10 Viscount Eccles debates involving the Leader of the House

Tue 28th Jun 2022
Tue 3rd Nov 2020
Mon 2nd Mar 2020
Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Democracy Denied (DPRRC Report)

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this is our second shot at these excellent reports; we had a go almost exactly a year ago. It seems to me that our analysis of what flows from the extensive work that has been done has sharpened up. I find it quite difficult to know what to say after the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, with which I agreed 100%. Indeed, just before him, my noble friend Lord Howell also referred—and it is a good title—to the study of the legislative agenda. I think that that is where we have to be.

This is a very good prelude, but secondary legislation comes attached to and after primary legislation, and at the moment it is quite difficult to see how we will make much progress as the boundaries between primary and secondary legislation have, in my view, completely gone. They simply do not exist in the way that we understood them to exist.

When I think of the two Motions, I am not so sure about the Delegated Powers one, because it uses the word “power”. To me, that is not the right subject. The right subject is housekeeping. Are our Government and our Parliament conducting the housekeeping of our nation’s affairs in a proper manner? How much real power do they have to direct that housekeeping? I think it is better to think about it so there is not a great deal.

I want to make a point about the report from what I used to call the Merits Committee when I was on it. It refers to the efforts and the explanation of the efforts that the draftsmen have put into a piece of legislation and says that if, at the end of those efforts, the policy is not clear, the Bill must be “premature”. I would go further. There is always a possibility that the Bill was not necessary in the first place. What was the motive for putting it forward? Recently, the freedom of speech in universities Bill would be a good example of that.

When it comes to thinking about, for example, framework Bills and what the Merits Committee has said about the possibility that the legislation is not necessary, that is the end of the Environment Act. It is a catalogue of regulations and targets. As far as I can see, there is absolutely no way of evaluating how that Act is performing, because you will always get an answer back saying, “Well, as you know, most of it is to be done tomorrow and we’ll tell you in due process time”.

We have to then give one minute’s thought to the position of the Government. I think they might say, “We are having a very difficult time meeting democratic expectations if we are to be re-elected”. There are difficulties: climate change, biodiversity loss, freedom of speech issues, trans issues, mental health problems among teenagers, gambling addiction. Does any of us really think that we know how we would draft primary legislation to deal with this? Do we even think that, in all cases, primary legislation would be the relevant way of trying to cope with some of these issues?

I have one last thing to say. Please do not blame the parliamentary draftsmen. I think that if we were working with them, we would make exactly the same comments as we make about the staff of our own committees. I suspect that we are out of our depth, and that we need to find a way back to competent housekeeping.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I agree with him that the Bill is attempting to deal with very clear problems, but I am not sure it is dealing with them as a matter of detail. I think it also treads on the ground of principles. In following the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I am very conscious of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, which I thought was an extremely good exposition of the position.

My question at this late stage in the debate in thinking about whether the Bill will improve the situation for freedom of speech is to wonder about the present regime. It depends predominantly on, I think, Section 43 of the 1986 Act and, of course, on the provisions of the 2017 Act, which set out the OfS.

It is interesting to look at the general duties in Section 2 of the 2017 Act. The first one is

“the need to protect the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers”.

I suppose that we agree with that.

I am not absolutely certain that every provider of higher education quite appreciates the importance of the word “autonomy”. I have a feeling that some providers, in their evidence that led to the Bill, are looking for some shelter or some cover, and my concern is not to give them that shelter or cover, and not to give up on the general duty to protect institutional autonomy, because it seems to me that, for a functioning democracy to work well, it is extremely important that we have autonomous institutions between Parliament and the people. I am not at all clear to what extent it is part of Parliament’s duty or, indeed, in Parliament’s interests, to get directly involved in trying to solve some of the problems that have been articulated this evening.

Indeed, Section 2(8)(a) of the 2017 Act, under “General duties”, which goes somewhat beyond the original list of eight duties, says that the OfS must have regard to

“the freedom of … providers … to conduct their day to day management in an effective and competent way.”

The freedom and indeed the duty to manage day-to-day affairs goes back a long way in our post-war history. It goes back, in fact, to Herbert Morrison and his control, on behalf of Attlee, of the nationalisation programme, where the distinctiveness of day-to-day management was set up and was extremely important to all of us who dealt with those institutions subsequently: on the whole, it worked extremely well. This leads me to say that Parliament should be very careful about eroding that freedom to conduct day-to-day management.

So, in thinking about these problems and thinking about the Bill, which is after all a big insertion into existing legislation—if and when it becomes an Act, it is not actually going to be a separate Act; it is going to be an insertion into the existing Act—we should be very conscious of the fact that it may be that this is not really a matter for Parliament when it comes to how we are going to deal with the problems of today and preserve the freedom of speech. I think we should have one more big effort to say to the higher education providers, “This matter is really up to you. There is sufficient legislation to enable you to carry out these duties, and we see it as being a preferable way of conducting business only to do those things that, after suitable consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny, we agree mutually should be done, rather than that anything is imposed upon you because we have identified a problem and, in our search for votes, we want to put something to Parliament without sufficient care and consideration.”

House of Lords: Governance

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will first talk about two things which I think are works in progress. The first is the External Management Review, which the Senior Deputy Speaker referred to in his opening remarks. I believe that he has a certain responsibility for what is going to happen as a result of this document, which was published in January last year. It is also fully covered in the excellent Library review, with a big shopping list. Probably the most controversial suggestion in it is that the commission should be made statutory. Your Lordships will wonder whether the present Administration in Downing Street would have any interest in providing parliamentary time for such a thing to happen, but that is probably the most dramatic recommendation in this review. The review is problematic, and I will come back to that.

Secondly, there are a number of things in this House’s relationship with the Government and the House of Commons that are a work in progress and need attention. Indeed, those relationships should be a very high priority in any system for running this House.

Before I start on these two issues, we are still, whether we like it or not, a self-regulated House, and we depend upon self-discipline. We do not set our own agenda, except to a very limited extent. We do not select our Members. We get the business that comes from the Government of the day and the business that comes from events. Of course, with our committee structure, we can think about events and make suggestions about the best way in which things might go.

Reverting for a minute to the External Management Review, before going out to buy a 133-page report, it would have been of interest for the House to have known at the time what it was going to cost and the qualifications of the people who were going to do it. I have to report that when I got to about page 50, I thought, “Unfortunately, the two people writing this report do not understand the House of Lords.” Their minds were on the governance of limited liability companies.

I have had to face up to annual general meetings, and I knew the systems of governance that I had to be aware of. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, we have legislation of our own, and you know very clearly where you are on the matter of governance. In a charity—and the review mentions Samaritans—you know very clearly what your system of governance is, but it is not nearly as easy to define and be certain about what sort of system of governance this House should have. My perception is that you cannot expect it to be legally enforceable and you have to rely, as we always did, on conventions and on peer group pressure: “This is the way that we do things, and this is the way that we don’t do things.” That culture in this House is extremely important.

I am not very optimistic about this external management review, despite the very long and well-composed shopping list in the Library report. I think, if I were to sum it up, it is an example of naval-gazing and of looking inwards when an institution should always be very careful to be looking outwards.

That takes to me to my second subject, briefly. We have two reports: Government by Diktat and Democracy Denied? For the 20 years that I have been here and on both what was then called the Merits Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee, we have always been concerned, and we have been advised by our legal advisers and our clerks, quite brilliantly, about the dangers of framework Bills and legislation that takes a lot of powers but does not really tell you how it is going to be used. These two reports have highlighted that. It seems to me that the way that the usual channels and the Leader respond to these two reports and advise the House on how to respond is an extremely important piece of work in progress.

I also think that, in a minor key, the way that the Government deal with Written Questions is pretty disgraceful. If anybody wants to look at a good example, I recommend the Answers about the Holocaust memorial that is planned for Victoria Tower Gardens. If ever there were, over a period of seven years next January, a list of non-Answers to Questions, they are an example. Again, I think that the authorities—if I may call them that—in this House should be taking up the issue of the standard of replies to Written Questions.

If I might suggest it, in concluding, it seems to me much more important that the commission and the usual channels concentrate on our relationship with the other House and what it is about it that is working well or not working so well, with us as a revising Chamber, fully appointed and, in the end, always giving way but, in the run-up to giving way, trying to make as much sense as we possibly can.

Covid-19 Update

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the noble Lord for acknowledging the £7.2 billion of funding for Scotland. This intervention has saved nearly 1 million jobs in Scotland, which I am sure is very welcome. As we have said, the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme, and it will always be there for all parts of the UK.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I would like to make a small plea about the NHS. There was a very good statement today from Professor Stephen Powis on the actual position facing the NHS. Accurate information is essential to keeping the confidence of the public, as has been said already today. Sometimes it seems that what is happening in the NHS is slightly cloudy behind a lot of other information—scientific information in particular. Will my noble friend encourage the NHS to go on telling us exactly what is happening within its own front line and make sure that, when it does, it gets properly publicised?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Across the House, we pay tribute to all staff in the health service, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and security, who have done so much over the last few months. I cannot imagine the strain they must be feeling at the moment. Data from the NHS is critical. One of the key things we are trying to do in taking these measures is to ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed and continues to provide fantastic service, support and care for all members of our society.

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 2nd March 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Pension Schemes Act 2021 View all Pension Schemes Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 4-IV Fourth marshalled list for Grand Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. Perhaps I can start by addressing the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, in the context of the issues posed by the Constitution Committee. I appreciate the points she and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, made on this. The Constitution Committee raised the skeletal nature of the provisions in this part of the Bill and sought clarification on how, and by whom, some of the powers might be exercised. Notwithstanding that, as I have pointed out previously, the committee accepts the need for some of the powers, even if in skeletal form. The noble Baroness was kind enough to concede that.

The noble Baroness picked me up on the distinction I made last week between policy and policy implementation. The policy in this area is developed: we are clear about what we want to achieve and what needs to occur for that to happen. There was a full and thorough government consultation. Following that, a government response was published and our policy aims were set out. As we have made clear throughout this process, further work on the technical development must be carried out and in due course, we will bring forward the affirmative regulations that provide much of the detail that noble Lords seek.

I would like to explain why it was necessary to bring the Bill forward at this point. The noble Baroness asked me why we think dashboards are a good thing. In our government consultation, there was overwhelming support across consumer groups, individuals and industry for our proposal to introduce a legislative framework in order to,

“deliver dashboards within a reasonable timeframe”.

Our experience over the past five years of trying to make progress on this matter—a long time, as noted by my noble friend Lord Young—is that without the clarity of our commitment brought by legislation, it would prove impossible to bring together the industry in a way to develop the service that consumers require and have said they want.

We have asked the industry delivery group, under the guidance of the Money and Pensions Service, to develop the infrastructure required to provide dashboards by working with a range of stakeholders, including pension scheme providers. This process will inform the content of the delegated powers. The alternative approach would be to table a Bill once all the technical work has been completed but, as I have just outlined, we would struggle to get industry to engage with us to enable this technical work to complete. We took the view that that course of action would be impractical and simply further increase the time that consumers need to wait for a dashboard service.

I am the first to recognise the Constitution Committee’s reservations about the use of delegated powers but, in this instance, we consider their use to be entirely appropriate and in keeping with the committee’s suggestion that they meet “an exceptional justification”. As to that justification, the reasons for the nature of the delegated powers are fully set out in the delegated powers memorandum. This recognises the need for a degree of flexibility while creating a digital service solution in order to ensure that the service provided remains up-to-date, secure and accurate. Technical requirements and user needs change and the legislative framework needs to be able to adapt at pace to meet those requirements.

The committee also referred to Clause 118 and asked the Government to explain who might be prescribed by the Secretary of State as someone who can publish standards, specifications or technical requirements for a qualifying pensions dashboard service. Pensions dashboards fit with wider government aims to give consumers access to and control over their own data, particularly across financial services. The Government’s approach is therefore to ensure that dashboards are fit for purpose over the long term, which includes recognising that ownership of the dashboard infrastructure and responsibility for the setting of standards may need to change over time, as explained in paragraph 1.364 of the delegated powers memorandum. It is not possible to set out now who might be asked to take on this responsibility in future, nor to state now the mechanisms of accountability to Parliament. That would need to be determined according to the circumstances but, as we have already set out, such changes will occur within the wider legislative framework, which offers multiple layers of consumer protection.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

Perhaps I should already know this, but will it be possible, in the additional technical work, for an individual to decline to have the information about his or her pension position put on to a dashboard? If past history is any guide, some people will always prefer not to join such a system. They might feel that they do not need it. Therefore, I express the hope that it will be possible to opt out.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It will be entirely up to the consumer to decide whether they wish to have a dashboard showing all the information relating to their pension entitlements. Nobody will be forced—

Housing and Planning Bill

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Wednesday 13th April 2016

(8 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak very briefly on this issue because it is almost impossible to follow that advocacy. I learned more in that particular bit about the process of dealing with these issues than I have over a long period.

During the Bill’s passage, there has been a great deal of concern about the things we do not know and cannot see at this point in its progress. We will come on to the question of secondary legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, but here and now we have an opportunity to get this issue right between regulation and determination. Any technical issues that might flow from that were amply addressed by the noble Lord. I commend the amendment to the House as a practical and sensible way to address a continuing strand of debate throughout the whole passage of the Bill.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, some years ago, I was a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. Determinations are almost always undesirable. They are arrived at and presented as an option of last resort because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, the matter being considered has become very complicated and detailed. Determinations are a sort of escape clause, as I see it. In a parliamentary democracy, they are inherently undesirable, and I therefore support the amendment.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the House is indeed fortunate to have such an expert in parliamentary procedure as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. I have listened to him and learned a great deal in a very short time; I am sure that other noble Lords will feel the same. It is interesting that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has effectively confirmed that he approves the noble Lord’s approach to dealing with these matters. Otherwise, Parliament in effect will be being asked once again to sign a blank cheque covering matters of considerable importance and complexity which will simply proceed under ministerial fiat. That cannot be healthy, given the nature and importance of the topic we are discussing.

I hope that the Minister, who has today written to some Members of the House about aspects of this matter—I am sure that the document will be in the Library as well, although somewhat belatedly—will acknowledge that the noble Lord has made a very powerful case for adopting a more conventional procedure than that of delegating determinative powers which will be exercised without any oversight at all. Nothing in what the noble Lord suggested would substantially obstruct the carrying out of the Government’s policy; they would just have to explain and seek parliamentary approval in what is, after all, a pretty normal way. I hope that the Government will react positively to the amendment. If, having regard to apparently moving circumstances as reflected in her letter, the noble Baroness is unable to accept the amendment today, if she could undertake to come back on it at Third Reading, that might suffice. Otherwise, I suspect that the noble Lord will be tempted to test the opinion of the House. In that event, the Opposition will certainly support him.

European Union (Referendum) Bill

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Friday 31st January 2014

(10 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, says that he will accept this amendment, I will very happily sit down and spare your Lordships’ House a few moments of my thoughts. I think I detect a negative response, in which case I ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, what is the purpose of giving information to the electorate after the event, and telling them plan B after they have voted yes or no, possibly partly in ignorance of what the implications of so doing are? I am reminded of the story of the eminent Scottish divine who, to his surprise, after a blameless life, found himself languishing in hell. He looked up, saw the good Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, I dinna ken, I dinna ken”. The good Lord, in his infinite mercy and goodness, replied, “Ye ken the noo”. That will be the position of the electorate. They will know the consequences of the referendum result for good or ill, but after the event—after the blameless life, in that case.

I am a signatory to both the amendments we are discussing. I put my name to them because I believe that on an issue of such importance the electorate should be informed about it. It is for those proposing the measure to say what their plan B is. Surely, we do not say to the electorate, “You will vote yes or no. If you vote no, you will step into the void. We will be coy about what the implications are”. That is why I have tabled a series of amendments—Amendments 74A to 74G—which I will summarise briefly. Amendment 74A is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: Switzerland”; Amendment 74B is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: Norway”; Amendment 74C is headed. “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: the Commonwealth”; Amendment 74D is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: North America”; Amendment 74E is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union”, which is concerned with other alternatives to membership of the European Union; Amendment 74F is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: European Economic Area”, and Amendment 74G is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: European Free Trade Association”.

There is a whole series of potential alternatives. Probably the most likely would be a relationship akin to that of Norway or Switzerland, or akin to that of the Commonwealth. I will not give a dress rehearsal of what I will say if we reach those amendments, as that would surely bore your Lordships. However, if the amendment we are discussing is passed—I very much hope that it will be because of its potential for an informed electorate—my amendments may then be otiose. However, I say for the benefit of the House that, as regards the position in respect of Norway, the report published about two years ago for the Norwegian Government by a learned professor is very helpful. He said, in terms, that he had come to the conclusion that it made sense for Norway to be fully part of the European Union. He set out all the disadvantages of Norway’s position, including the financial cost to it and the extent to which it was not able to make any serious input into discussions. Indeed, that was underlined by a representative of the Norwegian employers’ federation, the NHO, who said:

“We feel we have access”—

to Brussels—

“and the doors are open to us, but no one listens. Interest in Norway, and the influence of Norway, is diminishing”.

That is as much as I can say about Norway. In respect of Switzerland, the bilateral deals that that country has with the European Union are of interest, but the EU is unhappy with those relationships and is unlikely to want to repeat them. Switzerland is of course outside the financial arrangements of the EU and, because of the importance of the City of London, those arrangements are of considerable importance to us. Frankfurt and other financial centres look eagerly to see if they can replace the City of London. As to the implications for Switzerland—I shall not dwell on this because it would bore your Lordships if I were to go through them all—there is a very useful document by David Buchan for the Centre for European Reform, Outsiders on the Inside: Swiss and Norwegian Lessons for the UK. It sets out clearly what the implications of withdrawal are likely to be.

The Conservative Party appears latterly to have discovered the Commonwealth. I recall when, once upon a time, I spoke for the Opposition in respect of South Africa. In 1986-87, the Conservative Party almost destroyed the Commonwealth over that country and wishes now to forget that. However, probably the best reply in respect of the European Union and the Commonwealth was given in a speech by the then Commonwealth Secretary-General, the New Zealander, Don McKinnon. He gave clear answers in response to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I have copies if colleagues wish to see it. I shall not extensively go over what was said, but Don McKinnon was saying essentially that the Commonwealth needs the United Kingdom to be part of the European Union as an advocate on behalf of Commonwealth interests—whether in relation to bananas, or the interests of Gibraltar in relation to Spain. There is a whole series of areas in which the Commonwealth is needed. Don McKinnon, who was obviously totally a Commonwealth man, gave the lie to those who see the Commonwealth as some sort of alternative, not a partner.

To conclude, the real question is: do we want an informed electorate or do we not? We should, as democrats, seek to have an informed electorate and, therefore, I shall support these amendments.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, at some time, preferably not today, I should like to hear about the implications of a yes vote. The amendment is defective because it does not balance the possibility of a no vote with the more likely outcome of a yes vote. I, like the Prime Minister, want to find myself in a position to vote yes, if I am still around. The problem is that the people know that we have been on a long journey of some 60 years to get to where we are. But the people are also apprehensive because they do not know where they are being taken. Does Brussels, with the eurozone problems, know where it wants to go? Perhaps I may give just one example. What does subsidiarity mean? What is it meant to mean? We should concentrate on the reasons why it is sensible for us to stay in the European Union. Many people have talked about reform but the problem is that we have no agreed sense of direction and neither does the European Union.

--- Later in debate ---
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles
- Hansard - -

I would be grateful if the noble Lord would agree that I personally do not have a case to answer because I want to stay in. And I think that it is extremely damaging for him continuously to tell us that he expects the people to vote no.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have the greatest respect for the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I am not worried about the result of an election if there is a fair vote which is based on fair information. However, I am really worried about a referendum that is based on an artificial timetable which is led by the Prime Minister. I have great respect for the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech—as I said to the House, I agreed with 80% of it. To be frank, however, my honest fear, and I speak as an individual, is that when you look at what happened in the other place yesterday, when the Government collapsed in the face of rebellion from their own Back-Benchers—

House of Lords: Working Practices

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2011

(12 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am not sure that I can quite follow my noble friend in describing the excellent report as holistic. It seems to me that it has many different facets which do not all tie together.

At this time in the debate, one throws one’s speech away and tries to cull some comments from what has already been said. Some people have concentrated on relatively minor matters—such as whether we should start at two o'clock—but others have taken a much more in-depth approach. I take as my theme what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, which was that the standard of legislation had already deteriorated—not that it was in danger of doing so. In pursuing that theme, I introduce a note of caution. We have to be careful about what we can achieve and what it might be going a step too far to think that we could. The thrust of this debate, if I may be so bold, has been—along the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell—about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, about the legislative standards committee and a slice about secondary legislation. I am sure that we will hear a bit more about the latter shortly.

This House does not command any of those things. Chapter 2 of the report of my noble friend Lord Goodlad is entitled “Keeping the Executive to account”—or something closely approaching that. I submit that the only time that the Executive is called to account in any meaningful way is at a general election. For the rest of it, we cannot really look at the accounts. Accounts, such as the European Union's accounts, are supposed to be an accurate record of what has happened. Accounts are not about what will happen next. That is much more difficult. You cannot measure it; you have to wait to see what actually happens. Except with pounds and pennies, the measurement of what has happened is extremely difficult to achieve.

What was said about pre and post-legislative scrutiny, about standards and about secondary legislation is absolutely admirable, but I introduce a note of caution: can we deliver that in this House, or are we really looking for something that is different? I suggest that we are. First, we want half about as much legislation as is routinely put forward by Secretaries of State. It seems to be a badge of honour that you must have a Bill enacted. If we look at the number of criminal justice Acts, to take but one example, we are clearly submerged in the flood of legislation. Not only that, a lot of it is in secondary legislation. That is no doubt as advised by Permanent Secretaries—with the greatest of respect, again, to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who knows about Permanent Secretaries. They will say, “Well, Minister, I think that I would put that into secondary legislation if I were you. If we have a framework Bill, an enabling Bill, you can retain the flexibility. You can either do this or not; you can do it in various different ways. Of course, their Lordships will never throw it out and, down the other end of the Corridor, they will not even consider it for more than about two minutes”.

My note of caution is that I think the issues are much more complicated and lie at a much greater depth in our public life than has been illustrated, if I may be forgiven for saying so, by the debate or even the excellent report.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Wednesday 11th May 2011

(12 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Touché! I, too, wish that the man would go away—and I am grateful for the reminder—albeit to be recreated in the form that I wanted to discuss on my amendment. I take the opportunity to repeat that that amendment may well command quite a lot of support after what happened earlier this evening and it may provide some kind of solution.

As I have just said, this is all predicated on something that has been defeated. I very respectfully say to my noble friends on the government Front Bench, who know that I broadly support them in this context, that it is not acceptable for your Lordships’ House to have this kind of artificial debate in what seems like fairyland. I simply ask for the position to be reconsidered. Many substantive issues in the Bill can be debated. For example, I know that my noble friend Lady Doocey has some very important matters to raise in relation to London, and I hope that we can have a really good debate on those. There are substantial matters relating to licensing, and we can have real debates on those issues, too. I am proposing a new clause about war crimes and the universal jurisdiction, which I shall debate with anyone at any time. I shall do that off the top of my head right now if that is desired. However, those are examples and I do not wish to catch the Minister unawares, but I think that we could proceed with a number of serious issues without indulging in this artificial exercise.

Therefore, in the spirit of a government supporter, like my noble friend Lord Blencathra, I ask the Government to think again and to bring us back to some form of order. I know that we cannot raise points of order as such in your Lordships’ House but there is a question of order of great substance here which I invite the Chair to consider.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles
- Hansard - -

Is not the matter in the hands of the mover of the amendment? If that person simply says “Not moved”, we proceed to the next amendment. Therefore, the decision as to whether any particular amendment is debated is in the hands of the mover.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That may well be technically right but it may require an expression from the government Front Bench that, if my noble friend decides not to press these amendments, the Government will be willing to return to them in a proper sequence in the correct context in due course and not use any procedural matters to prevent her continuing with this debate on the proper predicate.

House of Lords Reform

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Tuesday 29th June 2010

(13 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I suppose we are hoping that, whatever the outcome may be, we are going to be better governed. Perhaps to some extent we should go back to first principles because there is always a danger, when something has been going on for a long time, that we stop thinking strategically. There becomes a certain inevitability of outcome that may disregard the circumstances. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put very powerfully in his speech the argument for stopping the dialogue and just doing what to him and many others has seemed obvious for a long time. My noble friend the Leader of the House referred to “public confidence” and the matter of whether people’s expectations are fulfilled, whether they are good or not so good.

There is a deep lack of confidence among the public because people believe increasingly that Parliament is not in a good position to deliver, and worse than that, that it is unreasonable to expect it to do so. Why are the public coming to this conclusion, which certainly requires that we should go back to first principles? If you say that you have ways of ending boom and bust and it turns out that you do not, that is not a good start. The story, which started in 1911, has a much longer history and began with the erosion of confidence in politicians and in politics itself. The public know that much of what has happened—and much of it is extremely good—has been driven by science and technology. People know that such improvements are not driven by the political system and that developments in the global economy are not driven by the political system of a single nation state, so they are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Parliament is not easily able to design or even to describe end results. It is increasingly less able to keep up with the unfolding details of events such as the BP experience or the challenge of climate change.

Political leadership now lies much more in establishing directions of travel than in a commitment to detailed end results through legislation, but if we are to pursue successful directions of travel, we need to deepen the dialogue both within the Houses of Parliament and with civil society: a theme developed by the noble Lord, Lord Low, in his speech. We need to know where to acquire the necessary knowledge and advice on which the best decisions can be made, and we need to improve our ability to decide what to legislate on and what not to legislate on, and how to legislate. These decisions are becoming more, not less, difficult year on year, but the one thing we should not do is try to simplify these complicated issues by going back to a tactical solution that started in what was indeed a very tactical way in 1911, because simply to continue the long history of attempts to complete the process that started in 1911 will not lead to better government. We need first principles in order to think through the challenges of our democracy as they are today and not as they used to be.