§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Second Report from the Procedure Committee deals with a variety of matters, and I should like to draw some of them briefly to the attention of the House.
The report reminds the House of the conventions governing our debates. The Procedure Committee is concerned about the growing number of occasions when noble Lords who speak in debates do not remain to hear the closing speeches. For that reason the report sets out 1485 the present guidelines; namely, that a noble Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate, and that it is considered discourteous not to be present for the opening and winding-up speeches and at least the speeches immediately before and after his own speech. The report also points out that a noble Lord who becomes aware that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the speakers' list.
To emphasise those conventions, the committee recommends that the advice in the Companion should be strengthened as indicated in paragraph 4 of the report.
The report reminds the House that noble Lords should remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber during a maiden speech or during the following speaker's congratulations. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.
May I say in this connection that the convention that only the following speaker congratulates a maiden speaker is not being observed. I am sure that the House will wish to observe its conventions.
The report recommends that Questions for Written Answer should no longer be printed in the Minute each day until they are answered. It recommends instead that Questions should be printed and published only once, when they are tabled, and only republished if they are altered. This would save about £80,000 a year. A full list of unanswered Questions would be kept in the Minute Room and in the Library of the House, and noble Lords could consult it there.
One matter which the committee discussed is not mentioned in the report: namely, declaration and registration of interests. The committee considered a memorandum by the Leader of the House suggesting that there was a case for a further review of this matter by the Procedure Committee or a sub-committee.
However, the committee noted that there was no suggestion that the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, which drew up the present rules in 1995, had overlooked any important matter or that there was a defect in the present system of registration. The committee also felt that two years was too short a period for a proper evaluation of the Griffiths recommendations. So the committee decided not to recommend an immediate review of registration and declaration of interest. The committee will, however, consider the matter again at the beginning of the next parliamentary session.
Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 38).—(The Chairman of Committees.)
Following is the report referred to:
1. CARRY-OVER OF BILLS
The Committee considered a proposal made by the Commons Modernisation Committee1, and endorsed by the House of Commons2 that it should be possible for Government Bills to be "carried over" from one parliamentary session to the next in the same way as hybrid and private Bills. The Committee accepts that there is a case for the carry-over of some Government Bills in certain circumstances. The Committee agreed that the Clerk of the 1486 Parliaments, after discussion with the Clerk of the House of Commons, should prepare a memorandum for the Committee, to be considered at a future meeting, in which the practical details and any necessary safeguards are examined.
2. EXPLANATORY NOTES FOR BILLS
The Committee agreed to a proposal for "Explanatory Notes" on Bills, which was made by the Commons Modernisation Committee and has been agreed to by the House of Commons'. The Notes will be prepared by the sponsoring Department and will combine in a single document accompanying the Bill the material provided at present in the Explanatory Memorandum and the Notes on Clauses, but will extend and improve it. There will also be Explanatory Notes for Acts.
The Committee believes that it is desirable that—
—in order to establish that the Explanatory Notes cannot be amended in Parliament, the Notes should make clear that they had been drafted by the sponsoring Department and have not been authorised by Parliament;
—the Explanatory Notes should be neutral in tone and do not try to promote the Bill or the policy underlying it;
—the Explanatory Notes should be published separately from the Bill (and the subsequent Act), in order to avoid delay in publishing the Bill, to avoid the Bill being too bulky, and to give the public a choice of whether or not to buy the Notes.
3. REPRINTING OF QUESTIONS FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
The Committee considered whether Questions for Written Answer should continue to be printed each day in the Lords Minute until they are answered, up to two weeks after tabling. If Questions were printed and published only when they were new or had been amended, an annual saving of about £80,000 could be made. The Committee recommends that Questions for Written Answer should be published only once, when they are tabled, and only republished if they are altered. A full list of unanswered Questions should be available for consultation in the Minute Room and the Library of the House.
4. ATTENDANCE AT DEBATES AND OTHER CONVENTIONS OF THE HOUSE
The Committee is concerned about the growing number of occasions when Lords who speak in debates do not remain to hear the closing speeches. The Committee wishes to remind Lords of the present guidelines in the Companion that a Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening and winding-up speeches and at least the speeches immediately before and after his own speech. A Lord who becomes aware that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the speakers' list (1st Report 1994–95; 3rd Report 1995–96).
The Committee has decided that the advice in the Companion should be strengthened by substituting for the words "A Lord who leaves early cannot expect to be answered by the Minister." the following:Ministers cannot be expected to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the Minister's closing speech.
The Committee reminds the House that Lords should remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber during a maiden speech or during the following speaker's congratulations. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.
The Committee noted that the expression "the noble Minister" is increasingly being used instead of the correct form "the noble Lord, the Minister". The Committee draws the House's attention to the correct form of address.
5. JOINT COMMITTEE ON STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS: NEW STANDING ORDER
The Committee agreed to a new Standing Order governing the appointment of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in order to reduce and simplify the Motions which have to be moved at the beginning of each session.
1487 6. BROADCASTING COMMITTEE: TRANSFER OF FUNCTIONS
The Committee agreed that the functions of the Broadcasting Committee, which have become largely formal, should he transferred to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, who already deal with issues of substance relating to broadcasting, and that the Broadcasting Committee should therefore cease to exist.
7. APPLICATION OF THE ROTATION RULE TO THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
The Committee agreed to apply to the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee the exemption from the rotation rule which allows Sub-Committee Chairmen to serve for three sessions.
1First Report 1997-98: The Legislative Process (HC 190).
2On 13th November 1997.
3See footnotes 1 and 2.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, as one who attended the Procedure Committee of the House, should just like to make one or two comments on its report. The Chairman of Committees mentioned the question of attendance during debates and other conventions of the House. It has been brought to my notice that yesterday, when there were, I believe, five maiden speakers, three of them left and did not reappear for the winding-up speeches. It is most important that the various parties should din into their new boys the importance of observing the conventions.
One or two other matters were raised. There has been a certain amount of slackness recently about bowing to the Cloth of State upon entering the Chamber, and also about walking between the Woolsack and the Peer who is speaking. I know that these may appear to some of your Lordships to be trivial matters, but over the years these little courtesies have been the oil which enabled the wheels of business to turn easily and pleasantly. I believe that it is most important for us not to lose sight of that fact.
There is just one other matter that I should like to mention. The first item in the report concerns the carry-over of Bills. The report reads:The committee accepts that there is a case for the carry over of some Government bills in certain circumstances".That means the carry over of a Bill from one Session to another. The idea is that government Bills should not fall at the end of a Session if they have not completed all their stages, but should be enabled to continue into the next Session. The report also says that the committee "accepts" the need for such carry over of government Bills, but I want to point out to the House that the committee was not unanimous in that respect; certainly, three members of the committee were very unhappy about the whole idea. I believe we felt—indeed, I felt so, and I was one of those members—that it was no bad thing for governments to have some hurdles to jump in getting their business through. I should also like to point out to the Government that, one day, they may find themselves in opposition and they may come to regret what they very much want at present.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, perhaps I may raise the matter of the Register of Members' Interests and the declaration thereof. Unfortunately, we are at a disadvantage today in considering what the Chairman of Committees has reported to us and what the Procedure 1488 Committee has decided in the interim. I say that because the current Register of Members' Interests is not available in the Printed Paper Office. A number of us were concerned that last year's register of interests did not appear to give a clear and complete indication of a number of Members' interests.
When we consider this particular item, it will he useful to see the current register to ascertain whether it is more complete than has been the case in the past. We also need to bear in mind the fact that, over the past few months, we have had a large influx of new Members to your Lordships' House. If the Procedure Committee were to review this particular issue within the next six months rather than after 12 months, taking soundings from all parts of the House before it deliberated on the matter, we might achieve a situation which does not leave Members of your Lordships' House vulnerable compared with the system which now pertains in the other place.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I should like to put two questions to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. The first relates to a matter raised by my noble friend Lady Saltoun; namely, the proposal to carry forward certain government Bills to the next parliamentary Session. That would represent a major departure from our traditional practice and would alter the balance of power to some extent between the Executive and the legislature. If the proposal were ultimately to be agreed to, can the noble Lord say what kind of Bills might be carried forward and how often that might happen?
My second question is on a rather more mundane topic. The report claims that there would be an annual saving of £80,000 if Questions for Written Answer were only to be printed once in the Lords Minute. That equates to a staggering £537 per sitting day, based on last year's figures. That represents about 1,000 copies of no more than 12 A4 sheets containing information most of which is already stored on computer. Periodic alterations should not have to involve the payment of expensive overtime. I wonder whether the taxpayer is perhaps paying just a little bit too much for the Minutes of Proceedings.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, the Chairman of Committees said that the question of the register of interests had been discussed at the meeting. However, I believe that he also said that it is not mentioned in the report. I understand that that is the normal procedure if no change takes place with the subject under discussion. Nevertheless, it is deeply disappointing that further consideration of the register is to be deferred for such a long time. If I understood him correctly, the Chairman of Committees said that it would be three years before the issue would be reconsidered.
I raise the matter because of the growing concern about the inadequacy of the provisions for registration in your Lordships' House. It is now receiving attention outside the House, not only in newspaper reports but also by those who take an interest in such matters. This has arisen because of the massive publicity arising from 1489 what has occurred in another place. People are now asking, quite properly and understandably, why there should be different criteria between the two Houses. After all, your Lordships' House is an. essential part of the legislature and just as responsible in every sense of the word as the other House.
However, perhaps the crucial aspect of the matter is the fact that it is generally accepted that many more noble Lords hold directorships, chairmanships and other interests than are also held in another place where they all have to be declared. As I understand it, some of those categories do not have to be entered in the register of this House. In a recent leading article in a newspaper, some noble Lords were named along with the number of directorships and related offices which they held, none of which were included in the register of interests. My impression was that the persons so named were not acting dishonestly but that the article pointed out the glaring inconsistency compared with the strict criteria required in another place.
The behaviour of politicians is now more than ever under the searchlight of the modern media, and television in particular, but also, of course, radio and newspapers. We should not complain about that. Your Lordships' House is frequently praised for the quality of its work. We cannot afford to have any blemish on our conduct. It has to be said that the present system at least has the potential—I say no more than that—to raise doubts, as, indeed, is happening now. I assume that in considering this report today we can ask the Procedure Committee to think again on the procedures relating to the registration of interests. I trust that your Lordships will accept that view. Recently I heard someone ask, "What is the point of bolting the front door if the back door remains unlocked?". That appears to me to be a fair summary of the situation. I believe it to be a matter requiring urgent attention.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the proposal on the carry over of Bills is, as has been said, a substantial departure. As this appears now to be a proposal to be jointly considered between the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons, it looks as if we could be embarking along a road over which I personally would not wish to travel. I wonder whether in those circumstances—I do not know whether this is possible in this House—before your Lordships' House ever has to consider this matter again, we could have the minority report of those who object in the Procedure Committee so that we all may be advised of the pros and cons of this proposal. I declare my position; I am dead against it.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, may I raise a short question on paragraph 3 entitled,Reprinting of Questions for Written Answer"?The recommendation of the committee was that,Questions for Written Answer should be published only once, when they are tabled, and only republished if they are altered".I fully support paragraph 3. On 3rd December last year there were 72 Questions spread over five pages. This 3rd December there are 186 Questions spread over 1490 12½ pages. The growth is enormous. At the same rate of growth the millennium should see us each day with some 350 Questions spread over 25 pages. I agree that something must be done to keep the Order Paper within reasonable bounds. I have one suggestion which I would like to make.
At present there is, I understand, a convention that a Question should be answered within a fortnight whenever possible. I would like to suggest to your Lordships that a Question that has been left unanswered for, say, 21 days should be republished daily until it is answered. We all have an interest in the smooth running and the efficiency of the proceedings of this House and indeed I think we are proud of this House's efficiency.
I therefore feel that there should be some spur towards answering a Question within a reasonable time. The knowledge that the attention of the House will be drawn to the fact that the Question is overdue for an answer would, in my submission, be as good a spur as any. Today's Order Paper contains one Question which has been left unanswered for 21 days. I am not concerned in any way with that Question or its merits; I know nothing at all about it. I merely mention that as a fact. I would suggest to your Lordships that the Select Committee on Procedure might consider whether an overdue Question should be republished until it is replied to.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I was one of those referred to by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, as expressing quite a lot of doubt about the wisdom of the carry over of Government Bills from one Session of Parliament to another. As I remember, the noble Lord the Leader of the House, as is his wont, introduced the subject and asked for responses. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was what I would describe as lukewarm on the subject, having studied it in the time of the previous government.
I argued against the proposal on the basis that it would increase the power of the Executive—that was exactly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, just now—by removing the delaying power of either the Opposition of the day in another place or indeed of your Lordships' House as a whole. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, disagreeing with me and saying that the power to delay was somewhat overrated. Be that as it may, I think that it is probably true to say that the offending sentence in the first paragraph to which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, drew attention probably reflects the Lord Chairman's summing up.
I recall asking specifically whether the substantive discussion on the carry over of Bills by the Government would be held after the paper by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of another place had been considered by the committee. The answer was in the affirmative. I therefore find it difficult to understand how the report can possibly state that the committee accepts that there is a case for it when that substantive 1491 discussion has not been held. In my view that sentence is at best erroneous and at worst—I am afraid I must say this—misleading.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)
My Lords, I shall say a few words on one or two of the issues that have been raised, particularly the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. As I understood the proceedings in the committee, the one undoubted fact that the committee could neither accept nor deny was that the House of Commons had accepted the principle of carry over and that the Modernisation Committee report had been accepted in another place. Thinking back, I am sure that the Procedure Committee took the view that it would be a strange situation in which the House of Commons had accepted the principle of carry over but the House of Lords had not. Although there were some doubts expressed in the committee—I totally accept that; I do not claim that there was a unanimous feeling, nor would I claim that the Leader of the Opposition was particularly warm on this issue—there seemed to be a general acceptance that the principle of carry over should be examined at a practical level by the officials of this House and the officials of another place. When it has been examined it will have to return to the Floor of this House.
If I may lapse into Community jargon, it seemed to me, considering that discussion of the Procedure Committee, that there was an avis favorable to accept the principle of carry over by a majority of the members of the committee. We did not take a vote because, as far as I know, we never do take votes in the Procedure Committee. That was certainly my impression. Judging from the report submitted by the Lord Chairman of the Procedure Committee, that was clearly his impression too. I entirely accept that there were voices in opposition. Of course I accept that the measure is bound to have to come back to the House when the practicalities have been considered.
A number of questions were raised about the register of interests. I do not think that I can advise the House to take any decision on this other than the one which has been reached by the Procedure Committee. I say to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, it is not that it will be put off for another three years; when the Procedure Committee looks at it at the beginning of the next Session, the existing machinery will have been in existence for three years. There will be therefore a greater opportunity for discussion and more data from which the House can come to a judgment as to whether we wish to go further.
At this stage, I accept that that was a sensible position for the Procedure Committee to have taken. I support leaving the reconsideration of that issue until the beginning of the next Session.
I was interested in the mathematics of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as regards the £80,000 savings. The House of Commons again has adopted this procedure: that a Question for Written Answer is printed only once. As I understand, the savings have been very great. The 1492 £80,000 figure was a sum produced by those who consider such matters in detail. It seems to me a great saving so far as concerns the expenses of this House.
§ 4 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not attempt to detain the House long. I merely wish to record my gratitude to the Leader of the House for the guidance he has given the committee and the House this afternoon. I entirely support the guidance he has given us.
The noble Lord is correct in saying that I had some reservations about the issue of carry over, not only as to whether it would impinge on the present powers of your Lordships' House, but also as regards the circumstances in which another place might feel it wanted to introduce Bills being carried over from one Session to another. The Leader of the House was extremely wise, if he will allow me to say so, in suggesting that officials of both Houses should consult together and report back to the Procedure Committee. It will in due course report back to your Lordships' House the results of those consultations. I understand that the original proposals for carry over—perhaps the Leader of the House will indicate dissent if I have this wrong—have been modified. It is now proposed that Bills to be carried over might be of a highly technical nature and would be discussed through the usual channels. Some of the impediments would be drawn to your Lordships' attention just as they would be in another place, in particular with the advantage of advice from officials.
I believe that the Leader of the House is entirely wise in suggesting to your Lordships that we await the report of the officials so that we can discuss this potentially extremely important matter further.
I wonder, too, whether noble Lords might feel inclined to consider, for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, what seemed an extremely ingenious suggestion which can do nothing but improve in a minor but important way the ability of Parliament to hold the Executive to account. It may well be that the noble and learned Lord's suggestion could be further considered in due course by the Procedure Committee. Subject to the guidance of the Leader of the House, I am disposed to view that suggestion with some sympathy.
On registration of interests, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has done the House a favour. As the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, pointed out, it is right that a functioning House of Parliament—as is your Lordships' House—should be seen to take these matters extremely seriously. Of late such issues have become increasingly a matter of public interest and concern. It is right that your Lordships should be aware of that and should take these matters to heart, and be seen to do so. Equally, your Lordships will be aware that at present we are not an elected Chamber. The nature of the written Summons to your Lordships' House is different from the qualification that enables Members of Parliament to sit in another place. In many ways the circumstances are different. Thanks to the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, we have a system which is newly established. So far as I know, there have 1493 been no complaints. On purely pragmatic grounds there is no prima facie case for altering the present system. Nevertheless, I wholly subscribe to the view of the Leader of the House that these matters should be reviewed at regular intervals. It seems wise that your Lordships should take his advice that we let the present system bed itself in for an appropriate but not excessive period before we consider the matter again. The Procedure Committee may come to the conclusion that the system does not need amendment. Nevertheless, we would be wise to consider the issue if only to assure people outside this House that it is a matter about which we are not complacent.
I am grateful to noble Lords for allowing me to intervene. With those considerations, I hope that your Lordships will feel able to support the Motion on the Order Paper.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords in view of what has been said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition about carry over and the registration and declaration of interests, I do not propose to add much.
On carry over of Bills, I confirm what the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition said. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, referred to the matter. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for having warned me half an hour before the House sat today that the matter was likely to be raised. That enabled me to look into the matter. I confirm the recollection of the Leader of the House on the committee's decision. Acting as chairman, I summed up the discussion on that matter. It is my clear recollection that the committee decided to accept the idea of carry over in principle but subject to certain practical matters and safeguards, which are to be the subject of discussions between the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons.
In that connection, it must be borne in mind that we would not have come to a conclusion on principle if we had not considered the issue of practicalities and safeguards. But, having considered the practicalities and safeguards, if the Procedure Committee is not satisfied, it would be open to it, as it always is in our domestic committees when reconsidering matters, to defer the matter for further consideration or to throw it out altogether. To that extent, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, will be somewhat reassured.
There is no doubt in my mind that it was a clear decision of the Procedure Committee to come to a conclusion on that matter of principle so that it could consider these other matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned the register of interests. I am sorry that it is not available at present. The register is to be published either on Monday or possibly tomorrow. It should have been published earlier. There were many last minute amendments. If those were to be incorporated, it was not possible to send off the register until Tuesday of 1494 next week. I suggest one word of compensation to your Lordships. The delay will mean that the register is up to date and complete, although the date on which we had hoped it would be available has passed.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, raised a number of other points. She is right to say that some maiden speakers have not remained in the Chamber for at least part of the remainder of the debate after making their maiden speeches. It was not an isolated occasion this week; it occurred last week too. Since we have also referred to the congratulations after maiden speeches, perhaps I may mention an exodus during congratulations expressed on Tuesday. Two noble Lords withdrew during the congratulatory remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. The noble Lord was sitting in his usual seat at this end of the far Benches by the aisle to my right. Those noble Lords passed directly in front of him. That is another transgression which the noble Lady mentioned—namely, passing between the speaker on his or her feet and the Woolsack. She is also right in saying that some noble Lords fail to bow to the Cloth of State on entering. With that gentle reminder on those three points, drawn attention to first by the noble Lady, I hope that noble Lords will remember to observe those conventions.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was among those who referred to carry over. When we come to reconsider these matters, the points he made will be borne in mind.
As to declaration of interests, there has been no evidence whatever of wrongdoing in your Lordships' House in the two years since the Griffiths Report, so no matters have had to be referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths's sub-committee. As already indicated, there have been no suggestions that the sub-committee overlooked any important matter.
It may be worth making the further point that in some ways your Lordships' rules are much tougher and tighter than those in another place, particularly so far as categories 1 and 2 are concerned. We face more stringent restrictions. To give one example, if a noble Lord were paid a consultancy fee by a firm, he would be prohibited from speaking in the House on any matter relating to that firm, whereas a Member of another place in similar circumstances would not be prevented from so doing. That is just one example of how your Lordships have instituted tougher rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned the topic of Questions for Written Answer. We have already had some evidence from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, about the large number of Questions appearing in the Minute. That is one consideration. Another is the number of copies bought each day and the nature of the contract with the Stationery Office. I appreciate that, among others, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has been attracted by the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as one to be considered. The great merit of the Procedure Committee's recommendation to your Lordships today is the fact that it is simple and straightforward. The proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, would involve some additional monitoring and therefore 1495 some additional administrative work. There is also the danger that, if a Question were taken off the Minute and then came on again, it could cause confusion and might even cause a department which had not answered the Question to regard it as having been tabled afresh and the timing would thus start again. That might not be an advantage.
I suggest that, since the proposal made by the Procedure Committee to your Lordships is a new one, we should wait and see how it works out. As we know from experience, there is nothing to stop the Procedure Committee returning to these matters. Perhaps the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, can be borne in mind so that, when further consideration is given to this matter, we can consider instituting his proposal as well. I repeat in that regard my earlier reservations and words of caution.
I am anxious not to go on for too long; I think I have covered all the points that were raised. If I have not, I shall see that noble Lords who have not received an adequate response are answered in writing or orally.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.