Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note, in the light of the Government’s decision not to proceed with the House of Lords Reform Bill, of the options for making better use of the skills and experience of its Members in performing its core functions of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and providing a forum for public debate.
My Lords, I am delighted to see how many people are in the Chamber wishing to speak on this Motion. Unfortunately, noble Lords will pay a price in the amount of time that they will have to do so.
I will argue how crucial it is now that we look afresh at how we make better use of our talents and the skills of our Members, fundamentally better to fulfil the functions of the House as set out on the Order Paper. I will argue that it is timely to do so. We know now that fundamental change to the composition of the House is off the agenda, at least for the immediate future. You can make your own guess, but I would expect that the present incumbents, if we are fortunate, may well be here in 10 years’ time. That therefore increases the necessity of looking at our processes to see whether we can improve them.
Next, it is right to look at this again because there is unfinished business. The Leader helpfully set up a Leader’s Group, chaired very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, but many of those recommendations, some of the most important ones, have not yet come before the House for discussion and decision. It is timely for many of them to do so.
Lastly, there are wider issues, and none of us will be able to resist some of the temptation of straying into them. However, the fundamental issue should be about completing the Goodlad business that was started and is not yet at its end.
I turn to what was in the Goodlad report. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for using the abbreviation; he will know what I mean by that. The report looked at the scrutiny of legislation. That matters. We spend most of our time on it; it is our most important function. The volume and complexity of legislation have increased enormously over recent decades. We do not do a bad job, but we do not do a good enough job either. That is not always helped by the fact that Governments of whatever party have a persistent disease of rushing Bills into the House before they are properly ready and prepared.
There are two fundamental recommendations in Goodlad which would have helped to address that. The first was establishing a presumption that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny on all important Bills, particularly those which made major policy shift and/or had not had full consultation via Green Papers or White Papers. The second was a test of legislative preparedness before a Bill had its Second Reading to ensure that some basic process tests had been fulfilled. This may sound tedious and unnecessary, but I ask noble Lords to reflect on the Health and Social Care Bill that came into this House. I hope that the Health and Social Care Act works because, for most of us, the improvement of the NHS is fundamentally important to the cohesion, health and well- being of our society. But it was an object lesson in how not to proceed. I do not make that as a party-political point. The Government of whom I was a Minister was, at times, guilty of similar failings. I argue that a fundamental change like that needed the fullest consultation before the Government had firmly made up their mind. That is why pre-legislative scrutiny matters: because Governments are more flexible before they and their officials have committed themselves in that way. If we had had pre-legislative scrutiny, and if we had had tests of legislative preparedness, I am confident that the Health and Social Care Bill would have had an easier passage, probably a quicker one, and I would have expected that it would have been a better Act at the end of the process.
The Goodlad report also recommended that we should change some of our processes. The primary recommendation was that most Bills should go into Grand Committee. I will not go on in detail about that; we have debated it. However, the Goodlad proposal was not of course the proposal on which the House voted. I hope that at some stage—not in the near future but at some stage—we will come back to the proposal that most Bills should be scrutinised in Grand Committee. The process of scrutiny is evidentially better there than it usually is on the Floor of the House.
On secondary legislation, Goodlad recommended what had been recommended by the Wakeham commission previously: that the convention on secondary legislation that the House does not usually strike down and defeat SIs would be better replaced by a convention that essentially said that the House should use a power to defer and ask the Government to think again. That is absolutely consistent with what we do on primary legislation, and the benefits of doing it on secondary legislation are for the once or twice a year when there are manifestly failings in an SI brought before the House, either because its policy or processes are unclear or its consultation has been poor. The Government would be invited to think again about such an instrument and bring it back in a month’s time with amendments or with a better argumentation as to why that SI should stand. We would have better SIs as a consequence because officials and Ministers would be aware of this potential delaying power and would therefore do their homework better. That is not to imply that the quality of SIs is generally poor, because it is not; it has improved.
Those are some of the changes on legislative process that this House has within its power to make relatively simply, at relatively little cost. The public would be better served if we did so.
This House is an important forum for debate and inquiry. We do not get that much attention in the wider world. Sometimes, that is the media’s fault; sometimes, it is our own. The question for us, though, is how we make better use of our time and skills to be an effective forum for debate and inquiry. I shall make three simple points.
First, Goodlad argued that the process for choosing Back-Bench debates was somewhat arcane—some of us would say asinine. Essentially, the Government can table a debate on a topic that they think is important, relevant or even urgent at any time they wish to do so. Back-Benchers are not able in this House to do that. The only mechanism by which they can do so is if they win the lottery, which is what, of course, the ballot is, and there is no guarantee that the name that comes out of the hat will meet the test of being important or topical. Alternatively, they can put their name down for a Question for Short Debate. We are now debating issues on Questions for Short Debate that were tabled five months ago. Therefore, it is impossible by that mechanism to use QSDs to raise timely and urgent issues. There is something fundamentally flawed in the way in which we select topics for Back-Bench debates. Goodlad recommended a very simple, very low-cost process for doing so, whereby the Back-Bench Members of this House control that process. I very much hope that we will discuss that before long.
Secondly, recommendations that Goodlad made that have been introduced, and I was delighted to see them, were to establish two ad hoc sub-committees. They were not introduced in exactly the way that Goodlad recommended them, but it could well be that the Leader of the House was right on this occasion, as he often is, to recommend that they be short and sharp rather than standing or long-standing. Two are under way, on SMEs and on public service and demographic change, and they will report by Easter. There will be two new ones next year. Therefore, it is clear that we should focus on that issue and try to ensure that we have two excellent topics for the successor committees. I hope that, in time, we will recognise that this is one of the best possible ways of harnessing the talent in this House and that we have more such ad hoc sub-committees. However, that will depend on whether we can demonstrate that there are good topics that need to be so debated.
Thirdly, we need to find ways of getting on with debates on Select Committee reports. It is not healthy that a committee works very hard to produce a report and that it has then to wait sometimes weeks and months before there is a debate on it.
Transparency was touched on in Goodlad, although perhaps with not quite that language. Transparency is an objective of this Government and I commend them for it. It is healthy for public life and public policy if most of our processes are more transparent and thereby accessible to the public and the wider world. However, public understanding of and involvement in the House of Lords, while they have improved, are still not good enough. Members’ own understanding of its processes and decisions is often shaky and weak—I think, after 10 or 12 years here, I begin to understand how it works, but I would not like to sit a GCSE on the subject.
One illustration—I am not just teasing the Front Benches on this—is the way in which the usual channels work. The processes of the usual channels are necessary—I do not think that the usual channels are malign, or at least not usually—but it is clear that many Members do not understand how they work. Goodlad argued that it would be healthy if the Leader looked at how we could make the workings of the usual channels more understandable and thereby accessible to the wider membership of the House. That is necessary and I hope that it happens before long. It would also be helpful to the wider public.
I say with tact that the usual channels are extremely influential in the way in which they manage the business of the House and are extremely influential in the major committees of the House. The consequence can be, no doubt unintentionally, that they have quite an influence on how Back-Bench issues are addressed as well. The House should take ownership of its own Back-Bench business within the time that is allocated to it as a fundamental principle. It does not always feel as if that occurs. I shall illustrate the point by mentioning again the two new ad hoc committees that will be set up next April. How many Members of the House are aware that there will be two new ad hoc committees? How many Members of the House are aware of any process by which they can put forward suggestions? Some Members are, but very many are not. How many members of the public are aware that two new ad hoc sub-committees will be set up next year? There is nothing wicked here, but it would be a cleaner process if the wider world and ourselves were aware that there were two slots for ad hoc sub-committees next year. They would thereby be well sighted on the potential for putting in argumentations for them and aware of the criteria that will be used for selection of those and where the decisions will be made. Nothing is wrong with what is happening at present, but that would certainly be a better process.
I shall touch very briefly on wider issues. The elephant in this Chamber, which you can all see, is that this House is too big. It frustrates the ability of new Members and many older Members to participate and it damages our credibility to some extent. It is self-evident that, if we are meant to be a House of expertise doing good scrutiny, we need to refresh and bring in new talent. Those two objectives are in conflict and the way of resolving them is obvious to us all: there has to be some process of retirement. Such a process will not be easy or even possible unless a government of the day are prepared to introduce legislation. However, it is necessary, as otherwise the House will clog up and become discredited, or we will fail to bring in sufficient new talent, which is clearly necessary.
If the scrutiny of legislation is our fundamental task, are the resources available to opposition Front Benches, of whatever party is in power, or to Members sufficient to do that? I have taken part in the scrutiny of legislation, and your Lordships know as well as I do the process. It is almost impossible unless you are lawyer to engage in the amendments and their processes without external support. That can be helpful and it involves the wider world, but it can also lead to risks. I also hope that we will as a House recognise that we have to champion Back-Bench interests, not in the interest of Back-Benchers per se but in the interest of better scrutiny, better debate and a better holding of the Government to account.
In conclusion, I am arguing that the priority is to make the case for a Back-Bench debates committee as soon as possible, and bring that before the Liaison Committee when we have completed making the case; in time, to bring in a process for a legislative standards committee; to review the transparency of our processes with a view to improving them; and, lastly, I urge all Back-Benchers, and even Front-Benchers, to persist in the important task of improving the processes of this House, because we have an obligation to the public we serve to do so.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on this timely debate and on his very wide-ranging speech on a subject which, as he said, is sufficiently important to your Lordships’ House to attract an attendance today on all sides.
I shall perforce be brief. We spend the majority of our time on the scrutiny of legislation. Our role is quite different from that of the other place. We seek to address points of principle and of details, drawing on the knowledge and experience of your Lordships. We seek to conduct our affairs in a timely way, while paying special attention to those parts of Bills that have not been scrutinised in detail in the other place. Therefore, I turn first to the case for a legislative standards committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred, which was made last year by the Leader’s Group, the Hansard Society, the Better Government Initiative and others. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has been asked by the Liaison Committee to examine the proposal, whereafter I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House may seek your Lordships’ views.
The case for a legislative standards committee, preferably a joint committee with the other place, is this. The past few decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, have seen a vast increase in the volume of legislation, both primary and secondary, put before Parliament by Governments. There is intense competition between departments for parliamentary time. The resulting workload on Parliament has led to serious consequences; the other place’s capacity for proper scrutiny has been all but overwhelmed. Amendments have been routinely accepted without debate in your Lordships’ House towards the very end of parliamentary sessions, not in response to argument or evidence but under pressure of time and to avoid the alternative of Governments of the day losing entire Bills. There was an answer to a Question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Butler, earlier this year, showing that a vast number of measures have not been put into effect in the past few years for that very reason.
We rightly pride ourselves on what we do, but the fact is that much legislation is worse than unsatisfactory. There is a massive waste of time and resources—financial and human—in both Parliament and Whitehall. The proposed business standards committee would help the Government as a whole, particularly the business managers, to ensure that legislation brought before Parliament was validly and properly prepared. Its role would be to ensure Bills’ technical and procedural compliance with agreed standards of Bill preparation, rather than to scrutinise policy or drafting. The discipline which such a system would impose would be wholly beneficial, enormously cost effective and widely welcomed by the overworked occupants of both Whitehall and Westminster. As I have said, it would be manna from heaven to the business managers, but benefits would be felt not only by government, Parliament, the judiciary, legal practitioners—whose pain I admit is frequently greatly eased—and stakeholders, but above all by the citizens, who would be relieved from the frustration, bewilderment and worse inflicted on them by what many see as the ever-growing tsunami of amateurishly prepared legislation. The volume of delegated legislation continues to grow, as does its importance. Parliament accepts the concept of unamendable secondary legislation nearly every time that it passes an Act, but there must be a limit somewhere.
My Lords, I have realised how different the focus of the working group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, was from some previous working groups. We were rather less, although still quite a lot, inward-looking, and more about the “what”. When we were talking about the “how”, it was directed to outcomes and clarity. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for so directing us.
The report was to the Leader of the House, and it was quite proper that he should have dealt with it as he saw fit, but we have been dependent on an individual Member of the House for securing this debate. There are no other mechanisms. Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. This is a matter of governance and, although there is no time today to go broadly on that, I shall mention one aspect.
The public seem to hold the House of Lords in high regard. This is not a point about composition. The greatest accolade that I often hear is that we talk sense. To unpack that, I think that it is about experience and skills—as in the title of the debate—including life experience, judgment and wisdom, if that is not all too pompous. The public expects those to be used, and so do our Members. It is notable how many inquiries are now held by all-party parliamentary groups, which meet a demand for the type of scrutiny and investigation that our Select Committees cannot do, and fulfil a need. There is something of smoke and mirrors about this, because they are not really parliamentary reports that are presented at the end of these inquiries, but they are received as such—and I am very glad that as Members we manage to do them.
If we do not use our Members and they are not fulfilled, they will not contribute, or at least as not as fully as they could. As Back-Benchers, they—or we, as I have always been very lucky in having some sort of role—are, in the jargon, stakeholders. That is why I support the establishment of a Back-Bench committee of the type mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, especially to contribute to the programming of topics for debate. It is a matter of transparency, effectiveness and efficiency. My preference is for more focused committees and, if necessary, a reduction in general debate, if resources go that way. Obviously, it is important to be able to follow through the committee work in debate. I am particularly pleased that we have now a structured post-legislative scrutiny committee on adoption legislation. I am lucky enough to be a member of it. I hope that there may be an opportunity to assess how it worked, when it has finished its work. Stopping to evaluate will be important, given that every Government have a predilection for passing legislation that is never implemented.
In every area of life, one has a responsibility to use one’s skills. It is a matter of responsibility and personal fulfilment, and we must find the best ways in which to do the right thing. I, too, look forward to completing the Goodlad business, to pick up the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is to be congratulated on this timely debate, since it is very much the right time to talk about pragmatic improvement to the quality and work of this House. I want to focus on just one proposal, produced by the Leader’s Group, which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, mentioned—the proposal for a Back-Bench committee, which I think could be appropriately described as a Back-Bench debates committee, to select topics for debate.
We all agree that there is a major priority in this House to play the role of a revising Chamber. The case has been made time and again. However, we are also a forum for debate and inquiry. Opportunities are there to challenge the Executive and debate issues of importance. I was lucky enough to have one on the Government’s policy towards Indian Ocean piracy last week. I am very glad that in the debate last year on working practices, on 11 June, the Leader of the House demonstrated a very open mind on this proposal, saying that it might be possible for Back-Bench Members to pick debates that are sufficiently topical, varied and of general interest, with a possibility of providing a sifting mechanism for that purpose. The choice that we have is between what has been described as “intelligent selection”—a rather Darwinian way in which to express it—as opposed to a lottery system. We are covering balloted debates for Back-Benchers, which take place once every month for 2.5 hours, Questions for Short Debate, which could be on the Floor of the House for up to 90 minutes maximum, or in Grand Committee, taking three or four at a time.
Although our practices are very different, we can learn something from the Commons’ procedures. Its new procedure of a Back-Bench Committee, established in 2010, seems to have worked well in deciding debates for up to 35 full debating days in every Session of Parliament. I think we can learn from that. The proposal is that we should have a committee of something like 12 Peers picked by the different parties and groups, including Cross-Benchers. The committee in this House could be of a smaller number, but whatever number it is, Members would be able to apply to that committee in open procedures. Then the committee would decide in private whether that topic should go forward for debate. This debates committee should obviously develop its own criteria but it is fairly obvious that debates in these circumstances would have to be limited in scope and either topical or long term. The level of importance would have to be decided, perhaps taking into account, for example, the representations of NGOs and voluntary bodies of one kind or another. The committee should be non-partisan.
It is interesting to note that in the House of Lords Business and Minutes of Proceedings of last Monday, 29 October, there were 57 Questions for Short Debate and 35 Motions for the next day for balloted debate. That shows the level of demand for this kind of procedure. The details can of course be refined but we would see improvements in our procedures by doing this. We would make better use of scarce time in the House and it would not necessarily involve substantial expenditure. It would be a good, pragmatic, transparent and coherent way of managing Back-Bench debates. I hope it will be taken seriously.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for his persistence in seeking to achieve the most appropriate means by which this House can pursue its primary purposes. As far as wide, public debate is concerned, an important part of that is the contribution of the Cross-Bench Peers and the Members of these Benches. Among them are those who can bring particular regional concerns to the House as well as their own specialisms. Everything that can be done to give good notice of debates is particularly welcome to those of us who have no London base and whose diaries are based on our regional duties. Equally, there needs to be clarity about the process of legislative scrutiny, such that those with specific contributions are enabled to be present to make them. In this, the weekly business documents have been of considerable help.
I am very grateful for the encouragement given to Members of these Benches to take part widely in the work of this House. A distinguished predecessor of mine, John Moorman, who was Bishop of Ripon in the 1960s, regretted his duty weeks here as a week in London simply for 25 minutes’ work in reading prayers. None of us now feels restricted in that way. Bishops welcome the opportunities to serve on the committees of this House, as for example the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham does on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich does on the Communications Select Committee. I greatly value the encouragements of your Lordships to take part in both debates and legislative scrutiny, and the support given to me in that whether or not noble Lords approved of what I was saying.
It remains crucial that we pursue the reform of this House. Surely experience shows that that reform has far more likelihood of success if it is modest and incremental. We need to pursue proposals such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in following the good example of these Benches in allowing for retirement as well as in tightening the disciplinary procedures of the House to suspend or expel those convicted of criminal acts.
In this respect, I re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that there needs to be further attention paid to the size of this House. If political appointments are made to reflect the balance of parties in the House of Commons following each general election then this House will inevitably continue to increase in size. As long ago as the 1830s, the Government froze the number of bishops sitting in this House so that not all diocesan bishops were Members and bishops did not become dominant here. It is time that we followed suit for other groups within the House by allowing retirement, capping the size of the House and self-restraint from the political parties—or, indeed, by all three of these means. There are plenty of ways in which this House can reform its processes for the benefit of its work. I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will give an indication that we will move to do just that.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for securing this debate, giving us the opportunity to look at our role in Parliament. We have just been through an unsettling and miserable period so now is the time for us to take stock and look at our procedures, never forgetting that our role is to scrutinise legislation, sending back to another place any matters this House believes should be looked at again.
I will make two points. First, we have in this House a distinct character and we are different from the other House. We are a part-time House of non elected Peers. We sit at different times from the other place so that those who have continuing work experience and expertise are able to share their knowledge with the House, whether it is in legislation, debate or in the important reports of the Select Committees, to name just a few. The last thing I would wish us to become is a replica of the House of Commons, with a House entirely made up of full-time politicians. We must retain that difference and concentrate on the essential role we play.
Secondly, during my time in your Lordship’s House I have seen an increasing amount of time spent on legislation. For instance, in Committee we have Second Reading speeches with the proposer of an amendment taking up to 15 minutes in opening. That should easily be achieved in five minutes by not going into all the surrounding issues but instead concentrating on the narrower point of the particular amendment. Third Readings also seem to grow longer when the same arguments are made yet again. I thought the rules for Third Reading had recently been tightened and that that stage was only for the purpose of clarifying any remaining uncertainties, improving the drafting and enabling the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the Bill. Somehow we seem to take more and more time, sometimes even a whole day.
Of course, there are many other issues that we could debate but my main concern is that we continue doing the real work of this House: scrutinising legislation. That is why the other place respects this House and did not vote for an elected second Chamber. That is why we are here today.
My Lords, I begin by thanking Nicola Newson in the Library for her excellent paper and the Labour group of Peers for giving up without dissent its political debating slot in favour of a debate on House business. In taking that decision, the group reflected opinion across the House on the need for a carefully introduced programme of modernisation. I also take heart from the minutes of the Procedure Committee of 2 July, where in reply to a question from me, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that, given the House’s current uncertainty around Lords reform, he would not seek to take forward any recommendations until there was greater clarity about the future of the House. We now have that greater clarity.
I concentrate my remarks on recommendation 3, which deals with Leader of the House Questions and those paragraphs which relate to what is described as the Back-Bench business committee. Recommendation 3 expresses a real problem: we have no mechanism for raising concerns over House business during sittings of the House. During exchanges between the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the Leader of the House on 19 July on the use of Written Ministerial Statements, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, knows that the House,
“does not have points of order and that if he needs to raise a question, it has to be on a relevant Motion. It is a gross discourtesy to the Lord Speaker for the noble Lord not to have put down a PNQ … It is also a discourtesy to the House for him to break the rules in this way”.—[Official Report, 19/7/12; col. 344.]
Well, we do not want points of order; we do not want another Commons chamber; we do not have sitting time to allow for debates on procedural wrangles. We need a procedure that allows the House to vent its concerns on House matters. That is the background to recommendation 3.
I turn now to the Goodlad proposals for a Back-Bench business committee, which should be more appropriately described as the Back-Bench debates committee. The problem with these recommendations, of which there are seven, are the words “Back-Bench business committee”, which suggests a Commons-type model for control over Back-Bench business. Not so; the Goodlad proposals would be confined to selecting subjects that are important, timely and of interest to Members and the public. Members would have to make their case for a debate to an open committee comprising 12 members but the committee would not follow closely the Commons model.
For example, where in the Commons there was originally a requirement that the committee’s members be elected without reference to party group proportions, the Goodlad proposals do not even require elections at all. Whereas in the Commons it was proposed that any enhanced committee would ultimately secure greater control over government business, Goodlad refused to go down that route. Whereas the business determined by the Commons committee has precedence over government business, apart from in exceptional circumstances, Goodlad again refused that approach. Finally, the hours of the House given over to Back-Bench business in the Lords are far fewer than in the Commons. It therefore follows that the proposed committee’s influence would be commensurately less.
I have concentrated my remarks on a very narrow but important part of the Goodlad agenda. My concern is to secure for Members greater influence over what we discuss. While recognising the need for the Government to secure their business, we would be a more democratic House if we were to make these small changes proposed in the Goodlad report. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to move by stealth through a piloted process of reform.
My Lords, my contribution to this very welcome debate concerns the debating of statutory instruments and, in particular, draft affirmative instruments. I have the honour to chair the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Soon, I hope that time will be found to debate the committee’s special report on strengthened statutory procedures for the scrutiny of delegated powers. What I am about to say is not explicitly part of that report but is hinted at under the heading “New Opportunities”. I should make it clear that I am speaking entirely on my own behalf and not as chairman of that committee.
I start from the premise that the scrutiny and debating of statutory instruments by Parliament is extremely important and that the more often Governments of all persuasions use secondary legislation for major changes to the law, the more important is Parliament’s role. Yet there is general frustration about the House’s role because, as we all know, SIs cannot be amended so there is a take-it-or-leave-it mentality built into the whole debate. That frustration is manifest in the increasing number of Motions to regret, or even to deplore, which have been tabled in recent months.
I do not disagree with the Goodlad suggestion on voting, but my proposition would be less drastic. I start with the word “draft”. In the outside world, draft documents can be changed before being finalised. Yet in the world of SIs, “draft” before the words “affirmative instrument” means only that the instrument has to come before Parliament to be agreed before it comes into effect, unlike negative instruments. What I believe the House would welcome in the case, say, of a major change in government policy is that the first appearance of the SI would be a genuine draft—not set in stone at that preliminary stage. Perhaps it could be called a consultative draft. It would then be debated in the Chamber and Peers could table and vote on advisory amendments, or even vote it down altogether, knowing that they had voted against only a draft document. If the Government lost such a vote, they would know the strength of feeling in the House. The Minister might well decide to change the final version rather than risk it being lost.
I well understand that in some cases, and I think in many, the Government genuinely consult MPs and Peers as well as outside bodies about the detail of certain important and potentially contentious instruments, such as the one bringing in the PIP criteria in what became the Welfare Reform Act. This is extremely welcome but it is done behind closed doors. There is much important detail in this suggestion that there is no time in this debate to explore, such as the parliamentary timetable and the impact on procedures in the Commons. However, I suggest it as a forerunner to the debate that I hope we shall soon have on the report I mentioned about the enhanced scrutiny procedures of SIs, which are laid down in various Acts.
My Lords, during the past week I have been receiving up to 300 e-mails a day as a result of questions that I asked during a Select Committee being represented as my views on pensioners and work. They are not my views but I have to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that not everyone holds this House in as high regard as she has suggested. I have been told that we are out of touch, elitist, out of date, self-serving and irrelevant—and those are just some of the comments that I can share with your Lordships today. Many others clearly believe that having seen off one attack, we are going to see off every attack and any attempt to change the way in which we do things. Those are the reasons why I believe that this is absolutely the time to show that we are determined to make this place more effective in how it carries out its responsibilities and more relevant to the issues that people are grappling with in their everyday lives.
In a fast-moving world—I am sorry about the cliché—we need stable institutions such as this, but even stable institutions have to embrace change. There has of course been some change but not, I would suggest, sufficient to address adequately, as others have said, the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on working practices or, indeed, the suggestions that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in previous debates. We do not yet have a legislative standards committee, so the need for new legislation remains insufficiently scrutinised. We do not yet have sufficient post-legislative scrutiny to take a hard look at what has happened as a result of previous legislation, in spite of the fact that we know that much of that legislation has not even been implemented. As a result of just those two issues, we have a crisis. We have unnecessary, poorly drafted legislation that is often not implemented and rarely properly evaluated. This House could play a really important part in resolving that crisis.
As others have said, neither do we have a fair and transparent process for deciding what debates take place in the House, or even which Select Committees we decide to establish. We have a House which is too large and we have not found a way of dealing with that issue. I could go on. Your Lordships will have your own suggestions and other priorities but I would like to make a suggestion. We should reconvene the Leader’s Group and commission a full report on the various proposals on the table, now that the reform Bill has been lost. I also suggest that that group reports back to this House so that we can have a proper debate on all these proposals, which is something that we never managed to do following the Goodlad report.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. I hope that I can cheer him up a bit because some of the people who I have listened to are amazed at what goes on here—but in a good way. A fortnight ago, there was a debate in this House about excellence in education and, among others, we heard from a former president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, a businessman whose generosity is helping to create a string of new academies, the current master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a theatrical impresario. That does not sound irrelevant to me. Some things that go on here are slightly arcane. I treasure the moment when it was explained to me when it would be okay to sit on the knee of a bishop. I have not done it yet—perhaps I should take the opportunity now.
I support my noble friend Lady Seccombe in saying that the membership of this House creates an extraordinary institution that we should try to preserve. However, no institution is perfect and this one certainly has scope for improvement. We need to get more topical debates on to the Floor of the House and faster, while they are still topical. We also need to ensure, when our committees do so much wonderful work, conducting reports into so many different and important issues—everything from child trafficking to auditing—that their reports are debated on the Floor of this House much sooner, while they are still relevant and while the outside world is going to be interested in what we have to say.
That must mean clearing some other stuff out of the main Chamber. We have already heard the proposals for doing that by making far more use of Grand Committee in the Moses Room. That must make sense for non-controversial or moderately specialist legislation. Too often we see legislation going through in this Chamber with a handful of people involved in the debate. They are the right handful of people and they are really interested in what is going on, but for this entire Chamber to be used for that purpose seems to be a wasted opportunity when we could bring more topical debate into the Chamber. Quite how we decide what debates should be debated in here I am not sure; there is already a suggestion in the Goodlad report and there may be others. If we had more time, though, we could get more done here.
There are other means of dealing with legislation. I sat on a special Public Bill Committee, dealing with a proposal that had come from the Law Commission. It was a relatively non-controversial proposal—not a debate that drew great crowds, it must be said, but it was quite important. It was to do with the way that trustees can deal with the funds that they have and the division between preserving capital and generating income. We took expert evidence and got the Bill through remarkably quickly, and there must be scope for doing more of that. There is room to improve our processes, speed up what we do and get more topical debates on to the Floor, but do not let us change the basics of what remains a unique and very effective institution.
My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend’s opening remarks about how we can do better. Indeed, I also think that we must look beyond our own internal arrangements. Fortunately, the constitution unit at University College has turned its mind to this, and I am grateful to it for its briefing.
I agree with other noble Lords that the key to this is to get a grip on our numbers. We have to cap the size of the House and to have a timetable for a gradual reduction in size. How do we do that? We do it in two parts, one requiring legislation and one not. Without legislation, the Government could announce a numbers cap and a reduction timetable, reduction being achieved using the same procedure as we used when the hereditaries left. At the same time the Government would introduce a formula for sharing out new appointments between the parties and the Cross-Benchers, all of this to be managed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. It would call on parties for nominees as and when vacancies arose. Yes, that would mean that the Prime Minister and party leaders had to give up some of their powers of patronage. The Appointments Commission would be responsible for ensuring not only political balance in the House but that there was regional, gender, professional and minority balance too.
All that could be done without legislation. However, legislation would be required to end the hereditary by-elections and to limit future appointments to the House to, say, 15 years with a possible additional five. Legislation would confirm the right of Peers to retire. Legislation would also be required to remove those convicted of serious offences—a reform long overdue.
Controlling our numbers would not only help to inform the other changes that noble Lords have been discussing but would refresh the House in an orderly way. All this, though, is not enough because it looks inwards and serves ourselves. We are not here to serve ourselves; as my noble friend Lord Filkin pointed out, we are here to serve the public, and surely a crucial part of doing that, especially for an unelected House, is to inform, to explain and to be transparent, as the Government are trying to be.
Who knows that the third week in November is Parliament Week? How many of us are going to participate? Yes, 40 of us are going to visit schools on that Friday, but is that enough? Surely, in a modern unelected House, every noble Lord has to be involved in explaining and informing.
My noble friend is right to ask how we can do better. The answer lies not only in internal change but also in external change. For your Lordships’ House, the two must go hand in hand.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on securing this debate and on all his efforts to maintain momentum on the much needed modernisation of the working practices of your Lordships’ House. I speak as a relative newcomer to this House and, after just under two years, hope to add the perspective of someone who is still able to view its often rather arcane and mysterious workings through fresh eyes.
It was clear to me that it is important to view the recommendations in the Goodlad report as a coherent package that needs to be addressed in the round. I was therefore encouraged when the Leader of the House in our debate last year said:
“I … intend to ensure that a large number of the group’s recommendations are considered promptly by the relevant committees of the House so that the House may take a view on them at the earliest opportunity”.—[Official Report, 27/06/11; col. 1552.]
As we have heard today, some of those recommendations have been addressed and indeed accepted by the House, and I welcome that, but to me the response has felt rather piecemeal. To the best of my calculations, and I am more than happy to be corrected on this point, roughly half of the recommendations have yet to be addressed. One good example of that is what I felt were the very good recommendations for pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny and the establishment of a legislative standards committee, which I strongly support as part of the package. In my view, a legislative standards committee would provide a powerful incentive to improve the quality of legislation coming forward and ensure that legislation was being used for the right purposes and was capable of being implemented.
My almost 20 years as a civil servant in Whitehall taught me that hurriedly drawn-up legislation often backfires, and nothing has more forcibly underlined that to me than the many hours I spent with others debating all stages of the Health and Social Care Act. It was the first Bill that I had scrutinised in depth, and something of a baptism of fire. I am conscious that the Bill left this House in a very different shape from that in which it came in, which in my view is very much to be welcomed, but I am also conscious that after the myriad amendments that were passed there was no proper opportunity to look at it in the round and ask whether it all hung together sensibly. I have to ask myself whether that is a sensible, let alone optimal, way to make the laws of the land.
I also strongly support the proposal for a Back-Bench debates committee to help with the choice and scheduling of debates. I hope that it would be able to use criteria such as topicality, interest to the wider public, variety, coverage of key subject areas and the opening up of the process to much-needed transparency.
I welcome the setting up of two additional ad hoc Select Committees and have the privilege to sit on the new Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. This is an excellent example of taking a longer-term view of some very cross-cutting issues; indeed, I can hardly think of a more pressing social challenge facing this country. We should have more such committees to allow others to contribute their expertise, and perhaps fewer of some of our more traditional types of business.
There are many other issues that I would have liked to have talked about, not least how the House’s highly unpredictable nature impacts on part-time Peers, colleagues like me from all Benches, who are still active in their professional and external lives—with one foot in the outside world, you could say—in a way that helps to ensure that the much vaunted virtue of this House, expertise, is indeed up to date.
I shall conclude with a suggestion that I suspect some will find rather barmy. Most modern-day institutions have regular satisfaction surveys to gauge the views of their members or their staff. We have surveys, but they are generally to do with the satisfaction or otherwise with the services and facilities of this House. I would like to see a survey sent to all Members asking how satisfied they are with the way that business is currently conducted and what else could be done to make better use of their skills and expertise. I recognise that this would be quite an innovation but I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to give it serious consideration. As an incentive, should one be needed, I am more than happy to offer my services in suggesting what questions we should be asking.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on initiating this debate, although one has to wonder whether the overall system of government that I found when I first came to Parliament almost 30 years ago has been damaged beyond repair. Our Chamber cannot look at itself in isolation. I was introduced to a system where Ministers were responsible for departmental outcomes, and when a Minister got it wrong, a resignation was considered necessary and appropriate. Members of Parliament, by and large, had come from business, the professions, the mines, the factories or the armed services and had previously done a real job, developing the skills and experience to which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred, and which would seem essential if one is to act in the nation’s interest.
Parliament functioned on the basis that the law of the land was based on something that we now seem unwilling to acknowledge and articulate: moral values and common law. Perhaps I am a wimp for daring to use such unsophisticated language, but my sole comfort is that it is here in this Chamber that I can still see the remnants of those values. We have made one fundamental error in the fairly recent past, and that was when we created a third legislature—the expensive and unaccountable Supreme Court. The law of the land has, until recently, always belonged to the people. The people have elected their legislators to the Commons, and this Chamber has utilised its skill and experience to fine-tune and to be the peoples’ final arbiter through the Law Lords.
Now we have, like most aspects of government, abjectly surrendered—some probably call it delegated—every aspect of responsibility to unidentifiable, unanswerable and unaccountable individuals cocooned in some detached monastic environment. That is why Question Time is no longer answer time but has deteriorated to become a fairly futile discussion interlude. Ministers may try to do their best, but they are disadvantaged simply because they are no longer in control. We saw it here last week during the Statement on the Gary McKinnon extradition case. That 10-year injustice has not been resolved. Justice has again been put on the “long finger” by a Home Secretary who has effectively said, “I will delegate the matter, without time considerations, to the courts”. Hence, a once 35 year-old with autism spectrum disorder—now 45 years old—is tossed in life’s dustbin for, what, perhaps another 10 years, and that is justice?
Today, I shall not take further time of the House to ask whether the United Kingdom has lost or is losing its way in its relationships with the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and so on. Suffice it to say that I think that the UK has abdicated, or is incrementally abdicating, its authority. If the Government cannot even implement a rail franchise, and it is obvious that they do not know where that went belly up, then the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, belatedly or otherwise, has posed the right question here today. Am I wrong when I perceive Cabinet to be a caucus and government increasingly to be delegated to and—effectively or otherwise—run by proxy bodies? In the past 20 years I have seen deterioration in parliamentary competence and responsibility, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that today he has sought to alert us to a better possibility which would mean that my next 25 years here could be made more rewarding.
My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on initiating this debate. I am very glad that the Leader of the House is to reply since much of the debate has centred on the report of the working group on which he took the initiative in setting up. I also congratulate the House of Lords Library which has produced an outstandingly good brief. Appendix 1 provides the agenda the noble Lord opposite referred to a moment or two ago and gives an indication of what needed to be done, how much has been done and how much still remains to be done.
I find it quite extraordinary that in the summary by the Library, in the debate today and in the Goodlad report no one refers to what has been the most obnoxious and fundamental change that has taken place in our proceedings in relation to the scrutiny of legislation by Parliament: the programming of debates in another place. This is in no sense a criticism of another place. The reality is that it has been prevented from working as it should by successive Governments, first Mr Blair’s and, regrettably, now the present Government, despite assurances that the incoming Government would not programme legislation in another place. We have almost ceased to be a revising Chamber. In many ways, we have become the primary legislative Chamber. On top of all that, we find that when we have passed amendments, they are then programmed in another place so that the time allocated in the Commons for discussion of our amendments, on which we had important, complex legal arguments a short time earlier, has been less than the time we took going through the Division Lobbies in passing those amendments. This has to stop. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will carry out urgent discussions with the new leader in another place and also, if necessary, raise the matter in Cabinet because we ought not to go on in this way. It is an indication of how much we are doing that should be done by the other place that we pass very often many amendments, all of which are immediately accepted by the other place. At the same time, there are one or two controversial issues for which time is not allowed for proper debate in the light of the discussions which have taken place in this House. Much more important than many other issues that we have discussed is that the balance between the two Houses should be restored.
In the little time I have left, I shall say something about the size of the House. It is absolutely clear that the proposal that the membership of this House should reflect the result of the previous election is bound over time to lead to a bigger and bigger House. It was a mistake to agree to that in, I believe, the coalition agreement and it should stop now. We cannot go on having more and more Members.
There have been many proposals on how we should reduce the size of the House as it now stands, including age, length of service, party selection, votes in the House and so on. Proposals about the usual problem of removing the people who do not come does not make any difference to the number of people who attend. That is an intrinsic problem. My feeling is that there are a number of Peers who would be prepared to retire but that it requires a degree of incentive. The proposal that perhaps by way of incentive one might offer the amount by the individual Member claimed as expenses in a previous year, excluding travel allowances, might provide a reasonable and sensible sort of an incentive. An inquiry as to what extent that might produce a number of people who might be prepared to retire, or might think it appropriate to retire, might solve this problem, which otherwise will be very difficult and troublesome to resolve in any other way. I am out of time, although I have dozens of points to make which will have to wait for another occasion.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Filkin. Perhaps I may pick up on one simple point made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. I share his view about the timetabling of Bills. Of course, I have to remind him that that did not start in the Blair years. As far as I know, the timetabling of government Bills was available in the 1970s, although it was called the guillotine Motion at that time. The guillotine Motion was massaged to become a timetabling Motion, which was a much more respectable way to put it. But that is neither here nor there.
I should like to refer to a few matters as regards what we should do in this House. First, although the House of Lords voted down, by 233 votes to 169 votes the proposition that the Lord Speaker should take over the role of the Leader of House in terms of arbitrating at Question Time, I believe that that is worth looking at again. At the time, some people said that that would mean the end of self-regulation. I do not think that that is the case. If the Lord Speaker were to take over those responsibilities, it would require even more discipline from Members to make sure that her decision was accepted swiftly, promptly and with grace.
Secondly, the experiment carried out by the previous Government to have a dedicated, say monthly, Question Time for three Questions to be put to a particular Minister of a department was a valuable exercise. In terms of accountability and keeping the House and the public informed, it is something which we should pursue. I hope that the Leader of the House will regard that as a modest but nevertheless important part of things that we might do.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred to the way in which legislation is rushed and comes to this House—in effect, to Parliament—without proper scrutiny. In the old days, most legislation was preceded by a White Paper. People said that that was not enough and that there should be more consultation; so we had the Green Paper, which was fine. I do not know what has happened to that process because it seems to have disappeared entirely.
One of the most serious problems that we face in Parliament is that problems require instant solutions. All Governments are concerned about the little items at the end of the news, which may say, “Problem solved; problem solved”. But if it says, “Problem not solved”, they worry that that will bring disgrace on the Government. That will not do. The media have a lot of responsibility for this.
Finally, inevitably, the question has arisen about the size of the House. Those who think that there will be an incremental change are like the ostriches with their heads in the sand. There is no possibility of agreement on major reform and I do not think that any political group in this House will give up its share of the House. My noble friend Lord Haskel suggested that legislation would be necessary. That may be so but if we start off on the basis of trying to get a regional balance, a national balance, an ethnic balance and so on, it will be an unending process. A lot of ideas have come forward in this short debate. I end on perhaps a novel note regarding the size of the House. Several Members have said that the House is too large. It struck me that maybe the House is not too large: perhaps we simply have too many active Members.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside. I enjoyed his speech. I agree with him on two things. Certainly, the role and functions that we invite the Lord Speaker to oversee and moderate need urgent reconsideration. I do not have time to develop that point but I believe that the Lord Speaker, whoever it may be—it is an elected position for which we can all vote—should have the overriding responsibility to protect the institutional reputation of this House because in my view no one else holds that position at the moment. No one else exclusively looks after the interests of the wider concept of the House of Lords and its Members. The Chairman of Committees and the Leader of the House have other overriding priorities. That is something we need to address.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, has just left as I was about to say something nice about him. I do not believe what I read about him in the papers. He is correct that we should take this opportunity to make a suggestion to the Leader of the House. It may seem quite soon to do so given the recent work carried out by the Leader’s Group. I commend those Members who performed that extremely valuable service for the House. People forget that we now have a planning date. It might not hold because politics is never certain but we have until May 2015. After that, things will change as we enter a new Parliament. We should use that time sensibly to plan what we want to happen in the new Parliament when it starts in 2015. The vexed question of elections is off the agenda for that period.
I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who referred to the importance of piloting change. I am an enthusiast for change and I think that there is a majority for change. However, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds rightly said, we want to make sure that it is incremental. I think that we should pilot it. I absolutely agree with him that to give comfort to those who are nervous—one or two colleagues have made perfectly valid and powerful speeches about hastening slowly—we should adopt as a matter of course piloting of any change that we introduce into this place. That would give comfort to some and would mean that we could try things and if they did not work we could revert to our previous practices. This is a very important debate and a very important time. We must not waste the next two years.
I have a suggestion for the usual channels, which have more influence in this area than they often imagine. As a Back-Bencher, I think that we need to try to open up the usual channels and make them a little bit more accessible, as someone said earlier. After my participation in the most recent major piece of legislation in which I have been involved, the Welfare Reform Bill, it occurred to me that three or four of the active participants in that process could have sat down with both sets of Whips and held a debriefing on our experience of the legislation. The seminars promoted by the Minister were very valuable. The Committee stage of the Bill was held upstairs, which I thought was extremely good although it had been a controversial question. A lot of the Commons clauses had not been debated when they arrived in this House and the use of financial privilege as a way of rejecting House of Lords amendments was unconscionable. Earlier, we heard that we needed to look at secondary legislation again because we cannot amend it. It needs to be more flexible. Therefore, perhaps we should have a sweeping-up process so that we can share experience on that.
As chairman of the Information Committee I believe that we need to make more use of information and communications technology in order to help our processes and improve the service offered to Members of this House. There are advantages and cost savings to be made in that direction. I hope that the Leader will bear that in mind as well.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on obtaining this important debate. I also thank Nicola Newson for her outstanding Library report.
I shall mention two experiences this year and draw observations from them. The first echoes what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said about the fate of legislation that has gone from this House to the other. I refer to the poorly drafted Legal Aid, Sentencing and Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill, which left the Ministry of Justice under that title and emerged from No. 10 into this House as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. We spent hours and hours improving that Act, using the skill and expertise of this House, including that of people such as my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf. We sent a string of amendments down to the other place, which almost invariably were rejected on the ground that money was involved. If the other House had paid proper attention and scrutinised the amendments, it would have discovered that they did not involve spending money but saving money. Because the other House did not give them proper consideration, I felt that the skills and experience of this House were being misused by Parliament. Therefore, my first hope is that some way will be found of putting that right, so that the skills and expertise really can be put to better use.
My second hope relates to an inquiry that I am currently conducting into the death, under restraint, of a deportee in an aircraft at Heathrow when he was under forced removal from this country. During the course of this inquiry, I have discovered a vast number of practices in the UK Border Agency that could be put right to prevent this sort of thing. Earlier this year the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place conducted an inquiry into the governance of enforced removals, and I discovered that none of the things that we have found that could have been put right were included in its report. I have been trying now to find some way of getting the committee to accept the recommendations of my inquiry that refer to the use of statutory bodies to help the UK Border Agency. It struck me that one of the most successful committees in this House is the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was formed in 2000 by the Liaison Committee. I wonder whether, to make better use of the skills and expertise in this House, it is not worth examining whether joint committees on other subjects such as justice should be created, bearing in mind all the expertise that is here. I put that forward as a consideration for the Leader of the House to take on.
My Lords, I welcome the Motion’s implication that those unexpectedly reprieved have a special duty to make good use of the extra lifespan allocated to them. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on the superb way in which he introduced this debate.
In the short time available to me, I want to concentrate on the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on ways designed to improved the quality of legislation presented to Parliament. I am a member of the Better Government Initiative, which, before the last election produced a report entitled, Good Government. On 12 November, the BGI is to produce a report on how the Government have performed in relation to the recommendations in that earlier report. As might be expected, it is a mixed picture; but even the best friends of the Government would have to admit that many of their policies and too much of their legislation have been introduced in haste and are being repented of at leisure, and not only by the Government themselves.
As others have said, the instrument that the Leader’s Group recommended to put pressure on the Executive to improve the legislation presented to Parliament was a legislative standards committee. The role that it would perform would be to test each Bill introduced by the Government by whether they had explained the purpose of, and necessity for, the Bill presented, by whether the Government had consulted those who would be affected by the Bill and who would have to implement it, and by whether the Government had taken account of their advice. At the end of the previous debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on this very issue, made a strong point about the police Bill, now an Act, recently passed by Parliament. Legislation would be judged by whether there had been pre-legislative scrutiny—and if not, why not?
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, the Liaison Committee, which is composed of Select Committee chairmen in the House of Commons, has thought sufficiently well of this proposal to ask the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee to investigate and report on it. The Better Government Initiative has given evidence to that committee, as has the Hansard Society and other supporters of the proposal. We are hopeful that the committee will report favourably on it.
The Leader of the House is, understandably, waiting to see what the Commons makes of this proposal before putting it to your Lordships. My question to the Leader today is: if the House of Commons Committee supports the proposal of the Leader’s Group will he look favourably on its introduction in your Lordships’ House? I suggest that it would be quixotic not to do so. We devote as many as three Select Committees to scrutinising in one way or another the preparation of statutory instruments. It is odd that we do not put similar effort into pressing the Government to prepare legislation properly. From the contributions to this debate today, I am confident that this recommendation of the Leader’s Group would have the support of this House.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.
On arrival in your Lordships’ House two years ago, I was given a mission statement by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Although I did not feel that he was altogether happy with the expression “mission statement”, the contents of the document were, as you would expect, clear and cogent. The statement and the helpful talks about the way in which the House of Lords worked helped me and a number of other new Members to get to grips with the potentially rather mystifying ways in which your Lordships’ House proceeds. One thing that struck me particularly about those procedures was their essential fairness to all Peers in the sense that any Peer of any party, or none, could become involved in any issue and there was not the customary crush of seniority which besets so many institutions.
That brings me to one of the three short points that I should like to make. Although I understand well why the suggestions for a Back-Bench committee have been well received—I have been greatly reassured by some of the comments during the debate this afternoon—I have some slight reservations in the sense that those who may not be on the committee, or who may not have the ear of the committee, may feel the danger that they are being excluded, even if it is only a perception. Those who are not particularly keen on being organised may feel a little unease about that. I hope that those fears can be allayed in due course.
My second point relates to Third Reading, and here I very much echo what my noble friend Lady Seccombe said. As a lawyer, of course, I look to the rules and the practice deviates very considerably from the Companion in terms of Third Reading. It is noticeable that speeches are lengthy and if one wishes to respond to a speech that has gone on for 10 minutes it is difficult to do that in one minute, so speeches proliferate. The result is that some quite valuable votes do not get taken, and there is some arbitrariness about the ones that are taken. I hope that there can be a self-denying ordinance about this, if nothing else.
I hope that my third and final point will not be regarded as one of special pleading. It relates to expertise. It is axiomatic that your Lordships’ House is a House of experts with a pretty thick veneer of expertise. It struck me how genuinely diverse the House is; there is no such thing as a typical Peer. However I put in a plea for current expertise. The accumulation of wisdom is extremely important, but there is something to be said for being able to report from the front. As a barrister, I am particularly aware of the many distinguished lawyers who decorate this House and who keep up to date with relevant developments. I regret that we will no longer have in the House former Law Lords and former Supreme Court judges. Those of us still in practice are aware of the everyday issues and can bring something valuable to debates. I, as a veteran, like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of the LASPO debates, would sometimes have welcomed others who were constantly dealing with the sort of issues that your Lordships’ House had to wrestle with in that very long and difficult Bill. I hope that whatever changes are made in your Lordships’ House, the practices of the House will enable those of us who wish to maintain current practice but nevertheless contribute to debates to do so.
My Lords, like others, I put on record my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Filkin for having introduced this debate. He and others who pursue these matters with so much diligence seem to be like dedicated engineers who are determined to keep a vintage car functioning and performing well.
I am sure that I am not alone in finding it unsatisfactory to be trying to weigh up our effectiveness in the absence of a constitutional settlement that makes it absolutely clear if and why we need a second Chamber—and, if we do, what its purpose is. We are toiling in the engine room, but where is the person on the bridge who is deciding where we ought to be going with our constitution?
Against this background, there are issues on which we ought to concentrate. The first is that I am convinced—again, I am sure that I am not alone in this—that what makes up a society like that of the United Kingdom is the matrix, the interplay of different groups, interests and activities that enables a nation to succeed or fail. This House must be representative of the matrix, otherwise it is nonsense. If it is just another place that numerically represents a certain proportion of the electorate by copying the first Chamber, it is an irrelevance. We must bring a different element into parliamentary procedures. If we foster this, it will do a great deal to restore public confidence in the relevance of politics to the lives of ordinary people. I am certain that a very large number of ordinary people throughout society see politics as a closed game, played by a closed group of full-time politicians who have very little involvement in the realities of life. So the matrix is important.
The second thing to remember is that it is the quality of the advice that we offer to the Commons, and the quality of consideration that we bring to wider debates that we initiate about issues facing the nation, that matter. Here, the Select Committees are crucial. I never understand why we do not give more prominence in the main business time of the House to debates and deliberations on what the Select Committees put forward.
My other point is that in its relevance to society as a whole, pre-legislative scrutiny is very important. We can provide a very good way of ensuring that the wider public get drawn in to consideration of legislation that is put before us, before we get caught up in the detail of finalising it. I was very interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said. In my first, formative years in the House, one thing that I came to appreciate tremendously was that there was no automatic majority; you had to work at generating and ensuring one. That is good for the quality of consideration, and it also brings an emphasis that is different from what happens in the other place. If we just ape the other place and follow all its procedures, and if our priority is to expedite business, as distinct from ensuring the quality and depth of consideration that is desperately needed in our national affairs, we will fail. I am very grateful to my noble friend for initiating the debate on this tremendously important issue.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for introducing this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to him as a dedicated engineer. I was grateful for that, because it is much better than the phrase I was going to use, which was “terrier-like”, to describe his devotion to improving the working practices and the quality of the work that is done in your Lordships’ House. That of course is part of a wider, bicameral agenda to strengthen Parliament—an agenda that I believe is extraordinarily important.
It may be that those of us in the two Houses want to put behind us everything that went wrong in the disaster of the parliamentary expenses scandal. However, it permeated public consciousness very deeply. I felt at the time, and still feel, that in order to regain respect and trust, we need not only to put our financial houses in order—which we have done—but to strengthen Parliament, and to do our job better so that it serves the public better. In that way will we regain respect. That is why I agree with others who have said today that this is a very important time to take on this particular agenda. It is an opportune time because we now have a gap, a moratorium, on the big bang proposals for election to your Lordships’ House. There is no longer the argument that we will put everything right when we have the big, all-singing, all-dancing Bill. We are not going to have that. It is incumbent upon us therefore to take our fate into our own hands in the ways that we can and to make things better.
Luckily, there have been very good speeches already about three proposals that I should like to endorse, so I can do so very briefly. One is about using the device of a Back-Bench debate committee to inject more topicality into the agenda of the House. It is a real weakness when an issue is on the front pages and everyone is talking about it in their offices or the pub or wherever but we are not talking about it in Parliament. We could do better on that.
Given the volume of secondary legislation, we need to look at how we have not a take-it-or-leave-it situation but an opportunity to influence secondary legislation better. The proposals in the Leader’s Group and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, were extremely interesting. The Legislative Standards Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred, is tremendously important. I put in a plea for it to be bicameral. We have to improve the performance of Parliament as a whole, as others have said. We do not want to ape the lower House—we want to be complementary to it—but we do not want to pretend that we are not part of the same institution doing the same job. That is tremendously important.
On the other area of taking control of our destiny, I shall end with a couple of sentences about issues of composition. I believe there is a threat to this House—not in being too large but in having too many active Members. I became a grandmother this week. This has made me think about a lot of things, including the ageing process. It is tremendously important that in this House we have a balance, a range, and that that range does not become top-heavy with too many of us who are too elderly and too detached from the current experience that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, spoke about.
We have to look seriously at the difficult issues of reducing the size of the House. The proposals in the coalition document, as my questions show, are phrased about representing the proportionality of those who voted in the last election. However, it is possible to produce proportionality and fairness when reducing as well as increasing the size of the House.
My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and to congratulate the new grandmother. I speak as a grandfather.
If we had more time for the debate we could develop these points at greater length. I want to take up the point, however, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The prime purpose of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account, and we are failing as a Parliament adequately to do that. Indeed, there is time for another Dunning’s motion, moved in the other place more than 200 years ago. Then it was:
“The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished”.
Today it is the power of the Executive that has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
One of the things that we could profitably do is to co-operate more sensibly with the other place. The Executive consists of the Ministers of the Crown. We have some admirable ones in this place and they serve this House and the country very well indeed. But, understandably, the bulk of the Cabinet comes from another place. I am not one of those who believe that Ministers should come to this House from the other place and speak from this Dispatch Box. That would be wrong. But once a month a Cabinet Minister should come to the Moses Room and a group of Members, using the expertise and breadth of experience that is represented on these Benches, should question that Minister. They could make suggestions that are good for the country as a whole.
My noble friend Lord Higgins talked about the programming of Motions. Of course, part of holding a Government to account is improving the legislative proposals they place before Parliament. We are light years ahead of the other place in how we do that, but we could still do better. I agree that pre-legislative scrutiny should be automatic. Post-legislative is arguably even more important, and we should devote proper attention to it. I believe that an admirable opportunity has been presented to us by the reprieve, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, amusingly referred, to improve our act and to do that in co-operation with another place. That is because together we are the two Houses of Parliament. In a country where the Executive are drawn from the legislature, it is more difficult than in a country where there is a separation of powers. Inevitably one sees things differently from the Opposition Benches than from the Government Benches; I have experienced that in the other place and, to some degree, in here. But if we could do away with the great gulf between the two Houses, we would be serving Parliament.
One of the things that has struck me over the past two years, and particularly during recent debates, is that far too few people in the other place understand what this House is all about, and far too few people in this House who have not served down at the other end of the Corridor fully appreciate the pressures on Members at that end. So I hope that we could have more Joint Committees and a monthly session in the Moses Room. I hope that we can do other things that will bring Parliament together for the benefit of the people because that, after all, is our fundamental role and task.
My Lords, it is quite rare to participate in a debate and find that you agree with practically everything that everyone has said. That being the case, it is tempting to do the generous thing and sit down immediately, but I am not going to do that. I am sorry. I added my name to the list of speakers mainly in order to support my noble friend Lord Filkin. He has now been compared to a terrier and to an engineer, which suggests a sort of particularly enthusiastic Jack Russell, digging away furiously. However, I think his approach to these issues is a little more sophisticated than that suggests and I want to express my personal gratitude to him for the huge amount of time and energy he has put into keeping alive the issue of how we improve our working practices. He has set out our agenda today with admirable clarity and so much better than I could that I certainly do not intend to try to emulate that.
I have had the privilege over a decade or so of being a Member of this House of looking at its work from a number of different standpoints. I have been a member of several Select Committees, of domestic committees, of pre-legislative scrutiny committees and of Private Bill Committees. I am a Deputy Speaker and I hope that I have participated to the best of my ability in the Chamber in terms of Questions and debates. What I see is a House that is, in depth, formidably strong. It is particularly so, as has been said by many other speakers, in the cross-party work that goes on in our widely respected Select Committees. However, at present there are two issues. The first is that there is not enough of this work to satisfy the ambitions of Members to participate and to make proper use of the expertise that is available. Secondly, this kind of work is woefully underreported, which allows a false impression to perpetuate of what Members of this House actually do. For example, that much-used website theyworkforyou.com completely ignores all the work in committee and only gives as metrics the appearances that noble Lords make in the Chamber. You can literally stand up and say, “My Lords”, sit down again—because you do not get in on a Question for example—and that gets recorded as participation in a debate. That is a bit bonkers. It unfortunately gives a very misleading impression. We need to address this and many other issues.
I share the disappointment expressed by a number of other noble Lords about why so much of the admirable Goodlad report, which did just that and is nearly two years old, has yet to be brought forward to the whole House. I hope we can hear from the Leader of the House, whose excellent initiative it was, whether he intends to give us a chance to talk about some of the issues in the report, now that the issue of wholesale reform has, for the moment, been set aside.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, the fact that it has been set aside is both a threat and an opportunity. We can do something to reform ourselves using our own mechanisms and without legislation. If we do not, the pressures that are built into our current system will inevitably result in further damage to our effectiveness and reputation. We have the opportunity to be active and creative about our future, and to look at refining our contribution to political life, not only in the interests of Parliament but in the interests of the nation as a whole. We are repeatedly reminded that we are self-regulating. I hope that this debate will be a first step towards using that strength to do for ourselves what we know we can do, and what needs to be done, rather than allowing the initiative to be taken from us.
My Lords, I very warmly thank not only the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, but the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, without whom we would not be having this well-informed debate, and indeed the Leader of the House, who set up the group in the first place.
I will make two very quick, simple points. First, as has just been said, we pride ourselves on being self-regulating. We say it very often, but it is only,
“Up to a point, Lord Copper”.
I will quickly give two recent examples. Today we are allowed only four minutes to make our speeches whereas speakers in the previous debate had eight minutes. Who made that decision? That was not self-regulation. It was presumably made by the usual channels, which I will come back to. Secondly, yesterday a major Bill was suddenly withdrawn from the House. That was not self-regulation. Who made that decision? The word “self-regulation” is so often repeated that it is rather like the 18th century concept of a “conceit”—a well-used, very popular and convenient way of disguising a fiction.
When we elected a Lord Speaker a few years ago many of us felt that self-regulation was going to be adjusted to meet a new circumstance. Frankly, however, the forces of political gravity have moved back into that space very rapidly and the usual channels are as effective as they ever were. I used to be a member of the usual channels down the corridor and have to tell you that the system is much more effective in your Lordships’ House because it is more elusive and incestuous and not so visible as it is down there. This brings me to a specific recommendation, number 52, of the Goodlad team:
“We urge the Leader of the House to consider ways in which the work of the usual channels could be made more accessible to the House as a whole. There should be a more clearly defined role for the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, and also a role for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee”.
I very much hope that we are going to see some action on that point.
That brings me to my second and perhaps even more substantial point. There are still 18 major recommendations of the Goodlad team that have not been discussed or considered by a committee, let alone by the whole House. It has been piecemeal, or worse than piecemeal, as we have not even started on that process. As has been said all through today’s debate, we appointed very talented and skilled people to this group. I think that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred to when he talked about making use of talent and skills. They came forward with unanimous and comprehensive recommendations for improving our work, but we seem to lack what I think the lawyers call “due process”. In my life outside politics, in the real world, I cannot imagine circumstances where you would send away a group of people to do work like that and not have a process for properly considering, in a holistic way, all their recommendations.
As yet, we have collectively failed to examine systematically the package of proposals. Indeed, that complete package has yet to be presented to a committee, let alone to the whole House, and we should all be ashamed of that lack of due process. If I was a cynic, I would say that this is an example of divide and rule. I think it is more accidental than that but we should all be ashamed of how we have treated those in that group who gave us such good advice.
My Lords, since I joined your Lordships’ House more than six years ago, we have debated House of Lords reform inside-out and upside-down. As we have heard throughout this debate, the latest attempt by the coalition to go for drastic reform has thankfully resulted in major reform being shelved for the moment, particularly in terms of an elected House. It has been kicked into the long grass, but my worry is that at the next election we will see the major parties, once again, in a frankly populist way, putting an elected House of Lords in their manifestos. Perhaps the Leader of the House can answer that.
However, that is a red herring because the most important part of this debate is to ask: what do we do and how? What is our role? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this is the time; this is the opportunity—and congratulations to her on becoming a grandmother. I have always seen our role first and foremost as a sort of guardian of the nation. Ironically, this unelected House is a cornerstone of democracy in our country, with the amazing depth and breadth of experience and expertise that we have. In those terms, we sit head and shoulders above any other upper House in the world, but do we use this experience and expertise enough?
We have an unwritten constitution that has evolved, that is delicate, and we have the best of the best people in this House, not in a prescriptive way—no one has told us, “You have to have so many scientists, engineers, lawyers and former Cabinet Ministers”. It has evolved; it has happened. In this House we have the best of the best in every field. No party list system would ever deliver that.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for initiating this debate. The noble Lord said that this House is too big. Perhaps we need to reduce our numbers but we have to take into account that to keep this depth and breadth of experience and expertise, and to get the attendance levels that we now have, we need quite high numbers. Unlike in the other place, we are not full-time employees. We do not get a salary. We do not get a pension. We are expected to hold outside appointments and jobs. I still run an international business. Those of us who have retired bring their experience here. Nobody has brought this point up today, but in terms of bang for buck, this House is phenomenal value for money—very different from the other place.
How do we make more of this expertise? I do not think that we make enough of it. In the House of Commons, there are departmental committees in every field, which have the power to scrutinise Secretaries of State, whereas in your Lordships’ House we have far fewer committees and they do not have nearly the same remit or powers as in the other place. We need to redress the balance of power between the two Houses. This is the time to do that. The committees in the House of Commons have these powers but they do not have the experience that we have. Just imagine some of our Members sitting on those committees and how much value they would add.
I did a comparison with other Parliaments. In the UK we have 43 Commons committees and only 16 Lords committees and seven Joint Committees. In the USA there are 21 House committees, 22 Senate committees and six joint committees. In Canada there are 24 House committees, 18 Senate committees and two joint committees. We are missing an opportunity here, and even if we do not go that far, maybe we should consider that Members of the House of Lords could sit on existing committees and add their expertise to make those committees that much more effective.
We have had a great debate. The essence of this debate is not just evolutionary reform, as the right reverend Prelate suggested. We need that, but we also need to take this opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, to make Parliament much more effective on the whole.
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, this has been a very good debate indeed. I thank my noble friend Lord Filkin, and, indeed, I thank the Labour Back-Benchers for agreeing to give up their own debate to allow us to have this fascinating discussion.
It seems that there is a general consensus that, whatever one’s views on the Government’s attempt to achieve substantive reform, any real progress in that direction is some years ahead. We could sit here and wait for the next Bill to come in a few years’ time, or we could take up the opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, says, to take fate into our own hands and really get down to making improvements in the way that we do our business. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to take note of the sentiments expressed in this debate this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, suggested a reconvening of the Leader’s Group. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will listen to that very seriously indeed. I can assure him that the Opposition will co-operate with him if he is able to allow us to take this step forward.
There is sufficient consensus around your Lordships’ House on a number of the important issues raised regarding working practices and procedures to suggest that there could be a successful outcome which would, as noble Lords reminded us, enhance the role of this House in the scrutiny of the Executive and of legislation, thereby serving the public interest as effectively as possible.
In the past decade we have, of course, seen various changes and improvements to the way in which we do our business. These include new Select Committees such as the Constitution Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee. Perhaps the most successful innovation, I say with all due modesty, has been the creation of the Merits Committee, now known as the Scrutiny Committee, which has considerably enhanced the way that we deal with secondary legislation. In some ways, we have made decisions and changed others. We agreed some years ago to increase the number of Oral Questions to six, and then decided that that was not a very good idea and came back to four. We have also tried out pilots. We are making greater use of Grand Committee for Committee stages of Bills. In place of the Lord Chancellor we now elect our own Lord Speaker, although, of course, the role of the Speaker in the Chamber is somewhat limited because the House remains self-regulating. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, implied, “self-regulation” can often mean that which the noble Lord the Leader of the House suggests the House ought to do. There is remaining business to be done regarding the role of the Speaker, particularly during Oral Questions. We have seen two revised procedures for Questions for Short Debate, although I think that noble Lords feel that we need to make further progress there, too.
We have made some improvements, which shows that we can incrementally enhance our effectiveness. Many other proposals have, however, bitten the dust. That is why it is right to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to seriously consider reconvening a Leader’s Group in the light of the fact that substantive reform will not take place for some time.
Noble Lords have discussed legislation in the context of a sense that the other place is not as effective as it might be in the scrutiny of legislation. One of the main complaints about the way in which the Commons does its business is that whole chunks of Bills are often not considered in Committee. This means that when the legislation comes to your Lordships’ House, that is the first time that the detail of many of the clauses is put to the test.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that we need to look at a bicameral approach to the way in which Parliament does its business, and more liaison between Members of both Houses would be very helpful as well. In the end, however, we can do much more ourselves to improve the way that we deal with legislation. The argument for pre-legislative scrutiny, or a business standards committee, is persuasive. In the absence of pre-legislative scrutiny, I have always favoured public evidence hearings before Bills go into Committee in your Lordships’ House. I hope that that might also be given further consideration.
We have debated post-legislative scrutiny on many occasions. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is unable to be here today. He would press us, I think, to include that with any package of measures of reforms.
I also share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, about the length of speeches when we debate amendments to Bills. I have to say that Ministers, too, could be advised to speak in rather a less lengthy time than they often do. I remember the late Lord Carter as Chief Whip advising me when I first became a Minister to read out every other page of my wind-up because, he said, no one would ever notice. If Ministers responded to the points raised in debate rather than felt they had to read out page after page of script written for them by officials, they would find the House much more sympathetic to the arguments they put forward.
If we had less legislation, there would be more time for debates on Select Committee reports. I have to confess as a former serial offender, having introduced many Bills to your Lordships' House, that I am a sinner who now repenteth. Indeed, I remember that the fourth NHS reform Bill that I brought to your Lordships’ House seemed to do away with lots of the clauses that I brought in with the first NHS reform Bill. However, I think that I am not the only offender there.
On secondary legislation, my noble friend Lord Filkin suggested that this House could have more influence if, instead of having the veto option, which it always hesitates to use, it could delay legislation. I hope that that will again be considered in any discussion on how we can improve legislation. At the moment, the situation is unsatisfactory; the House is not able to pursue the issues in secondary legislation that it would wish to; and there is a strong case for the delaying powers.
My noble friend Lord Filkin wanted to know how the usual channels worked. I am not sure that he would find it entirely illuminating if we tried to describe that to him, but I think that behind that was a plea for more explanation about why decisions are sometimes made in relation to business management. I look to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to comment on that.
Finally, I come to the size of the House—“the elephant in this Chamber”, as my noble friend Lord Filkin put it. We are a large House in terms of numbers and we threaten to become larger still if the Leader is determined to flood the House with yet more of his own supporters. I look forward to him saying in his wind-up that he recognises that it would not be right to increase the numbers in your Lordships' House until we have resolved issues around its size, the length of terms and retirement.
I hope that the Leader will also say that the Government have given further consideration to whether they will support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in the other place. The significance of that Bill is in Clause 1, which says:
“A peer may retire … Retirement may not be rescinded”.
I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that enacting that legislation would provide the foundation for your Lordships’ House to start talking about a scheme of retirement. I detect a growing consensus among Members of your Lordships’ House about the need to work together to see whether we can come up with a sensible approach to the size of the House, the representation of the different parties and the Cross Benches, and schemes of retirement. It would be all too easy for the Government to say, “We are not going to do that in the absence of substantive reform”—and I acknowledge that Governments of different colours have said that in the past—but the fact is that, realistically, substantive reform is now some years away. The argument for looking at issues to do with size and the way we proceed, therefore, becomes ever more persuasive. If the Leader were able to respond constructively to the comments made by noble Lords today, he would find enormous support for the work that he could do. I strongly urge him to consider setting up a Leader’s Group to take any work forward.
My Lords, I am bound to say that I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and to other Members on the Labour Back Benches, for giving us this platform for today’s debate, and to all noble Lords who have taken the time to contribute. I am rather a fan of these debates with four-minute speeches. They work extremely effectively; we get a lot of Peers in and it concentrates the mind. I have the luxury of having a little bit more time, which I shall use.
Perhaps the most consistent theme running through successive debates in this House on the Government’s proposals for reform has been our reputation as a revising Chamber, a reputation that Members on all sides take great pride in—and it is right that we should. Just over half of the Back-Benchers who have spoken today have had experience in the House of Commons as MPs. I make no particular point about that except to say that we should always remember that this House is very different from the House of Commons. Because the Executive have such an overwhelming and overpowering majority in the House of Commons, and can therefore do virtually what they like, they need the power of the Speaker to help to control that, and to give the voice of the Back Benches. The Executive in this House have no majority. We have a powerful Opposition, and the purpose of the usual channels—although everybody has poked fun at them—is to represent the interests of the whole House. In the end, the House can overturn decisions of the usual channels, although I hope that it will not do so.
I discovered to my horror, while sitting here musing away, that I have been a member of the Procedure Committee for 20 years. You get less for murder. It is an extraordinary thing. But like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I am greatly encouraged by the tone of the debate. I did not agree with everything that every Peer said, but I found something to agree with in bits of what every Peer said. We do our job very effectively in this House, through our committees, including the committees that sit off the Floor of the House, through the reports that we make, and by the standing and reputation of individual Members of this House.
Why were we not reformed by the elected House? In the end, I think that there are two reasons. First, there was a perception outside this House that we do the job that we do extremely well. Therefore, there was not that motivation for a great change. Secondly, I believe very strongly that the more the House of Commons looked at proposals for electing this House, the more it feared that we might end up doing our job rather better than it did. That was one reason why I was rather keen on it; I was ambitious for this House. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, warned us that political parties might find a populist measure, by which he meant further plans for reform of the House. All I can say to him is that I would not tempt them too much on that; they really do not need it.
What does this extraordinary Chamber do? It assists without threatening the primacy of the other place. It discharges its core duties in a manner that seeks to complement, not compete with, the House of Commons. Why does it not compete? Because we do not have the authority of the people as the other place does, and without the authority that direct election of Members might confer it remains the case that the influence that we exert on another place and on the Government of the day rests mainly on the force of the arguments that we deploy and on recognition outside these walls of the experience and expertise that Members of this House possess, individually and collectively. That is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was getting at when he talked about his matrix. I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about strengthening Parliament. With both Houses together, we should seek to do that, and to some extent this Government have done that. That reputation is the currency on which we trade. It is therefore only right that we consider, as we have done this afternoon, how best to protect and enhance our reputation and to be able to do our jobs even better.
My noble friends Lord Higgins, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Cormack, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made important passing references to the way in which the House of Commons does business. I will not spend any time discussing the House of Commons. It works out the way it does its business best. It has programming and we do not. On the whole, that is an advantage for this House. The House of Commons has selection of amendments and we do not. Here, every Back-Bencher has the right to put down an amendment to any Bill and it must be heard and responded to by a government Minister. That is extraordinarily empowering for Members of this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, set out in his Motion, part of the answer to all this must lie in harnessing the skills and experience of our Members and ensuring that they are deployed to best effect. Like the report of the Leader’s Group before it, the Motion identifies three core functions of the House: scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and providing a forum for public debate. There is also being topical, as my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft suggested. I slightly regret that the Motion does not make explicit mention of the revision of legislation, which is in my view the chief function of this House and the cornerstone of our reputation. If you ask anybody what the second Chamber does, almost all will say that it revises legislation. That is an important thing.
One of the most frequently rehearsed complaints in this House is that it is asked to consider too much legislation and that the level of preparation and consultation that precedes the introduction of specific Bills is inadequate. I suspect that that complaint has been made for several hundred years. Certainly, I can remember it being made in the 1980s, 1990s and the last decade. It was made again today. That does not mean that we should not take it seriously or find ways of making life easier.
Let me deal with some important issues to do with the Leader’s Group. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and my noble friends Lady Tyler of Enfield and Lord Tyler said that all the recommendations in the original report deserved to be debated by the House. They certainly do. That is why a debate on the report and the recommendations contained therein was arranged on 27 June 2011. That was in addition to the debate on working practices held at the very start of this Parliament, in July 2010, prior to the establishment of the Leader’s Group, and the debates of 9 November last year and 26 March this year that informed the decisions taken by the House in respect of specific recommendations. Again, there is this debate today.
The other complaint was that only a few of the Leader’s Group’s recommendations have been brought to the House for decision. I fundamentally disagree with that point. The implication is that only a few of the Leader’s Group’s recommendations have been taken forward. That is a myth. The 55 recommendations amount to 43 specific proposals, because some just affirm the status quo and others spread one idea over many paragraphs. Of those 43, 25 have been put to a domestic committee and another four have been partially put forward or have confirmed the status quo and been implemented. By setting up the Leader’s Group and inviting the domestic committees of the House to consider taking forward the majority of these recommendations, I have probably done more as Leader to bring about change to the working practices of this House than any of my recent predecessors.
There are some proposals that have not been put forward, partly because there seemed no inclination for them to be agreed and partly because there were disagreements within the Leader’s Group and within the Procedure Committee. No fewer than six members of the Procedure Committee went on to vote against the report on Grand Committees. Of those Members who voted against the report—the House will remember the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Cormack on the Procedure Committee report—some are exactly the same noble Lords who now say that we should debate and agree all the proposals, such as that on the Grand Committees, which was extremely controversial when we dealt with it on the Floor of the House a few months ago.
I am pleased to say that in one respect at least we may be turning the tide of decades because the Leader’s Group observed that, leaving aside a brief period around 2002, the number of Bills or clauses of Bills published in draft had remained low and the number scrutinised by Select Committees, whether Joint Committees or Commons-only Select Committees, had been lower still. All that has changed over the past two and a half years. In the previous Session, the Government published 11 Bills or clauses of Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny and in this Session we are on course to publish at least nine in only one year. That is good news. At the Government’s instigation, moreover, we have seen a resurgence in the number of Joint Committees conducting pre-legislative scrutiny. There were four in the previous Session and we expect five to be set up in this one. Those trends are no accident: we have deliberately set aside the resources to support an additional pre-legislative scrutiny committee this week.
We have also made progress, as was noted by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Cormack and by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in relation to post-legislative scrutiny in response to concerns that, once legislation is passed, insufficient attention is devoted to its implementation and effects. For the first time, we have appointed a dedicated Select Committee to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of the legislation relating to adoption in England and Wales. The committee is due to report before the end of the Session and the intention is that it should be the first of a series of post-legislative scrutiny committees, each looking at a different area of the law with a membership tailored to the Acts under scrutiny, so as to make flexible and targeted use of Members’ expertise.
Although we have made considerable progress on those fronts, enhancing the quality and reach of our scrutiny at the beginning and end of the legislative process, I know that there are still some in the House who are interested in a legislative standards committee. Many noble friends mentioned this: the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, my noble friend Lady Tyler and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who I am glad to hear has been receiving so many comments by e-mail—he is no doubt enhancing his reputation by replying to each of them in detail. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons is currently considering the proposal for a legislative standards committee as part of a broader inquiry into ensuring standards in the quality of legislation. Two Members of this House—the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart—have given oral evidence to that inquiry and my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons is due to follow suit. Without wishing to pre-empt either his evidence or the Government’s response to any recommendations resulting from the inquiry, I make the following observations.
There is in my view a tension between this House’s role as a revising Chamber and the idea that one of its committees, composed of a small group of Members, should recommend that a government Bill progresses no further. The analogy with secondary legislation and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is not apt. Secondary legislation cannot be amended, whereas the very purpose of a Bill’s passage through Parliament is to provide an opportunity for improvement and revision. In that sense, the House is itself a legislative standards committee; that is our primary and principal function. Denying a government Bill that has already passed through the House of Commons a Second Reading on the recommendation of a legislative standards committee would be an extraordinary step. Were the committee’s remit to be restricted to Bills starting in the Lords, it could have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of Bills that start in this House. Even if there were to be agreement on a Joint Committee, as recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I would remain uneasy at the prospect that a Government in command of a majority in the House of Commons would henceforth need to present a business case for their legislation before Parliament would consider it.
It would be extraordinary if, on the basis of a recommendation from a legislative standards committee, the House were to decide not to allow a Bill to proceed. That would be the nuclear weapon, and I should be very surprised if it ever happened. Of course, the case of the Bill to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor was a very rare occasion when the Government decided to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. I would expect the committee recommending that a Bill should not proceed to be an equally rare occasion. The point is that if there were criticism of the standards to which a Bill had been prepared, I believe, and I think that other contributions have supported this, that that would have a very beneficial effect inside the Government on the standards to which legislation was prepared, without ever reaching a point where Parliament decided to refuse to allow a Bill to proceed.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in always wanting to find ways to improve the quality of legislation. Sometimes, though, we need to be able to decide what has gone wrong, not just in the past decade but probably in processes over the past 40 to 50 years, and find out why legislation has changed so much and why it has got so difficult and complicated. We have seen this week, in having to pass an emergency piece of legislation correcting something that was not done properly 10 years ago, some of what goes wrong. Whether a legislative standards committee would make very much difference, I am not sure. Like the noble Lord and probably the rest of those who have spoken today, I look forward to the report from the House of Commons before we can take this further.
One question that has been raised by noble Lords and was posed by the Leader’s Group is whether we might make better use of our time in the Chamber. In order to free up time on the Floor of the House, the group proposed the introduction of a rule that most government Bills should be committed to Grand Committee and suggested that we might extend the sitting hours of the Grand Committee by introducing morning sittings. A variant of those proposals was put to the House by the Procedure Committee last March, only to be rejected emphatically. That is the point that I was making about members of the Procedure Committee, as well as members of the Leader’s Group, voting against that recommendation. In due course, I am sure that we will have to look at that again.
The next key question that many speakers raised was the attraction of a Back-Bench business committee—or a debates committee, a description mentioned by, I think the noble Lord, Lord Luce—in the expectation that a sifting mechanism for Back-Bench business might increase the topicality and profile of our debates and might serve the House better than the ballot and waiting-list mechanisms through which we currently select topical questions. My noble friend Lord Faulks pointed out some of the difficulties with this idea. It is not that the Back Benches would be deciding; it would be that some Back-Benchers would be deciding. We would have to go with care to decide whether or not this was actually an improvement. Of course we already have a sifting mechanism for most Thursday debates, which are selected by the political parties and the Cross-Bench group. Our debate this afternoon was selected in that way by the Labour group. We therefore already have some degree of intelligent selection, if one can call it that. It is interesting that at its next meeting the Procedure Committee is going to consider whether we should stop having a queueing system for Starred Questions and replace it with a ballot, so ballots clearly have their uses somewhere.
As for Questions for Short Debate and some of the Thursday debates, I see the ballot as a useful complement to the debates selected by the parties and groups. They provide Back-Bench Members with an alternative outlet for securing debates on subjects that, for whatever reason, did not appeal to their party or group. We have only to consider that a few weeks ago my noble friend Lord Maclennan led a balloted debate on the potential break-up of the United Kingdom and my noble friend Lord Lexden secured time for a QSD on the treatment of homosexual men and women in the developing world. They served to showcase the House at its best.
My main concern is that a Back-Bench business committee would in practice place a new obstacle in the way of Back-Bench Members wishing to secure time for a debate. Rather than Members walking into the Minute Room to table their Motion and then waiting their turn or taking their chance in the ballot, they would, if we were to follow the Commons model, find themselves filling in application forms and arranging to appear in person before a committee to plead their case. If they failed to persuade the committee, that would be that. We would have removed the last remaining vehicles for Back-Bench Members to get their debates on to the Order Paper directly and, in all likelihood, all we would gain in return is to become a mirror image of the Commons, debating all the same subjects. I urge noble Lords who are keen on this to come forward with a proposal that the Procedure Committee can examine.
As others have mentioned, one area in which we have taken major steps to make better use of the skills and experience of our Members is in the appointment of Select Committees. We have now established the new quick-fire, in-depth examination, annual, extra, cross-departmental committees. I think that they are an excellent addition. The government Chief Whip has recently told Conservative Peers that they should consider choices for next year’s Select Committees, and I urge the Opposition, my noble friends the Liberal Democrats and indeed the Cross-Benchers to do the same. I think that these will be really good committees. Over a five-year Parliament, we should be able to deal with 10 committees. That will strengthen our reputation for scrutiny.
I hope that my remarks this afternoon have served to illustrate that we have made considerable progress since the start of this Parliament. We have taken forward a majority of the recommendations from the Leader’s Group and, although some of them have been turned down by the House, I believe that I have done more to change the working practices of the House than any of my recent predecessors. I therefore see the withdrawal of the House of Lords Reform Bill not as a turning point in that process but rather as a milestone.
Talking of House of Lords reform, I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and many others talked about the size of the House and how it should be reduced. I know that bishops retire at 70, but I think that most noble Lords in this House would regard that as a little young. There are possibly ways that we can find to encourage Peers to retire, but Peers ought to be careful what they wish for. They may discover that culling Peers is more popular than culling badgers. The Steel Bill remains in the House of Commons. Let us see where it goes. As the noble Lord knows, I have no in-principle objection to the Steel Bill, and I think it does some perfectly valid things, but the House of Commons has recently voted for an elected House, although it could not quite follow through.
This has been a useful and interesting debate. I have gone beyond my time, for which I apologise. I will try to pick up some of the other issues that have been taken up. I shall finish with this point: one of the most interesting and senior committees of this House is the Procedure Committee. It has a remit to look at and examine proposals that are laid before it. Any Back-Bench Member can put forward proposals to the Procedure Committee and I suspect that in the next few months we will see a lot more representations being made.
In rising to thank all Members who have taken part in the debate, I shall do my utmost to be charitable, as it is nearly the end of our working week. First, I shall try to be charitable to those Members who have persistently and roundly insulted me by describing me as an oily mechanic or a mongrel. I have seldom had to suffer so much in silence in my career until now. I shall also, with no difficulty, seek to be charitable to the Leader of the House, because I believe that he had largely written his speech before he had listened to the debate that we have had in the past two and a half hours. I say that with good grace, because I have seldom heard such feeling around the House that we ought now to make sensible progress on reforms of this House. The Leader gave his usual eloquent and urbane reason that we had done all that we sensibly could and had better let sleeping dogs lie—or, as a councillor once said to me, had better leave lying dogs to sleep, which is slightly different.
Nevertheless, the Leader of the House has given us some pointers. First, a number of us are bound to wish to have a discussion with him. Without doubt, with his usual good grace, he will give us time. Our discussion with him will be about on which elements of the changes that have been strongly supported from all corners of this House we can move forward. As he implies, ultimately, it is not what I think or even he, from his eminence, thinks; it is what this House thinks that it wants to do on some of these issues. We will discuss with him the procedures that are there for us to explore how some of these things can be fairly, without too much manipulation, brought before the House in the ways in which they were expressed in the Goodlad report and, no doubt, informed by good guidance about what is practical. I think that the House would welcome it if we did that in a sensible and measured way. I thank again all who have spoken so strongly and supportively of the need for sensible, progressive change.