§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I beg to move that your Lordships' House takes note of the First Report from the Select Committee on the Practice and Procedure of the House; and I do so as chairman of that Select Committee.
I would, therefore, at the outset express appreciation to my colleagues on a very notable Select Committee. How we persuaded four ex-Leaders of this House to sit on what many will consider a mundane and dry exercise of procedure, I do not know; but, undoubtedly, the Committee received notable advice from them and, of course, too, from other Members of that Committee who have very many years of experience in Parliament in both Houses and in public life. I would also wish to express appreciation to the Clerk of the Parliaments and other officials of your Lordships' House who did a great deal of work which made it possible for your Committee to produce 167 this report today. I should like, too, to express appreciation to the witnesses who came before the Committee. If I were to single out the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, I do so because she, on behalf of the House of Lords' Scrutiny Committee of the European Communities, explained the Paper. She would have liked to be present here today and I know it would be the wish of all noble Lords that she should be returned to our midst at a very early date.
Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, the gracious Speech which opened the 1975–76 Parliament gave an undertaking on behalf of the Government that there should be a full review of the practice and procedure of Parliament. The announcement was received with some degree of suspicion and scepticism in both Houses. There were many in this House and in another place who thought that what the Government had in mind was some revision of our procedures by which an ever-increasing flow of legislation could pass through Parliament.
In our debate in March of last year, I, on behalf of the Government, sought to allay that fear and to say that what the Government had in mind was that there should be a full examination to find ways and means by which Parliament could be more efficient in the performance of its constitutional role. I, personally, regret that it was not possible to have a joint Committee of both Houses; because many of the problems we have discussed in terms of this House have their counterpart in another place, and the more that one examines the problems, the more one appreciates that if there is to be a resolution of those difficulties it can only come about through joint action by both Houses. But it was not so and, therefore, we had to proceed on our own.
My Lords, I know that there are some of my noble friends who believe that you cannot consider functions, practice and procedure without taking an examination of composition, of powers and, perhaps, of the relationship of the two Houses. That was an issue that was deliberately precluded from the considerations of your Select Committee and, therefore, your 168 Select Committee has had to consider possible reforms within the present House as it is now constitituted.
I think that the report can be divided into two: Parts I and II which deal with the problem particularly of the last Session, the problem of congestion— although that has happened before—and Part III which is a new concept for the scrutiny of domestic legislation. I think it was natural that your Select Committee —certainly before I became its chairman—felt that we ought to consider the situation that arose in the last Session, the congestion which we can remember. I suspect, however, that with the general tranquility of this Session, it is easy to forget the appalling situation that confronted my noble friend Lord Peart when he became Leader of the House. Ten major, controversial, complex Bills were still in this House with their Committee stages uncompleted; six Bills had not even received their Second Reading. Some of those Bills had been guillotined in another place and therefore it was reasonable to believe that some areas of them had not been properly scrutinised.
As Leader of the House I was particularly concerned about the strain that was going to be placed on Ministers, and particularly those Ministers responsible for Bills emanating from a Department to which they were not attached. I am sure that the whole House watched with admiration the way in which they handled very complex matters. In many ways, I suppose, those on the Opposition Front Bench were under a greater strain because they had not the resources of a Departmental brief or of officials who could quickly find the answer to a particular point. I was conscious, too, of the appalling, if not intolerable, strain placed on the staff of this House. But I think that our main concern must have been whether, under those circumstances, this House could perform its constitutional role or even the more limited role (as I have already seen it) of a revising Chamber. I do not believe it was possible; nor did it, in fact, occur. But the congestion was at both ends. The House of Commons was suffering in the same way. I would not use the word "contempt", but I believe that it is very close to contempt of Parliament that when Amendments have been moved in this House—and I would not wish to go into the merits of those 169 Amendments—many of them were disposed of in another place without any form of debate because of the guillotine procedure there.
My Lords, what are the reasons, and what are the causes? Many noble Lords say that there is too much legislation. That may be so; but I think one needs to be realistic. I believe that if you look at the figures contained in the Clerk of the Parliaments' Paper, which is in this report, there is reason to anticipate that during the next decade the amount of legislation—not necessarily Bills but the number of pages to legislate—will increase by the order of about 20 per cent. over the last decade. So, unless Parliament in some way changes its procedures, we must face the possibility of improperly considered legislation being passed. I do not believe that Parliament should stand idly by in these circumstances. Secondly, on top of the legislation, there is the question of Community legislation which, even today, despite what the noble Baroness the Chief Whip does for this House, I do not believe is adequately considered.
Having said this and having used the rather harsh word "contempt", I should like to mention one point concerning Lord Presidents. I can say from practical experience, as no doubt can the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in connection with his own Government, that Lord Presidents have always sought to restrict the amount of legislation contained in the gracious Speech but have always been overcome by their colleagues within the Cabinet. I do not myself see any change in this respect. I believe Departments will continue to press for legislation because they have a great deal of legislation which is not necessarily Party political and which they believe strongly ought to be on the Statute Book. But I believe that some amelioration could be found if the Lord President and the Government of the day were to insist that legislation which is contained in the gracious Speech is introduced into either House at an early stage. I believe it is quite wrong that when references to major legislation are contained in the gracious Speech the legislation is introduced about Easter. I believe that Departments, if they believe so strongly in their legislation, should ensure that such legislation is prepared and ready for introduction.
170 However, I see great difficulties here and I believe that Ministers should be more willing to introduce major Bills into your Lordships' House. I believe we could get a better balance between the two Houses. I have said before that this would mean a very firm undertaking by this House that there would be no mutilation of the legislation and no question of a Bill being thrown out. That is always a factor in the mind of a Secretary of State or a Minister in introducing a Bill into the second Chamber, because then it is not subject to the Parliament Act. But I believe this is a step that Governments ought to take.
I think that my noble friend the Chief Whip will appreciate this point. One of the great difficulties of the last Session was that the Opposition in another place used what I believe Mr. Prior has said to be the only weapon of Oppositions: that is, the power of delay. A logical answer to the problems of the free movement of legislation would be to have an agreed programme in another place, with an agreed period between Second and Third Readings. I personally do not see the other place adopting that practice, but I believe that the Government, if they are prepared to leave things much as they are, are under a very firm obligation to this Chamber to ensure that legislation comes at such a stage of our Session that we can adequately fulfil our constitutional role.
We looked with very great care at the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, contained in his Paper, to the effect that there should be a fixed period between the various stages of Bills, once introduced into your Lordships' House, and also that there should be an agreed ratio between the time taken in your Lordships' House and the time taken in another place. Various calculations would be made: for example, if a Bill were to take seven weeks in another place it should be allowed about three weeks in your Lordships' House. These are interesting and, on the face of it, sensible provisions, but your Committee felt it would be wrong to place them in the Companion to the Standing Orders because of their rigidity.
Your Committee felt that we might give the Chief Whip and, for that matter, the Leader of the House a little added muscle so that if we were to put in our Standing Orders that there should be 171 "an agreed norm" (if I may use that phrase) within your Lordships' House between, for example, Second Reading and Committee stage, between Committee and Report stages and between Report and Third Reading, and if there were deviation from that norm, it would be arrived at by means of negotiations through the usual channels and an explanation would be given in your Lordships' House. I believe this is a matter which the Procedure Committee could well look at to see whether it could be contained in the Companion to the Standing Orders.
I do not want to spend a great deal of time on the various recommendations and conclusions which are to be found in Part II for dealing with the question of congestion. I would commend Recommendations Nos. 2–7 which go under the heading "Conventions of the House". If I were to be perhaps a little mischievous, I could suggest at Question Time that certain noble Lords could well read those recommendations with profit. Those recommendations I should like to see going to the Procedure Committee to ascertain whether they should be adopted.
There are two proposals and recommendations in Part II to which I should like to speak quite briefly. I believe that if we could move to what we might call the "calendar year" for our Sessions, with Parliament opening in January and proroguing in December, we could over-come a great deal of the present indecision and general ill planning of legislation. It would certainly give both Houses at least three months at the end of the Session for a more orderly progress of Business, There are problems, such as the Finance Act, which would have to be resolved, but I would hope the matter could be looked at by the Government and also by another place.
The second proposal I put forward because I am aware, as many of your Lordships will be, that there is a great deal of legislation lying in the various cubby-holes of Whitehall which would be of great value to the country and which ought to be on the Statute Book—for example, Bills dealing with company law. Such Bills are not able to be proceeded with because of the restrictions of the present Session. If these Bills are not referred to in the gracious Speech, and 172 therefore there is no political commitment to them, I wonder whether, by agreement with all Parties concerned, they could be introduced and allowed to be carried forward from one Session to another. I know there are problems and that such a procedure might create certain precedents which all Governments would wish to avoid, but in view of the quality of some legislation that we ought to see passed, I think the suggestion is worthy of consideration by the Government.
I will say a few words later about Public Bill Committees. I am giving an indication as to how I see the volume of legislation increasing and, with it, the general complexity. I have long felt—and indeed I am becoming more and more convinced of this as I sit on these Benches —that a great deal of time taken up by Business on the Floor of your Lordships' House is occupied by consideration of varying stages of Bills which could, with merit, be taken elsewhere. That would allow the Floor of the House to be used for the bigger debates, particularly those concerned with the European Economic Community. Therefore, whatever may have been the difficulties of the past in terms of the Public Bill Committee, I believe that this procedure will one day have to be adopted.
I should now like, if I may, to turn to Part III of the report. As I said, the terms of reference of your Lordships' Select Committee were to find ways and means by which this House could be more effective in its functions. Therefore, one had to look at what was wrong with Parliament. I suppose that we could have a debate on many subjects but, since this Committee was solely concerned with functions, we had to look at the way in which your Lordships' House, in particular, dealt with legislation and other related matters.
I cannot believe that any in your Lordships' House can feel, particularly in the case of complex Bills such as the Patents Bill, or even the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, yesterday, that the Floor of the House is an adequate place for examining legislation. The power of Government grows greater and greater and the area of responsibility expands, but the ability of Parliament to understand what Government are doing and proposing in no way matches this growth. 173 Therefore, your Committee felt that we ought to see whether it was possible for Parliament to have a greater understanding not only of the legislation proposed but also of the problems which that legislation is meant to solve.
We were very much attracted to the European Communities Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships' House. The reports are absolutely first-class, and they are not read solely in your Lordships' House. They are now necessary reading if one is a member of the European Assembly, and I believe that they are read with great interest by the Commission in Brussels. So we have a great deal of expertise and, if that procedure works, is it not right to see whether it could be adapted for domestic legislation?
This would be a major change of Parliamentary procedure, and change is something of which Parliament and Government are always highly suspicious. I suppose that Members are suspicious of procedural changes, because of the way in which they will affect other Members; Parliament is suspicious, because changes may take away responsibility and accountability; and Governments are suspicious that stones may be turned and certain things exposed. But I believe that we are now moving into an era when, if Parliament is to retain and develop its credibility in a democracy of the people, we must be seen to be not a rubber stamp for legislation, but a body which examines fully what is being proposed and passed in the name of Parliament. These were matters which were very much in the minds of your Committee.
I have no doubt that when my noble friend Lord Peart, the Leader of the House, speaks, he will naturally say that there must be some doubts in the minds of the Government and the Executive. May I say to my noble friend that the suspicions which are no doubt in the minds of the Government and the Executive were in their minds when the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was Leader of your Lordships' House, and that when the Maybray-King proposals were introduced there was great disagreement, alarm and uncertainty about the terms of reference. As a House, we insisted on those terms of reference and I have never yet heard one word from the Government or the Executive about any of our Committees 174 abusing its position because of those loose terms of reference. I speak with sufficient confidence in your Lordships' House to know that, if these Committees were set up to scrutinise domestic legislation, the same impartial, penetrating procedure would be adopted. Certainly, it is worthy of a trial.
May I now describe, very briefly, what the Committee have in mind. It is that there should be some seven or eight Sessional Committees of about 12 members, each covering a policy area. Why a policy area and not a Department? My noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies, when giving evidence, referred to a watch-dog. The last thing we want of these Committees is to be watch-dogs of Departments. Secondly, if you have a policy area, you can cover a wide area but, if it is a Department, there is the problem that much of our legislation covers more than one or two Departments. But, above everything else, I believe that there should be a relationship to the policy areas of the European Communities Scrutiny Committee, so that, when these Sessional Committees are set up, there can be a greater understanding of what is happening within the Community and of what is happening within the field of domestic legislation.
So let us imagine that we have the Committees set up. When a Bill is introduced in another place and has its Second Reading, then, by order of your Lordships' House, the appropriate Scrutiny Committee will start to take evidence. It could take evidence from Ministers, from civil servants and from other interested bodies. I know that there is concern about relations with another place should this House be examining legislation while it is before the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, coined the phrase "Shepherd's Pie", by which, in a House of Lords Paper, we had a House of Commons Bill. We considered it on Second Reading and we passed Amendments. We have had No. 2 Bills—which, again, are in every respect identical to a Bill in another place. I believe we can overcome that suspicion and that, at the end, this House could well provide a service to the House of Commons by a more careful scrutiny through this procedure, which, as the House knows, is not available in another place.
175 When the Bill came to your Lordships' House we should then have our Second Reading, but before that happened the Committee would have produced to your Lordships' House a report in terms similar to that under the European Communities Scrutiny Committee procedure. There could be a genuine and real understanding of what the Government propose, and of the issues involved. We propose that after a Bill has had its Second Reading, and in order to use the knowledge accumulated by the Scrutiny Committee—if we use that phrase—that that Committee, added to by Members from other parts of the House, including Ministers and Members of the Front Bench, should then turn itself into a Standing Committee which would proceed to go through the Bill in the conventional way, clause by clause, line by line, and amending it. May I assure any noble Lord who thinks that this procedure would exclude him, that under our present procedures, as the House knows, any noble Lord can attend any of our present Standing Committees and can speak and move Amendments. The only preclusion is in regard to voting, which is for Members of the Committee alone.
My Lords, the Bill will then come to your Lordships' House for its first review on the Floor. It may well be that, during the Committee stage, certain clauses of the Bill will need much wider debate. [Interruption.] The House will know that in such a circumstance it is open to your Lordships' House to recommit a Bill for that part of the Bill to be considered under the Committee procedure. Therefore, I do not believe that this procedure would in any way limit the control and scrutiny now exercised.
My Lords, the Third Reading would proceed normally. It may be that some noble Lords will say that this procedure is apparently cumbersome and not very workable. However, your Committee looked at the matter. We have taken advice and there is considerable experience in continental Parliaments of a similar procedure and practice. We are aware that the procedure is workable.
I wish to make one other point, because I know that other noble Lords have been concerned about previous experiences in another place in which Select Committees have gone off at long and wide tangents. 176 That is not the concept that the Select Committee had in mind. At all stages this Committee would be under the charge of the House. The terms of reference, of course, would have to be agreed by your Lordships' House. However, we believe that these Committees initially should be restricted to both primary and secondary legislation—particularly secondary legislation, because hundreds of statutory orders are passed every year with only a cursory review. Therefore, my Lords, we believe that it should be restricted there. Undoubtedly there is a case for saying that there should be a Select Committee procedure on many important subjects, and one can certainly think of many such subjects. However, I believe that it would be wrong to embark on that area until we have proved this more limited experiment. Therefore, I would assure noble Lords who may think that, once we set this up, that Committee is free to range widely into any area of policy, that that is not so. What we have in mind is solely within the area of legislation.
I have tried to explain the procedures and what has been in the mind of your Select Committee. I ask the House to think about one matter in the course of the debate. Legislation is becoming more and more complex: it is becoming more and more difficult to understand. It has far-reaching consequences upon ourselves, the general members of the country. Therefore, people have a right to look to Parliament to ensure that that legislation is properly scrutinised. I do not believe that the present procedures provide for that. Therefore, there is a need to find ways and means by which this can be achieved.
I do not say that the present proposals are the end of the road. However, I believe that, if they were adopted and we had an initial experiment in the next Session by one or two of the policy committees, we would learn from our experiences. I believe that they would be successful and would have a profound effect upon the way that your Lordships' House performs its constitutional role—the rôle of a revising Chamber. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the First Report from the Select Committee on the Practice and Procedure of the House (HL 141)—Lord Shepherd.177
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to speak to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Windlesham as well as that which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Those of your Lordships who may perhaps from time to time have done me the honour of reading or listening to any speeches that I may have made about your Lordships' House will be familiar with my views. Indeed, my views are a good deal more radical than those of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and his colleagues, if your Lordships can imagine such a thing. Perhaps those of you who went far enough to read the evidence which I gave to the Select Committee will also be aware that, in my judgment, the fundamental reform of this House—its composition and its powers—is the only effective answer to the problems that face us.
Indeed, though I would not claim that the procedures of this House are perfect, I suspect that it is those of us who operate those procedures and in particular the actions of the Government of the day—whatever Government—that are more at fault than the procedures themselves. Nevertheless, your Lordships have every reason to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and his Committee for the work that they have done and for the detailed examination which they have made of various suggestions which were put to them. Not least, we should be grateful to them for reminding the House as well as the Government of certain matters, for example, the length of speeches. I thought that perhaps in his enthusiasm for his Committee the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was a little unkind to ignore his own recommendations. I thought at one moment that the interruption which he so stoically endured was from the secretary for the "Campaign for Shorter Speeches"! I shall long remember the last defence debate in this House when in under four hours over 20 of your Lordships spoke in a debate which was that much better because those taking part consciously tried to avoid repetition and to concentrate on a particular point which they wanted to put over.
I shall look at today's performance of the 25 speakers in this debate as a test of whether your Lordships are serious or 178 not in following the recommendations of this Committee. If we all speak for 33 minutes we shall, as somebody once said, exhaust time and encroach upon eternity. More particularly, we should be grateful to the Committee for the reminder that they have given the Government that the Government—any Govern-ment—have a duty to allow this House sufficient opportunity to scrutinise Bills, particularly at the end of a Session. I am sure that they are right to reject the suggestion that this House should sit at different times from the House of Commons, just as I am sure they are right that the proposal that Public Bills should be carried over from one Session to another would greatly disadvantage an Opposition.
Nevertheless, with the exception of the proposal to create a number of Select Committees matching policy areas, the Committee has not come up with anything substantially new. Nor will the suggestion of the new Committees remedy the situation which occurs regularly at the end of each Session of Parliament when the House has no time to carry out its function of revision. We are all agreed that one of the main roles of a second Chamber is that of revision. That it should be put in the type of situation which we faced here last year—and it was only just that much worse last year than some other years—is really intolerable. I do not blame the Committee for not finding a solution, for I do not think that there is a solution if one takes into account the present relationship between the two Houses.
My Lords, it depends upon the Government of the day. The solution, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, himself said, is less legislation. Anyway, we are grossly overgoverned, and perhaps the only advantage of the Lib-Lab Pact, other than the immense benefit that we have all derived from the appointment of a Liberal Shadow Cabinet, is that it has been almost impossible for the Government to get any legislation through Parliament at all.
Nevertheless, no Government should repeat the horrors of 1976 when we had under six weeks to discuss five Bills which, in some cases, had individually taken the House of Commons nearly six months. I really do not think that the Government—and I exclude the noble Lords on the 179 Front Bench opposite—who spent much of their time grumbling about the way in which your Lordships behaved last autumn, know how lucky they are that we are such patient and reasonable people. If we had been unionised, I can assure noble Lords that it would have been very different.
I come now to the specific proposals made by the Committee. All of us should welcome any attempt to improve the function of this House in its revisory role. I, for one, certainly approve of an experiment on the lines that my noble friend Lord Windlesham is suggesting, but I should like to make just one or two cautionary observations.
I believe that these proposals will be of only comparatively limited use in speeding up the procedures of this House. For instance, it would not be possible to allow a committee of this kind to deal with a controversial Bill. The Committee stage on the Floor of the House is the only occasion on which your Lordships can, without restriction of debate, discuss in detail the issues raised on every clause of a Bill. In the case of a controversial Bill, that opportunity should not be denied to the House as a whole. Nor would there be much purpose in recommitting the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House—a device which would only prolong the time scale of our procedures.
Furthermore, I do not know on what Party basis the committee would be chosen in the case of a politically controversial Bill. If it were on the basis that the Government of the day had a majority, then, at a time of Labour Government, this would be totally unrepresentative of the composition of the House and would lead to endless trouble at the Report stage. If the Cross-Benchers were allowed the final say, that would be equally controversial. If the committee were formed on the basis of the proportions of Conservatives to Labour, as now represented in the House, the committee would look, and be, totally top heavy and unbalanced. It follows from this that such a procedure is not possible for political and controversial Bills which take a long time passing through this House—as, indeed, all political and controversial Bills do—and I do not believe that it will speed up our proceedings.
I am also a little concerned about the suggestion that the committee should be 180 entitled to question Ministers and civil servants during the passage of a Bill through the House of Commons. I do not believe that to be at all a good idea. It would be greatly resented by the House of Commons for, after all, the purpose of the revising Chamber is to revise what we get, not what we might get or what might subsequently be altered before we get it. Nor would it be right at a time when Ministers and civil servants are hard pressed in another place for this House to summon them to its committee. There are, no doubt, other delicate areas which might be considered an intrusion on the powers of the House of Commons and which, in my judgment, ought to be looked at very carefully.
Having said that, I think that there may well be something to be said for the idea. Certainly, to have a committee which is charged with an area of policy will give the House much more expertise than it has at present and may, indeed, lead to a better examination of some Bills than is possible now. Therefore, speaking for myself, I should be in favour of a single experiment in a policy area. However, I believe that the Procedure Committee should be asked to look at what guidelines should be laid down for such an experiment. For example, if might be that there should be a Steering Committee composed of the Lord Chairman of Committees and certain others who, during this experiment, might well give some guidance to the committee.
I should like to suggest another case where there might be difficulty. It would surely be quite improper for a Select Committee to listen to representations from the constituents of Members of another place. There are other issues which would no doubt emerge in the future which could be considered by such a committee.
I hope, therefore, that we shall go ahead with this one experiment but that my noble friend Lord Windlesham will be prepared to withdraw his Motion—I think that the Leader of the House might find it a little difficult to accept it in the terms in which my noble friend has tabled it, because it goes very wide—on the understanding that the House agrees that an experiment should take place, not just on a Bill but on an area of policy, and that the Procedure Committee should be asked to consider 181 guidelines. Having said that, I reiterate that I believe that your Lordships should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and his committee for the work they have done.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, one of the reasons I welcomed very much the First Report of the Select Committee on the Practice and Procedure of the House was because it endorsed once again the need for short speeches. I looked up the Companion while the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was speaking. The Companion says that speeches should be shorter, but it does not add: "Shorter than what?" All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is that if the shepherd does not obey the conventions, what is going to happen to the flock? But just because the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, does not practise what he preaches we should not deny him our deep gratitude for his work, and that of the Committee, in tackling the very important matter of our practice and procedure which is going to guide us over the next few years.
I shall not repeat what the noble Lord said. I agree with a great deal of it, in particular with what he said on congestion, the need for the early introduction of major Bills and the establishment of a better balance of legislation in both Houses. We are all agreed on this, and I am sure it is right; but we should keep on reiterating it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for recognising one of the effects of the Liberal-Labour agreement—not pact. I can only say that it makes a very useful quotation for Saffron Walden and I thank the noble Lord very much for it. When the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, protested—as I have done on numerous occasions—that we suffer from too much legislation, how right he was. As I understand it, though, the next Conservative Government are committed to repealing practically the whole of the legislation which has been put on to the Statute Book by the Party on the other side of the House. Perhaps that is a good idea, but you cannot go in for massive repeals and at the same time say that you do not want any more legislation.
I am very much in favour of the prior scrutiny of Bills and legislative proposals. 182 In giving evidence to the Committee I expressed a preference for experimenting with one Parliamentary Bill affecting a limited number of Government Departments. On that occasion I instanced the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which was very controversial, but I think that it would have amply repaid prior scrutiny by a Select Committee of this House. The reason that I recommended in my evidence a very restricted experiment, limited to one Bill to begin with, was, first, because I want this experiment in some form to succeed. If we were to appoint a number of Select Committees matching policy areas, which is a very wide term, to scrutinise Bills and other proposals, I think we should be in danger of taking on far more than we can deal with successfully.
Secondly, if we extend ourselves over too great a field to begin with, we risk adding too large a burden to that already undertaken by the Civil Service, Ministers and advisers to Government Departments. Thirdly, we risk antagonising another place. This is a very delicate field. I am very much in favour of the two Houses working very closely together, with the minimum of antagonism between them. If we set up a number of different Committees, we shall inevitably be accused of meddling with legislation which is before the Commons. If, on the other hand, we delay our scrutiny until measures have left the Commons, we may well impose delay, should a large number of Committees of this House be operating at the same time.
I come back to the idea that the experiment should be limited. I have a different concept from that of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but I think it shows how indebted we are to the noble Lord and his Committee for throwing up this idea. We shall need to hold many more discussions before we get it right. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, deployed his case I realised that although in some respects we were together, in others we were quite opposed in concept. As I have said, I believe that the right answer is to undertake a restricted experiment in a limited field, confined to scrutinising perhaps one measure, or one limited area of policy at a time. If that proves to be fruitful, as I believe it will, then we shall have a secure foundation upon which to move forward and extend the system. 183 If, on the other hand, the experiment fails—and I do not think that it will—very little damage will have been done.
Where I depart from the concept put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is that one of the things I believe a scrutiny committee of the sort we have in mind might be able to do, is to achieve a greater measure of consensus in what otherwise might be very controversial legislation. I am not suggesting that total consensus can be obtained, but we have now demonstrated in the field in which I am particularly interested, of pensions, how it was possible, with good will on the part of the major Parties and the co-operation of all the different interests concerned, to lay the foundations of a pensions scheme in the Social Security Act 1975 which we believe to be capable of standing the test of time, with just a few adjustments from time to time.
For instance, it is possible that a Bill dealing with industrial democracy might be introduced in the next Session, judging by various pronouncements made by Ministers, and even by the Prime Minister, at the weekend. This would be something against which one would have to judge the ill-fated result of the Industrial Relations Act, the ill-fated reception of the Bullock Report, both majority and minority, and yet in this country there is a tremendous demand for some development in the field of industrial democracy, employee participation and greater worker involvement. There is tremendous support for developing something along these lines but on a practical basis. We know the terms of reference given to the Bullock Committee, with its acceptance of monopoly power in the hands of the unions, cannot possibly obtain anything like the widespread support which employee participation must have if it is to become an effective tool in a mixed economy. I am giving this merely as an illustration of what I believe might be achieved.
What I think is required is an opportunity for a Select Committee of this House to examine either the subject, or even a measure, on something like employee participation; to examine it with a minimum of prejudice and with a real desire to identify the common central ground on which a solid foundation could be laid. 184 I have been going a long time before anyone wanted to interrupt me!
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, I would not demur from that at all. I am trying to extend this concept. I believe the Defence Estimates could well be scrutinised, but I am trying to give an illustration of where we have a great deal of good will to get a solution and yet we have not got anything like a Select Committee of this House on which to work. We have the Bullock Committee which had its terms of reference dictated to it, and there may be subjects other than defence, but I come back to my point that I would not take on more than one at a time to begin with. Eventually this system might well be developed as it was developed in Canada, as I understand it, in the Australian Senate and in the United States of America. This sort of subject on industrial democracy I believe is far too important to be a football in the arena of politics. I believe that this House, in a series of limited experiments could, by the approach I have outlined, reduce the amount of adversary politics on this type of subject because we have here a wealth of experience from which to draw the membership of a Select Committee which could deal with this type of subject.
My plea is that we should not overload the machinery at the beginning. Let us talk about the subjects that we think we could adequately tackle; let us have a lot more debate, public and private. And, whatever we do, I think we should set up a small monitoring committee under the Chairman of Committees to see how the experiment is working against what we hoped to achieve when we started. I believe that is very important, whatever experiment we decide upon. My Lords, I welcome this debate. I hope we shall not commit ourselves to too ambitious an objective. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, may see fit to withdraw his Motion because I believe we have not yet quite got it right. We will get it right; this House is very good at doing so.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, in opening the debate on his Motion the 185 noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, reminded us of the origin of this report. It was an initiative taken by the Government of which he was then a Member, in the gracious Speech in November 1975:Proposals will be put forward for a major review of the practice and procedure of Parliament".—[Official Report, 19/11/75; col. 5.]That was said; it is on the record, and the undertaking was honoured by the establishment of your Lordships' Select Committee. The terms of reference of the Committee bear repetition. They were precise and they expressed what was in the minds of your Lordships at the time:That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the practice and procedure of the House and to make recommendations for the more effective performance of its functions".Therefore, we have had an opportunity to stand back over a period of more than a year and consider what we are doing as the second Chamber, and how we could do it better. I had the privilege of being appointed as a member of the Committee from the start, and in November of last year the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, joined us and was invited to take the Chair. We appreciated his willingness to do so. It is unusual for a Leader of the House who has set up a Committee to join it subsequently as an active working member. But he did so and as our chairman he made a very great contribution. Lord Shepherd has made many contributions to the work of this House over a long period of years. We do not always say what is in our minds to people whom we see regularly, but I believe this report will be valued and will be associated with his name in years to come.
In my own remarks I will confine myself to what is contained in Part III of the report, that is the part outlining a new committee structure for the consideration of Public Bills. It occupies only four pages, from page xv to page xviii inclusive, of the report. On this part of the report, as throughout, there was unanimity in the Committee. Indeed a sense of like-mindedness emerged early on and continued throughout. This made serving on the Committee a pleasure as well as a very interesting experience for all its members.
If we accept that everything is not perfect in the way in which legislation is handled by Parliament, and in particular in this House, which is our own responsibility, we then need to go on and analyse the situation and identify the weak spots. 186 In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, remarked that sometimes it is the people who operate a system, rather than the system itself, which is at fault. Of course that is true, but an institution and the individuals who are contained within it interact with each other. One can try to influence and move individuals by exhortation and persuasion, but human nature being what it is, my Lords, and original sin having continued over the period of time that it has in the history of mankind, it is often more profitable to alter the institutions.
The main weakness in our procedures at the moment lies in the handling of Public Bills in Committee. Let us just think about this for a moment, because the report's proposals need to be seen against this background. What are we doing at the Committee stage on Public Bills? We are doing again, and in much the same form, what the House of Commons has already done on all Bills except the small number which start in this House. There is a Minister at the Dispatch Box who is defending the Government, defending every clause, often every line. Sometimes he is a Minister from the Department concerned. The Leader of the House naturally tries to arrange this wherever he can, but, life being what it is, often the Minister is not attached to the sponsoring Department. He answers for the Government as a whole, but he is not a Departmental Minister. Consequently his ability to agree to any changes proposed across the Floor is greatly reduced. Next, we are often debating exactly the same Amendments as the Commons have debated. Sometimes they originate from the same special interest groups; or from Members of Parliament who are not satisfied with the outcome in the Commons and want to have another go here.
That is the general picture, and I would refer to one more weakness; that is, in my experience over the last 12 or 15 years, the Committee stage and the Report stage are getting more and more similar to each other. On Report we are tending to have a second Committee stage—the same speakers; usually the same Amendments; and often, I fear, the same replies. Consequently what we have is a procedure which is weak, which is not satisfactory, and which, in my opinion, does not reflect to the full the credit that the House can bring to the consideration of legislation.
187 Now, contrast this with what happens regarding the scrutiny of European Instruments. The European Communities Committee, a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, with its Sub-Committees, is performing a valuable service. It is recognised increasingly outside Parliament as an effective form of machinery for studying, and for taking evidence on, proposals originating from the European Communities. But it is more than that. What I have referred to is the external function. If we look at it from our own point of view, it has been an effective way of harnessing the specialist skills which exist in this House, and it provides a route by which, on behalf of the British Parliament, influence can be brought to bear on the framing of policy in Brussels.
There was a good example last week, of which the noble Baroness, Lady White, will be aware. The noble Lord, Lord Ashby, initiated a fascinating and authoritative debate on EEC environment policy as regards water standards for fish and for shellfish. This had been the subject of two reports published by our European Communities Committee. There are, of course, many other examples, and I think it is unnecessary to pursue the argument any further. We all know that the scrutiny of European Instruments has been a most successful development in the history of the House, and indeed in the history of the British Parliament.
In considering changes in the practice of any institution, it is wise to build on success. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, after careful thought, and after taking evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to harness this same approach and adapt it to the scrutiny of domestic legislation. It goes without saying that nobody on the Committee expected that the procedures which have been worked out over the last three years for the scrutiny of European Instruments could be applied without modification to the handling of domestic legislation. There would need to be careful consideration and study given to how best to initiate new, tentative, as I see it, experimental procedures which could be brought to bear on Public Bills.
We have not spelt out a scheme in detail in the report. It seemed to us that 188 a development on the lines I have briefly outlined, and which is more fully described in Part III of the report, would be a sensible and logical development. If approved in principle by the House, the way in which such a new approach to the handling of the Committee stages of Public Bills might be developed should be referred to the Procedure Committee so that it can then work out in detail how such a scheme could be brought into operation, on an experimental basis in the first instance.
In discussing this report in your Lordships' House in the last week or two, outside the Chamber but in the Lobbies and in the corridors, a number of questions have been raised as to how a Select Committee would operate in this circumstance or in that circumstance. These are not really questions for today. We should look at the issue of principle. Do we believe that we have an opportunity here to improve and strengthen our legislative procedures, or do we think that what we are now doing is perfectly satisfactory? If we conclude that there is an opportunity to improve our procedure; if we believe that the way to do it is to look at what is happening already as regards the scrutiny of European procedures; then it would be sensible to ask the Procedure Committee to take up the proposal and see how a more detailed working scheme can be established. That, my Lords, is a summary of the thinking behind the proposals contained in Part III of the report.
What are the objections? First, there is the question of administrative costs and staff. Second, would there be enough Peers to sit on such specialist Committees? Third, what would be the effect on Government Departments and the preparation of legislation? Finally, what would be the effect on relations between this House and another place, as aspect touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his own speech.
The first and second of these considerations are practical. They would need careful study by the Clerk and by the Administration Committee. But they have been overcome before; they were overcome when we set up the European Communities Committee. If the House wishes to move on an experimental basis 189 in the direction indicated in the report, nothing that as a Select Committee we heard in evidence, or in the inquiries that we made, suggested it would be impossible to meet these practical implications.
Then there are the interests of Government Departments, never keen to see an extension of Parliamentary activity. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to a debate—which I looked up, too—in 1973, when I spoke for the Government. That was the debate on Lord Maybray-King's report in which proposals were made, which have now been implemented, to set up the European Scrutiny Committees. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, led for the Opposition; Lord Maybray-King spoke, and so did others of your Lordships. I had been made aware, as no doubt the Leader of the House is today, of the views of Government Departments. I was told the proposals would place them in a situation of some embarrassment. They could be hauled up before a Committee of your Lordships, who would be poking their noses into all manner of Government business, and this was something which would not be welcomed. It has not happened like that. I accept it could have happened; it is a natural fear. But in practice it did not. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has already stressed, your Lordships are sensible people. We have had much experience in the handling of relations with Government Departments and the handling of witnesses, and in knowing how far we can go. Nobody now makes that particular criticism, and I have a hunch that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regard the European scrutiny procedures in this House as of considerable benefit to them in furthering the interests of Britain in the European Communities.
So what about relations with another place? They ebb and flow; they get hotter or cooler. They change. What we are talking about today is a reform that may last for many years ahead. To decide it on the basis of what may, or may not, be the relationship with the other place at one particular point in time would be short-sighted. The Commons have their job to do; we have ours. These jobs are different; much more different than many people believe. And the procedures too are different when you get down to study how each place works. I should like to see a House of Lords that complements 190 another place, and I believe that a reform in procedure on the lines advocated would help us in that direction.
§ My Lords, the second Motion which is on the Order Paper today is in my name. It is the Motion to which Lord Carrington referred, and it reads as follows: "To move to resolve, That:
§ (1) In the next session of Parliament there shall be established one or more Select Committees matching policy areas in order to scrutinise Bills and other proposals within those areas as proposed in Part III of the First Report from the Select Committee of this House on Practice and Procedure…; and
§ (2) The implementation of this resolution be referred to the Procedure Committee".
§ It has been agreed through the usual channels that we should have one debate this afternoon, and not two. Other business follows, and in any event it seems more appropriate that we should consider the principles of the report in a single debate. The Motion has therefore been put down on the Order Paper today as a test of opinion. It stands in my name, but it is a Motion on behalf of the Committee as a whole. Nobody is trying to ram it down your Lordships' throats. We felt that the best thing to do was to put a Motion down on the Order Paper and then to listen to the debate.
§ I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and other Members of the Committee who are to speak, plus several noble Lords who are present but who have denied themselves the opportunity to take part, are keenly anticipating hearing reactions to the proposals contained in the report. At the conclusion of this debate the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I, and other Members of the Committee, will decide in the light of the comments made by noble Lords in the debate whether or not to move the Motion. If it is moved, it will be moved formally and without debate.
§ In conclusion, as I said at the outset, the proporals contained in the report of the Select Committee are designed to make the House more effective in its functions. I believe that we have an opportunity today to adapt our procedures, as has happened so often down the years. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the suspicion of change, but your Lordships' House has not normally been reluctant to consider experiment. Nor has any noble Lord who has spoken 191 in the debate so far shown reluctance to envisage an experiment. I hope that your Lordships will feel able to take a step forward today. It could have a profound effect upon the role of the second Chamber in the future.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord DARLING of HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I welcome the report, as I am sure everyone who has taken part or will take part in the debate will do. It contains many constructive proposals which are mostly to be found in Parts I and II. As I want to devote the short amount of time at my disposal to Part III we shall have to take the first Parts as read. However, I should like to make one comment about the general view that there should be less legislation. Certainly from the way things are going there is likely to be less controversial legislation of a large and wide-ranging character, but I think that something like Parkinson's Law will operate here: as we drop the bigger Bills, little Bills will fill the time.
If noble Lords who wish to continue to press the view that there should be less legislation would like to undertake a little exercise of looking through the requests for legislation that are made in this House at Question Time and during debates and add them up at the end of a Session, they will find that they have given the Government—that is, any Government—a programme of legislation that will last for the lifetime of a Parliament. Of course, requests for legislation of that kind are very much greater in the other place. Therefore, the problems that we face will not be solved by having less legislation—that would be impossible.
I quite agree that the procedures of the House could be greatly improved, so that we could take on board a great deal of legislation and deal with it more quickly than we can at present. To that end we must make more use of standing or legislative committees and take more of the committee work away from the Floor of this Chamber. But the proposal in Part III of the report, to set up a series of, in effect, wide-ranging legislative committees which also have powers of investigation, would delay legislation and in my view would lead to a great deal of confusion. The mix-up of functions would 192 lead to difficulties about the composition of committees, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has pointed out. It would be a wrong approach to have the same people investigating and then dealing in Committee with the legislation.
We must remember that the Scrutiny Committees dealing with EEC legislation—which is usually in draft form—in effect are advisory committees to this House, the wider public and the European Parliament, and do extremely useful work. But they do not take on the function of legislation; they are advisory committees. I should like to see the model that has been so successfully established in regard to the EEC Scrutiny Committees extended to domestic legislation, but not in this form. I do not have time to go into all the difficulties that I can envisage but I shall try to mention one or two.
I do not know whether the assumption was made that, because the committee Members in another place may not be properly informed about the subjects which they have under discussion, legislation from the other place should be examined in this investigatory fashion by a Select Committee of this House while the Bill continues its passage through the other place. But I am sure that that was not the assumption. It would be entirely wrong. I can speak only from my own experience. Several noble Lords know that in the 1950s I gained a completely spurious reputation, in dealing with what is now called consumer legislation, for being extremely knowledgeable. I was supposed to know everything that could be known about weights and measures, consumer credit and—as my noble friend the Leader of the House will remember—about abattoirs and meat marketing. The reason for that was that we were so well supplied with information. All Members of the Committee carried out their own investigations on the basis of the information they received. The idea that Commons Committees are not well informed—if that idea is current—should be washed away completely because it is quite untrue.
But a danger arises here. The interests who supply Members of a Commons Select Committee with information and who have made themselves available to be questioned will not at the same time want to go through the same process in this House. That is a conflict which is 193 likely to arise. I remember it arising in the case of a submission that was made to the Prices and Incomes Board—which was unfortunately and rather stupidly abolished—over an inquiry into detergents. At the same time the two leading firms, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble, were put under investigation by the Monopolies Commission. The top managements of both firms came along and explained how difficult things had been made for them in that they had to provide information to two bodies at the same time and submit to the investigatory procedure of the Monopolies Commission when they were giving evidence to the Prices and Incomes Board. I am sure that that kind of confusion should not arise from the proposals now being advanced.
Therefore, I suggest that it is quite wrong to propose that the specialist Select Committee should deal with Commons Bills while they are going through the Commons. Of course, there is a conflict of interests of Ministers and civil servants—as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has pointed out—being called upon to give evidence to a Select Committee of the Lords at the same time as they are supposed to he dealing with a Bill in the Commons. It just would not work. It is far too big a burden to place on them. It is an impossible arrangement even within the restricted range of policies that has been proposed for this Select Committee.
It is easy to advocate, as I have done in the past, that we should have a larger number of Select Committees in both Houses (possibly working together where-ever possible) to cover subject matters, policy matters, as is now proposed; but difficulties arise about staffing, about terms of reference, and so on. Again, as my noble friend the Leader of the House can, if he wishes, point out, he too was a great advocate of Select Committees when he was Leader of the other House, but he had a difficult job on when he became Minister of Agriculture and a proposal was put forward that we should have a subject committee on agriculture. He turned it down, for very good reasons.
To have a wide-ranging investigating committee over a wide-ranging subject like agriculture, with most of the material, the information, that the Committee is going to be working on provided by the 194 Ministry, would place too great a burden both on Ministers and on their civil servants. I think that we can get over these difficulties. I am in favour of the Select Committee idea. It has to be refined. It has to be restricted in a rather narrower way than has so far been proposed.
On the question of staffing, as I think your Lordships will know, I was chairman of a little informal committee that was looking into the provision, or the development, of computerised information services for both Houses. Quite out of the blue we received a document of evidence, really a cry from the heart—in fact you could almost see on the paper the teardrops of the author of the document—from an expert adviser brought in to help the clerks deal with the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and pointing out how impossible the task had become to provide the Committee with the kind of information they wanted in the way they wanted it presented. It could not be solved by adding more staff. They had got the staff they wanted, but what they wanted were the tools. They wanted a bigger data bank of information that a computer could use, and then they wanted the computer services, so that not only in the Libraries of both Houses but also in Committees the information would be provided by computer services.
I think as we extend our Committee system we shall have to work in this way. But we are years away from the kind of service that must be provided if these Committees are going to work successfully. Therefore, I should like to support the view expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, that this Motion should be withdrawn so that we can look at it again. Let us not turn it down completely; let us look at it again. In its present form, any Select Committee set up like this would be unworkable, and it is important indeed that before we proceed further on these lines we should wait for the report of the Commons Committee on Procedure so that we can fit our proposals into whatever comes forward from the other place.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, speaking as an Independent from these Benches I would not presume to follow on what the noble Lord, Lord Darling, 195 has been saying with his great experience as a politician and in the other place. But it strikes me, coming here, relatively speaking, as a new boy, that there are some things that the House does extraordinarily well and other things it does a little less well. I was struck by the efficiency of your Lordships' procedures through Select Committees in the European sector, which has already been referred to; in the opposed Private Bill sector, where I have had the privilege of serving, and where it seems to me admirable that that particular technique of the Select Committee should be used where what you want to get at is the facts, where there is a desire for agreement among the Members, and something of a judicial aspect in the way you go about your work. The Select Committee on the Bill of Rights is in too early days to say whether that is going to be a success or not, but at any rate it has meant that we have had the pleasure of hearing from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and the noble and learned Lord of another kind.
The Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, which was set up in the time of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is worth referring to because there you had an all-Party committee that was established in an area that was not Party political controversial but was thought to be important, and the more we worked at it the more important we came to think it was. It led to a rather memorable debate here in which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, made his maiden speech, and, perhaps still more surprising, it brought from the Government a promise of a White Paper which was, in due course, produced. In other words, it was an example of something at the pre-legislative stage which had great value, and in which their Lordships showed part of their characteristic skill in providing experts of many different kinds.
However, it is in the realm of Public Bill legislation that, as a newcomer, I am not as impressed as I am with those examples I have given. It seems to me that at the outset one should accept the fact that, except for the ritual dances and variations thereon, the Government of the day are not going to start many of their important Bills in this place. There is, therefore, going to be the congestion from that source, and from various 196 others, and there is not much that we can do by our procedure except to insist, so far as we can, on Her Majesty's Government, of whatever Party, being reasonable.
There is this other difficulty, that when a controversial Bill comes to this House from the other place it seems to me wholly right that, whichever Party in office has produced it, those who think it a bad Bill should do their best, frankly through the guise of improving it, to destroy as much of it as possible. Those political fisticuffs I do not think we ought to try to limit; and even if we did try, I do not think we should be successful—certainly not through the sort of techniques which are produced by this Select Committee report we are discussing this afternoon.
But there is everything to be said for taking seriously the unsatisfactory state of play in our present procedures. Leaving aside that legislation which we cannot improve very much, and which will have to be voted down after a great deal of time has been spent here trying to amend it, there are areas, both in controversial Bills and certainly in a large number of Bills which are to some extent controversial but in other respects not, of the kind that I was referring to earlier, which the Opposition again seek to destroy, but where we could do much better if we adopted the technique of the Select Committee and used that as a supplement to our regular procedures.
As I see it, what the Committee is so wisely suggesting to us is that we should have much better Second Reading debates if, despite the difficulties of getting entangled with the other House, or civil servants, or Ministers—which I did not read the Committee as suggesting we should do at the pre-legislative stage while the Bill is still in the House of Commons; I did not think that it was suggested that our new type Select Committee would call for witnesses, certainly not for Ministers or civil servants—a Committee mainly watched the proceedings in the other place, spotted where there were matters that the Government had promised that they would try to meet, and perhaps might deal with in the House of Lords, and in general produce a report. It is suggested that that should happen before our Second Reading debates here on controversial important Bills; that it 197 would guide us as to the areas which had not been discussed in the other place (because of the guillotine or for any other reason), areas to which we should particularly pay attention, and in general illuminate our discussions on Second Reading.
That same Committee, strengthened in the way suggested in the report, and added to by other members, would then proceed to do its job in a way which would enlighten our Report stage procedure on the Bill by exploiting the technique of our Select Committee, which has been so successful already, in hearing witnesses and in focussing attention on important points which have not been dealt with in the other place; in my view not trying to resolve highly controversial matters which, in the course of the discussion in the Committee, revealed themselves as such, for those would much better be left, with the illumination of the Committee on the facts, for debate here and for the proper political fisticuffs at the Report stage.
For these reasons I think we should concentrate on improving our procedure in the legislative field. We should, as far as possible, confine ourselves to that and make as certain as possible that that experiment is successful. That leads me to my difficulty in relation to Lord Windlesham's suggestion. That we should have one experiment with one such Select Committee on one Bill seems to me wholly admirable. I feel that it would be better not even at the outset to ask that Select Committee to do more than examine the Bill. However, it has been suggested, and it might well be possible, that they might, soon after the experiment had started, be allowed to go further and look at things in the policy area of the Bill.
Let us make this as simple an experiment as possible; let us make it an experiment of little ambition and concentrate on one suitable Bill. I think the usual channels would have an unusually difficult task in selecting one, but good luck to them! But let there be an experiment made with one Bill in the hope that the experiment is greeted on all sides with applause. The next stage would be to extend the remit of that Committee, if it was asked to do another Bill, to cover the 198 policy area concerned; and a second Committee might be added until one had perhaps obtained the whole apparatus of six, seven or eight, which seems to me a very ambitious programme to embark on at this stage.
When the experiment—as I say, limited if possible—has been proved a success, I should welcome the extension of this technique of the Committee to cover matters both of delegated legislation and, still more, of matters which are not yet legislative or pre-legislative but which are matters of important policy. The Sport and Leisure Select Committee is in some sense a prototype of the kind of thing I see these Committees doing when the experiment has been proved successful. To mention the arts, that seems to me an excellent area in which such a Select Committee would be able to do the valuable work which your Lordships are well qualified to do; to carry on, as it were, the debate we had the other afternoon and keep the matter under consideration.
In all this, the calling of witnesses and evidence seems to me particularly important. Here I echo what Lord Windlesham said; I do not think we need have any fear that civil servants will find themselves embarrassed to death by this kind of procedure. On the contrary, I think they will welcome it. Of course it depends on common sense on the part of the Examiners. I have myself enjoyed no more "in my past bad life" than I have my experiences with the Public Accounts Committee in another place, where the greatest consideration was always shown one. The temptation was that one might show off because one happened to know what was the result of the income and expenditure on, say, postcards sold at the Victoria and Albert Museum. That was a question I remember being asked when the total Vote was some £3,000 million and I happened to know the answer and got it nearly right; nobody on the Committee was able to correct one, and one was able to correct it in the report before it was published. Seriously, however, I think civil servants would very much welcome the opportunity of explaining why a particular point was before us, and they could always explain, if necessary, why it was a question they could not mention because it was a straight political matter and they must ask the Minister.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I am only too conscious of my lack of experience of the procedure of this House and the only reason I intervene in this debate is because I can claim a certain experience of procedure in another place, particularly in the context of Select Committees. I was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—to which the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, just referred; I am fascinated to hear now from him the way in which he succeeded in fudging his evidence—and I was also, when the late Richard Crossman was engaged in reforming the Select Committee procedure, asked by him to be chairman of the Committee of Chairmen of Select Committees. It is in the light of that experience that I venture to offer a suggestion to the House.
My suggestion is that we should put rather less emphasis than the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and his Committee have put on using the Select Committee in connection with legislation and much more in using the Select Committee procedure in connection with the scrutiny of administration and policy. It is certainly there, in the Select Committees of the House of Commons—as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal knows in one respect; it has already been referred to almost too well—that the strength of the House of the Commons over the Executive lies.
In this House we have the advantage of including in our membership noble Lords expert in almost every subject connected with Government, technical matters, the sciences or the arts. We could, in fact, man on any conceivable subject a powerful Select Committee which would be a very effective weapon in scrutinising and controlling Government. At a time when all commentators agree that it is necessary to restore the strength of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive, I believe that Select Committees of this House could play a very effective part.
That is subject to one condition: if the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons is as successful as I believe it to be, and as its public reputation suggests it is, this is very largely due not to successive members, still less to successive chairmen, but to the fact that it is supported by a very powerful staff, in this case by the staff of the Exchequer and 200 Audit Department. I suggest that if your Lordships' House decides to go along the road of setting up effective Select Committees to scrutinise particular areas of Government, administration and policy, it is essential that that Select Committee should be supported by an effective staff able to get into the Departments, look at the files and deal with civil servants on even terms.
I am bound to say that I thought Lord Redcliffe-Maud took a rather idealistic view of the attitude of senior civil servants appearing before Parliamentary Select Committees. I can only recall that when I was a Minister my Permanent Secretary always showed considerable caution in doing anything which might arouse the attention of the Public Accounts Committee, while he was always singularly robust in respect of matters which I would have to brazen out on the Floor of the House of Commons; that is an experience which differs a little from that of the noble Lord. However, I do not want to waste the time of the House. The point I want to leave with noble Lords is that the area of scrutiny of Government activity and administration is one which is both appropriate to a revising Chamber and one which, by our function and composition—and here I differ a little, as he knows, from my noble friend Lord Carrington—this House is singularly well-fitted to achieve.
Mention has been made of the Select Committee on the Scrutiny of European Affairs. I had the experience of being a witness in front of that body and it was a very humbling experience; I came from it realising that I knew a great deal less on the subject on which I had been giving evidence than I thought when I went in. But there was a compensation, in that the Select Committee produced a most powerful report which had a singular effect in squashing a rather insiduous attempt being made by the Commission in Brussels to assert control over British civil aviation. It was with a certain macabre satisfaction that I observed that the official of the Commission, whom our own Select Committee succeeded in thwarting, almost immediately afterwards left the Commission, returned to his native Italy, and was returned to the Italian Chamber on the Communist ticket.
I have only one other point that I want to make. It touches once again 201 on the matter to which I referred in connection with my noble friend, regarding the composition of this House. I believe that it is our procedure that prevents the composition of this House asserting the control and demonstrating the effectiveness which the personal quality, calibre, and experience of noble Lords otherwise qualifies them to do. That is why I have stressed very strongly this point about the increasing use of the Select Committee procedure.
But there is one area into which I go with my noble friend; that is a matter which no one can deal with except, of course, the Prime Minister of the day. My noble friend Lord Windlesham referred to the fact that on legislation we so often have to face a representative of the Government who is not a Minister in the Department concerned. I have an immense admiration for the Lords in Waiting, who dash from seeing off the President of the Seychelles in order to attend a couple of memorial services on behalf of Her Majesty, and then arrive here to take part in a debate on a controversial Bill, dealing with a subject of which they have no Departmental experience at all. I think that their flexibility and adroitness are quite extraordinary; but it means that they have not the authority to make a concession or to accept an Amendment, which is inherent in a Minister actually in the Department and working very closely with its chief.
If there is any suggestion that our legislative procedure needs improving—and I think it does—I would suggest that it should be not through an extension of the Select Committee procedure into this area but by asking successive Prime Ministers to realise that this, also, is a House of Parliament, and that legislation would be better conducted here, in the interests not only of Parliament but of the Government themselves, if perhaps a larger number of Ministers directly from Departments are seated on the Bench alongside the Lord Privy Seal.
I will close with an example of what can happen—and I do not know whether noble Lords recall it. It affects no present Lord in Waiting. Some years ago a Lord in Waiting was plunged into the situation which I have described. He read the Departmental brief through, and was glad 202 to see that he had got to the last paragraph, which he read out. It read:The argument here is a bit thin, but it should suffice for their Lordships".
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, having listened to the speeches since the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke, I cannot help thinking that we are perhaps debating this matter at a period when, around the corner, considerable constitutional changes may be taking place. I have in mind the fact that in a year or two, I suppose, that we shall have a type of Government in Scotland, in Wales and, maybe, in Northern Ireland. I am sure that that could result in changes having to take place here and in another place. However, we are dealing with the position as it is, rather than as it may be, though I do not think that, constitutionally, matters today are precisely as they were perhaps four or five years ago. The changes are there; and they will come rather rapidly.
Whatever the result of the next General Election, I think that both of the two main political Parties will wish to do something in the way of reform of this House. It could vary from the "Off with their heads" school, to the "Leave them alone, they are harmless" school. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has indicated on a number of occasions—and reference to this has also been made by my noble friend Lord Champion—there are other ideas which fall between those two schools of thought. Over the years, we have been used in this Chamber and in the other place to thinking in terms of two main Parties. But those two main Parties, while still existing in considerable strength, perhaps have divisions within themselves. In addition, there are three or four—maybe even five—other Parties, each of which could get a fair amount of support when we go to the polls.
I am speaking here for myself, and for no one else, and if we mean anything by democracy—and, after all, every country in the world considers itself to be democratic—then I believe that we must think beyond the procedure of Elections; that is, beyond the first-past-the-post idea. I know that this is not very popular, but I believe that it will have to come. It is much more likely to come quickly in a devolved assembly in Scotland or in Wales, 203 and, when it does come, the composition of Parliament will be different, and the composition and procedure of both Houses of Parliament are equally likely also to be different.
However, I digress from the report which is in front of us, and perhaps I should now concentrate on things as they are, and not as they may be. From my experience Leaders of the House of Commons, present and past, would all wish —and have all tried very hard—to start more legislation in this Chamber, and they would like to start it quite early in the Parliamentary Session. But, as the Report itself points out, the difficulties are considerable. Apart from the financial restrictions—money resolutions, with which we are all familiar—there is the other difficult problem that all Ministers like to introduce their own Bills in another place, and that, too, is understandable; and of course the other place is the elected Chamber.
I do not know what can be done to get legislation to this Chamber more quickly at the beginning of a Session. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made reference to the Gracious Speech. He could not see any reason why major Bills mentioned in the Gracious Speech should not come to this Chamber at once. I can tell him the answer so far as I was concerned in 1964: they were thoughts, they were not legislation, at that time. Very often, proposals in the Gracious Speech are not much more than a twinkle in the eye of a Minister or anyone within the Party prior to the Election. Here again, there is a problem regarding Parliamentary draftsmen. Anyone who, like myself, has been chairman of a legislation committee knows of the pressures from every Government Department to get a Bill through—and through quickly. Such a job is not only unpopular, but almost impossible.
I do not feel that it is fair that we should be landed with major Bills towards the end of a Session in July, as we all know happened so recently, but I honestly do not know the solution to that situation. The suggestion made to the Select Committee—which is covered in its report—for a carry-over of legislation fills me with dismay. If one imagines a Government with a small majority, as this one has at the present moment, being forced to take 204 a controversial Bill from Session to Session, if necessary, the carry-over idea would simply result in the Government of the day not getting their legislation through. It has been suggested, too, that it might apply, perhaps, to Private Bills and not to Public Bills. It is easy enough to introduce a Private Bill in the other House or in this House, but it is very much harder to get it through the subsequent stages; and if they were allowed to carry on from Session to Session, the accumulation of Private Bills from any one Session would simply clog up the next Session.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him and to point to the difference between Private Bills and Private Members' Bills? Private Bills can carry over; Private Members' Bills are subject to the Parliament Act and cannot carry over.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, I was referring, of course, to Private Members' Bills, and I thank the noble Earl for that correction. Private Members' Bills are quite simple to introduce, and are introduced time and time again, but they could very easily clog up a legislative Session. I think perhaps a solution to that—and it would not be unpopular—would be to have a sabbatical year when we had no legislation at all except, perhaps, some consolidation; but I cannot see any Government agreeing to that. I have often felt, while disagreeing with Governments when I have been in Opposition and sometimes with my colleagues when in Government, that a blockage of legislation is a bad thing for the country. People outside never understand it, and if we had a system to carry over from Session to Session it would not be understood and would be disastrous.
However, I think time could be saved in another place—really, it is not our business to tell them what to do, but this is a view I have held for a long time—if their Bills were timetabled from the beginning, and not when they run into trouble. There is nothing wrong with a timetable Motion, or a guillotine as it is usually called. Such Motions have been with us for over 80 years. But the timetabling of a Bill, controversial or not, by a balanced Committee of the House in another place before the Second Reading of that Bill—looking at the Bill and deciding how many 205 days should be spent in Committee, on Report stage, Third Reading and so on—is, I believe, workable, and would prevent a guillotine at the worst possible moment, when the Bill is at its most controversial and one has got into the greatest possible difficulty. It would help us, too, hopefully, I think, in getting major Bills a little earlier in the Session. The idea of time-tabling Bills from the beginning is an idea of mine that I have been putting forward for years, and until I had a "Hear! hear!" on my left I did not think I had one supporter.
There are actions we could take, I think, to help at the moment here. I think life would be a little easier for Ministers and for the House generally if Amendments to be moved at Committee stage and Report stage were tabled a little earlier than they are now. It is not unknown or unusual for Amendments to be tabled on the eve of a Committee stage or Report stage, and—we have had a recent example of that, of course. It would be much better if it were done with a reasonable amount of time—a long weekend perhaps, so that Members of the House could have an opportunity to look at the Amendments. I have never really understood why Amendments are considered subsequent to the Report stage. It does not happen in another place. I have had it explained to me a number of times here. I must be dull in this respect, because I still do not understand it. I still feel that if one completed amending a Bill on Report stage that is all that would be necessary. But there we are: the House thinks differently. In the absence of any form of selection of Amendments—and, again, I know the House is horrified at the idea of selecting Amendments for debate—I would favour what is suggested in the report, which is a more extensive grouping of Amendments.
I come now to Part III, about which I am not at all happy, and that concerns the setting up of policy Select Committees. I know that they are called Select Committees in the area of policy, but they are policy Select Committees. These, I understand—and it has been pointed out once or twice—could mean that a Bill could be considered by the proposed Select Committee in this House immediately following its Second Reading in another place. It has been suggested that it would not happen to controversial 206 Bills. Who can decide what Bill is controversial or not until it starts on its journey? I would agree that a report from the Select Committee on policy in regard to a particular Bill would add to greater knowledge of the subject-matter, and, having taken evidence from outside bodies, it would be of value to the people who read the report from the Select Committee and the people taking part in it. But it does nothing, in my view, to help the more rapid consideration of Bills when they finally come before this House, because I understand that after Second Reading here a Bill could be sent back to the Select Committee again instead of being taken on the Floor of the House at Committee stage. But, surely, to enable all Members of the House to consider the Bill fully, you must have a much longer Report stage; so there is no time saved at all.
My main point, of course, is that we are a revisionary Chamber, and not a policy-making body. Just imagine for one moment a Bill which, having had a difficult Second Reading in another place, then goes to a Committee in that House, either on the Floor of the House or upstairs. We here, in the House of Lords, operating this proposed scheme, would at the same time have that Bill before a Select Committee, considering its policy aspects and listening to evidence from national organisations, from Ministers, from civil servants, et cetera, while the Commons are themselves taking that Bill through Committee. I cannot conceive of anything calculated to create more trouble between the two Houses than that. It could do nothing other than create dissension.
Paragraph 40 of the report says that the new proposal would provide an opportunity to influence policy. I believe that policy is for the political Parties and for the elected Chamber, but not for us. We are told in evidence given to the Committee that it is difficult for members of the European Communities to discuss legislation in ways different from our own. That may be so, but we do not have to fall into line with everything that is done in Europe. I have no personal knowledge at all of how the European Parliament works. Many years ago, for something like three years, I was a member of the Council of Europe, and my main memory 207 of it is one of a proliferation of committees and an overwhelming mass of paper work.
Finally, my Lords, I hope that if the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is taken to a vote the House will reject it, and will reject any idea of Select Committees on policy, because I think they would be extremely harmful to the relationship between the two Houses. Nevertheless, I thank the chairman and members of the Committee which produced this report, which has given us the opportunity for an excellent debate.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Lord FULTON
My Lords, as the first member of the Select Committee on Practice and Procedure to speak after Lord Windlesham, I should like to associate myself very warmly with the tribute that the noble Lord paid to the chairman. Speaking from these Benches, I was apprehensive about the perils of navigation near Scylla and Charybdis, but I was rescued from these fears by, I think, a wonderful display of robust, creative judgment and a constructive lead to the Committee from the chairman, and I am very grateful to him. As the first member of the Scrutiny Committee to speak, I should like warmly to associate myself and, I am sure, the other members with the good wishes that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, conveyed to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, in her present illness.
I have already indicated some grounds on which I thought it was right for me to intervene in this debate. I should like to say a few words about the experience of sitting on the EEC Scrutiny Committee. I am a believer that the concrete example sometimes tends to clear away some areas of otherwise controversial fog. I should also like to do what has not been done, to say a few words, very briefly, about some aspects of the nature of bicameral legislation. May I recapitulate the European experience? The Scrutiny Committee reports directly to your Lordships' House. It has seven Sub-Committees and the total membership at a recent count stood at some 80 noble Lords. The Lord Chairman of the parent Committee carries out a preliminary scrutiny 208 of legislative proposals and other documents emanating from the EEC, eliminating the trivial and ephemeral; and, from there, the surviving proposals go to the appropriate Sub-Committee or Committees, each of which has its own areas of policy: one or more from agriculture, finance, industry, trade, energy, transport, conservation, social affairs, employment and education. Some Sub-Committees, reflecting the primary economic character of the EEC, have very much heavier burdens than others.
However, perhaps an example from one of the less-burdened Sub-Committees on which I have served throughout would give some concreteness to the conception that is under consideration as a model or possible model. The Sub-Committee on Social Affairs, Employment and Education, following the issue of a Consulatative Document from Brussels, is currently studying the problem of youth unemployment in the light of the disproportionately high incidence of joblessness among the under 25s throughout all Member States. Our report on that sombre and, perhaps, persistent cloud over-hanging the whole of the industrial West will soon be with Members of this House for debate in the autumn.
The Sub-Committee has among its members those who have ripened their judgment through distinguished service in the other place, in most aspects of the social services, in local government, in industry and in the professions, including education at every stage and level. I believe that they would support my own view that the experience we have gained from all our investigations has been a singularly rich one. There has been something for each of us to take; for example, from the study of the problem I have already referred to. The underemployment and unemployment of the under 25s is, in part, cyclical and, to that extent, short to medium term in duration; in part, structural and, to that extent, long-term; in part, social in that it hits most savagely the unsuccessful, the unskilled, the already disadvantaged from whatever cause; and, in part, too, social through the threat it directs at the fabric of our society. In part, it is demographical, the product of the birth rate prevalent 15 or 16 years ago, and ineluctable until some years have passed; in part, educational because of our persistent weakness in this country in failing 209 to contrive a satisfactory transition from school to work. So, for all of us, there were adjustments to be made in views formed from our partial experience.
My Lords, I must add that the Committee and the Committees are served by the devoted ability and skill we have come to take for granted from the Clerk of the Parliaments and his colleagues. We enjoy, too, advice and help from outside assessors of high standing in their professional circles. We take evidence from Government Departments, sometimes from Ministers; past and present high officials of the EEC; from outside bodies with interests in our field of study; voluntary bodies and charities; from young and old; from the victims as well as those who run the remedial services, and from individuals and groups.
My Lords, I have one or two further brief remarks to make. First, again to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that the Scrutiny Committee, although given most generous terms of reference by your Lordships, has only limited initiative depending, as it does, from the proposals that emerge from the EEC; and that the EEC, so far at any rate, interpreted fairly strictly the limited area of its jurisdiction laid down in the Treaty of Rome. Secondly, it is the view of the Scrutiny Committee expressed in the Memorandum of Evidence printed in the report we are discussing today that the procedure which treats the study of problems arising from EEC initiatives as separate and distinct from those arising from domestic legislation will, sooner rather than later, prove untenable.
My last comment on this topic is to reaffirm not only the value of the experience for those who have served on these Committees, but also to venture the opinion that the House has added to its traditional inheritance of the highest legal talent in the land, a new instrument for harnessing other great resources of expertise of the House, combining, as they do, the widest range of experience of the national life with a formidable range of knowledge and insights most needed to illuminate the problems that lie ahead.
If I may trespass for a few minutes more on your Lordships' time, I should like to end what I have to say with a reference to the working elsewhere of bicameral legislation. In the great debate at the start of 210 the American democracy which we have celebrated within the last two years, the survival of the Union was seen to depend upon the reconciliation between the claims, on the one hand, of the States (particularly the small States) and, on the other, the claims of universal, equal suffrage, a principal which favoured the influence and power of the populous States.
In the legislative arrangements finally arrived at the Senate was composed of two Members of each State in the Union, irrespective of population; the Members of the House of Representatives were chosen by equal suffrage. So it has been since. But other important arrangements were also made, the consequences of which were less clear at the time. Senators were elected for six years, one-third to be elected every two years. The whole of the House of Representatives was to come up for election every two years. Thus, from the start, the Senator was endowed with, as it were, a longer range of vision than his Congressional colleague, the Member of the House, longer even in theory than the President who had no assurance of a longer period of Office than four years. From this beginning—and no doubt for other reasons which may well have included a system of investigative committees—the Senate built for itself not only a special kind of influence but offered a particular service to American Government and politics without which the United States would have been the poorer, as would our own continent and country at critical moments in history.
My Lords, my point now is not, however, the large constitutional one, but simply to underline the connection between the length of tenure and, particularly, the time scale that goes with it, what I have called the length of vision, and the kind of service that a Legislature can contribute to the common good. It has no doubt often occurred to many of your Lordships, as it has to me, that immunity from the need to seek election or re-election, which we in this House enjoy, should perhaps be balanced by a self-imposed obligation to look at our national problems in a context that stretches beyond the normal lifetime of a Parliament.
This is not to speak critically of the habit of all democratic Governments to concentrate on the tasks that can be 211 effectively dealt with in a Government's expectation of life. Democratic accountability insists upon it. But there is ample evidence of new issues arising: the diminishing supply of natural resources; the problems of energy; conservation of the environment; the relationship between the rich and the poor countries of the world. These and many others have to be recognised from afar. They need a steady and concerted attention, more sustained and lasting than most problems that have beset us in the past.
Of course we are a political House with only two Lobbies, not a research institute, a super Brookings; nor are we required alone to shoulder the responsibility for building the new Jerusalem. But is there not a strong case for us to recognise the need in the management of our own business to do what we are specially well qualified to do, to give some of our minds to the more distant horizons of our times and to provide ourselves with appropriate instruments to help in laying the foundations on which those who have to take decisions can more safely build?
It is in this context that I see the proposal we are discussing today. I expect that most of us will confess that we are perhaps a trifle elderly for the tasks that are being prescribed for us; that too many of us are looking back on all or most of our careers. It is not easy to see a practical remedy for that because I suppose it is a fact of nature. For those who are bearing responsibility now that has been borne in the past by so many of your Lordships' House with the greatest distinction, who will be bearing that responsibility in the future, and who are pre-occupied in doing things that we have to think about, the experience of the Scrutiny Committee offers encouragement in this respect. Those who are working in the heat of the day seem gladly to have found time to explain their difficulties and consulted us in the cause of it. In doing so, they are contributing their sense of urgency and their acceptance of present and coming responsibility to the qualities with which, in full measure, your Lordships can enrich the national debate. I commend the report to your Lordships' sympathetic attention.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, as a rather recently joined member of the 212 Select Committee on Practice and Procedure, I should like to confirm my agreement with this, its first report, and with the new breed of Committee which has aroused most interest this afternoon. When it was first suggested, my immediate reaction was to be utterly against it. But I gradually came to see the immense possibilities. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and my noble friend Lord Windlesham have dealt with it so thoroughly that it is not necessary for me to say any more except perhaps this. When this strange new animal becomes more familiar, I do not believe that it will be seen as a threat to another place. To monitor the progress of a Bill, while it is still down the corridor, is not some rather suspect form of interference, or even spying, but a genuine attempt to familiarise this House, in advance, with the views and opinions expressed there. What better compliment could be paid by the revising, to the Executive, Chamber?
I hope, my Lords, that with the preoccupation shown over this one aspect, your Lordships will not lose sight of the rest of the report. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has spoken very strongly on the paragraphs of the report which stress the paramount importance of this House having enough time and, perhaps more important, enough time between stages, to give proper consideration to Government Bills. I submitted a paper on this to my colleagues on the Committee which appears as an appendix to the report, and I am not going to commit the solecism of quoting myself. But I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Carrington emphasise that, during the closing stages of last Session, your Lordships were asked to work under a pressure that was quite intolerable and that must not occur again.
But I should like to concentrate on the parts of the report that stress the importance of your Lordships observing the conventions of this House. However exciting new ideas to increase the efficiency of the House may be, they are as nothing compared to the remedies that are available to your Lordships for the taking. Last year, the Procedure Committee brought out a booklet called Brief Guide to the Procedure and Practice of the House of Lords. For some months I have had an Unstarred Question down, under 213 "No Day Named" on the Order Paper, seeking to draw attention to it, but this seems to be a convenient opportunity for me to raise the matter, without taking up the time of the House for a separate debate.
Some of your Lordships may have noticed this little booklet in the Printed Paper Office. It is of a convenient size and shape. Its outside cover is in House of Lords red with the title in lettering of a pleasing style. But it also has an inside, and my observations over the past few months lead me to the conclusion that some of your Lordships have not penetrated this far.
I should particularly like to draw your Lordships' attention to Section 9 which deals with conduct in the Chamber and rules of debate. This was designed as a sort of Highway Code for learner Peers, but, like the Highway Code, it could, with advantage, be studied by the more experienced each time they apply for renewal of their licence. Section 9 of this booklet opens with general remarks. The first of these I must admit is inaccurate. It says: "On entering the Chamber, Lords should bow to the Throne". Your Lordships do not bow to the Throne, but rather to the Cloth of Estate, which lies somewhere above and behind the Throne. Nobody quite knows where it is; nobody quite knows what it is; nobody knows who put it there. But your Lordships bow to it on entering the Chamber and refrain from doing so on leaving it. But the rest of Section 9 is unexceptionable and I should like to commend it to your Lordships.
Later, under "General Remarks", the booklet says:If two Lords rise simultaneously and one does not promptly give way, Lords should indicate their preference by naming the Lord they wish to hear".If I may say so, manners have become noticeably worse in this respect in recent years. It has become a common, but not very edifying sight, particularly al Question Time, to see two noble Lords on their feet at the same time, glaring at each other, neither prepared to give way.
The next reference is to the duplicated list of speakers, an admirable device exclusive to this House which, if properly used can be extremely convenient to your 214 Lordships. In particular, it mentions the gap towards the end of each list, in which,those Lords who have not put their names down but feel impelled to speak may rise in their places after the last back bench speaker on the list has had his turn".This gap is becoming something of a free-for-all and if, as too often happens, several Lords use it to make long, prepared speeches, it negates the whole purpose of the list system. I would remind your Lordships of the two important qualifications that should govern the use of the gap.Whenever possible such Lords should inform one of the Whips on duty in the Chamber of their intention. Their speeches are expected to be short and confined to the point or points which they feel have been omitted from the debate".There is a useful paragraph on appellations. Your Lordships should start their interjections with the words, "My Lords". It is only in recent months that this custom has started to be broken. This, too, is particularly noticeable at Question Time, where, when two Peers try and ask supplementary questions at the same time, the one who breaks the rule is often well into the first sentence of his question by the time his more conventional rival has got through his opening "My Lords".
The methods of referring to other Peers should also be studied carefully, even by many of your Lordships who have been in the House for some time. Viscounts and above should be given their rank and referred to as "the noble Viscount, Lord So-and-So" and never as "the noble Lord, Viscount So-and-So". This, of course, applies to Baronesses, too, with the exception (which the brief code omits to mention) of certain Scottish Peeresses who are not Peeresses but Ladies. Even a humble Baron is entitled to his proper form as "The noble Lord, Lord So-and So" and not, as one hears all too often, "The noble Lord So-and-So". This has always been a courtesy in this House and I think it is a pity if it falls into misuse or even disuse.
But the most important two rules are those headed "Attendance at debate" and "Length of speeches". The first of those paragraphs starts:Lords taking part in a debate are expected to attend as much as possible of it".215 It goes on to define the very minimum that this should entail. My Lords, this is not only good manners: it is also good sense. If a debate is to be a debate and not a random anthology of loosely-collected monologues, those of your Lordships who take part in it must sit through it, and an apology tacked on to the end of a 25-minute speech is no substitute for adherence to this rule. The second paragraph begins: "Long speeches are discouraged". Your Lordships have heard something about that this afternoon, but this little booklet goes on to lay down standards for this, both for those who open and close debates and for those who speak in between. If I may say so to noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite and to my noble friends beside me, an example might well come from them; but I would emphasise that I mean nothing personal to the present occupants of either Front Bench.
Some twelve years ago, my noble friend the late Lord Egremont moved a resolution that speeches in this House should be shorter. Your Lordships listened to my noble friend's opening speech with acclamation, debated his Motion with quite exceptional brevity, carried it nemine dissentiente, embodied its sense in the Companion to Standing Orders, and thereafter totally ignored it—which is a pity, because if this and all the other precepts in this admirable booklet were rigidly adhered to, this House would be a more efficient and, indeed, a happier place. I do not think there is a single Member of your Lordships' House who would dissent from this—as it applies to other Peers. The point I want to make is that these rules do not only apply to the noble Lord, Lord X, opposite, to the noble Lord, Lord Y, on the Cross-Benches, to the noble Lord, Lord Z, who sits with the Liberal Peers, or even to my noble friend behind for whom I have no letter of the alphabet left: my Lords, this means you.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I, with the little red book to which he has referred in my hand, ask him whether, in the light of what he has said, he would consider it worthwhile having some formal arrangement for the instruction on a regular basis of new Members coming into your Lordships' House?
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I think in the light of what I have said it might well extend to experienced Members of your Lordships' House, as well.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for his reference to the little red book. I am going to behave well in that I shall be very brief, and I am going to behave badly in that I must apologise to your Lordships for the fact that I shall have to leave in half an hour. I have already warned the noble Baroness, Lady White, of my difficulties. Other people, If I may say so, have spoken for too long —and here I am not referring to the last speaker but thinking about certain of the others.
I want to be very brief. I do not think we should fool ourselves with the belief that in some magic way we can make easier the legislative programmes which go through your Lordships' House. The fact of the matters is that it is a proper political weapon for the Opposition to be difficult about legislative programmes, and to offer them hindrance and difficulties. So I do not think that the devices put forward today will achieve very much in easing the passage of legislation, and indeed I am not sure that they should do so. On the other hand, what I think is possible is that the work of reviewing, and so on, which we have to do in relation to legislation can be more thorough and can be improved by a certain degree of pre-examination, as is suggested in the report of the Procedure Committee.
Quite clearly, the experience of the European Community Committee is something which is enormously worth while, but it covers a field where legislation is already in train or virtually in train. To that extent, it is different from what we are talking about in our House. However, let us try.
I would say, with many others of your Lordships, that we are right to ask the Procedure Committee to do two things: one is to consider very carefully the composition of any Committee that we may set up. That composition should not simply be Party-based but must essentially have in it a Cross-Bench element and hould, so far as possible, 217 take into account those who have special expertise in whatever may be the subject. The second thing is to pay special attention to the subject that they may choose. If this is to be a first trial of something which may develop and grow, the one or two committees or the one or two Bills which are selected to be first are of enormous importance. My Lords, I have finished.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I would wish to return to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, which attracts me in many ways but about which I must confess I have very considerable reservations. I wholeheartedly support two propositions contained in the Report of the Select Committee. The first is suggested by the Clerk of the Parliaments in paragraph 41 of his memorandum, to the effect that it is not necessarily desirable that both Houses of Parliament should always and inevitably scrutinise Bills in identical ways or according to similar procedures. Some differentiation of method may well be advantageous and may better exploit the particular talents of the respective Houses.
But the basic political problem here is the suspicions of another place. We have to recognise that many Members there neither understand nor wish to understand the ways in which this House contributes, and could contribute much more, to the overall processes of legislation. Many Members—I think more particularly in the other place—also appear to remain blind to the prospect that with our own laws being increasingly subject to over-riding European legislation and possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone mentioned, to our legislation being split between Westminster and Edinburgh, and possibly even Cardiff, there will be an increasing need for the oversight which the House of Lords is particularly well fitted to provide, to ensure that as few anomalies and discrepancies as possible creep into legislation, which inevitably will cover the same, or overlapping, fields.
This task of surveillance would, in my view, be a waste of time to the Members of another place. It is work for which 218 most of them are not temperamentally suited and they should not bother with it, nor seek to burden themselves with it through misplaced feelings of general disapproval of your Lordships' House.
It is something which I think we in this House could do extremely well, and ought to take on in the future as one of our particular duties. We must somehow find ways of establishing some kind of rational dialogue with Members of the other place. I am sure that my noble friend the Leader of the House will readily acknowledge that even he, with all his experience, did not fully appreciate what the House of Lords is capable of doing before he came here to see for himself. I certainly did not, even after 20 years as a constituency Member at the other end of the building. So I think that we should find for ourselves a special role in this respect, which will be increasingly important as time goes on.
The second proposition which appeals to me strongly, and is contained in this report, is that it is high time that Parliamentarians should be brought into the pre-legislation consultative process in our domestic affairs. The current exclusion applies equally to Members of both Houses. But, again, this is an area in which I believe this House can make an especially valuable contribution. We all know that legislation is prepared in the Department concerned. Notes and memoranda pass busily to and fro, between it and related Departments which may have interests. Every major outside interest, commercial and otherwise, is conscientiously consulted. Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all know what is afoot. The only people left in the dark as to prospective legislation are the Members of the two Houses of Parliament.
I was very much interested in a quotation from the recently published Hansard study on the voice of Britain in Europe, under the direction of Professor Coombes, in which he emphasises that,Private interests usually prefer to apply pressure directly on government departments, believing rightly that civil servants advising ministers have more influence on government policy and legislation than individual Members of Parliament".That, I am sure, is the present state of affairs and it seems to me an unsatisfactory one.
219 It is quite true that the relatively recent innovation of publishing Green Papers gives one an opportunity to put in one's oar, but no one, I think, would pretend that a brief debate on the Floor of either House is any substitute for the kind of close examination of the issues which those of us who work on the European Communities Select Committee are able to achieve. I speak as a Member of that Committee, and as the Chairman of one of its Sub-Committees. I believe that there is a real job to be done in this pre-legislative sense, and it is emphasised in the memorandum to the Select Committee from the European Committee that our work on that Committee and its Sub-Committees is pre-legislative.
I must say that I share some, at least, of the apprehensions of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. If you try to apply this procedure to the Committee stage of a Bill that has been introduced, particularly a controversial Bill—a Bill where the credit of the Government is at stake—then the climate will change. It seems to me that this is inevitable. I should be happy to think that it were not so and I am open to conviction, but I must say that I am not by any means yet convinced. Party conflict—overt in the other House; more politely masked in this one, but nevertheless sometimes to be felt—will undoubtedly raise its head.
I think it will be very difficult, once one has reached that stage, to carry on in the way that we do extraordinarily successfully in the European Committee, where we virtually never emphasise our Party or ideological views. There are we genuinely earnest seekers after truth. Once you introduce an overtly political element, which you are bound to do in many Bills, in what is political examination of actual legislation, I think you will find it much more difficult. I am not against trying, but I am not optimistic.
I admit that it depends partly on the nature of the Bill concerned. Certainly, it might work on a number of Bills which are not controversial in a Party sense, and I should very much like to see in your Lordships' House the possibility of an equivalent of Second Reading Committee Bills somewhat extended so that it covers not only Bills which are of minor consequence but also more substantial Bills. 220 The Patents Bill has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Shepherd. It seems to me that that was an instance where it was really an abuse of the time of the House that that Bill should have been examined in the way that it was—admirably examined by the half-dozen people who professed to understand it, but occupying the time of the Chamber in a way which does not seem to me to make good sense.
It is quite possible that a Bill of that nature might lend itself to the type of procedure suggested in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and I am quite sure that we could find in the departmental legislation of a number of Departments extremely useful measures which could be dealt with in that way. But let us not delude ourselves into supposing that that method would be appropriate to a great deal of the more controversial legislation which is bound to come to us from another place.
I admit that I was very much attracted by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that a Bill like the Industrial Relations Bill, or a Bill based on the Bullock Committee Report, might be dealt with in such a manner. But I believe that the time to do that is now, before a Bill is placed before Parliament; not when it is a matter of substantive legislation. It is true that, in the circumstances of the day, some people would be willing to lay aside their Party allegiance, because a matter of that kind is of such importance for our national wellbeing, but it is only very occasionally that that would occur with something as contentious as industrial relations. I believe, therefore, that we should start with an extension of the pre-legislative work, genuinely comparable with the work done by the European Communities Committee but in our own domestic sphere, and see how we get on. I hope very much, therefore, that we may make some experiments. I am not entirely convinced by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I am concerned lest, by being over-ambitious and trying to advance too rapidly, we might endanger an experiment which otherwise could be of great benefit to the legislation of this country.
§ 5.38 p.m.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, I am assured by the Whips' Office that I 221 am not usurping the place in this debate of my noble friend Lord Helsby, but that his name appears on the Speakers' List as a misprint of mine. I should like to refer to three small points, before I come to my main point arising out of the debate. First, there was the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, when he referred to the problems of Governments with bare majorities or notional majorities in carrying through controversial legislation. It is my belief that Governments with bare majorities ought not to embark on controversial legislation. It is a very old-established principle of good fellowship among collective bodies, fellowships of colleges, committees of clubs and so on that where the membership is evenly divided over an innovative matter the status quo should have it, and I should have thought the task of Governments with bare majorities should be to cope with day-to-day exigencies and circumstances as they arise, and use Parliamentary time to run down the enormous waiting lists of departmental Bills which are far longer than can normally be disposed of in a Parliamentary Session, having regard to the more political business.
How I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, on the need to try to come to terms with long-term trends and do one's forward thinking properly. I only wish that I could find the means of doing it. Clearly, thinking forward only for the terms of one legislative programme is quite insufficient as a basis for planning, say, five years ahead. But if you try to go more than 10 years ahead there are so many unknowns that you cannot legislate for them, and if you try to think 20 years ahead the biggest unknown of all is the climate of opinion, among people who are only just about being born now, as to the valuation they place on the targets at which society should try to aim. So that you have a constantly moving stream of political flotsam floating down the stream of time, without any ability to see towards the horizon which is the line that recedes as fast as you approach it.
As a contribution to the thoughts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I cannot think why noble Lords do not note the time of their speeches in Hansard and then look at the number of words in the columns, because then you would know, as your personal variable, how long it will take you to say so many words. 222 In that way you can plan what you wish to say accordingly. I just do not understand that aspect of the matter.
I do not want to repeat too much of what the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, have said about the Patents Bill, but I should like to make a few comments. First, there were 10 voices involved; a European initiative; a patent office response; Government sponsorship; the opinions of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents; and the opinions of the Institute of Patentees and Inventors. To raise these voices we had the benefit of a trinity on the Government Front Bench represented by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the noble Lord, Lord Oram, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. We had the heavenly twins on the Opposition Front Bench represented by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who took it in turns to speak on the matter. We had two experts: the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, and the noble Lord, Lord Cawley, who at one time was at the Patents Bar. We had about three experienced businessmen and exploiters of patents—the noble Lord, Lord Brown, on the Government side; the noble Lord, Lord Nelson, on the Opposition side; and myself as the ex-managing director of the National Research and Development Corporation.
My Lords, we took up hours and hours of Parliamentary time when no other Member of the House was really interested in the matter at all. We would have done our work better in Committee. We could have sat round and discussed it. We could have had Parliamentary draftsmen sitting in with us to try to look at some of the puzzling little details of wording and so on. We could have had representatives of these various institutes talking to us direct instead of having to brief spokesmen to talk for them. I think that we could have gone through the matter quicker and better, because for all we put into that Bill I am told that it still has a whole mass of Government Amendments waiting to be discussed in the other place. I believe that we could have made less heavy weather of it and more use of Parliamentary time.
I think that it is pathetic, when one looks at the green paper that is circulated every day—Minutes of Proceedings—to see the 223 enormous number of topics that people have put their names to as matters that they wish to see discussed. Noble Lords know that, with lists that long, these topics will never be raised in the current Session. Surely we have a duty to try to give noble Lords an opportunity to do that?
I turn to Divisions in Committee and on Report. As regards this matter, I divided the House on a number of occasions on points that I thought of importance. However, of course, I was, as a Cross-Bencher and an Independent, dividing the House against the Government because the Government were sponsoring the Bill. I did this not for political reasons, but because I thought that the points on which I should press for a Division had the sympathy of the House. However, the Opposition supported my Amendments because they involved a Division against the Government.
Therefore, I had the experience of carrying most of these Amendments, because the Opposition—if it is a Conservative Opposition—can, as a rule, impose its will upon the Government, if it is a Labour Government. I can only say that I did not get very much satisfaction from feeling that that was why I had carried my points. I would have much sooner had the two sides evenly balanced and felt that I had won my points on their merits and not because they became confused with the traditional opposition between Government and Opposition in your Lordships' House.
For all these reasons I believe that we ought to go for something on the lines of the Committee's report. We should all be very grateful to the Committee for the hard work it did on the report. I believe that if we adopt some of the Report cautiously and experimentally and gather experience as we go along, we shall conduct the affairs of our House better than we have done hitherto.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, for the first time since I came to this House nine and a half years ago I must crave the indulgence of your Lordships and apologise for a requirement to leave before the end of the debate. It is not my habit to do so; I have always sat through debates till the very end, but it so happens that tonight I have a domestic 224 obligation which I could ignore only at my peril.
My Lords, I discern four aspects of the public context of this debate to which no reference has yet been made. First, power in our society is now less amenable to the enforcement of legislation issuing from Parliament. Secondly, procedures for voting or withholding supply in another place are largely outdated by the sophistry of the borrowing requirement and deficit financing. Thirdly, the stresses between a collectivist and an individualist approach to politics horribly match the conflicts of the reformation period and are arousing horribly similar passions. Fourthly, the multinational state of the past two and a half centuries in Western Europe is now under attack from Catalonia and Provence to Scotland and the Shetland Isles.
In that context, Parliament's power over events is in such decline that the other place can only check the Executive a little, and that, for the most part, provided it has the support of the media and perhaps the public opinion polls. Your Lordships' House is at its best confronting the Executive with facts so arranged as to constitute a new idea. Here, my Lords, is your Lordships' best role—doing good by stealth.
My Lords, it is indeed a sadness to us all that the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, though happily recovering from the surgeon's knife, cannot be here and may not be here for some considerable time. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when opening the debate referred to the noble Baroness and sent the good wishes of the House, as it were as the opener of the debate. However, I am sure that others of your Lordships, particularly those who have served under her on the Scrutiny Committee, would wish to confirm that message and wish her fair person an early and full-hearted return. Much has been said of a laudatory character about the Scrutiny Committee's performance. I believe, and I am sure that other members of the Committee would support me in this view, that our joint achievement is very largely due to the enterprise and leadership of the noble Baroness. It was her evidence which showed to the Select Committee, whose report we are discussing, what a Select Committee can do once it has the bit between its teeth in a pre-legislative and preparatory form of scrutiny
225 My Lords, "All good things which exist are the fruits of originality". The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, has certainly brought that gift along with her own personal grace and ability to the work of our Committee. As a member of it and as one of her little cohort of sub-committee chairmen, I have watched the production of papers on such abstruse and to me unlikely, even indigestible, subjects as company law or sea-water for bathing in, which was mastered by the noble Baroness, Lady White.
I have seen these reports produced. One has seen personally in contacts with Brussels, and also in feedback from contacts with Departments, what a real impact they have had. In the areas in which I have been personally concerned there certainly has been some feedback on the subject of energy in Europe and in particular on the JET fusion project. A noble Lord—I regret that his name excapes me—referred to another report that we had issued, on civil aviation. These Committees assemble persons of high experience and monumental talent. I am referring to the members of Sub-Committee F, of which I am chairman. It is worth mentioning in parenthesis, since there has been talk of the reform of this House, that these are persons who would be most unlikely to demean themselves in order to seek any kind of popular election. These committees do a serious job of investigation, and there is benefit to all in this respect: that amid the common habit of contemporary polemics—of standing facts on their head—they show that facts can be arranged in order and can be firmly stood on their feet again.
Many policy areas suggest themselves as candidates for attention. I was glad to hear a number of earlier speakers agree that we should not try to confine them to departmental areas. One area is crime and penal reform, together with the perhaps related inner city problems of vandalism and housing. Reference has already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady White, to the Bullock Report. I believe it was the noble Baroness who said that now is the time to look at the problems of copartnership in industry, not when a Bill has been tabled in Parliament. Labour relations are surely an obvious area that lends itself to Select Committee treatment on the consensus basis which we 226 have learned to establish. Constitutional reform, foreign policy by areas, transport, energy, the disabled and the arts are other areas. It is at the Green and White Paper stages that a Select Committee is best able, and perhaps only able, to do its job. If it were to look at legislation passing through another place, the most it could do would be to identify the issues, not just the clauses which might not have been debated in the other Chamber. I am in full agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that once areas of controversy are presented to a Select Committee the whole aspect changes. In areas of controversy, at the best a committee could not go beyond eliciting the philsophical and policy issues without attempting their resolution. To try to convert a Select Committee into a Public Bill Committee, complete with Front Bench spokesmen, is to change a place of inquiry into a forum for debate. This is to confuse that committee's spirit of cohesion—perhaps to kill it altogether.
The question has been raised as to how these committees, if set up, are to be manned. Perhaps noble Lords are unaware that no fewer than 80 Members of your Lordships' House serve on the European Scrutiny Committee—either on the main Committee, or on one or other or more than one of its Sub-Committees. Much time and attention is required of those who serve. There is a volume of reading to be done; it is no good pretending that it is not there. And there is even more work for the Sub-Committee chairmen to do.
Noble Lords should not make the mistake of trying to get this on the cheap. That was tried, damagingly in my view, during the earlier stages of the European Committee. We have now an excellent body of clerks. Also, we have excellent secretarial and clerical help. But noble Lords may care to know that even when there is a crisis and something has to be retyped overnight we are not allowed to involve our secretarial staff in working overtime, nor are we allowed to bring in outside help. So there is a warning here about trying to do things on the cheap. I believe that the figures in the report regarding the cost of extra Select Committees grossly underestimate the problem before us.
Can one really speed up the work of Parliament without delivering a bonus to 227 the Executive? Sir Peter Henderson said in his evidence that there was an air of unreality about proposals for improving the flow of business without reference to Party politics. And, my Lords, there is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice. The slow-moving conventions of Parliamentary procedure and adversary politics, devised to meet this very danger, have more than once been menaced in quite recent days. To tamper lightly with those conventions may be to play with fire. To nurture and adapt them, moving warily by cautious experiment, is a worthier way. By and large, the experiment with the Scrutiny Committees has gone well but it has gone quietly and with prudence. Those two qualities are the ones which I commend to your Lordships in advancing this matter a little further, though rather slowly.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, this report is quite unusual and notable. Much of the oral evidence that was given was remarkably uninhibited and full of ripe experience and common sense; the two memoranda from the Clerk of the Parliaments are of outstanding distinction as pieces of relevant history; and, lastly and most important, the report itself is not afraid of opening up really difficult areas and proposing bold solutions with which one may or may not agree. At any rate, it is no kind of a glossing-over or fluffing job, unlike too many of the reports which are written in our present diffuse democracy. If I suggest that certain things might be done which are not recommended in the report or that certain things might not be done which are recommended, it is against the background of emphatic approval of the main outlines of the report and a real conviction that it is extremely distinguished.
First, on the question of avoiding the July rush of legislation, the Committee examined the possibility of allowing certain classes of Bill to survive into the next Session and rejected it for very much the same reason as it was rejected in Balfour's day. The Committee quoted Balfour saying that nausea would certainly supervene and that it would give infinite possibilities of delay to an Opposition, which was objectionable.
It occurred to me to ask why should it not be possible, while retaining the 228 sessional system—keeping the Sessions as they are, with the Queen's Speech announcing every autumn the Government's programme of Bills to be introduced during the next year—to say that all Bills introduced would fall unless they were completed within a year of their introduction. So that a Bill could he introduced in either House in July and could be picked up again in October, and could finish its course, so long as it was through, by the next July. The point about that is that it would not be necessary to upset the Queen's Speech and the rhythm of Sessions; that could go on just as usual. We should simply change the law to the extent of saying that a Bill need not be out by the end of the Session but must be out within a year of its introduction.
Turning now to Part III, the essence of this report on Committees, I am delighted that the Committee has chosen to use the phrase "policy areas" rather than a one to one arrangement for Departments of State. It seems to me that one of the main benefits of such a Committee system, which has not been mentioned yet in the debate and is not actually mentioned in the report either, is that it could enable Government Departments themselves, to say nothing of Ministers, to get more easily an integrated overall conspective view of their own policy.
We have a problem about that in Whitehall. The Ministries go forward—so many self-controlled, self-dependent ships of State signalling to each other at a rather long distance. If they had to bounce their policy back off the reflecting mirror of a Select Committee or a structure such as we are talking about at an early stage, it would help them to be in touch with each other. They would know it in advance and it could have an integrating effect, but of course that effect would not come about if one Committee marked one Department. As the report says, it must be a policy area, and for that reason I doubt whether seven or eight may not be too many Committees to start with and, without going so far as to suggest only one, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington's guinea-pig, it might be possible to think of having three or four covering very wide areas until they prove to be too wide and the areas have to be broken up.
I share the reservations expressed by many noble Lords about taking evidence 229 on Bills which are not yet even before the House. I think this would be difficult, if only for the practical reason that it will be the same people rushing from the House of Commons, where their briefing for their political masters is going to have an operational effect that night, and yet trying at the same time to find time to come here and to say something useful to our Committees which will have no effect on the Bill for, say, four or six months from that time. Also, how far can one properly go in taking evidence about a Bill which may be changed? God knows! Bills are changed in the Commons before they ever come to us. Whole sections are knocked out and it may be that hours of evidence-taking could be completely wasted if the Commons decided to cut out a section of a Bill.
This does not mean that the Committees we have in mind should not—to use another phrase used in the report—follow the progress of a Bill through the Commons by reading Hansard and by talking about Hansard and thereby being prepared for the Bill when it comes; having some knowledge of what it is all about, and not having to start from scratch on the awful rush which is so familiar to all of us. As for taking evidence when the Bill is before this House, I am strongly in favour of that and I believe that the more of that we have, the better will be the working of a bicameral system.
I have one last question. I understand why the Committee decided to limit itself to legislation in its recommendations about setting up Committees. It suggests that there should be Select Committees on legislation, on Bills only. I wonder whether, when the horrors of last summer have receded from our memories, we may not come to think that it would be just as valuable to have Committees considering policy areas, whether or not there is legislation immediately pending—and that was a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, only a few minutes ago; and not only that, but whether the Government might consider having Select Committees on policy areas where there is never, or hardly ever, legislation. Here I have in mind particularly foreign affairs. Is it conceivable that we should develop a whole structure of Select Committees on policy 230 areas and leave the House without the benefit of a Select Specialist Committee on Foreign Affairs, knowing that all other areas would be covered in that way, and knowing also that all Parliaments like our own—the American, the German and the Scandinavian—have Foreign Affairs Committees, and have had for years and are extremely glad of it?
I should like to give the House a trailer. The Committee on Practice and Procedure were courteous enough to allow me to propose to it in the form of evidence that it might consider recommending to the House that there should also be a Sessional Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The reason for it in my mind is simply the vastness of the field. There are so many foreign affairs in progress at any moment and we get so few opportunities to debate them in this House that, compared with the debates of some other countries, our debates tend to resemble the traditional shopping basket—speeches dominated by the phrase, "My Lords, I now turn", and then we turn to another country 4,000 miles away. The poor Foreign Office Ministers or Defence Ministers who have to open and wind up, say, "My Lords, I am now turning", at a rate which must leave them giddy, from one side of the world to the other, from one aspect of policy to another. If the House had the benefit of a body of people who were sifting and considering precisely what might be debated and what it would be in the interests of the country, the public and the Parliament to have debated, that would be another sort of justification for having a Committee, not opposed in any way to the justification for the legislation-linked Committees which are in the report, but a variant of the same.
I commend the Motion to the House, as I have already commended it to the Committee and I dare to hope the Committee has not yet gone so far as to decide to report against it. It would be within their terms of reference to report in favour of it. That brings me to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I can see a certain advantage in its not being pressed. It would enable the Select Committee, if it thought fit, to have "another think" about the number of Select Committees which ought to be set up, whether so many as seven or eight, whether so few as the one 231 suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, or whether, as I have just suggested, something like three or four. It would enable it to reconsider taking evidence on Bills which are before the Commons; and perhaps (who knows?) it might also enable it to think again—I do not know whether I am right—about the possible desirability of a Foreign Affairs Committee.
In conclusion, if I am sometimes tempted to think that we in this House of Lords are less important than we think we are, I am quite sure that we are a good deal more important than anybody else thinks we are. Therefore it is our duty to get as smooth and as efficient a system as we can, and this debate is taking us large strides towards the fulfilment of that duty.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord WADE
My Lords, as one who was a member of the Select Committee, I should like to join with others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on the skill and efficiency which he displayed in chairing this Committee. It was undoubtedly due to his ability that we were able to produce a report such as this within a comparatively short space of time. Like other noble Lords who have spoken in the latter part of this debate I shall endeavour to impose a strict limit on what I have to say. I think it is obvious that there are some major reforms which we could not deal with in depth without consultation with the Commons. Examples are the changes in the financial year, the dates when a Session should start and end and the question whether Bills should be carried on from one Session to another. There are of course practical difficulties but I hope that there will be further study of these subjects in co-operation with the Commons.
As your Lordships are aware 16 proposals are put forward in this report. I believe that most of us would agree that the most controversial is number 16, which deals with the setting up of Select Committees matching policy areas. I wish to deal with one specific point; namely, whether committees should deal with a matching policy area or one Bill only.
232 Before embarking on that, may I make it clear that I take a very much more radical view as to what is required. I believe that it is essential that there should be Select Committees for pre-legislative examination of proposed measures. I put that very high on the list of essential reforms. It is preferable that these pre-legislative Select Committees should be joint committees of both Houses. It may be that we shall have to wait for reform of this Chamber. I hope that is not so. But I would emphasise that pre-legislative study of particular subjects is one of the major ways ahead. I think that it is important for two reasons: firstly, because it would lessen the burden of the examination of complicated Bills when they come before us and when we are working under pressure; and, secondly, because I hope that it would lead to more continuity of policy. We must remember that a lot of time is taken up in dealing with complex Bills the object of which is to repeal other complex Bills introduced by the previous Parliament. There is not nearly enough continuity of policy. It is very difficult to assess the amount of damage that has been done by the constant changes that have taken place over the last 25 years.
Now, as to proposal No. 16 and the subject of policy areas, if politically controversial subjects are to be ruled out, then the illustration that I propose to mention is inappropriate, but I think that that would he taking too cautious a view. My noble Leader, Lord Byers, referred to pensions. I would take, merely by way of example, the very thorny subject of land. That falls into two parts—the compulsory acquisition of land for various purposes, and the acquisition of land values for the benefit of the community. They are separate but related issues. If a broadly agreed policy had been achieved in 1947, what a difference it would have made to local authorities, to those concerned with the environment, to industry and to a great many other people. I should certainly run into difficulties if I started talking about the late lamented Land Commission.
§ Lord WADE
My Lords, there are many who take the view that there should have been two Bills, whatever one's views about the subject. If there had been two 233 Bills, dealing with separate but interrelated subjects, and a Select Committee of the nature suggested in this report, I think it would have been a mistake to have two separate Select Committees just because there were two separate Bills. This is simply the point I am making. I think it would have been better to have one Committee matching that policy area. So my conclusion is this: we are not asked now for a final decision. We are, I hope, going to refer this to the Procedure Committee. But I would urge that we are not too restrictive in the wording that we propose as to the nature and size and area to be covered by these proposed Committees.
The only other comment I have to make is this. I still believe in a second Chamber; I think that there is a need for a second Chamber. I feel that there is some unnecessary repetition of arguments, particularly on Committee stages. I hope the proposals in this report will help to reduce unnecessary repetition. In any event, I hope that the report will commend itself to this House.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, so far as the debate has gone it is quite clear to me, as I imagine to all your Lordships, that it has been a very useful debate. I cite, for instance, the suggestion that Lord Kennet has just made about Bills being left on the Paper for a year, and so on. Like him, I am inclined to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, that perhaps it would be wiser if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, did not press his Motion, so that we can all have another look at it. Having said that, I would say that until my noble friend Lord Denham spoke I had intended to confine my remarks to one section of the report only, namely Recommendation No. 3, which refers to length of speeches. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on his delicate touch in reading us all a little "pep talk", a "pep talk", what is more, well within what is apposite —to use the little red book's description—to the debate before your Lordships' House. I will be brief, as indeed I must be if I am going to talk about brevity.
This matter has been referred to by other speakers, but I propose to refer to it a little more firmly. It was touched on by 234 my noble friend Lord Carrington, who referred to that excellent debate which, with a number of short speeches and so many speakers, went through before seven o'clock. We have had the recent experience of the debate on the Annan Report, where the need for a reasonable measure of brevity was well illustrated. The first nine speakers occupied 3¾ hours, averaging 25 minutes each; with half an hour added for Statements, it was 7.35 before the tenth speaker arose, out of a total, I believe, of 27. He was my noble friend Lord Plowden, who made an important contribution which took only 14 minutes; that, I think, was the length of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, among the first nine, and was just about the average for the last 14 speakers; that took us to 11.47. As a matter of fact the debate did not end until just before 12.
I make the point that if noble Lords who speak early were stricter with themselves and tried to concentrate their contributions, it would make it easier for Back-Benchers not only to get a fair hearing but perhaps to get a reply from the Minister when at the end he has more time to devote to replying to speeches, rather than saying: "At this late hour there is not much more I can say, but I will write to noble Lords who have spoken". I take this opportunity to apologise for not having stayed to the end of that debate. My noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and I both had a sleeper train to catch, and nowadays in the holiday season you cannot miss a sleeper or you do not get home at all.
To return to what Lord Denham said, I would only take issue with him on one matter concerning our procedure. The little red book does hint at some criticism of the people who some call "jumpers", the people who speak in the blank. I think it was Lord Strange who invented the term. I am sure the little red book is right in saying that you should try to send in your name. But I feel that it is proper—and here again I quote Lord Denham—that whereas our debates here are sometimes—I forget his word—not "dreary", but a series of monologues, the gap enables particularly Back-Benchers, within the rules of the little red book, to make it more of a debate by answering earlier points or raising fresh points. I should like to repeat that my feeling is that when 235 we reach the end of this debate it may be wise for us to take another look at it, and so I look forward to hearing the final speeches.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, today's debate has a good track record for the length of the speeches and I do not intend to spoil the record with mine. We have had only one long speech and that was from the chairman of the Committee whose report we are discussing today. We all feel that he was entitled to make it; he did a wonderful job in chairing the Committee and we do not begrudge him his 33 minutes.
It is hardly necessary to remind the House of the unhappy phase that we had at the end of last Session. It was graphically described by my noble friend Lord Kennet as the "horrors of last summer". That expresses it all. This was not only a strain on us all, but a sad reflection on the working of our Parliamentary system—one which brought discredit on Parliament as a whole. Certainly this House—and I hope the other place as well—felt that it was a procedure which should not be repeated. The guillotining of five major Bills in the other place and the consequent need for particularly careful scrutiny of them in this House became more and more important. I was very glad that, at the beginning of his speech my noble friend Lord Shepherd referred to that aspect of what has been placed before us.
It was not only this careful scrutiny that descended on us but a considerable and persistent stream of abuse. In the end this went too far, as abuse usually does. I believe that, as a result, both Lords and Commons realised that together we must find a means of improving our procedure. I believe that most knowledgeable people would agree that for years it has been impossible for the other place to give adequate consideration to the mass of legislation that is brought forward, and many speakers this afternoon have referred to that. Equally obviously, some lessening of the burden would result from reducing the amount of legislation. But, from the evidence given to our Committee by people who really know, it seems unlikely that any lessening of the 236 burden of legislation is likely to arise in the future. Even if there were a slight lessening of legislation, such is the burden of work along the corridor that they would still be unable to give adequate consideration to that which did arise. I believe that everyone who has been a Member of another place accepts that.
That brings me to something in which I believe most strongly—namely, that in this House we should have influence rather than power. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave me a very dusty answer at page 62 of the report. I have much respect for the noble Lord. He drew my attention to an article in the March issue of the Illustrated London News. Having that respect for him, I went straight away and read it; I even have a copy here and have marked the place. In spite of that respect and in spite of having studied the article, I am sorry but I am still of the same opinion.
I repeat that I beleve that in this House we should have influence rather than power. I would agree, of course, that it depends on what one means by the word "power". I am sure that we shall have an opportunity of discussing this in the future. If I am not taking their names in vain, I believe that my noble friend Lord Aylestone does not dissent from what I have just said about influence rather than power and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, might be of the same opinion.
But what I want to emphasise and what I know so many past Members of another place who are now Members here feel is that it would not be desirable for this House—even if we could do so—to make this Chamber a pale copy of the one along the corridor. I would not want that and I do not think that it would be acceptable to the other place.
I was very glad when the Government and Opposition Chief Whips plus the noble Lord, Lord Byers, affirmed that they would not be in favour of our two Houses having different Sessions. I recall, as will other Members, how much the other place resented us sitting last year when they were not sitting. The fact that it was their fault that we were sitting made no difference at all, but it meant that any official Statements and any Ministerial announcements had to be 237 made from here. We did obtain much more publicity as a result, but the two Houses make up one Parliament; I remember the Opposition Chief Whip making that same statement when he came to see us.
There is just one other point that I should like to mention. I was sorry that it did not find favour with the majority of my colleagues on the Committee. At page 31 of the report a proposal was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to the effect that Peers might be asked for how long they intended to speak and that this estimate might be put alongside their names on the list. It was not an attempt to dictate time or to shorten contributions. But if people prepare their speeches they must have some idea how long they will take. I appreciate that, from time to time, circumstances will fault any estimate, but I think the idea worth trying and I should like to know, although it is late on in the day, what the House thinks of this so far as main debates are concerned.
In spite of the particular and pessimistic realism of our witnesses on this point—and I think we all might read their comments and feel at least some sympathy for Chief Whips, for the comments were very realistic and it would probably do us all good to read what they said—I still believe that public opinion in the House would be effective. Certainly, those with their names on a lengthy list of speakers waiting to speak would feel justified in indicating displeasure if someone said that they would take 10 minutes and then proceeded to take 30.
This is a tolerant, understanding and progressive place. I have always thought it far more progressive than the place along the corridor. I have been here since 1962 and others have been here much longer. But I always feel strongly that I would not wish to offend against the wishes of the House. That does not mean that one expects agreement or that one is not a nuisance at times, but real offence, no. I am sure that that goes for most of us here. So I hope that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, may win some further consideration for a trial run anyway.
In conclusion, I hope that four points will be included in what emerges from today's debate. The first is that this House 238 makes a contribution to the work of Parliament without which business could not be carried through. The second is that a second Chamber is essential to our system of government. The third point is that we provide a forum for full and free debate on matters of public interest for which the other place just does not have the time. The fourth and last point relates to what has come out of this debate: that, for example, our Select Committee on the European Communities is more effective and I think generally admitted to be much better than its counterpart along the corridor. I should like to add my tributes to those paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, and regret that she is not here today.
This House stands well in the country. There is considerable respect for its courage, its integrity and for what it does. In the horrors of last summer the country had a great deal of respect for what this House tried to do. Obviously, changes are necessary but we shall have further opportunities to debate these another time. Finally, I hope that this report will make clear some of the work that we do and that some, if not all, of the recommendations made by the Committee will be acceptable. We have tried to improve our practice and procedure to cope with the stresses and strains imposed on both Houses of Parliament in these modern times. My Lords, I have beaten the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, by two minutes!
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, the report that we are debating clearly justifies itself because it seems obvious to me that arising out of it something will be done. Whether or not my noble friend Lord Windlesham pushes his Motion to a vote or whether he takes the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and, having made the point, leaves it to be sorted out in a more tranquil fashion, I do not know. I suppose that it will depend upon whether, arising out of the whole debate, the noble Lord the Leader of the House accepts the mood of the House. If he produces the same mood, I would have thought it best not to push it to a vote but to allow it to follow the line suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It is clear that the 239 report has justified itself in so far as something is going to be done.
I should like to come down secondly on another side. The argument in support of brief speeches has been overdone. We are all for brief speeches, and everybody knows that a certain way to get a cheer at any dinner, or in either House, is to say that you are in favour of short speeches. But I hope we are not going to get to the time when Parliamentarians pay more attention to how long they will speak rather than what they are going to say when they do speak, which I should have thought was the right priority. That is not to say that one wants lengthy speeches.
Although it was said in a jocular and friendly way, I think that the 33 minutes that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, took as chairman of the Committee was justified. It is an important report; such a speech had to be made; and that is very good. The other justification for the report was the memo submitted by the Clerk of the Parliaments. That historical memo is very valuable indeed, and it ought to be read in the other place, when particularly it ought to be noted that from 1943 to 1952 there were added to the Statute Book 15,600 extra pages, and that over the last three years, 1973, 1974, 1975, the number of extra pages have been about 2,000, 2,000, and almost 3,000. These are the sorts of overburdening problems that interfere with procedure, and filch freedom from us all.
I agree absolutely with my noble friend Lord Carrington. There is not a great deal wrong with the procedures of your Lordships' House, as I have seen them operating in the short time I have been here. If you really want to get greater efficiency and improved procedures, it is something much bigger than that which is contained in the report which has to be dealt with, and that is why it is a pity that this was only a Committee of your Lordships' House. It ought to have been a joint Committee where the problem could be looked at.
The advice I would give from my experience in the other place is that it would be better, if you are going to extend the Select Committee idea, for it to be done slowly and to let it grow. Do not try to graft a new system on to the old one, 240 which I think works very well indeed. I remember when somebody in the other place had the bright idea of having morning sittings in order to speed up and make more efficient the work there. Because it was such a completely new idea and new graft on an existing system, it did not work. The reaction was against it; the atmosphere was against it; it did not fit into the other procedures and it was dropped. Therefore, the thing to do is to let it grow, and that is why I should have thought that to start slowly and in a very small number of Select Committees is the right thing to do.
What I wanted to emphasise in my short contribution is that the present procedures work in this House. It is the procedures in the other House that do not work very well, and I am more used to them than to your Lordships' procedures. When, after I had been here a short time, I came to contemplate the difference between the other place and this House, I came to the conclusion that nine-tenths of what goes on in the other place is moonshine, and only one-tenth is careful consideration of legislation. It is not their fault; electors too often prefer the gimmicky, the offshoot things, that are used in order to get a vote which MPs have to do to remain MPs. One good point is made, and 50 MPs have to make it in the hope that it will be reported in their local paper as their idea in the first place. These are the sort of things that are nine-tenths moonshine. I have discovered in your Lordships' House that only one-tenth is moonshine and nine-tenths has been concentrated on what I think is doing your job as a revising Chamber, and looking at and clearing up and bringing about reasonably good Parliamentary legislation. Therefore, the message of the report has to go somewhere else.
I do not know whether your Lordships have examined it, but our Parliament sits twice as long as that in America, three times as long as the French Parliament, and five times as long as the West German Parliament. In Germany they sit 313 hours a year; in France they sit 510 hours a year; in America they sit 766 hours a year, and in Britain they sit 1,528 hours. So if you want dynamism, efficiency and getting results at the end of the day as a nation, the German system, short term, is the one that seems to produce the results. So it could be that the message we ought to be 241 sending is that they really ought to get together with us to see whether or not we can have a framework in which the procedures we have will be allowed to give the full results that I think they are capable of giving.
As I have said, the best answer to all of this is less legislation. On this I thought the report was rather half-hearted. It says that the Committee recognise that any attempt to persuade Governments that less legislation should be introduced is likely to prove futile. Why should it be futile, if it is right? We want to make the Parliamentary system work, and I should have thought that the report need not just shove it off as being futile but could have said that it is highly desirable that this should be faced up to.
The report then said that it would be more even-handed to introduce more and substantial Bills in the House of Lords. That seems common sense, rather than having the horrible summer that the noble Baroness has just referred to. Why could not some of those Bills have started in this place? The answer they give is rather a weak one. They say:Almost all departmental Ministers sit in the House of Commons"—that is right—and they naturally wish to have the responsibility of launching the Bills themselves".They are not their Bills. That is rather a petty reason for not doing what is right. Of course it is nice if you can have the headlines, if it is headlines that you are after—and that is the great problem. If I may say so while my noble Leader Lord Carrington is here, I cannot agree with him on the views he has expressed about the general reform of your Lordships' House. I would not introduce anything which involves being elected. The minute you are elected anywhere you cease to be objective. If you are the Archangel Gabriel and you are elected you tend to do things which will influence those who are likely to elect you—such as writing brief speeches when they ought to be long speeches in order to get some sort of result. Election is not always good. The importance of your Lordships' House is its objectivity; the fact that it can be impartial.
The other thing I would not do is to pay. By all means cover the expenses; but the minute you pay, people feel that they have 242 to earn the money. When I was first elected to Parliament I think the salary was £1,000 a year. Now, with allowances, it is £8,000 or £9,000 a year. I am certain that the reason so much legislation is being churned out from another place is because they feel they have to earn the extra money. If you introduce election first, and pay secondly, you are absolutely pushing out of the window the objectivity and impartiality which is certainly wanted in this place if not wanted anywhere else. Therefore, why cannot we have some of the Bills started in this place, if it is only because Ministers want the joy of introducing them themselves? It is not their Bill. At the end of the day it is the nation's Bill. In the beginning it is the Government's Bill, and since the Government are elected it is the people's Bill at any stage of its proceedings.
The report then gives the other and stronger reason that the Parliament Act does not apply to Bills initiated in your Lordships' House. Why not make it that the Parliament Act does apply to Government sponsored Bills? Why not make it that the effect of the Parliament Act can apply if it is a Government sponsored Bill, which is a way of getting efficiency and the thing on the move? That is what I should like to see done. I would commend the report. Its existence is valuable. The memo from the Clerk of the Parliaments should be made absolutely compulsory reading to anybody who sits in either House. I would urge that speeches ought to be as brief as possible, but not at the expense of good content.
§ 6.40 p.m.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I have spent half a lifetime in the other place, but I think with rather different results. What impresses me is how different things look here than they look down the passage. For example, the objectivity of the judgment of this House, so clear to the noble Lord, is less obvious to members of the Government sitting on the Benches in another place. Indeed, when we hear of the horrors of last summer we are impressed—we think how aggrieved we were, how we suffered, how nobly we laboured—but it did not look like that down the corridor; it looked down there as if we were a partisan nuisance and should be abolished 243 as soon as possible. Indeed, the results of our herculean efforts was a majority in the Government Party pledged to the abolition of the House of Lords. We are in fact on probation, and if we are to exist in order to be able to have any effect at all we would be wise to bear that in mind.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
I am afraid that may not be necessary, my Lords. It may happen too soon and we would, when we are considering our procedure, be well advised to refrain as much as we can from aggravation, and seek, in so far as we can, to assist the Government of the day in making their legislation efficient. We are ill-armed to take part in political warfare and we will certainly get a bloody nose if we do.
I have a suggestion which is shocking in its simplicity. It is that we should refrain from voting. What does our vote mean? It means no more than that there are more Conservatives in this House than there are Labour supporters. That is all it means and it is a lesson which those who desire well for this House should probably refrain from rubbing in too often.
In an admirable speech—I hope he will forgive an old friend for saying so—Lord Halsbury observed that many of his Amendments to the Patents Bill were carried simply because they were mistaken for Conservative Amendments and not on any merits he had persuaded the House they possessed. That is what our voting means. A majority vote in this House really adds no weight to any opinion of any sort; it is merely, when there is a Labour Government, a repetitive irritation which passes down the corridor, and I fail to see very much point in it.
How would we do without voting? We do without a chairman, and that is a vastly more difficult task. Nobody who has not been a Member of this noble House would believe it possible for a great debating Chamber dealing with vastly controversial matters to do without a chairman. It involves enormous restraints, such as refraining from the partisan, and it particularly involves mutual 244 courtesy. To add to those courtesies refraining from voting other people down would not be a big addition, and would be one which I believe we could manage perfectly well.
As for Bills that come to us from another place, the convention is almost there already; we do not on Second Reading throw out Bills which we receive in that way. As for Bills which originate here, I could well see the Leader of the House on occasions, after a Bill had been debated, congratulating the proposer and all concerned on how splendidly they had done and saying that in the light of the feeling of the House they should, before it went any further, take it back and reconsider it. That sort of thing works in this Chamber. Again, in relation to Bills in Committee, sending Amendments down the corridor, particularly when those Amendments mean no more than an Opposition majority, is not the best way to tender advice. If we had a Committee that did not vote but searched for a consensus, trying to get agreement, it could send suggestions and advice, and that would be far more effective than Amendments imposed by an Opposition majority.
With Committees working like that, Party majorities would cease to be important. One could collect on to those Committees noble Lords best qualified to advise. After all, the noble Lord whose speech we so enjoyed was concerned with the hare hunting Bill. On that Bill a Select Committee drawn from people who knew something about the subject consulted together, examined the evidence, looked into it thoroughly and produced unanimous advice; they found a consensus. How immensely more effective that advice was than the Opposition majority which threw the Bill out. That is the way we should, in my view, perform our office.
On Motions in this House, the value is of the speeches that are made. Why should a Motion carry any more weight because more people walk down one Lobby than walk down another? Maybe that by introducing a rapporteur system—because not many people nowadays are able to read every copy of Hansard—which conveyed the general consensus we had reached on a Motion, we would make our advice and opinion much more effective.
245 I do not want to make a long speech. We are an Assembly which is rooted in tradition rather than reason. The importance of our opinions rests on the notable individuals who are of our number. It does not rest on our collective wisdom. We really have no business in a democracy to take decisions; we are not a decision-making body. We are fit and well qualified to advise but not to decide. In my view, our effectiveness must be measured by our success in presenting our advice in a form which Governments sometimes find acceptable.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can elucidate what actually happened over my Amendment to the Patents Bill in the light of what he has been saying. The position is simply that I put down an Amendment removing the food and drugs industry from its status as a second-class citizen. The Government's view was that, if that Amendment were passed, it would prejudice the negotiations that were going forward with them for supplies of food and drugs to the National Health Service. I took exactly the opposite view; I thought that it would facilitate those negotiations. In fact, the Amendment did facilitate the situation, and the Government have accepted my Amendment, which is not being contested in the other place. I do not want to say that I did not get that vote as a result of—
Several noble Lords: Order, order!
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
I should like to add a few words to that. I am delighted to hear that the noble Earl's Amendment was accepted. But I feel that the basis was not that the votes were reversed, because on second sight, for very good reasons, lie provided for it. I would still say that the vote was an irrelevance.
§ 6.51 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships' House for only a short period. I have come to this House off and on since 1928, and as a result I have seen certain changes. In my view the procedure report which we are considering this evening is merely one further step to something which has been 246 going on for many years; this is the fact that no one outside this House can make any attempt to reform it, and we in this House, as the situation arises, continue to take, step by step, actions which reform ourselves. I have a feeling that, as a result, we are keeping up to date with the times.
When I was reading this report a penny seemed to drop somewhere, so far as I was concerned. In your Lordships' House on 24th July 1929, there was a debate introduced by Lord Darling, suggesting that Ministers should be allowed to come up and take part in your Lordships' debates in this House, although they were not permitted to vote in it. This was particularly interesting because it happened that Lord Parmoor, who was then in the post now held by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, was not in favour of this at all. He referred to his few supporters as a "band of brothers". He also made some remarks, which I heard quite recently, the main one of which was that when a Conservative Government are in power, there is no effective Second Chamber. I seem to have heard that not very long ago.
What we are coming down to in the matter of the operation of this House is the fact that we must not overplay politics—political Parties—in this House. We are a revising Chamber, and every step we take must be to maintain our position as a revising Chamber. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that this seems a most excellent report in regard to a method by which to do this. Any steps we may take towards establishing the committees which my noble friend Lord Windlesham wants should, I suggest, be welcomed.
Over the past few weeks—and over the past few years, for that matter—we have had a number of Bills which, to rather uneducated Back-Benchers like myself become quite shattering. I remember sitting on the other side of the House listening to a debate on a Bill when a Tory Government were in power, and I recall Lord Diamond standing up at three o'clock in the morning quoting percentages of 500 million, multiplying them by 10, and taking away the various other factors which occur. He did it all in four and a half minutes, and then we divided. I did not have an idea what we were talking 247 about. That was not a Bill which should have had its Committee stage in the House.
We have had the Patents Bill, to which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, referred. That was a Bill which could well have gone to one of the committees envisaged by my noble friend Lord Windlesham. We have also had the Deer Bill, which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, introduced. That was discussed by a very small selected body of people, and it took up a considerable amount of time. That, too, was a Bill which should have gone to one of the committees proposed by my noble friend Lord Windlesham.
I commend to your Lordships the view that committees of this kind should be set up as speedily as we can do so within the rather slow moving wheels of this House. I would utter one word of caution. When the specialist committees are being set up (as I hope they will be) I believe that the membership of these committees should be fairly broadly based, so that perhaps those Back-Benchers who normally do not take part frequently in debates in the House should be involved in them. If we are to have specialist committees, it should be remembered that there are a large number of people with specialist ideas who do not take part in your Lordships' debates very often, and I feel that these people should be included. I wish to give great support to the report and to wish it well. It is one more step towards the advance of the reform of your Lordships' House without there being a tremendous upheaval, rude words, and everything else, and I hope that my noble friend's Motion will be carried.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, this has to me been a very stimilating debate, and not the least of the stimulation has been occasioned by the shortness of the speeches, and I hope that mine will match in length those that have already been made. I have the honour to be the chairman of one of your Lordships' scrutiny Sub-Committees dealing with EEC matters—the one on agriculture and consumer affairs. My noble friend Lord Shepherd will remember that at the time that I was appointed (when he was then Leader) somehow it came to the notice of the Cabinet Office that I had expressed 248 the idea that my Sub-Committee might take a wider look at some of the problems which we knew were being considered in Brussels, but without waiting for a draft Directive, or regulation, which we knew would be in the pipeline. This idea apparently occasioned great nervousness in the Government. I was summoned to see my noble friend Lord Shepherd, and I assured him of the innocence of my intentions, and I may say that he was very gentle with me.
Then I went to see my noble friend Lord Peart, then the Minister of Agriculture. He received me very kindly. The upshot of the affair was that it was indicated to me that the Sub-Committee's locus standi did not extent beyond responding to an initiative from Brussels. The Government need not have worried, because in fact the Sub-Committee has been far too busy, nose to grindstone, dealing with the flow of legislation, to have had time to lean back and take a wider, inquisitorial view.
There have also been plenty of opportunities to use Directives, or regulations, as pegs on which to hang observations on policy, if we wished. Discussion of the Common Agricultural Policy budget is a chance for us to say almost anything we like about the Common Agricultural Policy and its impact upon Britain, and therefore on a certain question or policy which we think our own Ministry of Agriculture should adopt.
I have no doubt that the nervous reaction of the Cabinet Office, and possibly in the Ministries, was to some extent conditioned by their experience of the 1968 Crossman Committees. The Government were exceedingly shy that we might set ourselves up as an authority on the making of policy; in addition, perhaps, give ourselves expensive trips to all parts of the world; and generally be a disruptive nuisance. But as things have turned out, I think I can say that their fears have not been realised. We have had a job to do. I believe that we do it quite well—that is, from the comments which I have read and which have filtered back to me—and that our Sub-Committees have been extremely helpful in the strictures, suggestions and comments which they have made in their reports. I think I can also claim that the initial suspicion in which we were held by 249 Ministers and Departments has considerably melted. We may be a nuisance—indeed, I hope that in some respects we are a nuisance—but we are far from being an unconstructive nuisance. The result is that the initial spirit of suspicion has changed to a spirit of helpfulness and co-operation, without which, I may say, we would find many of our inquiries made more difficult; and this has come about without in any way compromising the independence of thought or freedom of action on the part of the sub-committee.
My noble friend Lord Shepherd quoted Mr. Prior as saying that the only power of an Opposition is the power of delay; and if that is really so, it might explain why so much legislation lands in our laps during the "fag-end" of a Session. But although delay may be the power of last resort, an Opposition or any scrutinising body has another power which, perhaps, in the ideal democracy, should really be the only one, and that is the power of informed argument. I feel a great suspicion of those who talk a lot about power, by which they mean acquiring a position from which they can order people about. My suspicion extends to the unicameralists. Too many of them are of a kind who just want to push things through without argument and without scrutiny. It is highly important to our democracy, I believe, that there should be a second Chamber, a contemplative Chamber as well as a revising one, and that that Chamber should be thoroughly well equipped to scrutinise proposed legislation.
One cannot be, or perhaps I should say one ought not to be, influential without being well informed. From my experience of three years, now, on an EEC scrutiny sub-committee and a number of years previously served on Private Bill Select Committees, I think there is no better way of informing oneself than the Select Committee procedure. A subject which may begin as dull and opaque soon becomes interesting and very much clearer; but I would not argue, like my noble friend Lord Darling, against establishing what he called subject committees. I believe that the present EEC Scrutiny Committees may work as well as they do because they respond to specific draft measures put out by Brussels, and it is possible that if we tried to range over the whole field of 250 policy we might get bogged down. But I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Aylestone (that is, if I did not misunderstand him) that the making of policy is the prerogative of the House of Commons. It is the prerogative of everyone in this country, and this House, as a House of Parliament, is well equipped to take a hand in policy-making. That, indeed, is what all our debates are devoted to doing now.
As I indicated at the beginning, because in our Sub-Committees we are continually absorbing the facts of policy in response to the steady flow of legislation from Brussels, it is impossible for members of your Lordships' Sub-Committees not to form much clearer ideas on policy than they would have had had they not belonged to the Sub-Committees. This accumulated wisdom (if that does not put it too highly) is, of course, at the service of your Lordships in debate, or can be communicated directly to Ministers, and is so communicated.
I should have liked to have dilated more on several of the matters which have been raised today, but I must keep my speech short, so in summary I want to say three things. The first is that this scrutiny of EEC legislation has shown us the way to having a much more open type of government than we have hitherto been used to in this country; and this has been achieved, not at any expense to Brussels or to our own Government, but to their enrichment, as well as to the education of the members of your Lordships' Sub-Committees. Secondly, I dare say that the Government are against the establishment of the type of Select Committee which has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Shepherd's Committee, but I suggest to them that there is nothing to be afraid of, and much stands to be gained all round for the benefit of the Government, of Parliament as a whole and of the democratic process. Thirdly, although I do not support the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in trying to make the Government commit themselves today to a certain course of action, I hope that a Select Committee or Committees will be set up and that, if at first it does not succeed as well as we had hoped, we will try, try and try again until we get it right, because I think it is far too important and useful an idea to be allowed to lapse.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, some Members of this House have talked about the reform of this Chamber; others, such as my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, have dared to talk about the procedures of another Chamber. I shall be nothing like so bold. As the junior member of the Committee which produced the report which is now before this House, I shall restrict myself to what we recommended. As a member of that Committee, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and my noble friend Lord Windlesham, who presided in a joint and amiable way over our proceedings—twin pearls on the bosom of the Mother of Parliaments, if I may so describe them—and I hope that they are as happy as I am about what I sense to be the mood of the House. Most speakers in this debate have in different ways supported the thrust of our proposals, if not their every detail.
I should like to say a word about Part III of our proposals; that is, that part of our report which sets out the grounds for suggesting a development of the Select Committee system of your Lordships' House. If I believed that an extension of this system would revolutionise our procedures or alter most of the way in which we work, it would not be something which I should find it easy to support. I see it as a logical and natural development of what we have achieved so far—and this is a point made by my noble friend Lord de Clifford. I so regard it for several reasons. I, like other noble Lords, am very sorry indeed that my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir is not here tonight. I am not sorry merely because she would have lent lustre to our debate. I regret the reason why she is not here, but most of all I regret her absence because she has shown the way forward for this House. With her deft and dignified chairmanship she has tapped the enthusiasm of your Lordships for a new type of Parliamentary work; and her personal testimony would have helped to stem the doubters who may be sitting on the two Front Benches.
My Lords, I hope that when we are looking at the way in which these Committees might work in the future we shall remember what has already been said about the proposals of Lord Maybray-King, when Lord Windlesham had to 252 respond to the report that Lord Maybray-King brought forward about how your Lordships should examine proposals coming from the EEC. There was a great deal of nervousness about whether Committees of this House would tear themselves loose from those wide terms of reference, would interfere here there and everywhere, would embarrass the Government in negotiations at the highest level of the Community and would generally make a nuisance of themselves. As other noble Lords have said and as I know from personal experience, the Committees of this House have provided useful information for the Government to use in negotiating in the Council of Ministers; far from inhibiting or hindering the work of the Government, those Committees have helped it.
I speak, too, because I have been a Member of the European Parliament or Assembly at Strasbourg. I think it very dangerous to compare different types of Parliamentary institution because they reflect the traditions from which they have grown. It is dangerous to make apparently obvious comparisons when so often there is an underlying difference. However, there is one point that I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention. It is this.
As we have found in the Scrutiny Committee of this House, the amount, the complexity and the nature of the proposals that come out of Brussels mean that Parliamentarians called upon to examine them must equip themselves to understand those complexities. We in the Scrutiny Committee have developed a system of sub-committees and in the European Parliament they have done the same thing. They have 12 sub-committees in the European Parliament, that very political assembly. There is no shortage of Party political feeling. Every political affiliation is represented, from the Communists to the neo-Fascists—with everything in between. That Assembly has decided that the way to cope with complex proposals for legislation is to have an examining stage in committee because it enables Members there to understand what is going on.
I should like to support the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as strengthened by my noble friend Lord Windlesham. I believe in 253 Parliament, but I believe that, while the Government and the Civil Service have developed, we, in both Houses of Parliament, are still behaving in a way that would be recognisable to someone who came back and was reincarnated from the 19th Century. There are many similarities between the procedures then and those we operate now. Of course, that is good, but it is no use if we in Parliament are still riding a penny farthing and attempting to keep up with the Government who are speeding along the motorway accompanied by the Civil Service. We cannot keep up with the complexities of modern legislation unless we develop our procedures to keep in touch with the growing complexity of Government.
There are noble Lords with much longer experience of this House who have grave doubts about the composition of these committees and whether they can be run in a way that would not trample on the susceptibilities of another place. There are doubts about whether controversial legislation could be referred to them. But I would say this. We have found in the European Communities Committee that we can handle controversial matters. If the right chairman and the right policy areas were picked, then the infinite adaptability of this House would show itself once again. As my noble friend Lord de Clifford has said, if there is a new challenge, we respond to it and develop a procedure to cope with it.
I believe that what we have done in the past has given us grounds for hoping that a cautious experiment of the sort suggested by my noble friend Lord Windlesham is worth trying. By using the word "cautious", I hope I shall not encourage the noble Lord, Lord Peart, to be overcautious; to me, to be cautious would be not to go for the full gamut of committees that we have suggested in our report. I think that that would be difficult for reasons of expense and, if we are going to make experiments, we want to make sure that we are not too ambitious at the beginning.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will not be deterred by what I might call "Lord President's palpitations". Of course, I am not referring to the present incumbent of that Office. I hope that his nightmares about his time clearing up 254 after Dick Crossman in the other place will not deter him from trusting your Lordships. He is in tune with this House. He knows the Members of this House. We are not like the people in the other Chamber. The noble Lord can trust Members of this House to behave themselves; as my noble colleague on the European Communities Committee, Lord Raglan, has shown, we restrain ourselves even in agriculture.
When the noble Lord comes to speak, I hope that he will not be harking back to the dangerous and difficult times of the past when unruly Members of another place gave him heartache. I hope that he will think about the courteous and gentle ways in which Members of this House contribute to help the Government. I hope that he can see that there is an untapped pool of talent here waiting to improve the Government's legislation and play a constructive part in the procedures of Parliament.
My Lords, before I sit down I want, at the risk of being pompous, to say one thing. This is a very serious matter because Parliament dies if it does not update its procedures. Procedures are the muscle and the sinew of Parliament. If we do not exercise that muscle and keep it in good trim for contemporary challenges then we shall have no real job left to do. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, to give us a chance to show that we in this Chamber are still the younger Chamber of Parliament and are still able to cope with new challenges.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, the composition of the Committee that produced this report is really—and I hope I do not sound patronising—impressive. It has the mandarins and the senators in the best historical sense of the words. They have produced a report which is possibly constitution-changing. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, intimated that he did not like it; I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Peart will also intimate that he does not like the ideas put forward. Front Benches hunt in couples. If we pass the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, we shall be changing the Constitution and shall be redressing the balance between the Front Benches, the Government and the Back Benches. The Motion will give 255 this House some of the powers of Congressional Committees and there will be a greater separation of powers. Montesquieu would approve.
The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, in his memorandum to the Committee, reports that he went into the Select Committee on Hare Coursing with certain views and finished it with some of those views changed. The nature of this House is relatively "un-whippable". One noble Lord who has spoken today (who shall be nameless) said privately to me: "I only vote for my Party when I have never heard one of the arguments put forward. Whenever I have listened to any of the arguments, I always vote against my Party". He is not a million miles away. That is a very healthy attitude of mind for Back-Benchers in this House because we do not owe anything to anybody except our consciences and sense of duty. Consequently, we must pay less attention to the Whips and more attention to our conscience. If that allows us to investigate, to look at, to subject to independent judgment the plans and policies of any Government, whatever their persuasion, it must in my humble opinion, be good for Parliament and for the people.
As I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, did not seem to like the idea very much and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will not like it very much, either. But it is a pity that this opportunity for independent assessment of Government ideas and policies has not been put into practice in the other place. It is, I am afraid, second best that it should happen here.
I started with a note on Montesquieu and I shall finish with a Mandarin Chinese of the Ming Empire who complained that the composition of your Lordships' House was totally inexplicable to him. It is still inexplicable to us now. However, even though we cannot change our composition, I hope that we shall be able to change our procedure so that we can have some influence and some hope of making Governments of both persuasions change their mind on occasions, whether it be on the Community Land Act or the Local Government Act. If we can do that, then we shall have advanced somewhat and shall have served our country well.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)
My Lords, this has been a very welcome debate and one which has aroused more interest than is usual on procedural subjects. Ever since I came to this House—which is not long ago—I have been impressed with its procedures and the common sense with which business is conducted; but I am aware of the need to review procedure, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said, from time to time and sometimes to revise it as well. This debate has given us a chance to do this. May I add—and I am not being patronising in any way—that we have had some excellent speeches. I was tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, about my experience in another place. When I was Leader of the House I was generally in tune with what Back-Bencher Members wanted at that period. I hope that I am today here in this House.
I found myself very much in sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and also the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who gave evidence also to the Select Committee with me. At least I am confident that the leaders of the main political Parties in the House showed good common sense. I am something of a pragmatist here when approaching this matter. It is not a Party matter. I do not think that anyone today has spoken in that sense. We have had contributions from Front Benchers—and I liked the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. Forgive me for mentioning this, but it was rather refreshing. I hope that we will all take careful note of it when we read our copies of Hansard tomorrow.
But this is a difficult subject and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shepherd for his clear explanation of his Committee's report. Certainly the House will have learned much from his speech and will appreciate the hours of deliberation in Committee which lay behind it. I pay tribute to him. I may differ on some nuances; but he has produced a report which has enabled us to have this debate today.
This report is the work of a most experienced Committee; and first of all I pay sincere tribute to them for their very wide and searching approach to the subject, and for their very hard work. It is obvious that they have got to grips with 257 the problems of legislation in the light of last Session's spillover, and that particularly where their main recommendations for Select Committees are concerned. They have set their sights very high.
There are a number of other recommendations which we should consider, and my noble friend Lord Shepherd explained these for us. Of course I accept the need for adequate time to consider legislation in this House, and it is important that we should be able to do our job of revision properly. It cannot be done in a rush. But noble Lords will know that accidents do happen, and that last Session there were rather more accidents than usual in another place.
The Committee suggests minimum intervals between stages of Bills and in general these are intervals which are already observed. I should be quite content to adopt these as a counsel of perfection, though it is inevitable that we must slip from grace now and then and these departures from normal practice will often be right and necessary. For instance, the interval between Committee and Report may be on the generous side. Whether it would be useful, as the Committee recommend, to give explanations in the House every time that the intervals are departed from, is open to doubt. Particularly in the period before the Summer Recess, this would lead to a lot of statements of the obvious.
The report makes a number of recommendations aimed at improving the conduct of Committee and Report stages. In general these are exhortations to obey the existing rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, reminded us, and of course they are obviously right. If we all avoided repeating our arguments, if we all made shorter speeches, if we were scrupulous about the Standing Order restricting the right to speak more than once in a debate, and so on, we could all go home earlier at night. This hardly needs emphasis by me.
As the House will know, another Select Committee has been set up in another place and several recommendations will depend on the conclusions which that Committee reach. For instance, it is right that consideration of the annual Sessions of Parliament should depend on decisions in another place.
258 I note also what your Lordships' Committee say about the introduction of non-controversial legislation without any commitment by the Government to its enactment during the Session in which it is introduced. This is a matter which can be considered in the light of future developments, but no Government of any complexion, I suspect, are likely to consign their legislation to an indefinite passage through Parliament. All Governments' programmes represent Bills which they consider right in the national interest.
I turn now to the question of scrutiny by Select Committee which has been the main subject of this debate. I can say at once that I recognise the strength of feeling on this subject and that many noble Lords will feel that there is in these proposals the kernel of a good idea. Only time will tell but there may indeed be a future for Select Committees in United Kingdom legislation. I acknowledged this when I gave evidence to the Committee.
What I envisaged as a possible runner then, and I do so now, is a Select Committee appointed to monitor progress of a major Bill, or Bills, through the Commons and to report on the Bill when it is brought to this House. Its report would indicate, for instance, how many hours had been spent by another place on each part of the Bill; which areas had or had not been fully explored; and whether the Government had given undertakings to be implemented in this House. This would give us guidance about the matters to which we should pay particular attention.
The Committee would not be seeking in anyway to interfere with the deliberations of another place. Its main source of information, for instance, would be the Hansard of proceedings in another place. It would not, and I emphasise this, take evidence from Ministers or civil servants while the Bill was in another place. Such evidence would inevitably reduce the service given to another place, and would place intolerable burdens on Government Departments.
The object of the Committee would be to make our revision of the Bill in this House more efficient, by supplying information and by avoiding the repetition 259 of points which may have been fully argued. It would even ensure more rapid return of our business to another place.
But this good idea has grown. The baby has turned into a giant and I can only say I feel more at home with the baby. Since the Leaders and Chief Whips gave evidence, the Committee on Practice and Procedure have developed this idea until it has a quite different purpose which in my view goes too far. Instead of being a proposal to improve our revision and to relieve the congestion at the end of the Session, it has become a radical new scheme for the scrutiny of public policy on a broad front.
If I may quote from a member of the Committee, I think the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, show very clearly what the proposal was initially. He said during the taking of evidence:What was in our minds in the first instance was simply that a Committee should follow specific pieces of legislation which were likely to come before the House of Lords during that particular Session, that they would, so to speak, keep in touch with them while they are in the House of Commons so that the Lords Committee could advise the House through either written or verbal report when this legislation came before the House".That was the scheme, as I understood it, when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I gave evidence to the Select Committee. The Committee's questions to us referred only to Bills. I have checked this to refresh my memory. There was no mention of other proposals such as delegated legislation, White Papers or Green Papers. We were discussing the consideration of Bills and I said that I would not oppose a limited experiment. I repeat it now. I do not oppose a limited experiment. But that is in the context of Bills, not of other proposals, because these introduce a different concept altogether.
We are primarily a revising Chamber and that should be our main aim. We should think very carefully before we embark on a new role for this House as a board of examiners. I do not think we should set out to adjudicate on every branch of Government policy which has been explained in White or Green Papers and I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said in his speech it would be wrong to go beyond legislation until we had tried a more limited experiment.
260 Of course, I understand very well the reasons why the baby grew into the giant. The Committee's recommendation grew from the experience of the European Communities Committee and their undoubted success in the difficult task of scrutinising European Secondary Legislation. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and should like to say that we wish her well. She has done so much; she has made a success of this Committee, and its work is a great tribute to her ability. I have given evidence in another place so often to the Scrutiny Committee on European legislation; but reading the report of the Committee here in this House is a tribute to the people who compose the Lords Committee. They have done their job magnificently and I applaud this. It was a natural step to say that, if this kind of scrutiny works for European legislation, why not extend it to domestic legislation? I understand the argument. But I also see differences between European and domestic legislation which make a direct transplant from one field to the other unsuitable.
The main differences are twofold: first, the timescale and, secondly, the procedure. European legislation is a long-drawn-out process in which the Council of Ministers agree to legislation only when national Parliaments have completed their scrutiny. There is no Sessional deadline. Then there is the different procedure. Where domestic legislation is concerned, there are many other opportunities for scrutiny, and the Select Committee can be only an extra stage or take the place of something else.
So, my Lords, I am not convinced that European-type scrutiny is suitable for domestic legislation. Furthermore, there are points about the composition of Select Committees which we cannot ignore. We have developed a complicated network of European Scrutiny Committees which depend on the loyalty and hard work of about 80 Members of the House, nearly all specialists in their particular subject. If we were to construct another network for domestic legislation and other proposals, we should need another large number of experts. In evidence, the Chairman of the European Communities Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, made it clear that it would be too great a burden on the existing 261 membership to take on the additional field of domestic legislation, unless its remit was very restricted. I think, my Lords, that in a part-time House this is asking too much. We cannot set up two parallel Committee systems of equal quality, and we would be rash to try. One or other network would suffer.
Arising out of this, I should mention Public Bill Committees which are suggested as part of the new procedure. The demands put on Peers by Scrutiny Committees and Public Bill Committees are different. The Public Bill Committee requires daily attendance at a time not of the Committee's choosing but at a time to synchronise with the progress of the Bill. This is quite unlike the Scrutiny Committees' timetable. I believe that noble Lords could find this a real problem and I should prefer to see the scrutiny procedure merely as a prelude to consideration in Committee of the Whole House, when the Scrutiny Committee members could give the House the benefit of their advice. Quite apart from this point of manpower, the Public Bill Committee is unsuited to controversial Bills, while the scrutiny procedure would probably be useful only on Bills where there is an element of controversy.
I have listened to the debate with great fascination and I have come to this conclusion. There is evidently a strong current of opinion in favour of an experiment to try out the Select Committee's recommendation for scrutiny procedure. There are also widely-differing views about what the experiment should be and even about precisely what the Practice and Procedure Committee have recommended. So I echo the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, in saying that I am prepared to accept the proposal for an experiment and that the recommendations should go to the Procedure Committee for detailed consideration of the problems involved. This should be done with a view to establishing a Select Committee next Session. The details of the Select Committee, its terms of reference and its scope, remain to be decided by the House.
But I agree to support this course of action on the understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will not press the Motion which stands on the Order Paper in his name. I have to say with 262 regret that I cannot accept his Motion in its present form, and if he presses it I shall be obliged to vote against it. There is too much uncertainty about the Select Committee's recommendatons and how they apply to different kinds of Bill.
I do not want to prejudge what conclusions the Procedure Committee will come to, but it is likely that they will suggest at least some modifications of the proposals in Part III of the report. They may, for instance, find that some or all Bills will be unsuitable for the Public Bill Committee procedure. They are likely to find that, on the grounds of the manpower and accommodation available, only one experimental Committee is possible. I am sure that they will agree that the House must be free to decide in individual cases that a Bill should follow the normal procedures. In any event, the Procedure Committee should be able to discuss the experiment in the light of this debate without being bound to every detail of the proposals in Part III of the report.
I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Windlesham, and the other members of the Select Committee will understand the constructive purpose of my suggestion. On the understanding that the proposal goes to the Procedure Committee with a view to setting up an experiment in the light of what has been said in this debate, I hope that the House will not be asked to vote this evening. I do not think that would be useful and I would prefer to go ahead with an agreed experiment which would have the best prospects of success.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and with the leave of the House, can I get clear what the noble Lord the Leader of the House is offering? There is some differance between what he has in mind as an experiment and what some other noble Lords envisage as an experiment. Is he able to give an undertaking to the House that what he has in mind and what he will support at the Procedure Committee on behalf of the Government, does not fall short of the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Carrington, when he spoke earlier in the debate this afternoon?
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, I have the impression that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord 263 Byers, the Leader of the Liberal Party, broadly accepted what I have put forward. I think that I have been constructive, and in view of this, and in view of the debate, I should hope that we could agree to what I have proposed. I think that this would be sensible.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, I take that to be an affirmative answer. It is now for my noble friend, Lord Shepherd, to reply to the debate, and I will indicate our response when the Second Motion is called.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I moved the Motion earlier this afternoon, as a servant and as chairman of a Select Committee of this House, and I immediately apologise to noble Lords who were then present for the length of my speech. I accept the very generous spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, placed strictures upon me. Perhaps they will understand that for so many years, speaking from that Dispatch Box, I worked on the basis that if you had 14 pages, double-spaced, that took 25 minutes. But speaking from here, one does not have 14 pages, double-spaced, and I had to do my own homework. So I apologise to your Lordships' House, and I will make certain that the brief notations that I make are considerably fewer than earlier this afternoon.
This has been a very good debate, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Peart will see that the House has approached reform and a change in procedure in a constructive way, and not one of challenge either to the Executive or, in particular, to another place. That is not what was behind the examination of your Lordships' Select Committee. We were bound by, we operated within and we sought to exercise our judgment according to the terms of your Lordships' House, in order to find ways and means by which this House should be more effective. I have no doubt at all that, in trying to make an assembly within Parliament more effective, one faces the problem of Government and the Executive, in the same way as those who aspire to be of the Government and the Executive. But we have approached this subject solely in the spirit of which I have spoken.
264 I must say to some of my noble friends who have come from another place, and who said that they thought that your Lordships' House should move with a degree of trepidation and, perhaps, of respect to another place, that we have always done so. But until this House is abolished, until this House is changed and so long as we remain within the Constitution, then its membership has a duty to see that its constitutional role is fulfilled. It is a duty which is upon us. I have made many speeches about the need for a proper understanding between the two Houses. I would not support that proposition if it meant that this House should not seek to resolve its procedure, not only in order to make itself more effective but to make a better and greater contribution to Parliament as a whole.
I have listened with the greatest care to what my noble friend Lord Peart has said and, perhaps mischievously, may I say that I am glad indeed that it was he who made the speech and not myself. But what does one do? My noble friend has said that he accepts—I think that was the term he used—the general proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, my noble friend did not say that. Certainly, that was my understanding of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Windlesham. But I do not believe that a Division is either necessary or desirable. It is a fuller House at this time of the evening than we normally have, and certainly if we were to have a Division nobody could say that the House had not been adequately represented. But, at the end of the day, decisions taken on the Floor of the House are not necessarily the right decisions, because there exist two adversarial positions.
I must say that I was attracted—and it is an embarrassment to say this—by the advice to the House of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we should accept in principle that in the next Session there should be a Sessional Committee on policy to examine legislation. I suspect that, at the end of the day, the Executive being what it is, it will not understand what we mean by the word "policy". I say to my noble friend Lord Peart that 265 our greatest difficulty is that we could not define what should be the ambit of these Committees. We rejected the concept of watchdog of a Department, and we tried to find another phrase. Perhaps we might have used the word "subject" as opposed to "policy"—I do not know.
If the House were to take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that there should be a Sessional Committee in the next Session to look at legislation within the broad policy area, then I would not ask my noble friend Lord Windlesham—because he referred to me as his noble friend—to press this Motion to a Division. If that was the undertaking or understanding of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, then my advice, particularly to my noble friend Lord Windlesham, would be not to move the Motion but to take it to a Procedure Committee, because we have to consider not only the terms of reference of these Committees, which are important, but also their structure and their forms of implementation. If the Government feel that they could respond in that way, then I should hope that we might avoid a clash, which would not be to the benefit of your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.