§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the consideration of the First Report from the Select Committee read.
§ The Committee reported as follows:
§ 1.—PROCTDURE ON REPORT STAGE OF BILLS
§ The Committee considered the practice under which, when a Bill has been reported from a Committee of the Whole House without amendment, the motion for the report to be received is made forthwith. The Committee noted that there were sometime; cases in which, even if no amendment had been made in Committee, it would be to the general advantage if the report was not immediately received bit was postponed to a later date on which amendments could be made to the Bill. The Committee therefore recommend that the House should alter its practice accordingly in appropriate cases.
§ No amendment of the Standing Orders would be necessary, but an alteration would have to be made in the "Companion to the Standing Orders."
§ 2.—CONSTITUTION OF COMMITTEE FOR PRIVILEGES
§ The Committee considered the question of the constitution of the Committee for Privileges. At present, "all the Lords who have been or shall be present this Session" are appointed to the Committee at the beginning of each Session but the Committee cannot sit in a peerage case unless three Lords of Appeal are present. It seems to the Procedure Committee that a committee consisting of all the members of the House is not a really suitable tribunal.
§ The Committee therefore recommend to the House that, for the future, there should be appointed at the beginning of every Session a Committee for Privileges consisting of sixteen named Lords together with any four Lords of Appeal.
§ Standing Order No. 65 would have to be amended accordingly.
§ 3.—INTERVAL BETWEEN QUESTIONS ON A DIVISION
§ It was suggested to the Committee that the present interval of three minutes before the doors are locked, which is prescribed by Standing Order No. 46, was not long enough to enable Peers to reach the House from all parts of the building. The Committee agree, and recommend that the Standing Order should be amended so as to substitute "four minutes" for "three minutes", in both places where those words occur in the second paragraph of the Standing Order.
§ 4.—QUORUM ON DIVISIONS
§ The Committee considered the question whether the quorum prescribed by Standing Order No. 50 should apply to all divisions and not only to divisions on Bills. It seems to the Committee desirable that this change should be made.419
§ The Committee therefore recommend that Standing Order No. 50 be amended by leaving out in the first line the words upon any stage of a Bill".
THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
I beg to move that the Report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House be now considered.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
My Lords, the Committee on Procedure made four recommendations. The first relates to the practice under which, when a Bill has been reported from a Committee of the Whole House without amendment, the Motion for the Report is made always immediately. That is sometimes inconvenient, because quite often it is agreed by both sides of the House that an Amendment to the Bill is desirable. If the Report is received at once, then it leaves it to the Third Reading for any Amendment to be made, and that is inconvenient, because the Amendment has not been before the House before. Moreover, it may transpire that the Bill needs further amendment, and in such circumstances there is no opportunity to do it. Therefore what the Committee suggest is that in these exceptional cases there is no need for the Motion "That the Report be now received" to be moved immediately. The Minister need not move it, and then the Bill will go to another day and there will be a Report stage on which any desired Amendments can be proposed.
The second recommendation deals with the Committee for Privileges. At present, all the Lords who have been or shall be present during the session are appointed to the Committee at the beginning of the Session, but in a Peerage case the Committee cannot sit unless three Lords of Appeal are present. It seems to the Procedure Committee that a Committee consisting of all the members of the House is not a very practical Committee, and the suggestion is that the Committee should consist of sixteen named Lords and any four Lords of Appeal, but that in Peerage cases, as now, three Lords of Appeal must always be present. The Committee therefore recommend to the House that, in future, at the beginning of every Session the Committee for Privileges shall be constituted with sixteen named Lords and any four Lords of Appeal.
420 The third recommendation has to deal with the interval putting the Question and taking a Division. Some of the Committee rooms upstairs, notably those belonging to another place, are a long way from this Chamber, and it has been found that even some of the most happily mobile Members of this House, when they hear that a Division has been called, however much they hurry, even if they run like a hare, are not able to reach here in time. What the Committee suggest is that the interval should be four minutes, instead of three minutes as it is at present. Unfortunately, even four minutes will not be long enough for some of us, but one has to strike a balance; and the Committee suggest that we should try this alteration.
The last recommendation has to do with the quorum on Divisions. At present, the quorum has to be thirty, but only on any stage of a Bill. The Corn-mince suggest that it is not really proper that a Division on any Motion—and some Motions are very important—should be taken when there are not thirty Members to vote. The Committee therefore suggest that an Amendment be made in the Standing Orders so that in all Divisions there must be thirty Lords present before a decision is taken. I beg to move that these recommendations be agreed to.
§ Moved, That the recommendations be agreed to.—(The Earl of Drogheda.)
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords. I rise merely to say that we on this side of the House associate ourselves entirely with the recommendations of the Committee. There are two only to which I think I need refer. One is the introduction of a separate Report stage. I have always thought it a little embarrassing for an Opposition, where there was no Amendment on the Committee stage that they should be deprived of one stage in the proceedings of the Bill. It has been perhaps an encouragement to a recalcitrant Minister not to accept any Amendment at all, in the hope of getting his Bill through. I say that quite impartially, irrespective of the Party which is in charge of the Bill. If this amendment of the Procedure is accepted, there will no longer be that inducement to Ministers; they will be quite free to accept an Amendment without the fear that they will thereby prolong the proceedings by one stage.
421 The only other point concerns the time allowed for Divisions. As the noble Marquess, I know, realises as much as anybody in this House, the average age Pf this House is rising. This is one symptom of the rise in the average age and therefore a reduction in mobility. I feel that, if we go on as we are, four minutes is not the limit. Many of us are getting older. We shall not be able to reach the Division Lobby even in four minutes. Maybe the Procedure Committee will have to come along next year, or the year after, and ask for five or six minutes. At any rate, we are prepared to try the four minutes, and see how we get on. I think the other two recommendations of the Procedure Committee are quite unexceptionable, and we on this side approve them.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, if I may say so, I entirely agree with what the Lord Chairman and Lord Silkin have said with regard to the first item in the Report of the Committee on Procedure. I have always thought it not a good plan that, where the Committee stage has been passed without amendment we should proceed direct to Report stage, because we all know that there are occasions when matters have to be referred back to the Government: points have been raised on Committee stage, and everybody knows that in due course Amendments are to be made. If they are left to the Third Reading that is bad from every point of view. The Third Reading is really meant to be for a general discussion on the Bill, in the light of what has passed on Committee and Report stage. If lit becomes merely another Committee stage, then that is lost; and it is undignified, I think, for the House, and unsatisfactory from every point of view. Therefore, I believe that this quite simple proposal of the Procedural Committee will tend to eliminate a growing evil.
I do not think that I want to say anything about the other items. I am sure that four minutes will be better than three, for the purpose which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has mentioned, and the other two items are, as he said, unexceptionable. The only other thing I 422 would say is that if the House agrees to the Report, as I hope it will, there will be, I understand, some consequential Amendments to Standing Orders, and I would propose to put down a Motion to that effect next week.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the Lord Chairman what arrangements, if any, are Lo be made to inform noble Lords who are upstairs in Committee rooms that a Division is taking place here. Four minutes is, of course, better than three, and perhaps five minutes might be better still. In fact, until somebody comes along the passage to a rather remote Committee room, we do not know that there is a Division; then I am afraid that four minutes is not very much better than three.
THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
My Lords, with the permission of the House, 'may I say that I am glad that the noble Lord has mentioned that point, because it would be of great help if noble Lords who know that they are going to be some way off when a Division is likely to be called, would inform the Messengers, so that the best possible arrangements can be made to inform those noble Lords. There is no Division Bell which can be rung in the Commons' Committee rooms upstairs to inform your Lordships, but if noble Lords let the Messengers know, they will do the best they can.
By the leave of the House, may I suggest that perhaps a Division bell with a different tone, or something of that sort, might be installed? I have myself left word with the Messengers, who have done their best to inform me; but it takes them some minutes to get to the Committee room where one happens to be.
THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
I believe it would be quite expensive to do that, arid. I rather doubt whether Members of another place would like another bell added. That might be rather confusing.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.