HC Deb 15 May 1963 vol 677 cc1324-7

3.31 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

In the course of the debates held in both Houses on 28th March on Motions to take note of the Report of the Joint Select Committee on House of Lords Reform the Government undertook that, if the debates should show that the proposals of the Committee were generally acceptable to Parliament, they would introduce the necessary legislation during the lifetime of this Parliament in time to be effective at the next General Election. The Government also undertook to make a statement of their proposals before the Whitsun Recess.

The Government have given the most careful consideration to the opinions expressed in the course of those debates both here and in another place. In their view, the recommendations of the Committee are likely to be generally acceptable to both Houses and I can therefore, state that is it our intention to introduce legislation to give effect to them in time to take effect at the next General Election. A Bill will be introduced shortly, but if it is not practicable to secure its passage this Session the Government will reintroduce it at the beginning of the next.

The Government are prepared to accept, and incorporate in the Bill they will bring, forward, all the Committee's recommendations with the following exceptions on points of detail which I believe will command general support.

First, we believe the recommendation that a peer who has surrendered should be required to exhibit to the returning officer a certificate of his surrender, is not workable in practice and should be omitted.

Secondly, we propose to allow a candidate who succeeds to a peerage while he is standing for Parliament to proceed with the election and, if successful, to have the same period—a month—in which to decide whether to surrender as if he were a sitting Member.

Thirdly, it is proposed that, in calculating the period in which a person who succeeds to a peerage while a sitting Member of Parliament has to make up his mind whether to surrender that peerage, time should not run while Parliament is not sitting nor for any period during which Mr. Speaker certifies that the Member is incapacitated from acting through illness or for some other reason.

Mr. H. Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when this matter was debated in the House we gave an undertaking that when this legislation was introduced we would facilitate its passage from this side of the House in every possible way, subject to the right that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) indicated on that occasion, that there are certain points on which we do not agree with the Joint Select Committee and on which we wish to table Amendments to test the feeling of the House without in any way holding up the general Bill?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the three points he mentioned, which are at variance with the Report of the Joint Select Committee, would appear, from what he said, to be reasonable to us? We want to consider them more carefully and to study the Bill when it is published, but, in principle, it would appear right to make these changes, all of which I think the right hon. Gentleman raised in his speech in the debate.

Mr. Macleod

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I did not raise all three points, but they were raised in the debate both here and in another place. Naturally, I understand that the Opposition, and, indeed, the whole House, would like to see the Bill as soon as possible, and I think that either just before, or just after, Whitsun we should be able to produce it.

Mr. Shinwell

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so "cagey" about the time factor? Is he not aware that the Session does not end at the end of July, but at the end of October or in November? Is he saying that we are to have a prolonged autumn Session, that the Bill will be introduced before the Summer Recess and be continued when we return, and that we are to meet for several weeks before Prorogation? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, or is this a political manœuvre? After all, why should we be kept in the dark about the date of the General Election?

Mr. Macleod

I cannot help the right hon. Gentleman on the last point.

I think that I made it clear that we shall publish the Bill as soon as we can. We genuinely hope to have it this Session, but we can never be certain, because in many parts of legislation, for example, in relation to Commonwealth affairs, there are a number of Bills which, for constitutional reasons, we may want to take this Session. This is not completely clear yet, and so I cannot be absolutely specific, but I undertake to produce the Bill as soon as possible and I hope that Parliament will pass it this Session.

Mr. Wade

While it is true that the Report of the Select Committee was unanimous, I did not consider that it was nearly radical enough and said so at the time. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be unwise to rush this legislation through, and, if so, may we have an assurance that there will be adequate time to give it careful consideration?

Mr. Macleod

I certainly hope so. That is an added reason for publishing the Bill as soon as possible.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the other place has now started working nights? Is there any connection between his statement and this event? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there will be a rush here as a result?

Mr. Macleod

No, Sir, except that in considering whether we can take additional Bills into a programme we have to consider the amount of legislation that is passing not only through this House, but through another place, so to that extent at least the hon. Gentleman's question is very relevant.

Mr. Shinwell

Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to define what he means by "this Session"? Does he mean that the Session will end before the Summer Recess, or that it will be prolonged, as is normal, until the end of October or some time in November?

Mr. Macleod

Both those are covered by the phrase "this Session". In fact, last year there was no overspill, as it is commonly termed, and if that can be achieved then it is obviously preferable.

Mr. M. Foot

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has squared Lord Sandwich, and if so how?

Mr. Macleod

I have not had correspondence with my noble Friend on this matter. He put his views in The Times, and I thought that they were effectively answered in letters the next day.

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