HL Deb 24 June 1968 vol 293 cc1131-5

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if, by your leave, I were to make a Statement about the timetable for the Prices and Incomes Bill. The arrangements which we propose to follow have been discussed through the usual channels. Your Lordships are aware that we tend in our annual bouts to have certain diffi- culties over the Prices and Incomes Bill, and in this respect this year is no exception, except for the much greater amount of time that I am happy to say that we have been able to allow for your Lordships as compared with previous years. We had hoped to have this Bill from the other place, assuming they decide to pass it early this week, but it now appears that it is unlikely that we shall receive the Bill from the Commons until—and this must be subject always to their decision—about 7 p.m. or even later on Thursday.

We thought it might be for the convenience of the House if we were to introduce a Bill here in all respects similar to the Prices and Incomes Bill as amended in Standing Committee in another place. The intention then would be to give it a First Reading this evening, to have the Second Reading on Thursday (instead of the Transport Bill) and this would then allow a week before the Committee stage on the Prices and Incomes Bill, which we propose to take on the following Thursday—that is, Thursday week—and to complete all stages in the week thereafter.

In previous years we have proceeded by means of a "white Bill"; that is to say, we have had a Second Reading debate on a print of the Commons' Bill made pursuant to an Order of this House—a process which has come to be known as "Shepherd's Pie". However, I think it might be more suitable for us to proceed on a proper Bill, a No. 2 Bill, which would be our own version. If I may recapitulate, what we are proposing is that your Lordships should consider the Lords' own Bill on Thursday, and on Friday give as formal a Second Reading as possible to the actual House of Commons Bill which by then we shall have received—we hope. It would then be possible, if your Lordships wished for the Government to explain any differences between our Bill and the Bill from another place, but I do not think that the alterations will be of such significance as to warrant spending very much time on it, and our own Bill will provide a satisfactory basis for a Second Reading discussion.

The print of the Commons Bill will be available on the Friday. We could by then have withdrawn our own Bill and it would be possible for noble Lords to have the week in which to put down Amendments to the real Bill. As I say, this would give the House from Friday to Thursday July 4, in which to table Amendments for the Committee stage on the Commons Bill. We hope that we may then proceed to Report and Third Reading on Monday, July 8, if the House allows us the necessary suspension of Standing Order 41. I appreciate that this is not the sort of arrangement which we particularly like, and I am also well aware that we had hoped not to repeat the procedure which had been followed in previous years, but I think, none the less, that in the circumstances what we are proposing is for the convenience of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, is, as usual, very amiable, but the Government seem to be living in a sort of dream world in which we have to discuss Bills which have not yet been printed and have not yet been through another place—all for a reason which none of us has been told. Why have we to do this at this time? Why is there suddenly some reason why everything has to be advanced at the last minute? The Government do not seem to me to be able to see twenty-four hours in advance what is going to happen. We have had this over and over again. Why could they not have foreseen the necessity to do this? They must have thought about the timetable when they introduced the Bill in the House of Commons; and now we find, at the last moment, that everything has to be changed. The Government do not seem to have any foresight. Although we are beginning to get used to it, I must say it seems pretty odd from a Government which is absolutely dedicated to planning.

We all thought that we were going to discuss the Transport Bill on Thursday, and all my noble friends are prepared to do that. I have no doubt that some of those who wish to talk—and probably there will be many—about the Prices and Incomes Bill may not find it possible to attend your Lordships' House at that time; or they may not find it possible to write their speeches in time. It all may be very inconvenient and we shall not have nearly as good a debate as otherwise we might have had. I think that this is a rather disgraceful statement from the Leader of the House. I suppose we have to accept it, thou3h why on earth we should be so reasonable after the tone of the Prime Minister's statement in the Commons last week I do not know. But we who sit on these Benches are very reasonable people. All I say is that we must see how we get on. I do not say that we shall have the Report and Third Reading within three or four days of the Committee stage, but we shall see how we get on, and in the meantime, as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, may have observed, we accept it with bad grace.


My Lords, I should like to accept this with not too bad grace, because we on these Benches should like to co-operate in spreading the work load, but I may say that three or four days' notice of a change of business of this order of magnitude is very inconvenient to myself and to my colleagues, who will have to make other arrangements. May I ask, once again, as I always do on these occasions, that this will not be taken as too regular a precedent. I have always made that point and I should like to emphasise it.


My Lords, from his opening remarks I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, must have been reading the reference in the New Statesman to the Alice Through the Looking Glass item, in which complimentary remarks were made about the noble Lord, even though a large tear did not come into his eye. Noble Lords may or may not have seen the item; if not, I commend to noble Lords opposite the kindly remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I must say straight away that of course I cannot bind either this Government or possible successors not to use such practices 'when there is a real emergency, but I feel that I should make a special apology to the House for the shortage of notice. I should not wish to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but he knows that, quite apart from the slight breakdown in communications during the Rhodesian debate, Ascot also interfered with communications through the usual channels on that side of the House. I had hoped that we might make an announcement last Thursday, and we tried very hard. However, I appreciate that this is inconvenient, although I did consult certain noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale. Still, it is not satisfactory and I acknowledge that.

Your Lordships have in the past deployed a degree of co-operation which I have very much appreciated. It is undesirable in measures of urgency to allow an interregnum between the lapsing of the provisions under existing legislation and the coming into operation of powers under a new Bill. To some extent this is absolutely inevitable in conducting government in an area where the Government rightly have regarded themselves as so directly answerable to Parliament. I assure your Lordships that the Government have had the urgency of this Bill very much in mind. It has been pressed on very hard, but it is simply in order to give your Lordships as much time as possible. Let me point out to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that it is about 2,000 per cent. more time than we have had in previous years. Last year I think your Lordships had only a day and the year before a day and a half. This year we shall have the equivalent of about a fortnight.


Meanwhile, my Lords, the economy does not get any better. May I ask the Leader of the House whether this means that there will be one day less for the programme for the Committee stage of the Transport Bill? The Government Chief Whip shakes his head. Perhaps he could explain to your Lordships how we are going to make up the days we are losing for the Committee stage of the Transport Bill, which I think is going to take some considerable time to go through your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I answer that? The day set aside for the Prices and Incomes Bill Second Reading will now be available for the Transport Bill—next Monday.