HL Deb 10 February 1959 vol 214 cc5-10

2.43 p.m.

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

The Committee reported as follows:


The Committee have reconsidered the point raised in paragraph 2 of their Second Report of last session. They are of opinion that the amendment there proposed to Standing Order No. 50 does not take adequate account of the difficulty that would arise if a division were held on a procedural Motion and if less than thirty Lords voted in that division, because it is not possible for such procedural questions to remain undecided. The Committee therefore recommend to the House that Standing Order No. 50 should be amended so as to revert to the form in which it was before 1957, but with an amendment to make it apply to subordinate legislation as well as Bills. The Committee accordingly recommend that the Standing Order should be amended so as to read as follows (differences from the pre-1957 version being underlined):—

"If, on a division upon any stage of a Bill, or upon a question for the approving or disapproving of subordinate legislation, less than thirty Lords have voted, the Lord Speaker shall declare the question not decided, and the debate thereon shall stand adjourned to a subsequent sitting: and, if such division take place when the House is in Committee, the Chairman shall declare the question not decided, whereupon the House shall resume, and shall be again in Committee at a subsequent sitting".


The Committee have considered whether the present limit of three starred questions a day gives sufficient opportunity to Peers to put down questions on matters which are of immediate interest but not of sufficient importance to justify a private notice question. The Committee are of the opinion that the present practice does sometimes prevent Peers from putting such questions while they are still topical; and they accordingly recommend to the House that the present limit should be raised to four starred questions a day, and further that no Peer should be allowed to put down more than two such questions on any one day.


The Committee have examined a suggestion that, in order to save time in the division lobbies, the division lists should be printed in alphabetical order throughout. The Committee agree with this proposal, and accordingly recommend that Standing Order No. 51 be amended by leaving out the words "of the same degree".


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now agreed to. Your Lordships may expect what I hope will be a short explanation of the effects and meaning of the recommendation in the first paragraph of the Report. Before 1889, there was no quorum in this House for a Division—in other words, no matter how few voted in the Division Lobby a decision was reached. In consequence of representations which then were made, to the effect that some Bills which had been sent up from another place had been decided upon in your Lordships' House, either one way or another, with very few noble Lords voting, a Standing Order was made in that year providing that in the event of fewer than thirty noble Lords taking part in any Division on any stage of a Bill the Question should be declared by the Lord Chancellor or Lord Chairman as undecided and adjourned to a subsequent Sitting. The figure of thirty, your Lordships may like to know, was decided upon because in those days that was the proportion of the total number in this House which was equivalent to the figure of forty in another place. Nowadays, your Lordships will notice, the figures are somewhat different.

I pass to the year 1957. In that year, the Standing Order was altered by your Lordships' House, and since that date the Standing Order requiring a minimum of thirty was made to apply to any Division on any Motion; and, as I have said before, the proceedings were adjourned to a subsequent Sitting. The Committee which now report to your Lordships have gone into this matter and are firmly of the opinion that an unsatisfactory state of affairs is now disclosed. Fortunately, nothing untoward has happened so far since 1957, but I must inform your Lordships of what might happen, though it may be unlikely, on any day from now, unless a further alteration is made.

May I be permitted to give two examples of what I mean? The new Standing Order applies to all Motions, and supposing (if I may put it in this way), the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, were to get up at this present moment and move that I be no longer heard, if there were a Division, and if fewer than thirty voted, then the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would be obliged (I apprehend without any marked enthusiasm) to declare that the Question of whether I should or should not be heard could not be decided and would be adjourned until to-morrow. I am not at all sure what would next happen. Just one more example. Suppose that at the end of the Sitting this evening, when most of your Lordships might possibly have gone home, the noble Earl the Government Whip were to move the Adjournment, and that there was a Division in which fewer than thirty voted, then the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor would have to declare that the Question of whether this House do now adjourn was not decided and would be deferred until to-morrow. To-morrow your Lordships would be asked to decide, as first Business on the Order Paper, whether or not the House do adjourn yesterday. I hope that I have said enough to show that there is something wrong here and that something ought to be done to put it right.

What the Committee propose is set out in the Report. I think it speaks for itself, if your Lordships will bear in mind the unfortunate possibility that might happen if this were not done. The Committee went into this matter very thoroughly and considered several different alternatives, but in the end they decided that the only safe course was to retreat from 1957 back to 1889, and to say that in future this rule should apply only to a Division on any stage of any Bill—with this one exception, which is new (and your Lordships will see that in the Report the words are underlined as something which has not been included before); that the Committee recommend Chat this Standing Order should be applied to subordinate legislation as well as to any stage of any Bill. The Committee think that that would be the safest course to adopt and recommend accordingly.

I think that I need not say anything on the second point in the Report, about Starred Questions, because I hope that it speaks for itself. But on the last point I should like to say that the effect of leaving out the words "of the same degree", is simply this: that when your Lordships pass through the Division Lobby, the clerk who takes the names of noble Lords, instead of having to think whether a noble Lord is a Duke, Baron, or of other rank, would have only one list, instead of four, to study. In other words, every Member of the House would be put on those lists in alphabetical order, no matter what degree in the Peerage he had attained. I hope that, with those few words, this point will also be clear. I shall, of course, be pleased to answer any questions. Meantime, I beg to move that this Report be now agreed to.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(Lord Merthyr.)

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all obliged to the Lord Chairman of Committees for the clear explanation he has given of this First Report from the Select Committees. It seems that the matter referred to in paragraph I has been carefully considered, and the only Amendment really to the existing position is the addition of the underlined words. I would say, on behalf of my noble friends, that we welcome this First Report, but I should like to add this comment. We in this House have not quite the strict rules that they have in another place, and we rely upon each other to be honourable in our dealings, so far as our political life will allow us so to do; and I think as a general rule we do that. The only possible question that could arise over this point of Divisions in which fewer than thirty Peers vote would be if, even in fun or for a joke, there was an occasion when sufficient Peers could be found to abstain from a Division in order to secure that no decision was arrived at. So far as I know, there never has been a case like that in history, and I mention it only because it is the sort of thing in which each side of the House has to rely upon the other. Except for pointing out that fact, and assuming that we shall all endeavour to work the Standing Order for the benefit of the whole House whichever Party happens to be seeking the development of Public Business, I am quite satisfied with the revised Order as it stands.


My Lords, with the permission of my noble Leader, I should like to ask a question. I was, of course, a member of the Committee and am a party to the Report. One remark made by the Lord Chairman I did not understand. He said that the rule as to a quorum would not apply to subsidiary legislation.


Would apply.


Would apply. That means to say that a Statutory Rule that comes forward demands a quorum.




My Lords, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees referred to me exactly on that point, and I should like to say something about it. I know that I was on the Committee that approved these rules, but it seems to me that if any noble Lord were to move that the noble Lord who was speaking be no longer heard, and if that Motion were to lead to a Division, it ought to be decided by those noble Lords who were in the House hearing him speak. It is ridiculous for a lot of people to come from the Library and insist that the noble Lord be heard when they are not even listening.


My Lords, most surprising things happen, and I suppose that before long it will be possible for noble Lords speaking in the House to be heard by those in the Library. But that is beside the point. The only matter to which I want to refer is a remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. I rather think it was a slip, if I may so call it, but I think he said that by agreeing to this proposed Standing Order we were doing no more than agreeing to the addition of the words underlined. That is not so. If your Lordships agree to do this, we shall be going back to what the state of affairs was before 1957, not before this afternoon. I hope that is now clear. As I say, I think it was only a slip on the part of the noble Viscount, but I wanted to clear it up because other noble Lords were listening.


My Lords, is there any procedure in this House comparable with the Commons procedure of counting the House out?


To the best of my knowledge, there is not. I might say that the quorum for transacting Business in this House is three, and I have heard it said before that there must be a noble Lord on the Woolsack, and a noble Lord speaking, and if anyone else goes in to point out that there is not a quorum, there is a quorum.

On Question, Motion agreed to:

Ordered, That the Roll of the Standing Orders be amended as follows: Standing Order No. 50, leave out the first line and insert ("If, on a division upon any stage of a Bill, or upon a question for the approving or disapproving of subordinate legislation, less") Standing Order No. 51, leave out ("of the same degree")

The said Amendments to be printed.