HL Deb 19 May 1942 vol 122 cc1077-80

Order of the Day for the consideration of the First Report from the Select Committee read.

The Committee reported as follows: The Committee are of opinion that a statement made by a Minister on a matter o£ urgent importance should not be made the occasion for immediate debate, but if debate upon such statement is desired, a Notice should be put upon the Order Paper for a subsequent date. The Committee are further of opinion that the practice of appending to Motions on the Order Paper the names of Peers who wish to notify their support of such Motions should be discontinued.


My Lords, in moving the consideration of this Report I ought perhaps to say a few words as to the two recommendations which it contains. Since the outbreak of war the practice of asking Private Notice Questions has shown a great tendency to increase. It is natural that the Government may wish to make and the House to hear statements of immediate public importance. On a recent occasion something in the nature of a debate took place on a Private Notice Question, and subsequently the point as to whether such procedure was or was not in order was brought before the House by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, and referred to the Committee on Procedure. The Committee considered the matter, and on this point report as follows: That a statement made by a Minister on a matter of urgent importance should not be made the occasion for immediate debate, but if debate upon such statement is desired, a Notice should be put upon the Order Paper for a subsequent date. On the second point of the Report perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the origin of the procedure referred to therein. The practice under which a Motion appears on the Order Paper in the names of several Peers has never formed part of the procedure of your Lordships' House. In 1939, when a group of Peers was active in connexion with motor traffic, it was suggested that the practice of putting down a Motion in several names should be adopted. It was felt that to introduce such an innovation into the ordinary course of the business of the House was not desirable, and a compromise was suggested, by which Peers who wished to signify their support of a Motion should do so by a note to this effect under the Motion on the Order Paper. This practice has shown a tendency to develop into a procedure which confers a right of priority in debate on Peers whose names appear in support of a Motion. The House will be quick to recognize that this is not only contrary to the principles of debate which have always obtained in this House but, if a large number of Peers signified their wish to support a Motion and thereby established their right to speak in sequence, very serious inconvenience would be caused. Therefore the Select Committee recommend the abolition of this practice and a return to the status quo ante-1939. I beg to move that this Report be now considered.

Moved, That the Report be now considered and agreed to.—(Lord Stanmore.)


My Lords, there is one question I would ask. I quite understand that, as in the case of another place, when the Government make a statement it may not be desirable to debate it. But there may come events of great public importance, and in another place it is arranged that you can move the Adjournment of the House in order to discuss the matter which has been made public. Under this proposed procedure, would that be possible in this House? I think it is wise to safeguard it because we should not like to condemn ourselves to silence till the next day on a matter of really vital public importance.


The Committee did go into that very question, but they decided against it. The present practice, they thought, was really the better one.


My Lords, although I was not able to sit on the Committee recently, I would express my approval of their findings on these two questions, because I think that any attempt in this House to imitate the procedure in another place is bound to fail and to lead to confusion. What the noble Lord, Lord Stanmore, said with regard to a list of names coming after a Motion only means that it gives those people priority to speak and dislocate the present arrangement, which works very well with the Chief Whip, as to those who wish to participate in a debate. I feel sure that it is best for our procedure that we should not make any innovations which do not seem to help the proceedings of the House.


My Lords, might I remind the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that on a certain Monday—whether it was in reply to a Private Notice Question I do not know—the Government made a statement that we were committed to Poland? The noble Marquess who sits on the Liberal Benches said a few words and the noble Lord who led the Labour Party at that time said a few words, and I myself ventured to say a few words. It was right on the eve of Easter, but the position taken up by the two noble Lords I have referred to, the Leaders of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party, was that the matter could be discussed later on. As a matter of fact, it never was discussed later on, and I think it would have been very much better on an occasion like that if it had been possible to discuss the matter there and then. As it was, we were estopped from doing that, and I wonder whether a consideration of that kind was taken into account by the Select Committee.


My Lords, I do not wish in the presence of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to suggest a course which he with his experience could speak to with very much greater weight, but I think that on an occasion of great importance the Motion that the House do now adjourn would offer an opportunity which could be taken by Peers. A statement could be made by a Minister and there might be a reply.


My Lords, I cannot pretend to have the vast experience which the noble Lord has been good enough to assign to me, but I should like to say that the course he suggests as possible is, of course, quite possible. It is quite possible for a noble Lord to rise in his place and move that the House adjourn and, upon that, discussion could take place. Under the liberal system on which we work a topic not strictly relevant to the actual adjournment would be appropriate. But nothing of that kind should take place or ought to take place without the general consent of the House. Anything like the noble Lord charging—if he will forgive so disrespectful an expression—at any time he thinks fit in order to upset the whole line of our Orders of the Day, to bring forward a particular subject, would inevitably throw our business into absolute confusion. That can never be the rule.

No doubt in a great emergency, when there was a general feeling—not the feeling of the majority; it is not a question of a majority; it is a question of the general feeling of the House—if there was a general feeling that something ought specially to be discussed, then, speaking from my own experience, I should say that that was quite regular. But I hope the House will allow me to say that none of these ultimate possibilities ought ever to be used except by the general consent of the House. That is really the very essence of our procedure. It is the general consent of the House, not the tyranny of the majority, not even the wishes of the majority; but the general consent of the House. Upon these very extreme occasions, what the noble Lord suggests would, in my experience, seem to be quite legitimate. But I hope very much that the House will accept the Report of the Select Committee to which they referred these points. I had the honour to be a member of that Select Committee, and I have never sat upon a Committee which was more unanimous, though it was drawn from all sections of the House and contained men of great distinction. I feel that your Lordships cannot do wrong if you accept the Report.


I am entirely satisfied.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of the Petition for the following Bill: South Wales Electric Power. And also the Certificate that the Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have been complied with: Land Drainage Provisional Order.

The same were ordered to lie on the Table.