HL Deb 16 May 1963 vol 249 cc1426-34

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement on arrangements for future Business which has been agreed through the usual channels. In response to a request from noble Lords opposite for more time in Committee on the London Government Bill, I have removed most of the Government Business from the days allocated for the Committee next week and the week after next, and my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has agreed to postpone the Second Reading of the Limitation Bill. The only Government Business which will remain to be taken on those days are Special Orders for Affirmative Resolution. I have not been able to get in touch with the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, to ask him to postpone the Second Reading of the Animal Boarding Establishments Bill, but perhaps the House will agree that this Business may come on at about 7 p.m. on Tuesday next until the Dinner Adjournment. In addition, it has been agreed that the House will meet on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m., and on Thursdays at 2.30 p.m., for the next two weeks.

The Business removed to give more time to the London Government Committee has been postponed until after Whitsun. Time must necessarily be found for this postponed Business which will now be added to the other Business already envisaged for the limited time between the Whitsun Adjournment and the Summer Recess. It has therefore been agreed that the House will sit on Fridays after Whitsun. It has been proposed that Friday sittings should start at 11 a.m. and continue until approximately 4 p.m., with a luncheon interval of an hour. I would propose to take on Fridays only Government Business on which the House would not normally expect to divide, and also proceedings on Private Members' Bills.

The agreed allocation of time for the remainder of the London Government Committee is as follows:


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for giving this Government plan of Business so far ahead. In the main, we agree on one basis; in so far as the Government have said that they are going to allocate to this Bill only the days mentioned in the final schedule which the noble Earl read out, the arrangement of Business within that time has been noted and agreed. But we have by no means agreed in principle that they are bound to get the Bill through by the end of this month before we go on holiday. My colleagues feel very strongly on that point. We of course accept the provisional plan which is made by the Government, as they have a right to make, on their proposition that they are going to have only so many days allowed before Whitsun. But with important matters still arising on the London Government Bill, both with regard to education, housing, town planning and to all the health and welfare services, it is going to be an exceedingly difficult task, and we ought not to suffer undue physical pressure on such a limited Opposition as we have here at this time.

There is one qualification I should like to make. One Bill which would be among those upon which the noble Earl thinks there would not be likely to be a Division if taken on Friday, is the Contracts of Employment Bill. We are not at all sure about that one. But we could perhaps have further conversations, through the usual channels, about that. The only other thing is perhaps a more general protest, on behalf of my colleagues—and I am quite sure there will be others who desire to protest, whether they do or not, on the Government side—at one being called together on Friday before Whit Monday, when most people will want to be home the night before, or on their way home on that day. That is an exceedingly difficult day for most Peers.

There is one other case which the noble Earl the Leader of the House will remember, or the Chief Whip will remember, we put to him. We have a number of our Members in this limited Opposition who have to go on earning their living, as well as serving in this very heavy pressure here; and those of them who are in business reserve Friday to be able to meet people in the business they are concerned with, and clear up matters for the week. Engagements have been made, and that kind of thing. These things are not easy to arrange.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment? I am sorry, but I do not seem to have made myself quite clear. I know that in the original discussions it was suggested that we should meet on the Friday before Whitsun, but as a result of representations from the noble Earl opposite, I said that it would be on Fridays after Whitsun and not before.


I must have missed it, and I humbly apologise Ito the Chief Whip, because I would not misunderstand him for the world. I rather gathered that somebody else rose to a point on this statement, and if any other noble Lord does want to rise I wild give way now, as I want to go on to a further point of the Business to-day.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. I was only going to say to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip that it seems quite clear that the noble Earl opposite and the Opposition want to have it both ways. They are not consenting to an agreed timetable (which is what I always advocated in another place in my time) in which adequate time could be concentrated upon the matters of importance which Members of the Opposition wished to debate and discuss. If the noble Earl opposite said that he could not guarantee that we should get this Bill by any certain date, I wonder whether the deliberate intention is to force upon this House what the Irish Members forced upon another place, the use of guillotines and closures.


My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the humorous asides of the noble Viscount opposite, who speaks with considerable experience of these matters as a former Chief Whip in the House of Commons. I associate myself with what my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has said. It is true that this has been provisionally agreed through the usual channels, and certainly when the usual channels are functioning I do not want to quarrel with them. But it is difficult to be certain about these things—for example, the question of housing and town planning. There may riot be an enormous number of Amendments—I do not know; I am speaking from memory—but it is a very big subject on which the whole future of housing and slum clearance in London and Greater London has an enormous significance. It involves other matters. Education is a very big subject. Even if the Amendments are limited, the debate must be adequate. There are some other things too, but we shall do our best in these matters.

There is one point I should like to raise, which is this proposal to meet at 2 o'clock instead of 2.30. I nearly had my digestion ruined the other night with the meat pie and so on which I ate in the Tea Room of another place. But we shall all have our digestions ruined if we are not careful if we have to meet at 2 o'clock without any time to let lunch settle down inside. I do think that is running us a bit hard. Moreover, noble Lords on both sides often have luncheon engagements, and that makes it difficult to get here at 2 o'clock. If would suggest to the Chief Whip that at any rate he might think about this matter; and, to use a famous phrase of a former leader of the House of Commons, "For the rest, we shall have to see how we go and hope for the best."


My Lords, of course I appreciate what the noble Lord says but I think there is more than one side to the question. To begin with, I think that one would always measure the length of time that is necessary for discussion of a subject by its size or importance. The number of things to be said on an important matter may be less than the number of things to say on a relatively small matter, and I am perfectly sure that the House as a whole can co-operate in this plan by asking itself entirely how the best discussion may be obtained on a controversial Bill. We have, I think, made very considerable concessions to the other side about it and we have done so in a spirit of reasonableness. It is, I think, important to recognise that we on this side, though we perhaps talk about it a little less, suffer just the same digestive complaints as the Members on the opposite side.


My Lords, can the Chief Whip say whether the 2 o'clock opening is only until the Whitsun Recess, or is it until the Summer Recess?


My Lords, I certainly hope that it will be necessary only until the Whitsun Recess. Noble Lords opposite asked me to make as much time available as possible for this Committee stage and I thought that the extra half-hour would be appreciated.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should now like to raise the question of Business for to-day, which I referred to yesterday in connection with the Ecclesiastical Measure which has been placed down for to-day. I know perfectly well that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester would be sorry if we had to postpone this discussion, but I beg the House to remember and I am asking specially the Lord Bishop will consider this matter that the Ecclesiastical Measure submitted is a very important document indeed. It has 89 clauses and 9 pages of Schedules, all interrelated. It is the subject of an introductory report from the Ecclesiastical Joint Committee and would require long research by legislative reference back before any ordinary layman could really understand it. It is a tremendous task for anyone to have to undertake, and when one considers what is the business state of the House which was referred to yesterday by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, that probably we have never had a period from now up to July when there was such pressure on this House of Parliament to deal with legislation, then I beg that we should not still further endanger proper discussion of one of the greatest unmandated Bills ever laid before the House on the local government of Greater London, by having to break off from that to-day to give the fullest consideration we can to a Measure of such importance as that which is submitted on behalf of the Church of England.

It is a very important Measure. There are some important reforms, and some reforms would no doubt be welcome to members of the Church of England of all views. Some are much more controversial; and when some of them are considered as being in relation to other than purely Church matters, such as civil rights, then I suggest to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, that the only possible way of getting a fair view, and then a free vote of the House, as it is not a matter upon which Parties will exercise any influence, and to be able to understand exactly what we are doing, is to have a full day's discussion. I should like to see negotiations take place with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester, whose name is down to move it to-day. It is a Measure which cannot be amended, with all its consequences. I beg of them to agree to postpone it, and I will help and collaborate between the Bishops' Bench and the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, if he were so inclined, to see whether we could fix a date for the future on which we could give round about a day's discussion to this vastly important Measure.


My Lords, the noble Earl has put me in an extremely awkward position. I greatly respect him, and I should not wish to suggest that I was following any course of action which was disrespectful to him, indeed, I should be anxious to give no suggestion that we are in any way trying to hurry this important Measure. But I have put down this Measure through the usual channels, this day has been allotted for the debate, and many of us have been put to considerable trouble to adjust our times so that it might be possible for us to be present at this debate. The Motion has been on the Order Paper for ten days and the first doubt I heard whether we should be able to debate the matter was at six o'clock last night, when I returned to my home after doing some work on the other side of the county. I have not had any opportunity of discussing the matter with the noble Earl, who could, presumably, have raised it with me at any time during the last ten days. Therefore I feel, with great reluctance, that we ought to discuss this matter now, since full notice has been given of it.


My Lords, what then becomes of my arrangement with the Government on the discussion of the London Government Bill? We are under a sort of imposition that we must cover to-day right up to the point indicated by the Government in the London Government Bill, and it is really impossible for us to work under the pressure we are with such a small number; nor do I think that half-a-dozen Members of your Lordships' House opposite have had the opportunity to master the intricacies of this particular Measure which is now to come up from the Church. It is impossible to do the two. There are bound to be feelings on both sides of the House with regard to items in this Church Measure, as, if necessary, I shall show later on, and if we cannot come to an arrangement by agreement, then our only way will be to make a sufficiently comprehensive speech on a Motion to adjourn the debate on the Ecclesiastical Measure.


My Lords, I think that almost everything the noble Earl has said could have been said on some Motion or other. At the moment we are only asking questions of the Chief Whip on his Business statement. I think we really must now try to get ourselves into some kind of order. So far as I am concerned, I think the noble Earl, with respect, is mistaken in trying to draw me into this controversy. This is not Government Business. I made my discussions with the noble Earl about Government Business in the knowledge of both of these things—we were both aware that this item was on the Order Paper—and I do not think they are to that extent connected. Our agreements were not conditional and they were not based on any misapprehension. I think it will probably be the wish of the House, when the business is called up, to have the right reverend Prelate develop his case. I do not know anything about the merits of the Measure myself and I do not know how many Members of either side wish to speak. I think we had better see how we go on.

With great respect to the noble Earl who leads the Opposition, I do not think this is a matter upon which he is speaking as Leader of the Opposition; I think he is speaking as an individual Member of the House, as in a sense I do, too. Although I wish to expedite the hearing of Government Business, as I think the Opposition does as a body, I think the courteous thing to do in this case is to allow the right reverend Prelate to put forward his Motion. Of course it would be possible, if it should prove that any part needs further consideration, to raise that point in the debate. I think the two political Parties who are in dispute in this House about the merits of the London Government Bill should not try to tie this dispute in any way to the conduct of Business. There are sections of the House to whom ecclesiastical business is important, and I think we should show a certain amount of courtesy and deference to those who wish to discuss other items of Business which are perfectly properly on the Order Paper.


My Lords, on the question of how to proceed with Business in this matter, I am not speaking for myself; I am not alone at all. It is the view of the Opposition that we ought not to have pressure put upon us, and then for the Business to be intersected by allowing an important debate such as must arise on a Church Measure. I have always felt, though I have respected the opinions of the Leader of the House, that there should be some conversations between him and the persons who put down Motions as to the state of Business and other arrangements which could be made. I do not accept that sort of half-rebuke for one moment: I have no desire to be discourteous. I think I know enough about Business procedure, after nearly forty years in Parliament, not to do the wrong thing in these matters. What the course must be is perfectly open. If the right reverend Prelate does not give way, then he will move his Motion, and in speaking to the Motion myself, when he has finished, I shall move the Adjournment of the debate, and show with reason and detail why I move it. That is not discourteous; that is actually facing up to the facts of the situation.


My Lords, all I said was that at the moment we are not discussing any Motion. We are simply commenting upon the Business statement, which did not in fact contain this item, by the Chief Whip. I would say, with respect to the noble Earl, that the best way of getting on with the Business is to get on with the Business.


My Lords, it should be understood the point my noble friend who leads the Opposition is raising is not the merits of the Ecclesiastical Measure at all. That can be discussed at some time, maybe to-day, maybe some other time, and the Whips will be off on our side, and I presume on the Government side, too, and everybody will be free to say what he likes. The only point my noble friend is concerned with now is whether it should come on to-day or at some later date. It has to be remembered, according to the Chief Whip's statement, which had prominent reference to the London Government Bill, that there has been cleared off the list of intended Business pretty well everything other than the London Government Bill. Therefore, my noble friend is perfectly entitled to raise the question whether it is convenient to-day to take the Ecclesiastical Measure when it is a London Government Bill day.

While I am on my feet, if the House will forgive me—I think I am in order, but only just; I will take only a minute—I would add that the House will remember that, in Committee, the Ministers on the London Government Bill said that the Metropolitan Boroughs Joint Standing Committee had assented to the bringing forward of the first election date. I have made inquiries and I am assured that the Standing Joint Committee have not agreed to the bringing forward of that election date.


Order, order!


Do not get cross. Do not stir me up.


My Lords, I must say that I was staggered when I received to-day the document I have in my hand and was told that it had to go through to-day, and I am glad the noble Earl my Leader has made the protest about this matter.