Positions are polarised, and that is not a good basis for taking forward a discussion. It might be easier for the Government, which is one reason why Parliament and not the Government should determine which Bills are presented in draft. Pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are part of the same process, each building on the other. Identifying how legislation might have been better should feed in to improving it in future. It is a frequent complaint that Government do not let legislation settle down before introducing the next tranche. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred at the start of the debate to the quantity of legislation. Teachers, school governors and LEAs have been wearied by 33 education Acts in the past 26 years. Health has had 35, criminal justice 108 and the constitution 123. I am not arguing that these were all bad, but neither were they all good.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned the Digital Economy Act. We all have our candidates for post-legislative scrutiny. Freedom of information and data protection might well be high on the list, because the world that they were addressing has changed technically and politically. The previous Government committed themselves to reviewing legislation after three years. As I understand it, the current Government intend to continue this. I am not sure whether this refers to three years after enactment or after commencement. What might come out of post-legislative work could be the flushing out of the number of Acts and sections within Acts that are not in effect. It is very confusing—again I am taking the point of view of a member of the public—for those who need to know day-to-day what sections are actually implemented. My noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who is the new chair of the Delegated Powers Committee, would have made that point had she been able to be here this evening. Review by the Government is not the same as scrutiny. It is not a substitute for cross-party consideration of the operation of legislation, hearing from stakeholders, questioning Ministers, considering whether the legislation is fulfilling its purpose and whether the costs, risks and benefits were properly and accurately identified.
As I have said, this Chamber is complementary to the House of Commons. Our work could be done in conjunction with the House of Commons, or, if the Commons is not inclined to do this, separately, being mindful of what the Commons does not find time for. There is a case for a committee separate from the Commons Select Committees, because a specialised committee could develop expertise and perhaps be in a better position to disseminate best practice across the board. I am not arguing that every Bill should go through the process. We need to find the right balance. The workload is not negligible, and nor are the resources needed, but I hope that the Leader’s Group will look at the mechanisms available and perhaps, as a first step, undertake a scoping exercise.
I am lucky enough to have been appointed recently to the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. Not everyone would say that was luck, and the size of the first agenda was a facer. However, as a Member of the House who has taken advantage of the committee's work in the past and who is now a member of the committee, I endorse it. Requiring both Ministers and civil servants to justify secondary legislation should lead to better practice. With around 1,100 statutory instruments a year, we need formal, structured attention, not a haphazard response relying on luck rather than management. In the short time that I have been a member of the committee, I have been very impressed by the workload carried by those officials who support the committee and who do a lot of thinking for us. It takes particular skill to give a critique while remaining on good terms with those you are critiquing, in this case the departments. However, they manage to carry through work that reflects the joint approach that we want to operate properly within our terms, even if we do not share policy objectives. There is a case for post-legislative scrutiny, including post-implementation reviews of statutory instruments.
None of this is groundbreaking: it is common sense and what the public expect. It should not be seen as threatening what is good about the way in which we work. If the message is to be got over, we will also need to work with the media. When I have said this before, in effect the comment has been, “steady on”; but they are part of the way in which our democracy operates. What is common sense but also novel in the UK Parliament, though not in other parts of our constitution, are procedures that recognise the changed political configurations within the Chamber. The public pretty much support political parties working together, as two of us now are, but they also expect us calmly to tweak the procedures to fit the new reality. I take issue briefly with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who referred to an inbuilt government majority. That is not the case—I will not say “unhappily not the case”. The first vote of the Session made that clear.
Scrutiny is not a second-class activity: good government needs good scrutiny. I congratulate those who have done so much work. There is a lot more that could be said, but I will regulate myself and say simply that I hope that the House can do justice to all the work that has already been done.
My Lords, speaking as a member of the Merits Committee, I can assure the noble Baroness that, as the Session progresses, she will find that the agenda gets considerably longer.
I very much welcome this debate and I congratulate my noble friend on initiating it. Like him, I take the term “working practices” as an all-encompassing one. Working practices exist for a purpose. My starting point therefore is to address the basic principles that should guide us in determining those practices. First, we need to establish the purpose of Parliament and the relationship between the two Houses, as several noble Lords have already said. This point is fundamental, both to the debate about the composition of this House and about its structures and procedures. Parliament is the body which calls Government to account. The Government are the body that crafts public policy and is responsible for the administration of the state, but does so within constraints imposed by Parliament. Parliament sustains the Government but it also scrutinises them to ensure that their measures, as well as their actions, are appropriate and that they justify approval. To fulfil those tasks, it needs appropriate resources. Its fulfilment of those tasks is enhanced, both in terms of effect and legitimacy, by being carried out openly and through engagement with people outside the Palace of Westminster.
The value of Parliament is maximised by having two Chambers that work in such a way as to complement one another. The difference between the two is a particular strength of our political system. The House of Commons is the body through which the Government are chosen and the body that, by virtue of being elected, constitutes the grand debating arena of the nation. It is the place where the battle between the parties is fought. MPs are returned to support their party and to argue the case for that party. Election affects fundamentally the terms of trade between the parties. The parties fight it out in the full glare of national publicity. Partisanship is intrinsic to the way the House operates. The other place, quite naturally, focuses on vote-winning exercises. Members' legitimacy in fulfilling their tasks derives from election.
This House is very different. By not being elected, there is not the same clash between the parties. By not being elected, Members do not need to achieve high profiles for the purposes of promoting their parties and their own re-election. This House can complement the other place by fulfilling tasks essential to Parliament, but tasks for which the House of Commons lacks the political will, time or sometimes the resources to fulfil.
In addressing our working practices, we thus need to recognise that we are not here to emulate or to challenge the ultimate authority of the elected House. Rather, we exist to add value by fulfilling tasks that play to our strengths and enable the other place to focus on those tasks to which it gives priority. This House complements the other place by engaging in rigorous and detailed scrutiny. The other place determines the ends of public policy and devotes some time to examining the means. This House focuses primarily on the means.
Our legitimacy for engaging in detailed examination derives from the experience and expertise of Members. I cite in aid the findings of the Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by the Constitution Unit at University College London and carried out in 2007. The survey found that considering legislation “carefully and in detail” was ranked as very important in determining the legitimacy of the House by 73 per cent of those questioned. Having many Members who are experts in their field was also ranked as very important by a majority of respondents.
That is my first point. That establishes our core functions. If we are to fulfil our functions effectively, then we need to have appropriate structures and procedures in place. Who, though, determines those structures and procedures? How do we ensure that they remain the most appropriate? How do we review them on a regular basis?
This House does a good job in fulfilling the functions I have mentioned. We variously point out how good we are at legislative scrutiny, not least relative to the other place. We have various procedural advantages which are denied to MPs, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde outlined. Yet in some respects we are in danger of being left behind by the other place. Public Bill Committees are now utilised by the House of Commons. Government Bills not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny are sent, after Second Reading, to evidence-taking committees. We have procedures for sending Bills to evidence-taking committees, but, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde mentioned, very rarely use them.
We need to review our practices, but the mechanisms for doing so are rather clunky. Our means of review are occasional and reactive. Our working practices start to look a little worn and Members recognise that there may be a case for reviewing them. What happens? We have to press for a review, for example, through a Leader's Group. There is a growing recognition that we need to develop our committee structure. What happens? A Member or Members of the House write to the Liaison Committee asking it to recommend the creation of a committee. In short, we lack the means for examining what we do on a holistic and continuing basis. The Liaison Committee has recently reviewed the committee structure and generated criteria for assessment. That is a welcome development, not least given that the criteria take into account the relationship between the two Houses. However, we need to go further.
Our committee structure has developed on an ad hoc basis. We need to examine whether there are gaps that can usefully be filled by committees in this House. What cross-cutting issues receive no systematic parliamentary examination? Can our committees be reconfigured and form part of a coherent committee structure? We need a body that can engage in such reflection. Not only that, we need a body that can review the committees of this House and our working practices generally and do so on a continuing basis. We have nothing equivalent to the other place in being able to do so. Our Procedure Committee is essentially a reactive body. We need something like a permanent Leader's Group, one that comprises Members from all parts of the House, is empowered to set its own agenda and to take evidence. Then and only then can we ensure that our working practices remain effective and efficient for fulfilling our core purposes.
It is essential that we make use of this opportunity to press for such a committee and in the interim to identify those changes that will strengthen our working practices. As has been mentioned, we have the reports from the three working groups that reported at the end of the previous Parliament. I served on all three and I endorse the recommendations that they produced. They are well targeted for ensuring that this House fulfils its functions. In the time available, I wish to identify three changes relating to legislation that have been recommended and that will enable this House to play to its strengths in undertaking detailed scrutiny. In so doing, I shall reinforce some of the points already made by noble Lords.
The first is the recommendation of the working group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that a committee on legislative standards be appointed to advise the House on whether a Bill meets an agreed set of criteria on legislative standards and Bill preparation. This strikes me as eminently appropriate. It fills a gap in the existing legislative process and it plays to the strengths of this House. It fits very much with what the public expect of this House. Such a committee has the potential to identify best practice and to help to raise the standard of legislation in this country.
The second relates to a Bill once it has been introduced. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, recommended that each Bill should, at some point during its passage through Parliament, be subject to examination by an evidence-taking committee. Since then, the other place has introduced Public Bill Committees. What flows from this, as recognised by the group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is that a government Bill starting life in this House and not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny should be referred to a temporary Select Committee. That would bring us into line with the other place.
I add one qualification. We should not preclude the possibility of following the same procedure for Bills brought from the Commons. There are problems with the Public Bill Committee procedure in the other place—not least the limited time between evidence taking and commencing consideration of amendments—and some Bills may be unduly rushed or not even be submitted to such evidence-taking.
My third point relates to post-legislative scrutiny, a point on which several noble Lords have touched. The Constitution Committee, in its 2004 report, recommended that post-legislative review be introduced and that reviews undertaken of Acts be submitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Government referred the recommendation to the Law Commission. The commission endorsed the recommendation, including the creation of a Joint Committee. The Government accepted the recommendation for post-legislative review, and, as has been mentioned, most Acts are now reviewed three to five years after enactment. However, no action was taken on the proposal for a Joint Committee. The Filkin group has reiterated the case for a Joint Committee. Like the Constitution Committee, it recognises that if there is no interest in the other place in setting up a Joint Committee, this House should establish such a committee.
For the reasons I mentioned earlier, there may well be little interest in the other place in a Joint Committee. It is not politically high profile; there is no scope for partisanship and attracting votes. It again is something that would play to the strengths of your Lordships' House. It would enable post-legislative reviews to be considered in Parliament and for best practice to be identified.
It is important for such a committee to be created fairly quickly. That is for two reasons. The first is that several post-legislative reviews have already been published, including on anti-terrorism legislation and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The second is that, at a time of austerity, there is the danger that the Government may view suspending post-legislative review as an easy way of reducing costs. If they do, we revert to the situation where Ministers see success in terms of Royal Assent—getting a measure through—rather than in terms of the effect it has. Creating a committee on post-legislative scrutiny, which need not be particularly resource-intensive, will be a step towards improving the quality of legislation in this country. Again, it will play to the strengths of this House.
The arguments I have just outlined for a committee on post-legislative scrutiny also apply to the case for creating a committee to examine treaties—an essential step, in my view, following enactment of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.
There is a great deal that we can and should do to strengthen our working practices. There are clear and compelling recommendations from the three working groups. Those recommendations need to be set within a clear conceptual framework of the purpose of this House in our political system. We need to be clear as to what we are here to achieve, and we need to have in place mechanisms that enable us to keep our structures and procedures vibrant and efficient. This debate is a starting point, or at least one step on the road, to achieving that. By playing to our strengths, we deliver what the public expect of us. Let us make sure that we live up to expectations.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for setting up this debate and, in particular, for his announcement of his intention to set up a Leader’s Group and to give it the widest possible remit on the issues that we are discussing today. That is remarkably welcome, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him.
There are several disobliging terms sometimes applied by natives, mostly of rural communities, to describe those that they regard as outsiders. Among those that can be repeated here are “grockle” and “blow-in”. It can take several generations for the stigma of being one of those to wear off. I have been a Member of this House for almost 11 years but, like my noble friend Lady Jones, I still feel like a new girl and occasionally like a fraudulent interloper, so I venture into this debate with some trepidation. I do so armed with a little confidence having been a member of the cross-party group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and of the group of Labour Peers referred to by my noble friends Lady Royall and Lady Jones, chaired by my noble friend Lord Grocott, so I feel that I am slightly better informed than I might have been a few months ago.
I am not a natural radical. I have little appetite for change for its own sake. I respect and admire the resilience of things that have survived the test of time, whether they be pieces of old furniture, the language of William Shakespeare or, indeed, the traditions of this House. I especially and vehemently do not want this House to become a replica or shadow of the other place. However, in my short time here—as, for Peers, it is a short time—a lot has changed. We have seen the loss of most hereditary Members, the exit of the Lord Chancellor, and the very welcome, in my view, creation of the post of Lord Speaker. I take this opportunity to join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in paying tribute to the enormous contribution made by the present incumbent in her time in office. There have been changes in sitting times, the working week and the working year, and we have seen a much increased use of Grand Committee. As my noble friend Lord Grocott observed, most of those changes were not universally welcomed, but have since become established parts of our practice.
However, in the world outside and, I have to say, to some extent within Parliament itself, the impression persists of this House as obstinately adhering to arcane tradition and exclusivity. We need to look only at how we are routinely portrayed in the media—it is always the ermine that gets into the picture. This is not good. It makes us vulnerable and calls into question the value of what we do. We have a duty to do our best to correct any misapprehensions but, more importantly, to try to see and hear ourselves as others do and to review our working practices and procedures with humility and on a continuing basis, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
We have just been through a very turbulent year. At the start of this new Parliament, with many new Members—to whom, whether they come from another place or from outside Parliament, I imagine that the practices of this House must appear somewhat perplexing, at least at the beginning—and faced as we are with the prospect of major reform, this House could adopt one of two positions. It could either decide to do nothing, reasserting its independence and unique character by setting its face against any challenge to the way that it does things now—thankfully, so far this afternoon I have heard no support for that position—or it could take the opportunity for some further incremental change that could significantly improve the effectiveness of the House and help to enhance its reputation. I am delighted that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, by setting up a Leader’s Group, is encouraging us to take this opportunity.
I want to draw attention to two specific points. I fear that they are the same two specific points that my noble friend Lord Filkin drew attention to, and he probably did it rather better than I will but, in the true traditions of this House, that is not going to stop me. The first concerns the observations made by his group about ensuring that legislation, when it comes forward, should,
“meet objective tests of being adequately prepared”.
That point was eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and mentioned by a number of other noble Lords. My noble friend’s group proposed a committee on legislative standards, with a remit to examine upcoming Bills against a clear set of criteria, which I will not read out because he has already enumerated them. I very much support this recommendation, and I also support the various suggestions about evidence-taking before Committee stages. I agree with my noble friend Lady Royall about pre-legislative scrutiny, an issue that has been raised by many other speakers. If legislation were consistently well prepared—this was a point noted by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who is not in his place—much of the time and effort taken by both Houses to scrutinise that legislation would be much better used and some of the difficulties discussed elsewhere in the paper by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the paper by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, would diminish.
My second point concerns governance and accountability, which were covered by the group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, of which I was a member. It was subsequently addressed in a very useful briefing paper from the Hansard Society, which I received this morning, and by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and other noble Lords. I am well aware that these matters are sensitive—probably more so than those concerning the House’s legislative role. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, I urge that we do not flinch from considering whether our governance arrangements would bear the kind of scrutiny to which other aspects of lives have recently been subjected. It is no longer enough, as he pointed out, that we should understand and be content with how we do things—although, as was evidenced in what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, not everyone does—we must also consider whether we are taking into account the way that things are done elsewhere. In a community—I hesitate to use the word “organisation” or “institution” —as complex and unusual as this one, there is a great temptation to think that everything not only is, but has to be, sui generis. I worked for years in the arts where this kind of view was for long enough prevalent, but eventually it dawned on us all that emphasising what made us different did not always work to our advantage. It was far better to look about, adopt what was best in business and other practices and become more efficient and effective by learning from others. Perhaps paradoxically, the things that really made us unique emerged much more strongly once we began to join the rest of the world.
I hope that this House will review its own governance in the same light and take seriously some of the suggestions that have come forward about accountability and transparency. They are not frightening nor, frankly, especially radical, but they might be—to mangle Robert Burns, and with apologies to my Scottish colleagues—power that,
“…the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Leader of the House for this debate and in thanking him and the Leader of the Opposition for the positive and open-minded way in which they introduced it.
As has been mentioned, following the Lord Speaker’s speech to the Hansard Society on strengthening Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and I agreed to lead three cross-party groups in which we divided up various aspects of the working processes of your Lordships’ House. I did not involve myself in that work as a critical or—certainly not—as a disgruntled Member of your Lordships’ House. On the contrary, I hugely admire the work that this House does and my purpose in taking part in it was to contribute to suggesting ways in which we could do it even more effectively.
As other noble Lords have said, we ought to start this debate by asking: what is our role? I believe in strengthening Parliament because I believe that an effective Parliament is not the enemy of the Executive but is essential to their success. Having spent my career in the Executive, I think I am in a position to say that a strong Parliament is essential to keeping the Executive up to the mark because absolute power does corrupt, and the Executive becomes weak and inefficient if there is not a strong Parliament to call it to account. In that belief, I am encouraged to find that I am now in good company. The Prime Minister, the Leader of another place, the Deputy Leader of another place, the Speakers of both Houses and the Front-Bench spokesmen in this House have all expressed themselves similarly. That was a theme of the Better Government initiative, in which I served on the executive committee and of the report Good Government, which it produced. That report has frequently been quoted in this House and elsewhere. It is very welcome that the reforms proposed in another place by the Select Committee chaired by Dr Tony Wright are being very largely implemented, so things are moving in an encouraging direction.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and the other Members who served on our groups would agree that the ideas in our various papers are not intended to be a comprehensive or even, perhaps, a coherent prescription for further changes. They are an à la carte menu of ideas which the participants thought worth bringing to the attention of your Lordships, and I hope they will be worth considering by the Leader’s Group that the Leader of the House announced today.
In my remarks, I shall concentrate on some of the ideas in the group that I chaired on the non-legislative aspects of the House’s procedure but, first, I shall comment on the suggestion made by the group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on which I also served, and say how striking it is how many speakers today have picked up this idea. The noble Lords, Lord Luce, Lord Kakkar, Lord Maclennan and Lord Norton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady McIntosh, have all referred to the idea of a committee similar to the Merits Committee, which looks at statutory instruments, that would look at the merits of legislation brought before Parliament. Since other speakers have so eloquently dealt with it, I shall not go into the details, but shall say just two things about it.
First, since the quality of legislation is of crucial interest to Parliament as a whole, this committee would be most effective if it were a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I agree that it if were a committee of this House only, it ought to look only at legislation being introduced here, but a combined committee would be a way of avoiding duplication and increasing co-operation between the two Houses. Secondly, speaking from my experience in the Executive, if there were ever a prospect that, on the basis of a report by such a committee, a House of Parliament might refuse to give a Second Reading to a Bill and might refer it back to the Executive for better preparation, that would hugely improve the care with which legislation is prepared within the Executive. That might be a nuclear weapon but, as we know, nuclear weapons are there not to be used, and it would be very effective in dealing with some of the problems of excessive and poorly prepared legislation, of which we are all conscious.
As regards the suggestions of the group I chaired on non-legislative procedures, the theme underlying our suggestions is making best use of the time available to the House. We started with the three principles of our procedures to which the Leader of the House referred: the House being committed to self-regulation and the role of that in encouraging a spirit of courteous compromise; the characteristic that any Member of this House can raise and explore amendments to legislation without being prevented by formal timetables or guillotines; and the informal convention that allows all sections of this House to be fairly represented in debate. Our group felt that these were crucial characteristics that we ought to bear in mind in any considerations of our processes in the future.
In that context, let me have my two penny-worth on the role of the Lord Speaker during Question Time, which I know divides opinion in this House. I would not be in favour of the Lord Speaker being given a role calling individual speakers. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Luce, I take the view that it would not be inconsistent if the Lord Speaker took over from those on the government Front Bench the role of indicating which section of the House should have the next question—a role that has become even more controversial since the creation of the coalition. Apart from what I think many of us feel is the unseemliness of present procedures, there is clearly a danger of those on the Front Bench becoming open in this matter to accusations of political partiality.
The rest of my group’s suggestions concentrate on ways of using to best advantage the crucial period between Question Time and the dinner hour when attendance is at its highest and the opinion of the House can most conveniently be tested. We suggest that more Statements and more Committee stages of Bills should be considered in Grand Committee, where any Member can take part in the business. The time available for the very important Statement that we had today on the National Health Service would not be as constrained as it was today, and the business of the House would not be interrupted. This debate today has been interrupted. Perhaps that does not matter, but it matters more when important debates on Bills are interrupted on Report.
We also suggest, and other speakers have referred to, more opportunities for topical debates and Questions—and, yes, we suggest shorter supplementary questions and answers. We suggest that, to increase the transparency of the House’s arrangements, the Leader of the House should submit himself to a weekly Question Time of 20 or 30 minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, had a bit of fun with this, but he has been one of the usual channels in another place. As one or two noble Lords have said, the arrangements by which the House is administered are not as clear to some Members of the House, even those who have been here for a long time, as they are to others. I very much remember intervening in a debate and asking the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, whether he could tell me the difference between the usual channels and the House authorities. With all his ministerial experience, he said in the most charming way that he could not.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but I was not joking at all, particularly in my remarks, to which he drew attention, about the prospect of the Leader of the House answering questions. That would not be a positive improvement, and would not achieve the results which the noble Lord’s sub-committee sought.
I was not suggesting that the noble Lord was being frivolous. I, too, seriously suggest that if it is important that the House should be self-governing, which it is, widely giving Members the opportunity to put points of concern to the Leader of the House when they can during the week would increase the sense of involvement and participation and make the House more collegiate.
This is certainly an open matter for debate. I should have thought that 20 minutes would be perfectly sufficient. Clearly, if the suggestion finds favour, the Leader’s Group and the House could look at it.
We suggest that more publicity should be given to the excellent reports of Select Committees of the House by their chairs being given five minutes for a trailer on the day of publication, and we trail our own coats by suggesting slightly earlier sitting times and the ending of the wearing of medieval robes at times when the public gaze, through television, is most likely to be on us. We want to convince the world of the relevance of our procedures, and it is not helpful that we are most often portrayed in the newspapers and on television in our robes.
Not all these or our other suggestions may find favour with all your Lordships. As I said at the beginning, they are intended as an à la carte menu that we hope may provide food for thought, but I am greatly encouraged by the open-minded way in which they have been received by those on the Front Benches on both sides of the House.
I will make a final point about the timetable. It has been said that it would be useful if the Minister replying to the debate indicated the timetable which the Government have in mind for the Leader’s Group. A report by the end of the year would be helpful so that discussion of these matters is not overtaken by the preoccupation with more controversial matters such as the draft Bill on the future of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is an extraordinary privilege to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, particularly on the first few points of principle in his speech and what he said about the Executive, about things—we all know what he was referring to—getting better, and about combined committees with the other place; the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth referred to that.
Right at the start of my contribution, I would like to say a word of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde for tabling this Motion on working practices. The initiative was taken in 2001 by Lord Williams of Mostyn, who set up a group to report on working practices. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for placing in the Library the fundamental documents that we are entitled to use, and need to use, in this debate; and the Library staff who produced our notes.
Having said that, I should make it plain that I will speak to only two working practices. One relates to what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said on 28 January, 25 February and today about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. I will speak later on how the Government can take steps to implement that. The other is the role of the Lord Speaker at Question Time. I am afraid that I respectfully disagree with the suggestion made in its report by the group of the noble Lord, Lord Butler; he mentioned in effect what it says. I will come to that a little later, but I object really on the basis that it sets aside the report of the Select Committee on the Speakership, which reported in December 2005 and was approved by the House on 31 January 2006. I will refer to the passage in it which is frankly put aside by what the noble Lord suggests.
I shall move on to my main point; the business of the Lord Speaker is relatively subsidiary, but in a way it goes against the grain and extends the remit of the appointment unnecessarily. On pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, my noble friend has proposed, in effect, that a new, formal effective structure should be established—a standing committee, preferably of both Houses—that pre-legislative scrutiny should be the norm; and that a Special Public Bill Committee or a temporary Select Committee should be set up for post-legislative scrutiny. Then he referred to the case for setting up a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is a bit loose and needs to be pulled together. There has to be a pattern of implementation, which should be provided by government in a written form. It should include the essence and details of what is proposed, how it will affect the process that will be used to implement it, and what sort of guidelines or criteria shall be established.
I will not go on for long, but there is a lot to be done with the details before you can get this going. In a sense, I am flat out for it. It is totally right and it is time we really got down to details which can be laid before the House and either approved or amended. It is a matter for the House. It is not really a matter for me at all. I shall leave legislative scrutiny and turn to my point about the Lord Speaker.
When I mentioned the report before, I forgot to say that it said that the group concluded that,
“assisting the House at question time should remain with the Leader and not be transferred to the Speaker”,
which was approved by the House. What the justification is for going against that today I do not know. Recently, it has been quite a difficult job and has needed authority—far more so than some years ago.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde have done a very good, fair and effective job in difficult circumstances. Why? It is because they have authority. You cannot do that job unless you have personal authority; that is, authority which is generally accepted. You take a risk if you put the Lord Speaker in that. Nothing to do with the wondrous and wonderful work that she does within her remit requires the exercise of power, but this does, and the remit of the appointment will be extended. To what end and need? I therefore oppose it. On any showing, there is a certain element of discourtesy. The Leaders of both parties sit on their Front Benches. The Leader of the Opposition is usually here on the Front Bench. Frankly, it is discourteous when they are sitting there to have someone in the chair over there taking part of their authority. I do not see the sense in that or why it should be done.
I do not think that I will say any more. That is my contribution on working provisions.
My Lords, the title of the debate includes the words, “the case for reviewing”. I think that the case was made before we started. Therefore, we can limit the evidence we have to give because the Leader’s Group will look at it in some detail. I do not think that we can escape the fact that questions will have to be asked about what we are here for. It will get inexorably linked with the other debate that we are going to have. I have been here eight years. Some of us on the informal groups—last year, I had the privilege of being on one of them—asked: how do you get any change in this place? That was the starting point. Who do you go to? What do you do? What is the infrastructure to get some change? We discovered that it was not there. In the other place, there is more of a structure. I was told about the Procedure Committee, but others advised me that that was not the proper route.
I have two words at the top and the bottom of my notes, which I would ask the Leader’s Group to think about. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours knows what I am going to say. The words are “trial” and “pilot”. Do not come back with anything that looks like it will last for ever because the House will not buy it. To be honest, that is my experience. Offer every suggestion that comes to the House on a trial basis, perhaps until the next Parliament, for the whole of a Parliament or for a Session, depending on the menu. I do not think that the Members of this place, who are by and large more experienced than me, if I may put it that way, and slightly more conservative with a small “c”, want to buy a lot of change. But trial and pilot should be offered and we can see how we go. The way to get change is quietly.
I am very pleased that the third report on governance is encompassed in this. To be honest, I had no involvement in that whatever. Like everyone else, I read the report when it was produced and it worried me more than the other two. I say that because people in this House who have experience on outside bodies that are governed by codes of practices and procedures for appointment and governance and finance do not recognise what they have read in that report. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and her team were right to bring those matters to the House and I hope that they will find some favour with the Leader’s Group. But at the least they should be put to the House because, in the end, Peers have to decide these things.
I think it would be whistling in the wind to think that, if we ever get elected Peers—I do not want to get into that debate—they will arrive here and not use the powers. The restraints we put on ourselves will go out of the window, a point touched on by the Leader of the House in his opening gambit. If we are going to have some rules, we have to codify them, otherwise it will be absolute chaos.
I am not going to speak for long so I shall make just a couple of points. The issue I raised last year in the debate on the Queen’s Speech was about having flagged up the bits of Bills that have not been looked at before arriving here from the Commons. That idea came to me while I was driving home one day when the House was not even sitting. I would have had a job explaining that to Bill Cockburn and his committee, who asked us what we did as Peers—how we clock on and clock off and so on. I was thinking about how we could make Bills better. I realise that someone has had a look at this suggestion and I know that it is not as simple as it appears, although it has a seductive appeal. I realise that sometimes a clause of two lines can bring in a schedule that might be 50 pages long. Which bits would you say were not debated? Generally speaking, if there is an elephant at the door, we recognise it, and therefore I think we can recognise the parts of the Bill that have not been debated or scrutinised, and then we can choose whether to look at them. We may decide that it does not need to be done, but those parts need to be flagged up in a systematic way. I cannot believe that there is not a way of doing that, and it is important.
For Bills that start in this place—personally, I do not think that they should, although that argument is not going to carry the day—certainly we need different procedures. Some major Bills have started in this place. The Climate Change Bill started here because I brought it to the House, as did the 2002 police reform legislation. It is true that politically contentious Bills generally do not start over here, but some major ones do, and we need to take a serious look at that.
The idea of a pre-legislative committee is also important. I do not want to criticise parliamentary counsel, but there is some slipshod work being done in Whitehall—under pressure from Ministers to get Bills before Parliament. Sometimes they say, “Slip it into the Lords first”. I have been there when these discussions have taken place. Parliamentary counsel say, “We’re not quite ready”, and they are told, “That’s all right. Put it in the Lords. They can sort it out because they have got more time and are more flexible than we are”. That is not an effective way to produce good legislation for our fellow citizens. It would be a power to parliamentary counsel if we had that kind of committee.
I would not have raised the next issue if it were not for what happened today—and I have sat through all the debates today, including on the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, might say that we all failed, but no one was brave enough to stand up at the beginning of the Statement and say something when one of our Members took 25 per cent of the time available to the whole House.
Only after the event, and that is the difficulty. The argument for taking Statements in Grand Committee is powerfully made. Five minutes were taken up by one person when there are only 20 minutes for questions because there is no mechanism for getting some order into the system. If there was, I would not say anything, but going into Grand Committee is important.
I want to raise an issue which I know from some of the speeches is controversial. By the way, I agree with everything that has been said, but the role of the chair, particularly at Question Time, is not an unimportant matter. Between 2005 and 2007, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Leader of the House and I was the Deputy Leader, I had responsibility for Question Time. I have kept all the daily papers from that time. I have got them in a box, and I know exactly who got called, when they were called, and their party, for every Question Time for those two years. I can produce the figures. They were difficult to do, but nevertheless I kept all the papers because I just walked out of here and chucked them into a box.
No, no. There was almost a competition between us. My noble friend Lady Amos would say, “I once got 36 supplementary questions through. How many did you get today?”. I usually managed 24 or 25 supplementaries in half an hour, which is pretty good going when you think about what happened during the Statement today. I want to repeat a point I made last October in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. There is a serious problem in that with the expertise in this House and the range of Questions that can come up on a daily basis—we are not constrained like the other place—I think that there are hundreds of Members of this House who are reluctant to try to ask a supplementary question. That is because the method of doing so is to enter a bear pit.
I have no experience of it. In fact, last week I stood up for the first time ever and asked a supplementary question at Question Time. I had never done it before, and it was an easy one because no one else stood up. However, it can be a bear pit and many people just will not do it. But if you were to ask them whether they had something to say, they would reply, “Yes. I had a good point to make but I wasn’t prepared to join in. If I could have been called, I would take my luck with everyone else”. I know that this is a tricky one because, in a way, it would give the chair the authority of the Leader. It is important because I do not think there is another legislature anywhere in the world where the Executive decides who is asking the questions that scrutinise the Ministers. That is intrinsically wrong for a start. It has got to be a bad principle in terms of democracy. The Government decide which Member can ask the Government a question. I know it is done fairly because for two years I supervised it myself, but it looks wrong. The Lord Speaker could do it in terms of the blocks as people stand. My noble friend Lady Jones is not here, although I am pleased to see my noble friend Lord Grocott in his place.
When I referred to this last October, I said that I had not done any research on it, but I did say that we keep hearing from the same noble Lords at Question Time. After that, someone did some work on the figures, and we had them today. Over a whole Session, half of the supplementary questions—over 1,500 of them—were asked by 8 per cent of Peers, which is 57 Peers. The same people asked all those questions because they are prepared to bully and shout and intimidate others into sitting down. That cannot be conducive to proper scrutiny at Question Time. A few people dominate, and we know who they are because we see them all the while—the same 57 people ask half the supplementaries. So I appreciate the fact that that research was carried out.
Gardner’s Question Time.
Many who would stand up if they could be called are put off, and they are world experts in the variety of issues that this House deals with. Peers should be asked about this, and I am pleased that when the Leader talked about how the silent majority were going to rule, I think that that is what he was referring to: those who are not here as opposed to those who speak. There ought to be some questionnaires from Leader’s Group asking people what they think before proposals are brought back to the House for decision.
I shall finish with my two key words. When decisions come back, pilot them and trial them. That way, we might make a bit of progress.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Rooker. I say that because he and I have been studying these things across both Houses for a number of years. I enjoyed his speech and I concur with absolutely everything he said. What I want to try to do with the short time allocated to me is argue that we really do have a new set of circumstances surrounding this debate. Whether or not it was a shot fox, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, I welcomed the announcement as soon as the coalition was formed that we were going to have a Leader’s Working Group. I hope it will give consideration as to whether it should be a standing group; the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is right about that. I am relatively new here. I have never experienced a Leader’s Working Group and I therefore do not know what the rules of engagement are or how its members are selected. I suspect the answer is “through the usual channels”, which takes us back into the loop we heard about earlier and whether or not they will have influence. I hope that the style and approach of the work of the Leader’s Group will be open and transparent. There is a case for electing Back-Benchers to the group; otherwise it will be far too easy for party political groupings to put forward members who may have grudges and form on issues.
There is a majority for change in this House if it is handled properly. At my first political demonstration, I followed Jo Grimond, marching towards the sound of gunfire. What was the chant? It was, “What are we for? Moderate change. When do we want it? In due course”. I am now in the coalition and a holy warrior for change: I want change and I want it quite soon. I can put a time on it now because the difference with this debate today is that we know we are going to have five-year Parliaments. There is high risk that this House, this important institution, could be facing profound change by 5 May 2015. That does not sound a long time and we have a great deal of work to do if we are to have a modern legislature that is capable of anticipating that change, facing it and planning for it. We do not know what will happen to us, but if we do nothing it will be worse.
There is a new urgency about what the Leader’s Group will bring to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right. We need to pilot things and think carefully about them. I am very pleased to be the chair of the Information Committee. I was fingered by a Whip and told that I was to be chair of the Information Committee, which was very interesting. I thought, “Do I not need to face an election?”. “Oh no. Nothing as bizarre as that”, I was told. My role is to try to help in outreach, which is a horrible word. My predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, produced a fantastic report called Are the Lords Listening? Creating Connections between People and Parliament, and noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the Lord Speaker are doing wonderful outreach work in explaining the House to people. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that there is “profound ignorance” among the public about what we do here. He is not exaggerating; that is an absolute statement of the current position. If that is the case, we should spend 25 per cent of our time—I shall certainly spend 25 per cent of my time—in Parliament for the next five years trying to explain to people what we do here.
It is not difficult. I have visited one or two schools as part of the schools outreach programme, which I recommend to noble Lords. You get mostly positive feedback, some of which is amusing and entertaining, and you always bring back anecdotes to tell down the pub on a Friday night. It is worth doing. We need to get into a position where people understand that we are legislators. That is all we need to say: “We are legislators”.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who made the point that substantive debates were influential on government policy. People say to me that it would be helpful to use the IT and social networking sites that are available as these could provide the opportunity for an effective dialogue. People want propositions tested. For example, if they are against the genetic modification of crops, or whatever, they would want to raise a debate but not, for heaven’s sake, move for Papers and then withdraw the Motion. Try explaining that to a 15 year-old. I have tried and failed. We have to get the terminology, the language and the formality of this place in tune with people who do not know what Papers are because everything is done digitally. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and his colleagues have done an enormous amount of viable work in this direction but we must do more. Explaining how we work and what we do should not be difficult. However, we do not have an endless amount of time in which to do it.
The Information Committee organises and supports the work in the Library and we need to consider extra resources to support the working practices. There are 400 active Members of the House. How do I know that? Because the lists are in the Library. People are in and out of the Library, calling on resources and using them productively on the Floor of the House in order to do the work they are bidden to do in Parliament. Those 400 people need better support. Why? Because we are getting bigger in number and the facilities need to be properly promoted. The struggle for resources is a constraint on us all. We get valuable assistance from the Library and we need to keep up its quality. However, I warn the House that, unless we put resources in over the next five years, that quality is bound to slip and become diluted. There are plans for extra members in the Library in the new island site when it comes on stream but, as chair of the Information Committee, I give notice that I will be making a robust but sensible application for continuing support for individual Members who are trying to do their work in this House. I shall also look for support from colleagues to do outreach work.
We have to consider how we shape the perception of the House. The Robert Burns quote of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was apt but she missed the last two lines:
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae money a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us
And ev’n devotion!”.
It is an old, superior Scottish culture and I could not resist it. I had to refer to the book to get the quote right, but I hope the accent was better.
I was lucky to be part of the governance committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, set the tone of the debate when he said that there needs to be an independent review of governance. I was a House of Commons Commissioner for a long time and I was very nervous about this. I was the external spokesman for the commission during my time in the Commons and, when we had the Braithwaite review, the scales fell from my eyes. Someone from outside—no one particularly special—came in, sat down, went round, asked some quiet questions with no axes to grind and produced a devastating report on what was happening externally and where we were deficient. We should not be frightened of doing that. although we shall have to do it quietly and sensibly and we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater and so on. We need an internal standing committee, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, to look, with external help, at the issue of governance.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, busily defended Whips—the poor souls—and said that people speak to them every five minutes. That is a great shame; what a load it must be if people talk to you a lot. I was a Whip and I know that Whips look after party interests. However, those are not the only interests here. The government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House look after the executive interest but in the House of Lords there is also the holy grail of the institutional interest which the Lord Speaker should hold tightly in his or her grasp. I think that the usual channels do not take a sufficient overview of the institution and have too much influence. However, you always think that if you are not a Whip and think the reverse if you are and nothing much will change in that direction. However, it is not sufficient to say it is okay; that the usual channels have got it fixed and it all works. It does—and I am grateful to the people who do it—but we need to have a completely new transparency and consider how it looks from the outside. People need to see what is happening so that they can be confident that what they are being told is fit for purpose.
There are differences between the way in which Whips in this House and Whips in the other House operate. Of course, Whips in this House look after the interests of their party among other things, and they also have a great responsibility, as they do in the other House, for the institution as a whole, but the Whips in this House have in addition a great responsibility for the members of their group, be it their party or the Cross Benches. If they do not look after them, they do not get on very well. They are also extremely open to both public and private scrutiny.
I defer to my noble friend’s greater experience: I have never been a Whip here nor do I intend to apply to become one. The usual channels need somebody to oversee what they do. There needs to be more constructive tension between the Government, the Whips, the usual channels and the Lord Speaker. We need some sensible, adult thought about that.
My Lords, as one, I presume, of the 57 Peers whom the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had in mind, I am very glad not to have had to bully, shout at, or intimidate anybody to get into this debate. I am very sorry to hear that he might think that I have had to do so in Questions.
The House has changed enormously since the days when I joined it, which were, I admit, 37 years ago. That change has accelerated rapidly since the removal of the rest of my hereditary colleagues. In my early days in the House, to have to shout in order to get into Questions, or not to give way to a Privy Counsellor or somebody who had more experience, would not happen. The increasingly rapid flow of new Members into the House has made it more difficult for the traditions of the House to be handed on to the new entry. If it were possible in some way to instil in the new entry, in a block brainwashing scheme, the principles of good manners, on which the House used to conduct itself, we would become a much more efficient as well as a much more agreeable place to work.
I shall not talk about the detail of the papers—except in one respect—because that can be done in response to whatever consultation comes out later on. I shall speak instead about the context in which the consultation is taking place and which I fear from time to time slips from our consciousness. We need, as three Peers have said before me, to remember what Parliament is for: it is to control the Executive. The House of Lords is there to assist the House of Commons to do that and supply what the House of Commons either cannot or will not do, or has not done. A lot of that is in legislation. In a recent debate, I pointed out how, on 10 and 11 March 2005, we prevented the House of Commons allowing the Government what amounted to a lettre de cachet, renewable every 90 days, to put people into detention without trial. That is the big thing that we are there for; it is made up of a lot of little things in the way of legislation. Governments like making laws; they like getting their own way; and they like getting it easily. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, used the nice term “institutional interest”. It is an institutional interest that we have to watch here: the interest of Her Majesty’s Government, of whatever party, in securing their legislation as swiftly, as easily and in as large a bulk as possible.
Like, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and many other of your Lordships, I have been in the position of being a new junior Minister and finding Permanent Secretaries, or, sometimes, slightly less senior civil servants, put it across that really what sort of a man or woman you are will come out of how big a slice of legislative time you can get for your department. That is built into the Civil Service and Governments need to resist it. To the extent that they do not or cannot, they need to be supported by Parliament to see that this great inertia of legislation has a brake put on it.
Grand Committees were invented to take the brake off. There did not used to be Grand Committees; all Committees were on the Floor of this House until relatively recently—for those who are of my generation. They were invented, I think, in Margaret Thatcher’s day—I regret to say it, but I may be wrong—to free up the logjam in the Chamber that we keep hearing about, although I have not noticed there being one at the moment. But whose logjam is it? It is a logjam of government business. Most of us are agreed that there is too much of it. Therefore, I am not of the chorus which says that we must have more Grand Committees; I am in the very small group which says, “Actually, we could do better with none, but let’s stick with one”. As my noble friend on the Front Bench said in opening the debate, there is spare capacity there now, because the number of Bills that have gone through Grand Committee recently is not as high as in the peak. So let us not start messing about with more Grand Committees.
I have to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and others in saying that all this inexorably links to the question of reform, because what you do in this House and how you do it depends on what it is made up of. We are at a critical point in the process of evolution. We were at one stage much larger than now. I have heard people say with hushed voices in case they should be overheard by the public, “We’ll soon have 800 Members”. When I joined the House, there were 1,084 Members, and it grew after that, but the House was nothing like as crowded as it is now at Question Time, because there was no incentive to come here to talk unless you had something worth saying and knew that people were going to come and listen to you. That meant that you had a very much higher quality of input and a very much shorter list of speakers.
We are now moving towards a decision to have a much smaller body, elected. Instead of a vast crowd from which hundreds of experts in very narrow specialisms can be called when they are needed, we will have a small group of jacks-of-all-trades who will work simply from briefing that they are given every day, just like Ministers working from the same briefs. Where is the improvement in quality of legislation in that? I pray that we may not get there. In the mean time, we are right, are we not, to continue to plan the reforms in our procedures and governance to work with the system that we have got? I think that that is something worth fighting for.
I hope that your Lordships will take away the importance not of widening or increasing the streams of legislation that go through this place but, rather, of focusing them and giving them more expert attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—I have not seen her in her place since she spoke—said that the House of Commons spent three times as long as we did on scrutinising legislation. It does not say much for the level of its scrutiny when, in particular, not only do the things that it has scrutinised come with glaring mistakes in them but vast rafts of the stuff come from there not scrutinised at all. The figures that the noble Baroness quoted do not accord very closely with those that I got from the Library earlier today.
I merely put this in at the end to focus on the importance of the legislative process that we do for the nation—our country, as the noble Lord said. If we are going to do that at our best, we need to do it in a focused way with a large reserve of individual experts on specific things who are not coming in, frankly, in order to get benefits but in order to contribute to the work which is vital to this country.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for arranging this debate and introducing it in a most constructive tone. Since he is for change and is welcoming suggestions, I shall add a few more to those that he has already received in this long debate. During the 10 years that I have been in this House, I have often had occasion to wonder whether our practices might not change so that some of us on the Back Benches might be able to participate more effectively than we have so far. If one were to ask how we should judge the practices of this House, I would introduce three criteria. First, do these practices help us to better achieve our objectives? Secondly, do these practices make maximum use of the expertise available in the House and give every Peer, including Back-Benchers, some sort of stake in its goings-on? Thirdly, do they save time, since some practices might achieve what we want them to but at a considerable cost in time?
Judged by these three criteria, I want to look at four important aspects of this House’s practices. I begin with Question Time, because during the 10 long years that I have been here I have found it difficult to stand up and ask supplementary questions. That has been so partly because I am not as quick on my feet as I could be, while sometimes I am not good at outshouting somebody else who might stand up at the same time. It is also sometimes the case that one is not able to stand on one’s feet until the House decides in one’s favour. It is as a result of this sort of experience, which many Peers must have, that about 57 Peers—as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said earlier—tend to monopolise between them nearly 1,300 supplementaries or thereabouts.
It is not just a question of the 57 Peers. If you break them down into their backgrounds, I would have thought that nearly 75 to 80 per cent of them would have been either ex-Ministers or ex-MPs. They are used to that kind of practice; some of us who have not been to the other place and are simple-minded university professors are not, and we find it rather difficult to adopt it so there must be some principle that guides us in deciding who follows whom when supplementaries are asked. It is also important that some preference should be given to those who are not normally in the habit of speaking and who might be speaking for the first or second time. That job is best done not by the Leader of the House—however well meaning he might be—but rather by the Lord Speaker, who is able to spot who needs to be invited and whose turn it is. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said at the beginning about not being in favour of passing on this power to the Lord Speaker, I strongly urge that this change is badly needed.
I turn to another area where I have participated more enthusiastically than in supplementary questions: the debates. I would have thought that nearly a quarter of this House’s time is spent debating big issues and about two-thirds dealing with legislation. If as much as 25 to 27 per cent of our time is devoted to debates, we should be asking ourselves how those debates are organised, what they achieve, who participates and whether they are structured in the right way. I shall make three or four important suggestions for improvement.
First, very often we have subject themes for debates which are too general and therefore inevitably too vague to allow us to decide what the debate is about. If I go into the Whips Office and find a subject, it can be interpreted in 20 different ways; one therefore puts down one’s name and takes a particular line on it. In some other legislatures, it is a common practice when a subject is put down for debate to have a paragraph explaining what the proposer of the debate would like to see debated under that rubric. That would not do us much harm. Otherwise, lots of debates that I have sat through lack coherence because different speakers, interpreting the subject differently, approach it from different angles. At the end of the day, there is no meeting of minds.
It would also be useful to ask ourselves what is happening to some of the ideas that we might be able to articulate in those debates. Some of us sometimes spend hours thinking about a subject and trying to see what new things one can say. Having spent that much time, you ask yourself: what is the destiny of those ideas? What is happening to them? The Minister, inevitably, only has a few minutes at his disposal and some suggestions that we might have made get referred to in a sentence or two. What happens to the rest of the points that many of your Lordships might have made? Sometimes, the Minister will write a reply but that is often not as detailed as it could be. It might therefore be helpful if, at the end of each debate, the Minister or his senior officials could provide a fairly detailed reply to all the points that have been made by the speakers. Should that be difficult, there should at least be a meeting arranged with them so that those points can be discussed and clarified.
I also sometimes wonder why the practice of being here not just at the beginning of the debate but sitting until its very end is mandatory in this House. There are second legislative Chambers in the world where that is not so. You must, obviously, be there at the beginning, because that is where frameworks for the debate are set out, and for a couple of speakers before and after you. After that, if you hang around as 20 other speakers follow you, only in the hope that you might get a mention in the Minister’s speech, you might ask yourself—if you think about it realistically and ruthlessly—exactly what the point is of staying on right until the bitter end. One might say it is advisable that you should be there as a matter of courtesy and etiquette. Fine—but should it be mandatory, as it is? I sometimes wonder whether we might not rethink that practice.
I also sometimes wonder whether the four or five days of debate that we have following the Queen’s speech are absolutely necessary. Four to five days of your Lordships’ time are given over to those debates. The same debate then comes up at the Second Readings of Bills. Is it therefore right to have 50, 70 or 80 of your Lordships speaking on any given day and require them to stay from the early afternoon until almost midnight? What would be the point of that?
Going a step further, this year I was particularly struck by the fact that if you take a subject—the Home Office, let us say—a whole day is set aside. Yet the Home Office covers seven or eight different areas. Some of us might want to speak on race, some on police custody and some on immigration. Because the Home Office subjects are not clustered and thematised such that we could put down our names to speak on this subject rather than that, the result is that one of your Lordships speaks on immigration followed immediately by somebody speaking on another subject and the debate tends to lack dialectical engagement or critical coherence.
The third area which we might want to look at a little more carefully is the Grand Committee. Over the years, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, Grand Committees have increasingly come to play a tremendously important role in discussing general Bills. The physical layout of the Moses Room for the Grand Committee allows for easier communication and more relaxed scrutiny and give and take; it is also less intimidating. It might therefore be better if most Bills went almost automatically to the Grand Committee, unless the House decides otherwise by voting on an appropriate Motion.
Finally, I turn to the question of post-legislative scrutiny. It is an absolute must for a variety of reasons. It allows us to compare the outcome against the intended objectives of the legislation and to learn lessons that can be fed into the work of the department and improve future legislation. We can also, through such scrutiny, build up common guiding principles on good and bad practices in the drafting of legislation. This is particularly relevant because this Government seem to want, rightly in my view, to make a bonfire of some of the existing laws. However, that bonfire simply cannot be made on the basis of what the general public want; it must be done on the basis of certain guiding principles, and post-legislative scrutiny should allow us to do that. Some kind of Select Committee to deal with that would be important.
Debates in this House, from time to time, have parochial orientations. We do not look at what happens in other European countries—in the United States, Canada, India or other places. I hope that when the Leader’s Group begins to discuss this very important issue, it might also conduct a short survey of what practices obtain in other jurisdictions from which we might learn something.
My Lords, I congratulate the usual channels on arranging for a debate on the practices of the House so early in this Parliament and my noble friend’s intention to set up a Leader’s Group to study them. I hope that this will not preclude a discussion of procedures, which is what I am principally interested in.
Earlier in this debate, my noble friend Lord Cope used a phrase akin to “be careful what you wish for”. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New Zealand, representing both the Merits Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. While there, I picked up a guide to its Parliament, which started with the sentence:
“Few tears were shed when the legislative assembly was abolished”.
The legislative assembly was of course its upper House of Parliament.
I am not an abolitionist but, like other noble Lords, I believe that we can do things better and make better use of our facilities, such as the Moses Room, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said. That would take pressure off the Chamber and reserve it for what are arguably more important things. For example, why are Committee stages of Private Members’ Bills invariably held in the Chamber?
Also with regard to the Chamber, I do not think that we should be considering what the Lord Speaker does now, or how she performs her role. For example, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I would not like the Lord Speaker to become involved in keeping order in the House, although I note that she has on occasion widened the powers that I thought had been given her to advise the House on procedure. I have no objection to that; it is fine if the occupant of the Woolsack, which is not necessarily the Lord Speaker, is 100 per cent certain of their facts. But—and it is a big but—with the experience and honour of having spent a decade earlier in my time here as first a Deputy Chairman and then a Deputy Speaker, I am well aware of the distance between the Woolsack and the Clerks, who are the fount of all knowledge in this area. In my book, that is why such guidance became, in descending order, the province of the Leader or deputy, the Chief Whip or, indeed, their deputy—and finally, the junior Whips, depending only on seniority as a Front-Bencher who happened to be in the Chamber at the time of need.
Some Chief Whips have been better than others at having extraordinary antennae for identifying trouble in the Chamber. My noble friend Lord Denham was one such, even when he was some distance away from where we are now. It is only failing an intervention of one of these that a Back-Bencher would be brave enough to dip their toe in that particular water, but it is not out of order, as the Companion to the Standing Orders makes clear. When, on rare occasions, I have done it as a Back-Bencher, it was only after taking advice. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde will remember a whispered conversation that we shared before I brought a Question for Short Debate to a grinding halt by moving that a noble Lord be no longer heard. That situation and many others are covered by Standing Orders and the Companion thereto, an edition of which I was, with others, appointed to revise some years ago.
The problem as I see it is that the Companion is now too bulky and heavy to carry in one’s pocket or handbag. With new Members appearing every day, not every noble Lord has read it, although every noble Lord receives a copy. What would be useful is a very basic synopsis, especially for those noble Lords who have not been with us very long. In this connection, I welcome the unofficial mentoring that is undertaken by some experienced noble Lords, although in the heat and thunder of debate it is seldom appropriate to give pertinent advice at a time when it is so sorely needed. Perhaps one transgression is understandable, but a second is generally not.
That said, this debate is about practices, and there are two things that are high on my list of priorities, both of which come under the heading of interruptions. In opening the debate on our future, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was interrupted no fewer than 11 times when he was trying to set out the Government’s stall on the subject of reform. It was far from conducive to good and sensible debate to break up the logic of what he sought to explain. I accept that his words were miles away from what many of your Lordships wanted to hear. None the less, far from improving the quality of debate, for which we are normally renowned, it actually destroyed it. In my book, the only time when Ministers should be interrupted is during the wind-up. After all, noble Lords can be as disrespectful as they like in their own speeches. If you feel strongly about a subject, you should put your name on the list to speak, but only if you can be in the House for the whole debate. We are not and never should be a version of another place, where such interruptions are the norm. Let us leave the sound and fury to them and major on the logic of the situation. Therefore, I should like to see a veto on intervening on opening speeches, backed up, if necessary, by a technique that we already have—that of the “Before the noble Lord sits down” procedure, used by my noble friend Lord Elton only today.
The other thing that we should do something about is Question Time. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in this, although the “bear pit”, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, described it, I find a bit strong. It is very rare these days when only one noble Lord rises to ask a supplementary question. Is it only good manners—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, used the word courtesy just now—to give the floor to someone who knows more about the subject or more senior than oneself. Within this, we should sort out the pecking order as regards the parties and the Cross Benches. Given the coalition Government, some noble Lords, especially in the Official Opposition, regard those of us who sit on the spiritual side of the House as comprising one party—the party of Government. We are not a single party—or perhaps not yet, as I have heard rather premature talk of a single party being formed. I doubt that very much. Politics makes strange bedfellows and my temporary noble friends are just that—temporary. As such, we should return to the status quo ante, with the routine of supplementaries from the three parties and the Cross Benches on a one-one-one-one basis, with the norm of a right reverend Prelate intervening should he wish. Otherwise, we would have to have the Lord Speaker call Members, a procedure that would inevitably lead to a rearrangement of the Chamber. Do those promoting this course really want the Clerks sitting between the throne and the Woolsack or even beside it?
Lastly, we had an occasion on Wednesday last when we sat to what these days is regarded as a very late hour. Not being privy to the discussions between the usual channels, I do not know how it came to be agreed that we should have a late sitting on the day before we were to sit at 11 o’clock. This may not have inconvenienced many noble Lords, but I beg the usual channels to consider our staff and treat them a little more generously. I am well aware that after 10.30 pm they are allowed taxis home, but some who have to be here as long as the House sits or even for a period after it rises have a two-hour journey home. If they leave the House at, say, 12.30 in the morning and then have to be back in the House half an hour before we sit the following morning at 11 o’clock, they can hardly be expected to give of their best. In parenthesis, the same reasoning applies to morning Sittings, especially regarding the Doorkeepers—although I suppose that it would be possible for others to perform the duties that they currently undertake in the Moses Room.
There are two ways out of this problem. The first is to return Thursday to its 2.30 pm sitting time, but I am afraid that 11 am sittings suit the majority of noble Lords so I suppose that we are too far down the track to change our hours back to what they were in the 1980s. However, I wonder how many of us work in or outside the House in the mornings as trustees of charities, directors of firms and so on. A fair number, I suspect. Perhaps it would be sensible to poll all noble Lords on this. The other is to make it a rule never to sit late on a Wednesday, which it should not be beyond the wit of the usual channels to achieve.
I started with “be careful what you wish for”. I do not particularly want to see extra jobs for the boys and girls in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I begin with a word of thanks to the Front Bench opposite for giving us this debate today, which has proved to be an excellent event. I express my gratitude to the Lord Speaker for her speech to the Hansard Society that acted as a spur for a number of us to come together and work in a variety of ways. I personally thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for leading the small committee of which I had the pleasure and privilege to be a member, which spent much of its time focusing on the issue of how we use our time.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will be pleased to hear that I am not indignant today—in fact, quite the opposite. I hope only that he will not be indignant when the noble Lord the Leader announces that we might be looking to work on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings in future; I remind him that when we were members together in the Leader’s Group under Lord Williams of Mostyn, it was the Lib Dems who opposed working on Thursday mornings when we tried to effect that change. I hope that the coalition has sorted itself out on that issue and there will not be any problems between its members. That is an area where, if there are to be changes of that nature, a poll among Members of the House would probably be appropriate.
Most of the issues that I wanted to touch on have already been dealt with in some depth. There is not much, frankly, on which I can add a great deal more. I can, however, introduce something new regarding the Lord Speaker’s role. The sub-committee that I was on recommended modest changes: the powers presently held by the Front Bench should be transferred to the Lord Speaker but without the right of the Lord Speaker to call individuals, merely with the right to indicate which group is to speak. I support that view.
Noble Lords will be interested to hear that during the course of 2009 my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours carried out extensive consultation among Members of the House. The result indicated that 241 were in favour of transferring responsibility from the Front Bench to the Lord Speaker, 58 were against and 18 were neutral on the issue. That was in 2009, and since then we have seen further changes take place. I share the view that Question Time in particular has become rather more unruly than in previous years, and perhaps it is time that we had a look at this. I am pleased to hear that the terms of reference will include a review of the role of the Lord Speaker. I hope that it will be confirmed that they will extend to seeing whether there is a possibility of transferring responsibility from the Front Bench to the Lord Speaker along the lines that I have just described.
I support the view, which has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Rooker in particular, that in areas where we may have worries we should be prepared to embrace trials or experiments for certain periods. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond on whether the Government are willing to run some trials. One issue that we will have to address at some point—it has been the subject of a number of Questions recently—is the appropriateness of post-legislative scrutiny. Again, a growing number are in favour of it, and this House ought to give it a trial and see how we can make it work. If we are looking for candidates for post-legislative scrutiny, my Government’s attempt at a Licensing Act in 2003 might be a worthy candidate for close examination and possible review.
Another topic that came up in the group overseen by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and which has given rise to a number of Questions, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is the idea of a Leader’s session. Again, this has some history and some background to it. When we had a Leader’s Group back in 2002-03, the idea came from the then Leader of the House. Lord Williams offered to do a half-hour session on business and any other issues that might arise. That is the source of the recommendation in the paper of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. It is worth reviewing again and I would welcome a comment from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on this. We had the recent experiment of Secretaries of State taking Questions for half an hour specifically on their areas of departmental responsibility. I think that this was an experiment that ran up to the end of the previous Parliament. I presume that they have now been abandoned. If I have got that wrong, perhaps the Minister will put me right.
An alternative that would help us all would be seriously to consider a Leader’s session of about 20 minutes or half an hour—I would prefer half an hour. I think it would be primarily about the way that business was being run, but additionally it would give Members an opportunity to raise other topics in the Chamber where they see no alternative way to raise such questions under the way that business is presently run. I have been one of those who wanted to raise topics and have invariably ended up with the Chairman of Committees being responsible for trying to reply. Given that he has limited areas of authority, my Questions have had to go back to the government of the day.
We now need to give serious consideration to having a Leader’s session. It would be helpful in terms of business, but more particularly it might release some of the tensions that have been building up and which we have been witnessing during the course of the four Questions each day, when people are increasingly seen to be frustrated at not being able to get their view heard. I hope that the Minister will say whether that will be looked at.
With regard to other issues that we find difficult to raise, it is good to see that the Institute for Government is doing such sterling work. I suggest to those who have some influence within that organisation that they might try to persuade it to give some thought to the following: instead of merely looking at the Commons separately and then maybe looking at activities within the Lords, perhaps there is a case for taking an overall view of the way that the two Houses interrelate in a range of areas. I find it interesting that soon we will be looking to local authorities to find savings in the order of 25 per cent to 30 per cent. I am sure that the Government will be encouraging them to look at closer working relationships with their neighbours in the same way that they have been talking about encouraging the police to work more closely with different areas. Similarly, perhaps there is a case for closer working relationships in the way that we run our business here.
When I first came here, we had separate IT operations for the Commons and the Lords. That set-up was quite impractical for dealing with the way that technology developed. We then had to pass an Act of Parliament to bring the two together and have a combined operation, which was the right thing to do. There is a range of other activities that take place and affect staff and Members in both the Commons and the Lords where, if we are encouraging others in different parts of society to come together, work better and effect efficiencies, there is a case for doing something similar within the Palace of Westminster between the Lords and the Commons. Again, though, there is no mechanism for doing that. I look to outsiders to explore the possibility, or maybe, if we get a Leader’s Question Time and nothing is happening on that front, I will get the opportunity to raise such a Question with him then. At the moment, there is nowhere else where it can be raised.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred in her powerful speech to the denigration of newcomers to certain areas of the country. In Cornwall, unless you were born there or have lived there for 25 years, you are referred to as an “emmet”, which is certainly a denigratory word. I have been in your Lordships’ House for only five years, but I have been impressed by the way in which, today and on previous occasions, Members with longer experience and Members who are newly arrived have agreed on a whole number of issues.
I do not propose to go over all the issues on which I agree with other Members of your Lordships’ House; instead, I want to reiterate and reinforce one or two of the major themes. In so doing, I congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the House on bringing forward this issue so early in the Parliament, as I think that that will be to the benefit of careful consideration of these issues. I also thank him and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for referring to the need to see how the Wright committee proposals in the other place interrelate with what we are doing here, a point that I shall come back to.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who has just spoken, I had a minor role in the discussion on the strengthening of Parliament and I pay tribute to the chairs of the three groups that brought forward those papers. Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I think that it is important that we do not just have those papers on the agenda for the Leader’s Group. The Better Government Initiative, the Hansard Society and the Institute for Government have also produced important raw material for consideration of these issues. I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said about the wide remit for the Leader’s Group.
The main theme that I shall pick up is the holistic approach to the whole work of Parliament—the whole building—which I think is extremely important. For the reasons that have just been elucidated, it tends to fall between two stools—the two ends of the building. Therefore, I am encouraged that there has been a strong emphasis on the total outcome of the work of Parliament rather than just on the two different bits. I refer in particular to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart.
We have to be careful to avoid the silo mentality that is explicit in the way in which the two Houses work. We are so careful not to tread on the toes of the other place that sometimes we do not do justice to the whole of the work of this building. This is not just a question of the Wright committee proposals versus the strengthening of Parliament proposals in your Lordships’ House. We need to ensure that they marry together to improve the total outcome of Parliament.
It is true that we can now work on specifics. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in the debate on the gracious Speech, referred to the way in which the other place—the whole of the House of Commons—is trying to own more of the process of legislation. One of the Wright committee’s proposals was that there should be more of a guarantee that Report stage of all Bills in the other place reflected a total acceptance and understanding of the Bill by the House rather than simply being entirely dominated and managed by the business managers of the Government of the day. As I understand it, what came out of that suggestion was that the business committee or whatever mechanism the House of Commons decides to create should certificate to your Lordships’ House which areas of a Bill had not, in its view, received the full attention of the other place. That would be a useful self-discipline, quite apart from being informative to this House. It is one example of where the two Houses have to find mechanisms for making the process work better.
I spent eight years on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. During the 2001-02 Session, I saw one area of reform under the then Leader of the House, Mr Robin Cook, that I think is an important consideration for your Lordships’ House. It is referred to in the committee’s second report of that Session, which states:
“We recommend that there should be collective consultations with other parties in the House on the broad shape of the legislative year, those Bills intended to be published in draft, those Bills intended to be carried over and which Bills are expected to be introduced in the Commons, including discussion on the likely dates of recesses and related matters such as Friday sittings and Opposition days”.
It will be immediately apparent to noble Lords that, if the House of Commons is going to discuss which Bills should start there, that has huge implications for your Lordships’ House, because presumably all the other Bills will begin their process in this House.
I bring to your Lordships’ attention, as I do not think that it has been noted, the fact that that process took place, albeit only once. After the Queen’s Speech in 2002, there was a meeting chaired by Robin Cook and including the representatives of the other two parties—Eric Forth and me—at which we discussed precisely the most appropriate Bills to come to the Commons and to your Lordships’ House, although, of course, there was no representative from your Lordships’ House. We should build on that recommendation, which has been accepted by the other place, to say that in future this should not just be decided by the government business managers of either House. One of the major problems of indigestion is the London bus syndrome—five, six, seven or eight Second Readings in quick succession in the Commons or coming on to the Lords.
I understand what my noble friend says: of course, at the end of the day, it is the Government’s business. However, I believe that the Government would benefit—this has very much been a theme today—if there was such informal discussion. The group that I mentioned was informal; it was not an official committee. Informal discussion about the processing of legislation through the whole of Parliament—not just one House and not just in the Government’s interest—would also allow for agreement about which Bills were most appropriate for pre-legislative scrutiny and for carryover into the following Session. At the moment, that tends to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the Government.
In addition to the lack of Lords representatives at that meeting, the other problem was that, as soon as Robin Cook, sadly, resigned, as a result of the decision to invade Iraq, the government Whips took back control. There was no cross-party discussion of any other Queen’s Speech. I strongly urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to look carefully at whether they can find some mechanism by which both Houses can find a better way of processing legislation, not just to avoid the London bus syndrome, which is bad enough in both Houses, but to get more consensus about which Bills are most appropriate for pre-legislative scrutiny and carryover.
The other issue which has been given a great deal of attention today and which deserves more examination is the way in which this House self-regulates, self-disciplines and self-governs. When I came to your Lordships’ House, I was amazed. I accept that the occupants of the government Front Bench—of all parties—do their very best and are scrupulous during Questions and Statements. Indeed, we had another example of this during the Statement today, when the self-discipline of the House was, frankly, not very effective; it looked more as though the business was being directed by a representative of the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who has patiently listened to so much of this debate without contributing, has over the months proved the case for thinking very carefully about the role of the occupant of the chair. It is asking too much of the government Front Bench to have eyes in the backs of their heads. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who was here earlier—I am sorry he is not here now—asking, as someone who had to perform that role so often, “What other assembly or legislature in the world would ask somebody who has their back to half the potential participants to decide who should contribute next?”. Both at Questions and during the Statement today, there was, I thought, a very undignified process. I used to enjoy Question Time in the other place but the last thing we want to do is go down that route, though we are in danger of doing so at the moment. It looks to Members of your Lordships’ House and to those watching as though, somehow, it is a politician or party appointment who is deciding who should speak. However scrupulously and with whatever integrity they try to look at the issue, it is impossible for Members on the government Front Bench to do what is required.
I agree, therefore, that we must think a little about the role of the Lord Speaker. We should not leave that until the end of the five-year term of office, which is only 12 months hence now. The Lord Speaker has, both in person and in how she has allowed the role to develop, been a triumphant success. However, that does not mean that we should leave it at that and hope that all will be well forever. I take issue with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Yes, the Leader of the House at the time has personal authority, but that is because he or she is appointed. The Lord Speaker is elected by the whole of your Lordships’ House. She or he has absolute personal authority from the way in which we ensure that person is appropriate for that role. We should, therefore, in the next 12 months as part of the general role of this new Lords Leader’s Group, look at that issue. We should not take it as a separate issue, but see it as part of the general concern.
There have been some notable contributions today. I was struck by something that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said. This should not be an ad hoc operation that we come to every so often, perhaps when there has been some sort of minor crisis. We should have a continuing renewal and review role in the way in which we operate. It does not mean that we will always make changes. It may be that part of the outcome of that renewal and review will be to say that we have got things roughly right. It should not mean that we start from scratch, right at the beginning again. We need to build on what we already have.
I hope that my noble friends on all sides of the House will agree that it is important to make some progress. However, this will not be something that we complete in a matter of months. There will be a need for continuity in this role. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said about some of his new colleagues in your Lordships’ House. As far as I am concerned, all Members of your Lordships’ House are my noble bedfellows. I am proud to be in this House, looking as we are at trying to improve our game. Again, as Robin Cook said so many years ago, this is not a zero-sum exercise. Improving how the other place operates and improving how we operate are not in contradiction or conflict. We need to be better together at holding the Executive to account. We can do that if we make complementary changes to how we operate here.
My Lords, with the many different and time-consuming activities of your Lordships’ House, I have come to think about this issue of continuing reform and updating the House’s processes and working practices rather late. Therefore, I particularly thank the Leader of the House for this fascinating and extended debate on the subject. I have now begun to look at the different papers that have been produced, including the Library note that was produced only last Thursday. What a wonderful job the Library does in keeping us informed on so many issues, as we all know. I express my considerable admiration for all the detailed thought, hard work and expertise that these and the previous reports—to which they refer—have over the past decade, since the removal of the hereditary Peers, clearly entailed. They illustrate the value of the huge range of expertise and experience that your Lordships’ House contains. I am one of those in your Lordships’ House who, like my noble friend Lord Luce, is opposed to the coalition proposal for a fully or mainly elected second Chamber. As such, I am certainly not opposed to making more democratic and effective use of our time and resources and, in particular, meeting our citizens’ demands for rather more openness, clarity, public involvement and knowledge of how we go about our duties.
The number of detailed recommendations contained in these papers is considerable. I have immediate very positive reactions to a few points, such as more pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, and clear description of and justification for Bills before this House. I very much like the idea, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that there ought to be some method of letting us know which parts of Bills coming from the other place have not been discussed, so that we can get straight on to those. Setting up a Leader’s Group, now that that has been decided, is clearly the best way forward for the consideration of the totality of the issues before us.
Looking through the papers, I was also immediately struck by their underlying similarity in two essential respects, which will need rather more specific action. First, although there is and will be a need for some form of usual channels, in their present form, the hidden, rather secretive way in which they operate is viewed as rather less than democratic by those not within their magic circle. Secondly, the way the House operates needs to take Back-Benchers’ and Cross-Benchers’ interests more obviously into account. Several noble Lords have made this point, not least the Leader of the House himself. Furthermore, the interests and needs of the wider public should be taken into account as well as those of Cross-Benchers and Back-Benchers.
My thoughts on this go back to my own entry, nearly 10 years ago, to the House as one of that first batch of appointed, so-called—rudely—people’s Peers. Coming directly from chairing the Broadcasting Standards Commission, it was a surprise to find that no House of Lords communications Select Committee existed for this crucial and growing area of importance. Not surprisingly, I set about trying to secure the establishment of such a body, not least because a little research showed that nearly 100 Members of your Lordships’ House had experience, expertise or interest in this area.
The formal approach we made to the Liaison Committee when Lord Williams of Mostyn was Leader of the House certainly produced a hopeful reaction to the suggestion that the committee be set up after the Communications Act 2003 became law. Sadly, though, when that time arrived, he was no longer with us and the reaction of the next Leader—the noble Baroness, Lady Amos—was, frankly, bewilderingly different, rejecting totally the need for any Lords communications Select Committee. However, by that time, an informal group from all sides of the House had come together and eventually, after a strong debate in the Chamber, the Select Committee on Communications was indeed set up. Since then, under the distinguished and expert chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and many important reports later, the considerable value of its work has by all accounts been very widely recognised. However, the fact remains that during the earlier difficult period, it had been almost impossible to find out why “the establishment” was being so stubborn about everything. It was all conducted in a secretive manner. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was kind enough to say that the decision had probably tipped in the right direction because of the extent to which I had made rather a nuisance of myself.
From that I come to one suggestion for fairly immediate change, which is no more than an imitation of the change recently accepted in the other place; namely, that there should be a greater willingness in your Lordships’ House to enable decisions to be taken by a ballot of the House itself—for example, to decide whether a specific select or other important committee is to be established or, if that is thought to go rather too far in favour or popular choice, at the very least to decide who the members of that committee are to be, and who is to be its chairman. That suggestion is not a way-out novelty. As we all know, it figures in several of the papers being considered today. As it is already happening in another place, why should it not happen here in our own?
My Lords, I do not always agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, but I certainly side with the last point that she made. It seems to me that the Commons has shown us the way and that we ought to follow it. However, I do not side with my noble friend Lord Tyler and others when they seem to suggest that in some way the Commons will pal up to us and agree that we should do some things and it will do the others. As was shown demonstrably in the previous Session, the Commons wants to do all the nice things itself, and so it should. Our job is to decide what else needs doing and then to find ways of doing it well or, if we are already doing it, ways of doing it better. If we approach that task in a self-critical frame of mind rather than a self-satisfied one—that is not something we always find easy—take up the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Norton that this should be a continuous operation and pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, says about using pilots rather than getting too stuck up on what the consequences might be of a change that was not quite right, we shall make good progress. The whole process ought to be one of continuous improvement. It is the way the world outside runs. Frankly, there is plenty of opportunity for it.
To go back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was saying, this is something we must do as a whole House. We cannot leave this to the usual channels to do at their pace because, to take an obvious example, the whole argument over our expenses was delayed and delayed by the usual channels and tackled only when it became impossible to ignore. The wisdom of the House is on many occasions greater than the wisdom of the usual channels and ought to be employed in these important areas.
I want to concentrate on two areas, the public and Back-Benchers. I know that we are old but, if we are to be a legislature, we must keep up with the way the world is moving. The world is moving in an extremely technological way and the technology is changing every year. We have not been well served by our Information Committee. This piece of junk I have in my pocket that passes for a PDA cannot get the internet properly, twitter or communicate in social media properly. What are we trying to do to ourselves, loading ourselves with that inadequate technology? We are merely cutting ourselves off from the sort of communication that people out there want us to have. Yes, we should get much more involved in those aspects of being a legislature that involve the public. Pre-legislative scrutiny and public evidence-hearing should be what we are really aiming at because it gives the public a chance to participate. We should certainly go for post-legislative scrutiny; I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that the Digital Economy Act should be a prime candidate for that. It was only half discussed before it was passed into law and is full of controversial stuff. This time next year we shall have a much clearer view of what is happening and the way it should go.
When we have proper scrutiny of a Bill, we should put it up on Wikiversity. We should let people have a real look at the clauses, comment on them, propose changes and work with those Members of the House who are interested to see how individual clauses and aspects of the Bill could be changed. “Wikiversity” may not be a word that many Members know but we should know it. These techniques are out there and are being used to develop ideas between a number of diverse people rather than within a little conclave. That ought to be the direction in which we are heading. For the first time last week I saw an iPad used in the Chamber. That may startle some noble Lords. However, I live my life electronically. Why do I have to print things out every time I come into this Chamber? I want the Bill and all the comments that I have received in front of me. I use an inadequate laptop at the moment but there is plenty of technology out there which would make it much easier to handle the volume of information we ought to be handling in Committee. Overall, we can make this House much more open to the public, particularly to those members of the public who really understand what is going on in a Bill. Our functions would benefit greatly if we did that.
The second thing I want to cover is the role of the Back-Bencher. I say to noble Lords who were not here when we had hereditary Peers in number that we are in the unusual position of having a Government who are in control of the House, as we saw in the two votes last week. Some of us, at least, got used to the idea that the Liberals were the swing voters and that if you had the Libs with you, you won; if you did not, you lost. We had this rather strange business of effectively talking to the Government but actually trying to persuade my noble friends to come with us in order to defeat the Government. Now we have a position where the Government are in control. We on these Benches will have to learn the virtues of rebellion, which those of us who were here when the hereditary Peers were in the majority knew well because that was the only way the House functioned and had respect. We are going to have to find ways of taking back some of the all embracing power that the usual channels have taken to themselves over the past 20 years.
I must say that my noble friend disappointed me when, almost in his first sentence, he talked about a Leader’s Group which, “I will appoint”. That has too many echoes of what we have seen in committees appointed to consider Lords reform—that is, hand-picked committees, chosen specifically so that they will produce reports which agree with the conclusions that the usual channels have already arrived at. We must be much more open on this, particularly when we are talking about the rules which govern this House. Those who are on the committee, or at least a proportion of them, should be on it with the consent of the whole House, having been openly chosen by the whole House. I side with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on that. It would make these committees much more powerful. That should also be a characteristic of the House Committee, the Liaison Committee and other aspects of this House.
There is also scope for a greater Back-Bench voice in the selection of Motions. How do they suddenly appear for dinner-break debate and so on? Mine have been chosen an inordinate number of times, and I am very grateful, but whether or not my Motion has been chosen does not seem to have reflected the will of the House.
How should we choose noble Lords to ask Starred Questions? At the moment, there is a sort of queue at 10 o’clock. This inordinate scramble is like some arrangement from the junior common room whereby only those who are prepared to stay up until two hours past midnight actually get any business done. There was a good suggestion in one of the newspapers—I forget which—that we should hold a ballot two weeks ahead and Members whose names are drawn out of the hat can then put down a Question. That would produce a much more even relationship between us.
We have extensively discussed today the selection of speakers during Questions. I very much side with those noble Lords who think that the chair should be allowed to choose. My noble friend, a self-confessed member of the Heinz 57 group, has a well perfected technique of sitting on that Bench—when he rises he cannot see half the House behind him and therefore cannot give way to other noble Lords because he is unaware of their presence. I am not asking for the Lord Speaker or whoever is in the chair to rule on matters of procedure—which clearly they cannot do, given that they are such a long way from the Clerks—but they can choose who is to speak next. That would mean that, rather than quarrelling among ourselves, we would just rise and not have to compete with ourselves to be heard, and it would not be the noisiest or even the grandest who were chosen. We would presumably have to agree to rules on how we expected the Speaker to operate, but if we were to go down that route, we would have a much more presentable system.
We have talked a lot about what else we can do. I agree with some of the suggestions put forward on how we can improve the way that we operate this House from the point of view of the Government. Taking Statements into Grand Committee would be an excellent idea. They take up a chunk of prime House time. Noble Lords who are interested in a Statement are almost never those who are interested in whatever business they are interrupting. If we put them in the Moses Room, we could give them more time and we could make the timing of Statements more flexible, as it is in the Commons, and reach a point where the Back Benches have exhausted themselves—or at least we could experiment with that.
As a keen participant in Committee stages, we could take a lot of them off the Floor of the House. That would give the Government a lot more time.
That is because I want a lot of government time to be taken up by things such as pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, and other good activities on which other noble Lords have commented. We ought to be trying to find the most effective role for ourselves and we cannot take on new things without giving up something else. Anyway, a Committee stage—which is essentially a conversation—taken off the Floor of the House would be a better environment and would mean that the House was working better and more effectively.
In addition, we should look at changing Report stage. Report is a pretty sterile activity at the moment whereby everyone talks, the Minister replies and then you do not have a chance to pick up anything that the Minister said. It would work better if Ministers automatically rose immediately after the proposers of amendments and had a first go. That might bring everything to a close and save a lot of time. On other occasions, it would allow those who were to speak later to do so in a much more informed way, and the Minister’s final reply would be much more fruitful.
Lastly, I wish to pick up a point on intervals between the stages of Bills. Intervals are important if you are a Back-Bencher because it takes time to put amendments together when you do not have staff. You cannot do your job if everything is run together. I welcome this initiative by my noble friend and I am delighted that we are discussing procedures. I very much hope that what will come out of this is a committee which is open to all our views, open in its processes and results in our making real progress on the way that we conduct our business.
My Lords, we, too, very much welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I am happy to reiterate what my noble friend Lady Royall said many hours ago that we will play a constructive role in reviewing our working practices, under the auspices of a Leader’s Group. That will be valuable in itself, but could also lay a good foundation for the more fundamental reform of your Lordships’ House that we are promised. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, it is likely that a fully elected House would need very different procedures; but as there is likely to be a transition period, we will need working practices that help us now, see us through at least the first part of the transition and perhaps make a substantial contribution to the more substantive reforms that we are promised. My noble friends Lord Brooke and Lady McIntosh put it well, so I ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, how he sees discussions on working practices feeding into the wider reform process.
Any reforms of our working practices will command the general support of this House only if they are seen as improving its overall effectiveness as a revising Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has long championed the value of this House in acting as a check on government. Most commentators feel that we have become increasingly effective in that since the reforms of 1999. That has much to do with the quality of our debates and the undoubted calibre of noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed to the large number of amendments made in the previous Session. Of course, some of them were routine tidying up, but I suggest that the House’s reputation is not unconnected with the number of defeats suffered by the previous Government—more than 500 since 1997. Those defeats gave the House considerable leverage and caused the previous Administration to think again on many occasions. That is why the House became so effective. I suffered more than my share of those defeats and make no complaint: that is what the House is here to do.
We come now to the circumstances of the coalition Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, it is the job of Parliament to control the Executive. It is early days, but there is a genuine question about how the House will continue to control the Executive in the circumstances of the coalition. I would be very interested in the views of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. What role does he expect the House to perform if he and his colleagues on the Front Bench are determined to force through every clause of every piece of legislation that they put before us?
We are coming to the closing stages of the Academies Bill. If ever a piece of legislation fitted the description of “ill digested legislation” made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, this is it. It has been rushed through your Lordships' House at an unseemly pace because Mr Michael Gove, in one of a number of misjudgments for which he is becoming so well known, insisted that some academy schools had to be up and running by September. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was forced to stay so long last week. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, on Report three amendments were voted on. They were defeated by the Government, who had the votes to do so. Fair enough—but if the future pattern is that the Government will win every vote, the House will begin to lose some of its hard-won reputation. Again I ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, how he sees the House acting as a check on the Executive in those circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, put his finger on it.
When it comes to working practices, we are not short of material. The Wright committee’s work in the other place is of equal significance. I agree with noble Lords who talked about the relationship between the two Houses being of great importance when it comes to changes in working practices. I should be interested in the Minister’s response on how he thinks the Houses might work together. I should also like him to respond to questions raised about the role of the Lord Speaker. Clearly, among some noble Lords, there is a sense of frustration about self-regulation and how it works. Self-regulation depends on Members observing the spirit of the Companion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that I am not sure that it is new Members who do not observe the spirit of the Companion. I fear that it is often very experienced Members.
The problem is most clearly seen at Question Time. It is a very important occasion. The House is full, Ministers are on their mettle and it sets the tone for the day; but not all noble Lords are happy with the way in which it proceeds. Supplementary questions are often read, are long-winded and exceed the two points that are permitted, and some ministerial responses are equally lengthy. My noble friend Lady Jones identified that nearly half the supplementary questions were asked by only 8 per cent of our Members, and that the current shouting match may not create an encouraging environment for all Peers to take part. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, shared that view. There is a case for looking at whether the Lord Speaker should perform the role currently performed by the Leader at Question Time, perhaps for a trial period. I should say that I have no criticism of the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has conducted himself in that matter since he became Leader of the House.
Having performed that role myself for about 20 months, I am well aware of the pressures all round the House. Like my noble friend, I, too, have the statistics from my time discharging that awesome responsibility. During that time, the Government batted under its weight. The Conservatives were a little bit over, the Liberal Democrats were an awful lot over and the Cross-Benchers batted quite a lot under their weight. My current statistics show that the Government and the Opposition are getting roughly equal treatment in terms of the number of supplementary questions, with the Cross-Benchers again batting under their weight. As far as concerns the gender balance, so far about 28 per cent of supplementary questions have been asked by women, who make up less than 28 per cent of the House.
Question Time is a crucial part of what the House does. It is important that the spontaneity and liveliness of Question Time is not lost with any change that we might make. Many Members have mentioned Lord Williams of Mostyn and the reforms that he made. One of those reforms, to increase the number of Questions to six Questions, did not work; nor do I believe that the Questions to the Secretaries of State worked. We must be prepared to try these things, but it is important that the central focus of Question Time is not lost. I know that many Peers are reluctant to see the departure of self-regulation, but self-regulation will not survive an elected House. At the very least, the Leader’s Group will have to discuss these matters.
I want to comment briefly on a number of other matters which have been raised. My noble friend Lord Brett asked some searching questions about debates and particularly about how the Government should respond. That is a very relevant matter indeed. On the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that Statements might be made in Grand Committee, I am not at all convinced. I believe that major Statements of government policy ought to be made in this Chamber; for example, the announcement made today about the NHS, agree with it or not, was a very important Statement. Surely, such Statements ought to be heard in prime time in the Chamber. Frankly, the problem during the Statement was that experienced Members did not observe the spirit of the Companion. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that it might be useful to circulate to all noble Lords a pocket guide of the three or four essential points in the Companion.
My Lords, on that subject, under this so-called self-regulatory regime, it is extremely difficult for individual Members, who may feel embarrassed, to stand up, thereby asking others to sit down. That is why self-regulation does not work. Very few of us are prepared to get up and challenge others. There is a great onus on those on the Front Bench to do that, but very often they do not.
My Lords, that is a fair point. I would certainly encourage the Whips on the government Front Bench to intervene. They would certainly have the support of this side of the House if they sought to do so. Essentially, their role is to help the House to regulate itself.
My Lords, does the noble Lord acknowledge, even if he does not agree with Statements being taken in the Moses Room or in Grand Committee, that Back-Benchers do not get a fair crack of the whip? Even today when we had a major Statement on the National Health Service, there was very little scope for the House to express its views.
My Lords, I have two points on that. The noble Lord is right that 20 minutes is a fairly limited time. Equally, a Statement is not an occasion for Back-Benchers to make general statements about what they have heard in a Statement; it is to elucidate answers from the Minister. An extension of time would be welcome but, equally, some self-discipline among Members would be appreciated.
On the legislative procedure, many interesting points have been made about how we can go into Grand Committee more often and how the process in Grand Committee can be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a very useful comment about Report stage and how we might change the procedures there. I also thought he was right about time intervals. Experiencing opposition for the first time, and the awesome task of having to write one's own speeches and amendments, a little time between stages is indeed welcome and very necessary.
In conclusion, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We shall support it; it is a constructive move. I would comment on what the noble Lord said in the debate on the Queen's Speech. He said that Peers in this House already enjoy rights not given to Back-Benchers in the other place to table amendments at three stages of a Bill and to have each one heard and replied to. Today, he said that he had no desire to move from that, no desire for compulsory grouping of amendments or for timetabling Motions or for preventing every amendment being considered. That is welcome. I detected a veiled warning perhaps that that depended on noble Lords not abusing the flexibilities that they have. I have seen no signs of that. I agree with him that we need to update our working practices. The Official Opposition will support only change which increases the effectiveness of the House. Ultimately, the Minister must recognise that that will not happen if the parties opposite simply railroad their legislation through this House.
My Lords, first, I am grateful for those final words—“the parties opposite”—because, as was said earlier, there is an attempt by the Opposition to make a very harmonious coalition into a single party. We are a coalition. The other point that came from the debate is now a hardy annual from the Benches opposite, about the harsh treatment of the Labour Party during Question Time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will not let the facts get in the way of a good grievance.
I am very grateful. I hope that, from now on, when some people—I will not name them, but we know who they are—start shouting and screaming from those Benches, we can mention that, in the first week in June, the Labour Party had 42 per cent of questions, as against 19 per cent for the Conservatives and 16 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the second week, it was 48 per cent for the Labour Party—well done—21 per cent for the Conservatives and 13 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the third week, it was 40 per cent for Labour, 19 per cent for the Conservatives and 16 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the fourth week, it was 44 per cent for the Labour Party, 18 per cent for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. I hope that, as this Parliament settles down, we can get away from that Millwall supporters’ attitude.
No, I was just getting to the nice bit of my speech. I just thought that we could get something on the record, especially as there has been so much praise for the Library, which is busy producing statistics for both sides, as it should.
I welcome the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the Opposition intend to play a constructive role. We share his approach that the test must be the overall effectiveness of this House. I will return to that. As to how the House will work in the circumstances of the coalition, again, we have to see how things go. It is a different circumstance, but there have been other times when this House has been effective before reform. If people go to the memoirs of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, they will find that she constantly complained about the defeats that the Government suffered in the House of Lords.
My Lords, the noble Lord traded statistics with me. He has just to look at the scale of the defeats that the previous Government suffered. By my reckoning—again, I am grateful to the Library for these statistics—there were 526. During the Conservative Administration, the number of defeats was very much less.
As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just whispered in my ear, it is too early to tell what the pattern of this House will be. All that we know so far of the statistics is that the Labour Party has won 40 per cent of the votes and the Government have won 60 per cent.
My Lords, the first vote was on a technical point on the Local Government Bill. The second vote that the Government lost was very late at night on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, described as a meaningless vote.
I know what the votes were. You know what the votes were. I am just giving you the statistics.
I close this debate as Deputy Leader of the House and a loyal No. 2 to my noble friend. I am pleased to say that we approach our task today with a complete unity of purpose. I am delighted that he has given such priority to the reform of working practices so early in this Parliament. I am also pleased that he has chosen to do so in a way which benefits from the groundwork prepared by his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. This debate and the announcement of the immediate setting-up of a Leader’s Group to look into the matter in the first few weeks of this Parliament means that the reform of working practices is more than a declaration of intent: it is work in progress. I am delighted to say that my noble friend has persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, a former chairman of the Constitution Committee, to be the chair of the Leader’s Group. He will lead it with the independence and rigour that it demands.
This has been a stimulating debate. Thanks to the customary enthusiasm that noble Lords have for this subject, nobody need fear that the Leader’s Group will be wanting for inspiration, advice or input. It is not my intention to set out the Government’s views on the suggestions that have been put forward by noble Lords—they are House matters for the Leader’s Group to reflect on—but I shall make brief mention of a few individual contributions. Many noble Lords paid tribute to the ad hoc working parties chaired by the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, which originated from the Lord Speaker’s work in this area. The Hansard report for this debate will provide an excellent first evidence paper to the Leader’s Group.
Looking back even over the past 18 months, we have made a number of advances in this House’s ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government to account. We have adopted an additional set of arrangements for scrutinising fast-track legislation, based on the recommendations of the Constitution Committee, which should ensure that the House has at its disposal the information it needs to give proper consideration to such Bills and to the case for fast-tracking legislation. We have introduced a new procedure for scrutinising national policy statements, an innovation intended to enhance the House’s ability to scrutinise government policy formulated under the Planning Act. We have put in place a panoply of procedures for exercising the new powers that the House now wields in respect of European Union policy and legislation as a result of the Lisbon treaty and the entry into force of the European Union (Amendment) Act. We have conducted successful experiments with Question Time for Secretaries of State. They were successful, and have not been abandoned. We just, at the moment, do not have any Secretaries of State in this House—hope springs eternal, as they say. We also have a new approach to scrutinising Law Commission Bills, which I very much welcome. I could go on. My point is simply that we have been steadily adding to the armoury of tools at our disposal, and I am confident that the Leader’s Group will both refine existing practices and propose new ones.
I am not aware that the House debated or voted on any of the examples the Minister just gave. Something has been missing for change, and this is why we were advised not to go down the Procedure Committee route. No one is asking the Leader’s Group to put the whole agenda forward but, when it has considered issues, it should bring to the House not just recommendations about those issues that it agrees with, but other issues for the House to decide. We do not want to be told that the Leader’s Group has agreed all these things and to be asked whether we agree with them. What about the things it may not have agreed with? The House might have a view and therefore it must make the final decision about what goes on the agenda, not the Leader’s Group.
It says here: “Did the House vote on these examples? Yes, it did”. It must have been when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was not here. I could go on. My point is simply that we have been steadily adding to the armoury of tools and as we move forward we need to recognise that, although there is a considerable appetite for further reform to our practices and procedures in many parts of the House, notably among those who have contributed to today’s debate, others take a different view—and we have heard a few of those today.
There is little time left tonight, save to say that we will set up the Leader’s Group, which will have the widest of wide agendas. We will then see what it reports back to us. That will be a very exciting time. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked what we are here for. In my 15 years in this House, I have never had any doubt that I am a parliamentarian. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that we are here as legislators. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that we are here to check the Executive. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that he used topical debates to influence government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said that she goes about making a nuisance of herself. That combination is what we are here for, and we want the procedures to fulfil those roles. We do not need to agonise too much about this; the task is to find the working practices to facilitate that work.
Some themes have come through. It is interesting that about 10 speakers referred to a revised role of the Lord Speaker. I am sure that the Leader’s Group will look at that but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others have said, there are doubts about it. We have said before that powers to the Lord Speaker would be a slippery slope. Well, let the Leader’s Group look at that.
I have always been a great advocate of pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, and I hope that we can look at that very quickly.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about Questions being a bear pit. I am not too sure about that. This is a Parliament, and I worry about what people who are invited to join a Parliament expect it to be. I also listened to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I know a place where people come in, read their speeches and go out. Has anyone seen the American Congress being televised? It looks like a funeral parlour most of the time. One of the things that I like about this place is the courtesy of people staying and listening to speeches. I know that Members harbour suspicions about my intentions for this House. I am even a bit suspicious of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, wanting us to get rid of the ermine. We wear it only once a year, and I think that we should keep some of the old courtesies and perhaps some of the old clothing. I have said once before, and got into terrible trouble when I did so, that if we start to look like Croydon Council we will be treated like Croydon Council. I had forgotten that there is a complete mafia of Croydon councillors in this House, who stopped me the next day and said “Oi!”. One of the constructive things about this place is that it retains those courtesies, which are part of its power.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked what our approach would be to trial and pilots, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. That is a very good suggestion, but it is a matter for the Leader’s Group, which I hope it will take on board.
I turn to other points that I can cover in the time left. The noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Filkin, referred to whether the Leader’s Group remit would extend to the governance arrangements of the House. The terms of reference will be widely drawn. The group will need to set priorities and will take its own decisions on what it wants to cover, but it is setting itself a big agenda.
A large number of noble Lords pointed out that we cannot consider our practices and procedures in isolation from those of the House of Commons. The House of Lords and the House of Commons keep their separation up to a point. We should learn from what they have done. There have been several good references to the work of the Wright committee. I do not think that we have been standing still even while the Wright committee has been working, but the Leader’s Group gives an impetus to what has been going on here. As a first step, my noble friend might talk to Sir George Young, the Leader of the House of Commons. I cannot remember who mentioned this point, but striking up a dialogue with the House of Commons is not always as easy as colleagues might think. However, knowing the two men I have just mentioned, some soft soundings might help in meshing what is going on at both ends of the building.
It would be helpful to the House if my noble friend could give some indication of how long this might take. My noble friend Lord Goodlad is a serious man who I am sure will take this very seriously. But is there any chance of getting an interim report by, say, the end of the calendar year?
Again, that would be both impudent of me and unfair to my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his group. From what has been said today, this will not be a speedy process. There is a big agenda and a lot to be considered. As has been said, the group will look for advice not only from within this Chamber but from bodies outside which have studied these matters.
I will not commit myself to that. At the end of the year there will be a draft Bill which will itself go to legislative scrutiny. There is no rushing of fences on this. There is some serious work to be done. A very good agenda has been set up. A standing committee to look at practices and procedures may come out of—
While my noble friend is on procedure, perhaps we may revert for a moment to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I presume that the Leader’s Group will produce a report, which will be put to the House with a Motion that it is approved and will be open to amendment. It will include an enormous number of proposals, which could well elicit a large number of amendments. I hope that my noble friend will take on board the need to have perhaps a special procedure or at least a substantial time for us to deal with it.
I think so, but we should first look at the report. Certainly, we will not do what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, implied; namely, to say, “This is it: take it or leave it”. We hope that the committee will bring forward a range of suggestions which will be open to the House, but it will remain in this House’s power to decide what it wants out of that report.
As I said, this Hansard report will produce a good first working document for the group of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. Also, those such as the Hansard Society and other groups who take an interest in these matters will see an open invitation to submit their evidence, as will the parties and individual Members of the House. I hope that it may even consider the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lucas and open up its workings to the new technologies so that we can get ideas through in that way. I also noted him saying that the Benches behind me should relearn the art of rebellion. I have to say that some of us never thought he had lost the knack for that.
I finish on a thought that comes from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. He gave us a political warning, and it is one I can feel as a parliamentarian: do not think that you can smooth all the rough edges out of our parliamentary workings. If you smooth all the rough edges away, the House will stop doing its job. Sometimes it has to be awkward and uncomfortable, and indeed sometimes we have to stay late, to make it do its job. I have never wanted to see this House be a kind of rubber stamp for the Executive of the day. My noble friend has put this forward in the real spirit of his job, not as a government Minister but as the Leader of the House—in the spirit of looking after the interests of this House. In this debate he has combined the Churchillian order of “Action this day” with the Maoist invocation to let a thousand flowers bloom.
You didn’t know you’d done that, did you? My noble friend is now getting worried.
It is that combination of urgency and open-mindedness which gives us the best prospect for progress. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the Leader’s Group well, and I hope that it receives ideas and proposals from both inside and outside the House to help it in its deliberations.
House adjourned at 8.52 pm.