HL Deb 08 June 1967 vol 283 cc524-30

3.23 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD rose to move, That, until the House adjourns for the Summer Recess, Standing Order No. 35 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended so far as is necessary to give Government Business, except with the consent of the Government, precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the House. This Motion and this Standing Order are normally moved formally, and much closer to the Parliament Recess. On this occasion perhaps a few words of explanation should be given why we are moving it so much earlier.

Irrespective of their political complexion, Governments tend to have a very heavily congested business programme at this time of the year. This is not the fault of Governments, but is mainly due to the financial privilege of the Commons, which goes back to the 17th century. This Motion will give us a degree of flexibility in the arrangement of our business. I think the House should be aware that the Government have in mind the need for taking two Wednesdays in July, which normally are days for Private Motions, for the consideration of important Government business. But if this situation should arise, I can give the House the assurance that it will be done only after consultations through the usual channels. I think the House should also be aware that it is very likely that we shall have to sit on three Fridays during July, in order to take two Private Members' Bills in which I think there is considerable interest in your Lordships' House.

It may also be necessary to ask the House to agree to shorter periods between stages of Bills. If this is necessary, we shall seek to do it between the First Reading and the Second Reading, in order to ensure that there is adequate time between the Second Reading and Committee stage. I think the House attaches great importance to this. But here again, if there is any reduction, this will result from negotiations through the usual channels. But we will seek by the use of Notices of future business to give Members of the House as much knowledge as possible of our programme.

In regard to the Bill that is now before us, the Criminal Justice Bill, I have had consultations with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and others to see whether we can find a satisfactory programme in order that we may complete the Committee stage by Tuesday of next week. We suggest to the House that to-day we should go up to Amendment No. 38, which is Clause 28; that on Monday, the 12th, we should take first Amendment No. 39, Clause 30, and then continue up to Amendment No. 86, which is the end of Part IV of the Bill. I understand that if we do this we should be able to complete the Committee stage of this Bill at a relatively early hour on Tuesday. But this does mean sitting to a rather late hour on Monday; and, naturally, dinners will be provided. I beg to move.

Moved, That, until the House adjourns for the Summer Recess, Standing Order No. 35 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended so far as is necessary to give Government Business, except with the consent of the Government, precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day.—(Lord Shepherd.)


My Lords, it would appear that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is having unusually early trouble with another place in producing a large quantity of legislation during the last few weeks of the Session. As regards his suggestion about Wednesdays, I should like an assurance from the noble Lord that this suggestion of his will in no way affect the rights of the Opposition to raise debates, and that they should be first business on Wednesdays, in the usual way.

Secondly, on the question of Fridays, I have had very strong representation made to me by noble Lords on this side of the House that they do not feel that the habit of sitting on Friday should be allowed to grow. We feel that we are, to a certain extent, an amateur House as compared with the other place, and it would be better to sit late on the days in the middle of the week rather than to overflow on to Friday. Also on the question of Fridays, the two Bills which I think the noble Lord has in mind are both highly controversial Bills. I think it would be better to take these in the middle of the week and, if there is such a thing as some uncontroversial Government business, that this should be taken on the Friday instead.


My Lords, I very much sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his troubles. While I appreciate that one or two Wednesdays may have to go, I hope he will endeavour to keep them to a minimum. I should like to associate myself with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, about business on Fridays. We should be extremely careful about encroaching on these days, and certainly not for Bills which can be called controversial.


My Lords, as one who is not one of the "usual channels", may I put in a plea for Private Members' business? This Motion, I gather, will give the Government the right to take over the business and exclude Private Members' business if they find it necessary to do so. This, as the noble Lord has said, is unusual at this time of the year. There is one Motion in which I am particularly interested, as the noble Lord knows, and that is the Motion on Hong Kong. We have had a serious situation in Hong Kong. The matter is still, one might say, not by any means cleared up. Several noble Lords in the House have approached me to know whether it is possible to have a debate on that particular Motion. I would ask the noble Lord, who is always very helpful in these matters to those of us who are not the usual channels, to see what he can do to have a debate on Hong Kong and its relationship with China before the Summer Recess, if this is at all possible.


My Lords, when we are going to sacrifice all our Wednesdays, I should like to put in a word for the people on the Cross-Benches. They do not very often attempt to occupy a Wednesday, but when they do it is generally on something they feel to be of vital importance. I think that if that should occur they should get what is called "friendly co-operation" from the Government.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, if I may, I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, for his very kind remarks. May I say to the noble Earl that the difficulty which the Government are experiencing to-day is no different, I believe, from the troubles and difficulties which he experienced when he was Chief Whip, but I am sure he will recognise that our position has been aggravated and we do not yet know to what extent we may be in greater difficulties in view of the situation in the Middle East. As the noble Earl will know, we have been asked to provide time for a debate on the Middle East and we are very ready to do that if it becomes necessary. We never know, too, at this stage, when other matters will need to be raised quickly. Therefore, in making my plans I must try to give myself a degree of leeway, so that if those debates are required time will be found for them.

It is not a case of taking all the Wednesdays, as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, suggested. I think we may need only two Wednesdays, by arrangement through the usual channels. I can assure noble Lords opposite that it is unlikely that their Party will suffer in this matter. I think it is more likely that the criticisms will come from my colleagues behind me, because I believe that the two Wednesdays we have our eyes upon are two Wednesdays which normally would have gone to my colleagues on these Benches.

With regard to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for a debate on Hong Kong, naturally I will see what I can do, but at the moment we have a very full programme. Of course, a great deal depends upon your Lordships and how long we take on legislation. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, in that I should prefer to sit late into the evening or into the night and not have to sit on Friday. But the noble Earl will acknowledge that we on this side of the House are relatively small in numbers. We do have a difficulty late at night to obtain a quorum. I know that occasions arise when Governments can be caught napping without a quorum, and we then do not have the full time that we should have had; but I will not go over the past. But if I were to have an assurance from noble Lords in all quarters of the House that, irrespective of the lateness of the hour, all noble Lords who were present in the Chamber would co-operate to provide a quorum, I should be a great deal happier in my mind.

In regard to sitting on Fridays and taking these two major Bills, I recognise that they are controversial. I should certainly be happy to take them on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, and if the noble Lord is prepared to take Government business on Friday—and I do not think that much of our business is going to be controversial—then we should be very happy so to do.


My Lords, highly though I regard the noble Lord, I have no sympathy for him whatever in this matter. The congestion of the Parliamentary timetable is due, as it always is, to the fact that the Government will not start enough Bills in this House, and as a result we get congestion towards the end of the Session. If the noble Lord had listened to what I myself and my colleagues have been saying for the last three years he would be in no need to have sympathy from me at all. I would just ask the noble Lord this, and would ask him for an assurance. If we pass this Motion, it will mean that the noble Lord can deprive the Opposition of its July Wednesdays. I ask him, therefore, whether he will be good enough to give the assurance that he has no intention of doing so.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that it is not for him to offer me sympathy; I would not expect it. If the noble Lord is again coming back to the difficulties which all Governments since I have been in this House have experienced at this time of the year, I would say that the root cause of the trouble, if my researches are correct, goes back to 1671 and 1678, which those in the House of Commons will recognise as years relating to great historic Resolutions of another place in regard to financial privilege.

As to the assurance for which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has asked, it is perfectly true that I can play ducks and drakes with the House in terms of this Motion. But the noble Lord has been here longer than I have and he well knows that, again irrespective of the Government's political complexion, the Govment are answerable to the House and the House itself controls the Business. If, therefore, I try to deprive noble Lords opposite, which I have no intention of doing, of a debate, the power certainly lies in their hands.


My Lords, may I make one more appeal to the Government about Friday sittings. I really think that a point of great principle is raised in the Statement we have just heard. I know that another place habitually sits on Fridays, but the other place is in a very different position from your Lordships' House in one important respect: the Members are paid, and paid really rather highly, for sitting, while your Lordships are not paid. I can say this because I am in the happy position of being sufficiently well endowed with this world's goods for it not to make a very great difference to me. But there are a great many Peers who are not—young Peers working for their living and keeping their wives and families going by the work they do—and many live far off in Scotland or Wales, a great distance from London. It is going to make their lives almost impossible, and I should like very much to see the House sitting later to have these important debates.


My Lords, I would not disagree in any respect with the words of the noble Marquess. I would, however, put it to him that I have a responsibility in programming business to see that I give sufficient time for the House to be able to consider all the legislation that comes before us; and this I am endeavouring to do. If I can avoid Friday sittings I will. It may be unnecessary to sit on Fridays; it depends on the progress and speed with which we deal with legislation before us. But I thought it right to give a warning to the House—not a threat, but a warning—as to the circumstances before us. Certainly if we could avoid a Friday sitting I should be one of the first, and most happy, to do so.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question: when we are likely to rise for the Summer Recess; whether there is any constitutional or other reason why this House should rise simultaneously with the House of Commons; and whether in the circumstances there are not strong arguments for our continuing to sit into August, particularly as the August Bank Holiday has now been removed from the first week-end in August and the grouse mature rather later these days?


My Lords, I am quite sure that if I were to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, I should lose the entire sympathy of your Lordships' House. There are no constitutional reasons, so far as I know, why this House should not sit longer into August than another place, but, having been in business management here for some time, I would say there is no hope.

On Question, Motion agreed to.