§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, with permission, I wish to make a short Business statement. The House will be aware of the importance that the Government, and I think the nation, attach to prices and incomes within our present economic situation. The Government are therefore most anxious to obtain the passing of the Prices and Incomes Bill, now before the other place, before the Summer Recess. I am quite sure that noble Lords on my side of the House and in all other quarters of the House would be willing to sit through August to achieve this objective, but I think that special consideration should be borne for the members of the staff of the Palace of Westminster, particularly (if I may refer to 905 them) the staff in another place, where, the House may be interested to know on average, Business has not been completed before midnight during its sitting period. We must also, of course, take account of our own staff.
The Government are equally anxious that this House should have a proper opportunity to consider the legislation. We have had a number of discussions through the usual channels on a number of alternative schemes to meet what we think would be the wishes and consideration of the House. It has been agreed—and I now put it to the House—that the Government should issue a White Paper this week-end, if possible this evening, setting out the provisions of the Bill, and that this should be the basis of a debate for Wednesday, August 3. It is then hoped that the House, having had a full debate on that White Paper, would be willing to take the First and Second Readings formally when the Bill is received from the other place and then proceed into Committee. Thereby it is hoped that we shall be able to complete all the stages of that Bill on that day. That is the suggestion I put to the House, and I hope the House will agree to it.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, words almost fail me. What a way to run an army! I think that a version of the Prices and Incomes Bill has been published for nine months and the Government have done absolutely nothing about it. Now they expect to get it through both Houses of Parliament in nine days. This is really an intolerable situation. Shortly we are to discuss the inability of the Government to run the economy. No wonder, if they cannot even run their Parliamentary Business. Having made the mess they have of their timetable, they are now faced with two alternatives: either that we should sit well into August, with all the inconvenience that brings to everybody, or else to treat this House with contempt by allowing it a very short time to discuss a Bill of this great magnitude.
Having said that, there is, I think, one bright ray in all this—that is, the role played by the noble Lord the Chief Whip, because he is not responsible for any of this and I know that what he has done he has done to try to lessen the contempt with which the Government are 906 treating this House. So far as that goes, I do not think we have any alternative but to accept these suggestions.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, if I may, I would express my grateful thanks for the agreement of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I have never yet known words to fail him, and obviously they did not fail him on this occasion. The noble Lord referred to running an army. Sometimes I think it is easier to run an army than your Lordships' House. But there it is. We are in this difficult situation. The suggestion which I made to your Lordships is not from the Chief Whip but from the Government Bench as a whole. I say that because the noble Lord has singled me out; I should not like it to be thought that that was any sort of aspersion on my noble friends. We are all anxious to treat this House properly and to see that the House has proper opportunity of considering legislation. In view of what the noble Lord has said, I hope I can take it that the House agrees with the proposals I have just made.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I wonder whether I am in order to ask one question of the Government. I hope that this arrangement will not be regarded as a precedent. It is all right if we are not going to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill, but if we were going to do that, this procedure would not do at all.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I have come through some difficulties on this matter in the last 24 hours, and I can assure the noble Marquess that I will see that this is not a precedent.