HL Deb 20 December 1965 vol 271 cc878-98

2.52 p.m.

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

The Committee's Report was as follows:


The Committee considered Standing Orders 34 and 35 relating to the arrangement of Business and recommend no change in them. They recognise that in cases of doubt or dispute the ultimate choice as to the order in which Business shall be taken must lie with the House and recommend that in such cases a Business of the House Motion be put down to enable the House to make its decision.


The Committee have considered Standing Order 24— Every Lord is to speak standing and uncovered, except by permission of the House, and recommend that women Peers who wish to wear a hat when speaking shall be excused from seeking the permission of the House to do so.


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 agreed to, and I think that the House may like to have a few words of explanation and clarification about the two items contained in the Report. The first item is concerned with the arrangements of Business. Your Lordships will remember that Standing Order 34, which is referred to in this paragraph, provides that the House shall proceed with and debate the Orders of the Day in the order in which they stand on the Order Paper; while Standing Order 35 deals with the Order in which future Business is entered on the Order Paper. Standing Order 35 sets out various categories of business and the order in which they shall be set down. Within these categories the general principle is that of "first come, first served."

I have to report to your Lordships that at their meeting last week the Procedure Committee were informed of certain difficulties which had arisen in regard to the order of the two Motions on the Order Paper for Wednesday, January 26; namely, the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and that in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. Some difference of opinion was expressed in the Committee as to the best solution of this difficulty. The second sentence of this paragraph in the Report starting with the words "They recognise" represents the majority view of the Committee. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is to move a Manuscript Amendment to delete this sentence.

As to the second item, which deals with ladies' hats, I hope that our recommendation—which I trust will give satisfaction to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry—will be acceptable to the House. We do not think that an Amendment to the Standing Order which would create a formal distinction between men and women Peers, when none exists at present, would be desirable. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Report be agreed to. —(The Earl of Listowel.)

LORD SALTOUN rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion "That the Report be agreed to", after "agreed to" to insert ", subject to the deletion of the second sentence in paragraph 1 (Arrangement of Business)". The noble Lord said: My Lords, the first paragraph of the Report (and as many of your Lordships will not have the Report in your hands, perhaps I had better read it) says: They recognise that in cases of doubt or 34 and 35 relating to the arrangement of Business and recommend no change in them.

The Report continues: They recognise that in cases of doubt or dispute the ultimate choice as to the Order in which Business shall be taken must lie with the House and recommend that in such cases a Business of the House Motion be put down to enable the House to make its decision. It is in consequence of that second sentence that your Lordships have on the Order Paper before you a special Motion, in the name of the Lord Privy Seal, on the Business of the House: that Standing Order 35 be dispensed with on the first Wednesday after the Recess in order to set aside the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in favour of another Motion.

This procedure, so far as I am aware, is without any precedent in the House at all. It is perfectly true that such a Motion is put down at the end of every Session to enable the Government to finish off its legislative programme. But to invoke a procedure like that against a private Member, who is perfectly within his rights, is an unprecedented thing in this House, and I think it would be wrong if this House were to accept it. Nobody who knows me will think that I am making any attack on the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman. I was in a minority in that Committee (about which I will say something in a moment), and I hope that the noble Earl will allow me to say that I was lost in admiration at the skill with which he managed a very difficult Committee; and the finding which is before your Lordships was the finding of a considerable majority of that Committee.

It has long been the custom in your Lordships' House that a Peer can put down a Motion for debate in your Lordships' House. It used to be the case that on Mondays and on Wednesdays the Motions took precedence over Bills. That enabled your Lordships to bring matters before the House as a full House with full attendance and to get them considered on certain days of the week. Subsequently it was represented to your Lordships by the Procedure Committee, on the motion of the Whips, that this was far too much to give to Motions, and the Monday Business was changed, so that on Mondays Bills now take precedence over Motions and only the Wednesdays are left.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, had put down a Motion for the first Wednesday after the Recess, and as his Motion was the first of which the officials of the House received Notice, it took precedence of the other Motions. I should like your Lordships to allow me to go into the general question of Motions in a few moments. The point in the Committee was that the Whips had found the noble Lord very difficult to deal with and had lost patience, and had decided—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I am not sure how far it is in order to give what purports to be an intimate account of all that was said in this Committee. I do not accept it as an accurate account at all, but in order that we may be able to clear our minds as to what we are discussing I ought to make it plain that I shall not be moving my Motion to-day, because Lord Russell of Liverpool has indicated that he will withdraw his Motion for the 26th on an understanding which he has reached with me. Therefore I do not think we need become too much involved in the subject of that particular Motion, although I agree that the noble Lord is raising a general issue of considerable interest.


My Lords, I would answer in this way. I am moving an Amendment to the Report of the Procedure Committee. The fact that the other Motion is down on the Order Paper has a connection with this; it is meant to lead up to it. I am perfectly entitled to say what went on in the Procedure Committee because every noble Lord in this House is entitled to attend the Committee. There is nothing "hole in the corner" about the Procedure Committee, and if I say what happens there it is open to anybody to say that I am wrong or to correct or amplify in any way what I say.


My Lords, I venture to think, with much deference to those who have led the House in past years with much greater experience and distinction than I have, that the Procedure Committee is not held in public.


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt? Would the noble Earl mind speaking a little louder? These hearing aids do not work.


My Lords, the Procedure Committee is not held in public, and I do not think that the fact that any noble Lord can attend demonstrates the proposition of the noble Lord that one can repeat in public everything that is said in that Committee.


Very well, my Lords. I leave that point. As I pointed out, the power of your Lordships to have Motions debated has been considerably curtailed of recent years in deference to the Whips. The Whips have moved your Lordships and they have stated what is not a fact: that before putting down any Motion the Whips shall be consulted. That has never been the case as long as I have been in the House. We have the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, who has been here since 1928, and we have the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, who has been here since 1922, and if I am wrong they will no doubt contradict me.

Her Majesty's Government are toying, as I understand it, with the idea of appointing an Ombudsman, and it is perfectly true—and the Government must be as well aware of it as I am—that in any country which is so powerfully administered as our country is there must from time to time arise wrongs to individuals and wrongs to small groups of people who can get no redress under the system and who ought to be treated in some other way. As long as I can remember, your Lordships' House has always acted as a kind of Ombudsman, and if noble Lords who were interested have been able to do so they have put their Motions down on a Wednesday and have debated them. These debates do not generally take very long. The last one in which I was engaged took just an hour and five minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will remember it very well. It is always memorable to me, because I think it was the last time that my dear and very deeply lamented friend Lord Mathers took part in a debate in your Lordships' House.

The first debate which I ever attended in your Lordships' House—of course, I was not a Member of the House—was about 1909 or 1910, and it was on some such question. The whole time I have been in the House, it has always been possible for somebody who has been wronged, and who could interest a Peer, to bring his case before your Lordships, and when that happened one of three things happened: either the case was remedied, or it might be alleviated or nothing happened. But I have found by experience that when a man has been deeply wronged and suffers under a deep sense of wrong, it is some gratification to him to have his case stated and heard, even if he gets nothing.

As a rule these cases proceed by a Motion for Papers which is subsequently withdrawn. Your Lordships might have thought that in such a case nothing happened, but that is not quite true. Your Lordships may not know, but something very often does happen. I can give an example. Some of your Lordships will remember how indignant most of us were about the long delay in the payment of the Post-War Credits after the war. I think that many people will remember that, and the case was raised again and again in your Lordships' House. The Government's answer was never very satisfactory and that could not be avoided, because the Government did not dare give the true answer. The true answer was that the Treasury, in levying the taxes that had lead to the creation of Post-War Credits, had thought that the people had stood so much that they would not stand any more. But when they found that the people accepted even that gladly for the prosecution of the war, they felt sorry they had not made it an out-and-out tax, and they determined that people should get back their money as slowly and with as much difficulty as possible. That was the reason why no Government dared to give the actual facts.

In common with other Members of your Lordships' House, I produced hard cases which had been brought to my notice. I had no indication from the Government that they had been attended to, but I received letters of gratitude from the people whose cases I brought up, which indicated to me that, even though the Motion had been withdrawn and the whole debate seemed to be inoperative, yet one had done something which had caused hard cases to be looked into and remedied. Therefore, my Lords, anything which impaired that power of your Lordships to bring cases of this kind, if you are sufficiently interested, before this House would be a very great injury to the ordinary people of this country.

I shall leave that and will come to the particular case of the Committee which is before us. I shall not say what happened in the Committee, but I can tell your Lordships of a great many things which did not happen in the Committee and which will keep you in the picture. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, is extremely anxious about a case which he is interested in bringing before your Lordships, and which he thinks has never been properly considered, so he managed to put his name down for a Motion for debate on the first Wednesday after the Recess. This is not so easy to do as it used to be because, once more in deference to the Whips, we have made a rule that one can only put down a Motion one month before it comes forward to be debated. So that limits one as there is a definite starting post. The noble Lord had to be up very early in the morning, but he managed to get in and to get that Motion down for debate.

Having done that, he was within his right, and if the Whips had approached him I have no doubt that he would have accommodated them and arranged to take another day, but that did not happen. I rather gather that the Whips took the line that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, ought to approach them; but I really do not see the argument for that. As a matter of fact, I should never take that line myself, even if I was entitled to do so. If one wants to get something settled, the answer is for the parties to come together, and it does not matter who approaches whom. But I always dislike opposing the Whips because, if they will allow me to say so, I like them all so much that it is difficult to oppose them on occasions. But, as a matter of fact, I have never found Whips easy to deal with. If you have Business down for a Wednesday and they want it moved they always offer you a Thursday after other Business or something like that, and it is therefore difficult to get anything really useful out of them.

The most important point is that, unless you have a right, which your Lordships have enjoyed from time immemorial, to have Business taken in the order in which it is put down you will, never get anything out of the Whips. Most of us will generally come to an accommodation. I know that we have had many arguments in the past, but I have always been perfectly conscious that, if one had not an indefeasible right, one would not get anything at all. I know that in recent years a great deal more interest has been taken in the debates in your Lordships' House, and there are a great many people who have strong political feelings who want to put down Motions and have them discussed on a Wednesday. There are a great many things going on which interest people deeply; and, therefore, it has become the custom for the Whips to make a sort of friendly arrangement among themselves about the Business coming up on Wednesdays.

Nobody has any objection to that; but when it is taken so far that it is proposed that all the Business of your Lordships must be done through the Whips, and that the Back Benchers must no longer have any right, except with the consent of the Whips, to put down Motions for debate, then you open the door to a very great deal of maladministration. Because, my Lords, there are a great many things that Back-Bench Peers very often want to bring up and have discussed which the Government would very willingly keep concealed. That happens in the case of every Government. On the occasion I last brought up such a case, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was the one who answered for the Government. Those matters ought to be brought up; and, if your Lordships do not insist on preserving this right, then I am very sorry to say that I think this House will lose one of its most important functions, and one in which the people at large take great interest. I have said that this particular proposal—hammering down the noble Lord who has got a position of advantage and wishes to use it—is quite unprecedented; and so it is. I hope your Lordships will support me in this, and that we shall not have a proposition of this kind put before us again.

Before sitting down and making my Motion, I should like to point out just one thing. If it is to be put, the Motion before the House—that the Business of the first Wednesday after the Recess should be altered so as to defer the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool—affects the noble Lord himself, and if it were to be debated I think it would be perfectly within his right to lay before your Lordships all the reasons which move him to wish to be first on the Order Paper. In that case, your Lordships would have the privilege of hearing his case both this afternoon and then again on the first Wednesday after the Recess. So I am not at all sure about the efficacy of the proposal shortly to be made to your Lordships.

My Lords, if the succeeding Motion is not going to be moved, the only way in which your Lordships can support me and show your disapproval of this is by cutting out the second sentence of the Report of the Procedure Committee. The second sentence of the Report of the Procedure Committee, if it had come from any body less august, would be likely to be stigmatised as cheek, because it merely reminds your Lordships of a power which is inherent in you, which always must be inherent in you and which cannot be taken away from you. Therefore, for the Procedure Committee to remind your Lordships of that power, almost as if the Committee were conferring it upon you, is really a little unnecessary. By supporting me, your Lordships will not alter the recommendation of the Procedure Committee; you will not alter its meaning in any way at all; but you will indicate that this is not the way in which private Back Bench Peers ought to be treated. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After ("agreed to") insert (",subject to the deletion of the second sentence in paragraph 1 (Arrangement of Business)").—(Lord Saltoun.)

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, before making any observations on the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, perhaps I should say again that it will not be necessary for me to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. That Motion would have placed the Duke of Norfolk's Motion for January 26 above the Motion standing in the name of Lord Russell of Liverpool; hut, as I explained just now in an intervention, the situation has changed as a result of a talk that I have had with Lord Russell of Liverpool. He has been good enough to say that he will postpone his Motion sine die, on the understanding that Mr. Mayhew, the Secretary for the Navy, will see the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and his friends about the time that the debate would have taken place. Mr. Mayhew tells me that he will be happy to see Lord Russell of Liverpool and his friends, and that, in fact, he has always been ready to see Lord Russell of Liverpool—although I gather that there has been some slight misunderstanding on that point. There will, therefore, be no difficulty, from the point of view of the House, about taking the Duke of Norfolk's Motion as first Business on January 26.

In what follows, I wish, so far as possible, to avoid referring further to Lord Russell of Liverpool's Motion, or to the circumstances concerned with it. That places me in one difficulty: that there is some slight suggestion left by Lord Saltoun's speech that the Whips on both sides of the House have behaved unreasonably. I entirely repudiate that suggestion. However, I do not intend, unless I am forced so to do, to go into that matter further.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun has raised a somewhat wider issue, and one that is of general significance: the issue whether, so to speak, a private Member who gets his blow in first—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, says, gets up early in the morning—and, ahead of everybody, puts a Motion down for a given Wednesday, can insist on having that Motion taken first, irrespective of the wishes of the House.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon, but he is quite wrong. I did not say, "irrespective of the wishes of the House": I said for the Leaders on both sides of the House to put down a Motion directed against him. If the House were to wish it spontaneously, so to speak, I should not have the smallest objection. It is calling on the House and exercising your Whip to command a majority against a Back-Bench Peer that arouses my anger—I beg your Lordships' pardon: not my anger, but my indignation.


I do not think the noble Lord quite follows me. If this Motion of mine were to be put to the House, the House would have the means of deciding whether it wanted to have the Duke of Norfolk's Motion first or the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. It would rest with the House. No one is taking anything away from the House. The Motion would be brought before the House in the same way as it was proposed to bring this one. I should just remind the House that Standing Order 38 prohibits the placing on the Order Paper of a notice of Business more than one month ahead, and that, in calculating that period, no account is to be taken of any time during which the House is in Recess.

The House will appreciate that our Standing Orders give great freedom to all Members of the House, and I should be very reluctant to see this position changed in any way. I suppose that if any one individual, apart from the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chairman of Committees, is supposed to look to the interests of the House as a whole, that individual is the Leader of the House at the time. I have a duty to the House as a whole. That does not even mean the great majority of the House: it means every Member of the House. So I certainly should be very slow to interfere with the rights of individuals.

Nevertheless, such freedom obviously requires a great deal of organisation if the House is to organise its business effectively. We cannot have complete anarchy here. For example, it is right and proper that the official Opposition should have full opportunities of raising great questions. The Liberal Party, also, are entitled to their opportunities; and so, of course, are the supporters of the Government of the day. And certainly the noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches, such as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, with their great wealth of knowledge and experience, must likewise have their opportunities. But this cannot all be left to a kind of smash-and-grab philosophy: there must be some organisation; and I think that most people would agree that the existing organisation works very well. On this question of putting down Motions, experience has shown that to have debates of real quality it is not enough just to put down a Motion, so that busy Peers who may have a contribution to make are informed in advance. These plans have to be laid—certainly in many cases—more than one month ahead.

I do not propose to explain (there is no secret about it; every Member of your Lordships House has a rough idea of how the procedure works) exactly how all this is achieved. But I am confident that the House is satisfied that what has been done over a period of years has been in the interests of the House; and I repeat that I am not aware of any case in which a Peer who wanted to put a Motion before the House has ever been defrauded of that opportunity. It may well be that he cannot have a particular debate at a particular time on a particular day; but that is hardly, I suggest, one of the essential human freedoms. He is entitled to have his subject debated in the House of Lords, and, as I say, I cannot think of anybody who has failed to do so. In the past, when I was not one of the leaders, I found many opportunities of bringing subjects before the House; and I have never had any difficulty with the Whips.

I should have said—and I must pay this tribute, at least, to the usual channels—that irrespective of who happens to be the Government, the Whips labour hard without exaggerated remuneration; are always sensitive to the feelings of the House; and are very conscious that in the end it must be the will of the House that prevails. I do not believe that the Report of the Procedure Committee in any way reduces the rights of Members. If it did, I should not stand to support it; and I am sure that that would be true of other Members also. The Report reaffirms that the House controls its own Business. I have unshaken confidence in the present arrangements, and I hope that the House will share that confidence with the Procedure Committee.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I had not seen either the Motion or the Amendment before I came into the House; but I should like to suggest some reasons why we should support the noble Earl the Leader of the House and why I think that it is not essential for my noble friend Lord Saltoun, who is raising this matter, to pursue it for the purposes he has in mind. There are two Motions on the Order Paper: the Motion for the consideration of the First Report of the Committee and the further Motion which we now hear is not, in fact, to be moved. The purpose of the argument of my noble friend Lord Saltoun was to negative the merits of the Motion that is not going to be moved. I can see that the matters he put forward might have carried great weight with many people, had that Motion come forward; but I cannot see that it is necessary to object to the Report of the Procedure Committee.

I should have been, I think, at least as eager to object to that Report if it had claimed some privileges for Her Majesty's Government or had mentioned the Whips. But I read the Report from beginning to end, and I found no mention of Her Majesty's Government and no mention of the Whips. It says simply that, in the event of cases of doubt or dispute arising, the House shall have control over the matter; and it lays down how the House is to be given Notice that the subject is going to be raised. That seems to me to be eminently sensible.

It seems to me that the only objection we could have to the Report of the Procedure Committee would arise if, on reading Standing Orders 34 and 35, we thought it was inconceivable that any question should ever arise on them; or that there should ever be any dispute. Most lawyers, I think, will agree with me that it is very difficult to take two pages or so of any Standing Orders and say that it is impossible that any question will ever arise about them. It seems to me that a question may arise about them, and this Report of the Procedure Committee says simply that in such event the House shall have complete control. I have given, with reasonable brevity I hope, the reasons why I think we can all be quite happy with this Report of the Procedure Committee and can support the noble Earl the Leader of the House in what he has said.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, there are two reasons why I hope your Lordships will allow me to intervene in this debate, apart from the fact that my name has been mentioned a number of times during the last few minutes. Your Lordships may wonder, because of the statement which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has made why the arrangement we have now come to could not have been reached earlier. I hope to explain why that did not happen. Secondly, the impression may have been given, from what the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the Lord Chairman of Committees said at the begginning, that difficulties have arisen over my Motion; and that perhaps I am the nigger in the woodpile. There is almost another reason, a third reason, which has cropped up since then—because I rather gather that the noble Earl the Leader of the House was even suggesting that I was an anarchist. That is something that I do not think any noble Lord would believe.


My Lords, I would withdraw that suggestion. It was not meant to imply that the noble Lord was an anarchist.


My Lords, I was not saying that seriously. I thought that the noble Earl would have the sense of humour to see that; obviously he had not.

With regard to the question of difficulty, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say briefly how this came about. As you know, there was a Motion on the Swabey case a long time ago moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. After a long space of time I put down a Motion on July 21. It was put down under the Standing Orders, as first Motion. That was altered, without my knowledge, to the second Motion. Then I was informed that it was the second Motion; and when I asked why, I was told: "We did not think that you would mind". But, in fact, I did mind. In my view, it was because of the very late hour that Motion was heard that it was defeated.

After that, against the advice of a great number of friends and of Members of your Lordships' House—and I am sure the noble Marquess will not mind my saying that he thought it wrong—I decided to put the Motion down for a second time.


A third time.


I put it down for December 8. On that occasion I was approached by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd (who I see has just come back into the Chamber), who asked me whether I would alter it to another day. So I altered it to December 9. I made no fuss about that, no objection. Unfortunately, when the debate was due to be heard—the Motion was due to be raised on the 9th—I happened to be taken ill with bronchitis. That was not my fault: it was an act of God. At all events, I was not able to be here.

I then decided that the Motion ought to be put down for another day. I approached the Table, and was told it could go down as the first Motion on the first Wednesday after the Recess. I put it down for then, as, according to Standing Orders, I was entitled to do. I did not know of any other Motion. Incidentally, when I suddenly saw the Motion on Business which we hear is not now going to be moved by the Leader of the House, I got in touch with the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk, whose Motion on the Territorial Army was also down for the same day. He knew nothing about this whatsoever.

I appreciate as well as any noble Lord the importance of the Motion on the Territorial Army. I was a member of the Territorial Army at the beginning of the First World War, before some of your Lordships were born, and I served in it during that war. I think it is a very important thing. In my view the irresponsible policy of the Government about it is very reprehensible; and I should have supported the noble Duke's Motion. He did not mind; but, of course, if he had asked me, or if one of the Whips had approached me, I would have been amenable; but on this other occasion no one has approached me to alter that Motion. I should like your Lordships to know this. What you may think of it, I do not know. I know what I think.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I, as an ex-Leader of the House, support the noble Earl the Leader of the House and revert for a moment to the terms of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun? I am sorry that in this case I have to oppose the noble Lord because there are few Members of your Lordships' House who know more about its procedure than he does. I am certainly not adverse to a little pre-Christmas "blood sport" of "Whip hunting". Whips are necessary, but usually very tiresome. I should certainly be unwilling to agree to anything which appears to interfere with the rights of every Member of this House, as I am sure that your Lordships would be, and certainly I should be unwilling to lay down any more rules for your Lordships' House than are absolutely necessary. I think that one of the great advantages of this House is that there are so few Rules and that we can, at short notice, discuss matters of great importance, which it is not possible to do in another place where there are very much stricter Rules of Procedure and Order.

Unless some sort of arrangement such as that recommended by the Procedure Committee is agreed, we in your Lordships' House may often find ourselves in very great difficulty. If this became the usual practice—I am not suggesting that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, would do it, or that he meant to do it on this occasion—there might well be an undignified scramble at the exact moment when it was permissible to put down a Motion for a month ahead. Noble Lords might try to pre-empt that day. Two situations might arise. First, there might be a very large number of Motions put down which were not of the greatest possible interest to the greatest number of people in your Lordships' House. Secondly, Motions which would be of great interest and possibly of greater importance to discuss would not be discussed because there would be several Motions in front of them on the Order Paper. There must be some form of discipline, as indeed there always has been. I do not think we can proceed upon the basis of "first come, first served ".

I do not think that any Member of your Lordships' House has ever found that if he wished to raise a matter the Whips of one Party or another, or the House as a whole, has not given him the opportunity to do so. I have never heard of any occasion when any noble Lord found that he could not raise a matter upon which he felt strongly. There can be no suggestion that there would be no time in this House for those who wished to raise matters of hardship such as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has often raised. I should have thought that what the Procedure Committee suggested was very reasonable and it would be much better, as the Procedure Committee suggests, if we left the House as a whole to decide.


My Lords, may I, shortly, support the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in his support of the Leader of the House? I would also support and confirm what he says about the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, whose great experience and wisdom we so very much admire. But the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, gave me the impression—I may be wrong—that he thought that in some way the Government, or the Government Whips, were directing your Lordships on how business should be taken. Surely the noble Lord is mistaken in that. All the Government Whips are doing is putting before your Lordships' House a question for your Lordships to decide. I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, does not think that we are so craven that we accept everything which is said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—much as we like him—because he is a Government Whip.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may say one word, as a former Leader of the House. I entirely agree with the decision of the Procedure Committee that the matter should be left finally to the House. Clearly that is the right procedure. It is in accordance with all our traditions. I would, however, say this with respect to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I think that the noble Lord has been unlucky. I was not associated with him on this occasion, but I have been on earlier occasions, and it always seemed to me that the noble Lord came in at the end of the list on about the last clay before a Recess, or something of that kind. I remember one occasion when the noble Lord had to postpone his Motion altogether because there were so few people who would have been left in the House that the subject was not likely to receive proper consideration.

Therefore one's feeling, in a House where the rights of individual Peers are so jealously guarded, is that on every occasion of this kind, if there is an unhappy difference of opinion, the Whips should do their utmost to persuade the Peer in question to agree to what they believe to be the general will of the House. I am sure that in the great majority of cases he would be quite ready to accept that. In a case where the disagreement continued, I do not think it ought to be resolved by a decision of the Whips, or the Leader of the House. I am sure that it has not been on this occasion; it should be referred back to the House as a whole. That I believe is the only satisfactory method for a House with our traditions.

I would say only one thing more. I understand that, happily, in this case an agreement has been reached which is satisfactory both to the Leader of the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. If, however, the present move which is being made for an interview with the First Lord of the Admiralty fails to produce results, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, finds it necessary to raise the matter again, as I say I am not concerned on this occasion but, speaking as a Member of the House, I hope he will be given a fair chance of having a good hearing.


My Lords, I should like to say one thing. Although I do not wish to enter into any argument with the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, I cannot accept entirely his statement about the proceedings which he may have had with the usual channels. The point I think I should stress is that the "usual channels" is not the Government Chief Whip. The usual channels includes the Chief Whip of the Opposition and the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party. None of them makes any decision of this kind without consultation with the others. I suggest—and I think that it has been recognised this afternoon—that this rather loose method of conversation, and of taking into account the opinion of Members on the Cross-Benches, gives us an opportunity to understand what is in the interests of the House.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says that he does not agree with the version I have given. Will he please say what it is that I have said with which he does not agree? I have stated only what in my opinion are facts.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, as a member of the Committee on Procedure, I rise to support the Motion. It is of course right that the House should remain the master of its proceedings. It is right, therefore, that on proper occasions the operation of Standing Orders should be either suspended or dispensed with. That is often done in order to enable, for example, more than one stage of a Bill to be taken on one day. It is also right, I think, that this should be done, on occasions, in the interests of the smooth and fruitful conduct of the Business of this House. It is proper that the rights of private Members should be jealously protected, and this the House will always be willing and anxious to do. But there are occasions when, in the general interest of the conduct of Business, those rights should be overridden; but only with the formal consent of the House, if the House so decides. That is what the second sentence of paragraph 1 of the Report is designed to confirm.

As the noble Earl the Leader of the House has said, this is particularly so in the matter of the organisation of our Wednesday debates. Those debates are one of the characteristic and most valuable features of the proceedings in your Lordships' House. They are occasions when the three political Parties and their Members, and the Members on the Cross-Benches, can raise questions of great national moment, and can secure that these may be comprehensively debated in the light of the vast knowledge and experience which your Lordships can deploy. But for this to be possible, as has been said, such debates sometimes need to be organised well in advance, in the secure knowledge that the date arranged for them will be fully available.

I think that the Leader of the House is right in saying that in the past the most advantageous arrangement of the Business of the House has been secured, through the usual channels, with due recognition of the need to satisfy the legitimate desires of individual Peers to bring matters before your Lordships for debate. For these reasons, I wish to support the Motion before the House. I speak personally only. We on these Cross-Benches are not a political Party; we are independent individuals; and therefore I speak for myself alone.


My Lords, I have listened to everything that has been said and I should like to make a few observations. First of all, this Motion for this purpose is without precedent in the annals of your Lordships' House. Even if we went back several centuries, I do not think that we should find such a Motion invoked against an individual Member of your Lordships' House. If nobody had taken the trouble to put your Lordships on guard about this, it would have been a great misfortune.

In the second place, I should like to say that it has not always been the case that a Peer, who has put his Motion down timeously and is in right, will always get fair treatment. If he is a weak character, the place of his Motion might be moved to an occasion which is of no possible value to him. In the old days in Scotland, where the people were very free in their love affairs and ministers exerted a very strict standard of virtue, a minister would get hold of a girl who was in trouble to ask her who was the father of her baby. She would look around her acquaintances for the weakest man she could find, because he would be more likely to succumb to the pressure exercised by the minister. Some of your Lordships are rather in that case. They can be forced into a position where they would give up their proper places.

Going back in my own experience, I remember making a promise to a group of trade union and Socialist workers in Germany that I would lay before your Lordships' House what I had actually seen in Germany. I got a Wednesday for my Motion. But your Lordships have no idea of the amount of trouble I had—it was shifted from one Wednesday to another. Luckily, I insisted on and got a Wednesday—November 6, 1946. I would point out to your Lordships that if the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, had not been in the right he would not have got where he has got now. If he had not been on really sound ground and properly entitled to his position, I do not believe that he would have got where he has got this afternoon. I would add that this is an important matter for your Lordships' House, because when there is a case of this kind to be brought before the House it should be brought before a full House. That is what gives it its value—and that is what makes the position of the noble Lord's Motion on the Order Paper of material importance to the unfortunate subject of Her Majesty who is suffering a wrong outside this House.

That is all that I have to say in reply to what has been said. I do not think that it is quite accurate to state that one can always make arrangements. Very often a noble Lord cannot make arrangements. But I have made my point. I have put your Lordships on their guard, and I have also pointed out what I think is the case—that such a Motion is liable to defeat itself because, if the noble Lord was present when the Motion was moved, the whole of his case is the reason why your Lordships should not assent to the Motion—so that he has the opportunity of debating it, even if your Lordships are going to put his actual Motion back on the Order Paper to a later day. Having said that, I do not think that the sentiments I wish to delete from the Report of the Procedure Committee is material one way or the other. Therefore, with your Lordships' consent, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.