HL Deb 10 April 1962 vol 239 cc364-71

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to raise another matter which I promised to raise last night. We felt some concern in the Opposition as to what happened on the moving of the adjournment of the House yesterday afternoon. With the extraordinary margin which was cast for the defeat of the Government's position, it is always customary for some sort of statement to be made, as well as for the adjournment of the House Ito be moved; but my noble friend Lord Silkin was just rising to ask specific questions on what was the result on Business of that defeat of the Government when the Motion to adjourn was moved, and before anybody could hear anything from the occupant of the Woolsack the Mace was lifted and my noble friend was unable to speak. That is an extraordinary position. First of all, we ought to be quite sure, in such a contingency as we had yesterday, that every Member of your Lordships' House is free to speak on the Motion to adjourn. It seemed to be assumed yesterday that we should have to give notice to speak on the Motion to adjourn. I repudiate that. If the Motion to adjourn is put to the House and we do not wish to adjourn for the time being, any Member should have the right to say all that he wants to.

I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor is on the Woolsack to-day. He very courteously sent me notice that he would probably be late in arriving yesterday, and the matter that arose was too early for him to deal with. But I cannot imagine that if the noble and learned Viscount had been on the Woolsack there would have happened quite what did happen. I am not complaining about the Deputy Speaker who was acting, because he is a very popular figure in your Lordships' House, but I think perhaps he did not attach sufficient importance to the occasion and allowed the operation to happen at such speed. It was not quite so bad as a precedent about which I have heard, of one case where the acting Speaker on the Woolsack for the time being actually got up and rushed away in front of the Mace, which had to chase to get in front of him; but I think the speed of the operation yesterday could be compared to the speed on that occasion. I hope it is not likely to happen again.

I should like to hear the Leader of the House upon this matter now, and I hope that, when that is done, we shall then be given an opportunity on "Business" to raise the points we wished to raise yesterday with regard to the future of the Bill in respect of which this defeat of the Government occurred.


My Lords, I am not sure how far this is a question for me as Leader. I was, as the noble Viscount will remember, actually present at the Division yesterday, although I did not play any part in the earlier proceedings. It seemed to me that my noble friend Lord Mills acted perfectly properly in moving the adjournment of the House. That, I should have thought, was a natural and proper thing to do in the circumstances. The actual practice in this matter, as I understand it—I have made inquiries as to what the practice is—is that the Question is put in full—that is to say, the voices are collected—on the adjournment of the House only in the exceptional circumstances where a Peer has given notice that he wishes to raise some matter on the Motion. Since 1937 there have been ten occasions on which debates have occurred on the adjournment. That does not mean that where the voices are not formlly collected noble Lords have not an absolute right to discuss the Motion for the adjournment. It is plain to me, at any rate, and I think it will be agreed by the House, that the Motion for the adjournment is essentially one that is debatable, and, therefore, any noble Lord, who chooses to rise when the Motion is moved will ordinarily be heard by the House.

I cannot answer for the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, who actually pursued the ordinary course where no previous notice has been given, but I did myself see the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rise and was expecting him to say something; but, in fact, no audible sound emerged from his lips, and by the time I realised that he had none the less intended to utter, the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, was half way down the Chamber, and it seemed to me far too late for the Leader of the House to intervene. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the last thing which was present in my mind—and, although I have no right to speak for him, I am sure it was the last thing present in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn—was to deprive him of a right which undoubtedly is his, and certainly at some stage he must make the comments, with such additions and amendments as on reflection have occurred to which he desired to make yesterday.

If the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition wants to alter the practice with regard to the collection of voices I think the matter should be put through the Procedure Committee, because the practice of the House in not collecting the voices formally is now a well-established one and I think should only be changed—in fact, I do not think it could be changed otherwise—after consideration in the usual way. I do not know what would be the view of the Committee or of the House if that were done. At any rate, so far as we are concerned, we are sorry we did not have the opportunity of hearing the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, and I am sure that whatever happened was the result of misunderstanding.


My Lords, that may well be; but there is this one point. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, is certain that he put the Question in such a manner as to collect the voices, but it would now appear that that particular side of the issue has fallen by the wayside in the course of years. I want to establish that the voices should be collected. Certainly we heard no Question put to the House and, if it was uttered, it must have been very sotto voce. But the speed of the operation was the amazing thing, and it seemed to me to be entirely in accordance with the desire that the Government did not want to go on too long discussing the matter.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that there is no point there. The Government were perfectly willing to hear any remarks which fell from the noble Viscount or anyone else. So far as the actual position is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, acted in accordance with the existing practice of the House. If the noble Viscount wants to alter that practice, which may well be desirable—I do not know—he will no doubt take the proper steps to secure discussion of it, which I certainly would not resist. But it is fair to say that if noble Lords want to debate the Motion for the adjournment, which. of course. it is well within their right to do—it is, to my mind, an absolutely established right that it is a debatable Motion—they should make it plain; and if the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, could have brought himself to utter the words "My Lords" in an audible tone, I am sure that all of us would have returned to our places.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say only one word, from the point of view of the occupant of the Chair. I have now had the honour of occupying the Woolsack for nearly eight years, when I took over from my noble and learned friend Lord Simonds. I was told when I came here that on the Motion "That the House do now adjourn", one simply put "That the House do now adjourn and that was the end of the matter. One did not collect the voices. That is the procedure I have followed, and my researches agree with the view expressed by my noble friend the Leader of the House, that this is a procedure which has been followed for a very long time indeed. My noble friend Lord Ailwyn followed the same procedure, and up to now either myself or my Deputies would have expected notice, or a very quick jump up "by somebody, to make us alter the practice. I should like to say, on behalf of my noble friend, that he followed the practice that was communicated to me, and has always been followed since.


My Lords, may I say that that was also the procedure communicated to me by my predecessor Lord Jowitt, and no doubt handed down to him by his predecessor?


My Lords, this is the first time I have been accused of being not sufficiently agile and lacking in the powers of utterance. I do not think it is profitable to pursue this particular point. It might be useful if this matter were discussed by the Procedure Committee at some time, so that if a noble Lord wants to say something on the adjournment he will feel that he is able to do so. However, that aspect can be left.

May I now say what I intended to say last night?—and I hope that I can say it very briefly. I think the decision of the House yesterday afternoon was a significant one. The vote was, I think, almost unprecedented, and it represented noble Lords from all parts of the House. As I understood it, what it meant was that we felt we were being unduly rushed in the Report stage; that not sufficient time had elapsed between the Committee stage and the Report stage to enable noble Lords to give proper consideration to the Amendments that were put down, or to Amendments which they wished to put down; that, although in the course of the Committee stage a number of undertakings had been given by the Government that matters would be considered, they had had inadequate time to deal with these undertakings, and it was felt that, in view of the speed with which the Report stage followed the Committee stage, we were not enabled properly to do our duty by this House. I think that was the general feeling of the House, and it expressed itself. There was no hostility to the Government, but we felt that this was a very important measure and that this House would not be doing its duty if it did not consider the Bill in all its aspects and with the greatest care.

Having regard to this vote, I was very surprised to find that, nevertheless, the Government are proceeding as if nothing had happened, and have put the Report stage down for next Thursday with none of the Amendments which would flow from the undertakings given during the Committee stage. To my mind, it would not meet the views of the House as a whole just to give us two more days before the Report stage and to treat the House as if this vote meant nothing. I would respectfully suggest to the Government that if they were enabled to put down the Amendments with which they have given an undertaking to deal before the Report stage, it might then be possible to have the Report stage on Monday next. Otherwise, if we cannot do that, if we cannot see what the Government are proposing to do in view of the undertakings they gave, then I would submit that the Report stage is going to be a farce.

In those circumstances, what I ask of the Government is that they should not have the Report stage on Thursday; that they should do everything they can to put down the Amendments which they propose to put down in time to enable noble Lords to study them; that where they do not propose to put down Amendments as a result of the undertakings they have given they should notify noble Lords responsible for the original Amendments in time to enable them to put down Amendments on the Report stage, and that we proceed in an orderly way. I can assure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Mills, that there is no desire on the part of anybody to hold up this Bill or to frustrate the policy of the Government. Our only desire is to do our duty and make this Bill as good a Bill as we possibly can, so that when it comes to be considered in another place there is the feeling that we have done our job.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition raised the question of the way in which the Motion for the adjournment was put at the termination of yesterday's proceedings. Of course, he was quite right to do so as a point of Order. But I think we should probably be getting ourselves into deep water if we were to debate what was to be the future of the Pipe-lines Bill. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said. I was not myself present at the proceedings yesterday, although I have read everything that happened. I will certainly consider very carefully, on behalf of the Government, all that the noble Lord has said. But I do not think we could debate the question unless a Motion is moved, because the matter arises, not on the question of what is to be done about the Pipe-lines Bill, but upon the point which the noble Viscount raised, which affects the proceedings of the House and the way in which Motions are put. I myself feel that these things are far better discussed in an amicable way through the usual channels than raised on the Floor of the House, certainly without notice to me except upon the narrower procedural point. I will certainly consider everything the noble Lord has said in the spirit in which he has said it.


My Lords, on this question of procedure, may I say that I rose originally at a time which is usually given to the Opposition to raise a matter of Business if they wish to do so, and I referred to the fact that what happened last night had an important relation to what was to be the Business on this Bill. I then, I think quite properly, handed over to my noble friend the Deputy Leader of my Party, who had been in charge of this Bill, to raise the question of Business which arose directly out of it. We are really dealing, therefore, with a question of Business: whether it is right for us to be faced with the Report stage of the Pipe-lines Bill on the Order Paper for Thursday next.


My Lords, technically, if I may say so, I think the Leader of the House is quite right in saying that we should be out of Order so far as we can ever be out of Order, in discussing a matter—




Wait a moment—that is not before the House on a Motion. On the other hand, we are in the great difficulty that ordinarily, after what happened, the Government, on the Motion to adjourn, would have made a statement as regards Business. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has quite rightly said that if anybody in the House had wanted to debate it—a debatable matter—no doubt a good deal would have been said about future conduct.

I only wish to say this, if I may. I am sure the Leader of the House will most carefully consider what has been said and also what has taken place, but I do not think the House will be satisfied merely to be presented on Thursday with a Motion which they rejected so overwhelmingly yesterday. If the noble Lord was proposing to do that, then I am afraid that what happened yesterday would be repeated more emphatically.


My Lords, all I was saying was that these matters present very considerable difficulty and that I would very carefully consider what has been said. Naturally, we are all anxious to meet the convenience of the House in the matter, but it is not always easy to say what that convenience will be until suitable discussions have taken place through the usual channels.


My Lords, I take it that the House could be informed before the adjournment tonight whether or not this matter is to remain on the Order Paper for Thursday, because really we must have a settlement of this. I am quite prepared to take part in any discussions through the usual channels, but we have stated our view and the House knows the extreme importance of this Bill and of the many Amendments which have been made from all parts of the House, and their expression upon procedure was pretty emphatic yesterday.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has very kindly promised to take part in discussions—I realise the importance of what he has been saying—and he will realise that I have to get in touch with various sources. He will not, I hope, expect me just at the moment to give an absolutely emphatic answer to what he has been saying. But I realise the importance and value of what he has been putting to us.


My Lords, could the noble Leader say whether this question will be dealt with before the end of the day?


My Lords, I was hoping that I should be able to fall in with the noble Viscount's suggestion that the House would in some way be told this evening, but I did not want to promise to do that until I knew that I could perform what I had promised.