HL Deb 05 June 1956 vol 197 cc730-6

4.4 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee upon this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Merthyr.)


My Lords, before the House decides on this Motion I should like to say a word and ask the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, whether he would be good enough to defer the taking of the Committee stage for a reasonable period. The Second Reading took place a week ago to-day. On that occasion I spoke and made it clear to the House that I, personally, took the view that this was a Bill which required close examination. It involves a number of difficult legal points, many of which have come before the courts without getting decisive results. The Bill itself was based upon a legal decision which it was sought to modify or revoke, and there were a great many points, some of which I set out in my speech, which require to be dealt with. To my surprise, I found that the Committee stage was put down for today. We met last Tuesday, and for the following day I, personally, in common with other Members of this House, had accepted an invitation to go to Harwell, a visit which. I may say, I enjoyed and profited by very much. But that became a dies non. One's desire is always to give to the promoter of the Bill adequate time to consider Amendments, and that left one effective day to go into the whole of this complex question. Frankly, I have not been able to do it. If we took the Committee stage to-day it would become a farce. I have put down a few Amendments, but the Bill requires far more examination and far more legal investigation than I have so far been able to give it.

For those reasons, I hope very much, in the interests of orderly and effective scrutiny of Bills that come before this House, that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, will see his way not to take the Committee stage to-day. I may say that if he finds he is unable to do so, then I, personally, would feel that it would be better that I should withdraw from any consideration of the Bill and not move such Amendments as I have down, as I would rather do that than take part in an ineffective and inadequate examination of the Bill.


My Lords, whilst I am always anxious to try to meet the wishes of those who take an interest in these Bills, I feel that there is a considerable difficulty in agreeing to the noble Lord's request. May I remind the House that this is not a matter which has been sprung upon anybody? It arises out of a Report of a Committee which reported over two years ago. The Bill has been passed through another place where, on the Committee stage, it was not amended at all, and on the Report stage I believe one Amendment was passed. So there were no great difficulties arising on that score.

There is another consideration, and that is that this is a Private Member's Bill, and, therefore, if it is amended at all in your Lordships' House—and I am one of those who want it to be amended—the question will arise whether there will be time in another place for our Amendments to be there considered. It is now June and not so many weeks until the end of the Session. As your Lordships are well aware, time is not so easily forthcoming in another place for the consideration of Amendments made here. Furthermore, the noble Lord—although I cannot criticise him for this—did not make known to me his request until about half an hour ago. Several other noble Lords besides himself have no doubt come here to-day prepared to discuss, and willing to discuss, the Amendments which have been put down on a Marshalled List. Therefore, with considerable regret, I am disposed, I am afraid, not to agree with the noble Lord's request. I know that I am complying with the Standing Orders of the House in putting down the Committee stage a week after the Second Reading. That being within the Standing Orders, it is evidently considered that at any rate in some cases a week is sufficient. It is not really a very big Bill, although I appreciate that it is technical and that there are Amendments which members will wish to move. I am willing to be guided by what other noble Lords want to do about this matter, but, at the moment, I much regret that I do not feel inclined to agree.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I have little to add. I do not think the noble Lord is serious when he suggests that I have had two years in which to go into this question. I have had one week, and that is the week since the Second Reading was agreed to. One is under no obligation, and certainly one is not expected, to consider Amendments to a Bill until it has had its Second Reading. The fact that it was not amended seriously in another place may even be an argument for examining this Bill much more closely in this House. We in this House have often found things that ought to be amended but which another place had not amended. There are a great many examples of that. I do not want to weary the House, but I have a considerable list of items which I think need careful examination and on which I am not ready to move Amendments. If the noble Lord wishes to insist upon taking the Bill to-day, of course he is perfectly free to do so. In that case, I shall be forced to put this Bill in my pocket and leave him to get on with it.


My Lords, I am in a no more favoured position in regard to a matter of procedure than any other individual member of your Lordships' House but I am very anxious indeed that we should have the advantage of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to this Bill. If I may say what is not strictly in order, I agree with him that the points he has raised are points of importance. For instance, there is one as to whether a hotel proprietor should be entitled to contract out of the provisions of the Bill; and, if he can, how far he can contract out—whether it should be a contracting out from strict liability or a contracting out from liability as a bailee. That raises a point which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, would want to have considered between the Committee and Report stages, because it is a point of great importance, not only to hotel proprietors but to those who use hotels.

If I may descend to a point of great practicability—I am speaking entirely for myself here—I am also attracted by Lord Silkin's suggestion of putting the notices in the bedrooms in addition to the other parts of a hotel. That seems to me an important and highly practical point. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would help us here. Whatever may be the strict position as to the discussion in another place of Amendments from your Lordships' House, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the Parliamentary programme in another place is very tight. He himself has been a Minister and knows that that is almost invariably so towards the middle of June. It is so this year. It would be an advantage—I do not want to put it too high— if this Bill could be discussed on the last day of Private Members' time in another place, which is, I think, June 15.

I wonder whether the noble Lord would, in order to help us, adumbrate his points. So far as I am concerned—it is a matter for the House and for the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, rather than for me—I should certainly advise the House between Committee and Report stages to give sympathetic consideration to any points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. That would give him another week in which to look at it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and I myself would be pleased to see him in the meantime and discuss any points. I am sorry to put the noble Lord to any inconvenience, but it would be most helpful from the point of view of getting this Bill through. As I said on Second Reading, it is important that these recommendations of the Law Reform Committee should not be pigeon-holed but should be put into operation when both Houses approve. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whether he will help us to that extent, on the understanding that we shall be more than usually ready to consider his points between Committee and Report stages.


My Lords, it is always difficult to resist the blandishments of the noble and learned Viscount. I want to be helpful. My difficulty is that I have a number of points which I have not formulated at all; I have not had the opportunity of formulating them by Amendments or clarifying my own mind on them and ascertaining whether, in fact, there are Amendments which I ought to put down. For instance, I am not at the moment clear on one very simple thing. A man and his wife come to an hotel and the luggage of both is lost. To whom is the hotel proprietor liable? Is he liable both to the person who is the guest and also in respect of the wife's luggage? I do not know whether there is an easy answer to this question. That is only one example of a great many that I should have liked to look into, but I really have not had the opportunity of doing so. I could formulate a good many more: for instance, the question of contracting out, as the noble and learned Viscount has said. I should be perfectly willing to give to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, the ideas—and that is all they are at the moment—which I have in mind, but I could not put down Amendments until some later date.

The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, offered to give an extended time to the Report stage. I should be willing to curtail that if I could have the additional time for the Committee stage. I myself would be prepared to have the Report stage taken as soon as it may be convenient to the noble Lord, so that, in the aggregate, the amount of time taken would be the same. But, while I am willing to do everything to facilitate the Business of the House, as I am sure your Lordships know, I find it difficult to deal adequately with this matter to-day, before I am really ready for it.


My Lords, if I may speak again—I am not sure whether I really ought to—may I say that the noble and learned Viscount has mentioned the time factor. It may be that it ought not to be so, but it is so, that we have to study the time factor in relation to Bills which have to go back to another place. I think it was the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, who said that this was deplorable. I feel that most of us would agree that that is so, but it is a fact which we have to face. As the noble and learned Viscount has said, if we cannot get this Bill back to another place by June 15, there is a danger, to be quite frank about it, that it may not be able to get through this Session. I do not want to hide anything from your Lordships, but that is the fact. Therefore, I should like to have the Committee stage to-day and the Report stage a week to-day. That would enable the Bill to go back to another place before the day which I understand is the last day upon which it has a chance of being considered.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, if I may add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Silkin, as one who has taken a certain interest in this Bill I would express my own anxiety to hear his points in greater detail. I do not think that any vague formulation or adumbration of them to-day could possibly be as enlightening or as helpful as considered Amendments on the Paper. I appreciate Lord Merthyr's difficulties, and I see the necessity of getting this Bill back to another place by a certain date. I cannot myself estimate the exact urgency of this need, but I have no doubt that, from the point of view of those interested in this particular Bill, it would be much better if the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, could see his way to postpone the Committee stage.


My Lords, I too had in mind many of the considerations that have operated in the minds of other noble Lords who have spoken. With some experience of another place and the difficulty that can be caused if Bills come too late, I very much hope that what I thought to be the most reasonable proposition of my noble friend on the Woolsack will be accepted.


My Lords, if your Lordships will allow me to speak again, I do not know whether, on the basis that I put forward, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would be prepared to continue to-day. Frankly, I am most anxious for the Bill to go on, but the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, helps us so much on so many points that it fills me with complete dismay that he should not be ready to help us on the Bill. I hope that he will be able to go some way. If he cannot, then I am sure that we should all want to consider the position. It will make difficulties, and I hope he will be able to help.


My Lords, of course I want to help—I am most anxious to help. I thought I had gone a good way towards helping, after I suggested that we should not take the Committee stage to-day, but should still take the Report stage on the last possible day, so that no time was lost. In my opinion, discussion to-day would be quite unhelpful if one were not able to deal with the particular points that one thought necessary. I have a list of five of them here, but as I said before, they are not at this stage in a state in which I am ready to formulate them. My suggestion is that if we could postpone this Committee stage for a week, we might have a much earlier Report stage. Of course, that we could do by agreement with the House.


My Lords, the fact remains that if the Committee stage is postponed for a week, it will be too late to get the Bill back to the Commons by the material date; that is just a fact.


My Lords, if it is intended to go on to-day, since Lord Silkin does not feel able to offer anything helpful it seems to me that the only course would be to re-commit the Bill for the day which is assigned for Report and to take the Committee on re-commitment before the Report stage. I do not see any other way out of it if we are going to have Lord Silkin's help, as is required.


My Lords, I do not want to make any difficulty, but I have come here to-day to move certain Amendments. I do not think that I shall be able to come in a week's time. It cuts both ways.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is most anxious to meet the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, if that can be done. In view of all that has been said, I am willing to withdraw this Motion to-day that the House do now resolve itself into Committee, and to see the noble Lord afterwards to discuss upon what day the Committee stage can be taken. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, for his courtesy.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.