Motion to Agree
My Lords, I shall speak also to the Motion to amend Standing Orders.
The report makes five recommendations. The first three are consequential on the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. The first recommendation is that Members who have given written notice that they will retire from the House under Section 1 of the Act should have the opportunity of making a valedictory speech before the date of their retirement. Such speeches would be afforded the same courtesies as maiden speeches and would be marked in Hansard, as maiden speeches are.
The second recommendation is that the Lord Speaker should inform the House before Oral Questions when a peer ceases to be a member of the House under the Act.
The third proposal relates to the House’s system of leave of absence. Currently, in certain circumstances, Members who do not reply to the Clerk of the Parliament’s letter regarding leave of absence are given it automatically. This would reverse the position and bring us within the spirit of the Act.
The committee’s fourth recommendation is that Questions for Short Debate on Select Committee reports and topical Questions for Short Debate should not count towards the limit of each Member having one QSD in the House of Lords business at one time. This is because when a Member puts down for a Question for Short Debate as the chair of the Select Committee, he clearly does so as chair of that committee and not in a personal capacity. He should not therefore be penalised.
The committee’s final recommendation is about signifying the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales to Bills. At present, consent may be signified at Second Reading in some instances and at Third Reading in others. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons recently reported on consents and recommended that consent be signified at Third Reading in all cases. The Commons Procedure Committee indicated to us that it was minded to agree with this recommendation and suggested that the two Houses should move in step. We agree that this is sensible and so recommend that, if the Commons agrees likewise, consent in all cases should be signified at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chairman of Committees for his comments. I have a question for him on the consent to Bills of the Queen and the Prince of Wales, which is referred to in items 12 and 13 in the Procedure Committee’s report.
He will be aware, I think, that the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee made six recommendations about this. I am slightly surprised that the Procedure Committee has not chosen to comment on the other five. The evidence in the Commons report and the recommendations do not always seem to connect. I have talked to the chair of the Commons committee about this; I did not get much of an answer but I had a useful discussion. In particular, nobody has commented on the need for the Prince of Wales to give consent to Bills when they affect his private interests. I take a couple of quotations from the House of Commons committee’s report. Dr Tucker said:
“Any involvement of the Prince of Wales in the legislative process is constitutionally unacceptable”.
That is quite strong. Our own Clerk of the Parliaments, David Beamish, commented:
“So in one sense it is not necessary”,
to have consent at all,
“in that this Committee could recommend its abolition”.
Therefore, I ask the Chairman of Committees whether the Procedure Committee could look at this whole issue again and comment on all the recommendations, possibly after reading the whole of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report, if it has not already done so, and come back with six recommendations?
I have a couple of questions for the Chairman of Committees about the sections of the report dealing with retirement. The proposals he has brought to the House are, I am sure, acceptable. However, they are a bit of a mouse, because the Act, for which I had some responsibility, gave the House the statutory authority to introduce a retirement scheme. The Chairman of Committees’ report is not on a retirement scheme but simply on retirement niceties. Is any other committee of the House at present looking at other options, with a view to getting the numbers in this House down to a reasonable size? In particular, has the report from the director of finance been looked at with regard to how money could be saved if there were a retirement grant of some kind? Has any committee looked at the Labour Party’s proposals, which are quite interesting, for compulsory retirement at the end of each Parliament for those who have reached the age of 80 during that Parliament? All those and others are sensible suggestions which should be examined but I am not sure whether that has yet happened.
My Lords, as regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as the Chairman of Committees will know, the current Government have enunciated a new rule, if you like, that the proportion and number of Members of your Lordships’ House should bear direct comparison with the votes cast at the last general election. I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees, if a political party had a catastrophic reduction in the votes cast at the next election, am I right in thinking that we would expect a considerable number of resignations from that party? I am not at liberty to say which party I am thinking about but I assume that we would have to have extra Friday sittings to hear the valedictory speeches.
I should like to make two points. First, I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Steel about financial inducement to retirement. That would be a very bad precedent and I hope that it will not happen. Secondly, what are the detailed arrangements for giving Royal Assent to Bills? Who is supposed to give that assent? Is it the Minister in charge of the Bill or someone else?
Let me try to deal with the issues in some sort of order. I am involved in so many committees that sometimes even I get a bit confused about which committee is considering what. First, on retirement, I am not aware of any committee actively considering any retirement scheme as such. However, it is always open to any Member, as well as members of the committees concerned, to write and ask a committee to consider a particular scheme or to bring forward proposals. The matter would then be considered by the appropriate committee.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his intervention on consent, which means that I have won the private office bet that he would do so. We have to realise that this proposal originates from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons. That report was considered, quite rightly, by the Commons Procedure Committee, which decided to recommend that consent should be signified at Third Reading in both Houses. That was the nature of the correspondence between the chairman of the House of Commons Procedure Committee and me. There is agreement on that. I recognise that it is a modest reform. If there was a desire for any more far-reaching and radical reform, again, if Members write, the Procedure Committee would give it appropriate consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, raised assent, not consent. We are not dealing with the business of assent; we are dealing with the consent of Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales to the House acting in their quasi-private function.