HC Deb 26 February 1969 vol 778 cc1833-8
Mr. Sheldon

I beg to move Amendment No. 120, in page 4, line 4, leave out from 'than' to '(other' in line 5 and insert: 'two-thirds of the total number of days on which the House meets during the Session to debate any matter on which the House of Commons had reached a decision within the same Session and one-half of the total number of other days'.

The Deputy Chairman

It may be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendments:

No. 28, in page 4, line 4, leave out 'one third' and insert 'two thirds'.

No. 119, in page 4, line 4, leave out 'one-third' and insert 'one-half'.

No. 148, in page 4, line 4, leave out 'one-third' and insert 'one-fifth'.

No. 122, in page 4, line 22, leave out 'thirty' and insert: 'five excluding those days on which the House meets to debate any matter on which the House of Commons has reached a decision within the same session'

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Sheldon

The Clause deals with the loss of voting rights by non-attendance. An important aspect of the Amendment is the minimum requirement for attendance in the Lords, and this brings us to the third important figure on which the composition of the Upper Chamber is based. The three figures to which I refer relate to the minimum level of attendance, the maximum——

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Gourlay, that there is so much hubbub that it is impossible to hear what the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is saying?

The Deputy Chairman

I trust that the Committee has noted the hon. Gentleman's observation.

Mr. Sheldon

As I was saying, the Government have selected in an arbitrary way, the figure of one-third for the number of attendances required to enable a peer to remain a voting peer. The maximum age of 72 before retirement has also been picked by the Government in an arbitrary fashion. The third figure concerns the size of the Upper Chamber, and we know that there will be 230 peers. Floating around these three figures is a salary of about £2,000 a year, and everything hinges on that amount.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that while the figure of 230 may appear in the White Paper, it does not appear in the Bill?

Mr. Sheldon

We know that this agreement has been made between the party leaders.

[Mr. Arthur Probert in the Chair.]

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Why does my hon. Friend say "we know" when while he may know, we do not know because we have been trying to get this information from the Government? I am beginning to wonder if my hon. Friend is "in the know" about the secret agreement that was reached.

Mr. Sheldon

Paragraph 46 of the White Paper, which the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said was the cenral theme of the agreement, contains the figure of 230. On that basis——

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Does my hon. Friend take the point that I have made? I agree with him that this is in the White Paper and the Bill, but none of the other figures in the White Paper are in the Bill.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Probert)

I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that instead of his continuous interruptions he should try to catch the Chair's eye later, when he may be able to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Sheldon

The point I was making——

Sir D. Glover

On a point of order. It is a long-established tradition that hon. Members seeking clarification from another hon. Member who has the Floor are entitled by long precedent to ask that hon. Member to give way. If he does so then an hon. Member is entitled to put a question.

The Temporary Chairman

It is a long tradition that it has been left to the judgment of the Chair. The Chair has to judge whether an interruption is an attempt to become a speech. No one is preventing interruptions but the Chair has to judge whether the interrupter is endeavouring to make a speech.

Mr. Hirst

Further to that point of order. Surely it is the custom of this Committee that if an hon. Gentleman who has the floor of the House gives way to another hon. Member who is seeking to elucidate his speech, that hon. Member is entitled to put his question?

The Temporary Chairman

That is perfectly in order but the hon. Member interrupting must not make a speech.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Further to that point of order. It has been the experience of hon. Members that if we do not make our points by way of elucidation we do not get the opportunity to make them at all.

The Temporary Chairman

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Sheldon

This Clause enables us to discuss all these figures in conjunction with one another. There are the three sets of figures, and floating around is the salary of £2,000. The Solicitor-General said that this was the ideal solution. There could be many solutions. It could be decided that the attendance should be two-thirds. Then we would need to pay people more money in order to get that two-thirds attendance. All sorts of changes can be made, the Chamber can be reduced in size from 230 to 150 or the age could be changed. Such permutations will give different kinds of Chamber, as a result of these figures interacting upon each other.

For some reason the Government have decided on one set of figures. No one knows why. This is a tenable system, but there are many others. When deciding the constitution of another place, the very least we ought to have is the figuring that went into this. Why did the Government make these arbitrary decisions? There may be valid reasons. We have not been given them but have been told we will not get them. This is outrageous. In devising a constitution for another place certain figures and calculations have been adduced and carried out. There has been an element of secrecy, and we are not given the details. These figures exist in an ordered form. Has the Opposition Front Bench been given these figures? We are entitled to know. Why have they not been given to us? Why are they regarded as secret?

The Prime Minister has said that he is investigating ways to reduce secrets. I put a Question to him about how he was proposing to implement the Fulton reforms. One of the reforms was to reduce the level of unnecessary secrecy within the Civil Service. My right hon. Friend accepted this, and he is at present investigating ways to reduce secrecy. This is the first time that a move has been made towards reducing secrecy. But this is the worst kind of secrecy. Very few types of secrecy are less justifiable than in this instance. These are facts open to so many people, but concealed from us. We have a right to know, because we are passing judgment in a matter of extreme constitutional importance. If these figures have been bandied about to the Opposition Front Bench, and if they are the basis of the agreement and the decision reached, we should have the figures that prompted that decision.

The Secretary of State for Social Ser vices (Mr. Richard Crossman)

I have been following closely what my hon. Friend has said. Certain calculations were made on our behalf and, if my hon. Friend feels interested, I will consider making them available to him, although they are long and complicated.

Mr. Sheldon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.

Sir D. Glover

On a point of order, Mr. Probert. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would make these figures available to his hon. Friend, but I think that the Committee as a whole could do with them.

Mr. Crossman

I was not implying that there was some exclusive personal privilege for my hon. Friend.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Probert. In view of that most important statement by my right hon. Friend, the ex-Leader of the House and architect of the Bill, in agreement with the Opposition Front Bench, in order that we may have an opportunity of looking at these figures in this document, which so far we have not heard about except as a vague concept which apparently did not exist until now., surely the Committee will want to adjourn. Then, having studied the figures, at a much later time we can come back and participate much more intelligently in discussion on the Clause.

In view of that statement by my right hon. Friend, I think that we should take this opportunity to adjourn the Committee.

The Temporary Chairman

If the hon. Member's point of order had continued a little longer, he would have found that I should be interrupting him to report Progress at the hour of Ten o'clock.

Mr. Sheldon

I should like to express my very deep gratitude to my right hon. Friend for the considerable break-through in this matter. I understand that it is not very easy, when one has information which has for long been regarded as secret, to decide on one's own initiative to reveal it. For that I am extremely grateful, and I think that the Committee ought to be grateful.

Sir D. Glover

Further to that point of order, Mr. Probert. I think that the right hon. Gentleman——

It being Ten o'clock The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

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