37 Lord McNally debates involving the Leader of the House

Parliamentary Democracy and Standards in Public Life

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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We are out of order; it is me next. I am always eager to hear the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, but I would like to say a few words myself. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and to anticipate the noble Baroness’s speech. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Featherstone on her formidable speech. Do not take too much notice of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—he has never been able to see a belt without wanting to hit below it.

I will first refer to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne. It is not the time for complacency by Parliament or investigative journalism when a television play achieves more in a week than other parts of our governance have achieved in 20 years. That is not to take any credit away from parliamentarians such as the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, who pressed for justice for those damaged by this scandal.

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, called his seminal political novel House of Cards. That is a good description of liberal democracy—the concept, not the party. We are all familiar with Churchill’s famous quote that

“democracy is the worst form of Government”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1947; col. 207.]

until you have tried the others. It functions best when its various components—a democratically elected Parliament, a Government, an independent judiciary, a media that adheres to the highest standards of truth and accuracy, and a Civil Service selected and promoted on merit—deliver open government and are underpinned by a robust and wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act. Each of those elements stands alone in a functioning democracy, yet each gives strength to that democracy by helping to strengthen the others. At the apex of that house of cards are this Parliament and the determination of each one of us to protect a democracy that, at its most generous, can be described as fraying at the edges.

In my three minutes, there is no time to set out a detailed programme of reform. Like the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I refer the House to the excellent briefing from Transparency International UK and Spotlight on Corruption. It sets out a programme of reform against which all parties should be tested at the next election and against which individuals should be judged. I hope that, in his extended 20 minutes, the Leader of the House—I am glad to see that he agreed to respond to this debate—will assess the progress on the Government’s Command Paper that was published last July, Strengthening Ethics and Integrity in Central Government, and then promise us a full day’s debate on that document so that we may return to this issue.

It is a daunting agenda that faces the democracies. As so often, Shakespeare got it right when he wrote:

“The fault … is not in our stars, But in ourselves”.

Covid-19 Update

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am afraid I shall have to go back to my noble friend and ask him to get back to the noble Lord, because I do not have the answer. Obviously he will know that there are fines available, including enforcement fines, so there are mechanisms in place—but I will return to my noble friend and ask him to respond.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is not only American democracy that is under threat from conspiracy theories and fake news, as the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, indicated, so it is important that the Government keep their nerve and keep to a consistency of policy in taking us forward. We have some very hard pounding ahead of us, and it is important to make people aware of how difficult the way ahead is. To that extent I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that we have to avoid the tick-box approach to using the vast number of volunteers and retired medics who are willing to come forward and help us in this crisis. I hope that the Government will stay consistent, but also be flexible in bringing forward those volunteers to help.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I hope I addressed the noble Lord’s point when I responded to similar comments from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and also, of course, from my noble friend. The Prime Minister said yesterday quite clearly that we wanted to cut through the bureaucracy as an immediate priority.

Brexit: Negotiations

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 3rd October 2019

(4 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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We are certainly not having that approach with our Irish colleagues; we want to work very closely with them. We realise and accept that there will have to be compromise on both sides and that Great Britain, not the Irish, made this decision. That is why we have put these new proposals on the table—proposals that we hope we can work with the Irish on, so that we can get a deal in order that we can move on to our future relationship. No deal is something that we do not want and certainly something that the Irish do not want, so, in order to try to tackle the issue that seemed to be the main problem with the withdrawal agreement getting through the other place, we have come back with these fresh proposals so that we can do exactly as the noble Lord said, which is come to a deal that is far, far better than no deal for both us and our Irish friends.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, to help the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the policy of the Liberal Democrats is to remain. That is the best deal on the table. However, that does not remove our duty in this House and in the other place to explore what the Government of the day are proposing. I therefore put it to the Minister that the reason why the Good Friday/Belfast agreement worked was that it was the result of careful diplomacy with all the players in play in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. What is worrying about the proposal that the noble Baroness has put before us today is that it seems that only the DUP was involved. That is a fatal flaw in any attempt to win consensus in Ireland.

The other issue is that 31 October is not a special date other than in the mind of the Prime Minister. There is absolutely no reason why we should leave on that date. If this proposal is as good as the Benches opposite are now arguing it is, surely it deserves time to get it right rather than walking over a precipice of our own making into a disaster. We have all said things in negotiations—"dying in a ditch” or whatever—but the important thing now is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to negotiate in good faith for success. An artificial deadline of his own making puts that commitment in doubt.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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Well, I can certainly say that we are negotiating in good faith. Our seriousness in wanting to come up with a solution has been shown by the proposals that we have put forward, which have involved a number of compromises on our side and things that are perhaps slightly uncomfortable. We have done that because we want to get a deal. I say once again that we are completely committed to finding solutions that are compatible with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is an absolute priority, and protecting it is the highest priority for us.

Attorney-General’s Legal Advice

Lord McNally Excerpts
Wednesday 25th September 2019

(4 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I have already given the reason why that did not happen: any advice that was given to the Prime Minister would have been covered by legal privilege, and it was judged inappropriate to disclose anything of that nature to the court. The Government have been clear about why we need a Queen’s Speech—we want to deliver what the public want and we urgently need to consider how to advance that work in advance of a Queen’s Speech. It was against this background that the Prorogation of Parliament was sought.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I was on these Benches when we supported the legislation that created the Supreme Court, and I ask this House particularly to ponder what would have happened if yesterday’s decision had been made by the House of Lords rather than by the Supreme Court. Was it not the wisdom of that legislation that we separated our constitution in a way that the public would understand, that there is an Executive, a legislature and the rule of law embodied in a Supreme Court? One danger of the way the Government have responded to this is that it does not seem to appreciate, understand, or support the idea that those three pillars of the constitution have to be mutually supportive to make our democracy work.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is back, but if the Government are cooking up some merry wheeze to get around a law of Parliament in the next two weeks, my God, are they going to face an explosion about their disregard for our constitution, our Parliament and our rule of law.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Callanan made absolutely clear, the Government will abide by the law at all times—we cannot do anything other than that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the Supreme Court. It has exercised its duties and functions in an exemplary way, it has reached its conclusions unanimously, and we should be grateful that we have an independent judiciary able to do these very difficult things.

Privileges and Conduct Committee

Lord McNally Excerpts
Monday 17th December 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia Portrait Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia
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My Lords, I declare my interest: I am not a friend of Lord Lester. I sat on the same Select Committee as him. I like every member of my committee, and I am very blessed to be on such a nice committee. In similar circumstances, I would hope that this House regards our duties as overriding our friendships. It is insidious to suggest that Members of this House would put their friendships above their duties to the House, and it is offensive to suggest that people would vote in the same way, as in the suggestions of “Lester’s mafia” plotting against the House. I have spoken to many people in this House; they have told me that, despite the fact that this is about Lord Lester, they feel that there is something not right about the report.

The other misconception is that those who voted against the Privileges Committee, which investigated this case, were not suggesting that Lord Lester was innocent but that this should be looked at again. That was not on the agenda and not what we were voting for. On reading the second report, I was most concerned by appendix 1. We are served by a number of unbelievably loyal and genuine staff, from the cleaners to the restaurant staff to the doorkeepers to the librarians. No wonder they expressed dismay when noble and learned Lords such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, speak up against the committee’s conclusions. There is obviously a problem if judges and other people have differing views on both the process and the result.

Looking forward, I beg the committee to concoct a scheme that gives some sort of certainty, not just to women. I identify with the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, because I have suffered in the way she suggested, but that does not mean that all men are guilty. Men are entitled to just as much of a fair trial as us women, but women must not be precluded from bringing forward their complaints. There must be a fair process whereby the men feel as protected as the women who accuse them, particularly in the current #MeToo environment.

I finish by saying that I am still not satisfied about Lord Lester’s guilt, particularly because the commissioner did not investigate each allegation separately but took them as they fell, as was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I read David Perry QC’s report; he read all the appendices and transcripts and came to the complete opposite view. In circumstances where two, or many, rational people reach opposing views, surely it is for this self-regulating House to come up with a solution that serves everybody fairly going forward.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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My Lords, I would gladly have given way, but we will both get in, from what I gather from the mood of the House.

I want to clarify that I have no Marconi shares. As I have explained to the House, I once met a very distinguished American lawyer. When I explained that I was not a lawyer, he said, “Then I’ll speak very slowly”.

All I want to say is that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, reads the transcript of his opening speech and then regrets it and thinks again—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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Because what the noble Lord said in his peroration was that what will come back in January will not be a new system but tweaks to the existing one. We will read Hansard tomorrow and see whether it has been satisfied. Some 170 people voted, so around 200 people must have been there for that debate last Thursday. It would have helped if the noble Lord, Lord McFall, had not announced within 24 hours he would overturn that decision and apologise to the claimant. That does not sound like listening to this House.

If anything has come out of this debate, it is the conclusion that has come through time and time again: this process is not satisfactory for what it is meant to do. I make the point again. I was the leader of the Liberal Democrats and part of the leaders’ committee that appointed the Eames committee. There is no question that the Eames committee code of conduct aimed to deal with sexual harassment—it was not discussed.

The idea that “The rules are the rules, and this is what we have done” ignores one of the most important things in the first report: an unknown journalist sounded out the officers of the House some time before this complaint was made, and got the ambiguous reply that it was probably right to make a complaint in this way, but the House would probably need to update its procedures on sexual harassment. This is the problem. Everybody who says we should not retry the case then starts mentioning it, but the truth is this: if the Eames committee code of conduct is fit for purpose, why was it not used within three years of the alleged offence? Why did the complainant wait for another seven years?

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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Wait a minute. Read what she says. Why did she wait another seven years? She did so for political reasons, not for trauma. It is not outrageous.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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Is it appropriate to undermine somebody who does not have a chance to answer? I invite the noble Lord to stop this now.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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I will not take any advice from the noble and learned Lord. He has already talked about hypocrisy; I bow to his expertise in that.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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You are embarrassing yourself.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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I am embarrassing myself, then.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Yes!

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine
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You are not just embarrassing yourself; you are embarrassing all of us.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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All trials are trials for one’s life; all sentences are sentences of death. We are talking about a man who, until this case, was one of the giants of civil liberties, of sexual liberties—

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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No, I will not give way. Give me two minutes and I will stop.

There was no questioning for 11 years. By ignoring the four-year limit and taking an 11 year-old case, we have left ourselves with a very low threshold for future complaints. I beg the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and the establishment of this place to think hard. In these debates, there has been a real concern that handling these matters is beyond the competence of this Chamber. I strongly support us giving some constructive ideas about how these can be handled with real fairness.

Every time you try to make these points, certain people immediately accuse you. I have every reason for wanting to see in place a law and codes of conduct that protect young women. I will not give way to anyone in the idea that that is not my intention. But we do not do so by overreacting to any question that the procedure could have been faulty or by not being willing to listen to very real concerns that this needs a much more fundamental review and change than was offered in the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord McFall.

European Council

Lord McNally Excerpts
Monday 2nd July 2018

(6 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I can only reiterate to my noble friend there remain real differences between us and the Commission on Northern Ireland but that we are absolutely committed to resolving them. We are all committed to working together to make sure that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that we maintain the constitutional integrity of the UK.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, the interventions on Northern Ireland show just how important Ireland remains as this matter unfolds. Will the Minister clarify where Sir Robert Peel now sits in the Conservative pantheon? Is he a traitorous Prime Minister who sold out his party, or is he, in fact, an example to any Prime Minister of someone who put national interest before party interest in the way he carried out his duties?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I suggest that we want to be looking forward, not backwards, and that is what this Government are doing.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Radice, as it is to act as warm-up man for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.

I refer the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, in which he explained very clearly why many of us cannot follow her advice simply to get the Bill through as a technical Bill. The problem we have had right from the start—from the consultative referendum, to the Article 50 vote to this vote—is that as soon as the vote is over the Government put on the ratchet and say, “Well, you can’t go back now; we had a 500 majority for this”. Parliament must continue to keep its eye on what is happening and make decisions that are relevant.

Just over a week ago, Juliet Samuel wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

“This year, the Government has to conduct one of the most difficult negotiations in our history. It is not up to the job”.


Nothing that has happened in the last 10 days has weakened the strength of that criticism, and many of the speeches from the Conservative Benches yesterday reflected that unease. We have a deeply flawed Bill presented by a dysfunctional and leaderless Government. Any attempt at leadership by the Prime Minister, and there is a tug on the choke chain by the hard-line Brexiteers in her Cabinet and her party to drag her back from anything that does not fit with their ideological obsessions. Then, we have the absurd spectacle of those twin titans, Sir Bill Cash and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, delivering their warnings from the Back Benches and the TV studios, while that amiable chancer, David Davis, busks his way through meeting after meeting with the laconic assurance that it will be all right on the night. Meanwhile the Cabinet plots, jostles and manoeuvres for position like players in a TV soap opera. It would be farcical if it were not the future of our country at stake while the Conservative Party plays out its own tragicomic version of “Game of Thrones”.

Such a situation puts a heavy responsibility on this House to amend the Bill before us. We must address its flaws and propose remedies, as the mantra of “Brexit means Brexit” becomes ever more trite and meaningless. The first responsibility of this House is to defend our constitutional settlement against what the late Viscount Hailsham described as an elective dictatorship.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, reminded us yesterday, it is one of the deepest ironies that a Brexit campaign that promised a return of sovereignty to this Parliament ends in the biggest switch of power from the Legislature to the Executive that we have seen in modern times. I am in no doubt that the House of Lords has not only the right but the duty to resist such a power grab. To do otherwise would have long-term consequences for the powers and authority of this Parliament that go far beyond the immediate issue of Brexit. I ask noble Lords to read the magnificent speech just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. In passing, I note that when she describes our objective as to make the Bill “copper-bottomed, iron-clad and storm-proof”, that description also applies to the noble Baroness. I will get my ears boxed for that when we are outside.

On the economic consequences, I have never seen Brexit in Captain Oates terms: Britain leaving the European tent to inevitably perish as we try to go it alone. We will be poorer than we would otherwise be—even the Government’s own assessments tell us that—but we will get by. We will be able to earn a crust. However, I see no evidence at all that “global Britain” will find better deals free from the supposed encumbrances of our membership of a 500 million-plus single market. I wish the Prime Minister every success on her visit to China and in her desire to drive up our trade with that country. I shall give her a benchmark to aim for: let us try to reach the level of German trade with China, which is four times our own—and all from the security of that single market.

As we have heard time and again during this debate, the clock is ticking while every sector of the economy cries out for clarity and certainty. The Prime Minister and her Cabinet have to make clear the terms of our departure that they are seeking. When we know where we are going and how we intend to get there, it defies logic that a decision taken nearly two years ago without the facts should be the last word on a decision that will set the course for our country for decades to come. Both Parliament and the people must be consulted on this endgame. Without a vote on the reality of Brexit, we will be left with a raw and open wound, not least among the millions of young people who did not vote for Brexit yet will have to live with the consequences. To tell them that their ship has sailed is a cynical betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of a generation.

There is always an element of doubt about speaking in a debate with so many speakers. I do so for two reasons. The first is my three children, all in their 20s and all proud citizens of Europe. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, “I did everything that I could to avoid this disaster”. The second is that I want to put on record my pride in a European project that has set an example to the world of how old enmities can be buried and a new era of peace and prosperity can be delivered and underpinned by civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law.

Yesterday I was much moved by the reminder from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, of the realities for his family at the end of the Second World War. I always recall the famous Zec cartoon of the battle-weary Tommy holding a victory wreath on Victory in Europe Day with the caption, “Here you are! Don’t lose it again!”. I believe profoundly that we are in the process of losing influence in creating a better Britain, a better Europe and a better world that was passed on to us by the generation who came back from the Second World War—the Heaths, the Whitelaws, the Healeys, the Callaghans. They came back saying, “Never again”. I think we are throwing away a great deal. Until that deal is finalised, I will fight it.

Strathclyde Review

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. She is absolutely right: we will face significant challenges with the amount of legislation, both primary and secondary, that will come to this House, and I am looking forward to working with the leadership across this House to ensure that we do the most effective job in helping to produce the best deal we can for this country. I am happy to take away her thoughts about scrutinising secondary legislation, and I will talk to colleagues in government.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I am always most worried when the House is congratulating itself on how wise it has been. I was a member of the Cunningham committee, and if there is a paragraph in its report of which I claim authorship and in which I take pride, it is the one that repeats the assertion by Lord Simon that this House must retain the right to say no. What makes this House work, faced with the Government’s oft-repeated threats to clip its wings, is its grim determination to retain that right to say no. The warning, and the danger, is that if we ever gave away the right to say no—sparingly as it is used—the dynamics of this House would change. We would become a debating society, because Governments would know that whatever process they adopted—option 3 was just a single example—they could bypass this House. This House is here for a special reason, and it is the right to say no that protects its authority and makes Governments think twice.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I entirely agree with the noble Lord that this House has a vital role to play, but we must remember that the elected House has the final say, because it is the elected House. What we can do is add our voice and our expertise to ensure that opinions are reflected, and that we can improve legislation—but we are reliant on the House’s self-regulation and discipline to achieve that. As I said, I believe that we are constructive and we work well together—but if that breaks down, we will have to reflect on what that means.

Strathclyde Review

Lord McNally Excerpts
Wednesday 13th January 2016

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I was intrigued by the very first sentence of the executive summary in the paper of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, which states:

“Since 1968, a convention has existed that the House of Lords should not reject statutory instruments (or should do so only rarely)”.

To my mind, that is exactly what has happened over the past 50 years. The Motions that caused the establishment of the Strathclyde report, and even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, himself has accepted this, were not in any way breaches of the convention in terms of rejection.

I am taking part today because it is 20 years since I first took my seat in the House, and therefore I thought it would be useful to contribute to what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to as the collective memory. During that time, I have spent nine years as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, three very pleasant years as the Deputy Leader of the House under the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and three and a half years as a Minister. I have never made any secret of my view that although this House has many admirable qualities and does some extremely useful work, in its present form it is an affront to democracy. I regret the opportunities missed more fully to reform the House in 1999 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, knows, I regret the missed opportunity of the Wakeham commission in 2000. However, we must not be seduced today by the argument that because the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is close to one of the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, it has greater weight and authority. The Wakeham proposals were, as I am sure the noble Lord would agree, a carefully balanced package of powers and responsibilities, not a single measure designed to weaken and undermine the authority of this House. I may want to see this House reformed, but I have no wish to see it become Mr Cameron’s poodle, and a neutered poodle at that.

One of the most useful experiences I have had in the past 20 years was to serve on the Cunningham committee, and I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, is here today. It is worth remembering that the impetus for the setting-up of the Cunningham committee was that the then Labour Government thought that the House of Lords was getting too big for its boots. This is not a new phenomenon. Every former Leader of the House will be able to show you the scars of being hauled over to No. 10 to explain some defeat or other in the Lords. I well remember having to prepare, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, a tribute to the late Lord Belstead, who had been a Leader of the House under Mrs Thatcher. I thought I would find something nice to say about him by looking at the Thatcher memoirs. The only reference I could find was to a handbagging he had received from Mrs T following a defeat in the House of Lords. That is the nature of the relationship. I freely confess to my own impatience as a Minister when the House shredded some carefully constructed inter- departmental compromise or spotted a piece of legislative corner-cutting which had escaped the scrutiny, or lack of it, of the other place.

I do not believe that the Lords over-reached themselves in the matter before us, but the whole furore has exposed the need to look at the increasing use by the Government of skeleton Bills backed by secondary legislation, as well as the increasing tendency of the clerks in the other place to affix financial privilege to an amendment. I remember the surprise and relief in the Ministry of Justice when some mainly legal amendments to one of our Bills suddenly had financial privilege attached to them in the other place. We all breathed a sigh of relief that they did not come back to the Lords.

It is 40 years since the late Lord Hailsham warned against a Parliament without checks and balances becoming an elective dictatorship. That warning is even more pertinent today, when the flaws in the first past the post system provide us with a Government with 100% of the power and only 36% of the vote. We are now living with our past failures to reform both the House and the voting system. In those circumstances, it is essential that this House should retain the right to say no. It is the paragraph of the Cunningham committee report that I fought hardest to have included, and that report was endorsed by both Houses. Let us be clear: that Cunningham report is the baseline; it is not Salisbury/ Addison, which was never endorsed by other than the two political parties, and never by these Benches. I urge this House not to abandon its right to say no: use it prudently, yes; use it sparingly, yes; but retain it we must.

I can only say to the Conservative Benches, on which there are some very wise heads, that the best service they can provide is gently to tell the Chancellor and the Prime Minister that the best way to avoid the hubris which overtakes all long-serving Ministers is to retain the safety catch which accident rather than design has left here in the House of Lords to protect us from that elective dictatorship which Lord Hailsham so wisely warned us against.

House of Lords: Strathclyde Review

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 17th December 2015

(8 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and I listen carefully to what he says. The key thing that I am trying to identify in my remarks today is that we are in disagreement about what happened in October. That is what I find regrettable. It means that the important convention, which stood the test of time for so long, has been broken. He refers to the Joint Committee of 2006, which predates my time in the House but I understand from all my reading and research how important and respected it was. That committee reinforced the convention, but the convention that it reinforced has now broken. So what we have done is come forward with something which offers that clarity and simplicity. It draws heavily on previous work that has been done by other groups, such as my noble friend Lord Wakeham’s distinguished royal commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has come forward with a proposal and all I ask at the moment is that the House considers it—as indeed we in government are considering it.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I sat on the Cunningham committee and I remember the background to it being set up, which was the irritation of the then Labour Government at the behaviour of the House of Lords. The phrase then used was that part of the intention was to clip the wings of the House of Lords. The truth is that Governments do get irritated by this House. I think that I may have expressed the odd irritation myself occasionally from the Dispatch Box. But where the noble Baroness is misleading herself is that the convention laid down by the Cunningham committee has not broken down, because in that convention it very carefully and clearly states that the House of Lords must retain the right to say no. That was a red line for me. The reason for it was that put by my noble friend Lord Dholakia: that without retaining the right to say no, used sparingly, carefully and rarely, we become a debating society.

The noble Baroness has been a very good Leader of this House but I urge her to recognise that the Leader has those responsibilities, beyond government, to lead this House in a way that protects its powers. We must let go of that right to say no only with very strong arguments to do so. They have not been made today. Go back to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and perhaps even consider the fourth option: that statutory instruments could be amended by this House. That would be a way forward.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and enjoyed working alongside him in government. I understand how seriously he takes these matters but I am afraid that I also disagree with his description of what happened back in October. In considering that piece of secondary legislation, we did two things: we overruled the House of Commons on a matter of taxation and finance, and we used a type of amendment to a Motion that has never been used before. That is referred to in my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report.

The point about the power of veto is that we should retain it if we retain our convention not to use it except in very exceptional circumstances. What I am arguing is that we are no longer clear what those circumstances are and by what kind of method we would use that veto. So I am afraid that I feel that we need to be able to reach some agreement and come up with a convention with which we all agree. We have to understand that conventions require all parties to agree. At the moment, I am afraid that we do not agree.