HL Deb 26 June 1968 vol 293 cc1394-404

2.55 p.m.


That a Committee of 14 Lords, with the Chairman of Committees, be appointed to consider the Bill, and that the Bill be committed to such Committee;

That the procedure of the Committee shall be, so far as possible, that of a I Committee of the whole House;

That the Committee shall first meet at 3 o'clock on Monday, July 1, and thereafter have power to adjourn from time to time;

That the report of the Committee's debates and the Minutes of the Committee's proceedings be published from day to day as appendices to Hansard and the Minutes of Proceedings respectively; and

That the Lords following, with the Chairman of Committees., be named of the Committee:—

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper I should first like to explain to your Lordships that the Motion has been slightly amended. Originally it referred to a Select Committee, and the Committee would have operated under the Stan ling Orders relating to Select Committees, with the exception of Standing Order No. 59 which relates to the hearing of evidence. Some doubt has arisen of a technical nature whether the Select Committee procedure is suitable for the type of Committee we have in mind which is required to consider the Bill as in a Committee of the Whole House. This has given rise to the fascinating topic of, "What is a Select Committee and what is the meaning of the word ' Select '?". It has been my impression, being, like other noble Lords, simpleminded in these matters, that a Select Committee was a Committee of selected Peers. But this is clearly a matter in regard to which it would be proper (because there are traditional, I hesitate to use the word "Pickwickian", meanings which are sometimes applied in Parliament) that the Procedure Committee should be invited to give us guidance, and perhaps final guidance.

The Motion that I am now moving proposes to set up a Committee of fourteen Lords to consider the Gaming Bill, under the chairmanship of the Chairman of Committees, and implicit in this is that in the absence of the Chairman of Committees any one of the Panel of Deputy Chairmen can take his place. Since this is quite an experimental procedure, and we are not in any way bound in what we may do in the future by what we do on this occasion, it might be helpful if I took the opportunity of explaining the way in which we envisage that the procedure to be followed in Committee on this Bill is expected to work.

Although it will be for the Committee themselves to settle this, the procedure we are now suggesting follows discussions through the usual channels, the Chairman of Committees and the Officers of the House. I want to emphasise that this is in no way a settled matter. The House can express its views, but I think that what we propose will be regarded as an appropriate way at least for this experiment.

Your Lordships will remember that during our debate on May 22 on the Procedure of the House we discussed the possibility of an experiment in committing a Bill or Bills upstairs, and I think there was a general welcome for the idea, at least of experimenting with sending a Bill upstairs. We then had some difficulty in judging what should be a suitable candidate for such commitment. Some noble Lords suggested that it ought to be a non-controversial Bill. Clearly, on a non-controversial Bill there would not be much discussion. It is extremely difficult to be certain whether a Bill that appears quite harmless when it first ap- pears will, in the event, be controversial, so we cannot really say whether the Gaming Bill is the ideal candidate for such commitment. Some may argue that there have been Bills earlier in the Session which would have proved more suitable, but those of us who have discussed the matter consider that this is an appropriate choice. In talking about committing a Bill "upstairs", I should perhaps say that this is again something of a Pickwickian suggestion, since for the purpose of this experiment we intend that the Committee should be held in the Moses Room, so the commitment will be lateral rather than vertical.

My Lords, I should like again to suggest something that arises as a result of our discussions so far as voting is concerned, and I am sure that noble Lords who have had experience of Private Bill Committees—and there are a number of noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and others who have been working these committees with great devotion —may think that what we propose is appropriate. It is implicit, and indeed it must be quite clear, that the Committee will have full powers to vote on any Amendment or on the Question that a Clause stand part of the Bill, but I think it is true to say that in our discussions—and I think this is an interesting experiment—we all agreed that so far as possible it would be desirable to avoid formal Divisions in the Committee, and for this the reasons are obvious. We cannot form a Committee on predetermined Party lines, and indeed it would not be particularly appropriate for this Bill. The view therefore is that the points which cannot be settled by general agreement should be reserved, if necessary, for Division when the Bill is recommitted to the Whole House.

The benefit of this procedure, as I see it, is that it will enable members of the Committee to move Amendments and to discuss them fully. Clearly, as I have indicated, one could not impose an arbitrary unanimity rule, but it may well be that the Committee will, in their own wisdom, recall the suggestion I have made that unless there is general agreement they may decide to reserve matters of major controversy that may arise for final settlement on the Floor of the House. None the less, the discussions on these Amendments will be of value—I believe of great value—in eliciting information. We have very often in our Committee stages a number of probing Amendments. Some of these can undoubtedly be settled, and the information elicited in committee will be available to the rest of the House in the form of the Report of the Committee's debates, which will be published from day to day as appendices to Hansard, as the present Motion provides. I have already emphasised that the Committee have full power to decide any matter, and any member of the Committee will, of course, have the right to divide the Committee, though they may choose to adopt the procedure we have suggested.

My Lords, I should also inform your Lordships that, in accordance with the principles enunciated in Standing Order No. 58, any noble Lord who wishes to attend the proceedings of the Committee will not only be free to do so but be able to speak, to table and move Amendments—and Amendments will, of course, be printed and circulated to all Peers in the usual way—but, in the words of the Standing Order, "He must not vote". If the Committee do not decide to vote or to divide there will be no loss. I hope, therefore, that no noble Lord whose name is not included in to-day's Motion will feel precluded from attending the Committee, or some particular part of the Committee, and I hope that the lack of any power to vote will not, in fact, prove a serious deprivation.

My Lords, there is one small point which has occurred to me on the conduct of this Committee, and that concerns the two noble Prelates who will sit on the Committee. I am sure that the whole House will agree that on this occasion there would be no need for them to appear robed, much as we enjoy seeing them sitting here in their robes, and, indeed, although proceedings will be similar to those in Committee of the Whole House, I should have thought that Peers, in accordance with the usual Select Committee practice of this House, would remain seated while speaking.

My Lords, I would remind your Lordships that this is essentially an experiment. We shall learn from it any errors, and what improvements can be made, and I expect the Procedure Committee will be prepared to consider the success or otherwise of this particular project. If it is successful, then we may be able to repeat this experiment again, either in a reformed House or, indeed in an unreformed House. If your Lordships in the next Session wish to continue with this experiment, then I can certainly assure the House—and I particularly make this point to the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn—that in any subsequent cases I would assume that there would always be a Motion to refer a Bill to a Committee off the Floor of the House, so that it will be for the House and not just the Party managers to decide the destiny of each Bill. My Lords, this is a modest experiment, but it may lead to better things and greater things in the future. I beg to move.

Moved, That a Committee of 14 Lords, with the Chairman of Committees, be appointed to consider the Bill, and that the Bill be committed to such Committee;

That the procedure of the Committee shall be, so far as possible, that of a Committee of the Whole House;

That the Committee shall first meet at 3 o'clock on Monday the 1st July, and thereafter have power to adjourn from time to time;

That the report of the Committee's debates and the Minutes of the Committee's proceedings be published from day to day as appendices to Hansard and the Minutes of Proceedings respectively; and

That the Lords following, with the Chairman of Committees, be named of the Committee:—

—(Lord Shackleton.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for making this Statement. I only hope there will in fact be sufficient Amendments to this Bill to make it a worthwhile experiment. I think it would be a tragedy if it went laterally to the Moses Room and we had only maybe half-a-dozen Amendments to consider.


My Lords, from these Benches I should like to support this experiment, from which I believe we may be able to learn quite a few lessons. May I ask the noble Leader of the House one question? May I take it that if in Committee an Amendment is put forward which has the approval of the Government, the Bill can then be amended accordingly? Having asked that, I can only say that these new departures, and particularly this particular one, are bound to be a bit of a gamble that I hope succeeds.


My Lords, I should like to come back to the introductory words of the noble Lord the Leader of the House with regard to the nature of this Committee. I think it indicates the nature of the experiment we are now embarking on that we have nothing in this House equivalent to the Standing Committee of another House which, however long it sits, is still a Standing Committee which considers the Committee stage of a Bill. I thought perhaps one reason for the name "Select Committee" was that the persons chosen to serve on it were selected on account of their peculiar and perhaps particular knowledge of the subject that was going to be discussed. I rather gather that it was originally thought that it was going to be a Select Committee, and so I assume that the names we see on the list are those Peers who are best fitted to express any view on gaming and who have most knowledge of it, including the two right reverend Prelates. I would not, for one moment, suggest that that was not the case. It is obviously a really great experiment. I wish it well. I shall watch with great interest to see how it goes on. If, as I rather suspected from his remarks, the noble Lord was thinking that the Theft Bill might have been a good subject for this experiment, I should have disagreed with him very much.


My Lords, while wishing the noble Lord the Leader of the House well in his experiment, I should like him to make clear what I think was implicit in his speech, that the House is not forgoing any of its proper rights in a Committee stage. In that case I would ask what the form is going to be when this Committee report back to the House. Do they report the Bill to the House with Amendments, and is there then a Motion that the Bill be recommitted to the Whole House?


My Lords, there is just one question I should like to ask. I am not quite clear about the situation of a Peer who is not on the Committee as named here and who wishes to press an Amendment. Can he demand that it shall be taken on the Floor of the House, as I understand from what the noble Lord said that there will be no Divisions upstairs? Has he the right to demand that his Amendment will be taken on the Floor of the House, or can he divide the Committee upstairs?


My Lords, may I make just one suggestion? As the noble Lord the Leader of the House knows, I am strongly in favour of the proposal to make the experiment with this Committee, but I think it would be a great pity if there was a difference of opinion in the Committee and they refrained from voting and taking a decision. It would be a great help to the House when the Bill came back here, as it must, and it might save a great deal of time, if we knew the opinion of the quite admirable noble Lords who are selected to serve on this Committee. Therefore I hope that they will not refrain from taking a vote but will express their opinion and will vote; and when the Bill comes back to us we shall know what was the opinion of these noble Lords upon the proposals put before them. I very much hope that that suggestion will be accepted.


My Lords, I have one little problem to which there is perhaps a simple answer. Who will decide which Amendments are recommitted to the House? Will there be a selection in any form, or will any noble Lord be at liberty to move further Amendments on recommitment?


My Lords, when the Bill is recommitted to this House, presumably it will have a Report stage afterwards. Will sufficient time be given between the recommitment and the Report stage, and will the noble Lords who are not on the Committee be able to form opinions and possibly put down Amendments which they feel have arisen as a result of the Committee's work?


My Lords, will the public be admitted to this Committee?


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has put forward a point that was in my mind in relation to the voting right of a Deputy Chairman who may be in the Chair at a time when a Division is called in this Committee. I assume that if there was a Division in the Committee while a Deputy Chairman was in the Chair, that Deputy Chairman would exercise the right of the Chairman of Committees to vote, and would vote, but in those circumstances the Chairman of Committees himself would not also have a vote in the Committee. That would be different from the position in a Division in Committee of the Whole House. Not only the Lord Chairman of Committees but every Deputy Chairman has a right to vote on a Division in a Committee of the Whole House, not because they are Chairmen or Deputy Chairmen, but because they are Members of the House of Lords.

I assume that in this Select Committee whoever was in the Chair, whether it be the Chairman or one of his Deputies, would alone have that vote, and that there would not be more than one vote on behalf of the Chairman of Committees in the Select Committee. This is an important point, because in a small Committee of 15 maximum, all of whom will presumably not be present, the whole time in the Committee, the chance of an equality of votes will be much greater than the chance of an equality of votes in the House. It would be a great pity if a situation were to arise where some crucial matter had been decided by one vote and then an undignified post-mortem had to be held and arguments advanced as to whether the vote had been properly carried out in the Committee.


My Lords, may I answer those questions to which I know the answers? As an exercise in the examination of procedure this is quite a testing matter, and I may not be able to give answers on everything. First of all, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn. I can promise him that my noble friend Lord Stonham will ensure that there are Amendments to be dealt with in the Committee. I hope that I may pick up as many of the points as I can. If any noble Lords feel that I have not answered them, perhaps they could ask them again.

I must reiterate that it is for the Committee and the individual members of the Committee to decide whether or not they wish to divide the Committee. It may well be that, in practice, they will find that on a matter of great controversy they would rather say, We might now leave this matter and take it up again on the Floor of the House", rather than try to settle it there and then—especially if they think that it is bound to be taken again on the Floor. It will be for the Committee themselves, in their own wisdom, to decide how they handle the matter. Clearly, on a Bill of this kind it would be undesirable if there were an attempt to organise votes on Party lines. as we do to some extent in your Lordships' House. That would be particularly difficult and might even nullify the work of the Committee. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that there may be matters on which it will be most helpful for the Committee to decide and for the House to have the benefit of their guidance. I hope that the Committee will not regard themselves as in any way bound by the suggestions which I have put forward. This is an attempt to indicate how, after our discussions rough the usual channels, we thought this might operate.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, hoped that I did not have the Theft Bill in mind. A number of your Lordships who heard those discussions no doubt think that that Bill would have been an admirable candidate for a Committee of this kind, but I can see arguments against it. The fact that the noble and learned Viscount might have been even more powerful in Committee than he was in this House is one of them. I was interested in his comments on the nature of a Select Committee. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, who asked what would happen when the Committee had finished their work. As I understand it, they would report the Bill back to the House with Amendments, and thereafter there could be a Motion to recommit. It may well be that recommital may become necessary, or it may be that there is a sufficient degree of unanimity and that there will be no need. We shall have to approach the matter flexibly and have regard to the interests of your Lordships in relation to any point you may wish to make about procedure.

My noble friend Lord Royle asked who will select the Amendments. Nobody selects Amendments, and anybody will be free to put down any Amendment he likes when the Bill comes back. The point was made that there should be enough time between the Committee and the various stages. This is a matter which the Government never cease assiduously to try to achieve, although we are not always as successful as we should like to be. That point is well taken. With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord MacAndrew, I may say that the public will certainly be able to attend, and the Committee Room will he conveniently placed to your Lordships' House.

One of the purposes of the Committee is to go through the Bill thoroughly. In addition to the noble Lords who are well qualified to deal with gaming there may be others with even more expert knowledge who might perhaps have gone on to the Committee, but I hope that if they are not members of the Committee they will still attend and feel free to move Amendments. One point was raised as to how they should divide. If the Committee were unwilling to vote the way the noble Lord asked, there might be a unanimous vote of 14 to nil against. But, as I understand it—this is a technicality which will need to be examined—if the noble Lord who puts down the Amendment, even if he is not a member of the Committee, refuses to withdraw it, it will have to be divided upon.

In reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, as I understand it the Chairman of the Committee for the time being, whether he is the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy Chairman, enjoys exactly the same right as any Chairman or Deputy Chairman of I Committees in this House and will therefore be free to vote. I know that there is the point involving a greater risk of equality. If there is a "dead heat", then under our procedure the Amendment would be lost. There is the possibility of a close result. However, we in this House are not in the difficulty of somebody having to give a casting vote. As I understand it—and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, can correct me—an Amendment is rejected if there is a dead heat, but it can be positively carried even by only one vote. So I do not think this will give rise to problems. I therefore hope that your Lordships will be prepared to accept this Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.