HL Deb 27 July 2000 vol 616 cc578-80

3.23 p.m.

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of recent recommendations by the House of Commons Modernisation Committee, they believe that the House of Lords should be given more power to scrutinise and possibly delay or reject primary and secondary legislation.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I understand that the recommendations of the All-Party Modernisation Committee in another place are intended to allow Members there to make more effective use of parliamentary time in scrutinising primary legislation. They are not intended to reduce the time available for scrutiny. The recommendations are a matter for Members of another place and do not affect procedures in this House.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. However, does she agree that most serious commentators believe that the proposed changes would curtail debate in another place and make it much easier for all governments to force their measures through? That would strengthen the executive at the expense of all opposition parties, and also at the expense of independent-minded Back-Benchers of all parties. To restore the balance, is it not essential for this House to be given the powers to prevent any possible slide towards an elective dictatorship?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as each House has control over its own procedures, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on changes that are made in another place. As I understand it, the proposals for timetabling, which were the burden of the modernisation report, are intended to make a fair division of available time relevant to each part of every procedure in another place. There are no proposals that would affect proceedings in this House.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in the past two Sessions government legislation from another place has reached us in an unprepared state and a very heavy task has fallen on Members of this House in attempting to put it right. To what extent would the modernisation of the other place as proposed in this plan overcome that problem?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I said, I do not think it appropriate for this House to comment on the procedures of another place and how they may or may not affect the scrutiny of legislation. As regards the time spent on legislative scrutiny, the figures that I have, which compare the 1995 Session with the past year, indicate that in the 1995 Session 43 Bills received 121 hours' scrutiny at Second Reading in another place, while so far in this Session 40 Bills have received over 150 hours of scrutiny at Second Reading. So, clearly, the questions of timetabling and scrutiny are not falling into disrepute.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, it is not our business to worry about the procedures of another place except in so far as they result in legislation of the kind that has arrived here recently, ill-prepared and ill-considered. But surely we should think more about our own procedures. Is there any barrier to this House rejecting secondary legislation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as has been demonstrated in this Session, we have had one rejection of secondary legislation. That was an outcome that the Government did not welcome. I believe that it was only the second time that such a thing had occurred in a very long time, probably since the Second World War. The issues of secondary legislation and how it should be scrutinised were addressed in proposals in the report on the reform of the House of Lords by the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. They would probably be appropriate matters for consideration by the Joint Committee of both Houses when it is set up after the Recess to examine the parliamentary aspects of reform.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that what concerns many of us is not scrutiny but control? Does she further agree that, over the past 30 years or so, the controlling of ill-considered legislation has been slowly passing from Parliament to the courts? While I do all honour to the courts, ought we not to try to keep our end up?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as always, the noble Earl makes an interesting observation, but it is somewhat wide of the Question.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that an increasing number of Bills that come to this House seem to have been badly scrutinised by another place? That may not just he the fault of Members of another place but may be the result of directions given by Ministers to the parliamentary draftsmen. When it comes to giving more power to delay legislation, are not the Government doing a rather good job all on their own? The Freedom of Information Bill had its Second Reading in this House on 20th April, and the Political Parties and Referendums Bill had its first day in Committee on 11th May. What has happened to those Bills?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we have not completed every part of every Bill. However, I was very pleased to report to the Cabinet this morning that we have reached Royal Assent on every single one of the Bills to which we gave agreement by the end of July. That is a long list of Bills; it will appear in the Official Report tomorrow. It is entirely consistent with the projections that we have given over the past few months. The two Bills mentioned by the noble Lord will be addressed in the overspill.

Lord Norton of Louth

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the comments of the Speaker of the House of Commons that parliamentary reform should be in order to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of government—that it should strengthen Parliament in calling government to account—and that that should take precedence over any changes designed for the convenience of Members?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am always pleased to hear the noble Lord's comments on these matters. They are extremely authoritative and we have all benefited from his thinking in this area. These are general questions which may well become appropriate when the Joint Committee is set up to discuss the relationship between the two Houses.