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Parliament: Conventions

Volume 760: debated on Monday 2 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the conventions between the two Houses of Parliament as they have affected government business during the current Parliament.

My Lords, while there has been no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the conventions between the two Houses as they have affected this Government’s business this Parliament, we believe that they have proved adaptable and continue to stand the test of time.

My Lords, I agree that the conventions work well while this House is unelected. However, may I ask the noble Baroness, in her role as Leader of the House—as opposed to a government Minister—to indicate to the main party leaders that, when they come to write their manifesto paragraphs on Lords reform, they should include issues related to the functions and powers of this House, and its relationship to the other House, rather than just a banal slogan on its composition? If they do not, it is likely that such legislation will get short shrift in your Lordships’ House.

I think I will leave it to the other party leaders in this House to decide whether they would like to write to Messrs Miliband and Clegg, but I agree with the noble Lord that the primacy of the House of Commons should never be in doubt. I agree with him that form should always follow function and I am clear that the purpose of this House is to give the public confidence in the laws that Parliament makes. It is an essential part of what we do and should inform what we do and how we do it, both now and in the future, however we may be composed.

My Lords, I—among others, obviously—represented your Lordships’ House on the Joint Committee that looked at the conventions of Parliament. However, that was nine years ago. I suggest to my noble friend that, since that time, the era of single-party government may well have disappeared for ever.

Therefore, these conventions, as set out in our report, are long past their sell-by date. Have any discussions taken place, between the parties in this House and with the other place, on setting up a similar committee after the general election to look at the new situation?

I disagree with my noble friend because I think we have proved in the course of this Parliament that these conventions have, as I say, stood the test of time. Therefore, I believe that it is unnecessary to constitute another committee and that the conventions will be adaptable throughout the next Parliament.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rooker asked a specific question about whether there would be references to these matters in the manifestos of the political parties and the Government. What will happen in the case of the Conservative manifesto?

I am pleased that the noble Lord is so interested in my party’s manifesto. That suggests he believes it is the only one that really matters. He will not be surprised that I am not going to give him any insight into the content of the manifesto before it is published.

My Lords, will my noble friend indicate what the conventions are in respect of the Government’s involvement in private Members’ legislation? In particular, could she explain why the Government have backed a Bill that guarantees 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid, while blocking a Bill that guarantees 2% of our GDP for NATO?

The noble Lord knows that the 0.7% Bill, which was debated in this House on Friday, is, as he said, a Private Member’s Bill, but it represents a policy that was in the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the most recent election.

My Lords, if form should follow function, as the noble Baroness said, and if the function of your Lordships’ House is to act as a revising and advisory Chamber, how can it have been right for the Government to alter the form of the House, as they have, by packing the Benches behind her to create a large in-built government political majority?

I take exception to the language that the noble Lord has used. As he knows, it is important that we continue to refresh this House with new Members. Of the peerages created during this Parliament, 47 have been on the Labour Benches.

Could the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, when she has discussions with the leaders of the other parties, use the opportunity to highlight the work that this House does in revising legislation? There may be yet another example today of how many government amendments there are to legislation. This House serves the country extremely well in its function of revising legislation, and I hope that the Leader will take every opportunity to remind people down the other end that we do it rather better.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. The fact that we are an unelected Chamber right now does not in any way diminish the important work that we exist to do. In revising and scrutinising legislation, we give the public confidence in the laws that Parliament makes.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what she has said, but if we are to have continuing amicable relations with another place, for which we all hope, it is not very helpful if another place peremptorily kills off a Bill that has been fairly exhaustively debated in this place, as it did last Friday. It might well be that some us think we should flex our muscles on a Bill that came from the other place.

I think my noble friend is referring to the Private Member’s Bill, which originated in this House, of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—

I thought the noble Lord was referring to the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which is still very much in play. It is quite right that the Saatchi Bill has gone through this House carefully, but the other House has the prerogative to decide how to deal with it, as it has done.

My Lords, could the Minister let me know what the Government propose to do about the appalling, sexist and outrageous behaviour of MPs in the other place? This is an enormous problem. It discourages women, and it is largely the men who do it.

I am the Leader of this House, and therefore I do not speak for the other House. I am not sure that I would necessarily agree with the comments of the noble Baroness about the other House, but I am pleased that in this House—in my experience—there is no demonstration of sexism.

My Lords, if any Members of this House think that they want to rebuff the other place in any way, there is one very effective way in which it might be done. We might send back to them some of the Bills that they failed to discuss, because they keep part-time hours, in exactly the same state as they sent them to us.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend who suggested that the Government are packing this House; I think they are packing the government Benches. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend about the purpose and function of this place. I hope that the noble Baroness will consider suggesting to the Prime Minister that a constitutional convention should be called. One of the things that it should take into consideration is the purpose and function of this place.

As the noble Baroness knows from the exchanges that we have had previously, that is not something that the Government are proposing at this time. As far as the Conservative Party within this Government is concerned, there are other things that have a higher priority and do not need a constitutional convention. We want to see those implemented first.