§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick rose to move, That this House takes note of the report from the Committee on the Speakership of the House (HL Paper 199, Session 2002–03).
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords were appointed to sit as a Select Committee on 9 July 2003, and were instructed to report by the end of the Session, which we succeeded in doing, but—it must be said—only just.378
§ I start by thanking my fellow members of the Select Committee, and say what an honour—one might even say a pleasure—it was to serve as their chairman. Of course I am sorry, as noble Lords would expect, that we were not unanimous on all aspects. Differences emerged only at a very late stage of our inquiry and I hope to persuade your Lordships that those differences, which are very real—I do not disguise that—nevertheless lie within a very narrow compass.
§ The report is only 10 pages long, so I shall assume that most Members of the House have read it, or at least have a idea of what the committee recommended. In those circumstances it would seem to me to serve no purpose to go through the report paragraph by paragraph. Instead, I plan to highlight what seem to be the main points and to deal in my reply with any other points that may arise during the debate. I appreciate that that is not the usual course to take on Select Committee reports, but the House might think it convenient on this occasion.
§ Before I turn to the report itself, there are two preliminary points that I should like to make. The first is that I hope that the House will concentrate on the merits or otherwise of the committee's report and not on the manner in which the Government announced their intentions on 12 June. This is, after all, a debate to take note of the report, not of the circumstances which surrounded the committee being set up.
§ Having said that, perhaps I may say where I personally stand on these matters, if only to get it out of the way. When the Bill abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor comes before the House I shall oppose it as forcefully as I can, just as I shall oppose the removal of the Law Lords. But that is a debate for another day; it is not a debate for today. As to the discourtesy done to the House on 12 June 2003, the late Lord Williams apologised to the House on 16 June, just four days later. There it should surely be left, at least for the time being.
§ The other background matter I mention is that of timing. It will of course arise only if the House approves the committee's report in principle. There are two views on timing. One view, which is advocated very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is that we should not implement any change until the legislation is in force. The other view is that we could implement the report in advance of any legislation by amending Standing Order 18. That is, your Lordships will remember, the Standing Order which requires the Lord Chancellor to attend the House as Speaker. If we were to amend Standing Order 18, a new Speaker of the House of Lords could be elected before the legislation is implemented. He would then act alongside the Lord Chancellor, so long as that office exists. That would release the Lord Chancellor For his other duties in the mean time.
§ Those are the two contrasting views on timing. The report does not express any view one way or the other and nor do I. It is clearly miles outside the committee's terms of reference. The report only sets out the Lord Chancellor's evidence at the bottom of page 1, in which he said that he would continue as Speaker so long as the House so wishes.379
§ I turn now to the few points I should make on the report itself. The most important recommendation by far on which the committee was unanimous—and I am sure all sides of the House will be very glad to hear this—was that the House should continue to be self-regulating. By that, it meant that, among other things, the responsibility for the maintaining of order should remain with the House as a whole and not with the new Speaker, as in the House of Commons. We do not want a Commons-type Speaker with endless points of order and all that woe. I cannot stress that too strongly at this stage.
§ So, what kind of Speaker do we want? Do we indeed want a Speaker at all? Logically, that is the first question. I think we do. For example, we will have to have a Speaker to replace the Lord Chancellor on ceremonial occasions—I think we all agree on that—but that is only the start.
§ There are other functions that I am sure we would all want the Speaker to perform on our behalf for which the Lord Chancellor has never had time in recent years. For example, he could represent us abroad—what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, called his ambassadorial role. He could receive and entertain distinguished foreign dignitaries on our behalf and visitors in general from overseas. He could speak on our behalf at home and help to raise our profile in the eyes of the public.
§ For all those activities, we will need a man or woman—I shall not repeat that over and over; from now on, "man" includes "woman"—of considerable stature. But perhaps more important than any of that is what someone called the Speaker's pastoral role— cannot remember whose expression that was. He could welcome new Members on their arrival in the House. He could teach them our ways, our customs. That would be a great deal for him to do.
§ Again, I have only mentioned part of what he might do. For example, he could act as a focus of all our activities. He could even ask our wives to dinner—once again, I include husbands in the expression "wives". I recommend that anyone who thinks that suggestion trivial reads what the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said at question 73 of her evidence as showing the importance of that part of a Speaker's role, and what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said, when he referred to his "love and whisky" treatment of Members of the House of Commons. From time to time we could all do with that, so please read what those two experienced Speakers have to say on the subject. So, as I said, there is plenty for our new Speaker to do, if we have one.
§ There will also be the more humdrum roles: his role as Chairman of the House of Lords' Offices Committee and of the Procedure Committee, as well as performing a full stint on the Woolsack. The idea that all those activities could be performed by the Lord 380 Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees is simply not on. They are already at full stretch and have enough to do, so the conclusion is clear that we will need a Speaker.
§ That brings me to the next question: what the Speaker should be called. There are three possibilities. First, we could stick with the existing name, which is Lord Speaker.
§ It may not be generally known that the office of Lord Speaker is at least as old and possibly a good deal older than the Speaker of the House of Commons, so the House of Commons cannot claim priority over that name. In the early days, our Speaker was known as the "Prolocutor" or "Mouth of the House". For that information I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Roper. If your Lordships care to look it up, you will find our Speaker referred to in Standing Order 19 as the "Mouth of the House".
§ By convention, the office of Lord Speaker has for many centuries been held by the Lord Chancellor. But it was not always so. Until the reign of Henry Ill, it was held by an even grander functionary, called the Lord Justicier.
§ The relevance of all that is simply that there have always been and still are two separate offices: that of Lord Chancellor and that of Lord Speaker. That is why there are so many references to the Lord Speaker in the Companion and elsewhere; that is why we have Deputy Speakers. That being so, the onus must be on those who want to change an existing name to give some good reason.
§ The second possibility is of course to change the name to Lord Chancellor, if and when the name becomes available. That was the purpose of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, which is supported by many of your Lordships—the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Wakeham, and many others— but I fear that it will not do. If the ancient office of Lord Chancellor is to be abolished by statute, I shall regret that deeply—probably more than anyone else in the House, for it is an office to which in my early days at the Bar I once aspired. I was like the private soldier with the field-marshal's baton in my knapsack.
§ Once the office is gone, we must recognise that fact. We cannot give it a sort of posthumous existence by transferring the name—the shell without the kernel—to what will inevitably be a much lesser office. It is said that to call him the Lord Chancellor will add dignity to the office of Lord Speaker. Again, I cannot agree. We must not become obsessed by names. The dignity of the office will depend on the man or woman we choose to fill it, not on the name by which he is called.
§ The third possibility is Lord Chairman, but there one at once runs into a difficulty. We already have a Lord Chairman of Committees, so I shall say no more about that. It could only add confusion if we were to call the Speaker the Lord Chairman of the House, or something of that kind.
§ That brings me back to the title of Lord Speaker, which is not only the existing name but the natural title. As for any possible confusion with the Speaker of 381 the House of Commons, the evidence of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on that point could not be clearer. She could see no risk, and we agreed.
I now come to the most contentious point, which is the subject of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. What do we want the Lord Speaker to do when he is sitting on the Woolsack? Do we want him to sit there,
like patience on a monument",
or, as one member of the committee put it—less elegantly and without any reference to the present incumbent—like a sack of potatoes? Or do we want him to take an intelligent interest in what is going on and perform at least some of the functions currently performed by the Leader on behalf of the House as a whole?
§ The functions in question are so limited that one might well wonder why we are making any recommendation on that at all. The answer is straightforward: we are responding to the evidence that we heard—especially the evidence of the late Lord Williams.
§ I shall start with Private Notice Questions, which is one matter that may be transferred. There are not many of them these days—perhaps three a year and seven or 10 that are refused—but Private Notice Questions can raise matters of acute political sensitivity. Lord Williams told us that, in his view, it was wrong in principle—objectionable—that the decision whether to allow Private Notice Questions should be taken a member of the Government. Others agreed, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—indeed it was the one matter on which the entire Liberal Democrat Party was apparently able to reach a clear view. One can always get round points of principle. The Leader could, and no doubt does, discuss matters with her opposite numbers. But if Lord Williams regarded it as objectionable on principle, we should take that very seriously.
§ We found Lord Williams's evidence on Question Time compelling. I am sorry to refer to him again, but on any view he was an outstanding Leader of the House. The rest of the House did not have the opportunity that we had to hear him give his evidence. He did so clearly with the interests of the House in mind, not those of the Government or any government. He said that he sometimes found it invidious to choose the next supplementary question; not always—very often not—but sometimes. If Lord Williams, with all his panache, found it invidious, what, one wonders, would go through the mind of a relatively junior government Whip?
§ Lord Williams was supported on all sides of the committee—by the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Boston, the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Ramsay, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, not to mention the noble Baronesses, Lady Boothroyd and Lady Williams, in oral evidence. There was evidence the other way, notably that of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. A 382 very comprehensive memorandum was prepared by the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Chadlington, with which many members agreed. We took into account all the evidence and came to the view that Lord Williams was right, and that the Leader's function at Question Time could, and should, be transferred to the Speaker with advantage to the House and no loss of self-regulation.
§ Lord Williams made a further final point: that the Speaker should be regarded as the guardian of the Companion. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, hit on very much the same idea. We found that a helpful concept, but it depends on the content of the concept and on one's own view of how well self-regulation currently works. Views on that differ. Some think that it works well; others, including the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, if he will forgive me For saying so, take a more jaundiced view.
§ Older Members look back to a golden age of deference and universal courtesy, but it was not ever thus. Lord Campbell, in Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England, lamented that the House of Lords, which was supposed to be the most august assembly in the world, was probably the most disorderly—that was in 1845. There was not a great golden age. I am too recent a Member to express any view on the subject, but I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who unfortunately cannot be here today. He said that he thought that the House was working well but getting ragged around the edges. One sees what he means. We all know the sort of supplementary question that starts, "I thank the Minister for his reply, but I wonder would he not agree with my views, which are as follows?", to which the Minister replies at equally great length, so every Starred Question becomes a mini-debate. We all know that that is wrong and not in accordance with the Companion. If we all obeyed the rules, as Lord Williams was so fond of saying, there would be time for everyone, even the newer Members and those Cross-Benchers all around me who are too shy to join in a shouting match.
§ That is where a Speaker might be able to help self-regulation and lead us back on to the path of righteousness, but always by gentle persuasion—perhaps the carrot but never the stick. I hope that I have said enough to set the ball rolling. I greatly look forward to the debate. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the report from the Committee on the Speakership of the House. (HL Paper 199, Session 2002–03). —(Lord Lloyd of Berwick.)
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, the whole House will wish me to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and all the members of the committee for their work. It was a challenging brief, and they have delivered a report on time. There are different views on the report's recommendations, but I think that we can all agree that the report is clear and, if I may agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, commendably short. At my request, the noble 383 and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, held a question-and-answer session for Peers in December to answer any questions on the report, and I thank the noble and learned Lord for that.
The purpose of the debate is to help us to judge the feelings of the House on this important issue. With the permission of the House, I will have an opportunity to comment on points raised during the debate, before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, replies, so I will keep my opening comments brief.
Let me first explain the proposed procedure for taking the matter forward. Today's debate will allow all views to be expressed. After the debate, I will table a Motion to approve the report, with or without qualifications. That Motion will of course be amendable and divisible, and will allow the House to take substantive decisions. The Procedure Committee will then meet to bring forward any necessary changes to Standing Orders and to fill in any points of detail not covered in the Lloyd report. If the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, were agreed to, that procedure would be short cut and the House would have rejected the Lloyd report.
Before I go any further, I wish to comment on terminology. One of the issues to be debated is what a new Speaker should be called. Different views have been expressed. I propose to refer to the "Speaker", because the Lloyd report does, and because it is the term already used, albeit infrequently. But that is only convenient shorthand; I do not mean to prejudice the debate or any decision of the House.
I hope that the House will find it helpful if I set out my view, as Leader of the House, of the proposals in the Lloyd report. In almost every respect I find them acceptable, if that is what the House decides. In particular, I believe that a Speakership as described in the report is fully consistent with self-regulation and will strengthen self-regulation rather than weaken it. I believe that the role of Speaker set out in the report will be a worthwhile one to which many Members will aspire. I am in no doubt that the proposed Speakership will be very different from that in another place. I support the report's proposed procedure for electing the Speaker.
I strongly support the proposal to transfer to the Speaker my functions as Leader of the House regarding Private Notice Questions and the sub judice rule, the role of helping to sort out the order in which noble Lords intervene at Question Time and the Government Front Bench's role as guardian of the Companion. My Front-Bench colleagues and I discharge those functions as effectively and impartially as we can, but from time to time situations of perceived conflict of interest are bound to arise. I feel, as strongly as the late Lord Williams did, that the House as a whole will be better served if those functions are transferred to a Speaker and Deputies who will be expert and authoritative.
§ Baroness Boothroyd
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She is now telling us of the responsibilities of which she would be happy to divest herself. Would she think it appropriate for a new Speaker to draw up the list of speakers for our general debates rather than leave it to the usual channels?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, that matter was not in the report and is not before the House at present, but I would be prepared to consider it, if the House wished to take it forward. I assure noble Lords that I see this very much as a House matter.
I said that the Motion that I will bring forward at a later stage will be to approve the report, with or without qualifications. If this debate suggests that there might be consensus around some variation to the recommendations proposed in the report, that will need to be considered, and after consultation with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the usual channels, it may be incorporated into any Motion.
I will give notice of one respect in which I will invite the House to depart from the detail of the Lloyd report. The report proposes in paragraph 38 that the Speaker,should take part in the Royal Commissions at the start of each Parliament and the end of each session".I hesitate to take issue with the committee and its noble and learned Chairman, but I do not believe that this would be appropriate. The commission is traditionally made up of Members of this House taking part as Privy Counsellors, not as Peers. It is the means by which the Crown, as one part of Parliament, addresses the other parts, the two Houses, when the Queen is not present. On such occasions, the Speaker of the other place is with his House; he leads them from their Chamber to the Bar of this one. On such occasions, our Speaker should be with us, in our Chamber, not with the Queen's Commissioners in the Throne area which—as we all know—is not part of the Chamber.
The report's recommendation would be most obviously inappropriate when a Royal Commission has to approve the choice of a Speaker by the other place. The idea that a Speaker of either House should have to seek approval from the Speaker of the other is inappropriate. I will therefore invite the House to agree that our new Speaker should not take part in these Royal Commissions.
The Select Committee is silent on timing, though it makes it clear that the House can go ahead, if it so wishes, without having to wait for primary legislation. Speaking for a moment as a Minister, I must say that the Government have made it clear from the start that we invite the House to set up a new Speakership with all convenient speed to enable my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to focus on his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. But, speaking again as the Leader of the House, I strongly believe that a full-time and independent Speakership is right for the House, will be good for the House, and the sooner the House enjoys that benefit, the better.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the House will share my sense of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his Select Committee. The noble and learned Lord, as a former Law Lord, is now, sadly, an endangered species in this House, but he is also one of our most respected Members, and we are grateful to him for introducing this debate.
We all know that this is an unnecessary dilemma. We have a system of self-regulation that works extremely well. It is responsible for the courteous proceedings that we have in this House, something that contributes hugely to the respect in which this House is held.
The fundamental finding is in paragraph 7:The overriding theme which has emerged consistently from all the evidence is that the House wants to continue with self-regulation … Thus it is clear that the House does not want a Commons-type Speaker. The responsibility for maintaining order must continue to rest with the House as a whole".I wholly and unreservedly agree with that, and so do most Members of this House. Whatever we do over the next few weeks, we must not, even inadvertently, risk throwing that away. That is why the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and Lord President has shown real wisdom in providing for this debate, and I thank her for that.
There is no political issue here, no battle of party loyalties, none whatever. It was not even, I think, understood by the Prime Minister when he abruptly announced the abolition of the Lord Chancellorship, that his press release had these consequences for this House. Even if he was aware, we all know that who sat on the Woolsack was not remotely a driving force behind his decision. There is no political face at stake on this issue, all that matters are the best interests of this House. No doubt, some Members might want to change, but had last June's Statement not been made, the vast majority of us would have been content to let the present system continue.
The Select Committee report raises some important issues, which, along with others, will need careful thought by the Procedure Committee before change is made: the increased costs that are going to come about; increased staffing; accommodation; mode of election; terms of office; conduct of the State Opening; Prorogation; recall of Parliament and so on. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, just raised the question of Royal Commissions. Even if we were to accept the argument, perhaps when she speaks later on she might say where a Speaker might sit when a Royal Commission is in this House. Will it be on the Government side of the House, or will it be on the Opposition side of the House?
On timing, or implementation, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for haste. It is easy to change a well tried system, but well-nigh impossible to recreate it. We still have a Lord Chancellor, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has magnanimously and repeatedly said that he is happy to sit on the Woolsack so long as he holds his office, if that is the House's wish. The House is always delighted to see him. To make life a little easier for the noble and 386 learned Lord, I suggest an immediate reference to the Procedure Committee asking it to consider if some of the duties of a Lord Chancellor—such as presiding from the Woolsack in Divisions, and robing to do so—could be dispensed with. That would make the pressure on him as our Speaker, frankly, minimal— certainly not enough to justify immediate changes.
My view on this is clear. We can consider change, and do so in the appropriate forums, but I see no reason for implementing the change until the office of Lord Chancellor is abolished. We still do not know whether Parliament will agree to that. We have not even seen the Bill. We are now told that it may be delayed until March or April. We surely should not pre-empt the decision of Parliament. How ironic it would be if this House were to give up an ancient title that lends honour and dignity to the House and embodies its precedence over another place only to find that the office was not abolished at all. That would not be very clever.
The Select Committee said in terms in paragraph 5:The assumption we have made is that the office of Lord Chancellor will indeed be abolished. If that assumption proves to be incorrect, then the House will have to think again".We should not put ourselves in that position. If we make a change now, it will not be so easy to think again. Change should surely come into effect only as and when the office is abolished. Until then, we should continue as we are.
I will address the vexed question of powers, or discipline, in the House. The Select Committee report lacked analysis of the burden placed on the Lord Chancellor. If I were critical, which I do not want to be, I would say that at times it read more as if' it was trying to find work for the new Lord Speaker to do. Some of this is, with respect, a little thin. Some may ask if the job justifies the levels of salary, pension, and office support proposed. I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, why he did not simply consider extending the role of the Lord Chairman of Committees to sitting on the Woolsack, rather than creating a brand new post. This option is not floated and is dismissed pretty abruptly in paragraph 34 of the report.
Setting aside ceremonial, most functions or powers proposed for the Lord Speaker are removed from the Leader of the House and the Government Whips who sit on the Front Bench. These include decisions on PNQs, interventions at Question Time, and—something I will return to in a moment—occasional guidance when Members stray from the terms of the Companion. On PNQs, I, as Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Baroness, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, both said in our evidence that we saw no unfairness in the present system for deciding PNQs. That is not to say that we always agree with the decisions of the Leader of the House, but I do not think that they are taken in a partisan way.
Incidentally, I should say to the noble and learned Lord that the report attaches no significance whatever to the evidence of myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I make no complaint about that. No doubt 387 the noble and learned Lord had good reasons for ignoring that evidence, but perhaps he might share those reasons at the end of the debate.
The same applies to the role of the Leader at Question Time where, far from complaining, I am full of admiration for the way that role has been carried out during my time in the House, not least by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn who said, among other things in his evidence to the committee, how much he enjoyed performing the role. I fear that too little thought has been given to the fact that if we take these functions from the Leader to build up the role of the Speaker then we are changing irreversibly the role of the Leader of the House.
For my part, I value hugely the role of the Leader of the House. It is a subtle role, one that is a servant of the whole House with a duty to hear and respect its wishes. The great Leaders of the House—I include Gareth Williams among them—have relished and understood the role. But when the Leader is stripped of those whole-House roles, as advocated in the report, we are left with what inevitably will become an increasingly partisan post. Why then should the Leader attend every Question Time? We shall have no Lord Chancellor and no Leader. Who would ever tell the Cabinet what your Lordships are thinking? So we should be cautious about changing the role of our Leader as an accidental by-product of the quest for a job prospectus for an unnecessary Speaker.
I make no complaint either about the role of the government Whips, who offer occasional reminders to the House. It is not a job called on constantly, but when it is, it is generally done appropriately and well. I know that some in the House would argue that there are shortcomings in this role, but if that is so, the whole House should help the Whips because they are voicing the sense and settled will of the House. Aside from anything else, what are the Whips for when they sit on the Front Bench in the House? I am far more wary than is the report about the long-term dangers to self-regulation of transferring these functions to the Chair.
It is said that the role of the Chair in suggesting turns at Question Time should be confined to calling the party. But what is to happen when two members of the same party rise together? That would be a backward move from what we have now, when the Leader suggests that an individual should speak. I do not think that the new proposal can be achieved, nor do I think it would help. Some may ask what is the logic of confining the role to Question Time and not extending it to Committee stages or even Statements, when time is so often short.
The question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is equally relevant, and what about the grouping of amendments? The Government want to wash their hands of some of the things that they do, but not of others. We need to look at the totality of what is being proposed.
Already it has been suggested that the Speaker may give what is referred to in paragraph 26 as "gentle guidance" to Peers during proceedings. I worry about 388 this. Although the noble and learned Lord. Lord Lloyd of Berwick, says that I should not worry, is not this an invitation to the growth of the industry of points of order that is such a scourge and scar on the face of procedure in another place? If you have gentle guidance from the Chair, then equally you must have a system for Members to ask the Chair for guidance and, therefore, you have points of order.
While these things may not happen, I believe that they could, as does the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his powerful evidence to the Select Committee, with so much of which I agreed. We may be right; we may be wrong, but one thing I do know: if things are left as they are, there is not the slightest risk that what we all fear may happen does happen, and authority drains from the whole House to the Chair. What is more, even if we were to appoint a Lord Speaker, there is no reason why the removal of the powers of the Leader and the Whips should happen at the same time. I suggest, therefore, a two-stage process: leave things as they are for a period to see how they work and, if it becomes necessary to alter in any way the role of our Leader, then we should look at that in two or three Sessions from now.
Finally—and briefly, because I sense that I have already spoken for too long—I shall say a word about the title. I am wholly unattracted to the title of "Presiding Officer" for this House, although it is not without its relevance that those bodies which have adopted the title have done so to avoid any possible confusion with the title of "Speaker" in another place. The title of "Lord Chairman- is suggested, but it lacks resonance and cannot stand if the Chairman of Committees continues, whom we all regard as being the Lord Chairman.
The title "Lord Speaker" is the conclusion of the report. Both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said that "Speaker" is an ancient name. It is, and it is referred to in the Companion. but in practice no one uses it. It is alien to our procedures and gives the idea that the Speaker has a role in discipline. Surely that can only lead to the most damaging confusion with the office of Mr Speaker in another place and raise issues of precedence which need not be provoked. I have too much respect for the office of Speaker in another place to favour choosing this title, even if it did not conjure up images of a relationship between Chair and Chamber which no one wishes to see. I hope, therefore, that we shall not pursue that recommendation.
What is actually so wrong with the name of Lord Chancellor? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said that once it has gone, it has gone, but look at the many titles which continue, not least the titles of Lord President, Lord Privy Seal or Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. They are retained, even if they have lost the powers originally attached to them.
As I said earlier, no change need take place until the Government persuade Parliament to suppress the office of Lord Chancellor as it now exists, but even if they do, this ancient name does not belong to No. 10. I note a suggestion made in paragraph 58 that the title 389 might then be taken on by the senior judge in a Supreme Court. Surely, however, if it is used anywhere, the title should continue to rest here in this House to which it has lent lustre for seven and a half centuries. If changes are pressed then I intend to propose that Lord Speaker should be replaced with Lord Chancellor. In this, as in all other aspects of the changes proposed in this report, let us try to go with the grain of our traditions, the dignity and authority of this House as far as we are permitted to do.
I believe that there is no great need for haste, rather there is much need for further thought, building on the work of the Select Committee. And there is a great need for care lest, in an inadvertent moment, we set in train a process of change that few of us want but which, if it starts, none of us will be able to reverse. We shall need a period of quiet reflection after this debate and it would be good if we can come together and agree.
I hope that, before proposing any move, the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will use the usual channels to seek broad cross-party consent. If we are to have a Speaker, how much better that the role be born out of consensus than be a child of division in this Chamber. I look forward very much to the rest of the debate.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for allowing time for this debate, which is of great significance and importance. Obviously Members on these Benches are now considering with great care the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.
I was about to pay the noble and learned Lord a gracious compliment on the clarity and crispness of his report when I found my hackles rising steadily as he made what I thought was a rather uncalled-for comment on the issue of the Liberal Democrats being divided on this matter. Given that the distinguished chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers is to move an amendment which suggests that we should not proceed with the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, I thought that that "crack" was rather unjustified.
Indeed, I take one further step: it is the clear understanding on these Benches that this is not a party matter, but one for the House of Lords. As such, each Member of the House is entitled to express his or her own deeply felt conviction and should not be subject to reproof in any form for not standing in the same position as the leader of their party or, even more dangerous, that of their chief whip. So I repudiate the remark and, with that large qualification, I move on to congratulate the noble and learned Lord.
There is no doubt that the abolition of the Lord Chancellor has wide constitutional implications. I must agree with the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and say that this matter was taken in an extremely offhand way. It would have been much better if there had been full discussion of 390 the implications of the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. One of the most significant aspects of that post is still to be considered by the House—namely, the role of the Lord Chancellor vis-à-vis the judiciary—and I hope that time will be found over the next month or two, before any Bill is brought forward, for a full discussion of the issue.
The independence of the judiciary is the foundation stone of any free society. It is of infinite value. We in this House who have been so long associated with the Law Lords sitting among us have a special responsibility to make certain that any constitutional change with such implications fully guarantees the independence of the judiciary, and that the judiciary is satisfied that its independence is so protected. In this regard, we plead for a full debate.
It is well known that the Liberal Democrats favour the idea of a ministry of justice. Indeed we do. We believe that there should be a minister of justice—perhaps conventionally seated in this Chamber—but we fully recognise that issues of such complexity and importance for the future of this country must be fully debated in both Houses. That is what I am pleading for. I plead not for a particular outcome at the moment but for a discussion of every aspect of this extremely important question.
I turn now to the strong desire for the maintenance of self-government, an issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the Leader of the House referred. That is the overwhelming wish of the House. But we must be aware—and in this I commend the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde of how easy it would be to shift very slowly, gradually, little by little over the next few years to a situation where self-government was regarded as anachronistic, out-of-date, no longer suitable, and we would find ourselves with the same kind of structure as the Commons.
The very wise report of the group chaired, in a distinguished manner, by the noble Baroness, Lady6 Hilton of Eggardon, stated:The House should be proud of its capacity to combine good politics with good manners".Yes, that is one of the attributes of which Members of the House are most proud, but perhaps I may refer your Lordships to the common-sense consideration that when responsibility for good behaviour is passed on to someone else, individuals no longer feel bound in the same way by their obligations to maintain good behaviour. One of the reasons for the Commons deteriorating into a kind of adversarial cockfight which goes on day after day, reaching its culmination in Prime Minister's Questions, is that every Member of Parliament can say to himself or herself, "Order is not my responsibility; it belongs to someone else"—namely, the Speaker. We should be extremely careful about building any set of precedents to remove the self-government of the House. If you give people responsibility they live up to it; if you take it away from them they no longer consider themselves bound by that responsibility.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—the fact that we both agree will, I hope, give the House some pause; it does not mean that we are right but it 391 represents a quite wide spectrum of opinion—that it is a pity that the committee did not pay more attention to the issue of combining the chairmanship of committees with the new role of the presiding figure in the House—I use the term without any inclination towards a particular title.
On the face of it, the danger is that we are creating a big job out of a small job, with all the implications of that and of a highly paid and prestigious figure trying to increase his or her power as quickly as possible. One of the reasons for this is that our distinguished Chairman of Committees—a man who has gained considerable respect and trust in the House—is so overloaded that he may not be inclined to take on the additional responsibility.
That is the whole point of having Deputy Chairmen. The suggestion that there should be someone who combines the most senior aspects of the chairmanship of committees with that of presiding over the House, and who passes many of the details of both administration and the significant role of the European Scrutiny Committee to suitable and reasonably salaried deputies, should not be dismissed by the House without further consideration. We should not rule it out at this stage, although we may need to return to the issue when the present Chairman of Committees reaches the end of his period of office. It is so obviously the right and simplest answer—the most economic answer—to the problem. We would be wrong to dismiss it without careful consideration.
Having said that, let me turn to the immediate recommendations of the committee—albeit both the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I would hope that they would form the basis of, at most, an interim stage. There are four issues involved—the title, the function, the salary and the role in relationship to another place. I shall deal with each issue rapidly because I do not wish to exceed my time.
As to title, I plead with the House to consider very carefully the implications of the title "Lord Speaker" as well as that of Lord Chancellor. The title "Lord Speaker" would be extremely misleading. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right to say that it would raise major issues of precedence. It would be widely misunderstood outside this country because people would imagine that the Lord Speaker necessarily was a more senior figure than the Speaker of the House of Commons. It would be resented in the Commons. Above all, it would pave the way towards our presiding officer seeing himself or herself as the equivalent of the Speaker in another place—and that is the last thing that most of us would wish to see. It would be a nullification of the whole concept of self-government.
The question of retaining the title of Lord Chancellor is slightly different. I am in favour of the title of Lord Chancellor being retained, but for the judicial function rather than for the presiding function because in that role it is significantly and historically more important. That is why my noble friend Lord Roper and I have advocated the title "Lord Chairman of the House", a title that would fall if the amalgamation of the two offices of Chairman of 392 Committees and presiding officer of the House were combined as we would wish. In that case the title of "Lord Chairman" would be infinitely and properly appropriate. But the House should think very carefully before adopting the title "Lord Speaker", which has a great deal to be said against it.
I mildly reprove the committee for not spending a little more time on the issue of functions. I do not share the view that responsibility for PNQs should rest with the Leader; I believe it is an appropriate function to pass to the new chairman of the House. The Leader of the House and, in particular, her predecessor, Lord Williams of Mostyn, took that view and we should listen to it. The Leader of the House is right that the ceremonial role at Prorogation and the opening of Parliament should be retained by the Leader of the House. It is properly a ministerial function. I do not feel strongly about the issue of clashes at Question Time. I am slightly inclined to believe that it should be a function for the presiding officer, but I would not push that very hard.
However, I would push very hard the functions which should be properly devoted to the new post. One of those has been referred to already by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition—that is, the role of representing the House abroad, which is important, significant and useful. Secondly, the entertainment of foreign dignitaries, including opposite numbers, is again a useful and important function. The ceremonial rooms off the Lord Chancellor's residence lend themselves remarkably well to that.
Let me mention, very briefly because of the lack of time, two other functions. First, the new office will have a crucial educational function. Most of our public do not know very much about the role of the House of Lords; they do not understand its importance. We cannot blame the media alone, although it does not help. It is widely misunderstood by the public that we are something other than a late version of Gilbert and Sullivan outside the theatre. It is important that we get across the significance of the work of the House. That should be one of the main functions of the new presiding officer.
To that I would link—and I declare an interest in this respect—the great importance of a proper induction system for new Peers. Our present system is deeply faulty. In a past existence I was in charge of induction for new Congressmen in the United States. We spent no less than two weeks inducting men and women whose term of office would be two years. That was perhaps excessive, but, frankly, an hour and a half is ludicrous. We need a better induction system which enables new Peers to learn their way about and not stumble over historic barriers they do not even understand until everyone around them starts shouting, "Order".
I will conclude with two negatives. The first is that, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, it would be wholly inappropriate for the new Presiding Officer—the new Lord Chairman—to be the Chairman of the Procedure Committee which, in some 393 sense, rules upon his or her handling of the House. That would not be right. He or she might be a Member; they certainly should not be the Chairman.
The other negative I feel strongly about is that I believe that unless the offices are combined, it would be extremely hard to justify the level of salary proposed in the report. I simply do not understand it. I believe that both Chambers—particularly the other one, perhaps—are becoming increasingly casual about public expenditure and about the use of taxpayers' money to give very large salaries to people whose work does not justify those very large salaries. Unless the offices are combined, I and my party would not feel able to support a level of salary four times that of the average wage of our fellow citizens.
In conclusion, I think there are great dangers and some good prospects. I hope and trust that the House will consider very carefully the fact that two of the Opposition parties agree that the solution proposed here should not be the permanent and lasting one, and that there are some very considerable difficulties about the passion and mission of this House to retain the concept of self-government.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his committee. They have very quickly carried out a useful study. I see their work as essentially contingency planning—that is, given certain assumptions, what should then be done, what should happen? I regret that they decided to propose just one solution rather than offering your Lordships two or more options for consideration, as a means of assisting the House to reach the best result.
As the committee makes clear, the assumption of its report is that the office of Lord Chancellor will go. Today's debate, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, is not the moment to address that issue, except to say that I am far from persuaded that the reforms of the judicial role and functions of this House and the upheaval involved following a difficult and contentious passage through Parliament will produce a better or more cost-effective outcome. Indeed, they would deprive this House of a most important responsibility, weakening that which is left.
Self-regulation is well served by Lord Chancellors who are heavily loaded, and so have little time to be pro-active Speakers. This minimalist approach suits this House's working arrangements well. But the committee rightly sees that a minimalist role alone is unlikely to attract any noble Lord. So members of the committee have had to scratch their heads and cast around for other functions within and beyond this Chamber which, in sum, might add up to a worthy and full-time job.
Part of the committee's solution is to remove from the Leader of the House some of her responsibilities. She would remain, of course, leader of her party, but if she lost much of her responsibility for leading and guiding noble Peers on all sides of the House, her standing as Leader would be undermined; certainly 394 weakened. She would become just another party leader. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also made that point.
As the Aberdare Group described it in 1987, the procedural role of the Leader was,compatible with and not injurious to self-regulation".Is not the obverse as true? Self-regulation is sustained by, as well as being compatible with, the procedural role of the Leader.
If the Select Committee's solution were to be adopted, there could be tension between the noble Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Lord who is leader of the Government party in this House. That might be avoided only if the role of Leader were abolished. I do not favour that. One day, a Prime Minister might even decide that his party's leader, with no other responsibility in this House, need not be in the Cabinet.
Here we have yet another step, following the removal of the judicial roles and functions of your Lordships' House, to sideline an all-appointed Chamber.
The House has for many years worked with and admired past Leaders drawn from different parties who, like the present noble Baroness, discharged their procedural responsibilities with a sure, light and evenhanded touch. A number of your Lordships have stressed the importance of having members of the Cabinet in this House, and I agree. The subtle combination of that status with the Leader's procedural and party responsibilities helps to limit inter-party sniping and encourages the mature behaviour to be expected of a House in which the vast majority of Members are senior in years and all in experience. So I have reservations about the Committee's solution to load the Lord on the Woolsack with the procedural duties of the Leader.
Since their initial announcement in June last year, the Government have variously referred to "the abolition of- or "the reform of" the office of Lord Chancellor. Reform is the word used in the opening sentence of the Select Committee's report, and so should also be considered.
The Committee granted me the privilege of giving oral evidence to it. I suggested that it should consider, as one of its contingency solutions, that it was not the Lord Chancellor who was leaving the House. Instead, the executive and Cabinet responsibilities of the present and past incumbents were to be transferred to a new Secretary of State, not necessarily a Member of your Lordships' House. The Lord Chancellor's judicial functions and responsibilities would be undertaken elsewhere.
The House would be left with a Lord Chancellor, who would still be Speaker, and hold all the visitorial, ecclesiastical and non-governmental responsibilities of his predecessor. He could also take on the ambassadorial, entertaining and other activities outlined by the Select Committee. In short, this would be a reform of the office of Lord Chancellor, not the 395 abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. The next incumbent after legislation would be elected by the House, not appointed by the Prime Minister.
I note that there are others on all sides of the House who, in evidence and from what has been said today, favour the retention of the name Lord Chancellor, with its centuries of association with this House. The Select Committee, if it let but a smidgen of "affection press upon its judgment", might also endorse the retention of so noble a name as Lord Chancellor. Would retaining the title be confusing? Surely judges and other lawyers most affected by the removal of the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities for overseeing them are sufficiently bright to recognise that his role had changed. If the Government abolished their executive interest in the post of Lord Chancellor, they could have no claim that the title were still in the gift of Government. This solution might also assist in avoiding what may otherwise become a sensitive issue between this House and another place.
I have one further reservation on the committee's report. It comments that, once elected, the Speaker should give up party politics for life. I hope that the committee is not blind to the possibility that an eminent Cross-Bencher might one day wish to stand for election—not me, I hasten to add. Would all the Deputy Speakers who might be granted the powers of the Speaker in the proposal also be expected to forswear political party membership for the rest of their life?
Life Peers who have completed their time as Speaker do not pass on to a new House, as happens in the other place. They remain life Members of this House. Why should retired Speakers not be allowed to return to their own party in this House? We have not objected to this for former Lord Chairmen of Committees. Of course, I do not mean to imply that retired Speakers from any party would not be most welcome on these Benches if they wished to be independent of party and Whip.
Finally, there is the question of timing. I do not favour any change to the present speakership arrangements until legislation affecting the post of Lord Chancellor has been enacted. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; to make changes in anticipation of a certain outcome is surely unwise, and may lack the stability of a new permanent arrangement when the reform of your Lordships' House has not yet been completed. For example, would it be reasonable to preclude from standing for election as Speaker an hereditary Peer whose period of tenure in this House is unknown?
The welcome undertaking of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to continue in his speakership role pro tern provides stability. I hope that he would not feel let down if we continue to expect him to fulfil that undertaking. I shall, of course, listen with interest to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for not proceeding as the Select Committee proposes. However, is today's take note debate the appropriate time to vote on his approach? What will need to be considered closely is a specific proposal 396 ahead of legislation should this Government still wish to put one to your Lordships. I hope that, having made clear his view, the noble Lord will not feel that he should press his amendment today.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I rise to move the amendment standing in my name to the Motion moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I had the honour to be a member of his Select Committee which considered this matter. However, I am afraid that, as the deliberations of the committee proceeded, I came to the view that the conclusions were mistaken for a number of reasons.
In his opening remarks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said that the dissident view—if I can describe it thus—emerged late in the deliberations of the committee. It is true that I changed my view as the deliberations proceeded. I adopted what many noble Lords may consider to be a novel approach to these matters: I listened to the evidence. My noble friend Lord Freeman and I sought to persuade the committee, but without success. As your Lordships will see from the report, we moved amendments to the draft report, which the committee did not agree. We would have preferred to have submitted a separate, minority report, but we were firmly advised that that would not be in order, so we were not able to do so. Throughout the deliberations, all members of the committee appeared, or so they said, to wish to adhere to the principle of self regulation. That principle has been the bedrock on which House of Lords procedures have been based, as far as I know, for centuries. However, despite the declared devotion of my committee colleagues to that principle, the recommendations of this report are a departure from it. If these proposals are adopted, the Rubicon will have been crossed and it will be quite impossible to wind back the clock thereafter.
It is said that Question Time has become somewhat unruly and needs to be better regulated. I agree that sometimes two or more noble Lords rise, and the Leader has to intervene. However, that process works quite well. I strongly believe that, if we had a Speaker, several Peers would always rise, requiring a judgment to be made every time. The present process works.
I draw on my own experience in this matter. Some years ago, I was answering a Question from the Government Front Bench when Lord Whitelaw was the Leader of your Lordships' House. I was making a greater hash of it than usual, and was hoping against hope that he would quickly rise and move on to the next Question. Indeed, I whispered in his ear, "Can we move on?" He turned to me and said, "No, certainly not. You're making such a hash of it". He, like all other noble Lords who have led your Lordships' House with such distinction, was quite clear that he was not there to defend Ministers when the going got tough.
Of course, questions of procedure often arise at other times. However, the committee makes no suggestion that the new Speaker should intervene 397 other than during Questions. That said, I agree that there is some scope for the House to offer more obvious support to the Whip or Minister on the Government Front Bench when questions of procedure or similar matters arise. However, that does not need to he confined to the Front Benches. Other senior Peers might also be persuaded to intervene more often in support of the Leader or Deputy Leader.
The duties proposed to be assigned to the new Speaker arc very modest. Indeed, they are so modest that, in my opinion, the position is almost absurd. It is proposed only that the new person should be invited to identify the political party whose turn it is to ask the next supplementary Question at Question Time. He will not be asked to identify individual Peers or to decide when it is time to move on to the next Question or to end Question Time altogether. He will sit on the Woolsack in an official capacity only for Question Time. That does not seem to me to be much of a job.
However, I am certain that, as night follows day, new duties will be sought and assigned as soon as he or she begins work. Indeed, only today, while the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was speaking earlier, a new duty was proposed. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who is not in her place, rose and suggested that the list of speakers should be decided by the Speaker. It will not be long before he will identify individual Peers at Question Time, call amendments and even maintain discipline. In other words, we shall soon end up with a Speaker in the fullest sense of the word.
I have omitted one small duty that the committee proposed should be assigned to the new Speaker. He or she will be asked to decide whether Private Notice Questions should be allowed. Our previous Leader, the late Lord Williams, indicated some personal difficulty in that regard. Indeed, there was some conflict of evidence at this point. Under the present arrangements, some Leaders consult through the usual channels and others do not. I am in favour of consultation through the usual channels on such matters, hut, in any event, the number of Private Notice Questions that have been tabled in recent times is very few and the number allowed can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Nor has there been any dissatisfaction with the present practice as far as I can ascertain. After all, in the end it is a matter for the House, and a Leader's decision can always be challenged on the Floor of the House if the Peer concerned is particularly aggrieved—although I do not believe that it ever has been. It certainly has not in my recollection.
The committee spent some time considering what extra duties could be assigned to make the job worthwhile. All that could he identified was the possibility of representing your Lordship's House at overseas conferences and perhaps receiving other dignitaries who may visit us from time to time. I understand that those duties are at present generally discharged by the Lord Chairman of Committees when the Lord Chancellor is not available. On one 398 occasion last year, when I had overseas visitors coming to the House, the then Leader was good enough to receive them, for which I was most grateful.
The committee recommends that the new Speaker—whatever we decide to call him—should be paid approximately £97,000 a year. I calculate that, if the House sits for a 150 days per year, that represents less than 100 hours' work on the Woolsack during Question Time, which is the raison d'etre for his appointment. In other words, we are proposing to pay the best part of £1,000 per hour. Little wonder that several of your Lordships have indicated their interest in this appointment.
I turn to the name of the new post. If your Lordships decide to proceed as is now proposed—and I very much hope that you will not—I believe that we should retain the title of Lord Chancellor, whatever may be the future for that great office. We are told that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, wishes to give up his duties as far as your Lordships' House is concerned, but the Bill that will allow that to happen has not yet been introduced, let alone passed. Indeed, we learn that the noble and learned Lord now expects that the Bill will not appear until much later this year when there may be insufficient time for it to pass before the end of the Session. In that case, it may have to be introduced again in the next Session, so there must be some doubt whether it will pass during the present Parliament. Whatever the noble and learned Lord may wish, it is simply not yet practicable for him to abandon his duties. To be fair, he has said that he will continue to discharge them for so long as the House wishes. I hope that will be for a very long time indeed.
I believe that the proposals contained in the report of the Select Committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, lack merit. There is a risk that the modest duties proposed will simply not suffice and that, if we proceed in that 'way, either additional duties will have to be assigned, or else the job will wither on the vine. Neither of those prospects is desirable. I hope therefore that we shall disagree these recommendations. I beg to move.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ", but decides not to proceed as the Select Committee proposes".—(Lord Trefgarne.)
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, it was a great privilege and pleasure to serve on the Select Committee, which was chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He has already explained very clearly some of the main recommendations that the committee made.
We were asked to recommend what arrangements should be in force if the House decides to proceed with having a Speaker. This debate is, therefore, largely about the modalities of the process. In what I hope is the not too distant future, the House will have a chance to take a decision on the principle of whether we should have our own Speaker. That is why I find the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, so curious. First, it is unusual to try to amend a take note 399 Motion at all; at least, it is the first time in my experience that that has been done. Secondly, his line of argument seems much better suited to the later debate and the vote on the principle. However, that is a matter for the noble Lord.
There is one important point, however, which is about more than modality and should inform our debate. Quite properly, the Select Committee did not attempt to make a recommendation, but we have had a good deal of evidence on the point, and I believe that we should refer to it. Understandably, the debate about the Speakership has become entangled with the separate issue of the future of the office of Lord Chancellor. If it was not entangled before, it has certainly been deliberately entangled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his speech.
However, the Speakership of this House has no connection whatever with the other judicial, departmental and ceremonial functions of the Lord Chancellor. The 10 functions were listed by my late and much missed friend Lord Williams of Mostyn in the debate on the Motion to set up a Joint Committee, and were set out in much more detail in the consultation paper on reforming the office of Lord Chancellor. None has any connection with the Speakership of the House.
That was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on 14 July, in the debate on the Statement on constitutional reform, when I asked him whether,any of the proposed reforms described by my noble and learned friend in his Statement have any link to or effect on his role as Speaker of the House of Lords".In answer, he said:My Lords, none of them has any impact on that at all. It is a matter for this House to determine how the Lord Chancellor discharges that particular function".—[Official Report,14/7/03: col. 641.]He was referring to the Speakership of the House. That statement was further confirmed when the noble and learned Lord gave evidence to the Select Committee. Those remarks are confirmation of the central point that, if the House wishes to proceed to have its own Speaker, it can do so entirely independently of later decisions regarding the office of Lord Chancellor.
Let us suppose that the Government had not produced their proposals in June—proposals that, I admit, caused a certain degree of excitement. This House could perfectly well have decided that it did not want the Prime Minister to choose the Speaker of the sovereign Chamber of Parliament. It would note that the Lord Chancellor was able to give only 10 per cent of his time to the Speakership, that he was exceptionally busy as a departmental Minister, that he was the head of the judiciary and that, because of the pressures on his time, he could not represent the House at Speakers' conferences and other important functions.
For all those reasons, the House could and can decide to have its own Speaker. It would not need a statute; it only requires amendments to our standing 400 orders and the agreement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, which is forthcoming. On the first page of the report, he said:I should say—and I think this has been made clear by me as well—I hope that the Lords would feel able to make different arrangements to allow me to cease to be Speaker, but that is a matter for the Lords, not a matter for me … I make it clear my own personal view is that, subject to proper alternative arrangements being made, it would facilitate other things that I do if I cease to be Speaker but, as I say, that is a matter for the Lords".All the evidence that the Select Committee received was against having a Commons-type Speaker and in favour of self-regulation. I am well aware of the fears that if we have our own Speaker it will be the thin end of the wedge, and that the powers will inevitably grow. However, the powers of the Speaker will grow only if the House agrees and decides to amend our standing orders. The Speaker will not be able to rule on order unless the House wishes it. There is no such thing as a point of order in this House, precisely because there is no one to give a ruling. Only the House itself can change that, not the Speaker.
It is also true that the Select Committee has not recommended a single new function of the Speaker, merely the transfer of existing functions performed already by the Leader of the House and the Government Whips. That is hardly a root and branch constitutional upheaval. During my time in the House, on the opposition Front Bench and in government, I have always thought that it was rather odd, to say the least, that when the House is performing its proper function of holding the executive to account, with Starred Questions and PNQs and the like, a member of the executive decides whether to allow a PNQ and which group in the House should speak next on a Starred Question. It would be far from me to suggest that, during Starred Questions, the Chief Whip would ever whisper to the Leader, "Keep number three going because number four looks a bit tricky".
I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about the salary and the time spent on the Woolsack. The noble Lord was a member of the committee and he knows very well that we believed that the Speaker should do two stints a day, which is three hours on the Woolsack a day and not the half hour that he suggested. As for interventions from the Woolsack or the Chair in Committee, those of us who serve as Deputy Speakers intervene now, if noble Lords speak to the wrong amendment or get in a muddle over Commons amendments, which is a very easy thing to do.
We have referred already to the difficulties faced by the Lord Chancellor in attending Speakers' conferences and the like, and generally in giving more time for the House. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, the Chairman of Committees, is not here today but in Canada, at the Commonwealth Speakers' conference. Every other Chamber in the Commonwealth will be represented by their Speakers in all their finery. This House will be represented by the Lord Chairman and, although I am sure that he will do it very well, other Speakers find that very odd. Having our own Speaker would enable us to have a Speaker for the House as well as of the House. Those who speak to schools and 401 universities and at seminars and the like on the procedures and role of the House know how important that role is.
The title of the new office is also to be decided, as we have heard. The title "Lord Speaker" has the advantage that it already exists in our standing orders. On the other hand, there is the understandable wish to retain the title of Lord Chancellor, although the existing functions will be transferred elsewhere when the Bill goes through. The title of Lord Chancellor is clearly not available until the statutory process regarding the Lord Chancellor is complete. However, it is worth considering whether it might be possible to transfer the title of Lord Chancellor to the Speaker of the Lords when that statutory process is complete. We have heard already that there are precedents for the titles of Lord President of the Council and Lord Privy Seal.
I have made it clear that it is perfectly possible, if the House so decides, to proceed with the choice of our own Speaker. As the Select Committee report suggests, there is a role for a Speaker. It is a limited role as a part of self-regulation, and not a threat to it. The role is to guard the procedures of the House and the rights of hack-benchers against the depredations of the Government and the usual channels, and I speak with all the authority of a former predator. The role is also to play a further role as the Speaker for the House which the Lord Chancellor is not able now to perform.
I hope that when the House comes to make its decision, it will decide that we should have our own Speaker, to he chosen by us and to perform the role and functions set out in the report of the Select Committee.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I welcome the Select Committee report and, by and large, support its recommendations. It underlines and clarifies the need for a Speakership in your Lordships' House. It also elucidates the role that a Speaker would have. It sets out what I regard as a comprehensive list of duties to be undertaken. I disagree with those who have said this afternoon that it is a very thin role. I think it is quite a substantial role and believe it would give substance and stature to the post.
I do not propose to discuss in detail the various functions set out in the report, although I shall refer to one or two. As we have heard, there will be an opportunity to discuss the report in detail at a later date.
As I said in my written evidence to the committee, the role of the Speaker in relation to national and international parliamentary functions needs to be considered, and that has been done. Although a Speaker who is less powerful than the Speaker of the House of Commons is envisaged, the Speaker will nevertheless have to command sufficient status and respect at home in order to have authority to speak at international gatherings of world or Commonwealth speakers. Therefore, questions of administrative responsibility and salary will arise, as will the question 402 of the selection method. The committee has considered those matters in some detail and given responsibility to the proposed Speakership.
The question of salary has to be examined in relation to salary structures within the House and not in isolation. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was giving us a caricature in his suggestion of what the Speaker should be. I do not attach importance to what he said about the duties of the Speaker. For reasons of national and international status alone, it is important for us to have our own Speaker in this House. I disagree with those who have said that the role could be combined with that of Chairman of Committees. The Chairman of Committees already has a great number of responsibilities and I think that it would he impossible to combine the two.
I also support the term "Lord Speaker". "Speaker" is a dignified and well-recognised title in national and international assemblies, which makes it appropriate for us to have our own Speaker. By prefacing "Speaker" with the term "Lord", we distinguish the role from that of Speaker of the House of Commons and we identify it immediately with this House. So I support that term. If ever we cease to be a House of Lords but become some other kind of second chamber, then we would have to adjust the title accordingly.
It has been made clear this afternoon that some Members of the House resist change. They do so on the grounds that they are jealous to safeguard the reputation of the House as a self-regulated Chamber. Although I respect that view and I support self-regulation, we have to face up to reality. A complete separation of the executive and the legislature from the judiciary—which, incidentally, I support—means that the present office of Lord Chancellor as we know it will go. The report before us today strikes the right balance in providing an alternative.
As I also mentioned in my submission, there have been great changes in the House. In the early days of this Administration, a great number of new Members were appointed close together in an attempt to redress the imbalance of the House and were not easily absorbed. Although Members now have initial training—and I agree with those who have said that we need to intensify that training—there appears to be less emphasis on the principles, on the Addison Rules and other interpretations of self-regulation in the House. While I agree that the Whips perform a very valuable function in this House, it is difficult for them to determine the point at which they should intervene and draw attention to the Companion. A Speaker would be in a much better position than the Whips to deal with that point.
I agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House on timing. It is important that we move on this issue and that, as other speakers such as my noble friend Lord Carter have made clear, it is within the remit of the House itself to determine if and when it has its own Speaker.
It is also very clear that none of us want a complete Commons-type Speaker. We need a lighter touch to preserve and enhance the courtesies of the House and 403 to enable the whole House to continue to be responsible for its own conduct. In that respect, we would continue to address the House and not the Speaker. We would be referring to the ultimate responsibly of the Chamber itself to manage its own affairs.
I think that my late, noble, learned and much esteemed friend Lord Williams of Mostyn put it eloquently and succinctly when, in his oral evidence to the Committee, he said:I would see that the new Speaker or Deputy Speakers would have fundamentally two responsibilities. One, to be the guardian of the ethos of this place and, two, to be the guardian … of the Companion".If the Speaker could succeed in doing that, it would do nothing more than enhance the reputation of the House and preserve self-regulation.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
My Lords, I hope that I may be allowed to congratulate the noble Baroness on her contribution this afternoon. She has brought not a breath of fresh air but a great gale of reality into a discussion of which, I am afraid, some leading Members of this House have made rather heavy weather.
However, this is a take note Motion. It is not as though, at the end of the debate, if my noble friend Lord Trefgarne is not successful in his amendment, we shall suddenly hand over £90,000 to the nearest person on our left, or whatever. That kind of detail can be discussed at a much later stage. However, the debate is important as it is our first opportunity to hear the view of the House as a whole on this question. I am very sorry indeed that there is no right reverend Prelate present to represent the view of the Bishops. Surely the Speaker of this House is a matter on which they should have a view. Where can they be?
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
I doubt it, my Lords. The Bishops should be represented. We fought very hard to maintain that link and this is the sort of occasion on which their presence would be most valued.
I thought that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was extremely gloomy. He is normally a rather cheerful creature, but gloom descended on him. He prophesied that terrible things would happen. Then, to my horror, he was joined by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. If anything, she was even more sunk in gloom. She was alarmed that we might be intimidated by this Fox-North coalition which was taking place before our eyes. I was not intimidated by it; I was made intensely suspicious by it. This is a matter on which everyone has a right to speak. However, it must be absolutely clear that however much personal authority the Leader of the Opposition has, on this issue he has no more and no less authority than anyone else. The contribution of the smallest he is as crucial as the contribution of the greatest he—or she. I now understand that "he" must be taken to 404 include "she", but why not say that "she" should be taken to include "he"? However, I must not lead your Lordships down fascinating paths of interpretation.
The great thing is to have no Whips in this process. I have nothing against Whips. My own Whip is very agreeable. A lot of them can be agreeable. They can even be affectionate when they want something. However, they have no place in these discussions. They must keep right away from them and let the House decide. They can speak in their personal capacity. That is perfectly right. That is what the admirable report states.
I have been rather saddened by the amount of criticism that has been directed against the quite admirable report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He has had a most distinguished career and made a most distinguished contribution to constitutional law. I remember that he pleaded so eloquently in the Court of Appeal before Lord Denning that he saved the Tameside grammar schools virtually single handed. I also remember that he had the great distinction of being the only person ever to have presided over the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. It had never met until he called it together on a very important occasion to save the Henry Moore altar in the church of St Stephen's, Wallbrook. It was allowed to remain there. I should very much like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord on this latest contribution. However, it is a contribution. It is not the final word.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, I acted in accordance with the advice of the noble Lord who was then chairman of the Fine Arts Commission.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, my noble friend may consider that if the new dignitary were on the Woolsack, he would at about this point ask my noble friend to return to the Motion on the Order Paper.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
My Lords, as a Member who has totally absorbed the ethos of this House, I would take not the slightest notice.
However, in all courtesy, I must return to the Motion to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his gracious reference to myself and to disarm any suspicion that this was some kind of arranged exchange of courtesies between us.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is a very great person indeed and a very powerful person. However, our Speaker would not be that. All the fears that have been expressed that he would suddenly turn into a monster ignore entirely the fact that the ethos of the House exists to restrain him from doing so. No one would put up with such a creature for very long. He would be removed, if necessary by an Act of attainder. It is absurd to consider these proposals in abstracto as though there were no House of Lords operating, no tradition and no ethos, as it is that which will control the Speaker, not the other way round.
The proposals make some very useful points, for example, that there should be no retiring age. I welcome that and give it three cheers. It is proposed 405 that there should be no party politics, for ever. What is the matter with that? Noble Lords in this House have never liked party politics. If a Speaker is deprived of it, I do not think that he is deprived of very much. One could not give up party politics for Lent because one has to give up something that one would miss. Therefore, I cannot share the indignation that is felt on that matter. I think that it is very sensible.
The report also contains a concealed joke. Anxiety is expressed that the Speaker would be so far away from the Clerks at the Table that he would be unable to communicate with them. Therefore, it is suggested that some sort of telephonic or telegrammic communication "of an unobtrusive kind"—those are the words of the report—be set up so that the Clerks can communicate with the Speaker. That is a wonderful idea. It would take a Heath Robinson to do it justice. Perhaps the Speaker might be relieved to put some clear water between himself and the Table for once.
The report stresses that the ceremonial role of the Speaker should continue. I absolutely applaud that. It is a great privilege to hold an office of this kind in this House. We like ceremonial. We are a people of strong but suppressed imagination. Therefore, we care about the show and about what goes on. The report is very tactful. It suggests a gown but not a wig. It does not mention a wig. As I look around the Chamber I see some noble Lords who could do with a wig more than others. Should the chairman of the committee achieve part of his arcane ambition and become Speaker of this House, to give him a wig would be like selling coals to Berwick. However, that is just his natural advantage.
Let the Speaker's role expand. not in this House, but outside. One of the interesting suggestions was that wives should be invited to Speaker's functions. I should hope so. I had not realised until now that they were not invited. When I was a master of Emmanuel at Cambridge—I can comment because the Provost of King's has changed—I invited the Provost of King's, Professor Bateman, and his wife to lunch. I spoke to Mrs Bateman, who said: "Oh, I am very sorry, the Provost is unable to come. He has a lecture". So I said: "Well, what about you? Can you come?". She was dumbfounded. She told me that in 20 years she had never been asked to attend a function that her husband was unable to attend. That is advanced Cambridge for you. Why should we not set a better example here? And the former Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, set an excellent example by continuing prayer meetings with wives. Lady Douglas-Home used to call them the "holy hens". They were assembled by Speaker Weatherill. If prayer stimulates an appetite it should be easy to add dinner to that.
Finally—I have spoken for too long, but I was distracted—regarding the title, please may we have no "Lord Chancellor"? It is appalling to have abolished that great office of state with no sufficient consideration of the consequences, its historical value or the knock-on effects. Insult would be added to injury by erecting a pre-fabricated House and hiding the castle lurking behind. If it goes, I would regret it; 406 but let it go, allow something else in its place and let this House over time make that position as honoured as the Lord Chancellorship has been in the past.
Again I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, on an excellent report. It is a constitutional document of the first importance. It has all the merits that a constitutional document should have—it is clear, concise, apt, relevant, literate and short. It will rank as one of the major documents in our discussions. But we must not let today's debate become totally out of proportion. We are simply having a discussion and there will he many more. Please God, we will all take part, until, like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, we are called to a higher reward, of which she informed us last time I heard her speak in the House. But we have to improve and build on the report and we are much indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and his colleagues for their hard work and contribution.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I welcome the report. It is in keeping with the spirit of the Statement made by the then Leader of the House, Lord Williams, on 16 June last year. The House had been taken by surprise a few days earlier about the Government's changes affecting the future of the Lord Chancellor. Whether or not the wider changes were welcome—clearly they were not to everyone—the majority of Members responded to the suggestion of Lord Williams that informal soundings should be taken about the Speakership before any firm proposals were put forward. He was trying to discover the potential measure of consensus and, as a result, it was promptly agreed on 3 July that the Select Committee be set up.
I have repeated that familiar history of events to distinguish between two issues: the Government's major constitutional changes which were bound to be controversial between parties; and the lesser issue of the Speakership, if I dare so describe it, which should be judged on merit across all parties on a non-party basis. The report of the Select Committee has not won unanimous applause. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, makes that clear. Noble Lords will make some critical comments, including some from myself. But I hope that it will remain a House matter with no covert pressure from the Whips.
The report says that the committee cannot predict the outcome of the proposed legislation on the constitutional change; and if the office of Lord Chancellor is not abolished, then the House will have to think again. But for the time being, given the decision of the House on 3 July, I intend to speak about the report itself, not the broad context. Like others, my mind has been moving since the June Statement and whatever I say now, I will be open to persuasion.
On balance I prefer the title "Lord Speaker", as proposed by the committee. But I listened carefully to my noble friend and would not be desperately bothered if "Lord Chairman" were preferred. Paying 407 him or her a salary equal to that of a Cabinet Minister sounds sensible, but the precise figure is not critical and it could be smaller. There is also the proposal that the Lord Speaker should have 16 deputies rather than the present panel of 28. I have never counted them all before and I am sorry if that is shocking.
So I shall listen carefully to the views expressed today and the exchanges from which we all benefit— the day-to-day conversations in the Lobbies and corridors. But I welcome without reservation that the committee has endorsed the over-riding principle of self-regulation and I assume that the House will take that view with few dissenters. However, given that principle, I am surprised that the committee proposes that Question Time be transferred to the Lord Speaker. That would be a major change from self-regulation. Until the June announcement I cannot recall any substantial discussion, Unstarred Question or balloted Motion about moving Question Time away from the Leader of the House. At Question Time the House has good days and bad days. The Chamber can be cheerful, flat or irritable. A Member who has missed a chance to ask a supplementary may feel disappointed or irritated—even have a sense of grievance—but that is minor. The House enjoys Question Time and it is part of the pleasure and success of the place. For better or for worse, the Chamber of the House of Commons is very different with a very different style.
So, I am puzzled by the arguments set out in paragraphs 20 to 25, particularly paragraph 22, of the report. I am surprised that paragraph 22, the case for change, is put ahead of paragraph 23, the case for leaving Question Time alone. The report puts it plainly:The existing system works well".That must be the overwhelming argument and must be put first.
With respect, the arguments for transferring the functions from the Leader of the House to the Speaker are trivial. It is said that it is sometimes difficult for the Leader to see Members behind when two or more Members persist in standing for a few seconds and that, in addition, when the House is fractious, it may be invidious for the Leader to make a choice. But those are minor points—an irritation for the Leader—compared with the erosion of self-regulation.
In my 12 years in the House, I have seen few serious problems of that kind. I fully understand that the Leader of the House may prefer to be relieved of that burden, especially when dealing with other demanding and controversial business. But the Leader of the House is the servant of the House and that is what matters most.
Again, paragraph 22(c) is trivial. An inexperienced Government Whip may cause difficulties but there are few examples of that. In any case, so what? It is in the nature of Parliament for there to be rough corners from time to time with a little pain and muddle.
408 But paragraph 22(d) is even more curious. It states:If we are to get a person of stature to serve as Speaker, and if he is to earn the respect of the House, he must be seen to perform at least some functions in the Chamber".Therefore, we are to compromise self-regulation in order to give the Speaker something to do. That seems to be putting it an odd way round.
The House is in favour of a fair share of supplementaries between parties. But the House sometimes wants to hear a supplementary question out of turn from a particular Member and the House quickly shows its preference. Under the report, the Speaker would lose the discretion that is now available to the Leader of the House. To change the existing convention would diminish the quality of Question Time and strengthen the role of the parties against the individual Member.
In weighing the arguments for and against transferring discretion to the Speaker at Question Time, the report concludes:We do not share the view that so limited a change would prove to be the thin end of the wedge".It adds that the committee was much influenced by the evidence of Lord Williams of Mostyn. The House greatly respected his wisdom and weight and the shadow of his sudden death fell across the committee. But his evidence needs to be considered in a cool and detached way. Lord Williams of Mostyn was very often right, but not always. I am sure that the House will reflect seriously and with care on Question Time. We could cause ourselves a great deal of trouble.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, it is a pleasure to note that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, has not lost his touch. I believe we all enjoyed his speech. Unhappily, however, he pre-empted the first point that I was intending to make; that is, that this is a "take note" debate. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, does not press his amendment.
As the House has already heard, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, gave evidence to the Select Committee, and it is gratifying to us both that many of the suggestions that we made were incorporated into its report. Unfortunately, we shall not have the pleasure of hearing the noble Baroness's views on this matter today because she has an engagement later this evening and, in the best traditions of your Lordships' House, she has not put down her name to speak in the debate.
The committee wisely drew on the experience of the other place, where we have had a Speaker since 1377. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that I was unaware that the nominal office of Speaker in your Lordships' House was even more ancient. Of course, not all Speakers of the House of Commons were as impartial and independent as they are today. The great Arthur Onslow—perhaps the greatest of all—was Speaker for 33 years from 1728 to 1761, and it was he who established the tradition of the independence of the Chair. After his first 10 years, he 409 took a stipend as Secretary to the Navy and was in hock to the government of the clay, but we owe to him the independence of the Chair.
Therefore, I support the main thrust of the Select Committee's report and I want to confine myself to a few observations and suggestions. First, with regard to the name of the office holder, I should like to believe that we could continue with the term "Lord Chancellor". However, that is a judicial appointment and I agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said about that. I do not believe that it is biddable and therefore I have no real objection to the name "Lord Speaker".
I was always under the impression that the former Lord Chancellor was paid as Lord Chancellor and also as Speaker of your Lordships' House. Certainly, on our overseas visits—the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, will confirm this—the Lord Chancellor was regularly referred to as the "Speaker" of the House of Lords. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, our Companion is festooned with references to the "Lord Speaker". I believe that that is a natural choice for the presiding officer of our House. I know that M r Speaker Martin is worried about it but I sought to allay his fears by pointing out the reference in our Companion to the term "Lord Speaker". However, I wish to make the point yet again—Ihave made it previously—that, whatever happens, on all public occasions the Speaker of the elected House of Commons must always take precedence over the Speaker of your Lordships' House, whatever he may be called.
In response to what the Leader of the House said, I turn to the question of the commission. As the House will know, up to the present time, the Speaker elect of the House of Commons has come to the Bar of your Lordships' House and sought the approbation of Her Majesty to his or her appointment as Speaker of the Commons. I do not believe that that can possibly continue because it may indicate that your Lordships' House is more important than the House of Commons. I see no reason why the approbation of the Crown should not be sought through the Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household—an office which I held for some years in the other place—who regularly takes messages personally to Her Majesty. No doubt the Speaker of your Lordships' House, whatever he is called, will have to seek the approbation of the Crown as well, and I believe that that could equally well be done through the Lord Great Chamberlain.
Next, I turn to the question of the Speaker's deputies. As your Lordships know, the Select Committee recommends three salaried deputies and 16 unsalaried deputies. I agree about the salaried deputies; I simply wonder what the unsalaried deputies will do. In my time as Speaker of the other place, I always took the Chair from 2.30 to 4.30 p.m., 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. and 9.30 to 10.30 p.m., and sometimes beyond that. The hours in between were covered by my admirable deputies—the late and much missed Lord Walker of Doncaster, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd.
410 All of them had small bedrooms on the Ways and Means Corridor which they could occupy if they needed to if debates went on late into the night. I do not see why the Deputy Speakers in your Lordships' House should not be provided with sleeping accommodation if the House sits late, although we all agree that we hope that it will not sit late and certainly not as late as the Commons used to sit.
I am glad to know that the Lord Speaker will continue to have the benefit of the Lord Chancellor's residence and that he will continue to be as generous with his hospitality as the former Lord Chancellor has always been to Members of your Lordships' House. I am also glad to know that he will use the residence to receive distinguished visitors and that he will represent your Lordships' House on overseas visits. The noble Lord mentioned "love and whisky" although probably in your Lordships' House it will be "love and champagne".
The Lord Speaker will also need an experienced secretary. I could not possibly have carried out my job without the support of Sir Peter Kitcatt and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. would agree that she was heavily supported by Sir Nicholas Bevan.
The Speaker of your Lordships' House should have some responsibilities passed to him in relation to the granting of PNQs. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, mentioned the Speakers' List. To me the order in which our names appear on the list is a mystery. I believe that it has worked reasonably well and I see no reason why it should not remain as it is at the moment. Logically, as in the other place. it may well be the responsibility of the new Speaker.
In your Lordships' House we are all in favour of self-regulation. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, mentioned the procedures in the other House, but we do not have red lines on our carpet. The ethos of the other place is the sublimation of civil war in which the weapons are words and not knives or guns. That is not the tradition of your Lordships' House. Self-regulation must be maintained. I do not know whether many of your Lordships share my view that in recent times it has been creaking somewhat. I do not believe that it should be the role of the occupant of the Woolsack to draw attention to those who break the conventions, but that it should be the duty of the party whips to jump upon those who break the conventions. I know from my experience when I was one of Lady Hylton-Foster's flock how heavily she jumped on me one day when I committed a mild mistake. It was not for nothing that she was affectionately known as our headmistress, although not to her face.
There is also the issue of dress. The object of wearing a uniform is that it draws attention to the office and not to the individual. For that reason I hope that the occupant of the Woolsack, whether he is called the Lord Chancellor or the Speaker or Lord Speaker. will continue to wear robes and I would like to think that he would also continue to wear a wig. I say to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, I am never recognised these days because I have never had any hair and I 411 wore a wig. However, the other day I got off the number 11 bus and the bus conductor would not take my money. When I whispered out of the corner of my mouth, "How do you know me?", he said that it was West Croydon Bus Station and not that I had been Speaker of the other place. I hope that self-regulation in your Lordships' House will be resurrected and that it will continue to be our practice.
Finally, the Speaker of your Lordships' House will be, as is traditional in the other place, one of us, but a rather special "one of us", if your Lordships know what I mean. The Speaker should always be treated with great respect and should deserve the affection of the House as is the case in the other place. I am sure that it will be the case in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his Select Committee for their report on the Speakership of the House of Lords. I welcome the general thrust of the report and I agree with most of the recommendations.
I speak as someone who has been able, over the past eight years, to observe self-regulation from different perspectives. I became a Member of your Lordships' House in 1996, seated on the Labour Opposition Benches; I was a Government Whip from 1997 to 2001; and I am now a Deputy Speaker.
I have to say that before the 1997 election self-regulation in its present form seemed to me to give the appearance of, by and large, working. When, for example, a Government Whip intervened, drawing attention to a recommendation in the Companion, the point was usually accepted without demur. Increasingly, since then this is not the case. Now, one can speculate whether the difference is because for some 18 years before 1997 the Whips were from a party with an enormous permanent majority in the House (and accustomed to that power) and the main Opposition Benches were scrupulously observant of the conventions of the House in expectation of being in government but in a minority in the House of Lords, or whether it is simply because the composition, nature and workload of the House has changed radically. Whatever the reason, the fact is that a Government Whip intervening to draw attention to a point in the Companion is not given the same automatic acceptance or even, on occasion, much heeded.
With a heavy legislative load and the composition of the current House, there is really no objective reason why such a system involving Government Whips ought to work. They are junior Ministers and at least since 1997 have been very heavily involved in ministerial duties on Bills, Starred and Unstarred Questions, Statements etc. It is, therefore, in my opinion, inappropriate for the Whips, when on Front Bench duty, to be expected to metamorphose into objective and neutral arbiters of the proceedings of the House. However well they do so, it does not appear to 412 be right and in my experience the House increasingly ignores their advice, especially if it is in a fractious mood. It may well be that in a more leisurely House in different times there was a golden age of self-regulation—although I doubt it—but in my opinion and experience, it is not a mechanism which works now.
I think it makes sense to give the Peer on the Woolsack I shall return to the question of the title—the responsibilities currently resting with the Government Whip on Front Bench duty of reminding the House of the recommendations of the Companion. This would have the advantage of the advice coming from a neutral and hopefully respected Member whom the House should choose to preside over its business. I agree with the Select Committee in its concept of this office being the guardian of the Companion.
I turn now to the question of the title. I have to say, with the greatest of respect to the Select Committee, that I do not like Lord Speaker. I know they say it is used in the Companion, but in fact where it is used in the Companion it is used to refer to whatever Lord is on the Woolsack at a point when something is happening. It does not refer to a particular office or one particular individual and personally, I find the title Lord Speaker quaintly archaic with shades of Gilbert & Sullivan or even Tolkien. This is not a very important aspect of any change but I, personally, would prefer a more functional description such as in the Scottish Parliament—a Presiding Officer. I do not share the antipathy of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to that title. But that is not surprising, given our different attitudes to the Scottish Parliament. Even Presiding Peer would be more accurate since on any current plans for the role of this new office the usual powers normally given to a Speaker anywhere else in the world will not be accorded to the person presiding in this House.
Since the presiding officer will have the responsibility of overseeing procedure then it is logical for the Clerks to change their present position, which allows a constant communication with the Government Front Bench—
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, without wishing to express any opinion on the title of Lord Speaker, I put on the record that during the English Civil War it was used for a long period of time and created no controversy.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, the English Civil War is not the happiest of places to go back to for your Lordships' House. At the moment the Clerks' position allows constant communication with the Government Front Bench, which is logical, given the way we work now. But, it would be more logical for the Clerks to change their position so that they are much closer to the presiding officer, in the same position as, for example, in the Commons. I have to say that even in present circumstances I find the distance between the Woolsack and the Clerks and the consequent difficulty in having instant communication, a great inconvenience.
413 I must also say, with respect to the committee, that I am not taken with its proposal for electronic communication between Clerks and the Peer on the Woolsack. It seems unnecessary when there could be direct discussion by the simple process of rearranging the seating. After all—and I know that this will perhaps arouse some feelings among some of your Lordships, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick—why keep the judges' Woolsack when there will very probably—and I would hope soon—be no judges sitting, as such, in this House?
It is only logical that to the presiding officer should go the prerogative of naming which Peer should speak next in any circumstance, such as Starred Questions, where currently the Leader of the House or his deputy does so. I am glad to see that the Select Committee recommended that. The presiding officer is seated so as to see clearly the whole House and who has been rising, as well, of course, as paying heed to any preferences being voiced by the House.
It is no reflection on the Government Front Bench to suggest moving its procedural powers to the presiding officer. In many ways it takes them out of an invidious position and in some cases should lead to a more vigorous intervention in favour of the Companion. In a heated atmosphere or during a point of high contention, it can be politic for the Government Front Bench not to intervene on procedure to avoid inflaming the situation, and the recommendations in the Companion are, therefore, sometimes ignored by default.
I think that to transfer the current procedural powers of the Government Front Bench to a presiding officer would improve the ordered functioning of the House and retain the best elements of self-regulation. I wholeheartedly echo the words of the Select Committee about the transfer of the Leader's powers when it states that it sees this not as an encroachment on self-regulation but as an inherent part of it.
I should just like to finish with one general point. In interventions from noble Lords today, as well as at various points in the Select Committee report, great emphasis is put on how suggested changes will not lead to further powers accruing to the presiding officer. I understand the requirement at this stage for such assurances, but surely we should be prepared to face the fact that this new office will evolve as and how the House decides it should. I suggest that it is not a suitable or sound approach to be afraid of some kinds of change just because they might lead to more.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, we have heard an interesting speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay. I would love to feel that I could agree with it, but I find it difficult to find one word with which to agree. The idea of having a presiding officer sends shivers up one's back; the idea of moving all the furniture around is equally disagreeable.
I find this to be a sad day; that we should be discussing how to go about finding a Speaker. The fact is that I do not want to see the office of Lord Chancellor go, and that is that.
414 The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, admitted in a very generous way that when he was a young barrister he had aspirations for the office of Lord Chancellor. I do not think that I would be cheating if I told your Lordships that those aspirations went back earlier than that. The noble and learned Lord and I joined the Army the same day. We went to Caterham. While we were busily being told how to behave as soldiers, the aspirations came out of the khaki of the noble and learned Lord. So he had them even in those days when he was 18. He has had a great track record and a great period of success, which we have all admired, at the Bar and on the Bench.
I do not want to see the office of Lord Chancellor go because it has been in existence for 600 years. It carries great dignity, great authority and great respect. It works, and it works well. In my view the Government are making a mistake of monumental proportions in trying to obliterate the office of Lord Chancellor; and for what? We do not know.
As in so many things which the Government seek to change, it is not just the effect of removing that which is here which is destabilising, but it is the reverberations as a result of that change which rumble through. In this case, the whole of Parliament, the judiciary and the constitution are involved. Such changes throw up, sometimes years later, other changes and quasi-inevitable alterations that at the time had not been foreseen. In that respect I was slightly alarmed by the timescale which the Leader of the House adumbrated. It seemed one of considerable speed. I hope that caution and time to reflect will be allowed.
The Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was set up to try and suggest what should he clone aprè's le deluge. It worked very hard and the House will be very grateful for its efforts. My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley said he thought that it was an admirable report and could not see how my noble friend Lord Strathclyde or the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, could have given it even a modest rebuke. All I can tell him is that he has heard nothing yet. 11 am bound to tell your Lordships that I find the result of the report—to which a great deal of effort was given—unimpressive.
The committee was set up on 9 July 2003 with clear terms of reference,to consider the future arrangements for the Speakership el the House in the light of the Government's announcement that it is intended to reform the office of Lord Chancellor".However, the Government issued a press release three days later and published a consultation paper, both of which referred to the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor. Abolition is not the same as reform. But the committee decided, nevertheless, to make an assumption—and that is a curious thing to do—that the office of Lord Chancellor will be abolished. In other words, the committee decided, unilaterally, to change its own terms of reference. I find that remarkable.
415 I can see the difficulty in which the committee found itself, but the result is that it got itself on the wrong foot and then it went down the wrong track. It has now reported on a scenario that it was not given.
The whole report treats the abolition of the office as though it were a fait accompli. We do not know what the Government have in mind. They have not given any facts or ideas of their intentions, nor how they propose to deal with the consequences. It has not been discussed in Parliament. The one word "abolish" seems to invoke an irreversible stance of muted acceptability. But, I think that there is much water yet to flow under that bridge before that becomes a reality.
The report states a number of remarkable things. In paragraph 5 the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is quoted as saying that he hopes that the House will,make different arrangements to allow me to cease to be Speaker".Heavens above, he has only just been appointed—last June—and now he wants out! One might ask—with the greatest of reverence, of course—if the noble and learned Lord does not want to be Speaker and wants to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, why he took on the position in the first place. The noble and learned Lord is an agreeable fellow and has many friends around the House, but we are discussing the destruction of a huge edifice and an important part of the constitution, and the personal wishes of an incumbent should not be a motivating factor in that.
Let us assume, however, that all that happens and we get a new Speaker—whether he is called Lord Chancellor, Lord Speaker or whatever. What is the first thing that we do? Pay him £100,000 a year—plus expenses and pension, presumably, plus a full-time staff, plus accommodation in the former Lord Chancellor's office. Someone told me the other day that about five noble Lords had privately had their tongues hanging out—if I may put it in a slightly indecorous way—hoping to fill the job. That is not surprising. I should not be surprised if the number were not five but 35 in the end.
What is he going to do, this new character? I fear that we were none the wiser after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke. No one knows. Paragraph 22 states:If we are to get a person of stature to serve as Speaker, and if he is to earn the respect of the House, he must be seen to perform at least some functions in the Chamber".Good heavens above! What are we to appoint a Speaker for if he has no functions in the Chamber? Can we really envisage that? Paragraph 22 hints that the committee was hunting around, trying vigorously to find something for him to do.
One idea was to transfer some of the functions at present carried out by the Leader, the Deputy Leader and the Whips. What on earth for? They do their jobs admirably at present. "Ah," the committee says, "it is very difficult for the Leader of the House, when more than one person is trying to ask a supplementary at Question Time, to see who is behind him". Frankly, I have never heard such nonsense. It is perfectly 416 possible, and always has been, for that system to work. It is not a justification for having a Speaker for the Leader to give up those responsibilities.
If we were to have a new Speaker, and a number of people rose to their feet, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, why should the Speaker not say, "It is Lord X's turn"? The committee states that the Speaker should say that it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats, the Cross-Benches or the Labour Party. But frequently several Peers are on their feet at the same time from the same party. The late Lord Williams of Mostyn often used to say, "I think that we should hear from Lord X now, Lord Y afterwards, and Lord Z after that". I found that perfectly acceptable. The important point is that Question Time is the prerogative not of political parties but of individual Members of the House. If the Leader were to give those responsibilities over to a new Speaker, and if there were, as there sometimes is, a monumental row, how is the Speaker—marooned, as he will be, and as is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—on the Woolsack to receive any advice from the Table?
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, it is worse than that. Not semaphore; that would be indelicate. Paragraph 22—I think it was—states that that should he done by installing some form of electronic gadgetry so that the Table can communicate with the Speaker: a sort of closed-circuit mobile telephone or laptop. That proposal is so bizarre and unedifying that I cannot believe that it could be considered other than in jest.
One job of the new office holder is to entertain people from abroad. Maybe that should be done— I am sure that it already is—but I wonder whether that is a justification for making the change.
Then the committee addressed the matter of dress. It should be dignified, paragraph 38 states. Quite so. It should include a gown. Quite so. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill said, what about a wig—and even breeches and buckled shoes, which always used to be the dress of Speakers and Lord Chancellors in the old days, until the present Government came in with their "cleansing" views? The committee was silent on that. I am not surprised.
I found paragraph 48 astonishing. Three members of the committee suggested that the Speaker should be a member of the Cabinet and appointed by the Government. Good heavens, the whole purpose—or so it was said—of this fearful upheaval was to stop the Government of the day, by appointing the Lord Chancellor, from also appointing the Speaker of the House of Lords. I always thought that that was anyway one of the most vapid arguments. Nevertheless, that was the reason given. That has never caused any problems in the past, and I cannot see that it will in future, but that was the Government's view.
Given that that was the cause of all the hoo-ha, it seems beyond belief that anyone, let alone three members of the committee, should say that the 417 Speaker should be appointed by the Government and should be a member of the Cabinet, thus politicising the post of Speaker to an intolerable degree. I am glad that the committee did not agree with that.
If such a Speaker is chosen, it must clearly be done by the House as a whole. The committee suggested in paragraph 49 using the alternative vote system, because it was used in the first by-election to chose a new hereditary Peer. That system required the votes to be counted 40 times. I find that incredible. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, shakes his head, but if he looks into the matter he will find that the votes were counted 40 times. Moreover, no one understands the system at all, other than one or two enormously enthusiastic Liberal Democrats. I do not. Ask anyone to explain how the alternative vote system works and you will get a very garbled version; they usually refer you to someone else.
§ Earl Ferrers
Well, my Lords, that is a surprise.
Self-regulation must be the right course to follow. It is peculiar to the House of Lords and it works well. We really must ensure that that continues. The danger of creating a Speaker is that we will be sowing the seeds for the destruction of self-regulation. The committee made that point clearly in paragraph 23 when it stated:If the Speaker is given any functions at all"—any functions at all, mark that—Members will be quick to push their luck"—a lovely descriptive phrase, and so true—instead of exercising self-restraint".Self-restraint, is, as we all know, already in increasingly short supply at Question Time, when all too frequently it gives way to determined doggedness to stand their ground on the part of some noble Lords. That paragraph also states:If the Speaker is given any functions at all, they are likely to increase over time, thus diminishing self-regulation".That is also true.
If we are to have a Speaker, we will inevitably have less self-regulation—especially as the years go by. A Speaker with no powers is pointless. A Speaker with powers will vitiate self-regulation. That is why I am glad that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne tabled his amendment.
The greatest service that the report has done is to open our eyes to the farcical situation into which we are running. There will be more expense, more bureaucracy, more uncertainty and more destruction, but no one knows what the Speaker will do or what he is for.
418 What is on the plus side? In my view, zero. I hope that we will try to cherish and respect that which we have, instead of floundering around, despising what is in existence in the hope of finding something better. We often do not achieve it.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I remind noble Lords that the House has taken a self-regulating decision to finish by 10 o'clock, and that the time that noble Lords take to speak could ca use the House a problem in meeting two different objectives.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I appreciate that announcement just before I rise to speak.
I have not made a speech in your Lordships. House for five years, for the good reason that as I occupied the non-partisan post of Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament, I thought it inappropriate to speak from a partisan Bench in this Parliament.
It may be helpful if I said a few words, as the most recent Speakership created by the House was that which I occupied. I have read the report with great interest and, I may say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, great approval. I should like to comment in the light of some of my experience of the new institution.
At the beginning of its report the committee refers to the 1971 report of a group on the working of the House, which talked about the sense of the House as the decisive factor in the conduct of our business and how well it works. The report quotes another working group chaired in 1999 by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, talking about the degree of courtesy in this House:This may be due partly to the role and composition of the House, which enable us to stand back a little from the rough-and-tumble of party politics; if these were to change, the style of the House might well change too".My first point is that the House has already changed since that report was made, and more change is in the pipeline.
When I was a student in Edinburgh my professor of constitutional law dinned it into us—I remember his words precisely—that the House of Lords was the only institution created by man that was kept efficient by the persistent absenteeism of the majority of its Members. That was an accurate description of the House of Lords, but it is no longer and will not be in future. We must therefore be sensible in looking at what is likely to happen to the House. With great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, his speech was based on the premise that he wanted none of the reforms to happen at all, but they are happening and will continue. The committee was asked to look at the consequences of the reforms if they go through. We are taking note of that report today.
The Scottish Parliament has a Standing Order that says that Members shall treat each other with courtesy, a Standing Order noticeably absent from the House of Commons. That accounts substantially for the difference between the tone of Question Time in the 419 other place, particularly Prime Minister's Question Time, and that of Question Time in this House, which is much more like the tone of Question Time in the Scottish Parliament.
The late Lord Williams of Mostyn, in his evidence, talked very persuasively about the Leader of the House not having to continue his job of intervening in a semi-Speaker role. The committee report does not make enough of the very important point that whoever is on the Woolsack has the best view of the House as a whole. When Members compete to speak—sometimes genuinely, but often because they have not seen that someone else is trying to intervene—only the occupant of the Woolsack can see that a Back-Bencher has been bobbing up and down trying to get in when a FrontBencher suddenly erupts. The geography of the House lends itself much more to intervention from one end rather than a Front Bench.
Incidentally, I take the same view regarding the role of the Clerk in deciding, when the clock has moved on, whether we should move to the next Question. He also has a limited view of the Chamber. Perhaps that function should also be carried out by the occupant of the Woolsack. If the occupant of the Woolsack is careful, he or she will reflect the will of the House, perhaps not even by speaking but simply by gesturing to indicate who most conveniently could speak next. That could save a lot of time. Much confusion is caused at present simply by noble Lords not having a clear view of who else is trying to speak.
On the proposed responsibilities I must register disagreement with my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats—I am so glad that she said we could say what we liked. I speak from some experience. Paragraph 29 states:We propose no transfer of the role of the Leader in leading tributes, nor of her formal role in relation to the production of groupings and lists of speakers".There is no Leader of the Scottish Parliament. The Presiding Officer chairs the weekly business bureau and is heavily involved, therefore, in decisions not just about the business of the Chamber but about which Bills go to which committees and so on. He partly takes on the role of Leader of the House. There is no equivalent of the Department of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod or the Serjeant at Arms. The Presiding Officer chairs the corporate body responsible for housekeeping matters. As a result, Members of the Scottish Parliament are aggrieved that they do not get the chance to ask questions of someone responsible for those matters, because the Presiding Officer cannot be targeted by Members on the one hand and then order their affairs on the other. Individual members of the bureau and the corporate body answered questions. The arrangement that the Chairman of Committees can answer housekeeping matters in this House, leaving the Lord Chancellor or his successor out of it, is a good one and should not be changed.
Paragraph 37 states:the Lord Chairman should continue to be the spokesman of the House Committee when presenting its Reports and answering questions on administrative matters".420 I very much agree with that and disagree that the two offices should be combined.
I have mixed experience of the representative role. Paragraphs 40 and 41 are headed "Representing the House abroad". In my four years as Presiding Officer I attended some such conferences and never saw the Lord Chancellor once; nor would I expect to, as he had so much more important business. But it is unhealthy that the upper Chamber of the UK Parliament should not be represented at international events by its Speaker or whatever we decide to call him. More importantly, I am surprised that the paragraph says nothing about representing the House at home. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, not only in what she said on the matter today, but in her evidence to the committee about the role of the new Speaker in internal advocacy of the role of the reformed House of Lords. I spent much time explaining the new institution of the Scottish Parliament to conferences throughout Scotland. When the House of Lords continues to change, I suspect that there will be a similar demand for the House to be represented throughout this land as well as abroad.
I enter a word of caution on receiving overseas dignitaries: there is great danger that the occupant of the Woolsack will become an extension of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I was sometimes treated like that. People said, "You must go to Edinburgh and see this thing which has come to pass". On one occasion a head of state was inflicted on me personally by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, to my great regret, and on another occasion, my two deputies and I each had to host a lunch at the same time. We wondered which of us would get to the Chamber in time to start the proceedings. There is a danger that the new occupant of the role will be weighed down by becoming an extension of the public facilities available to the Foreign Office. It is none the less an important role that I do not diminish.
I agree with the process of secret ballot and the proposal for an alternative vote. I enter a slight reservation about the proposal that the period should be five years with the possibility of renewal. I should have thought that, given the style of Speaker that we want to have, it would be useful to have a convention in the House that the occupant should rotate among the parties, including the Cross Benches, rather than be a perpetual adornment.
It may surprise the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, that I am not enamoured of the title "Presiding Officer" and never have been. The Northern Ireland Assembly managed to ditch it by providing in a Standing Order that the Presiding Officer as defined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 shall be addressed in the House as Mr Speaker. That was a neat way of getting round the issue. We might have done the same in Scotland but the trouble was that none of us could agree on what we should be called. We therefore stuck with what the two Chambers here decided.
421 I have a serious point to make on the title. I do not care much what title is used. whether it be Lord Chancellor or Lord Speaker. But I have an objection to the title "Lord Chancellor" going to the Supreme Court: the Lord Chancellor is a peculiarly English institution; he has never had a role in Scotland because of the Scottish legal system. Unless I have misunderstood it, the Supreme Court will be a United Kingdom court, therefore the chairman—
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, the Lord Chancellor is the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, and he presides in the House of Lords over Scottish appeals in all respects except criminal appeals. The noble Lord is right in one respect only, and that is in respect of criminal appeals. He is the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, what I am not clear on is whether the Supreme Court will be covering criminal cases as well. That is still in the air. In that case, I will pass on quickly from the question of title.
What we want on the Woolsack is not a regulator; but a facilitator of our self-regulation. If we look at it in that way, this report is one to be welcomed.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, it is a great privilege and pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. As a Welshman, I have often wondered what goes on in that other outpost of what used to be the United Kingdom. He has given us a great insight into that. I welcome, as other noble Lords have, the report from the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, if only because, and not only because, of its capacity to be brief and concise. In that spirit, I will comment on only one aspect of the report: the title of the future occupant of the Woolsack.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with whose speech I was in almost total agreement, I am not convinced by the arguments in the report against retaining the title of Lord Chancellor. There seems to be a singular lack of logic in one part of the report, in the suggestion that to revive the name of the Lord Chancellor might be pretentious, but that it would be a good title for the senior judge. I find it difficult to reconcile those two suggestions. If it would be a good title for the senior judge, it would also be a good title for whoever will preside over the deliberations of your Lordships' House. If we could persuade the House to retain that title, it would maintain a great deal of the dignity and prestige of this House, which has suffered sometimes from the ravages of modernisation.
As for the suggestion of "Lord Speaker", I find no strong arguments to support that. The title Speaker has a strong historical resonance for the House of Commons. It goes back to the 13th century, when the spokesman of the Commons was the man who spoke to the king when he returned to the House of Commons after making the King's Speech, putting forward his proposals for action by the House of Commons. The spokesman was the only person 422 allowed to speak in response. It was from that that the title "Speaker" came. No one is clear how the Speaker eventually came to be the presiding Member of the House of Commons.
It is clear however that the title Speaker, or Lord Speaker, has no historical resonance for your Lordships' House. The office of Lord Chancellor, as prolocutor of the House of Lords, has a history that goes back to the curia, or the great council, of the Norman kings. It had nothing to do with being a speaker or a spokesman, he was a senior and distinguished officer of state. and was the king's closest confidant. Therefore, the title of "Speaker" has no historical relevance whatsoever to the requirements of your Lordships' House.
Today, the term "Lord Chancellor" has a clear connotation in most people's minds outside this House, as the occupant of the Woolsack in your Lordships' House. Whatever the other duties of the Lord Chancellor are, no one, when you mention him outside this House, thinks of him as the Visitor of royal peculiars, or as the arbitrator of disputes among students in universities, which are both functions of the Lord Chancellor. No one thinks of him as these, they think of him as the occupant of the Woolsack in the House of Lords. This has already led to a certain amount of confusion, in that many people outside the House think that he is a Speaker, that he controls the proceedings of the House, when as we all know, the House is self-regulating, and the Lord Chancellor has no role in the order, discipline or proceedings of the House. I suspect that if noble Lords accept the suggestion that we should call the future occupant the "Lord Speaker", that confusion would be even worse, because people would be more likely than ever to believe him to be the House of Lords counterpart of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The Government, of course, have a perfect right to organise their business how they please, and to distribute duties among their Ministers as they please, but the procedures of your Lordships' House are a matter for your Lordships, and not for anyone else. If the Government in their wisdom have decided on a course of action which no longer has a use for this ancient title, your Lordships may think, as I do, that the Lord who sits on the Woolsack should continue to be entitled, as he has been for more than seven centuries, the "Lord High Chancellor".
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, I will not praise the report, although I recognise the dedication and effort of those who gave time to prepare it. It seems to be a report of lost opportunities and some confused thinking. The issue is either that we leave matters entirely alone, as some noble Lords would have, or we recognise that a lot of change is needed, particularly as your Lordships' House changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, indicated. We must recognise that these changes have not finished, and we know that further changes are likely. The nature of those changes we can 423 only guess at. One thing that would be worst above all would be if we created a role of Speaker in form, but in reality that person would be a phantom Speaker.
The first point about a Speaker is that in essence he or she is a chairman. Good chairmanship is a skill; it is an art form that requires dedication, commitment, and above all preparation. It is pretty demanding, and it is jolly draining. It is not a reactive role, it is essentially a anticipatory role to ensure that the House comes to a decision and makes progress. It is not for the chair to decide the nature of the progress; that is for the House to decide.
Some of our debates are unnecessarily long, partly because some noble Lords are out of order, or they are repetitive, or they cannot stay within the suggested, self-imposed time limits. They have an inability to stick within the suggested time limits, and there have been a couple of examples this evening.
If the new Speaker is to have a greater role then the House must put some trust in that person. You cannot ask someone to take on this role and then declare that, "All the difficult decisions will be taken by the House". That is not the role for the Speaker. We must have some faith and confidence in the person chosen by the House.
Question Time has been referred to on a number of occasions during our debate. From the point of view of a Back Bencher, too often noble Lords on all sides of the House ask several questions when, according to the Companion, they should ask only one. Others ignore the Question altogether and exploit their time to their own advantage. Others, dare I mention this, possibly aim for news coverage. In my judgment, I am afraid that the same thing is happening when we consider Statements.
Additionally, it is not acceptable for the House to decide who should be called when two noble Lords from the same party rise to speak. It would then always be the more senior Peer, or the one who is the more regular attender. However, the presiding officer or Speaker would know that a certain noble Lord or noble Baroness had a specific interest in the particular Question and, of all people, they should be the one to be called. So I do not find the suggestion in the report that this should be left to the party or to the good sense of the House one that is acceptable.
Paragraph 31 suggests that the Speaker should do his stint when the House is in Committee. I disagree with that. Given that the role of Speaker is to be highly significant and that, with respect, unless we are going to change significantly the age profile of your Lordships' House, the person who is to preside is likely to be someone in the twilight of their career and their life, to demand that, over and above all the roles that the Speaker is going to be asked to take on, he should also sit at significant length on the Woolsack is not appropriate.
Finally, I turn to the name. In my view, the title of Speaker should rest with the Commons, where it has been formally recognised since 1377. We already have the title of Lord Chancellor. We know that the role of 424 the Lord Chancellor has changed over the centuries: the role played by Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor is hardly the same as that played by the more recent former incumbent, although allusions were made in the press to certain similarities between the two. Nevertheless, while I stand to be corrected by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, history tells me that in the Magna Carta the representative of the Barons was called the "Prolocutor". Having done a little research on the Speakership, I saw no reference to -My Lord Speaker" in Magna Carta or, indeed, any reference to it until fairly late on. So to suggest that the two have run coterminously is something yet to be proven.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. The word prolocutor is the Latin for Speaker. In those days, they spoke Latin.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, of course some of them spoke Latin; indeed, I had to pass 0-level Latin to go to Cambridge. However, while the word prolocutor may be the Latin for Speaker, the word used in the Commons was English—and that was rather earlier than it was used in your Lordships' House.
Be that as it may, the name of Lord Chancellor has, will and should evolve and, in my judgment, it should be the one to guide us in the future.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, having had the honour of being asked to serve on the Select Committee, I should say that I took on the task with a completely open mind. Having heard all the evidence, I support the report's overall conclusions. I have been amazed this afternoon at what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, described as the "deep gloom" which pervaded the Chamber at the beginning of this debate. I say that because I think that this is a very modest report suggesting minimal changes which I believe the House should welcome.
Nothing in the report suggests a scenario such as that outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. Rather, it emphasises time and again that the House operates extremely well under self-regulation, although it may be a little frayed at the edges; that it wants to see self-regulation continue and that that is the premise on which it is based. Of course the way in which the current change was announced to us was most unsatisfactory but, having arrived at this point, I believe that we should see the change as an opportunity, which is what the members of the Select Committee tried to do. My noble friend Lord Steel reminded us that change is inevitable. I think that the report seeks to make the absolute most of the opportunities now before us.
I feel a deep sense of frustration over our debates on the future of your Lordships' House. That frustration is born of the fact that while we have debated the composition, administration, facilities and even, on occasion, the form of Christmas card for this House, 425 we are continually led away from debate on the all-important issue of the function of the second Chamber; the reason for its existence. Parliament as a whole should have debated the functions of a second Chamber and have come to a conclusion before deciding either 'who should sit in this House or how we should organise ourselves.
I believe that the lack of a proper debate on this issue both in Westminster and in the country at large has left us in a position where constitutional debate carries on around us, but the thorny issue of how your Lordships' House should best serve the country's democracy as a check and balance on over-mighty government is not addressed. It is against this background that we should consider the future Speakership of this House.
If we are thinking about the future of democracy, then perhaps one of the most important points is set out in paragraph 49 which considers having a Speaker elected by the whole House using an intricate electoral system. While the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may not believe that many noble Lords—perhaps with the exception of the Liberal Democrats—can understand its complexities, perhaps I can assure him that it is a system which ensures that as much consensus as possible is reached on whoever is elected. That is extremely important. Having a Speaker elected by the whole House would mark a step forward towards real democracy.
I turn now to a point referred to first by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, by my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Steel, and by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. There is a job to be done in focusing on what the public want in terms of the future role to be played by this House. We need someone to be given a very clear remit to explain to members of the public the present role and function of the House of Lords so that they can play a part in considering what should be its future function.
While there is a certain level of understanding among members of the public of what is done here, there is also a good deal of misapprehension played up in the media by portraying a caricature of this House as a place where old Lords wrapped in red robes wobble from bar to bar on their Zimmer frames. Noble Lords know that that is not true and, equally, members of the public are not completely taken in by such images. However, they are not absolutely clear about our role in the legislature. Having a Lords Speaker who could give a face and voice to this House in a way achieved by many Commons Speakers over time would be an extremely valuable asset when set against the background of Lords reform.
A Lords Speaker could transform public understanding through a wide variety of opportunities such as youth parliaments, trades unions, the Citizenship Foundation, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the City and Guilds Group, the CBI, regional assemblies and whoever is interested in learning about how our democracy works. If we made perhaps one mistake in our report, it was not to emphasise enough the importance of such a domestic ambassadorial role.
426 I believe that our debate should concern how we as a House shape ourselves for the 21st century to serve our democracy as well as we are able. To do that we must have self-regulation—we all agree on that—but we must not have self-congratulation. Those who do not want change are in danger of being self-congratulatory. We must look to the future and have regard to how we can best serve a modern democracy. We should support the step forward that the report suggests.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, I do not welcome the debate because I do not support the Government's view that the office of Lord Chancellor should be abolished. However, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, a couple of hours ago, I would welcome a debate in the near future on the full implications of the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor, with particular reference to the independence of the judiciary.
Having said that, however—to say more would not be appropriate for this debate—I share the view of the majority of the Select Committee that, in the light of the Government's determination to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, the House should consider contingent proposals for the Speakership of the House.
Like most noble Lords, my whole life has not been spent in this House. Outside the House—in the course of my political life, business life and so on—I have attended, as will have most other noble Lords. numerous meetings. At those numerous meetings there is invariably a chairman and the role of the chairman is invariably a key one. My trade union colleagues, who are not in their places at the moment, will recall that a former General Secretary of the TUC, the late Lord Citrine, wrote the standard work entitled ABC of Chairmanship. Put shortly, the normal role of a chairman is to get through the agenda in a reasonable time but to enable individuals at the meeting to be heard and to put their points of view, as long as they do so with reasonable despatch and do not hog the meeting and tax the patience of the others present. As none of us is exclusively a Member of the House we should bear in mind the normal role of a chairman, and the role of our Speaker should be broadly similar to that.
I agree with the Select Committee that our Speaker—the "Lord Speaker" or whatever he may he called—should not have responsibility for selecting amendments, nor should he pick speakers in a debate. The present system, which is being applied to the debate today, of speakers lists prepared for major debates after liaison through the usual channels should continue. But the Lord Speaker, like the chairmen of most meetings outside with which we are familiar, should be entitled and expected to intervene if a Member speaks for too long in a time-limited debate, comments at undue length on a ministerial Statement, strays too far from the point or is unduly repetitious. It does not make sense in a House such as ours, with 427 all the business that we have to get through, to leave these matters to something as vague and diffuse as "the House as a whole".
What does "the House as a whole" mean? I suppose it means the House as advised by the Leader or by a government Whip. But, as the late Lord Williams of Mostyn—who has been quoted already today—said,a very junior whip is very reluctant to say something to someone who has been here 30/40 years".In my experience, that does not happen and we muddle along.
I recall recently—and this is a very recent experience, not one going back over the years—a 16-minute speech in the course of a debate where speeches were supposed to be limited to eight minutes. There are other abuses, such as the so-called winding-up speech which has been wholly or 90 per cent pre-prepared and makes no attempt to comment on the many contributions made in the course of a lengthy debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said in evidence to the Select Committee, there are other abuses—which individually may be trivial but they are abuses—such as supplementary questions that come in the form of statements and interventions that take overlong. The noble Baroness used the phrase—she is familiar with the House of Commons and many of your Lordships may not approve of it—in answer to question 57 of the Select Committee that the Chair should put Members in their place. Some noble Lords may consider that that is a shocking thing to say to Members of this House but, in the interests of the rest of us, I do not believe that it is.
It may be that the Chief Whips and other Whips should and do remonstrate on the quiet—and, because it is on the quiet, other noble Lords will not know whether or not it is happening—with Members who ignore the Companion. However, although no doubt that takes place—or should take place—it depends on the Whips' knowledge of what is happening and their willingness to pursue the matter. Never having been a Whip, I am somewhat sceptical of whether they do take on that kind of role.
I like the Select Committee's view that the Speaker should be seen as the guardian of the Companion—that phrase in paragraph 16 appeals to many noble Lords—but, I say to my noble friend Lord Carter, who was a member of the Select Committee, I am not so sure about the phrase "a light touch". If you contrast a light touch with a heavy hand, I do not want that either. If "a light touch" means ineffective chairmanship—and it might—I do not want it.
I wonder whether the Select Committee report—which reflects, of course, a majority decision and was not written by one person—is a little over-sensitive to the traditional practices of the House, particularly when paragraph 26 refers to "gentle guidance" and "tactful reminders". Are your Lordships so different from ordinary mortals outside?
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, the noble Lord says "Oh yes". I believe that sometimes firmer measures may be needed—even I am being very cautious; I put it no higher than that—especially for repeat offenders. The Lord Speaker should not be deprived of the powers needed to make his or her job effective, which would be in the interests of us all.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Lord Freeman
My Lords, it was a great pleasure and a fascinating experience to serve on the Select Committee under the excellent chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. His tolerance and the clarity with which he expressed his agreement, and sometimes disagreement, with views expressed is much admired.
Speaking at this stage of a debate such as this one has to be very careful not to bore your Lordships and not to repeat many points made before. I shall not do that. I shall follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Strathclyde, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Ferrers. They encapsulated with admirable clarity my concerns.
I started out on the Select Committee journey as a pragmatic modernist, admiring very much what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, argued in committee. However, by the time the Select Committee came to write its report I had turned into a cautious traditionalist. I need to explain briefly why that was the case.
I have slightly reordered my points; I learnt—although inadequately, perhaps—the art of debating, and not reading one's speech prepared many days beforehand, from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when he was Speaker of the House of Commons. That tradition we might bear in mind more often in your Lordships' House, simply because one can very often get to the kernel of an argument and dispute it quicker if one is actually debating in the Chamber rather than addressing the Chamber.
On self-regulation, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, must be right in saying there is a choice for your Lordships. Either we need a strong Speaker—inevitably, the Speaker of your Lordships' House will assume greater powers as the decades pass—or we need to improve our self-regulation. Having been a Member of the other House for three Parliaments, I say to your Lordships that this House has an amazing and valuable tradition of self-regulation.
We take great risks with that tradition if we begin to give discretionary powers, however modest—on PNQs and choosing a supplementary questioner, for example—to the Peer on the Woolsack. I have come to the conclusion that it is not a risk worth taking, for two reasons. The first reason is that I think our Front-Bench spokesmen and Whips will begin to lose heart in imposing or seeking to encourage the imposition and maintenance of self-regulation. If the Front Benches 429 see the Peer presiding on the Woolsack beginning to make discretionary judgments, the trend will be clear over a number of years.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in a fascinating speech about his experience as Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament, foreshadowed a change in the membership of your Lordships' House. I implore your Lordships to think forward a number of years for the newcomers. Some may be elected and perhaps some more will be appointed on a strict party political basis of apportioning the membership of your Lordships' House according to the votes at the previous general election. The newcomers to your Lordships' House will not remember the days of pure self-regulation, however imperfect it was in some cases. They will assume that the Peer on the Woolsack will have greater and greater responsibilities to regulate this House.
On PNQs, I strongly believe that the Leader of the House should consult not the Whips but the leaders of the respective parties and the leader of the Cross-Bench Peers about the wisdom of accepting a PNQ.
§ Lord Freeman
My Lords, I may stand corrected, but I have done some research. I went back to 1992–94 under a previous leader, when three PNQs were asked in this House, but only one was replicated in the House of Commons. I do not know why the Questions were not replicated or asked or why the then Speaker may not have granted the PNQs. But I would much prefer a system whereby the Leader of the House expressed the will of the House in permitting a PNQ to the regulation in the House of Commons whereby the Speaker cannot give the reasons for turning down a PNQ.
On the title, I understand that the arguments are finely balanced. I strongly agree with the arguments, advanced in particular by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, that the title Lord Chancellor should be retained. I think there will be real confusion in the other place. Some affront might be caused by the selection of the title "Lord Speaker". I think Members of the House of Commons feel quite strongly about that, as I would have done if I was in that place.
I listened to two arguments opposing the choice of the title Lord Chancellor. The first was from my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley, who argued for a decent burial of the title. Yet my noble friend was also Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a title whose functions have changed radically over the years. I was not entirely persuaded by his argument. Neither was I impressed by the other argument that the title belongs somehow to the law. If necessary, we can ourselves redefine the association with the chancellors of our great universities. The title Lord Chancellor is both dignified and appropriate to the task.
Finally, not many of your Lordships referred to the process of election. The Select Committee, quite rightly, recommends the single secret ballot, using the alternative vote mechanism. I have to say to my noble 430 friend Lord Ferrers that if he cannot quite understand the process of election, I am very surprised he passed out of the Caterham depot. It is a perfectly straightforward system; it was successfully used in the election for the vacancy for the Conservative hereditary Peers, and it has the great advantage of taking the process out of the hands of the Whips and back into the House where it should belong.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, my noble friend points out that I am not the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. That is an error on the speakers' list. I am not in any way attempting to prevent the noble Lord participating in this debate. However, that is enough of that for the moment.
It was notable that the Select Committee had evidence from two former Speakers. One, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has given us some fascinating insights into the pressures under which a Speaker labours and the skills he needs to deploy.
One of the most telling points that emerged from the evidence given to the Select Committee is that there is no overwhelming voice in this House for a Commons-type Speaker. Indeed, that has been the tenor of this debate so far today. There is no reason, at any rate under present circumstances, to assume that that sentiment is likely to change in the time that is likely to elapse before the role of the Lord Chancellor is reformed or abolished. That must be borne in mind, particularly by those outside who venture to criticise the conduct of the affairs of this House. Those who actually labour in the field have some more direct knowledge of what goes on and the kind of qualities we feel are needed in the conduct of our affairs.
At the moment, we are not clear what the Government have in mind as a successor to the role of the Lord Chancellor, nor what powers or functions the person holding that office would have. It is right to emphasise at the outset that the Government of the day cannot, by legislation, alter those functions. If the ancient and important position of Lord Chancellor is abolished, as is proposed, there would, in regard to the business of the House, be a vacuum to be filled, not by the Government of the day, nor by the other place, but by ourselves.
It is right, therefore, to consider what the functions of a Lord Chancellor are in this particular field. The late and much lamented Leader of the House, Lord Williams of Mostyn, started his evidence to the Select Committee, as I recall, by saying that his previous responsibilities were to be guardian of the Companion to the Standing Orders and guardian of the ethos of the House. Those words are well worth pondering.
431 Indeed, it is a matter of great regret that we are not able to draw him out on these questions and, in particular, to find out by what means he and the Lord Chancellors during his tenure of office as Leader of the House were able to maintain and safeguard the Companion or the ethos of the House. This is not an idle phrase, as some noble Lords were inclined to observe. I believe that, collectively, we are guardians of the Companion and the ethos. Although we may not appear to be sensitive to criticisms of this House—even though I am sure that we are—it is not for anyone, not even the Prime Minister or the Cabinet of the day, with, as now, a very large party majority, to dictate to us on these particular issues.
Even now, the Lord Chancellor is not responsible for maintaining order in the Chamber. He has no power to rule on Points of Order, make a list of speakers or order Questions. He may call noble Lords to put supplementaries, but even now, it is the Leader of the House who orders Private Notice Questions—although there may be a case for re-examination of that matter. The Lord Chancellor may recall the House when we are in adjournment. Beyond that, his role in this particular field is very limited. Perhaps that is masked to the world outside, because the Lord Chancellor undeniably has interesting, important and time-consuming duties to perform. If the Lord Chancellorship is abolished or deprived of the limited duties in this field, it must be open to doubt whether noble Lords of experience or ability could be attracted to fill the new office, however described—and in the time available I will not enter into the debate about what the office might be called.
Receiving visitors and paying visits to foreign legislatures, entertaining and being entertained, even lecturing the country on the scope of his role and the role of this House would hardly be an adequate basis for the creation of a completely new office. Indeed, there must be a risk that an energetic holder of such an office would be tempted to try to extend his functions until they nearly resembled those of the Speaker of the House of Commons. An energetic and conscientious holder of such an office might well be tempted to enlarge his functions to justify the rather considerable salary that the Select Committee has recommended. That is one conclusion about which, as a former Chief Secretary, I would venture a slight criticism.
At the moment, we have a successful, self-regulating, revising Chamber. I do not reject the need from time to time for us to review our structures and procedures. However, an attempt to assimilate our role with that of the other place would probably start from a misunderstanding of the ethos of this House and might tend to undermine an important part of our constitution. I therefore support the broad conclusions of the report and look forward to future debates when we can enlarge and probe more deeply into the issues that arise.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
My Lords, I rise in support of the report as a member of the Select Committee. I wish to concentrate my remarks on three 432 key points, mainly of principle: the removal of a political appointee as the presiding officer in your Lordships' House; the role of the Speaker and deputies within the Chamber; the mode of election of the Speaker; and the length of tenure.
First, however, I must refer to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, which, as might be expected, I will oppose if he presses it, for two reasons. I believe that the presiding officer of your Lordships' House should be independent and non-political. Also, the amendment would negate the decision of the House on 9 July last year and prevent further debate taking into account the many points raised today. It may well be that, at the end of the day, the House amends some of the proposals in the report, but it would be a breach to stop that discussion before it has been completed.
Many noble Lords have indicated their belief that the whole exercise is premature—a view that I do not accept. We are discussing today a point of principle. It is a fundamental principle that there should be a clear divide between political decision making, the conduct of the legislature and the judiciary, irrespective of the outcome of the constitutional debate. I feel so strongly about the matter because of my experience of being involved in preparing the constitutions of the then new democracies in eastern Europe. The criteria we firmly laid down were that there must be absolute independence of the judiciary from any political influence and that the same should apply to the presiding officer of the Parliament.
Here at home, our second Chamber breaches those principles. As head of the judiciary, the Lord Chancellor moves in a matter of seconds within the Chamber from political impartiality, while sitting on the Woolsack, to senior politician. John Wells, in his entertaining book on the House of Lords, has a wonderful description of the Lord Chancellor shuffling a few steps from the force field of the Throne, where he is the representative of the Monarch, to become another creature of partisan and bias, as the spokesman of the party that appointed him. In my time in your Lordships' House, three Lord Chancellors have carried out their multi-functional roles impeccably, but that is not the issue. Surely, it is time that the multi-functional role was removed.
We often hear reference to the patronage of the Prime Minister, yet when the opportunity arises to remove some patronage, somehow or other it is opposed. I find that very strange. I wonder what reaction there would have been if it had been suggested that there had been political interference in the appointments in the Speakerships in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I am sure that the people who oppose these changes would be outraged at that suggestion.
In his book, The House of Lords—A Thousand years of British Tradition, Sir Colin Cole, the then Garter King of Arms, refers to the Lord Chancellor being the ex-officio Speaker of the House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor has a limited role, with only 14 per cent of his salary being allocated to the role of Speaker. As my 433 noble friend Lord Carter says, the position is not determined by statute but derives from Standing Order 18. The time has come for that Standing Order to be amended and the independence of your Lordships' House reasserted.
My second point is the role of the Speakership. In the debate on 16 June, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the need for fine tuning in defining that role. The Select Committee, under the able chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has done just that. The proposals in the report have achieved a balance which maintains the ethos and principle of self-regulation that was clearly the majority wish of those who presented evidence, both written and verbal. The section of the report on this shows that self-regulation in your Lordships' House need not change with the election of our own presiding officer.
The transfer of the role of Leader at Question Time—which could be done while maintaining the round-the-House Question Time that we have adopted— and the decisions on whether a Private Notice Question should be taken are not monumental changes. Private Notice Questions should not be a matter for political debate between the leaders. They should be determined by an impartial person. The suggestion that there should sometimes be gentle guidance from the Speaker is also not a monumental issue. It would be general guidance not, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested, people asking questions of the Speaker. Rather, the Speaker would give guidance when needed about what the Companion actually says. That has been interpreted by some in this debate to be the only role of the Speaker, which is wholly inaccurate. A thorough reading of the report makes that clear. Many other proposals are suggested, including ceremonial and other duties within the House. I was particularly interested in the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the educational role. That could be a very important role for the Speaker.
Why is it necessary to have some changes? Reference has been made to the role of the Whips. Like my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, I should like to endorse that the work of the Whips has been increased considerably by their greater involvement in legislation. Apart from the logistics and practical difficulties, is it right that a junior Minister should take on a disciplinary role? It clearly could be seen as invidious for a Member of the Government to have responsibility for adherence to the procedural rules of the House, and there could be a perceived conflict of interest. It is unfortunate—and it has been discourteous—but of late there have been instances when noble Lords have ignored a Whip when attention has been drawn to a breach of the Companion. I do not believe that the same attitude would have been adopted to someone sitting on the Woolsack.
The Select Committee gave a great deal of consideration to the role of Deputy Speakers, taking into account that a new Speaker would be expected to spend considerably more time in the Chamber, not just at Question Time, and that there is an extension of 434 Grand Committee work. We somehow had to arrive at a balance between the three paid posts and the number of deputies, and 16 is probably the right figure. One important aspect is that currently no formal or informal training is given to new deputies The proposed smaller panel should receive formal training that could be constantly updated.
My last point relates to the election and length of tenure. At present, because of the political nature of the post, the Lord Chancellor changes when a new party comes into government. The decision for the election of the new Speaker not to coincide with the parliamentary term removes any doubt of the political influence as well as overcoming any practical difficulties that might arise following an election. It is also the correct decision for the Speaker to be elected rather than appointed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that we should do that by secret ballot, using an alternative vote. That ensures that the Speaker has the support of the whole House. That procedure was successfully used in the last vote that was undertaken by the whole House. Of course, the Speaker will continue to be the representative of the Monarch, by inviting the Queen to make the formal appointment.
In conclusion, I return to my main point of principle. We should not lose the opportunity to assert our independence, elect our own full-time presiding officer and remove the current political patronage. That can only be of benefit to the House.
Today we are discussing a take note Motion. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will not press his amendment, as this is an important debate, which we need to be able to continue.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, albeit that on this occasion I am unable to support the broad conclusions of this prestigious committee, for the many reasons that have already been given by many noble Lords in your Lordships' House and which I am certainly not going to repeat at this hour of night. However, I do support what the noble Baroness said about the educational role, as explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that the office of Lord Chancellor should not be abolished. On that basis, and none other, I approach the debate.
The recommendations of the report were based on the assumption that the threat to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor shall be implemented, but as part of a complex plan to dismantle many of his functions, and were made without the remit of the terms of reference. That pre-empted substantive debate on the assumption that was the essential issue on which the whole report was based. That essential debate has in a sense been pre-empted. On this occasion, the symbiotic relationship cannot be disentangled or, as the noble 435 and learned Lord would agree, resolved—or not today. That complex plan, which we should not forget, of which this is but part, has its own agenda, as appears in separate proposed Bills on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and other noble Lords, have spoken on other occasions with reasoned concern.
My speaking notes are in an awful mess, because I do not want to repeat what has been said. However, I believe that my following point has not been made. I take the view that the introduction of a Speaker is a serious and dangerous departure from tradition, for which there is absolutely no justification. How may such a person, whether elected or appointed, command respect and have authority, status or the precedence of rank of the Lord Chancellor, who has a seat in Cabinet and a vital constitutional role? The Lord Chancellor is responsible for the independence and appointment of the judiciary and a plethora of extraneous functions.
As for the value of this parliamentary role, let us not forget what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, wrote in the Law Quarterly Review of last January. On page 67 of that edition appeared his article on the Law Lords as an endangered heritage. I quote three crucial lines, where he says:His presence on the woolsack has symbolic significance, underlining the history and unity of the kingdom, and the origin of the house in the curia Regis. His ability to introduce bills is also of great practical significance. An obvious example is the Human Rights Bill in 1997".Since then, he points out, there have been nine others, to which we can add what has happened since.
The House has ample powers to make self-regulation more effective and to restore the traditional disciplines by consensus, under the aegis of the usual channels, if only the usual channels could appreciate the importance of attention to retention of discipline. That was the case when I had the privilege to come here, well over 20 years ago. Initiatives have been taken, but they have not been very effective. Certain noble Lords now assume that self-regulation applies to other noble Lords alone. The length of questions and responses at Question Time has degraded that time beyond all recognition. Without Committee on the Floor of the House, there are interventions on Report that are no longer curtailed to questions. Third Reading is now treated as if it were a rerun of Report. The crucial contribution is a cross between the introduction of an educational system to teach people who come to the House what the disciplines are and the willingness of the usual channels to revert to their old traditions of enforcing them.
Having said that—which is crucial to my assessment of this situation—is it not then idle to pretend that we need a Speaker to do what we can do ourselves and do very much better, if we are prepared to do it? This is not a criticism of the House—it would be presumptuous for me to make such a criticism. It is only a suggestion that we could conduct our own affairs better if we wished, and that these recommendations are wholly unnecessary.
436 I also wanted—not just because it is here in my notes—to say a word of gratitude to noble Lords who served on the committee and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for having afforded the opportunity for this debate. It is not easy to extend other than a trite welcome in view of the observations I have made.
The imposition of a Speaker by statute is opposed as neither requisite nor appropriate. If self-regulation needs to be improved, and I accept that it does, then, as masters of our own procedure, which we are, we could take steps within our own procedures in order to amend Standing Orders and the Companion. The PNQ, which was mentioned in the noble and learned Lord's report, is a very good example. I think we should accept that that should be done without delay; it is a first-rate suggestion. However, we do not need to have an imposed Speaker to do that.
No Speaker, under any circumstances, should ever serve as guardian of Standing Orders or of the Companion, regulate Question Time, impose adherence to Standing Orders or the Companion, or adjudicate on points of order, which it would inevitably come to, even if one takes a benign view of paragraph 26. The "light touch" referred to, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, in paragraph 16—I accept that it was not a unanimous report—really evinces scant practical sense as an exercise in persuasion. A "light touch" is mentioned, but how light?
The last question with which there is time to deal is the question of the Speaker sitting on the Woolsack. having one or two duties such as an ambassadorial role, sleeping within the palatial splendours of the Lord Chancellor's residence and having a stipend of about £100,000, and the concept that the report had to set to work to find him something to do. Well, although his functions on the Woolsack are pretty minimal, off the Woolsack, as has already been said, his functions are substantial.
Finally, I ask whether it is in the interests of the body politic. Is it conducive to restoration of trust and to the due dispatch of business in this House to foreclose on consultation and compromise and then abolish the office of Lord Chancellor? Should not the House take note of this report with fundamental reservations? The immediate, irreversible destruction of an ancient office first arose on a bungled reshuffle. It was no manifesto commitment. Swift reprieve had to be granted to enable this House to sit. Imposition of the proposed Bill by resort to the Parliament Acts would address no grievance of the nation, no wish of the people and would fail to acknowledge the wisdom of magnanimity in politics.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Lymington
My Lords, I rise to take part in this debate as a lawyer with a deep interest in constitutional law, as one who has a huge admiration for our unwritten constitution and as one who is convinced—and has for years been convinced—that that constitution is best served by evolutionary 437 and incremental change rather than by knee-jerk reaction. The fatal weakness of the report that we are discussing is that it assumes that the office of Lord Chancellor will be abolished. If not, it says that the House will think again. Buy why did the committee not think again? Why do we have no plan B? It must be an open question as to whether there will be change or abolition. We do not have a plan B. The Government themselves, as far as I can see, are unaware that there is a difference between abolishing the office and changing it. It is a substantial difference, as I should like to demonstrate without taking too much time about it.
I know that various Lord Chancellors have traced back the office of Lord Chancellor almost to Boadicea, but the only records that I have been able to find suggest that the first Lord Chancellor was Chancellor Maurice, in 1067, within months of the coronation of William the Conqueror. He was undoubtedly the King's spiritual as well as temporal adviser. He was—as is the present Lord Chancellor, if he knows it—the "Keeper the King's Conscience". For that reason, no doubt, he and most of his successors were made bishops shortly after taking office. He was the Keeper of the Great Seal—I mention that because it is a matter which may be of current importance—not on his own behalf, but on behalf of the King. From time to time the King, in the 13th and 14th centuries, took it back. It may well be that, if the Government succeed in abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, they should ask Her Majesty whether she would like it hack. She may well want it.
On more than occasion—this also has lessons for us—the office of Lord Chancellor has been left vacant. Nevertheless, it continued to exist. When it occurred, Commissioners were appointed as Keepers of the Great Seal. I have a vague recollection—I have no records in which to look it up—that I was myself once one of three Keepers of the Great Seal. I think that it happened when the Lord Chancellor went abroad and, not unnaturally, did not take it with him. It seemed highly unlikely that I would be asked to do anything about it, and I was not. I have no notes of the facts, but I think that that was the case.
As I say, my plea is for gradual alteration, which I believe is the key to the success of our constitution. I have mentioned the Lord Chancellor, and we will all be very familiar with the changes that have been taking place since the 11th century. I refer to the position of the Master of the Rolls as I know rather more about that. I believe that the first Master of the Rolls was John de Langton in 1286. He was secretary to the monarch. I do not doubt that he also dabbled in politics.
The changes that have taken place since then can be illustrated by two brief snapshots. I take a snapshot towards the end of the 1600s. Sir John Trevor was the holder of the office of Master of the Rolls at that time. He was elected more than once to the House of Commons. According to the books, he was an equity judge of great distinction and great honesty, which they contrast with his great dishonesty in his political capacity. However, on two occasions the House of 438 Commons elected him Speaker. Rumours got about that all was not particularly well. In due course the House of Commons convicted him of what were called "high crimes and misdemeanours". He had accepted a backhander of 1,000 guineas from no less than the Corporation of London to expedite a Bill. The Commons thought badly of that and moved to expel him. However, as I say, he was a good lawyer and he appreciated that the Commons' authority would at least be dented if it did not have the Mace so he took it home with him. Apparently, there was a stalemate for four days. Eventually, mediation took place and the Mace was returned. The point of that story is that he remained Master of the Rolls for another 21 years until his death in 1717.
Today, of course, other changes have occurred. The present incumbent is, after all, head of the solicitors' profession with considerable powers over it. He is the president of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal. I ought to mention in parenthesis that as his office is so old there is no requirement on him to have any legal or other qualifications to be a judge. The present incumbent has those qualifications but he does riot have to have them. Nor does the Lord Chancellor. On one occasion I was about to pull the Lord Chancellor's leg and realised that I could not do it as it would come home to roost with a vengeance as we were both only ex officio judges. We were not real judges at all. Let us not run away with the idea that there is a very strong connection between the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary; there is not. There is perhaps a slightly stronger connection vis-a-vis the Master of the Rolls but that is by the way.
The details of these changes do not really matter. However, as I have mentioned before, what matters is that I do not think that the Government have given the slightest thought to the difference between abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor and reforming it. I do not think they even know that there is a difference. As is recorded at the beginning of the report, they spoke almost in consecutive breaths of reform and abolition. I challenge the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to tell the House of any single objective of government policy that cannot be achieved by altering, amending or reforming the office of Lord Chancellor as opposed to abolishing it. For example, the Government can revoke all statutory duties, including those relating to the judiciary, which now in any way bind the Lord Chancellor. They can make alternative arrangements for his duties to be performed by independent, nonpolitical bodies, as, indeed, is suggested in relation to appointing judges. No doubt the same could apply to ecclesiastical duties. If the Government wished to transfer them from a government Minister, they could no doubt be taken on board by the Church in one form or another.
The links between the government of the day and the Lord Chancellor's office could be severed altogether. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs could take on board or, as the case may be, retain, all those functions which, in the opinion of the Government, have to be maintained in a political capacity, but which do not, of course, have to be 439 maintained through links with the Lord Chancellor. The present incumbent could resign leaving the office vacant, but the office would still exist. That would leave this House free to have an "election"—I put that in quotation marks—to produce the name of a person that this House would like to see occupy the office of Lord Chancellor. That name could be conveyed to Her Majesty through the usual channels. I have not the slightest doubt that Her Majesty would appoint a new Lord Chancellor on that basis. The Lord Chancellor so appointed would hold the same office as Chancellor Maurice in 1067. It would, of course, be a very different office comprising different duties and different characteristics but it would retain a great deal of the prestige that has accompanied that office down the centuries.
It was suggested in the debate that the Lord Chancellor's importance would attach itself to his function as ceremonial head of this House, to his ambassadorial functions and to his functions as a host, and perhaps as a guest of others, on behalf of this House. It would certainly help him in his capacity as a public relations front man for this House, to use a horrible expression. It might even help him if he took on a non-ecclesiastical pastoral role to our flock—an educational role if you prefer. At the moment he is second in the order of precedence after the Royal Family, the Archbishop of Canterbury being first in that order of precedence. The Prime Minister is only fourth and the Speaker of the House of Commons only sixth in that order of precedence. It would not be a disaster, but it would be a great pity, if that was all squandered and we had a new officer of this House who featured nowhere in the order of precedence, or possibly very low down, as does the Lord Chief Justice who is about 40th. We ought to hold on to that in the general interest.
I am sure that if we call someone the Lord Chancellor who does not hold the same office, albeit in a changed character, he would lose all the prestige and all the influence, or a great part of it, that the Lord Chancellor at present enjoys.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Brennan
My Lords, the House of Lords has national recognition; it does not have a national identity. Our people know what this place is; very few of them understand what it does. Therefore, our vital role as a reviewing and revising Chamber that occasionally challenges the other place must be protected. The preservation of this function, the maintenance of its efficiency, and wherever possible its improvement, is therefore a permanent task. There is no democratic Chamber that can confidently reassure itself that it is immune to change or reform. This House is not an exception.
Having looked at the speakers' list I think that, certainly in parliamentary seniority terms, I must be one of the youngest contributors to this debate. It is with the expectation of youth that I speak about two aspects of the proposed reform. I use "expectation" with hesitation, because a moment ago the noble Lord, 440 Lord Rees, prudently warned us that a Speaker with undue energy could become dangerous. He put me in mind of an 18th-century tombstone I once saw, which read: "He was a good man who was never afflicted with enthusiasm". I shall therefore welcome the report with youthful caution, and with two conceptual questions in mind.
The first is about what role a Speaker would play in the proper functioning of this House and its procedures. Self-regulation in this place has struck me in my time here as one of its unique and most valuable characteristics. However, self-regulation is an advantage that should not be permitted to be squandered in the direction of parliamentary self-indulgence. In my humble experience, Question Time is not a set of questions and answers. Plenty has been said about that today. In eight minutes, there should be an opportunity for 10, 12 or 15 short and sharp questions with equally valuable replies. Second Reading speeches figure at every stage on a Bill. Repetition is a norm, not an exception. That has to change. To glory in the rubric of self-regulation and never to question its efficiency is a very deceptive step for a parliamentary chamber to take.
I invite the House to conclude that the role of a Speaker in that context is not so much to dictate to the House from the Woolsack, but to be what I would call a reference point of welcome, education and the preservation of standards, with the availability to be consulted and give advice where necessary. He should act as a guide, not a pastor, which seems to introduce a concept of vocation, the degree of devotion of which would be so high in looking after 350 politicians that it is totally inappropriate.
My second point is to remind us of what the late, lamented Lord Williams of Mostyn probably meant when he talked about the guardian of the Companion and of the ethos of the House. He was not talking about command or intervention. Surely he meant a point of reference through which the entire Chamber could seek the maintenance of the standards that preserve the advantage of self-regulation.
I hope that my next point does not sound pretentious in the procedural context. Historically, no chamber in the world has not at one time or another—I hope very rarely indeed in this country—looked to the Speaker, its representative, as its defender between it and the Government, and it and those who would attack it. That is an important eleinent of the role not to be underestimated. Democratic hubris is unforgivable when we let danger rise without means of some representative protection.
I change from the procedural to what has been called the ambassadorial function. That is the right word for going abroad, but the wrong word for speaking about this House to one's own people. It seems a vital role of anyone occupying the post that they should speak and explain in public and private about the function of this place. Debates can go on for ever and a day about its composition and the continuance or abolition of the Lord Chancellor. 441 Democratically, the people want to know whether the House is fulfilling the function that it is there to perform.
That vital role will not be achieved through any system of self-regulation. Most people outside this House would not understand how a place could self-regulate. The Government spend their time, quite rightly, investigating every aspect of society that claims that it can self-regulate. We are not an exception. The ambassadorial role abroad and representative role at home is very important.
I have sought to speak as neither a modernist nor a traditionalist, but as a realist. The membership of this House involves us all in exercising a parliamentary duty to the people of this country. A Speaker would be one aspect of that, and not a central or major one. His role would surely be to serve us and them, and to achieve wherever he or she can continued efficiency and certainly dignity. By those means, he would ensure that we commanded the respect of the public. I thank the committee. It was endowed with wisdom. There is a tomorrow, and it will involve a Speaker of some kind.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord and his committee, because his report makes me even more sure of my position. I believe that we need a Speaker like we need a hole in the head.
I have been in your Lordships' House for only 12 years, and I think that I am about its 23rd-youngest Member. However, I am extremely proud of the way in which we go about our business. We are quite unique, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, observed. For me, a special source of pride is Question Time. My guests never fail to be highly impressed at how it runs. They always ask who was calling the speakers to ask the next question. The answer, as we know, is no one: it is their Lordships, at the centre of the House. I agree entirely with the call of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, for very short questions at Question Time. It is certainly my technique, and I like to think that I use my questions to good effect.
Noble Lords have made observations on the Lord Chancellor's minimal role in the House. I believe that the Chairman of Committees could take on part of the Lord Chancellor's role. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees may be busy and, as he indicated, he would not like to take on any of the Lord Chancellor's role. We are told that the Speaker will have a minimal role in the running of the House, but that he will have a Cabinet Minister's salary. Has anyone informally consulted the Senior Salaries Review Body, as it might have something to say about that?
Self-regulation restrained my urge to intervene in the excellent speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. He asked why there was to be no political role for a former Lord Speaker. The Lord Speaker's office will be very expensive. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, talked about the use of taxpayers' funds. The answer to the noble and gallant 442 Lord's question is pensions. My reasoning is that a former Lord Speaker would almost certainly be expected not to undertake any business activities, for obvious reasons.
During the debate, all noble Lords have agreed that we need to maintain self-regulation, but my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said that new duties for the Speaker would arise as surely as night follows day. Many noble Lords have covered the perils of having a Speaker. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, questioned the Leader of the House about the speakers list. From that we can move on to the Lord Speaker having a role in selecting speakers for a debate.
There is a greater danger. Your Lordships agreed that another place is not well suited to scrutinising legislation. The Speaker selects and groups amendments, but in your Lordships' House nothing on God's earth can stop one of your Lordships from tabling an amendment and debating to the extent that he desires, even in the wash-up just before the dissolution of Parliament at the time of a general election. If we have a Speaker, eventually he will be grouping and selecting amendments. It is no use saying that it is a matter for the House to decide. Eventually that will become necessary, as my noble friend said, as surely as night follows day. I expect that that will start to bite just at the point when noble Lords opposite are in opposition and on the Back Benches. I know not when that will be.
My final point concerns the suggestion that a junior Whip is not in a good position to calm down, as it were, a more senior Member of the House. I strongly disagree. The Whip, on behalf of the Leader, has to interpret the sense of the House. If he misinterpreted that, it would become apparent to all those in the Chamber. But if the great Lord decided to carry on undeterred, against the sense of the House, he would devalue the strength of his argument and it would merely be a modest cost of self-regulation. I have no difficulty in offering guidance to any noble Lord. There will always be two or three Members of the House who, from time to time, will abuse the freedoms of the House. But that is just a minor difficulty. The costs and perils of the solution proposed are disproportionate to the perceived problem.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, in my evidence to the Select Committee, I described myself as a minimalist on this subject. I continue to say that. I have some sympathy with the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and, indeed the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. If nothing is going wrong, why should we try to fix it? Nevertheless, the Government seem to have had a sort of constitutional epileptic fit and have decided that the office of Lord Chancellor shall be abolished and that we have to move on. Also in those terms the committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was right in saying that we assume that the office of Lord Chancellor is to be abolished and that we have to move on. It is right that that 443 should be the case. So if the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, decides to divide the House, I shall vote against him.
I would do that with some regret because there are some serious arguments on his side. Speaking as a minimalist, I would not reject wholeheartedly the committee's report. Nevertheless, I have some reservations about it. On the matter of Private Notice Questions, as far as I remember, in my experience very few PNQs come here, except those that go first to the other place. I am not particularly bothered about that, because I recall that when I was in opposition, sitting in the place of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I had to take only one PNQ when the House of Commons was not sitting.
I am slightly bothered about Question Time, as I wrote in my evidence. I wonder whether what the Select Committee recommends is either rational or operable. When I first came to this House all those years ago, and when, for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wanted to be heard from the Back Benches, we had a proper, open outcry. Noble Lords would cry, "Strathclyde!". If I wanted to speak from my Back Bench, Members would cry, "Williams!". That seemed to work well, but it does not seem to work well now. Therefore, we must have an arrangement to cure the malaise.
I am not sure about turns. There are Labour and Conservative Benches, but they are not in the tradition of the House. Anyone in this House can sit wherever he wants. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for example, sits at the back of the Liberal Democrat Benches, where my friend Lord Pitt of blessed memory used to sit. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, still sits behind me on the Bishops' Benches. Let us suppose that the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Stoddart, want to intervene during Question Time and the Lord Speaker has to say, "It is the turn of the Bishops". The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is not a Bishop, as far as I know, so that would be difficult. The Lord Speaker might say, "It is the turn of the Liberal Democrats", and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, might be sitting there.
I therefore find that whole arrangement, as described by the Select Committee, difficult to operate. Ultimately, the Lord Speaker will be required to call Members by name and that goes beyond the self-regulation that I supported in this House. I believe that Question Time should be left to the House to determine, and in my 20 years' experience the Leader of the House is and has been perfectly capable of doing that. Nevertheless, if that is what is required, I do not believe in terms for Benches. If the Lord Speaker, if that is his or her name, has to call someone during Question Time, the Member will have to be called by name. I regret that because it is the thin end of a large wedge.
I agree that there should be no salaried Deputy Speakers. Nevertheless, as regards Deputy Chairmen of Committees, the Select Committee in its report wants to have its cake and not eat it. In other words, if the Deputy Chairman of Committees is to be a Deputy 444 Speaker, he should perform the duties of a Deputy Speaker and not make a token appearance on the Woolsack. Either we have two Deputy Speakers already salaried, like the Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, or we have one or two Deputy Speakers who are properly remunerated for the job they are meant to do. It is no good saying that the Deputy Chairmen of Committees will make a token appearance on the Woolsack. I do not believe that that will work.
On status and salary, again I am a minimalist. I do not believe that the Lord Speaker, or Lord Chairman, in this House should compete with the Speaker in another place in terms of prestige. It is fair enough that he should entertain foreign dignitaries and use the Lord Chancellor's apartment to do that, but I do not believe that he should blow himself up too much. And I do not believe that the salary recommended by the committee is quite right.
Certainly, there must be a dignity in the Chair, or whatever name is given to the holder of the position, of this House. But, in my view, it would be wrong to pretend that he or she would in any way occupy the role in this House that the Speaker of the House of Commons occupies in that House. In my view, for what it is worth, the future Lord Speaker, if that is to be the title, should be modest in his or her ambition. There is no place at all for the thin edge of what may be, as many noble Lords have said, a rather large wedge and, again in my view, the House should resist it.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I earnestly hope that the House will be brave enough to digest the disappointment when it learns that it is I who is speaking and not my noble friend Lord Patten, who was listed in error by the Government Whips' Office. That is not the only error that that office has made in this afternoon's speakers' list: my noble friend Lord Rees is the other.
The ground of the report itself has been so well trodden down this afternoon that I do not believe there is any call for me to expand upon it. Suffice it to say that I go along with the idea of self-regulation simply because, on the whole, I detest regulators. They are intolerable. They are people who always seek to add to their powers and I should not like to see them among your Lordships.
I fear the use of the word "Speaker". The Speaker is essentially a regulatory person. I am so sorry that the noble Lord who is an ex-Speaker is no longer present because he seemed to miss the point that Speakers are regulatory people, and we do not want to have them among us.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I am very grateful for that support. Nor do I believe that we want a ceremonial person. The trouble with such a person is that either he is content to be a ceremonial person, in 445 which case he becomes boring and a matter for too many jokes or, alternatively, he will break out of his shell and wish to acquire more functions. I do not know which of those two I fear most. Therefore, let us have no ceremonial persons.
I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has been more than obliging to the Government. They did not deserve the kindly and thoughtful treatment that they received from him and his committee. They have put us all in a mess and he has been more than generous and accommodating to them.
I believe that the committee might have paused to ask some simple questions. Why and how did we get here and who put us into this mess? I cannot be one of those who is content to consider the report in isolation. It is indissolubly part of a chain of events. It is to that chain of events that I wish to refer briefly.
The Government's reputation for wisdom and thinking things through has not—I want to put this very gently—emerged unscathed. They learnt—rather painfully, I suppose—that mere determination to get rid of something which they considered wrong was not enough, and they have been left somewhat stranded. They found themselves confronted with a deadlock in your Lordships' House and they could ease their way out of it only with the rather strange and unexpected compromise that 91 of the detested hereditary Peers would somehow—
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend. How very important that amendment is. The Government could ease their way out of the deadlock only with the compromise that 92 hereditary Peers should be allowed, so to speak, to take root here temporarily. They could remain here until or unless the Government came forward with a system which would be reasonably satisfactory to everyone and which might endure. The majority of my noble colleagues who were hereditary Peers and departed did so on the basis of that promise. That promise remains of very great importance.
The compromise version of the House of Lords which then emerged was not altogether what the Government hoped it would be. It became something of a thorn in the flesh. I personally believe that thorns in the flesh of governments are very healthy things. There were times when I did my best to support the government of the Conservative Party. Some people have been unkind enough to suggest that I could be anything so offensive as a thorn in their flesh. It was never my intention to be that; nevertheless, I believe that thorns in the flesh are quite healthy things for governments to have.
The noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor would not accept the possibility of the Government going back on their undertaking. I believe that he deserves our total respect—he certainly has mine—and I am very sorry that he is not present this evening to hear me say so publicly. The 446 Government were then faced with the urgent need to replace him with someone rather more flexible, and where did they go? What a hunting ground to select—the Dome.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Would he care to speculate whether, if we had a Speaker, he would remind the noble Lord that the Companion states that debate should be relevant to the Question before the House?
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, if the noble Lord had been listening to me more kindly and more attentively, he would have understood that personally I strongly hold the view that the whole business of this report is quite inseparable from the mess which the Government wished upon us. I hope that we shall not have any more of that.
The Government found the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who presently occupies the Woolsack. I am so sorry that he is not here tonight because I should have said exactly the same thing with rather more pleasure and with at least the same force. Having appointed him as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and having given him the baggage of constitutional reforms, which are ill thought out and certainly not the subject of any consultation, they placed him in a fairly difficult position. He was ready to do what the Government wished; in other words, he took a more flexible view, shall we say, of agreements. Evidently, he believed that, with the passage of time, agreements solemnly entered into and repeated could be treated more or less as perishables.
I do not believe that that was at all fair dealing. Many have felt, and still feel, that they have been tricked and that serious constitutional changes were being used to help the Government out of a difficult situation that was entirely of their own making. It is true that some of us enjoyed a bit of a laugh when it appeared that once again the Government had failed to think things through: they were not able to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor—one of their reforms—as that would have resulted in chaos.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs found his journey to his office at the Department for Constitutional Affairs interrupted and he was obliged to use the Woolsack as a kind of staging point on his journey. I do not think that there is any need at all for any action on this report, at least not until the intended' legislation, of which we have seen nothing yet, comes within sight of land. Meanwhile, I cannot help viewing the Government, or at least those who steer them from on high, as a collection of paint-strippers, so keen on using their blow-torches that they find it difficult to distinguish between the peeling paint and the good, sound woodwork that has survived for many centuries. It is a matter that I take very seriously. It shows in almost everything they do, and increasingly as the years go by.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell-Savours
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, that the Lord Speaker's department will not get his name wrong. I am sure that it will be very wary of his formidable reputation in this House.
This has been an interesting debate on an excellent report. We all bring to it our varied experiences over the years. In my case I spent 22 years as a Member of the other House under four Speakers, two of whom are now in this House. I have another distinction, perhaps unique in this House, that on two occasions I was asked to leave—slung out in common parlance. I was asked to leave first by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for a speech that I gave on the Canada Bill, when we were repatriating the Canadian constitution—I am sure that my noble friend will remember—and secondly by Speaker Boothroyd when I referred to someone as a criminal some five years before he was brought before the courts. The problem was that he was a Member of this House.
When I came to this House I was introduced by my noble friends Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld and Lord Carter. I remember my noble friend Lord Carter taking me into his office to talk to me about the distinction between the Commons and the Lords, a conversation that I remember very well. He said to me that this is not the Commons; it proceeds by way of custom and practice—I think he had reservations about that himself—and with less aggression. He advised me to attend the Chamber, as I have done over the past two-and-a-half years, often spending four or five hours a day here to try to understand the mood of the place and how it works. The truth is that, despite my earliest reservations, it works; it works well but there are problems.
I felt confident enough to make a written submission to the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, as did many other Members. I understand that it was helpful to the committee in its proceedings as I dealt with many of the issues that were raised subsequently. I also recognise that one cannot replicate the Commons in the Lords. In my view there is a distinct difference in the role of the two Houses. The distinction is founded on the issue of primacy. As long as this House recognises and accepts the primacy of the Commons, its role will remain distinctly different. The moment it crosses the line on primacy, the way in which it conducts its business will change and the self-regulatory regime will come to an end, if only because of pressure from the other place. Proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill, which I have raised on a number of occasions and I shall carry on raising, threaten that distinction.
I recognise that the House is changing. The loss of hereditary Peers and the further reforms, particularly the advent of an appointed House, will all exert much pressure on our customs and practices. Inevitably, there will be a new spring in the step of those who are appointed. That pressure will sorely test the House where it is at its weakest, and it is in those areas that I find myself justifying the case for a light-touch 448 Speakership. The truth is that there is a lack of clear, continuing and immediate oral guidance to Members during proceedings on procedure and proprieties.
Over the past two years I have found myself watching carefully the body language of the Clerks at the Table, particularly the body language of Sir Michael Davies who recently retired. He was very expressive in seeking to indicate to the Benches, in whatever way he could, when he thought things were going wrong. The truth is that there is often confusion in the way in which the House operates. On a number of occasions I have seen that during the course of Bills. Whereas in the Commons, Clerks are available to advise the Chairman, if it is a Committee on the Floor, or the Speaker, in this place there is a physical gap which leads to many problems.
There are other problems, many of which have been referred to this evening: speaking and walking out; making speeches that are unrelated to the business under discussion; the gross exceeding of the recommended time limits to the exclusion of other Members; the lack of consideration by some in asking long, rambling questions during Questions; and, one that has not been raised this evening, the unpoliced advocacy on the Floor of the House, sometimes under conditions of direct pecuniary interest. The one I feel most strongly about—it is a surprise for me to mention it—is the damage to the image of this House from the undignified spectacle of Members shouting and bawling at each other during Question Time. That is grossly unfair on those who may wish to be heard but who are unprepared to enter into the fray. It is worse than any of the practices that I can recall from my period in the other House. No Speaker I have known would ever have tolerated it in the other place. For former MPs it is no problem; we are used to the rough and tumble.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, over 20 years ago no bawling ever took place when I came to this House. In my respectful opinion, it is largely engendered because people who come to this House do not wish to regard self-regulation as relating to them, but only to others.
§ Lord Campbell-Savours
Well, my Lords, perhaps there is an element of selfishness in that which should be dealt with by someone in the chair who on occasions might be required to intervene.
For former MPs the situation is not a problem. We are used to the rough and tumble. But many noble Lords are not politicians. They came to the House for other reasons. I know that some of them do not like this bear market approach to Question Time.
There are problems. The question is how can we address them without compromising self-regulation. I join those who argue that the Speaker should run a fairly light regime. He or she should provide a focal point for guidance and ultimate authority on guarding the Companion.
On the issue of the Speaker's role in the Chamber, I do not recommend the calling of individuals by name, as happens in the Commons, although it might be 449 required in certain proceedings where there is conflict. The Speaker might, where necessary, wish to guide the House with reference to an individual Member, either orally or by an indication by hand, but not by party. I suspect that the need for such interventions by the Speaker would be rare; and that the House would soon learn to live with the new conventions. Crucially, the Speaker would have the discretion as to when to intervene and therefore would need to be able to understand and read the House very carefully indeed.
Most of the other responsibilities of Mr Lords' Speaker or the Lord Speaker—are singular or plural because there has been confusion tonight when referring to this term—are set out in the report's recommendations. The report talks about the Lord Speaker, but some noble Lords have referred to "Lords", plural, speaker.
I agreed with most of the responsibilities in my own submission. There are, however, one or two areas that have been excluded from the report. I would normally expect a Speaker to deal with such issues as answering to the House on matters of Palace of Westminster security; reporting to the House on matters of access; dealing with aspects of the internal administration and appointments: announcing the heads of business in debate; and perhaps the occasional admonishment of—as my noble friend Lord Borrie said—are repeat offenders. I hope that further consideration will be given to those matters.
The advantages of a light-touch Speakership are that most of the House's self-regulation would be preserved; Members who are rarely heard at peak time would be more likely to intervene; and the House would have a focal point of authority which was available but not obtrusive.
Finally, and in my view very importantly, there is the issue of the quality of the person who is to be the Speaker. One should pick a Speaker who understands not only procedure but also the House in all its moods; someone who is capable of being utterly dispassionate; who recognises that this is a self-regulating House and that it wishes to remain so; and who is prepared to stand up to both government and House bullies. Speakers are often bullied. They must have the courage to tell people where to get off—to put the issue bluntly.
One should pick someone who understands the need to avoid picking an argument with the Government of the day in public, but who will argue passionately in private if necessary; someone who understands that his role is to work with the Speaker of the day in the Commons and not to compete; and, also—and we did not do so on the last occasion in the Commons; and I made my views known at the time—one should pick a Speaker on the basis of rotation between the parties and the Cross-Benches. There is a danger that parties think that they can afford to risk taking the Speakership twice in a row. Indeed, in my view that has implications for the future decisions on who becomes Speaker.
I believe that the selection of the Speaker is very important. It might well be that these matters are to be dealt with at sorne stage in the future. These matters 450 must be dealt with very early on because the House has to recognise that this is a momentous decision that will have major implications for the future credibility of this House.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, it is nearly 10 years since I had the privilege of becoming a Member of this House. I tried to learn as quickly as I could the difference between the way it functions and the way in which the House of Commons operates. I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I agree with a great deal of what he has said, although I differ in one or two detailed respects.
I learned quickly that this House has many strengths. I never tire of telling Members of the Commons about those respects in which this Chamber could well be a model for the other place. Indeed, they tend to agree with that. I judge this report, which by and large is very good, greatly on whether it will help us to reinforce the strength of this House or whether it will in some way undermine the very traditions which have made it so effective. I believe that the report passes the test fairly well. It enables the House to maintain the very strong points of its procedures while gently suggesting ways forward.
Of course, as many Speakers have said, this House is changing anyway. We cannot simply pretend that change is not taking place, regardless of this particular report and these suggestions. We cannot set this place in concrete. However, I would say that not all change is inevitably the thin end of a wedge or that it leads to a downward slippery slope. I could think of other metaphors. After all, the House is in control of these changes. If further changes are suggested after these have been given effect to—I hope that we shall do that—this House can say that it does not want to go any further, or that it does not even like the changes already introduced. It is not so weak and feeble surely that once it starts on a process it has to go on and on. It is not in the character of this House to be like that.
So I believe that this House has largely got the matter right. The report represents a good way forward. After all, it does not suggest any change in responsibility away from self-regulation. As I understand it, it states that certain of the self-regulatory responsibilities that now lie with the Leader of the House or with the Whips will move to the new post; but it will still be self-regulatory.
The late Lord Williams got it right when he talked about the guardian of the Companion. No one understood this House better than he. No one had a better feel for this House or was more sensitive to our moods—what we wanted and did not want. His contribution to the debate was a very good one.
However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and others about Questions. Of course Private Notice Questions—seldom though they occur—should be decided by the holder of the new post rather than by the Leader. After all, a PNQ may represent a matter that is sensitive and embarrassing to the Government. I am sure that our present Leader 451 can, but it is difficult for her to decide on a PNQ that may be awkward—that may even be awkward for her personally, if it is directed at her. Surely it is better that someone impartial should make that decision.
As for ordinary Questions, my sense is that we have not got it right. It may be that 20 or 30 years ago it was not as it is now. I can speak only from my experience over almost 10 years. Even as an ex-MP, I have still felt bullied by louder voices than mine to give way to them when I was competing to speak. I sometimes found it intimidating and just gave way. In a way, that seems the right thing to do, except that one always gives way to the same handful of people. So I did not like that.
The whole procedure is undignified. I have talked to people who have observed us in the Public Gallery. Whereas they are full of praise for our selfregulation—for the discipline with which we handle Committee and Report and take it in turns; for the way that debates with a speakers list operate; and so on—they say, "It is a bit awkward in Questions with the supplementaries".
So I hope that we feel that the dignity of the House and the high standards that we set ourselves would be better maintained if the person on the Woolsack could indicate, where there is conflict and argument, who might be the most appropriate person to ask a supplementary. Of course, it is easier to decide if it is a party as a whole, but it may on occasion be necessary to refer to an individual where two Members from the same Benches seek to ask a supplementary.
I welcome the idea of voting for a Speaker—and by the alternative vote. I find the alternative vote a simple procedure. If the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, wants a little chat afterwards, I do not want to be patronising, but I should be happy to discuss it with him. It is very simple and we could all understand it.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, the noble Lord should not worry about exceeding his time, because this is not a time-limited debate, so he is entitled to speak for as long as he likes. Will he also give us a seminar on other forms of voting?
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, first, the advice that we have been given by the Whips is that we will sit for far too long if we do not stick to the indicated time. I should also be totally out of order to explain that now, as it is not the subject of the debate, but I should be delighted to have a little chat afterwards, or at any time that suits the noble Earl. The system is easy. Having been a Minister in Northern Ireland, I have learnt about some other electoral systems, such as those used there, so I could detain him for a long time if he wants, but I promise him that I shall try to be brief.
452 I am a little concerned about electronic communication. I remember that when I first came here, I said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—he may remember this—that I thought that the way Division results were announced here was a little undignified compared with that in the Commons. Eight or nine years ago, when I believe the conversation took place, he even wondered whether there was some way to improve that. The furniture militates against that, but we could sufficiently rearrange the furniture so that the Clerks could sit nearer the holder of the new post, rather than at the present distance. Again, that would be more dignified. I am not against electronic communication, but it would be more in keeping with the dignity of this House if the Clerks were to sit in earshot of the holder of the post and vice versa.
I have only two more points to make. I appreciate that there is concern at the other end of the Corridor about the title of Speaker. I have some anxiety about the title Lord Speaker myself. I do not have an answer, but we should consider the problem rather than take any one particular title as given at this point.
This will be an attractive post. I could write an advertisement for the post—"Desirable residence, good salary, congenial company, pleasant working conditions"—and I could go on and on. Many Members of the House would like to hold that post. But we will not be so stupid as to choose someone who is not sensitive to the many concerns that have been expressed. We will not put someone into orbit to do what he likes after he has been elected for a set number of years; and he would not be so foolish as to accept a post on terms that are against the spirit and mood of this House. There are many possible excellent contenders. Unless we play our cards very badly, we will get someone who understands what this House and self-regulation are about, and who will not rush into the job like an empire-builder, desperate to increase his powers, strength and authority. I think that we will get someone who will meet the needs of the House and be sensitive to the many good points made in this debate.
§ 8.14 p.m
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will intervene again briefly to respond to some of the points made. This has been a very helpful debate and an opportunity to get a sense of the House's views. A range of views have been expressed, on which there will be an opportunity to reflect. I will have further discussions with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, his committee and the usual channels and table a Motion for decision.
I sense an emerging consensus in certain areas: a strong desire to maintain self-regulation and not to create new powers. There is some consensus on the functions of a Speaker outside the Chamber, in particular the ambassadorial and educational role, and on the method of appointment, although I have noted the comments of some noble Lords on the matter.
453 It may he helpful if I make some points clear. I underline in particular that I see this as a House matter. The Government have made two things clear. The first is their commitment to abolishing the post of Lord Chancellor in its present form; therefore, the House of Lords retaining the status quo is not an option. The second is their commitment to a clear separation between Parliament and the judiciary. The Government do not envisage the Speaker of the Lords retaining any of the Lord Chancellor's judicial or executive functions. In the light of those two commitments, the House must decide what form the Speakership will take in this House.
Many speakers have stressed the importance of self-regulation and the important correlation between the ethos and culture of this House and self-regulation. As I said in my opening remarks, a Speakership as described in the report is fully consistent with self-regulation and will strengthen rather than weaken it. I do not see the proposals as an attack on self-regulation. But self-regulation means that we all have a responsibility to make it work. The authority and respect conferred on a Speaker would emanate from this House. It is important for the House to bear that in mind.
Let me now discuss the relationship between the role of the Leader of the House and the proposed Speaker. I am concerned that the authority of the Leader of the House is seen as residing in the procedural role played during Starred Questions or in the granting of PNQs. I see the Leader's role as much wider than that—representing the interests of this House in Parliament, government, internationally and with key stakeholders domestically, and holding areas of responsibility as a government Minister. I regard having a Speaker and a Leader representing the interests of the House as a positive addition rather than a negation of the role of Leader.
I have been asked to set out the timing of consideration of the constitutional reform proposals involving the reform of the judiciary. The Bill will be introduced in this House towards the end of February, and a timetable is being discussed in the usual channels.
A range of views on the title of the post have been expressed, and I have listened carefully to the arguments. I will reflect on the points made and consult with the usual channels, as I will on the other issues raised. We need to work to achieve consensus.
To conclude, I hope that the House sees this as an opportunity. The House has changed and will continue to change. We need not fear change; we need to take the initiative and manage that change in a way that will enhance the House's authority and its credibility.
§ Lord Donaldson of Lymington
My Lords, would the noble Baroness mind answering my question: which of the Government's policy objectives could not be achieved without abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I am not aware of that being a part of this debate. This debate is about the Speakership of the House of Lords. The issues with respect to the Government's proposals on constitutional reform will form part of the discussion on the Bill that will come to this House. There will be a full and frank discussion at Second Reading, in Committee and at other stages.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I too have found this a most helpful and interesting debate. I have been much encouraged by the views of a number of noble Lords that were not far from my own. None the less, this would not be the time to take the view of the House on these matters in general terms. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, this has been a useful debate, which has certainly achieved its object, which was to enable Members on all sides to air their views. There have been outstanding contributions, as one would expect. There have also been some rumbustious contributions. I single out the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, an old friend, and also, if he will forgive me, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie.
It would be wrong to attempt to reply to the many speeches in turn, I will simply concentrate on what seem to be the main issues to have emerged. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, suggested that there should have been what he called a "plan B" based on the reform of the office of Lord Chancellor rather than the abolition of that office. I do not see how we could have done that without knowing what the reform was. All we could do, if we were to report by the end of the Session, was to make an assumption—and the only assumption that we could reasonably make was that the Government meant what they said when they said that they were intending to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. They said that over and over again. The reference to reform of the office of Lord Chancellor does not come from the Government. It comes from the House, when it wrongly gave us terms of reference that did not accord with the Government's intentions.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, repeated the argument that he used before that we should do nothing until the legislation has gone through the House. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, spoke to the same effect. I have already expressed my views on that, and I would expect to find myself in agreement with them when the time comes for that debate, but not today. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also advanced a new argument, which was that assuming that the report is accepted, we should take it by stages. We should try out a new Speaker without transferring any of the limited powers that we have recommended, and if then we find that it does not work, we could reconsider the matter in a few years time. That would be a mistake.
455 If the office of Lord Chancellor is abolished (it is all on that assumption) we shall have a golden opportunity to make clear at the outset what we want a Speaker to do. We want to make it clear that the Speaker is one of us; we want to make it clear that the Speaker is part of self-regulation, not someone brought in from outside to control us. If we adopt the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, then if in a few years' time we have to think again, because in the view of the Members of the House things are getting worse, we would by that process be acknowledging that self-regulation had failed. That would be a great pity. We must therefore transfer these limited powers now. Although I cannot believe that we shall have to do so, we could if necessary always transfer the powers back to the Leader of the House. There would be no difficulty about that. We are still in command of our destiny.
That brings me to a further point. While I cannot reply to all the points that have been made, I should like to respond to this one regarding the so-called "thin end of the wedge" argument. I accept that this is important, but the fears expressed by many noble Lords on this score, including the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Freeman, Lord Rees, and many others are, I think, exaggerated. I find myself in agreement with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. Perhaps I may say what a pleasure it was to hear him in a form which I do not recall since he was president of the Cambridge Union. On many occasions he entertained us in that style.
The danger is exaggerated because, unless the House so chooses, I cannot see how, by a process of "creep", the Speaker could gather unto himself powers which we are not going to give him. I say this again: we are in charge of our own destiny. By the same token, the argument that we should not call him the Lord Speaker because that would encourage him to think of himself as a Speaker akin to the Speaker in the House of Commons is almost impossible to accept. No Speaker that we choose would think in that way, but if he did so, we could stop him. We are always in control. The Speaker is our servant, not our master.
I want to add only this: if serious concerns are raised about the fear of creep and a gradual increase in the powers of the Speaker, then there is a simple answer: we should spell out in terms in the Companion what functions are to be transferred. I say again that they are such limited functions that it is extraordinary to me that such a fuss has been made about them.
I shall make a last response concerning the "something to do" point; that is, that we have recommended these changes in order to give the Speaker something to do. That is very definitely not the reason. The Speaker will have more than enough to do if we accept the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and many other noble Lords 456 that he should have a new, educational role which the present Lord Chancellor has never had the time to play.
§ Lord Roper
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Paragraph 24 of his own report states that:Our own view is that the transfer of the Leader's limited functions at Question Time would be in the best interests of the House in securing a suitable candidate to fulfil the role of Speaker".The committee itself stated that it would find things to do so that we have a good Speaker.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, of course I am anxious that we should have a good Speaker. Once we have one who will fulfil all the other functions—the ambassadorial, educational and pastoral functions, among others—which have been mentioned on all sides of the House, that will be his job. However, he will also undertake his ordinary stint on the Woolsack and during that time he will have these modest functions transferred to him which are currently performed by the Leader of the House.
I find it difficult to understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, having spelt out so well the other functions which the Lord Speaker will perform, should then go on to say that, nevertheless, this is a role which can be performed by the Lord Chairman. But the Lord Chairman already has more than enough to do. If there is any doubt about that, your Lordships should read the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon.
We have in mind something new for the Speaker and something important for the House, both in educating ourselves and in representing us to the outside world, at home and abroad. With great respect, that job cannot be done by the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman. We will need a new person—and that person will be the Speaker by whatever name he is called. I have said all that I need to say on that subject.
The "try-your-luck" point that, because the Speaker is there, it will somehow encourage people to get up and shout louder at each other does us a great disservice. I see no reason why the traditional courtesies of the House should not be exercised in the presence of the Speaker in the same way as they are exercised in the presence of the Leader of the House. Indeed, I see some reasons why the courtesies should be exercised to a greater extent.
I emphasise that the Speaker will need the support of the Leaders and the Whips of all parties to ensure that this will work. We shall be taking a very important constitutional step if the office of Lord Chancellor is abolished and I hope very much that somehow we will reach a consensus.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before nine o'clock.