HL Deb 09 August 1966 vol 276 cc1732-45

5.26 p.m.

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

The Committee's Report was as follows:


As reported to the House on 30th June last the Committee considered current proposals for changes in the procedure of the House, including those made in the course of the debate on Lord Alport's Motion on 29th April, 1965. and referred certain of them to a Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee studied the proposals and reported back to the Committee with conclusions and certain recommendations which the Committee have considered and agreed to. The procedural points considered, with the Committee's conclusions and recommendations where appropriate, are set out below.


The Committee have examined the present powers of control over the House and have considered whether they are adequate and whether such powers should be exercised by the Lord Chancellor, the Leader of the House or by someone else.

The Committee endorse the principle that the preservation of order in the House and the maintenance of the Rules of Debate are the collective responsibility of the House itself (i.e. of all Lords who are present) and are therefore of opinion that the power to call the House to order should not be vested in any one person. The Committee emphasise that it is open to any Member of the House who is present to call the attention of the House to breaches of order, though in practice it is most often the Leader or his Deputy who does So.

The Committee do not recommend any change in procedure or practice.


The Committee have considered the following points:

  1. (a) A proposal to set up a Committee of Selection or some alternative machinery to decide what subjects are to be debated in the House.
  2. (b) The present system of listing speakers and the possibility of combining it with a means of affording Peers the opportunity to intervene, thus increasing freedom of debate.
  3. (c) The length of speeches and possible means of limitation.
    1. (a) The Committee see no need for any change in the present arrangements for discussing and settling through the usual channels the subjects for future debate in the House. They believe that the present system serves the best interests of the House in enabling subjects of general interest to be chosen, while affording opportunity to the individual Peer to raise any subject that he wishes.
    2. (b) The Committee are of opinion that the present practice (under which the Private Secretary to the Leader of the House prepares and makes available to the House a list of Peers wishing to take part in a debate) is for the convenience of the House and should be continued. But they emphasise that such a list, indicating the order of speakers, is for guidance only and may be varied; and is not to be taken as excluding any Peer who has not previously notified his desire to speak and may indeed make up his mind to do so only as the debate proceeds.
    3. (c) The Committee have considered the length of speeches and reaffirm the commonly expressed opinion that few speeches a remade from any quarter of the House that would not gain by shortening. They do not, however, favour the employment of any mechanical device—such as a green or red light—as a means of limitation and they see no practicable way of achieving what everyone, except possibly the actual speaker, desires, save by constant exhortation and reminders of the advantages of brevity. They point out that the essence of debate is argument and counter-argument and not a succession of previously prepared speeches. They stress that those who take part in debate can only be sure of avoiding tedious repetition 1734 if they have been present to hear the points made by previous speakers.


The Committee have examined the present arrangement for Questions; the limit of four Starred Questions per day; the possibility of a Question Time of fixed duration and the extent of the Table's authority in advising Peers upon the form and content of the Questions which they wish to put down. Further, whether any modification is required in the practice of the House in regard to supplementary questions and Ministerial Statements.

The Committee are of opinion that there is no need to change the present limit of four Starred Questions per day; nor are they in favour of imposing a time-limit for Questions in this House.

As regards the Table's authority in advising Peers upon the form and content of Questions, they recommend that this authority should not be extended and that the Table should continue to act in an advisory capacity only. They reaffirm the principles that the wording of a Question is the responsibility of the Peer who asks it, and that the decision whether a Question is or is not "in order" and may properly be asked is in the last resort one for the House itself.

At the same time they have noticed an increasing tendency to incorporate in the text of Starred Questions and Supplementary Questions statements of opinion or the demonstration of a point of view. They recommend that the attention of the House should be draw to the need to discourage this practice and to the fact that, in terms of Standing Order No. 32, the essential purpose of Starred Questions and Supplementary Questions is to elicit information from the Government. They also recommend that an appropriate entry be made in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

The Committee further observe that, while the practice of the House of Lords allows considerably more latitude than that of the House of Commons, there are certain categories of Questions which are generally regarded as "not in accordance with the traditions of the House", i.e., are considered inadmissible. Such Questions are:

  1. (a) Those casting reflections on the Sovereign and Royal Family;
  2. (b) Those relating to matters sub judice;
  3. (c) Those phrased offensively.
The Committee recommend that the attention of the House should be drawn to these categories of Question and that a suitable entry should be made in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

So far as Ministerial Statements are con-concerned the Committee emphasise that they are for the information of the House and that when such Statements are made the occasion should not be allowed to develop into a debate


The Committee have considered in detail the proposal to set up Standing Committees and attach particular importance to the objection that the House, owing to the representation of Political Parties, cannot be usefully or satisfactorily subdivided into smaller replicas of itself and that therefore it would be impossible to obtain political balance in a Standing Committee. Not only would the selection of Peers to serve on a Standing Committee present considerable difficulty in itself, but it would be impossible to be sure that the selection, when made, had included all those who would have participated in discussions in Committee of the Whole House. Furthermore, in view of the fact that Standing Committees would have to meet in the mornings, the Committee were conscious of the difficulty of getting Peers to attend regularly.

For these reasons the Committee fear that the expedient of referring public bills or a particular class of public bills to a Standing Committee, if tried again, would be likely to meet the same fate as the unsuccessful experiment of 1889–1910.

The Committee would nevertheless not be opposed to the reference of a suitable Bill to a Select Committee should the situation seem to require it.


The Committee have examined the practice in regard to Motions for Papers and in particular have considered the suitability of the proposer pressing such a Motion and of the House accepting it when no Papers are really required.

The Committee recognise that a Motion for Papers is usually set down by a Peer wishing to raise a subject in debate in order to comply with the requirement that there must always he a Question before the House, and in order to afford the mover the right of reply without the necessity of moving a specific resolution.

The purpose of such a debate is to give the House an opportunity to express its opinion in the speeches made by its members rather than on a division. The Committee consider that in these circumstances to press to a division what is normally regarded as a neutral motion would not be treating the House fairly. since the House would not be expecting a division and ought to have due notice of the intention of any Peer to divide the House. Moreover, if the Motion is genuinely neutral—i.e. if it is not asking the House to decide anything—there is on the face of it neither advantage nor significance in pressing rather than withdrawing the Motion. But if, on the other hand, the Peer who moves a Motion wants the support of the House for some positive action, or wishes the House to take a definite decision, the intention should be made plain to the House in the form of a Resolution.

For this reason the Committee consider that it is undesirable for Motions for Papers to be decided on question—unless the Peer who moves for Papers genuinely wishes further information from the Government, in which case he should specify what kind of papers he desires the Government to lay. They recommend that this opinion should be reported to the House and an appropriate entry made in the Companion to the Standing Orders.


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

Moved, that the Report be now considered.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were now to move the Motion for the approval of the Report, which will give the noble Lord, Lord Alport, an opportunity to speak. I beg to move That this Report be now approved.

Moved, that the Report by now approved.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, I am sorry at this late stage in the Session to call the attention of your Lordships back to the rather dull subject of procedure. At the same time I think it would not he right, in view of the fact that this Report relates to a debate which I had the opportunity of initiating a year ago, to allow this occasion to pass without expressing my thanks to the Procedure Committee for the careful consideration which they gave to the proposals, or to some of those proposals, advanced during that debate—although I must confess to a feeling of regret that the Committee did not find any proposal which commended itself to them.

My Lords, the purpose of the debate to which I have just referred was to see whether there were ways in which it was possible, while maintaining the traditional procedures of this House, to improve on our methods in accordance with the changing needs of a Second Chamber in this day and age. More recently, we had a second debate on whether a Select Committee should be set up to consider precisely those matters.

In some degree this again did not commend itself to your Lordships' House, because of the considered statement made by the Chairman of Committees that all the points we were then discussing could properly be pronounced upon by the Procedure Committee.

Since those events, two incidents or developments have taken place in the conduct of our proceedings here which seem to me to bear out the need to give consideration to the way in which this House conducts its legislative duties and, perhaps, its political duties as well. Those developments were, first, the Motion debated last week by the House, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—the so-called "White Bill"—and, secondly, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor's Statement to this House on the Ombudsman.

If I may develop my point and have the permission of the House to do so, I should like to say that it is perfectly possible—indeed, to follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in a discussion a few moments ago, it might be another of those occasions on which the Government are right—to consider the procedural innovation created by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as a brilliant piece of improvisation, fully worthy of the best traditions of British constitutional evolution. It might well be that in future the Second Reading of any Bill before your Lordships' House can be taken at any time during the year, not necessarily even by the tabling of a White Bill, but by a Bill tabled in its normal form.

The noble Lord has established a precedent. I know that in reply to my noble friend Lord Salisbury, he said that it would not be a precedent, but the fact remains, as we know well enough, that it is not what one says in relation to a particular incident but the incident itself that creates the precedent for the future.

I have described what I regard as a perfectly possible attitude to this development, but, at the same time, I think it is clear that there is another view that can equally legitimately be taken. It could be represented as a serious abuse of the legislative processes of this House. If the Second Reading of a Bill can be taken before it has reached its final form in another place, why do we have a Second Reading at all? Why should we not proceed straight to the Committee stage? If the function of this House from a legislative point of view is to revise, then why do we need bother about general principles and not get straight ahead with the process of revising on Committee and at Report?

We shall apparently be invited to pass this Bill unamended through all its stages in one day, the day after to-morrow. I think that it is right that we should consider, or that somebody should consider, whether this is the way in which a major piece of legislation affecting, for better and probably for worse, millions of men and women in Britain, should be considered and revised by your Lordships' House. I think that it is legitimate that we should consider whether this is likely to ensure, as it is our duty to try to do, justice between individuals. Is it fair to the traditions and indeed to the workmanlike conduct of our affairs in this House?

I have given your Lordships two views on that particular development. If I may turn new to the Statement on the Ombudsman, or Parliamentary Commissioner, made by the noble. and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I fully recognise that he was repeating here a Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. Nevertheless, as spokesman for the Government in your Lordships' House, I know that he takes full responsibility for it. Here is a case where action has been taken by the Executive to implement a Bill which, so far as I know, has not yet received its Second Reading in another place.

Again there are two views which are perfectly possible. The Government have appointed a talented and genial civil servant to be Parliamentary Commissioner. Whereas, however, in the case of an economic crisis necessitating hasty and far-reaching draconian legislation, speed is the essence of the exercise and precedents and processes and procedures may sometimes have to go by the board, the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner is a constitutional experiment which I should have thought, above anything else that has happened during this Session, should have the views of Parliament fully expressed on its desirability before any action was taken to implement the plan or to put into effect the prospective legislation. If I were sufficiently cynical, I might conclude that the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner and the passage of the Prices and Incomes Bill are connected in the minds of the Government; that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, may well create so much injustice to groups and individuals that the hasty appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner is essential to provide a safety valve and to provide for some of the consequences that will follow.

There might also be a second view on this: that it is clearly important, if this experiment in constitutional development is to be succesful, to get the right man for this particular job. It might well be that the Government argued that Sir Edmund Compton is the right man and that it would be stupid in the interests of Parliamentary procedure to lose the opportunity of fitting such an obviously round peg into such an obviously round hole. I do not want to take my line of argument too far, but, of course, the ultimate end of that line of argument is that Parliamentary supervision of legislation is unnecessary at all. I think that it might well be that during these last two or three weeks the relationships between the Executive and Parliament have changed and have been changed by what has happened. New precedents have been established or, at any rate, consolidated. It might well be that what has been done is thoroughly desirable and gives us a view of the development of our procedure in this House for the future. It might well be, equally, that Parliament, and your Lordships' House in particular, are, as one of the newspapers suggested yesterday, gradually being reduced to the status of a charade.

It may well be that convenient arrangements have been reached on these matters between the Government and Opposition Front Benches. I know nothing about these arrangements and would not presume to intrude on them if they exist. I speak on this occasion only as a Private Member of your Lordships' House. I said, when we debated these matters a few weeks ago, that perhaps I took this House too seriously and that perhaps I took myself too seriously. Yet I think that these are developments which the House neglects or ignores at its peril—at any rate, that they are developments which should be considered by the Procedure Committee.

It was for that purpose that last week I put down on the Order Paper an addendum to the Motion which is before the House at the present moment. I withdrew it because it was represented to me that if a matter is to go to the Procedure Committee, preferably it should not go after what might well be a Division, perhaps along Party lines, in your Lordships' House on the matter of reference to the Committee. I therefore withdrew it. I intend, as I understand I am entitled, to refer to the matter in terms of my Amendment, and I hope that this will be something on which the Procedure Committee during the months that are ahead will be able to give their full and considered judgment.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to intervene at this stage if it is the wish of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to speak now, but I had understood that it was the general wish that I should follow the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and answer some of the aspects of his speech. Perhaps the House will allow me, quite briefly, to do two things: first, to commend the Second Report of the Procedure Committee to your Lordships for your Lordships' approval; and secondly, to comment on the procedure aspects—but only, I underline, on the procedure aspects—of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport.

The House will recall that the Procedure Committee considered various proposals for changes in the procedure of the House, including those made in the course of the debate on the Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, well over a year ago, on April 29, 1965, and referred some of them to a subcommittee. The sub-committee of the Procedure Committee reported back to the main Committee, with conclusions and certain recommendations that the Procedure Committee considered and agreed. The Report from the Procedure Committee that is now before the House was laid on the Table on May 12.

I said when I moved the approval of the First Report from the Procedure Committee that I did not propose to ask the House to approve the Second Report that we are now considering, until some time had elapsed, both to allow Members of the House sufficient time to digest the contents of the Report, which is an important Report on procedure, and also to avoid the possibility of prejudging the subsequent debate on procedure initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on July 4. I feel that the time has now come when your Lordships will have made up your minds about the merits of this Report, and when I can, therefore, propose the Report to the House for its approval. That is all I intend to say on the Report, because if I started to discuss its contents, I should take up a great deal of your Lordships' time: and it is for your Lordships to decide whether you approve the contents or not.

Now I should like to say a few words about the procedural aspects of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He was good enough to give me full warning in advance of the points he intended to raise, and 1 am obliged to him for doing so. It is, of course, for the House to decide what matters are or are not suitable for discussion by the Procedure Committee. But with your Lordships' permission I would repeat what I said in the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on July 4 regarding this question: that is, that if matters outside the powers of decision of the House itself are excluded, there is no procedural matter which cannot be held to fall within the existing terms of reference of the Procedure Committee—although even if there is a procedural matter, it is for the House to decide whether or not such a procedural matter should go to the Procedure Committee.

I should now like to express my view on the two matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his speech. The first was the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on Wednesday, August 3, regarding the Prices and Incomes policy. In my view, this is a question which could quite properly be referred to the Procedure Committee for its consideration. Whether it is desirable for the House to adopt the procedure proposed by the Government for dealing with the Prices and Incomes Bill (frequently referred to as the White Bill), or whether there is any alternative but preferable procedure in similar circumstances, are surely matters which the Procedure Committee could appropriately consider and thereafter advise the House about.

The same considerations that I have just mentioned do not, in my view, apply to the Lord Chancellor's Statement on Thursday, August 4, regarding the designation of the first Parliamentary Commissioner. This was a Statement by a Minister speaking on behalf of the Government. It is, of course, open to the House to express its approval or otherwise of the substance or the timing of any Ministerial State- ment; but the decision of a Minister to make it, and when to make it, are not matters which come within the terms of reference of the Procedure Committee of the House, because they are matters of Government policy, and not of Parliamentary procedure.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees has given the House the benefit of his opinion on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I should like to add something on behalf of the Government. In the first place, the Government have no objection to the Procedure Committee's considering the question of what has been called the "White Bill". I do not, on behalf of the Government, accept the criticisms of the Government which have been expressed. I say "criticisms of the Government", but, of course, as this was arranged through the usual channels, it must mean criticism of all the usual channels. I think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, would probably accept that and say: "Yes; that is exactly what I am doing".

I would suggest this to the noble Lord for his consideration. Is it not certain—certain because it is something that we know, not only from this world, but from the universe, of which, after all, this earth is a very small speck—that everything that exists in the whole of creation is in a continuous state of change? And is it not clear that, so far as this earth is concerned, the rate of change is considerably increasing? If that is so, is not one of the qualities for which we must look in the years ahead the adaptability of man?

I thought that one of the important charms of this House was its great adaptability. I know that there are some of your Lordships who would like the Speaker to have powers to rule noble Lords out of order—just half a dozen rules. Although I have never expressed an opinion on this matter before, I have always felt that soon after we had six rules, we should have 12 rules, and we should end up with Erskine May, Vol. II.It seems to me that the extreme adaptability of your Lordships' House is a great advantage: the idea of having no rules; of the House itself always controlling its own procedures. It is because of this, is it not, that we have been able to find a way of dealing with what was, in fact, an unusual situation? It is not, however, entirely without precedent. I am told that there was a Bill in September, 1950 which was similarly, as a draft, put into a White Paper. It was the draft of a Bill to substitute24 months for 18 months as the term of whole-time service under the National Service Act 1948, and for purposes connected therewith. Then not long ago we considered the Southern Rhodesia Act of last year before the Bill itself arrived in this House.

It is a pure question of convenience. If this House wished to sit all next week, there would be nothing whatever to stop it; and one could quite understand any Members taking the view that the Bills we are dealing with are important Bills, and that we should certainly sit on next week. But, through the usual channels, it was ascertained that, on the whole, the House would like to go into Recess reasonably soon, and this was regarded as the most convenient method of dealing with it. It enabled us, in effect, to spend a whole day on what was really the Second Reading of the Bill, which, I would have submitted, was a fairly sensible thing to do. And this course having been arranged through the usual channels, and being thought to be for the convenience of the House, I should have thought it was only an example of how adaptable this House is. Nevertheless, as I have said, the Government have no objection to that question being referred to the Procedure Committee, if the House desires to do this.

On the second matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred, I would say, with the greatest respect, that I should have thought this was quite irrelevant to the Procedure Committee. While no noble Lord is ever out of order by being irrelevant, the question of appointing somebody in advance of a Bill, whilst it is a proper subject for discussion, has not, I submit, anything to do with the Motion now before the House, which is that this particular Report of the Procedure Committee be approved.

So far as procedure is concerned, the only alternatives in this House would have been either to repeat the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place, or not to repeat that Statement. That is the only point of procedure involved. The rest is a perfectly proper subject for debate—namely, how far should a Government, who have a substantial majority, and have announced that they intend to obtain legislation by a particular date, take steps in advance to see that the body which is to be created comes into existence as soon as possible after the Act is passed? One can quite understand there being two views about this, but in my respectful submission it has nothing whatever to do with the procedure of your Lordships' House. I do not think I need say anything more, and in any case it would no doubt be convenient that the noble Earl the Leader of the House should move the adjournment.


My Lords, I rise to move the adjournment of the House during pleasure. In moving the adjournment, I should like to take the opportunity of drawing your Lordships' attention to the fact that a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, has won a Gold Medal for shooting in the Commonwealth Games. I gather that such an event has never taken place before, although the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, won a Gold Medal a good many years ago, before he became a Member of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, is the Captain of our House of Lords' shooting team, and he has led a team which has included the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and other eminent Peers, with great success. I hope your Lordships will agree that we ought to send him a message of hearty congratulations. I take that as granted. My Lords, I now beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure.

Moved, That the House do adjourn during pleasure.—(The Earl of Longford.)


My Lords, may I ask whether the Lord Chairman's Motion has been disposed of?


No, my Lords. The House is being adjourned during pleasure, and we shall return to the discussion after the Royal Commission.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl the Leader of the House has not forgotten the Olympic Gold Medal won by the noble Lady, Baroness Burton of Coventry.


To be absolutely accurate, she won the world's sprint championship, but unfortunately at that time ladies were not allowed to take part in the Olympic Games.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.