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House of Lords: Strathclyde Review

Volume 767: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the comments made by Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen on 3 November (HL Deb, col. 1516), how Lord Strathclyde and his review team will take account of the views of Members of the House of Lords.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has written to the Members of both Houses inviting them to submit their views. A number of Peers from around the House have already made submissions to his review or shared their views with him in person. I have no doubt that he will consider carefully all representations from Members of this House.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader for that reply. Can she assure me that, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has reported, there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the contents of the report before the Government come to any conclusions? Can she also say whether, in view of the 1994 resolution of this House that we have an unfettered right to vote on secondary legislation, which was confirmed by the Joint Select Committee on Conventions, if the noble Lord proposes reducing the powers of this House, she will ensure that a further Joint Select Committee of both Houses is established to consider the consequences both for this House and the other place?

I certainly do not want to pre-empt my noble friend’s conclusions when he comes forward with his response to the Prime Minister, but it is worth me reminding the House that he is looking into the constitutional issues that were raised by the proceedings in this House in October. They were unprecedented; they did raise serious questions.

They did, my Lords. My noble friend is looking at them while consulting widely—both Members of the other place as well as here. When he reaches his conclusions, I am confident that we will have an opportunity to consider them carefully and decide next steps at that time.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, had this House passed the secondary legislation on tax credits, it would have had the immediate force of law and prevented the Chancellor of the Exchequer abandoning his proposals in his Autumn Statement?

My noble friend raises an interesting point. It is interesting because it allows me to say two things. It demonstrates what this House did: it withheld its approval from a Motion that had already been voted on three times and decided in the other House. The key thing about the review that my noble friend is doing is not what the views of this House were but how it decided to express them and the route by which it chose to do so.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government heed the serious concerns expressed by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee of your Lordships’ House to the effect that the threshold between primary and secondary legislation continues to move upwards, with secondary legislation used increasingly for matters of policy and principle which should be the subject of primary legislation? Will the Leader accept that these issues should be at the heart of the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is examining?

My noble friend is examining how to secure the decisive role of the elected House on matters associated with secondary legislation. Clearly, it is important that all Governments use the right vehicle to secure Parliament’s decision on their business. That is what all Governments seek to do, and it is what we have been doing and will continue to do

My Lords, given that the Leader of the House has indicated that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his review team will take into account the views of Members of your Lordships’ House, will she take this opportunity to commend the view of one noble Lord who said in oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Conventions:

“I think we can spend a great deal of time thinking about how one could improve the convention on secondary legislation, but I would not remove the power”?

They were the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

Another noble and learned Lord gave evidence to the same Joint Committee—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. He said this about secondary legislation:

“The question is not: is the power there to vote against it? The question is: is there a convention that says constitutionally we should not do it?”

The answer to the question must be, and is, no.

My Lords, surely the Minister would agree that this was in no sense a constitutional crisis merely because the House of Lords did what it was supposed to and should do, which is to scrutinise and, where appropriate, ask the Commons to think again. That is what this House decided to do—not to destroy the SI but to delay it to allow the Commons to think again. Once the Commons as a body had thought again, following the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the constitutional crisis disappeared and we all got a result which was welcomed around the House.

My Lords, I am sorry, but I disagree with the way in which the noble Baroness represents what happened in October. This House withheld its approval from that statutory instrument and issued a set of demands: it overruled the House of Commons. It did not ask the House of Commons to think again; it overruled a decision that the other House had already considered and decided.

My Lords, I believe that in addition to the review of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, there are one or two other bodies working on reform proposals for this House, including one in which the noble Baroness has some involvement. How are the other groups intended to liaise with the research of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde?

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is focusing only on secondary legislation, as I have already described. The other groups to which my noble friend refers are looking at other, separate, matters.

My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, does the Leader of the House recognise that it is all very well to say that there is a convention that we should let statutory instruments through without too much difficulty in this House, but that there is a quid pro quo for that—which is that matters which should be considered in primary legislation at the other end of this building should not be introduced by statutory instrument? If the result of the deliberations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is, “All right, this House loses the right to throw out statutory instruments”, the other side of that equation is that at the other end of the building the Government undertake that major financial issues should not be introduced by statutory instrument but by primary legislation.

In October the Government used the vehicle set out for them to use in the original Act. That is what the Government did and they were at liberty to do so.