As mentioned in an earlier post, I was successful in the ballot for a Thursday debate and my motion – to call attention to the case for enhancing the means available to the House of Lords to scrutinise legislation and public policy – occupied the the first of today’s two debates.
The debate was notable for the quality as well as the quantity of speakers. They included all three party leaders in the House as well as such distinguished members as former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell and former ministers such as Baroness Shephard and Lord Rooker. As both Lord Higgins and Lord Filkin were to note as the debate progressed, a consensus appeared to be emerging. There was an acceptance that the House does a good job, but that there are no grounds for complacency. We need to build on what we already do in scrutinising Government Bills and public policy.
I argued the case for more pre-legislative scrutiny (not least through Joint Committees), for the introduction of evidence-taking committees for Bills starting life in the Lords, and for a Joint Committee on Post-Legislative Scrutiny (to cover reviews of secondary as well as primary legislation). As Lord Puttnam noted, we would have benefited from an evidence-taking committee on the Digital Economy Bill. I also wanted to see Select Committees get out and about in different parts of the United Kingdom to take evidence and to make greater use of online consultation. These changes will enable the House to engage more with the public, ensuring there is not only greater awareness of what we do but more opportunities to help us do our job by feeding in informed comments from experts and others with knowledge of the subject under consideration.
Lord Rooker made the point, which I reiterated in closing, that a good Government needs a strong Parliament. There was a clear mood in the House favouring change designed to enhance our ability to scrutinise Bills and public policy. The likelihood is that a Leader’s Group will be formed after the next election in order to take forward proposals for change. In the meantime, we will continue pressing.
UPDATE: The debate can be read here.