HL Deb 15 February 1968 vol 289 cc208-11

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 41 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with for the purpose of taking the Trade Descriptions (No. 2) Bill through its remaining stages this day.—(Lord Shackleton.)


My Lords, I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I was unable to be here yesterday when the procedural difficulty in connection with the Trade Descriptions Bill was discussed. There is one point which I think ought to be made in one House or the other and it so happens that this is the only opportunity in which it can be made in either House. The noble Lord the Leader of the House twice said yesterday, in almost similar words, that there had been no failure on the part of anybody in this House or anybody connected with this House in this matter. Of course, that is true in respect of the staff of this House. Of course it is true in respect of the great majority of noble Lords. But I should like to say, and to say flatly, that it cannot be true in respect of noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench opposite.

Many of us know the procedures in these matters. At some time in the last few months a Committee of Ministers has considered this Bill and has considered also, and in particular, where it should be introduced. Admittedly Parliamentary counsel (who, if I may say so, are very overworked slaves of the governmental lamp) should have drawn the attention of Ministers to the dangers attaching to Clause 39, and that clause should have been omitted from the Bill in your Lordships' House and put into the Bill in another place. Nevertheless, the whole system by which the Government machine works in this country is that the responsibility for blunders which are made—and this, however small, is a blunder—lies individually and collectively with Ministers, in whichever House they may sit. I want to assure the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I make this point with no malice towards him, but the fact is that in a certain capacity in another place I "had my tail twisted" so often with previous Governments which made similar muddling blunders that I really cannot resist the opportunity of putting the true facts of this case on record.

I may say, having said—and said sincerely—that I meant no malice in this House, that the "tail twisting" in another place in the past was not without malice, and that these similar incidents were used considerably to delay the business of the Government of the day. I respect the customs of your Lordships' House, but I do not doubt that if this incident had occurred in another place my honourable and right honourable friends in that place would have taken advantage of the opportunity with far more vehemence than I am doing at this moment. I only ask that the noble Lord should admit that the Government have blundered in this matter and that Ministers in this House should take their share of responsibility for the actions of the Government as a whole.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies may I make two points? The first arises from the way in which this Bill has arisen. It will be remembered that we started off with a Bill called the "Protection of Consumers (Trade Descriptions) Bill", and that Bill, in Clause 40, had a financial provision, as the noble Lord, Lord Brown, will remember. That clause was removed from the Bill. I cannot quote it because I find there are no longer any copies in the Printed Paper Office—they have all disappeared—and I did not have time to go to the Library for it. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, explained that that clause was not necessary. I think it would be embarrasing to your Lordships if the clause came back, so I hope his explanation was correct—I say that in view of what my noble friend Lord Redmayne has said about the practice of not including financial clauses in a Bill when it starts in your Lordships' House. The fact is that this financial clause was in the Protection of Consumers Bill and was not there when the Bill came back to us a second time.

The other point is this. I am sure we all want to see as much legislation started in this House as possible, and certainly any kind of mishap of this kind might tend to influence the Government of the day not to introduce Bills here. I would ask the noble Lord whether he can work out some means by which in future it will be impossible for this to happen. Indeed, this happening would have been impossible had the clause been put in italics from the start. It would then have been left out at the last stage, or some appropriate provision would have been made. I would ask the noble Lord to deal with those two points.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, feels better now. I am sorry he suffered so much, and if he now has got something back in return we shall all be very much happier. He embarrasses me slightly, because it is not appropriate in your Lordships' House to refer in any detail to those who advise us. I could perfectly well have specified who was not to blame, but I chose that phrase to save them embarrassment, and I should have thought the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, would recognise that. So far as the Government are concerned, again if it makes the noble Lord happy that he is able to "twist the tail" of the Government on a point as technical as this—so far beyond the comprehension of practically everybody except the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who do understand these things in much greater detail—and if it is necessary for the Government to accept blame and this will make the noble Lord happier, I shall be happy to accept blame also. I think he is taking a heavy hammer to crack this nut, and I think your Lordships dealt with it in the sensible and co-operative way that we do in this House. Therefore I do not propose to comment on what goes on in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, raised some very interesting points. I had been thinking about this matter myself. But it is extremely difficult for us here to interpret what is the privilege of another place. Nor is it very easy to expect them always to know what may be put into a Bill at some stage. I agree with him it would be very unfortunate if it had the effect of discouraging the introduction of Bills in your Lordships' House, and I do not think that will follow. None the less, it is a matter which it may well be worth examining a little further, and I think this might well be done in the Procedure of the House Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.