House of Lords
Monday, 26 March 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Winchester
Timothy John, Lord Bishop of Winchester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Death of a Member: Lord Newton of Braintree
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the assistance given by the Serious Organised Crime Agency to the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions and Intelligence Co-ordination Centre in the Seychelles will include information gleaned from suspicious activity reports.
My Lords, no decision has been made on whether SOCA will share information from suspicious activity reports with the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions and Intelligence Co-ordination Centre. We are still determining the centre’s requirements, which will include safeguards for the protection of personal data.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response—although, alas, there is not a huge amount to thank him for but just a little bit—but I should be grateful if he would ensure that we are told when a decision has been reached on this matter. Would he not agree, moreover, that now that the Government are getting a better grip on all aspects of the problems of Somalia, including that of piracy, it is high time that the Government insisted that anyone assembling a ransom should file a suspicious activity report about that? Would he also confirm that the Prime Minister has now asked for a proper study to be made of all aspects of the issue of assembling ransoms?
My Lords, I thought that my Answer was quite helpful. However, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that he will be told, and the House will be informed, when we have made a decision. As regards whether SARs should be used whenever a ransom has been paid, the paying of ransom, as the noble Lord will be aware, is not illegal as such, although we deplore the practice because we do not think it assists. I can also confirm that, as the noble Lord put it, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister does want further work to be looked at in this area to see whether it should be something for which a SAR should automatically be filed if that is the case.
My Lords, it has been known for some time that terrorist groups such as AQIM have used kidnap for ransom as a source of income. Why did the Government not mention this in the course of the extended correspondence with the EU Select Committee about piracy off the coast of Somalia?
My Lords, we made it clear that we do not believe that the money going in ransoms to—if I can put it this way—the ordinary Somali pirates is generally going into terrorists’ hands. What is being gathered by AQIM is coming from other kidnapping operations and, as the noble Lord will be aware, there is a very good chance that that is going into terrorism operations, in which case it would be illegal to pay that ransom.
My Lords, given that the money-laundering regulations, which are part of the law now, make it perfectly clear that any payment made in connection with a criminal activity has to be reported to the government authorities and that consent has to be given before any payments are made, why has there been a de facto exemption in the case of payments negotiated by insurance companies or their representatives for ransoms in connection with piracy, which, whatever else it is, is clearly a criminal activity?
My Lords, the simple fact is that, much as we deplore the payment of ransoms—Her Majesty's Government have made that clear for some time—they are not illegal as such. That is why, in answer to the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I made it clear that the Prime Minister has asked for work to be conducted in this field.
Olympic Games 2012: Disruption to Businesses
My Lords, London will be open for business this summer. Everyone involved in planning for the Games is focused on delivering a great Games while keeping London and the UK moving. Since November 2010, Transport for London has been working with businesses of all sizes in the capital to help them plan ahead for the impact that the Games might have on their staff travel, their deliveries and other aspects of their operations.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Answer. Given that businesses in central London—here I have an interest of sorts to declare—have been officially advised to plan for severe disruption to their operations because of traffic congestion as a result of the Olympic route network and the congested public transport system, can he assure the House that everything possible will be done to ensure that, while the Olympic Games are a great success, the normal commercial business of London is kept moving as far as possible?
My Lords, we recognise the importance of this issue. We accept that there will be serious consequences if we get the planning wrong. There may be some severe disruption to a few businesses in certain locations, but the overall policy objective is business as usual. There will be impacts on businesses, most of which, overall, will be positive. However, there are potential adverse impacts. They can be mitigated by timely information and good planning. The website, Get Ahead of the Games, provides both the necessary information and the planning tools.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that having the greatest sporting festival in the world on our doorstep is something for which we should be prepared to tolerate a little delay? Can he further give us assurances and guidance about where we have looked for examples of how best to deal with any confusion?
My noble friend makes an extremely important point. It is quite clear to me that those planning for the Olympics have carefully studied the experience of other nations when they have put their Games on, which is one reason why I think that we are on track to deliver an excellent set of Games.
My Lords, it is of course enormously important that transport in London is sustained sufficiently for normal businesses to be able to operate. However, the Minister will know of one form of business that will already be adversely affected—black cabs, which will not be able to go into these privileged lanes. So, that is one business that is facing a real challenge. Can the Minister assure us that government Ministers and others who have privileged transport will not trespass into these lanes, which we recognise are in response to the requirements of the Olympic authorities and already attract the unfortunate epithet of the Zil lanes, after the privileged form of transport in Moscow? I can think of nothing more offensive to the ordinary Londoner than to see that these lanes which are reserved for athletes to fulfil their Olympic obligations are being patronised by government Ministers.
My Lords, if I may say so, that was an ingenious question from the spokesman for the Opposition. However, noble Lords will recall that the bid plans were approved by the previous Administration. On a particular point about the Olympic route network and the Games lanes, the Games lanes will be put in place only where there are two lanes, and only for as long as necessary.
My Lords, could the Minister tell me what thought has been given to the effect on retail business of the extended closure of pedestrian crossings? Certain major roads in the centre of London will have a barrier completely down the middle, and the number of pedestrian crossings will be reduced by half. Will that not affect people in retail terms since they will be able to buy only from whatever business happens to be on their side of the road?
My Lords, it is important to remember that there will be opportunities as well as disadvantages for retail businesses. I would urge retail businesses to visit the Get Ahead of the Games website, where, by using the tools available, they will easily be able to see what the impact of travel disruption will be.
Perhaps the Minister could address the potential effects of a cyber surge in view of the huge interest there will be in the Olympic Games themselves, the potentially huge diversion of businesses and their employees to outside of London, based on the need to avoid any transport and other difficulties. There may well be a pretty large surge of demand for internet capabilities. Can the Minister tell us what provision or action the Government have made or taken to ensure continuity of service in the cyber and internet fields? It could cause huge disruption to business if that is not assured.
My Lords, will the Minister expand a little on his response to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham? We read in the press of the arrival of hundreds if not thousands of members of the Olympic family—which I think probably means the International Olympic Committee and all the hangers-on. No doubt each participating member state will send a senior Minister and their entourage, and that is before we get to our own Ministers. Will all these people be able to use these special lanes in addition to the athletes—who are the ones we want to get there on time—or will they be confined just to the athletes? If the lanes are extended to all these other people who think that they have a role to play then, as my noble friend said, the public will get very angry indeed.
My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that the provision of the Olympic route network was a key component of our bid to host the Olympics. If we had simply said to the International Olympic Committee, “Oh yes, we will have a great transport system”, we simply would not have secured the bid. We had to tell the International Olympic Committee specifically how we would provide the transport, including the Olympic route network.
My Lords, can my noble friend readdress the question asked by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes? If 50 per cent of the crossing places in, for instance, Oxford Street are to be closed and barriers will make it impossible to cross the road other than in the remaining 50 per cent of places, many people who are not that fit will have to make very long journeys on foot to get across the road, even when it is not rush hour. That, together with fighting against the tide, will put some people out of the commercial race altogether.
My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that there will be excellent communications between the various modes of transportation so that those involved in surface rail will talk to those who work on the Underground, and vice versa? Last week there was a massive delay at Waterloo, yet the Underground had no notice of this and went on piling people into Waterloo. I hope that the two will talk to each other during the Games.
My Lords, I know that generally noble Lords have been disappointed with some of the information systems during transport disruptions. I recently visited the Transport for London surface operations control centre in London and was very impressed by it. In addition, for the Games a transport co-ordination centre will ensure co-ordination and communication between all transport operators, authorities and Games organisers. It will focus on transport operations that could affect delivery of the Games and it will be funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority.
Armed Forces: Redundancies
My Lords, as a result of the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review, it has been necessary to plan for redundancies in both the Civil Service and the Armed Forces to restore public finances and to better equip and shape the forces for the future. I can advise that some 12 per cent of those selected for redundancy in tranche one of the Armed Forces redundancy programme were aged 24 or below—that is, some 350 people. Selections for tranche two have yet to take place.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I venture to suggest that the number will end up somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000, but we shall wait to see in due course. These young people will leave the services having been trained at taxpayers’ expense for war—a profession that does not read across easily to other professions. We may well find that they will have great difficulty in getting employment thereafter and merely add to the 1 million unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds. Last year, the Government added £1 billion to the programme. The absurdity is that those made redundant are going to be replaced by the Territorial Army.
My question is coming. They are going to be replaced by the Territorial Army, which is composed of part-timers whereas those being made redundant are full-timers, whose members will have two jobs, two wages and two paymasters. Will the Government reconsider this issue? It would be perfectly possible to continue to employ those who do not wish to leave the Army, either by giving them some of the £1 billion that the Government are investing in the young or by underrecruiting the unrecruited TA.
My Lords, I think that I recognise a certain anti-TA bias in that comment, which neither I nor the Government share. The total reduction in the size of the Armed Forces over the next several years will amount to 17,000 and it is estimated that the total necessary redundancies from currently serving personnel will be 11,000. The proportion of those servicemen under the age of 25 will be much closer to 2,000 to 3,000 than the figures the noble and gallant Lord has suggested.
My Lords, would the noble Lord assure me and the House that servicemen and women in this age group who may be redundant will be guided towards apprenticeships which we already have in place for service people leaving the services early? It is particularly important that such people are trained up and apprenticeships are very necessary to achieve this.
Of course, many of those who came in as young leaders in the armed services are already being trained in the Army in the sort of skills that are highly valuable in civilian life. There is a resettlement scheme in place which will provide transitional training. In recent times, 93 per cent of those who left the Army under the resettlement scheme have found jobs within six months and 97 per cent within 12 months. I am sure that people with good records in the Army will have much that sort of experience.
My Lords, redundant personnel will have spent many years living and working in the Armed Forces. Are the Government going to give them training to enable them to find accommodation, food and other essentials? I also find it strange that, at the same time, there are advertisements on television for jobs in the Armed Forces. Can the Minister explain why?
My Lords, I think noble Lords will understand why continuing recruitment at a lower level needs to continue in order to maintain the correct balance of age groups and skills in the Armed Forces, even as they are reduced. There are opportunities for those selected for redundancy to apply for other skill training within the armed services, so it is not simply one out and another person in.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current machinations about aircraft for aircraft carriers bring to mind the maxim, “Order, counter-order, disorder” and, rather more coarsely, the ouslam bird? Does he not agree that getting rid of the seed corn now will mean that the generation of the carriers will be rather more expensive and far more difficult than it need be?
My Lords, we all recognise that we are not in an entirely happy situation as far as the carriers are concerned. That is part of the problems which this Government inherited with very large carriers already under way. The question of how far we maintain and renew the skills involved is under active consideration. Our American and French partners will, no doubt, be willing to assist in this. Indeed, discussions are already under way.
My Lords, referring back to a previous question, would the Minister give a further assurance about the importance placed on recruiting 18 to 24 year-olds? The Armed Forces are essentially a group of organisations which rely on young people. Does he agree that it is important to continue to recruit these people, to advertise and to make sure that our training establishments are properly maintained? Does he further agree that there will come a moment when we may have to expand our Armed Forces again and that we do not wish to run down our machinery too much in advance of that?
My Lords, I entirely agree that we need to maintain a balance in the forces. Many people join the Armed Forces in the hope of staying in for 22 years, but others join hoping to stay in for three or six years. In visiting one or two TA units, I have been struck by the number of people in the TA who have spent time with the Regular Forces or, in some cases, who started in the TA, moved into the Regular Forces and then came out and back to the TA. There is not a simple package or career structure in place. It is very good for some young people to spend some time with the Armed Forces and then come back into civilian life.
Are these service personnel being made redundant to make savings and keep expenditure within budget, despite the Government being able to afford a reduction in the top rate of income tax, or are they being made redundant because they are not needed to meet current and projected military commitments— namely, that they are surplus to requirements?
There is a range of reasons why some reductions, including in defence expenditure, are being made. As we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan in 2014, for the first time in a very long time we will not be, we hope, engaged in any active military operations; and, as we withdraw our troops from Germany, for the first time in over 200 years we will be within sight of our Armed Forces being mainly based in the United Kingdom. Some real and major adjustments to our Armed Forces will be under way in the next five to 10 years.
Scotland: Constitutional Future
My Lords, on 20 March the Secretary of State wrote to party spokespeople setting out an initial summary of the findings of the consultation. This letter was deposited in the Library and I set out the initial findings during the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill on 21 March. Officials are currently reviewing and analysing the consultation responses and a full summary will be published before the Third Reading of the Scotland Bill.
My Lords, will the Minister confess that the Government have broken their promise to publish the response in advance of the Report stage of the Scotland Bill, which we are taking this afternoon? In order to make amends, will he discuss with his colleagues a way of getting every department of government, particularly the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence, to commission independent reports in advance of the referendum on the real costs of breaking up Britain?
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will agree that we had a good debate about the referendum in Committee last Wednesday. I was able to give clear indications to the effect that, for example, the majority who responded to the consultation believed that powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and that a great majority of those also supported the use of a Section 30 order. Our initial analysis shows clear support for a single question on independence, for the referendum to be held sooner rather than later, and for the involvement of the Electoral Commission. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord’s question, I hope that all departments will be very much engaged in setting out a positive case for the union.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble and learned friend for the undertaking to publish the full results of the consultation before Third Reading. That is very welcome and much appreciated. Secondly, given that the Government have decided not to proceed by amendment of the Scotland Bill to a referendum, will he give an undertaking that in the absence of reaching agreement on a single question organised by the Electoral Commission, the Government will bring forward their own legislation in the next Session of Parliament, as a Section 30 order requires the consent of the First Minister and his officials?
My Lords, a Section 30 order requires the consent of both Houses of this Parliament and of the Scottish Parliament. As I said last week, if agreement cannot be reached on a Section 30 order and if we are to try to ensure that this matter is kept out of the courts, which would be very helpful, the Government will need to consider what other options are open to them in order to provide a legal, fair and decisive referendum. Many people said that there would be no chance of getting a legislative consent Motion in respect of the Scotland Bill, but that is now within our grasp and is going to happen. I think we should focus our efforts on making sure, as I believe we can, that we get a Section 30 order for a fair, legal and decisive referendum.
My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to repeat to the House the assurance he gave in Committee that while the question of whether Scotland wishes to leave the United Kingdom is properly a matter for the Scottish people, any other question that would affect the relationship between the people of the United Kingdom—that is, extended devolution—cannot just be a decision for the Scottish people? It must also be a decision for which there is consultation with either the rest of the people of the United Kingdom or the United Kingdom Parliament.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Reid, makes an important distinction between a question about a referendum on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and one that would necessarily involve other parts of the United Kingdom. That is why the Government believe it is inappropriate for any referendum to have two questions. He is right to say that if there is to be further devolution, there must be some means of engaging other parts of the United Kingdom. The main provisions of the Scotland Bill, which we are currently debating, were included in the manifestos of the three parties at the last general election.
Have the Government given any thought to a consultation on England’s constitutional future, bearing in mind that with the increasingly powerful and dedicated representation that the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament afford to their citizens, this country is going to feel increasingly left out?
My Lords, I hope that in our arguments and debates about a referendum on Scotland’s future, we can make it clear that not only do we believe that Scotland is better off within the United Kingdom, but the United Kingdom is better off with Scotland.
The noble Earl will be aware that a commission has been set up to look at the implications of devolution for the procedures in the House of Commons, under the chairmanship of the Sir William Mackay. We await the outcome of that commission.
My Lords, coming back to the original Question, will the noble and learned Lord accept that with the Bill in your Lordships’ House at the moment, it is completely unacceptable for the full consultation not to be published until just before Third Reading? Will he accept that in view of that, and the fact that noble Lords may well wish to lay amendments on Third Reading, there should be greater latitude for amendments to be laid at that stage?
My Lords, I do not necessarily think I can indicate the latitude that would be allowed at that stage, although I hear what the noble Lord says. I hope he will agree, that we gave considerable indications in Committee and, indeed, if the matter arises again today, on Report. In answering the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I indicated some of the key elements where the majority of opinion lies within the consultation. I think that was able to inform our debate on a referendum last week. I very much hope that by the time we get to Third Reading, people will have had an opportunity not just to analyse the numbers but also the quality of some of the responses, and they will feel that the preferences expressed by the Government in the consultation document command considerable support.
Business of the House
Motion to Agree
Procedure of the House
Motion to Agree
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I would first like to apologise for the fact that the debate has been brought forward by a day. The date was rearranged at the request of the usual channels, in order to avoid disrupting business tomorrow, when I know the House will be keen to make progress on the legal aid Bill. However, the Procedure Committee report has been available for almost two months now, and the Liaison Committee report was published last Wednesday, so I hope that noble Lords will have had ample opportunity to consider them.
I have waited until now to move the Motion on the Procedure Committee report because I felt that it would be useful for the House to be able to debate it alongside any report from the Liaison Committee. The proposals in both reports require extra resources and I am sure that noble Lords will wish to consider their implications in the round. In order to assist the House in considering these proposals, the House Committee agreed to publish its Third Report, which sets out the potential costs of the proposals contained within the Procedure Committee and Liaison Committee reports. The House is not being invited to come to a decision on the House Committee report; it is purely for information. However, I hope that noble Lords will find its contents useful during the course of today’s debates.
I should make it clear at the outset that, although the Procedure Committee and Liaison Committee reports are linked by the common issue of costs, we will debate them separately, as they cover very different areas of the work of the House. After I have introduced the Procedure Committee report, I expect the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to move her amendment. I would then expect that the majority of the debate on the Procedure Committee report would take place on that amendment. After the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness has been disposed of, the House can then take each of the other amendments in turn—without, I hope, further debate. Only once a final decision on the Procedure Committee report has been taken will we turn to the Liaison Committee report.
I now turn to the Procedure Committee report itself, to which four amendments were tabled. The report covers two issues: Grand Committees and Questions for Written Answer. I shall first address Grand Committees, and the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. The committee’s recommendations on Grand Committees derive from recommendations made by the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. The Leader’s Group recommended, first, that,
“the sitting hours of the Grand Committee should in future be more predictable and longer”,
“that a rule be established, and included in the Companion, that all Government Bills introduced in the Commons should be considered in Grand Committee, apart from major constitutional Bills and emergency legislation and other exceptionally controversial Bills”.
Finally, the group recommended that some new types of business, including Oral Statements, could be taken in Grand Committee.
The Procedure Committee considered these recommendations along with proposals by the Leader of the House, which varied from them in certain important respects. First, on longer sitting hours, the Leader’s Group recommended, in broad terms, that Grand Committees sit every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 10.30 am until 12.30 pm, and from 2.30 pm until 6.30 pm. The Leader of the House, as our report states in paragraph 3, proposed instead that Grand Committees on Monday to Wednesday should continue to start at their present times, but that Grand Committees on primary legislation on these days should sit until 10 pm, with a one-hour break for dinner. Sitting times on Thursdays would also be varied, with Grand Committees on primary legislation sitting from noon until 7 pm, with a one-hour break.
It is not for me to comment on the merits of longer Grand Committee hours. Longer hours will involve additional costs, and the House Committee has examined them and set out its commitment to deliver savings to offset any additional expenditure, so that the overall effect is cost-neutral. It is for the House as a whole, in light of the House Committee’s report, to decide whether the benefits of increased Grand Committee scrutiny of primary legislation justify any additional expenditure. Nor is it for me to comment on the relative merits of morning as against evening sittings. The Leader took the view that morning sittings would be unlikely to find favour with the House as a whole, and the committee, on balance, agreed. The committee also agreed with the Leader’s proposal that, on days when more than one Oral Statement is to be made or repeated, the option should be available to take one of the Statements in Grand Committee, during the dinner break.
I now turn to the committee’s recommendation on the committal of Bills to the Grand Committee. As I have already said, the Leader’s Group recommended that there be a rule, enshrined in the Companion, that government Bills sent from the Commons be committed to Grand Committee, subject to certain exceptions. The Leader argued that the proposed exceptions, constitutional or emergency Bills, or other “exceptionally controversial Bills”, were both too rigid and impossible to define. He proposed instead that there should be general presumption that government Bills introduced in the Commons should be committed to Grand Committee, except where the usual channels agree otherwise. My understanding is that this approach would allow the usual channels to consider a range of factors, such as the level of interest across the House in a particular Bill, in deciding whether it would be in the interests of Members that that Bill should be considered in Grand Committee or in a Committee of the Whole House. However, as now, the final decision would rest with the House as a formal committal Motion would need to be agreed in the usual way.
Finally, I wish to draw noble Lords’ attention to the final bullet point in paragraph 10, which states that the new arrangements, if agreed by the House, would be adopted on a trial basis, for the 2012-13 Session only. It would require a further decision of the House, following a review by the Procedure Committee, to extend them beyond spring 2013.
As the report makes clear, the committee was not unanimous in agreeing its recommendations on Grand Committees. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, both made clear their preference for the approach recommended by the Leader’s Group, and this is reflected in the noble Baroness’s amendment. This amendment will be called next, and I shall leave it to the noble Baroness and others to debate the merits of the two alternative approaches on offer. My position on this amendment is entirely neutral.
The second amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is more far-reaching in that it would return the entire issue of Grand Committees to the Procedure Committee. No doubt the noble Lord, when he speaks, will clarify what he hopes to achieve by means of his amendment and what he thinks the Procedure Committee should consider further. Again, my position on the amendment is entirely neutral.
I now turn to the second part of the report, which concerns Questions for Written Answer. The committee proposes a new weekly limit of 12 on the number of Written Questions that Members are entitled to table. The committee unanimously supported this recommendation. The background is covered briefly in the report. The number of Questions for Written Answer has risen inexorably in the past 10 years, from an average of 29 on each sitting day in 2003-04 to 60 per day in the current Session.
None of us doubts that the tabling of Questions for Written Answer is a vital part of parliamentary scrutiny of government. However, these Questions come at a cost. The report quotes the average cost to the Government of £159 per Written Question. We did not put a figure on the cost to this House—for instance, in staff time and printing—but a recent report by the House of Commons Procedure Committee suggested that the cost to the House of Commons was around £80 per Written Question, giving a total cost to the public purse of just under £240 per Written Question. Putting these figures into the context of the House of Lords, Written Questions cost the public around £14,300 in respect of each sitting day, rather than the £9,500 quoted in the report.
The committee also bore in mind the huge discrepancy between Members of the House in the rate at which they table Written Questions. The Clerk of the Parliaments provided analysis of all Written Questions tabled from October to December 2011, which showed that just 10 Members of your Lordships’ House tabled 45 per cent of all Questions for Written Answer. Just three noble Lords tabled 27 per cent of all Questions in that period.
Taking these factors into account, the committee agreed unanimously that a weekly limit of 12 Questions per Member was proportionate and reasonable, and would enable noble Lords to continue their essential work of scrutinising the Government, while reducing the scope for what some might regard as abuse of the Order Paper. I therefore oppose the amendment in the name of noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, intends to move. The committee has considered the matter in considerable detail on the basis of a very thorough analysis of the evidence supplied. We have made a recommendation. The House may agree to it or not, but I see no point in referring the matter back at this stage.
Finally, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would create a new rule that, in weeks when the House was not sitting, Members would be entitled to table up to six Questions for Written Answer. Of course I understand what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve. However, I hope that the House will agree that this would be a significant change, which would have cost implications both for the House and for government departments. It could also have a major impact on the staff of the House, particularly the Table Office. I certainly do not reject the noble Lord’s amendment out of hand, but I suggest that we need to give more detailed consideration to the practicalities of his proposal. If he is willing not to move his amendment when his turn comes, I will undertake to put the proposal before the Procedure Committee when it next meets, which is likely to be early in the new Session.
I trust that I have said enough on the report and the amendments. As I have already indicated, my position on the issue of Grand Committees is neutral, given that, as the report states, the committee was not unanimous in reaching its recommendations. On Questions for Written Answer, the committee was unanimous, and I commend the recommendation set out in paragraph 15 of the report to the House. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
As an amendment to the above Motion, at the end to insert “, but with the fourth bullet point in paragraph 10 left out and replaced with the following words:
“That all government Bills introduced in the House of Commons should be considered in Grand Committee, apart from major constitutional Bills and emergency legislation and other exceptionally controversial Bills”.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chairman of Committees for moving the Motion on the reports. All the proposals contained in the reports have their roots in the recommendations of the report of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. We on these Benches support moves to improve and modernise the working practices of your Lordships’ House. While not everyone would necessarily agree with every recommendation from the Leader’s Group, we recognise that the group made a constructive and coherent attempt to bring forward improvements, building on the work originally put in place by the former Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Similarly constructive attempts were made in the past on these Benches, in groups chaired by my noble friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Grocott. However, their recommendations related to a different, more iterative process in relation to Grand Committees.
All these constructive attempts shared another characteristic: they were all packages intended to bring forward balanced proposals for reform that would be of benefit to the House as a whole, not necessarily to the Executive or the Opposition. We on these Benches argue that this should have been—and still should be—the approach taken to the Goodlad proposals. However, the impression given is that of a piecemeal, cherry-picking approach that brings forward proposals that seek to advantage the Executive at the expense of our self-regulating House. That is what is in front of your Lordships today.
I know that there is some anxiety on all sides of the House about the order in which the recommendations were considered by the respective committees, and about the proposals brought before the House. There is some suspicion, for example, about the timing of the proposals to put more Bills into Grand Committee, especially at a time when our forthcoming Recess has been extended because of lack of business. On all Benches there is a constant demand—not new under this Government, I have to confess—for less, rather than more, legislation; and press briefings inform us that the next Session is likely to be relatively light apart from the vexed issue of Lords reform. Proposals stemming from the Goodlad group should be brought forward in a way that is strategic, systematic, coherent and consistent.
In moving my amendment, I shall deal with two issues before us today: Grand Committees and Questions for Written Answer. We on these Benches agree with the principle of considering more Bills in Grand Committee. Scrutiny in Grand Committee, especially of technical Bills, is enhanced in many ways. Certainly at present the Grand Committee has more capacity for the scrutiny of Bills and should be properly utilised. The proposals originally brought forward by the Leader of the House appear to take more power for the Executive but, although they are framed in terms of increasing the timing of sittings of Grand Committee, from discussions with the usual channels I heard and understood that the principal objective of the Leader of the House was not greater time but greater flexibility in the use of Grand Committee, and of course I welcome that. Indeed, I understand that the Leader has written to Cross-Bench Peers along those lines. Even so, I am aware that many on the Benches behind me have strong reservations about the proposals. We sought to work through the usual channels constructively to try to find clarifications of the proposals for the benefit of the whole House. I had hoped that such clarifications could be agreed, but I am sorry to report that agreement proved not to be possible.
We tried very constructively but agreement was eventually not forthcoming. Accordingly, I tabled the amendment standing in my name that seeks to reinsert the formula originally proposed by the Leader’s Group—a proposal that had support from all parties, and from Members of no party, across your Lordships’ House. My amendment to the report from the Procedure Committee will not have been a surprise to members of that committee, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said. On each and every occasion when the proposals were discussed, I put forward strong arguments in favour of retaining the criteria contained in the Goodlad proposals—namely, that emergency Bills, constitutional Bills and other exceptionally controversial Bills should not be dealt with in Grand Committee. This is in complete accord with the recommendations of the 1994 Rippon report, upon which I understand the recommendations were drafted.
The noble Lord the Leader may well say later that the wording of the proposal before us—
“That there should be a presumption that Government bills introduced in the House of Commons should be committed to a Grand Committee, except where the Usual Channels agree otherwise”—
is less prescriptive and allows greater flexibility. I disagree. Rather, such a presumption seeks to increase the power and influence of the Executive, altering the balance between the Executive and your Lordships’ House in favour of the Executive, Ministers and the Government. I urge noble Lords to support my amendment in order to ensure that the proper balance between the Executive and a self-regulating House of Lords is retained. That is the effect of my amendment and the balance that I believe this House needs and wants to strike.
On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that the report should be referred back to the committee, a range of issues should be considered, including the timings of Grand Committees and the implication for resources. We have some sympathy with the desire of the Leader of the House for there to be more flexibility in the hours of work of the Grand Committee. That is why we tried as hard as we did to agree clarification, which would have aided the whole House.
I am glad that the proposals before us no longer reflect the Goodlad recommendation that Grand Committees should meet in the morning, because I agree with the noble Lord the Leader that such timings would inconvenience the whole House. Rather than the Grand Committee being able to sit until 10 pm, my strong preference, as I argued in meetings of the Procedure Committee and the House Committee, would be to end it by 8.30 pm with no supper break. Apart from being more convenient for Members of the House, it would enable the Administration to plan its resources and thus keep down costs. Of course, if more Bills were to be considered in Grand Committee where votes are not taken, more time than usual would be needed for Report, to enable votes on a greater number of issues. We found that in relation to the Welfare Reform Bill.
I know that we have discussed these issues on the Floor of the House in the past, but I am sure that today’s deliberations would greatly assist any future discussions in the Procedure Committee. From the amendments before us today and discussions with Members across the House, I sense that your Lordships’ House is uneasy with the proposals in front of it. Clearly we should listen to the debate this afternoon and, if that is the case, the House may wish to support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to refer the matter back.
The second issue before us is on Questions for Written Answer and I am pleased to support the recommendation from the House Committee. Accordingly I do not support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. On the proposal from my noble friend Lord Berkeley, I take on board what the Chairman of Committees said and I look forward to my noble friend moving his amendment, but I hope he will agree to the Procedure Committee taking it back for further detailed consideration.
In conclusion, I am sure that the Chairman of Committees will be able to see and interpret the mood of your Lordships’ House today and act accordingly. In the mean time I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I agree with much of what she said, but not all of it. I would not dissent from her on the issue of hours. I have no quarrel with my noble friend the Leader of the House on that, but the noble Baroness’s suggestion of an 8.30 pm finish has much to commend it without in any way reducing the hours that my noble friend would have. That is not the real issue that I want to address.
I am very proud to be a Member of this House. When I came from another place I looked upon this House as one where legislation was properly scrutinised, time was taken and “we do things differently here”. In the context of legislation we do things better here. This is something that we do not wish to lose. We are a self-regulating House. I never want us to be in danger of becoming a government-regulated House. That is why I put down this amendment. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in stating that, as a rule, all Bills should go to Grand Committee except for her three exceptions.
I do not agree with the noble Baroness for two reasons. One is that it is always difficult to define an exception. What is a highly controversial Bill to some Members of the House may be a matter of simple common sense to others. What is a constitutional Bill to some Members of the House may not be to others. I instance the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. That was, as far as I am concerned, a major constitutional Bill. There were those who argued during our deliberations that it was not. Who is to determine? At the moment it is entirely up to your Lordships’ House to decide whether a Bill goes to Grand Committee or not.
As this Session grinds to a halt we have had a good example in the Welfare Reform Bill. It was suggested that it would be better dealt with in Grand Committee and it went there. It had the consequence, to which the noble Baroness has referred, that Report took much longer because there was no opportunity for voting in Grand Committee. When we are contemplating a move of this nature, we have to bear it in mind that votes do not take place in Grand Committee. My noble friend interjects, “Yet”, and that is one of the points behind my amendment, and one of the reasons why I would like to see this matter looked at again by the Procedure Committee.
In another place a few years ago, the Executive decided that they wanted to take a greater grip of Parliament and to have every Bill programmed. Of course, having sat for almost equal lengths of time on the government and opposition sides of the House, I know that perspective changes according to where you sit. It was wonderful to behold some of the Rottweiler Ministers of 1979 to 1997 suddenly becoming gamekeepers turned poacher when they were in opposition. I make no complaint about that, but I look with fond nostalgia on the memory of the great, late Eric Forth, than whom there was no more draconian Minister and than whom there was no more belligerent opposition Member.
We look at things from different points of view, but Parliament should never be the creature of the Executive. It is difficult enough for Parliament to hold the Executive to account when the Executive are drawn from Parliament. I am not suggesting that we should alter our system. I do not want us to go to an American-style separation of powers, but I recognise that if we are going to get the balance right, the Executive must not trammel, crib, cabin and confine the legislature.
This is exactly what happened in another place shortly after the coming to power of the Blair Administration, when we moved inexorably—partly because Eric Forth and his friends were using the weapon of time somewhat indiscriminately—to the situation where every Bill became timetabled. How often in my brief period here have I heard Members lament the fact that in spite of a change of Government, the timetabling procedures remain? More and more responsibility falls upon your Lordships’ House because of that.
It would be very unfortunate if we allowed ourselves to lose the flexibility that true self-regulation provides. During those 18 years in opposition in the other place, I often came out of the Division Lobby feeling depressed—we could not win, the Government’s majority was so enormous—but my colleagues and I would suddenly see a glimmer of hope and the cry would go up, “Our hope is in the Lords”. Indeed it was, and not infrequently it was realised. The Labour Governments of Mr Blair and Mr Brown suffered a number of significant defeats in this place and sometimes as a consequence they thought again.
As we have seen recently in the long saga of the Health and Social Care Bill, legislation that is—I want to be kind—not exactly perfect can be significantly improved by expertise, time and the fact that Members here have no constituency responsibilities, and no need to answer to an electorate every five years. Things can be improved in here, and we are going to have plenty of opportunity, I suspect, in the forthcoming Session of Parliament to debate that very point. Anything that detracts from self-regulation is to the detriment of this House in particular and Parliament in general.
I say to my noble friend the Leader of the House that he should please beware of that word “presumption”. Just think how much trouble has been caused in recent months by the insertion of that word “presumption” in the context of planning. I do not like documents which presume and I do not like measures which presume. I have nothing against Bills going to Grand Committee but they must go on their individual merits because the House approves of the suggestion that that is where they should go. I urge my noble friend the Leader of the House, when he speaks, to recognise that fact.
That is why I am suggesting that the committee should have the chance to look again and to answer whether we are inadvertently handing over an important aspect of self-regulation. Consider, in the light of the debates that will take place on a possible Lords reform Bill, whether we need this sort of change. We certainly do not need it now because we know from all the leaks that we are going to have a legislation-light Queen’s Speech. If that is the case, why do we need to have this presumption now?
There is another issue—the elephant in the room that is the Bill that dare not speak its name. We all know that it is likely that the Deputy Prime Minister will have his way with us and will produce in the Queen’s Speech some measure of reform affecting your Lordships’ House. I blame not the Leader of the House nor anyone else but in the somewhat febrile atmosphere that has existed in this place for some months there is a teeny suspicion that one of the reasons we are doing this today is to clear the decks for House of Lords reform. That may not be the case. I know not.
In conclusion, I say to my noble friend, than whom there is no more consummate politician in the whole of Parliament, please do not bother with this because you can have your way on individual Bills. They can go to Grand Committee with the House’s approval and blessing and there they can be scrutinised. But do not have this presumption.
Another thing we should bear in mind is not to follow the other place down another steep, slippery slope where so many things are being considered simultaneously in Westminster Hall, in the Chamber and in Committee that it is difficult for an honourable Member adequately to discharge his or her duties. I rest my case.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord has just said. If there is to be a presumption then the presumption should be that legislation should be taken here. There is only one alternative that is worse than the committee’s suggestion and that is the recommendation of the noble Baroness, which institutes a rule.
Many will agree that one of the prevailing sins of the British Parliament is that we legislate a great deal too much. A great deal of excessive complication has begotten in our society a high level of bureaucracy in all parts of society—in the private sector as well as the public. This is a serious and malignant failing of our present political culture. What would be the effect if, having cleared much of the business from this Chamber into Grand Committee, there were weeks when there was nothing to be done here? Would that not be an encouragement for the other place to send even more torrents of ill considered law to this place? I am sorry if it is offensive to some who served in the other place but the whipping system that has developed there is now so ruthless, and the guillotine system operated with such consistency and a strong hand, that they deprive the other place of giving the thought to crucial legislation that it not only should but would be well equipped to do if the Members were let off the leash.
The proposal would surely create a vacuum for yet more legislation. The average output of Parliament has been 13,000 pages of legislation a year over the past few years. This year it might exceed even that. It is more than is produced by any comparable democracy in the western world by a long way. Therefore, on that ground if no other, I urge us to reject the committee’s proposal for this presumption and to reject absolutely the recommendation of the noble Baroness, which is in line with the Leader’s Group, that we have a rule that only three types of legislation can be retained in this place without agreement.
My Lords, I have spent nearly 43 years in Parliament, 17 of them in the other place. When I am urged by Ministers to give more time for amendments to be debated, I confess to being just a little cynical and a little doubtful that that is what is really intended. In those 43 years, I have learnt that the principal weapon that Members of both Houses have in controlling an Executive who are all too eager to bring forward legislation is time. Time and again, we find that the amendments that get accepted come at the end of a Session, when the Government of the day run out of time and are forced to accept them. Therefore, when I see a proposal being supported by my noble friend the Leader of the House on the grounds that Members of this House need more time and greater ability to put forward more amendments and debate them endlessly, I confess that I hesitate to accept that that can be the entire motivation.
I will make three brief points about the timing of this proposition and its introduction. First, as has already been referred to, it is a little ironic suddenly to be told that we can have a week off after we have spent 25 days in this House debating one of the most controversial Bills that any of us can remember. However, I will not dwell on that for too long.
Secondly, there has been a change of timetable, bringing the debate on this Motion forward from tomorrow to today. Reference has already been made to this, and I understand that the proposal came not from my noble friend the Leader but through the usual channels. I was in the House until quite late on Thursday afternoon. By the time that statement was made, and certainly by the time it was understood, a large number of Members had left. It was only on Thursday afternoon that discussions among the handful who were still around made us realise that we would be debating this important Motion. I know that there was a download at the bottom of the message that the Whips sent out. However, I suspect that on a sunny weekend not every Member downloads those messages, or takes in what the whole argument is about. The timing was unfortunate from that point of view.
Thirdly and crucially, we all know that this proposal is coming forward for a trial period to coincide with the introduction of the most controversial and important constitutional measure of our time. I would call it the “Abolition of the House of Lords Bill”. However, whatever you call it, I cannot think of a worse time to introduce a trial of this kind without stirring up the suspicion that those who control the business of the House have that in mind. I am not making that accusation, although I do think that it was a little unwise, or a little unusual, of my noble friend the Leader of the House—for whom I have the greatest possible respect—to send a letter to Members of this House, signed jointly with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, urging them to go along with this proposal.
I asked my noble friend at a meeting that I had with him just after two o’clock this afternoon, which I shall come to, whether an identical—
I am interested in that point, because I expressly asked the Leader of the House in his room, at about 2.05 pm, whether all Members had received the same letter. He told me that actually a rather different letter had been sent to, I think, the Cross Benches. I am merely quoting my noble friend, no more.
I offered the noble Baroness a letter. I rewrote it several times last week. Sadly, she refused to accept it.
My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the situation. Forgive me, but we had agreed that we would have an exchange of letters which we would find mutually acceptable, which could then be put in the Library of the House. That is quite a different letter from the one that other noble Lords received.
That is rather an interesting exchange. It has magnified what I had intended to say. However, it was also a little unusual. This is a House matter, and normally we leave the introduction of such measures for individual Members of this House. It is a little unusual—I am not saying it is unique—to have a letter of that kind. It is also slightly unusual to receive an urgent message to get in touch with the Leader’s Office. I was on the train up from Wales, and I was asked to go and meet him. As usual we had the most civilised and delicate discussion about these matters, in which we agreed to differ. I explained that I would be opposing this Motion because I think that the timing is catastrophically unfortunate. I do not think that it should be introduced as an experiment when we are going to have this major Bill before us, with the suspicion that will inevitably arise—and has arisen—that the decks are being cleared.
I also support almost everything else that my noble friend Lord Cormack said. He referred to the possibility of the kind of disciplines being introduced into this House that have been introduced in the Commons. Indeed, the letter from my noble friend the Leader says that this measure is being introduced in order to avoid,
“having to introduce Commons-style restrictions on members’ ability to table amendments”.
Is it a threat? I hope not.
I am totally opposed to doing this at this time. I am glad that the proposals that we should sit in the morning, which I spoke against long ago, have been withdrawn. I do not think that this set of proposals is any more acceptable. The wisest thing now would be for my noble friend the Leader, and those responsible, to listen to what has been said and to take the proposals away and reconsider them. If he will not agree to do that and my noble friend Lord Cormack presses his amendment to the Motion, I will vote for it, and I hope that it will be widely supported in the House.
My Lords, I rise to inform the House that I have not received a letter, either from the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, or from my own Convenor. I wish to speak to the report of the Procedure Committee, and I do so with considerable concern as to the changes it proposes to our proceedings.
The proposition is that most Bills coming from the Commons should be referred to a Grand Committee, rather than be taken on the Floor of this Chamber. We have heard that the exceptions to this proposition will allow Bills on major constitutional issues or those dealing with emergency legislation to be taken on the Floor of the House. I would not expect any Government to have the audacity to deny this Chamber the ability to debate and decide on such legislation. However, the report also tells us that there should be a “presumption”—that is the committee’s chosen word; it is not my word—that all other legislation, including controversial, but not “exceptionally” controversial, Bills be also committed to a Grand Committee. As far as I am concerned, most Bills are controversial in varying degrees, and it depends on our personal knowledge of, and hopes and fears for, the legislation proposed therein. I ask the Chairman of Committees or the Leader of the House—whoever is to reply to this debate—what type of Bill will be regarded as controversial, and what will be regarded as exceptionally controversial?
The Health and Social Care Bill was hard-fought legislation—most of my colleagues would agree with that—but under the terms before us today would that Bill have been regarded as controversial and committed directly to Grand Committee, where an interested and involved public would have had great difficulty in witnessing the debates? Or would that Bill have been regarded as exceptionally controversial, and dealt with in this Chamber? Who defines and clarifies that legislation is exceptionally controversial, as opposed to that which is controversial but not exceptionally so? I need to know. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us when he winds up. I imagine that I shall be told that the matter may be for the usual channels to define and clarify, or that it may be a matter for the Leader of the House, but I believe that there is some value in posing this question and getting an answer that will be recorded in Hansard so that it can be referred to.
There are times when this Chamber is so crowded that Members have no place to sit and we are standing around it, or shoulder to shoulder behind the Bar of the House. This applies particularly when amendments are being moved and when we wish to hear Ministers wind up on them. To start with, the current situation here is most unsatisfactory. I should therefore like to know what arrangements have been made in the Moses Room for accommodating Members who wish to contribute or listen to debate. That is not an area that lends itself to even a small proportion of the membership of this House, and certainly not to the numbers that would wish to attend during a controversial debate. I would like to hear how we will be accommodated there and, equally importantly—this is very important to me—how members of the public who wish to witness our proceedings will be accommodated.
Last Thursday in this House, the government Chief Whip told us,
“that it is the Government’s intention only to make proposals with regard to Grand Committee that will enable the House to have more opportunity to scrutinise legislation without having the late finishes or early starts”.—[Official Report, 22/3/12; col. 1027.]
That is a fine ambition indeed. However, there are those of us who see the presumption to put government Bills into Grand Committee as an act of stealth to clear the way for a constitutional Bill bringing about the demise of this House. There are those on the red-carpeted corridors out there who think that that is so; but I could not possibly comment. No doubt the Leader of the House will do so, and I look forward to what he has to say on that point.
I very much appreciate the work that goes on in the committees of this House, particularly the Procedure Committee. I note in its report that some of its Members dissented from the recommendations. I certainly cannot support the report and will therefore, when the time comes, support reference back.
My Lords, I would like to give some small advice, if I may, to my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is: beware of what you wish for. It is by the natural order of things that one day, unless the abolition of the House of Lords Bill goes through in the form in which we understand it will be put to this House, he may be the Leader of the Opposition. He would then very much regret some of the proposals which are now being foisted upon us.
I agree with all that my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Crickhowell and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, have said. A lot of this mischief has arisen not just because of the passion for legislation of all Governments these days. Many years ago, as a Back-Bencher, I introduced a Private Member’s Bill—which, surprisingly, did not get anywhere—called the Limitation of Legislation Bill, which proposed that, from the date of enactment, there should be no increase in the total number of words on the statute book. That is, before you put new words on you would have to find a few to take off as well. I think that we would have been better governed had that Bill been enacted.
However, that has all been worsened by another of the dreadful fads at the other end of this corridor, called “family-friendly hours”. Because we no longer have Committees going on down there into the small hours of the morning, we get more legislation timetabled in some fashion or another, which means that far more of it comes here having been inadequately discussed or not discussed at all. So their family-friendly hours become our distinctly unfriendly hours. They then lead to a very unfriendly proposal of the kind we are facing today.
The points have been well made. I do not think it is necessary for me to take up your Lordships’ time by repeating them. However, since the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—although it has not yet been moved—I wonder if I might do so too? There may not have been abuse—as some would call it—of the Written Question, but it has at times been pushed a bit far in its volume if not its quality. However, I must say to my noble friend the Leader of the House that I recently tabled a Written Question asking whether, when he had said that it was the Government’s policy that the number of seats in this House should be allocated to parties predominantly—in fact, he did not even say predominantly—by reference to the number of votes cast in the most recent general election, he meant that the Government were going to bring forward proposals for the introduction into this House of an appropriate number of Members of the British National Party, UKIP, the Greens and other minority parties. I received a reply from him which told me that the nomination of Members for this House was blah, blah, blah. It did not answer the Question. So I put down exactly the same Question again. There were two Questions from me. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, put down a similar Question and she, like me, got exactly the same non-answer again. I scored an unnecessary Question because I did not get an answer. I regret to say that that is happening increasingly frequently these days, so one devises the same Question again or the same Question is even accepted again literally word for word by the Table Office.
I cannot guarantee to my noble friend that I might not go along to the Table Office and put the Question down for the third time to make my point. If we want to get fewer Written Questions, we might try much harder to get replies which relate to the Question, not to what the Minister might wish that the Question had been.
My Lords, I have never felt so lonely for such a long time. I voted for this report in committee and I will vote for it again today. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has also indicated how incompetent I am that I cannot get a letter to all Members of the Cross-Bench group. We all—well, a large proportion of the House—supported the Leader’s Group, but when it comes to implementing its recommendations the debate demonstrates how difficult it is to get agreement across your Lordships' House. It may be that I am too innocent to be allowed out, but I have tried to address the issue before the House and not be dragged into other, wider issues. Perhaps that is a failure on my part.
Having considered the report of the Leader’s Group on these matters in recommendations 9, 20 and 22, it seemed to me that the committee had addressed the issues with great care and concern. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on one point: this House needs to preserve as much flexibility as possible for a self-regulating House. I regret to say that I cannot support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, because it states that all Bills should go to Grand Committee except in exceptional situations or when they are very controversial. If we think about this Session, there is not one Bill that could have been described as anything other than controversial. The amendment of the noble Baroness is altogether too restrictive for a self-regulatory House.
It is very important that this House takes forward the need to change in a way that enables us to manage the business as effectively as possible. I have formed a high regard for the usual channels and the way in which they try to deal with the business of this House. I believe that the usual channels can be relied on to reach sensible decisions which will command the confidence of the House. The recommendations are for a trial period. We have the opportunity to rehearse them in due course and we can learn from experience.
On Written Answers, the point was made about the expense that has been accrued by some noble Lords. Of course we want noble Lords to fulfil their responsibilities within the House, but that has to be balanced against the proper use of public finance, particularly at this time. I commend the recommendations relating to both Committees and Written Answers.
My Lords, if we start sending more things to Committees off the Floor of the House, we will soon discover that variant of Parkinson’s Law: talk expands to fill the time provided.
I would far prefer us to go back to what we used to do not that many years ago, which was to vote in Committee on the principle of amendments—even if they were defective, we looked at the principle. At Report, we tidied them up, which took much less time. That is why debates on Report are much more focused and we are not allowed to do the to and froing. Third Reading was purely confined to sorting out the typos, the essential little mistakes, not dealing with anything of principle. If we started to go back to that system, with voting in Committee, we would have far more abbreviated proceedings later on. All we are doing is talking it through in Committee and again at Report.
We have to use that as a brake on the deluge of legislation that is coming on us these days. If we give more time for talking, we will just get more to talk about.
My Lords, I shall talk just briefly about my amendment on Written Answers during times when the House is not sitting. We have talked about Written Answers long and hard already today. Unfortunately, holding the Government to account does not stop when the House is not sitting. I am not an abuser of the system, and I am sorry that some people are, but I think that it would be a very good idea to be able to table more Questions during the recesses, and to be able to get Answers back rather more frequently than we do at the moment, which I think is once every five weeks in the Summer Recess. I am therefore very grateful to the Chairman of Committees for offering to take it back to the committee, and I hope that we can take it forward on that basis.
My Lords, while we are all on this matter, which we very rarely are, may I take the opportunity to point out another reason why we are actually where we are? It is not simply the volume of legislation, or the number of pages going on the statute book. In fact, it is the number of Peers speaking, the length of time that they speak and the number of times that they repeat themselves on the same issue. There are notable offenders, and it is for members of their parties or groups to bring them to task. However, if we were all aware of the fact that once a point has been well made and accepted, there is no need to make it again, and that when 12 people want to make it, it is really only necessary to hear from two of them at the most, we would then save a very great deal of time.
Being a hereditary Peer, perhaps I might just cast noble Lords’ minds back to the time when there were over 1,100 Members of this House—far more than there are now. Far fewer of them attended than attend now, and the only people who came to speak were people who knew a great deal about their subjects and knew that they would be listened to. The result was that the speakers’ lists were about a third of the length that they are now, and that the speeches were about three times as good. If we could exercise a little self-restraint and not talk too often about things that have caught our fancy the previous week—or if, when we did so, we could keep it short and not do it too often—we would get a lot done much quicker than we do now.
My Lords, I appreciate the good advice from my noble friend Lord Elton, but there are two issues to which I wish to refer. The first is the difficulty I have with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. There are some controversial, even exceptionally controversial, pieces of legislation which are very well dealt with in Grand Committee. The Welfare Reform Bill was a very clearly controversial—indeed, I think the noble Baroness will agree exceptionally controversial—piece of legislation, but it benefited from being dealt with in Grand Committee. There are therefore assumptions that are too wide-ranging.
Secondly, when it comes to the timing of Grand Committee, there is a case that Grand Committee might be able to go on until 10 o’clock on occasion, but it would be a mistake to make that a regular procedure because it would mean that we would be running two Chambers at the same time, and there are some difficulties with that. Therefore, I make a plea that we ensure that in what is remitted to Grand Committee, and on the timings of Grand Committee, there is a deal of flexibility perhaps on that basis of presumption, and certainly not on the basis of more rules.
My Lords, I had not intended to contribute to today’s debate, but three things make me want to contribute briefly. One was the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for whom I have the utmost affection and respect, and with whom I share a commitment to change, reform and improvement in the way in which we deal with legislation in this House. We deal with legislation very well, but we can deal with it better, and the report of the Leader’s Group gave us some very clear ways in which we can take that forward. However, the pick-and-mix approach of taking one highly controversial issue which can have all sorts of unintended consequences, at a time when you do not have to be paranoid to think that someone is after you in terms of the next Session of Parliament, puts back the cause of those of us who are reformers. Certainly, the five years I had the honour to occupy the Woolsack taught me that to move things forward in this House you have to do a great deal of groundwork and create a great deal of consensus—and that has not happened on this occasion.
The second contribution was from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. Although I believe that we have to take some action on Written Questions, like the noble Lord, I cannot understand how two Members of this House, from different perspectives, put down a Question about a government policy that was delineated in the coalition agreement as government policy and are told that we cannot have an answer to it because appointments to the House of Lords have, in the past, been a matter for the Prime Minister. I think that those were the words used. I do not understand how one cannot get a comment on government policy in that area.
My third reason for speaking is very different. It would be very sad if today we did not mark the absence of Lord Newton from the Chamber. Many years ago he was my pair in the House of Commons, and I served on the commission that he chaired looking into parliamentary scrutiny. Over the past weeks and months we have seen his quiet passion and his principle as a parliamentarian. He was also a distinguished Leader of another place. I miss him today and I expect the rest of the House does as well.
My Lords, I have an interest in the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is not true that the Prime Minister responded to my Questions and those of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, with something irrelevant. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said, “Blah, blah, blah”. The answer to me was that, whatever the Government committed themselves to in this matter, it would be the Prime Minister who decided—full stop. That is where we stood with Written Answers last week.
My Lords, I would never presume to call myself a politician. I suppose that, if anything, I am an observer of politics who occasionally commentates on it. In the 16 years that I was the lobby correspondent for the Economist, from 1975 to 1991, the House of Commons did not have a guillotine as routine, and again and again I saw its effect as an exceptional measure. It was something that the Government of the day considered very carefully. I saw the good effect that it had on the process of negotiation and the scrutiny of legislation, and the extent to which it resulted in better outcomes of that legislation. However, I was shocked when Mr Tony Blair’s Government introduced the guillotine as a regular feature and I was disappointed when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister perpetuated it. I found myself asking: if we were to have an elected Senate here, how long would it be before the guillotine was introduced here and then who would scrutinise the Executive?
My Lords, as a member of the Leader’s Group, I have noticed that not a great deal of this debate has been devoted to the consideration given by that group to the matters under discussion today. That of course is partly because times have moved on and there are matters hanging over the future of this House that may have altered some people’s perceptions. However, it ought to be recognised that the Leader’s Group gave quite close consideration to these issues. It took a great deal of evidence and concluded that Grand Committee procedure leads to better scrutiny of primary legislation. One reason given was that there was,
“greater informality of the Grand Committee and the better communications between ministers and officials, leading to better quality responses”.
Having said that, the Leader’s Group also took the view that certain matters arouse such considerable interest beyond those who might normally be anticipated to have an interest in the subject matter of the debate that they would be inappropriately held in Grand Committee. We have actually seen the limitations of the space available in an earlier debate at the end of the last calendar year when we were discussing the European Union eurozone crisis. The Room was full to bursting and there was not enough time or space for everyone who wanted to participate.
Consequently, I think that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has some merit in it because it recognises—and explicitly recognises by quotation—the words and the reasoning of the Leader’s Group. I also acknowledge, however, that deciding what constitutes an exceptionally controversial Bill—as was pointed out to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd—is difficult to determine. I do not feel confident that presumptions can be made on that point; and I do not believe that the usual channels will necessarily agree on it. It seems that these should be matters for the decision of the House when the Bill is first debated.
If one looks at the Companion, one finds that there is no proposal to change: there may be an addition to the Companion about the presumption, but there is still the need to get the approval of the House. It seems to me, therefore, that we are actually arguing about a very small difference.
That may be so. The recommendations of the Leader’s Group referred to the Companion in this context, indicating that it was preferable to have a rule rather than a presumption. I beg to submit that the House would do well to consider that original recommendation.
The formidable speech made by my noble friend Lord Cormack will have arrested many people’s prior commitments and considerations. However, if his amendment is not carried, there is a considerable case for recognising that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is a better reflection of the Leader’s Group than the proposal that we should act on a presumption and agreement through the usual channels. I hope very much that that will be taken into account in reaching a decision.
My Lords, this might be a useful opportunity to say a few words, but I begin by joining the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in paying tribute to Lord Newton of Braintree. Anybody who had seen him—as we all had—over the past six months could not but admire his tremendous courage and extraordinary pluckiness in being here in all his physicality and playing a real part in Bills. I worked with him very closely when he was Leader of the House of Commons and I was Government Chief Whip here. He was a joy to work with—a pleasant man in all respects. We as a House and as a party will miss him; he was a great Conservative and a great parliamentarian.
Turning back to this debate, during the course of this afternoon my eye has been drawn to the screens. I could not help but see that in the Moses Room, there is a debate on the Lord’s Resistance Army and I wonder if some noble Lords have not wandered into the wrong debate.
We are currently considering a report from the Procedure Committee and it is no coincidence that we are considering alongside it a report from the Liaison Committee. Both reports have the same origin; namely, the work of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices. Both address the same welcome phenomenon, which is that more Members are participating more actively in our proceedings. In short, the proposals are intended to accommodate increased demand from Members who wish to take an active part in our proceedings, and to reduce the number of late sittings that have been taking place after 10 o’clock at night. Average daily attendance has risen considerably by comparison with the last Parliament, as has the average number of votes cast per Division, the number of Questions for Written Answer tabled each day, and the number of short debates being tabled. From that point of view, my noble friend Lord Elton has hit the nail on the head.
These trends have had an impact on our scrutiny of legislation. This Session has seen more Bills take longer than eight days to consider in Committee than did so over the whole of the last Parliament. That is a quite a significant statistic. More Members are speaking for longer on more amendments. At the same time, we have sent fewer Bills to Grand Committee than was the norm across the last two Parliaments and, indeed, since 2001. In combination, these trends have put pressure on time in the Chamber, in particular on our rising times.
One response, although I hasten to add that it is not one that I am suggesting now, would be to go down the route that the House of Commons has chosen: fixed rising times in combination with taking the bulk of Committee stages off the Floor of the House along with the timetabling and selection of amendments. That is what my noble friend Lord Cormack has warned us against, and I agree with every word he said. I could not possibly support what he fears or what I have just mentioned, and I do so for the same reasons as my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken.
The proposals from the Procedure Committee actually take a very different approach, one that maintains and protects the freedoms of Members of this House to table amendments and have them spoken to by a Minister without selection or guillotine, a freedom which I hope we will never lose. By introducing additional flexibility in the sitting hours of the Grand Committee on Bills and creating a presumption that we should look to commit Bills arriving from the Commons to Grand Committee, save when there are good reasons not to do so, the proposals would help us make better use of our time. They would provide the necessary extra opportunities for Members to take part, and in doing so would ease the pressure on time in this Chamber, thus making it easier for the House to rise on time. If the House rejects these proposals, it would mean that we might have to become used to sitting regularly beyond our target rising time.
The Procedure Committee has also taken the view that a presumption would be useful. I support that view. The question why was framed by my noble friend Lord Cormack in his speech. He fears that we are handing something over to the Executive. That is quite a hard thing to do in a House where the Executive has no majority, but let me try and explain.
My Lords, you do not have to be a mathematician to work out that the 37 per cent of the House which makes up the coalition is not a majority.
I support the view on presumption because the experience of this Session shows that there are Bills that we could and should be sending to Grand Committee but do not, and that this detracts from the time we have available to spend on those Bills that do merit consideration on the Floor of the House and on other kinds of business. Let me give some examples. If the Academies Bill had gone to Grand Committee, perhaps we need not have sat at 11 o’clock in the morning to take the Health and Social Care Bill. If the Postal Services Bill had gone to Grand Committee, perhaps we need not have finished the proceedings on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill at two o’clock in the morning.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord the Leader of the House, but as all noble Lords will recall, the Academies Bill was the first Bill to be introduced in this House, and there was simply no other business. The Health and Social Care Bill came forward towards the end of the parliamentary Session, and therefore it is inconceivable that had the Academies Bill been taken in Grand Committee, it would have made an iota of difference to the Health and Social Care Bill.
My Lords, if it made no difference, presumably the noble Baroness would not have refused, as she did, to put it into Grand Committee in the first place.
We could make better use of this Chamber. Let me give another example. Last December, the Grand Committee had an urgent debate on the eurozone crisis attended by some 50 Members of the House. The Chamber was not available because the Protection of Freedoms Bill was in Committee of the whole House with about a dozen participants. Many noble Lords at the time raised the question whether we were using the time in the Chamber wisely. The presumption, which the Procedure Committee recommends—
My Lords, I am terribly sorry, but I have to set the record straight. The Protection of Freedoms Bill was an interesting Bill because it was the very first time that the House as a whole agreed that half of the Bill would be taken in Grand Committee and the most controversial aspects would be taken on the Floor of the House. Therefore, I think a very good agreement was brought to bear in that instance.
My Lords, I have no quarrel with the decision the noble Baroness made in that instance. The noble Baroness thinks I am getting at her—I will get at her in a moment, but I am not getting at her for that. I am simply pointing out that these were decisions—we took them using the usual channels and we took them together—to do things in a certain way. I am simply suggesting that in retrospect we might have done them rather differently and in a way that might have suited more Members of the House.
The presumption that the Procedure Committee recommends will also not open the floodgates to a Commons-style system, where the bulk of Committee stages are taken off the Floor of the House for two simple reasons; first, because the House will not let it. If this Report is agreed to, no Bill will go to Grand Committee without the express permission and agreement of this House. Therefore, the House will, quite rightly, retain control of which Bills go to Grand Committee, a point that my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury raised.
As for my noble friend’s second fear, we do not have the capacity for a Commons-style system. This was the fear that all Bills emanating from the House of Commons would end up in Grand Committee. We do not have the capacity to do that, even if we wished to. The Commons, as I understand it, can have several Public Bill Committees sitting at once off the Floor of the House. We have only one Grand Committee and it is required for many other kinds of business in addition to Bills, such as secondary legislation, short debates and Committee reports. Therefore, this House retains a built-in protection.
The Procedure Committee was not attracted to the fixed rule in favour of commitment to Grand Committee proposed by the Leader’s Group and enunciated again most eloquently by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart. I believe that the Procedure Committee made the right decision. That was not the decision of the working practices group. The presumption that we have proposed instead is more prudent and more flexible.
I sense that part of the reason why the Leader of the Opposition is attached to the firm rule in her amendment is because it comes with seemingly defined exceptions: major constitutional Bills, emergency legislation and exceptionally controversial Bills. But, for once—I hope that there will be many occasions in the future—the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and I are in agreement. I can readily assure the House and the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition that I do not propose and will not propose that we consider major constitutional Bills or emergency Bills in Grand Committee.
The reason why I support the Procedure Committee’s proposals is that the exceptional controversial Bills criteria are neither clear nor necessarily useful. For example, only recently we took the Committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill in Grand Committee. By any measure, that was exceptionally controversial and it came to a vote on the Floor of the House. I believe that most Peers who took part in the Committee stage—albeit it was upstairs—found it extremely useful to have the expertise around the table and to be able to discuss the issues with the Minister.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right in his description of the effectiveness of Grand Committee for the Welfare Reform Bill, but that was not the nature of it being exceptionally controversial. The difficulty was that we had a number of substantially disabled colleagues who wished to take part who were unhappy, with good reason, about the physical layout of the Committee Room. What my noble friends proposed was that the segments of the Bill that affected disability issues should be taken on the Floor of the House while the rest went up into Grand Committee. That would have been a solution, had the usual channels on both sides accepted it, which would have satisfied the entire House and improved scrutiny and attendance.
My Lords, I wrote to many of the participants and all those to whom I wrote without exception said how well they thought that it had gone. Allowances were made by the House authorities to make the Committee Room more acceptable to those Members in wheelchairs. The point about the presumption is that it would give us the flexibility to make that sort of judgment again in future.
If the report is agreed to, the House would remain the arbiter of which Bills and what proportion of the Bills were sent to Grand Committee. In my view, the House is the best judge of which Bill should be sent where, and that decision should be made case by case.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord and I thank him for the good humour with which he has handled the debate, in which he has found himself without a huge amount of support. However, could he perhaps skate a little less rapidly over the point that the proposal in the Procedure Committee actually enhances the power of the Government? The two parts of the sentence in question—the presumption, and the fact that if there is no agreement between the usual channels, the matter will be taken in Grand Committee—give the Government a complete lock, apart from the nuclear option of coming to the House at the end of Second Reading and asking for a vote. That is a substantial increase in the power of the Executive, because the Government can always instruct their Chief Whip to refuse to agree to the matter being taken in the House. I would be grateful if he could address a little bit more that enhancement of the power of the Executive, which I hope was not his intention—and, if it was not, either of the two amendments that have been moved would be preferable.
My Lords, I do not think that there is any intention to give the Executive more power, or that it is a by-product of what I am suggesting. What would give the Executive more power would have been to accept the original suggestion from the Goodlad committee that there should be a rule, with certain exceptions, that all Bills emanating from the House of Commons should go to Grand Committee. We very much see it as continuing on more or less a similar basis to the one we have, by gaining agreement in the usual channels. The difference is that, if a Bill were not to go to Grand Committee, there would obviously have to be a vote on the Floor of the House. With a really controversial Bill, I cannot imagine that the House would support that view if it did not wish to do so.
Am I right in thinking that under the proposals, when at the end of the Second Reading, the Lord Speaker or Deputy Speaker stands up and moves that the Bill goes to Grand Committee or the Floor of the House, any noble Lord could then speak, and a Division would be held if there was no agreement? That would take the power that the noble Lord thinks is being put into the hands of the Executive right out again.
Yes, my Lords, my noble friend has got it entirely right. There would still be a Motion before the House and any noble Lord could put an amendment down to it or divide on it.
I see the potential extra hour and a half as an addition of welcome flexibility to the scheduling of Grand Committee and not a requirement to sit to the maximum each day. That was the point that my noble friend Lord Alderdice made. I have already made that clear to the Leader of the Opposition in a dialogue off the Floor. It would sometimes suit the participants to complete a Committee stage in a smaller number of longer sittings than to have to find time in their diaries for a larger number of days. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Alderdice has nothing to worry about.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that people would get too tired, but we are already sitting until 10 o’clock on the Floor of the House, so there is no reason why they should not be able to do so in Grand Committee—and, as I pointed out, that would not necessarily happen all the time.
My Lords, again, I speak with reference to the Welfare Reform Bill, where the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who was the Whip, and the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, were admirable in their courtesy, openness and responsiveness to the Committee Members; it was impeccably handled.
The point is that Report is easy, because you have traversed the ground already in Committee. You have the evidence, you have had the meetings, you have had the seminars, you have had the briefings, you are making one speech perhaps to move or in support of your amendment—possibly a minor one to wind up—and that is it. It is easy. The difficult, demanding, tiring and heavily detailed work is done in Committee, particularly on a Bill such as the Welfare Reform Bill, where you are continuously interrogating the Minister in order to get the detailed information so that you can come back to it in subsequent, reiterative amendments. It is hugely demanding, and going on as late as 7.30 pm has meant that some of our older Members and more disabled Members have been severely tired. I have very great concerns about lengthening sitting hours on the grounds that Committee stage is as easy and straightforward as Report; it is not.
My Lords, all we are doing here is extending the envelope by which the Grand Committee can sit. It will not necessarily have to sit as long as that every single day. What is more, a presumption towards committing Commons Bills to Grand Committee cannot release any capacity that does not exist already. We already have the capacity to have a Grand Committee sitting on legislation four days a week, and the Companion already enables any government Bill to be committed to Grand Committee, as recommended by the first working group on this subject by Lord Rippon of Hexham as far back as 1994, and even he gave no exceptions.
Meanwhile, the proposed extension in the sitting hours of Grand Committees would affect how the time spent on each Committee stage is divided up across sittings and among Bills. It would not reduce the number of hours spent on each Committee stage and so make room for more legislation.
Last of all, I turn to what my noble friend Lord Cormack called the elephant in the room over the last three days. I have been struck by—indeed, I have been astonished at—the number of Members who have spoken to me in the corridor or have sent me a text message to say that they think that this process is all part of a sneaky government ploy to push through a Lords reform Bill without anybody noticing, and to minimise collateral damage to the rest of the programme —to do it by stealth, said the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. Well, I have been waiting a long time to find a good wheeze to get such a Bill through the House of Lords without anybody noticing. I assure noble Lords, this is not it. This is not a great ploy or a great scheme; if it were, obviously we have been horribly found out.
If the House agrees this report, next Session the House will decide, case by case, which Bills are considered in Committee here on the Floor and in the Moses Room. The House itself will decide at what pace it progresses and which amendments are made to which Bills. I have every confidence that, if a Lords reform Bill makes it into the Queen’s Speech, the House will take every decision it wishes next Session.
Let me just finish my point. This report will have no impact on the passage of such a Bill if it came forward. I would give way to my noble friend, but I have obviously pre-empted her question. I hope I gave her the confirmation that she required.
The proposals in this report were born out of the working practices group and the Procedure Committee. They are designed to resolve the problem of there simply not being enough time to accommodate all of those who wish to speak to their amendments to Bills. Either more goes to Grand Committee or we sit beyond 10 pm.
I hope that I have said enough to explain the proposals from my perspective. They build on the work of the working practices group. They seek to accommodate a more active membership by making better use of the Grand Committee and better use of this Chamber. I hope that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, will not find favour with the House. I understand why she has put it down, but equally I do not think that it will be effective or workable. I urge my noble friend Lord Cormack not to move his amendment for the simple reason that the Procedure Committee has already given the proposals careful and prolonged consideration. The committee has made the recommendations that are before the House today, and it is time for the House to make a decision on them. I commend the report to the House.
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief because, fortunately, none of the points made in the debate on the report require an answer from me. As I said in the first place, the committee was not unanimous on this subject and therefore my position is completely neutral. On the question of Questions for Written Answer, there was not a voice against the proposal in the Procedure Committee’s report.
I must apologise to the House, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I was misinformed that he was going to move the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves: he is not going to do so. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for agreeing that we could take his matter back to the committee. I now leave it to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to decide what to do with her amendment, and after that we shall move on to those of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to this excellent short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made a cogent case and has been strongly supported by noble Lords from all sides of the House. He is right that we must not put ourselves in danger of becoming a regulated House with timetabling. I also note that the noble Lord the Leader said that he hoped we would never lose our freedom not to be timetabled, and I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to keep him to that hope.
Parliament must be able to hold the Executive to account, and time must always be allowed for proper scrutiny of legislation. To do otherwise is to shift the balance of power in favour of the Executive. I note that the noble Lord said that, before a Bill is committed to Grand Committee, there might well be a vote in this Chamber to decide whether it should be so committed or debated here on the Floor of the House. I simply point out that the noble Lord and his Benches have a political majority in this House, and I imagine that on such an occasion there would be a whipped vote. I believe therefore that this would hand power to the Executive.
Presumption is clearly dangerous, as we have all agreed in the debate. I understand the concern expressed around the Chamber about the prescription of the Goodlad committee’s proposals—and, indeed, of my own amendment—and the difficulty of defining “controversial”. Defining “constitutional” is a lot more straightforward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made an important contribution—I wish her a happy birthday—and I concur with her comments and those of the noble Lord the Leader about our joint admiration for the bravery and principles of Lord Newton of Braintree, who I believe we are all proud to call our noble friend.
I also agree with the noble Baroness that to deal in isolation with the issue of the hours that the Grand Committee should sit and the Bills that should be referred to it sets back both the process and the progress of reform. On the basis that I believe the House will vote in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I am happy to withdraw my own amendment. I hope that his amendment will be passed and that when the matter is referred back to the Procedure Committee—of which I am proud to be a member—it will listen to representations from around the House, so that when a proposal is brought forward in future it truly will be reflective of the views of the House as a whole. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, I do not wish to take up any more of the House’s time, save to say that I suspect I know which Lobby my late noble friend Lord Newton would be in. He is so much missed, as has been said. Nothing that we do this afternoon takes away any power or influence from the Leader of the House. Every Government are entitled to get their business but not in the process, in any way, directly or indirectly, to trammel the unfettered, self-regulating House of Lords, of which we are all so proud. I hope that noble Lords in all parts of the House will feel able to send a message to the committee, asking it to reflect on this debate and look at this issue again. In the mean time, we take nothing from the Leader but are careful to keep what we have. I beg to test the opinion of the House.
Remaining amendments to the Motion not moved.
Motion, as amended, agreed.
Liaison Committee: Third Report
Motion to Agree
My Lords, the Liaison Committee’s terms of reference require it to advise the House on the resources required for Select Committee work, to review the Select Committee work of the House and to consider requests for ad hoc committees. Its terms of reference also include a requirement to consider the availability of noble Lords to serve on committees, which I think we would all agree is not an issue at present. Indeed, one of the objectives of our recent deliberations has been to find new opportunities for a wider group of Members to participate in committee work.
The report of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices has given us a further opportunity to re-examine the committee work of the House. The recommendations in our present report are intended to refresh and rebalance the range of subjects that are scrutinised and, in so doing, to engage a wider range of Members in the work of the House.
Select Committee activity is—rightly—highly regarded both within the House of Lords and outside, and contributes greatly to the reputation of the House as a second Chamber. In our first report of this Session, we concluded that there were a number of general principles that we should apply in considering proposals for committee activity. We concluded that new committees should be appointed for a limited time only and that there was a case for ad hoc committees with narrower and more topical remits conducting shorter inquiries. The report was agreed by the House in June 2010 and we sought to apply those principles in our recent review.
Regular turnover of committee members gives a wider range of Members the opportunity to serve. Short, sharp inquiries should also make it easier for Members with significant commitments outside the House to participate. Therefore, we concluded and recommended to the House that new investigative Select Committees should be appointed for a fixed term of up to one Session to conduct a specific inquiry. It would remain open to committees appointed on this basis to bid for reappointment at the end of their term.
Fixed terms would allow the Liaison Committee to play a more active role in reviewing and adapting Select Committee activity in the future. The resources to support new Select Committee activity would be released at the end of each session, allowing the committee more room to accommodate bids for new Select Committees. I remind Members that they may submit proposals for new ad hoc committees at any time, and I encourage them to do so.
The report recommends the appointment of two new ad hoc committees. One, on small and medium-sized enterprises exporting goods and services, is based on a proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and others. The other, on public services, stems in part from the proposal that was initially canvassed in the report of the Leader’s Group and subsequently elaborated in a note by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and others. The potential range for a committee on public services is wide, and the Liaison Committee recommends the subject of public service provision in the light of demographic change. We also consider that, once appointed, the committee should consider carefully its call for evidence in order to focus its work in a practical way.
In recent Sessions the House typically appointed one ad hoc committee. Our recommendation that the House should appoint two ad hoc committees next Session means that we are recommending an additional unit of committee activity. We have sought and obtained the approval of the House Committee for the additional expenditure necessary, which is estimated at around £225,000. We also reviewed the existing committee structure, and benefited from oral as well as written submissions from the chairmen of four of the major investigative Select Committees of the House: the European Union Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee, and the Communications Committee.
In respect of the European Union Committee, which currently appoints seven sub-committees to complement the work of the main committee, we concluded that it should remain the focus of House of Lords committee scrutiny. We consider, however, that it would now be appropriate to divert some of the resources allocated to it to support new committee activity in other areas. We therefore recommend that from the start of the next Session the number of EU sub-committees should be reduced from seven to six, and that the European Union Committee should reapportion responsibilities between its remaining sub-committees as it sees fit.
In respect of the Science and Technology Committee, we concluded that from the start of the next Session it should be allocated the resources of a single Select Committee. We recommend that it should, however, retain the power to appoint sub-committees, and the power to co-opt additional members for particular inquiries, but that those powers should not be exercised in such a way as to increase the workload of the committee beyond that of a single committee unit.
The chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, tabled an amendment to leave out the paragraph of the report that recommends a reduction in the committee’s resources. I remind the House, however, that in the Liaison Committee’s first report of this Session, we said that,
“in the event of further demands for committee work requiring redeployment of committee resources we would in the first instance look towards retrenchment of the Science and Technology Committee”.
We received representations from the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee that that committee should be able to appoint its Finance Bill Sub-Committee at an earlier point in the year than at present, following the new approach to tax policy-making adopted by the Government. The chairman, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, assured us that both the committee and the sub-committee would continue to respect Commons financial privilege, and that no additional resource would be required. No change in the terms of reference will be needed to enable this to happen, and we recommend that it should.
Finally, we reviewed the work of the Communications Committee, which is not a sessional committee. We recommend that it should be reappointed on the same basis as at present at the start of next Session. We will review the question of its further reappointment towards the end of that Session.
Our proposed reduction in sub-committee activity by two units—one European Union sub-committee and one Science and Technology sub-committee—would free up resources for new committee activity. Consistent with the strong support of the Leader’s Group for pre-legislative scrutiny, we have reconfirmed our support for pre-legislative scrutiny and believe that some of the resources that would be released by the reduction in sub-committee activity should be reallocated to supporting an additional pre-legislative scrutiny committee.
We also recommend an important new area of Select Committee activity: post-legislative scrutiny. The Leader’s Group recommends a single post-legislative scrutiny committee to manage the process of reviewing up to four selected Acts of Parliament each year. The Leader of the House proposed instead—and we agreed—that it would make better use of the expertise of Members to establish an ad hoc committee on a particular Act or Acts.
In our report we recommended the appointment of an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Children and Adoption Act 2006 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002, and to report in a timely manner so as to allow for evaluation of the committee’s work before the end of the 2012-13 Session. If time allows, the resources allocated to the first post-legislative scrutiny committee could then be made available for a post-legislative scrutiny committee on another topic to be established within the 2012-13 Session.
Finally, we considered two further procedural changes to enable a wider group of Members to participate in committee work. The first, to which I have already alluded, was that the maximum size of sub-committees to the European Union Committee should be increased from 12 to 14 Members. The effect of this would be to provide 84 places for Members on the six remaining sub-committees. Secondly, we invited the Procedure Committee to consider the reduction from four to three years of the rotation rule relating to length of service on investigative sessional committees, in order more frequently to refresh the membership of these committees.
I pay tribute to the valuable work done by all House of Lords committees. The Liaison Committee’s recommendations are intended to revitalise existing committee activity and provide an overall expansion of this activity, thereby enabling a greater number of Members to participate in a wider range of inquiries. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, I declare my interests as the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and as a career scientist. As the chairman of the Liaison Committee said, my amendment refers to paragraphs 18 and 47 of the committee’s report, which include the proposal to reduce the resources of the Science and Technology Committee to those of a single committee from the present level of a Select Committee and a sub-committee. Although the report is not specific, my reading is that it will, in effect, halve the number of inquiries that the committee is able to carry out. This does not seem to square with the Leader of the House’s letter to Cross-Benchers in which he refers to a small reduction in resource to the Science and Technology Select Committee.
My amendment is important because it gets to the heart of what the House does best—using its great depth and breadth of expertise to investigate and to hold the Government to account. This House is unique in the world in its depth of scientific expertise. The Goodlad report of April 2011, of which we heard earlier, acknowledged,
“the clear public interest in making best use of the expertise of the House’s Members”.
Science in its broadest sense—including social science, medicine, engineering and technology—permeates almost every aspect of government policy. This is notably true of the all-important agenda of rebalancing the economy by developing new industries based on advanced knowledge and technology.
The Science and Technology Committee not only has great depth of expertise but great breadth in its coverage. I will list just a few examples of areas that we have covered in recent years. They include policies related to education, innovation and economic growth, energy supply, treatment of infectious diseases, ageing—a topic of particular interest to many of us—internet security, preservation of our heritage, and disposal of waste. The reports of the Select Committee also have significant impact. To name just one recent example, our report on the future of nuclear energy resulted in a substantial change in the Government’s approach. If the lights stay on in 15 years’ time, we should thank the Science and Technology Committee for its work.
Our reports not only have the stamp of authority within government but are highly respected and admired in the wider world. I will quote Mark Henderson of the Times, who wrote of our report on genomic medicine, published two or three years ago, that it was,
“a quite remarkable summary of the state of the science and the steps the Government must take”.
He went on to say:
“It is hard to imagine even a body like the US Senate producing a report of quite this quality and authority ... There’s a reason why this report is so good: it was compiled by a committee of people with genuine experience and understanding of science”.
To avoid misunderstanding, I should add that the committee is not just a club for scientists. It has an eclectic mix of Members, which enriches its deliberations and sharpens its recommendations.
The Science and Technology Committee has a tradition of following up its reports, thus ensuring that its scrutiny is thorough and insistent. For example, our recent report on public procurement and innovation was very critical of the Government’s approach to driving innovation in UK industry with its £230 billion annual procurement budget. The Government largely accepted our recommendations and we said that we would return to this topic soon to inquire whether the recommendations had been carried through.
The ad hoc committees referred to by the noble Lord the chairman of the Liaison Committee will not have this capacity to follow through their inquiries and check that the Government have indeed acted on their recommendations. The Liaison Committee’s proposal to reduce the resources of the Science and Technology Committee will do great reputational damage to this House. The presidents of four national academies—the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy —wrote a joint letter to the Prime Minister expressing their concern about the Liaison Committee’s proposal.
I appreciate, of course, that the Liaison Committee has a difficult job. It wishes to create new ad hoc committees to inquire into new areas, and to enable a wider range of noble Lords to participate in committee work. It is trying to do this at a time of scarce resources. However, in allocating these resources it is essential to be very thorough in assessing value for money. Indeed, the report of the Liaison Committee refers to value for money in paragraph 8. I looked very carefully through the report to understand how this assessment of value for money was made but I was unsuccessful in finding any relevant analysis. The Science and Technology Committee, at its present level of support, represents excellent value for money. It uses the unique expertise of the House, it covers a very wide range of policy areas, and its reports have authority, impact and respect within government and more widely. It conducts follow-up inquiries to ensure that its recommendations have been acted on.
I am not, however, simply defending the status quo. I made specific and constructive suggestions to the Liaison Committee to enable it to achieve its objective without damaging the work of the Science and Technology Committee. These suggestions, which included increasing our co-option of additional Members to embrace a wider variety of expertise from the House, and shortening the term of service of members of the committee, were not taken up in the report. I invite the noble Lord the Chairman, when he responds, to explain to the House how his committee carried out its assessment of value for money, and why it concluded that better value for money would be had from reducing the activity of a demonstrably successful, immensely valuable, high-reputation committee and creating new committees. I believe that any such analysis would support my amendment.
Before I close—and I wish to be brief—I suggest to the noble Lord the chairman of the Liaison Committee that he takes this proposal back to the committee for further consideration. If he agreed to do so, that would be the basis for my withdrawing the amendment. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said. I used to be a member of the committee and I have been co-opted to a number of recent inquiries, including the one to which he referred about the UK’s capacity for undertaking nuclear research. I want to draw the attention of the House to one particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: that is the wide influence that the Science and Technology Committee has, and the respect within which it is held, not only in this country but across the world.
Some years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, came to see me to ask whether I would be willing to chair an inquiry into a subject on which I had been rather jumping about as a member of the Select Committee, which I called in those days science and the public. He offered me that opportunity and of course I accepted. It became known as the science and society inquiry. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Winston, nor I had any idea at that stage how far that report would penetrate to reach not just thousands but millions of people across the world.
I will not go into the detail but we made the recommendation that the public understanding of science was a rather inadequate way to approach the relationship and that there should be wide engagement by scientists with the public, with ears as well as voices being important. I recently had an indication of how far the impact of that report had gone. The British Council organised a two-day seminar in this country, in London, to reflect the 10-year anniversary of the Science and Society report. Representatives of no fewer than 55 countries across the world attended. I was astonished. That report had become, if not the Bible, certainly the guidance for a large number of countries across the world on how relations between science and the public, science and society, should be developed.
To pick up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the committee has always included people like me who are not scientists. I deferred always to my scientist colleagues on any issue of scientific understanding; that was their specialty. However, a number of people have said to me: “You know, that Science and Society report could not have been written by a scientist”. Of course, I had had a certain amount of experience in government and elsewhere of dealing with scientists and of trying to ensure that they were explaining themselves properly to the public. Of all the reports which the Science and Technology Committee has produced, that has turned out to be one of the most influential. It was produced by Sub-Committee B, as it was called, not the main committee.
With great respect, the description by my noble friend the Leader of the House—I have the letter, too—of a small reduction in resources simply does not begin to reflect what would be the impact of the Liaison Committee’s proposals. If a committee is to undertake a serious inquiry, a minimum number of people have to be allocated to support that committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, it appears to be the intention that the committee should be reduced to one inquiry at any one time. That is a huge reduction in the work of one of the most highly regarded committees in this House and is simply not acceptable. I ask the committee to think again.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, will no doubt decide how he will handle the amendment in the light of what the Chairman of Committees says. I would find it very difficult not to support him. The committee is in danger of doing serious damage to one of the most valued and valuable parts of this House of Lords. I very much hope that it will reconsider the issue.
My Lords, I rise, as a member of the Goodlad committee, to give my warm support to the recommendations of the Liaison Committee and to at least put on the record some of the argumentation as to why the other issues need to be considered and supported by the House.
In this report from the Liaison Committee we consider some of the significant areas for improvement to the working practices of this House which, in many previous debates, have been strongly argued for by many Members from all parts of the House. I can be brief because they come to relatively few fundamental points.
First, most Members of the House believe that if we spent more time on pre-legislative scrutiny of more Bills, we would have better legislation. This recommendation both makes that possible and starts an increase in the resources going to pre-legislative scrutiny, which is to be commended.
Secondly, many of us have argued for years that we should carry out post-legislative scrutiny. We should look, in a sober, thoughtful and informed way, at the effects of the legislation that we pass. The Commons is doing some but we have done nothing. We have not yet brought our considerable expertise and knowledge of many of the aspects on which we legislate to looking at whether the legislation achieves its objectives—and if not, why not—so that we can better inform both that policy area and, more significantly, our own processes of scrutiny of legislation.
Thirdly, the Liaison Committee makes a recommendation for a process to bring in additional ad hoc committees. The Leader of the House will know that I would not have brought it in in exactly that way but, nevertheless, it is to be welcomed in terms of what it would allow the House to do. It would allow the House to identify a topic of significant domestic policy interest which is potentially cross-cutting, and so in no way duplicate the work of the Commons; and it would have a short remit of a year in which to bring forward an influential and reflective report. There are two good examples there and I shall spend 30 seconds speaking on one of them. Most of us know that the significant demographic changes in our society will have a fundamental effect on public services—the demand for them, their cost, and the impact of that—and yet no-one in either House has as yet looked at that issue. It cries out for a short, sharp, well-informed and expert committee of this House, drawing on experts from outside. It is a topic to which the House would bring great value.
One of the more contentious elements of the Goodlad report was the recommendation that this House should be better at reviewing its committees as they exist. In the past the House has sometimes tried to do this and, for obvious reasons, it is painful. There is great resistance to making any change to the existing architecture of committees. Why so? It is because people develop passion, commitment, and expertise. Everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, and everything that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, so eloquently said in his argumentation of the value that the EU Committee has brought to this House, is true. However, unfortunately that is not the point. The point is that unless the House can continue to increase its resources to allow new topics to be studied, there will always be a starvation of the issues that are not being debated because the existing agenda dominates the resources, and existing interests in the House are eloquent in its defence. I respect their doing so—I would do the same myself—but that squeezes out anything new to the disadvantage of the House.
If, the House considers that it can have only one net addition, the Liaison Committee would then have the invidious task of deciding that we did not do more pre-legislative scrutiny, that we did not start post-legislative scrutiny, and that we did not have a process whereby we selected a couple of topics of cross-cutting domestic policy to look at each year. That would be regrettable. I regret that the Science and Technology Committee and the EU Committee are to be reduced, but that is necessary in circumstances where we do not have limitless resources. They can both make their case in a year’s time as to why they should be increased.
However, the thrust of the report essentially is that we would be a better House if we accept these recommendations. It would involve substantially more of the expertise in the House which currently has no voice in our affairs because some noble Lords do not have a seat on a committee of the House and are longing to have that opportunity. For those reasons, I strongly support the Liaison Committee’s recommendations.
My Lords, I speak as a past chairman and present member of the Select Committee for Science and Technology. I cannot accept the argument of the noble Lord. The Science and Technology Select Committee provides fundamental information across the board in our country, particularly as an economic entity, that is relevant to all legislation. It is therefore incredibly important.
The most effective way to rebuild our economy is to restore our industrial leadership in the manufacturing of innovative products. This will only happen if we regain competitiveness in research and development. This is the business of the Science and Technology Select Committee. We inquire into whether our educational system is producing the graduates needed by industry for its R&D activities, whether the Government are using their procurement effectively to stimulate innovation, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, and we inquire into the state of specific industries such as nuclear power.
At present, the lack of R&D spend is the Achilles’ heel of our economy. To reach the level of spending in Germany we would have to spend £10 billion more than we are spending at the moment, and to rival the USA we would have to spend £13 billion more. The Government are doing well in some of their initiatives, such as the catapults, but this is really only seed money. We need to keep our eye upon our academic and industrial performance in both the private and public sectors, and this is what the Select Committee does.
The committee needs two sub-committees in order to cover the two broad fields of science and technology: the engineering and physical, and the biological and medical. For example, the committee needs different talents to inquire into genomic medicine and renewable energies, or to inquire into pandemic flu and nuclear power. Innovative products, and therefore gains in our health, transport, energy, communications and other systems, will also help us with our massive deficit. These potential gains are also the business of the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is not the time to cut in half the resources available to that committee.
My Lords, I speak as the chairman of the European Union Committee, and I regret that I will be critical of the report presented by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I have not tabled an amendment, but in my view, and that of many of my colleagues on the committee and in the sub-committees, the report of the Liaison Committee is the unsatisfactory outcome of an unsatisfactory process as far as the European Union Committee is concerned.
First, the process. Earlier this year I learnt that the Liaison Committee was, entirely appropriately, reviewing the House’s committee structure in the light of the Goodlad report. I wrote to ask to appear before the committee, and that request was granted. However, I was surprised to be told, in the letter inviting me to appear, that before the Liaison Committee had heard the arguments from my committee for its continuance of the committee in its present structure, the Liaison Committee was already minded to cut the number of European Union sub-committees by two or by one. I have sent to Members the detailed argument that I then put forward, which also appears in appendix 2 to the report that we are considering.
The last time the Liaison Committee conducted a general review of Lords committee activity was in 2010. On that occasion, unlike this time, it asked for information from the various committees before it made any decision. In 2010, the Liaison Committee concluded that the European Union Committee was performing a relevant and useful function, and it recommended no change. In fact, it recommended that certain other committees should be considered first if reductions needed to be made. I am unclear about what has changed in the mean time, except that on this occasion the Liaison Committee seemed to have made up its mind, or to have gone a long way towards doing so, before it took any evidence.
So far as concerns the outcome, in the end the Liaison Committee recommended the reduction of only one European Union sub-committee, which is why I did not table an amendment to today’s Motion. Some of my colleagues on the committee—and noble Lords may well hear from them—may feel that I am being excessively reasonable, but I am conscious of the wider financial context in which these decisions had to be made. However, even a cut of one sub-committee will have an impact on our work. The European Union will continue to propose new laws that will affect UK citizens and companies, and consultation documents and White Papers will continue to come forward.
We have to deal with something like 1,000 documents a year from the European Union. This reduction will simply reduce the ability of the House of Lords to scrutinise the proposals effectively. In particular, it will reduce its ability to conduct an in-depth examination of key proposals. These inquiries are what give the committee, and therefore the House, such a strong reputation with civil society groups in this country, with European Union institutions and with other parliaments across the European Union. The House will also be reducing its ability to hold the Government to account.
The House sees the reports that we publish; it does not see the 500 letters a year that we send to Ministers raising problems that arise from the documents that we consider. However, that is the method by which we ensure that we have an explanation from the Government and a justification of their position. Ministers have told me that they consider that what we do is the most effective scrutiny of any part of their department’s work. The House risks weakening our work in an area where our reputation is currently, and justifiably, exceptionally strong. That is why I regret the Liaison Committee’s decision, and I fear that in due course the House, too, will come to regret it.
I conclude with a note about the suggestion to increase the maximum membership of sub-committees from 12 to 14. In the full Select Committee’s view, sub-committees of 14 risk being too large. An excessive number of members could make it difficult to work effectively as a team. Therefore, we would rather co-opt an additional two members to a sub-committee for a particular inquiry, thereby involving a wider group of Members of the House to take part in different aspects of our work. We feel that otherwise the current size of 12 members per sub-committee is probably right.
We have just heard from the Cross Benches; I think it is our turn. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said. I was first elected at the other end of this building almost 48 years ago. One strand that has run through the entire time in which I have served in both Houses has been my enthusiasm for the Select Committee system, which all those years ago I believed, very strongly, was the way in which Parliament could better exert its influence over the Executive. I was a member of two of Dick Crossman’s Select Committees—the first ones to be set up—back in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, following the 1979 election, I, with my late lamented friend Norman St John-Stevas, later Lord St John of Fawsley, who sadly is no longer with us, set up the departmental committees. I conducted all the negotiations over them with the Opposition at the time. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been a member of, I think, three European Union committees. I have been chairman of two of them and I continue to serve on Sub-Committee C.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said, the work of the European Union Select Committee is widely admired throughout Europe, and I believe that it provides the best scrutiny of European legislation anywhere in the Community. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about these committees making the best use of the expertise in this House and providing outstanding value for money through the work that we all do. Therefore, I am astonished and exasperated at the suggestion that the sub-committees of the European Union Committee should now be reduced from seven to six. It was only a few years ago that their number was increased from six to seven. When the Leader of the House responds, will he tell us the justification for going back to where we were only a few years ago? When the Chairman of Committees introduced this debate, he said that it was “appropriate”—that was his word—but I have heard no justification for doing this. European Union legislation is now getting wider and deeper, and it plays a bigger and bigger part in the legislative structure of the country.
Instead of reducing the number of committees, we should be thinking of expanding them. I have spoken before in the House about my failure to understand why we do not have a foreign affairs committee. There are whole rafts of foreign affairs issues, of which the Commonwealth is only one, with which Sub-Committee C, covering foreign affairs, defence and development, cannot begin to deal. I profoundly disagreed with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin—for whom, from previous associations, I have the greatest possible respect—when he spoke about committees being, in his phrase, “squeezed out”. Rather than squeezing out these committees—particularly the European Union Committee—we ought to see what we can do to strengthen them. I very much support those who hope that when the Leader of the House responds to the debate he will agree to take the matter back and think again.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on, if nothing else, the basis that to give way once might be thought a virtue but to give way seven times seems more like a form of masochism peculiar to the practices of this place. Therefore, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for a variety of reasons but I shall be brief.
For a number of years, the Lords Science and Technology Committee fulfilled a role in the absence of a similar committee in the other place. The other place now has such a committee, but a House that can stand down a committee of that type in a contemporary world is quite capable of standing it down again. A far more important point here is that in the other place I know of only one Member who has a recent and strong scientific background. He is able and good, and he will make a significant mark in that place. However, in this place—and without sparing the blushes of my colleagues—we have people such as the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Broers, Lord Krebs and Lord May, and that is before we stretch to the marvellous range of medics who have a scientific background and can speak with relevance to what goes on in those committees. I think that the one Member of the other place whom I mentioned would not wish to be weighed in the balances against that collection of talent.
The role of these specialists, and the place which this committee gives them, is important in two fundamental ways. The first is that cross-examination of witnesses requires experts. We have seen committee reports—especially, lately, from the other place—where there has been an absence of experts to make the cross-examination as sharp as it should be. I can assure you that it is very sharp on this particular committee. The second role that these specialists play is to identify where, one way or another, the evidence is to be found. These internationally-rated scientists—perhaps unlike those of us who depend on them—have that significant skill. Although I should declare an interest as a past chairman of this committee, I am not a practising scientist. These experts have given their time and energy to this House, and their main mode of contribution is often through this Select Committee.
I turn to the issue of impact. Today there has been a government announcement of £66 million for research on dementia. Our report on science and ageing set that hare running when we pointed out the sums that were spent in this area as compared with other illnesses. The impact on society of weakness in this area is huge. I am therefore glad that the Government are following it through. We also managed to persuade the Wellcome Trust and the MRC to put up £30 million about four years ago.
Lastly, after the recent follow-up report that the committee issued on flu pandemics, I had a letter from several consultants thanking us for paying such attention to the subject and making their task more manageable. I think that we would do a great disservice to this House, and to the importance of science and technology, if we did not accept this amendment.
My Lords, I will be brief. I would like to take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in a previous debate. It seems absolutely ridiculous to change the nature of these expert Select Committees at this time, when the whole question of the reform of the House of Lords will start to be discussed in the next few months. I beg the House to consider that issue, because the Science and Technology Committee is a highly respected committee. I could cite a list of sub-committees that have all made an international impact, from our treatment of antibiotic resistance, to the change in aircraft passenger environment, to the use of science in education in schools—where, for example, extensive, major changes have been made as a result of the House of Lords report. I am really surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. After all, he spent some time in the Home Office, which has to deal with a range of scientific issues, from animal research, to security and surveillance, to electronic monitoring, to weapons. We have to recognise—
I would not wish to confuse my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I totally respect the importance of science and technology: it could not be more important. The thrust of the Liaison Committee’s report, which I was supporting, was the need for balance—by which I mean, if we cannot do everything, we need to have some space to harness the expertise of this House to those subjects that are almost completely ignored. This process allows us to do so.
My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord has just said, I have every sympathy with the problem that the Liaison Committee is seeking to address. The past few years have, after all, seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people joining us in this House, adding roughly one-third to the number of just a few years ago. It is of course proper to wish to handle things in such a way that more people can be engaged, and that is very difficult at a time when the resources cannot expand to accommodate it. I am not going to go over again the ground that has been covered, and there will be yet further examples of how extraordinary the Science and Technology Committee has been—but it is not alone in that. However, one of the distinctive and hugely useful features of the House of Lords is the expertise and first-hand knowledge that it possesses. The best of briefing is no substitute for that. We have expertise in law, engineering, science, medicine, economics, social science, the arts, business and much else, and we want to embrace it all.
I have sat on both ends of the Select Committee table—I was also interrogated by them in my five-year stint as Chief Scientific Adviser to the John Major and Tony Blair Governments. The committees were very different entities—they were not just the one Science and Technology Committee. The House of Commons is often excellent, but it rarely matches the expert, knowledgeable, thoughtful approach that is brought forward in this House. In my experience of the other place, particularly with regard to issues of genetic modification, opinion is too often substituted for knowledge and beliefs for thoughtful analysis.
It is against that background that I offer what I hope might be a solution—or at least the elements of a solution—to the conundrum before us, of whether we embrace more people in ways that play to their strength. Let us not forget that, until relatively recently, the Science and Technology Committee typically ran two sub-committees, one of which it has lost. The committee has always co-opted other people. I have looked at the past six years and, typically, a little more than one in five of those serving on the Science and Technology Committee or its sub-committees were co-opted from outside. It therefore has a way of going about enlarging its ambit. The result of losing one of those sub-committees is the loss of some of those opportunities. If we lose the second one, we will have lost—apart from the ability to do the work—roughly half of a sub-committee’s worth of co-opted people.
I am coming to my suggestion. Having come off the Science and Technology Committee, my interests in the last three or four years have shifted; I have become involved with the Bank of England and others in systemic risk in financial systems. It is quite substantial. I am not aware of anybody in the House who has this precise kind of competence, which has not conventionally been something of major focus in the Bank. Therefore, I asked the Economic Affairs Committees whether I could be a co-opted member if and when there were things of this kind. I was told that those committees did not co-opt people. In so far as I have discovered—and I may be wrong—the idea of co-opting a fifth to a quarter of the members, which is habitual for the Science and Technology Committee, is not habitual to the other Select Committees. If this is true—if the others are more like Economic Affairs than Science and Technology—simply by altering that, we could have a much wider embrace of people who were not at that time on committees. The resources mean that we are not going to have more bums on Select Committee seats; it is just a question of how we can embrace a much wider group of people. That is an important approach.
The other proposal in this Liaison Committee report is to use four ad hoc committees. Personally, I think the idea of one or two ad hoc committees is extremely good, for the reasons that we have already heard. I also understand that we have resources for one more fully funded Select Committee. I suggest that we do not go for four ad hoc committees, rather one or two at a time, and keep what is one of the demonstrable jewels in this place, which is the full strength of its input to science and technology in the broadest sense, and with an emphasis on the technology as well as the science.
My Lords, I wish to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the chairman of the European Union Select Committee, and to agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling. I confirm that the views they have expressed are those widely held by the members of the main committee and its sub-committees. Having said that, I do not intend to indulge in special pleading for any particular part of the European Union Select Committee, and I am sure that if the recommendation is approved today, it will find a way so far as is possible to continue its work at the level and standards that have been achieved under its successive chairmen.
However, I have two observations to make. First, we are being asked to reduce the number of sub-committees against the background of the express desire of the Minister for Europe that parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation should be improved. That is a matter for Parliament and not for Government, but it is an objective which presumably we all share, whatever our views of the European Union. Are noble Lords in the House today quite certain that that exhortation to do more can be achieved with fewer resources, and has there been—as we frequently ask the European Commission—an appropriate impact assessment? Secondly, it was the Government that chose to increase the number of Members of your Lordships’ House, and quite reasonably the House now has to find ways of ensuring that as many of our number as possible are able to play a part in the committee work of the House.
As I read it, the Leader’s Group recommended an expansion of committee work with additional resources and not at the expense of existing committees. I would submit that it is not really possible to expand the House by the numbers it has and, despite the House Committee’s desire to hold or reduce costs over the current planning period, to improve scrutiny and increase the amount of committee work. The Leader’s Group recommended additional expenditure of just over 1 per cent of existing expenditure. Moreover, if I read the report correctly, the cost of the two extra committees would be some £450,000, which, if the Sunday Times is correct—I cannot be sure of that, of course—is what we will save as a result of not sitting an extra week at Easter.
I wish that we could have had a comprehensive debate about the working practices report, especially those parts concerned with resources, rather than the piecemeal approach of a recommendation here and a recommendation there. I hope that it is not too late for that to happen.
My Lords, the Liaison Committee has proposed to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee by effectively halving the time and resources that are devoted to it. I should like to declare in the strongest possible manner that to do so would be a misguided action. I would go so far as to say that in the perception of many people, it would be an act of vandalism. It appears from the report of the Liaison Committee that it sees the role of Select Committees primarily as that of contributing to the House’s scrutiny of the Government’s legislative and executive activities. It proposes to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee in order to make way for two new committees which might serve the purpose of engaging Members of the House more fully in committee work. Be that as it may, the fact is that the Science and Technology Committee plays a much larger role than has been attributed to it by the Liaison Committee.
Ever since they have been published on the web, and no doubt for much longer than that, the reports of the committee have disseminated scientific information and judicious opinion on scientific matters to a very wide readership. I have read the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to the Liaison Committee and it is my opinion, at least in that context, that he has been far too modest in proclaiming the importance of the Science and Technology Committee. However, today he has left us in no doubt at all about its importance. I am sure that the reports produced by the committee have contributed greatly to the reputation of the House of Lords as a forum for serious and informed debate. If the committee’s activities are curtailed, the House will suffer a commensurate loss of reputation. I do not think that I can express the matter more clearly than that.
My Lords, I think it might be useful to hear from these Benches and from another side of the argument. One of the essences of science is the requirement to look at all the different arguments. The Liaison Committee has had to look at a number of difficult problems, and as a member of that committee, it is important for me to bring them to your Lordships’ attention.
The first point is that we do not have sufficient resources, financially or otherwise, to service all the areas that Members quite properly wish to address. That is a fact. On the island where I spend as much time as I can, when I look across the border I see that people have had their pensions and salaries reduced by about 10 per cent overall. We have escaped that on this side of the water, but we have not completely escaped the need to address the problem of austerity. We simply do not have the money to devote to all the things we would like to do.
The second point is that we have substantially increased the number of Members of your Lordships’ House. Those Members are bringing with them considerable expertise. In some areas they may even be bringing more up-to-date expertise than that of those who have been here for some time, so they should not be undervalued. In that context, we need to find a way to move forward. It is absolutely right that we should dwell on our reputation from the past, but it is equally important to continue to develop and to move forward, otherwise we will simply become stuck.
One crucial area of development is that of information and communications technology. We have a Communications Committee; it is neither a Select Committee nor a sessional committee, but in effect a kind of ad hoc committee on communications. It is quite clear that over the past year or two, that committee’s understanding of its remit has developed. It now looks not just at questions of the content of communication and broadcast, but at the technology of broadband and digital communication. Whenever, as a member of the committee, I asked whether there had been some kind of formal communication between it and the Science and Technology Committee about this, I was told that there had not. That was a failing on the part of both committees. If the Science and Technology Committee was not consulting with the Communications Committee, and if that committee was not making requests to consult with the Science and Technology Committee, both of them were failing to look to the future. I have to say that science and technology is also social science and social technology, and we have had only a very modest amount of research in those areas by the Science and Technology Committee. There was a recent rather good report on behaviour change, but the overall amount has been very modest.
It is not enough for us simply to say, “We want to keep what we have and we want more”, because we do not have the resources and we do have new people with their thoughts and ideas. It is therefore not enough simply to say, when it comes to the European Committee, “We have got seven sub-committees, but we want eight, with one on foreign affairs”. We do not have the money for that.
So, what do we do? The proposal is to continue with the Communications Committee, and a specific proposal that I myself put to the Liaison Committee was that we should ask it to consult with the Science and Technology Committee over the coming year so that areas of overlap can be accommodated in the work of the Communications Committee, and indeed that its name should be changed to exemplify the fact that there is a science and technology component to its work. It is not a matter of shutting down but of opening up and of further understanding. Here is an area of science and technology that is extremely relevant. When you go out on the streets, you can see that young people are more aware in their daily lives of the communications aspects of science and technology than of any other. Again, it is not a matter of closing down but of developing.
There is absolutely no reason why some of the ad hoc committees, which will be relatively short term, should not pick up on issues of science, technology and medicine. Nothing should restrict them just because they are ad hoc committees. Indeed, in pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, there is no reason why some things that they pick up should be in these areas.
I appeal to noble Lords to understand the dilemma of a Liaison Committee, acting on behalf of the House and with modest resources, that has to deal with a substantial increase in the number of Members, an ever increasing amount of material that we could reasonably, legitimately, profitably—and in a way that enhances the reputation of the House—consider, but that also has to address the reality of the boundaries and limits imposed on us. I trust that however we choose to vote, the conversation will continue so that we continue to do the best we can for the House while addressing all the pressures that are on the Liaison Committee and the other committees that have to take responsibility.
I am most grateful to noble Lords. I begin by declaring an interest, in particular with reference to recommendation 46 about the reduction in the European Union sub-committee structure by one sub-committee. In 2003, when I had the honour of being chairman of the European Union Committee, I argued very strongly for an extra committee and we obtained one. It was not done lightly. It was done because the volume of draft legislation coming from the European Union was enormous and we did not feel that we were able to cover, in particular, draft directives and other documents in the area of social affairs and education. We therefore asked for the extra committee and we got it.
It seems strange that we are arguing for a reduction in the capacity of the European Union committee structure at a time when national parliaments are being asked—in fact, pressed—by the European Union to take a much more significant role and to be a much more substantial part of the structure of the European Union. This is, therefore, not a good time for us to think about reducing our capacity to meet that very considerable challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his excellent letter, in appendix 2 of the report and in his very good statement this afternoon, set out the scale of the burden now borne by the European Union Committee. I am rather disappointed that an amendment on that subject has not been tabled to the Motion.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said again and again that it was a fact that there were not sufficient resources. One might ask why there are not sufficient resources. That seems to me the nub of the question: what are the causes of the financial constraint? One of them—there are several—and maybe one of the biggest, is the unnecessary inflation of the membership of the House. That is to a very large extent a direct cause of the financial problem.
When we consider the additional cost of a new unit of committee activity—who on earth invented that frightful description of our work?—we are told that the additional marginal cost will be in the region of £225,000. That frightens me. Will the abolition of one of our European Union sub-committees save £225,000? If it does, it will save the equivalent of what seven Members of the House of Lords receive in expenses during the course of a year. There is not much chance at the moment of the number of Peers and the membership of the House being reduced by seven. It is going up all the time by several factors of that. This shows how strangely we approach this question of resources. Having seven fewer Members claiming up to £30,000 a year in legitimate expenses and attendance allowance would pay for the European Union sub-committee and, happily, the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee. I was deeply moved and impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his fellow scientists said about that.
Could we not try to be realistic about this and see it in the proper context of resources? If we had a smaller House, we would have more resources. It stands to reason that if we reduce the number of Members of the House, we will reduce the amount that the Exchequer has to put out to pay to keep them here. Why do we always say that there are no resources yet do not address the question of why? The size of the House is a major contributor to that unfortunate situation.
The House has a worldwide reputation of being one of the most cost-effective second Chambers in the world. Within that, it has a reputation of being probably the best scrutiny Chamber in the world. From my own experience, I can certainly tell noble Lords that in the European Union we have consistently been considered—run close by the French Senate—the most effective Chamber scrutinising draft European legislation. Do we want to lose that capacity? No, we do not, so let us look at ways of keeping it. I beg noble Lords to strongly consider why we are short of resources, to address that issue and not to undermine the huge reputation of the House.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I have read the report of the Liaison Committee with great care. I think that it was carefully argued. I fully appreciate why, in times of financial constraint, it made the proposals that it did. However, we as a country depend on increasing our income and overcoming our deficit. There can be no question, in my opinion, that the development of science, education and technology will play a vital role in helping us to recover from the deficit state in which we find ourselves. Unfortunately, we are slow to take account of, develop and extend the results of scientific discovery—a problem that we have faced over many years.
We live now in an era of evidence-based and translational medicine—meaning the ability to convert the results of basic science into developments in patient care and new methods of treatment of disease. It is crucial that the results of research in basic science, engineering and technology should do the same. Happily, the Government have put more money into scientific research. The Technology Strategy Board is making a major impact, and so, too, are a huge number of other important developments—but they need development and they need support.
I have been in the House for 23 years. For 15 of those years, I served as a member of your Lordships’ Committee on Science and Technology. I chaired an inquiry some years ago into research in the National Health Service. That was a privilege. The report of that sub-committee inquiry led to the Culyer report and then the Cooksey report, and ultimately to the introduction of the NHS research programme—and now the highly effective National Institute for Health Research.
I worked on a small inquiry of the sub-committee which, curiously, in a limited field, dealt with the medicinal uses of cannabis and led eventually to the development of a standardised product of cannabis leaf that is now being sold across the world—used for absorption through the mucus membrane of the mouth—and that brings in money from across the world because of its effect in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. I could quote a lot of other inquiries that have been crucial: not least, for instance, the committee I chaired into complementary and alternative medicine, to try to bring a rational basis to the study of this particular area, in which a large amount of money is spent by very many people in this country. That report was taken on board by the National Institutes of Health in the United States as the basis for a programme of research on which it embarked, and into which it put money, to try to get an evidence base for that field of complementary medicine. I could quote many other examples—and many other examples have been quoted today.
The reason I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Krebs is that the reports of the Science and Technology Committee in this House have not only had a major influence on government policy across the entire scientific field but have won the respect of Britain’s scientific community. Above all, they have won the respect of the international scientific community. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, the report on science and society was widely commended in the United States media. I could quote a huge number of other reports from the committee that have had a similar effect.
It is absolutely crucial that the committee should continue to function in its present capacity. My noble friend Lord Krebs said, in his carefully argued and detailed letter in annexe 3 to the third report from the Liaison Committee, proposed,
“wider involvement of members in the committee activity of the House whilst preserving the advantages of a sessional committee”.
He proposed a number of methods for co-opting members to each of the sub-committees and made it clear that he could continue with the two sub-committees of the science committee with co-opted members, increasing the involvement of other Members of the House.
It would be a sad day if that committee, which has fulfilled such a vital role in Britain’s science community, and which has received such outstanding credit from across the world, were to lose one of its sub-committees at a time when Britain needs much more development in science, engineering and technology. For that reason, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Krebs.
My Lords, it will not come as a surprise to the House to hear that I fear that the Liaison Committee has got the importance of our European committees badly out of focus.
It is welcome that the European committees have been cut from eight—seven plus one—to one and six sub-committees. However, that still leaves 84 Members of your Lordships’ House on the sub-committees, a further 14 on the main committee, with the result that the time of 98 of your Lordships is taken by the European Select Committee. I have mentioned this before. There is a long series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, answered by the Government, which show that the European Committee has virtually no influence on the legislation that comes to us from Brussels. As your Lordships know, that is quite a substantial proportion of our general legislation and easily the majority of—
There is the vexatious question of the reform of the common fisheries policy. Has the noble Lord looked at the Green Paper that the Fisheries Commissioner has published? Is he aware that it borrows—I dare not use the word “plagiarises”—significantly from the report of the committee of this House?
My Lords, I understand that the decision of the European Commission to review the common fisheries policy is due more to the series on television by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall than to your Lordships’ Select Committee. And anyway, we await reform of the common fisheries policy, as we have for the past 30 years.
I do not want to turn this into a debate on the pluses and minuses of the European Union, but I want to explain to your Lordships why seven European committees is still far too many. I referred to the series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, the answers to which show that the Select Committee has had virtually no influence on legislation coming to us from Brussels. That is not surprising. Your Lordships may be aware of the process of European legislation, which is proposed in secret by the Commission, negotiated in secret in COREPER and passed in secret in the Council. There is nothing that your Lordships’ House or the other place can do when it has gone through that process.
I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flight on one of his well chosen paths, but I wonder how on earth he thinks that a government reply to another Member of this House can demonstrate that the influence of the committee and its sub-committees is nil. Of course, the noble Lord wants that to be the answer; of course, he wants there to be a reduction in the sub-committees and the committee to ensure that we do not scrutinise the European Union properly, because he wants to strengthen the argument to leave the European Union. However, it would be quite nice if we could address the subject before the House, which is the matter of the Liaison Committee’s report, and could above all face the fact that the European Committee deals with a core function that is not dealt with by any other committee or by the House as a whole. If you reduce that core function, you reduce the effectiveness of how we scrutinise this work. I wish that the noble Lord would take account of that instead of arguing the contrary.
My Lords, I was about to explain to your Lordships why that core function is pointless compared to the work that the other Select Committees do in this House—and we have heard of powerful examples from the Science and Technology Committee. All the other committees are taken very seriously in this country and worldwide, whereas the debates of the European Committee in your Lordships’ House are ill attended and do nothing to inform public opinion about how the European Union works—and its membership, as I have said again and again, is solidly Europhile. We have just had two interventions to prove that.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, has told us that the committee scrutinises very effectively European legislation. It writes to Ministers. But your Lordships will be aware of the scrutiny reserve, an agreement whereby successive Governments have given an assurance, although it is not a legal assurance, to both Houses of Parliament that if a piece of legislation is under scrutiny the Government of the day will not sign up to it in Brussels unless that committee agrees. Written Answers from the Government show that that has been overridden hundreds of times in the past 10 years—I think it is 343 times in the past five years.
I mention all this only to show that we put all this effort into the European Union committees and get very little out of them. I am sorry to offend noble and Europhile Lords, and I hope that the House does not think that I am banging on again about Europe. But hearing the comments about the eminent scientists in this Room who have spoken only for the Science and Technology Committee, and looking at the other committees, which are full of expertise and widely respected in the country and internationally, I fear that we have the balance wrong. Two or three European committees, including the main one, would be quite enough. We should redirect those energies into committees that will serve the House and the country well.
My Lords, I hear the debate that we have had this evening but I have to say that I support the recommendations from the Liaison Committee, which closely follow the proposals from the report of the Leader’s Group. I warmly welcome the recommendation that two new cross-cutting and ad hoc committees should be set up, although my preference would have been for an appointment of two and a half years to enable the committees themselves to deliberate on the subjects of the report and to enable the committees to follow up the conclusions of the report, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, suggested.
I also welcome the proposals on pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, which I believe to be extremely important. If there is to be new draft legislation on adoption, as suggested by the Prime Minister, I would be grateful for an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that it will not be introduced until the post-legislative scrutiny has been concluded.
The decisions regarding the European Committee and the Science and Technology Committee were not easy. In fact, they were extremely difficult. There were hard choices, and it is never a good time to bring about change. Of course, many noble Lords are concerned that, by reducing the number of European sub-committees from seven to six, we are diminishing the importance that this House rightly gives to proper scrutiny of EU documents and proposals, and diminishes our standing as a House of expertise. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, I am confident that the excellent and much needed scrutiny will continue with six sub-committees and a slightly larger membership, if the committees wish to enlarge.
The noble Lord is, of course, correct, as is my noble friend Lord Grenfell, in saying that it is the Government who are responsible for extending the membership of this House, while it is we in this House who have to deal with the financial consequences, which means reorganising the committees of this House. The work of the committee is held in the highest regard by parliaments and decision-makers in Europe and the wider world, and I know that this will continue to be the case. I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am completely aware of the process of policy-making in the European Union, and I know just how influential the reports are both inside and outside the institutions. Likewise, the work of the Science and Technology Committee—
My Lords, I would not care to comment on that at the moment, but I am grateful for the invitation from the noble Lord. I was going to say how much the House as a whole rightly regards the work of the Science and Technology Committee. Clearly, the breadth of knowledge inside that committee, along with the understanding and the influence of the reports, is phenomenal, and I am sure that that will continue. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, resources are scarce. Throughout our deliberations in the committee, I have argued for additional resources to be made available for an additional committee, and I will continue to make that argument in the coming year, so that when we have deliberations at this time next year, I may well be able to argue in favour of more work for the Science and Technology Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made a very good speech here and in Committee, and I have supported him in his arguments throughout. However, I support the report from the committee that is before us today, and I urge the whole House to adopt it. Should there be a vote, I wish to make it clear that the people on my Benches will have a free vote.
My Lords, I know that I am going to disappoint noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is not my purpose, but I think it is the result of the report published by the Liaison Committee that I support. As the House knows, the report proposes that more of our resources should go to one-year inquiries set up by the House for a specific purpose and with a specific membership—what we call ad hoc committees. That is a change of direction from the way in which we have dealt with things before, and I believe that it is right that these proposals for ad hoc committees should come from Back-Benchers. If this report is agreed to, I look forward to a meeting of the Liaison Committee next December when we consider a really good range of proposals for new ad hoc committees proposed by Back-Benchers around the House.
The whole point of this report is that it provides more opportunities for a broader range of Members to take part in the committee work of this House, and for those committees to be timely and to engage us in debate. The committees are meant to inform the House on subjects that we consider important. That is not to take away anything that the Science and Technology Committee does and has done. After all, this report is a package of recommendations. If it is agreed to, new resources will be made available to the Committee Office.
The report is also clear that some trimming of existing committees is required if we are to set up the new committees as proposed, and we have limited the trimming to a single sub-committee of the European Union Committee. The reason was asked by my noble friend Lord Jopling and indeed by the noble Lords, Lord Roper, Lord Grenfell, and others. They asked why we pick on the EU Committee, and the answer is, not because we do not value its work but because it absorbs by far the largest proportion of the House’s Select Committee resources—eight committees in total—and so it is the obvious place to look when trying to release resources. This is also why, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the Liaison Committee was already minded to propose the change before hearing from the noble Lord. It was in no sense any disrespect to him as chairman or indeed to the quality of the work that he has done.
The second place was the Science and Technology Committee and its sub-committees. We felt that, in the future, the resources should be that of a single Select Committee. The reason why we suggest that is that it would put it on the same resource footing as the Constitution Committee, the Communications Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee, which itself appoints a sub-committee.
Of course, this House has a notable reputation in science and technology, but there are other fields of experience and interest in this House, and I suggest we should make use for them. However, I stress that there is no reason why Back-Benchers cannot propose technical and scientific subjects to the Liaison Committee as subjects for ad hoc committees. There is also no reason why, in future Sessions, we should not re-examine this decision. I am in favour of trying out pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and others. It may be that in a couple of Sessions’ time we find that it is not a good use of the House’s resources and that we should look again at the situation in the Science and Technology Committee.
Yes. I thank the noble Lord for his comments so far, but I would appreciate it if he would address the question that I put on what mechanism was used in the report to assess the value for money from different options. It is all very well to say that we need to create resources for new activities, but how was that evaluation carried out? I request some transparency on that.
My Lords, we started off from a slightly different position. We wanted to do more different things, such as pre-leg, post-leg and two new stand-alone ad hoc committees, and they had to be paid for by some trimming elsewhere. We took the view that there could be a reduction in the EU sub-committees, and I am afraid that the Science and Technology Committee was next in line. We suggested this in the report that we published right at the beginning of this Session nearly two years ago, when we said:
“So far as the Science and Technology Committee is concerned, we note that the Committee has recently worked through two units of activity … Given that the House of Commons committee on this subject is now permanently established, we consider these two units of activity should be regarded as an absolute maximum; and in the event of further demands for committee work arising which require redeployment of committee resources we would in the first instance look towards retrenchment of the Science and Technology Committee”.
So all this was forecast a long time ago. I think there is a mood in the House to try to look at other ways in which we can work on our committee structure.
The Science and Technology Committee will continue. It will no doubt continue to work through a sub-committee, and I hope that it will continue to do its work extremely effectively.
Will the noble Lord respond to the point made by several scientists when speaking about the Science and Technology Committee: that it also serves the public and that the Liaison Committee has looked at it purely from the point of view of serving the convenience of the House? Will he respond to the point that we are also here to serve the public, as well as serving our own interests?
My Lords, there is going to be a new committee on post-legislative scrutiny of adoption and family services; more pre-legislative scrutiny; and two new committees, one on SMEs and exports and the other on public services and demography. All of these are designed to serve the interests of the public using much more of the expertise that exists around the House. This decision was not taken easily or capriciously; its implications were well understood. As I have said, in the longer term there is no reason why we should not revisit it.
The reason is that we are trying to work within our existing budgets. Throughout the public sector there are limits on increasing expenditure. The House of Commons is facing a substantial decrease in expenditure and it would look a bit odd if the House of Lords alone decided to spend even more public money.
Does the noble Lord believe that his second attempt to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, answered it? I did not understand it. Given that he asserted that there was going to be a cost-benefit analysis, I did not hear anything like that in his reply.
It is very difficult to provide a cost-benefit analysis until we have seen the work and the success of the new committees that have been proposed. We are proposing four new committees—they do not exist at the moment—which will be paid for in part by a small reduction—I still say that it is a small reduction—in the amount of money available to the Science and Technology Committee. The best time for a cost-benefit analysis will be at the end of the first or second Session when we have seen how these new committees have worked out.
I will be brief because I know that certain Members of the House want to get on to the next business with rather a great deal of impatience. I shall not take long. I will not be able to name everyone in the impressive list of noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the massed ranks of fellow scientists that he has managed to assemble today.
In what I thought was a very impressive speech, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right to say how difficult it was to review the committee structure because no one wanted change. Everyone wants to keep exactly the same thing going on—people are always resistant to change—but at the same time they want new committees. That is what we are trying to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House said—
My Lords, I certainly was not trying to be contemptuous of the noble Lord, Lord Winston—rather the opposite; I was impressed by the number of scientists who had spoken. I am sorry that the noble Lord misunderstood me, or maybe I did not express myself well.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, it is a question of resources. We cannot continue to spend more and more money. In this report we have recommended one additional unit of committee activity—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, does not like that phrase but it describes rather well what we do—and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, mentioned how we had followed the recommendations of the Goodlad committee. We are going to have two pre-legislative scrutiny committees, one more than we have at the moment; one post-legislative scrutiny committee—I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about adoption, and obviously if something develops on that we can review the subject later on—and two brand new ad hoc committees on topical subjects. I think that that is what the House wanted. It would be even better if we could just go on with the old committees as well, but it would be irresponsible of our committee to continually recommend more and more.
On the point about the European Union Committee, we will still have six sub-committees and a main committee so there will be seven committees in action in that area. They will still be better resourced than most, if not all, such sub-committees in other EU national parliaments.
We were grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for coming to see us and explaining things. We had intended to be helpful in telling him roughly what we thought, and we had intended that he would therefore know what to expect and what to argue. We also did not want committees to plan work beyond the end of the Session that they would then have to alter. Indeed, the noble Lord persuaded us not to reduce the size of the EU Committee to five but to keep it at six. I had thought that it was the European Union Committee’s desire that the membership of the sub-committees should go up from 12 to 14; that is the impression that we on the committee were given. If that is not the case, though, it is only—
I would say only that membership can be up to 14. There is no need for the European Union Committee to appoint 14 on each of its sub-committees; it can continue at 12, as it wants to at the moment.
Noble Lords have made a number of other points but I do not think I can add much more. On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about the Science and Technology Committee, there is nothing to stop that committee conducting follow-up inquiries in future. Paragraph 47 of the report makes clear that the committee should retain the power to appoint a sub-committee and to co-opt additional Members for particular inquiries. Both those points are already made in the report.
I hope that the House will agree to the report. It will breathe fresh air into the committee structure and I commend it to the House.
Will the noble Lord confirm that the Government remain committed to policies and structures in the House; and that the Liaison Committee, above all, remains so committed and will support evidence-based policy rather than a slide towards the new, the “breath of fresh air” and the policy-based evidence?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of the Liaison Committee for his summing up, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. A number of telling points have been made during today’s debate. I am a little disappointed that in the replies from the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Liaison Committee those points were not all fully addressed. However, I take heart from the noble Lord the Leader reiterating the point that he made in a letter that he sent to the Cross-Bench Convenor, and perhaps to others, that the reduction that he envisages in the support for the Science and Technology Committee is a small one, which is very different from my understanding when I read the report that essentially support for the committee was going to be halved. I see a glimmer of hope there and I hope that in further discussion I can understand how small “small” is. I assume that “small” is smaller than what I see as large. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Public Bodies (Abolition of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) Order 2012
Companies Act 2006 (Amendment of Part 23) (Investment Companies) Regulations 2012
Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2012
Industrial Training Levy (Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2012
Postal Services Act 2011 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2012
Postal Services Act 2011 (Penalties) (Rules for Calculation of Turnover) Order 2012
Motions to Approve
That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 19 January and 7, 9, 27 February be approved.
Relevant documents: 51st Report from the Merits Committee, 39th, 41st and 42nd Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 19 March.
Insolvency Act 1986 (Disqualification from Parliament) Order 2012
Motion to Approve
Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2012
Schedule 5 to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (Modification) Order 2012
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2012
Motions to Approve
Localism Act 2011 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2012
Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012
Motions to Approve
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 9, Schedule 1, Clauses 10 to 12, Schedule 2, Clauses 13 to 29, Schedule 3, Clauses 30 to 33, Schedule 4, Clauses 34 and 35, Schedule 5, Clauses 36 to 45.
Report (1st Day)
Relevant document: 17th Report from the Constitution Committee.
I beg to move that the Report be now received.
Lord Forsyth’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
1: Clause 7, leave out Clause 7
My Lords, your Lordships will remember that last Wednesday I indicated that agreement had been reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a number of changes to the Scotland Bill and supporting non-legislative measures. Following this agreement the Scottish Government tabled a legislative consent Motion recommending the Scottish Parliament support the Bill. The amendments in this group are part of the changes to the Scotland Bill as a consequence of the agreement that has been reached between the Government and the Scottish Government to ensure that the Bill continues to retain the support of the Scottish Parliament, previously affirmed in an overwhelming vote of support in March 2011.
These amendments will remove Clause 7, Clause 12 and the associated Schedule 2, Clause 13 and Clause 26 of the Bill. With regard to Clause 7, the Government’s intention in pursuing the limited reference procedure contained in that clause was to prevent unnecessary delays to Bills in the Scottish Parliament, where the majority of provisions are considered to be within the legislative competence of that Parliament. The Scottish Government had raised concerns that this clause could have potential for introducing unintended consequences and delay in enacting legislation in the Scottish Parliament.
Likewise, during Committee consideration, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, raised concerns about whether the provision was necessary, as he believed that the existing arrangements appeared to be adequate. As a result of our discussions with the Scottish Government, we have agreed that this clause should be removed. The Scottish Government accept that in future, as at present, only a full Act of the Scottish Parliament can be referred to the Supreme Court, even if only a single provision raises competence issues.
Amendment 14 removes Clause 26 from the Bill. This would have allowed UK Ministers to implement international obligations on a UK basis, where it would be more convenient to take action on such a basis. The Scottish Government believe that this clause could undermine the clarity about which Parliament and which Ministers have responsibility for a particular matter. Both Governments acknowledge the importance of ensuring that all of the United Kingdom's international obligations are fully implemented across the UK on a timely basis.
The UK Government are willing to remove this clause, on the understanding of course that Scottish Ministers will ensure that any international obligations that fall within their responsibility are implemented on time. In turn, we have made clear to Scottish Ministers that the Government would be prepared to use their existing powers of direction under Section 58(2) of the Scotland Act 1998, should we have concerns about the implementation of international obligations within the remit of Scottish Ministers.
Clause 12 and associated Schedule 2 relate to insolvency. It would have returned legislative competence back to the United Kingdom Parliament in relation to all aspects of the winding up of business associations. The United Kingdom Government continue to believe that, where appropriate, Scottish procedures for insolvency should be in step with the rest of the United Kingdom. Our discussions with the Scottish Government have provided us with assurances that these concerns can be addressed without amending the devolution settlement in this respect. We therefore seek to remove this clause on the understanding that the Scottish Government will consider the modernisation measures for the devolved areas of winding up in Scotland introduced into the reserved insolvency procedures in 2009 and 2010; and have provided assurances that future changes made by the UK Parliament or Ministers in this area will be considered timeously by the Scottish Government in their area of competence.
Finally, Amendment 7 seeks to remove Clause 13, dealing with the regulation of health professionals, from the Bill. While the Scottish Parliament has had power to introduce for Scotland separate legislation in respect of regulating a number of health profession—that is, those not listed by reference to specific statutes in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act—it has chosen not to do so. Rather, it has approved the use of the existing, reserved machinery, in the form of orders made under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, to regulate new groups of healthcare professionals.
During our discussions with the Scottish Government they raised some concerns about this clause. The Scottish Government have provided us with clear assurances that they will work closely with the Government to ensure that consistent regulatory regimes apply to all health professions. Given these assurances, the Government are content to continue to develop policy in relation to regulating the health professions with the Scottish Government. The United Kingdom Government, through the Department of Health in England, will continue to engage closely with officials, not just in Scotland but also in the Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, to develop future policy proposals concerning the regulation of healthcare professionals.
The Government have received assurances on all these matters that the same effect that was sought by provisions in the Bill can be secured by non-legislative means. On that basis we have agreed to seek to take out the provisions from the Bill. I beg to move the amendments.
My Lords, I wonder if this would be a good opportunity for the Minister in his reply to inform the House what will now happen in relation to the legislative consent Motion. It would be helpful if he could briefly give us a timetable about when it will be considered by the Scottish Parliament and the procedures thereafter. If there are any problems, how will this House be informed? Does he envisage that the legislative consent Motion will be passed through the Scottish Parliament without any difficulty; and are there any further procedures that may be necessary within this Parliament following the passage of the legislative consent Motion?
My Lords, before I address the amendments that the noble and learned Lord has spoken to, I should place on record the fact that the handling of this Bill has been nothing short of scandalous. To start three hours late, almost on the dinner hour, is quite unforgiveable. Yet again, those of us who are participating in this Bill are under pressure to sit longer and at unusual times to accommodate the Government’s business. At a time when we are trying in this House to demonstrate the evident utility of remaining part of the United Kingdom, of Scotland playing a meaningful role in Parliament, and of this Parliament playing a meaningful role in the affairs of Scotland, it smacks of contempt for the position of Scotland. I do not for one moment suggest that the noble and learned Lord has any part in this. I know that he is frustrated by the progress that has been made, but frankly those who are responsible for this should be ashamed of themselves.
As for the amendments that the noble and learned Lord has spoken to, we are pleased that agreement has been reached between the Government and Scottish Ministers. This allows for the passing of the legislative consent Motion. We recognise, of course, that compromises have been made on both sides, though those made by the Scottish Ministers from the demands that they set have clearly been much more substantial. It will be interesting to read how Scottish Ministers deal with the Scotland Bill Committee and Report when they come to deal with the legislative consent Motion. This group of amendments implements much, though not all, of the agreement. Inevitably, there are issues that we support, such as the removal of the clause on the partial suspension of Bills of the Scottish Parliament or the reference to the Supreme Court, and those that we find much more difficult, such as the regulation of health professionals. However, in the spirit of compromise, we support these amendments.
On insolvency, we stated our belief in Committee that the clause did not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of the original Calman recommendations, in that it went beyond the reservation of the power for the Insolvency Service to lay down the rules to be applied by insolvency practitioners on both sides of the border and reserved the whole body of law on corporate insolvency. As far as we can see, neither the original proposals in the Scotland Bill nor the state of affairs following the removal of this clause really address the issues identified by Calman. Given that, it might be helpful if the noble and learned Lord outlined what next steps might be taken with regard to insolvency.
On health professionals, we are actually genuinely sorry that this part of the Bill is being removed. Clause 13 implemented the recommendation of the Calman commission. The recommendation was made not lightly but on the evidence proffered, while the royal colleges and others have expressed concern that the fragmentation of the regulation of healthcare professionals should be rational and appropriate. Nevertheless, we understand the Government’s reasoning for leaving this provision out in order to secure the agreement of the Scottish Parliament to the passing of the consent Motion. Particularly importantly, the Scottish Government have given assurances that they will work closely with the Government to ensure that consistent regulatory regimes apply to health professionals throughout the United Kingdom. We will look to them to hold to this commitment, as I am sure will the health professions, royal colleges and others.
On international obligations, we were neutral on the inclusion of the original clause. We were not wholly convinced that it was necessary, although we accepted that it was a potentially useful measure, and for that reason we did not seek to oppose it being part of the Bill. We think that the Government have won important assurances from the Scottish Ministers that they will work with the Government to ensure that the United Kingdom continues at all times to implement international obligations. We note, too, that if there is a failure to implement such obligations, the Government may use their existing powers under Section 58(2) of the Scotland Act to direct Scottish Ministers appropriately. Accordingly, we support the amendments moved by the Government.
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I could associate myself with his earlier remarks. I regret that I have not taken part in the proceedings on this Bill until now. I was not sure whether or not I should declare an interest as someone who spends most of the year in Scotland. Now that I have worked it out that I do not, I feel free to join in.
My specific question follows what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, said. Our Companion requires that there should be 14 days between Committee and Report. On this occasion, there has been one working day, which was a Thursday. I have never formed part of the usual channels—and never will—so can the Minister explain to your Lordships how this decision has taken place at this stage of this hugely important Bill to the Scottish people, who have not been consulted about it at all?
No one has told the Scottish people that this Bill is going to result in them paying more tax in future, and no one has asked them. All we are being told is that the manifestos said that the Calman commission results were going to be taken seriously, but no one knew at the time of the election that this was going to be the outcome. I am sure that the Minister is not personally responsible but I ask him to explain to us how and why this decision was taken, in view of the enormous importance of these matters to the Scottish people.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I heard the stringent comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am sure that they will be noted. Having had experience of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and your Lordships’ House, if there is a thread that links these three experiences it is that the usual channels have currents and depths that I have rarely, if ever, been able to fathom.
Of course we do not hold the Minister at all responsible for what happens in the usual channels, but it seems rather perverse that we have discussed this Bill late at night and on Thursdays, under pressure of time. I accepted that because of the nature of the parliamentary timetable, but then we were told that we are having an extra week’s recess. Those extra days would have enabled this Bill to be given the due and proper consideration that it deserves, and I hope that the Minister and my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench will pass on those comments to the usual channels.
This almost proves my point. I am sure that these points will be noted and I will indeed draw them to the attention of colleagues.
With regard to the further point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, about the number of days between Committee and Report, it was agreed between the usual channels, and as a result of a delay for further sessions in Committee to take place after the end of the consultation on the referendum, there was a need to reduce. As I indicated, that was agreed. In response to his further point, all parties—or at least all non-Scottish National parties that fought elections in Scotland: the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats—had these proposals in their manifestos and I do not think it is fair to say that they had not been aired at all prior to the general election, nor indeed since.
I welcome the general support that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, has given to these moves, in the spirit of seeking agreement. He asked about insolvency. Specifically, there will be engagement with the Scottish Government to ensure that the modernisation programme contained in the reforms of 2009-10 is delivered in Scotland for the benefit of those affected by corporate insolvencies.
More generally, the Accountant in Bankruptcy is an executive agency of the Scottish Government that holds policy responsibility for devolved insolvency matters in Scotland, and the Insolvency Service is aware of the need to stay in close contact with counterparts in the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s office, as indeed already happens, to help ensure that as far as possible developments in insolvency law in devolved areas do not create unnecessary difficulties for users of the legislation. So there are the specific provisions of the 2009-10 changes, which we have had assurances will be implemented, and there is a means by which we can maintain contact and dialogue in the longer term.
With regard to health professionals, like the noble and learned Lord, I was a member of the Calman commission and certainly took this matter seriously. He will appreciate that we have agreed to seek removal of this clause on the receipt of assurances that the Scottish Government will work with us to ensure consistency in the regulation of health professionals. I sometimes wonder if we had had some representations from the Scottish Government when we sat on the Calman commission whether we might have been able to reflect those in the report, but that was not the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked about the procedure from here on in. In his letter to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy, Mr Bruce Crawford, having gone through the terms of the agreement, indicated:
“I can therefore confirm that the Scottish Government is now prepared to recommend to the Scottish Parliament that it consents to the Bill, amended in line with your proposals, and supported by the undertakings in your letter”.
Of course, it will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. It is my understanding that the Scotland Bill Committee of that Parliament will meet to discuss the amendments on Wednesday. We expect that the legislative consent Motion will be debated after the Easter Recess but before Third Reading in your Lordships’ House. Given the engagement that there has been, I very much look forward to the Scottish Parliament approving the Motion to support the Bill. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s inquiry.
Amendment 1 agreed.
1A: Before Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Legislative competence: amendment to the 1998 Act
In section 29 of the 1998 Act (legislative competence) after subsection (2)(d) insert—“(da) it would result in residents in England, Wales or Northern Ireland being treated differently to citizens from other EU member states.””
My Lords, I add my voice to those who are complaining about the way in which this Bill has been handled. In his reply, it would be helpful if the Minister could indicate where he proposes to get to this evening. It is suggested we can get to Clause 25—that is 15 groups of amendments and we normally finish at 10 o’clock. Although I mean to be brief, I do not think that that will be achievable. It is extraordinary that a Bill of this importance is being treated in this way. When I complain to the usual channels, they blame each other. Something has gone very wrong with the business managers in this House and they need to get their act together.
The great argument for devolution, which I opposed, was that Westminster was not able to deal with Scottish legislation. I have been around Westminster since 1983 and I have never seen a piece of legislation affecting Scotland handled as badly as this piece of legislation has.