HL Deb 13 May 1968 vol 292 cc107-10

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, it has been suggested to me that it would be to the advantage of your Lordships if I were not to move the Second Reading of this Bill now. But I must confess that I feel bound to express a feeling of regret that the business of the House has been so arranged that this course is necessary. This matter has been the first item on the list for some little time now. It was suggested to me last week that it might come after the Committee stage of the Justices of the Peace Bill which we have just concluded. It is clear now, in view of the long stint we are going to have on the Countryside Bill, that it would be a most inappropriate time to move it, but I confess that in not moving it I do this with the greatest regret.


My Lords, I wonder whether I could add my voice in protest at the very late stage when this decision was taken to alter the published business of your Lordships' House. In doing so, I readily accept the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who was good enough to tell me that this Bill would have to be postponed until Friday week, and I am much obliged to him for that. But what was not so good was that I was bound to confess—and surely there is no crime in having engagements —that I should be engaged in Scotland, the country I come from, on that day and it would be highly inconvenient. I have not seen any other Scottish names on the list of speakers and Scotland's point of view certainly requires to be put. I am bound to say that I feel a little aggrieved that I am just left with the fact that it will have to be Friday week, whether or not I, as a Scottish Member, shall be able to come.

I am too new a Member of your Lordships' House to dare talk about bad Parliamentary practice, but surely it cannot be good Parliamentary practice for Order Papers to be circulated to us all, so that we know what business is to be on a certain day, and then, without any shadow of warning and without giving a reason for the alteration of timetable, for it to be sprung upon us at the last minute, first, that the Seals Bill was to come below the Committee stage of the Justices of the Peace Bill, a Committee stage which noble and learned Lords might have foreseen was likely to take quite a long time, and then, not content with that being after a lengthy Committee stage, for the Seals Bill to be put forward to a day which, of all days, is inconvenient to those who live a long way from London, in the West, in the North of England and in Scotland. If I were to dare to say, "bad Parliamentary practice," I feel that surely this is an occasion for saying so. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whose courtesy again I acknowledge, to avoid such inconvenience to the House in future.


My Lords, I feel a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and with other noble Lords who came to-day hoping to speak on the Seals Bill. I think it is generous of my noble friend in the circumstances not to move the Second Reading. It would be awkward for many of us if he were to do so, because I am well aware that a pledge was given from this Bench on Thursday last that we should finish the Countryside Bill to-night and I am prepared to cooperate in that. But I hope that any inconvenience will be imposed as seldom as possible on noble Lords who come from a distance, and in this case I would express the hope that there may be conversations to try to find a new date for the Second Reading of the Bill which will be generally acceptable to those who are interested in it.


My Lords, perhaps if the noble Lord the Leader of the House would kindly allow me to intervene, he would have something else to reply to. I complained last week about the way in which the Countryside Bill has been handled. We now have down two Amendments which I think, without completely committing myself, are entirely satisfactory. They carry out, so far as I can see, the promises which were made many weeks ago in another place. But that we should come back on Monday morning and find Amendments which were promised in another place, and be obliged, as I have been to-day, to ring up the London representatives of county councils to ask whether they really meet the points they have made, is not an entirely satisfactory state of affairs. There have been complaints from Scottish Members, from English Members, from Members concerned with the Seals Bill and Members concerned with the Countryside Bill, and I would ask that the business of this House and the drafting of Amendments by the Government should be organised in such a way that we do not have to come back to London and find Amendments, long since promised, on which we have to come to a decision within a few hours.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that it is rather inappropriate, in discussing the business at the moment, to deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, because I confess I am not familiar with them. I know that there has been argument on the Countryside Bill. My noble friend Lord Kennet is much more familiar with that issue than I, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, is probably more aware than I am of the reasons why we are taking it at this time.

As a normally good-tempered and peaceable Member of your Lordships' House, I slightly resent the remarks in relation to the Seals Bill. I have no power to tell the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany, what can and cannot be done in this House. As a former Deputy Speaker in another place he is more aware of the authoritarian approach to the conduct of business. All I did was to go to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and suggest that in the circumstances this Bill was more likely to get a better run if we took it at another time. I said that it was entirely up to him. I spoke personally to every single Member of your Lordships' House who had his name down and got his agreement, and every noble Lord, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany, was delighted that it should be taken off the Paper.

I appreciate the noble Lord's problem. When we looked at business last week there were three speakers down for this Bill and one for the Pastoral Measure. It is not possible within the conditions in which we run business in your Lordships' House, without restriction on what individual Peers do, to programme in this sort of way. All we can do is to cope with it in the best way we can. I am personally satisfied that this is much better for the Seals Bill. The noble Earl knows that I have a certain sympathy with what he is trying to do.

I do not feel encouraged in taking the sort of initiative I personally did if it is to be the subject of protest in. regard to circumstances which cannot be in the control of any Leader of the House or of any Government Front Bench. We have a great deal of business to do. There may be arguments in regard to the legislation which we have to face. I am very grateful, and I have already written to the noble Earl to say how grateful I am, for his co-operation, but it was only advice that I gave. I must make it clear that I am not able to direct your Lordships as to the business your Lordships may take at a particular moment, once it is on the Order Paper. On this occasion I had hoped that I had the willing agreement of the noble Lords concerned. I appreciate that the noble Earl may have lost a pleasant day's fishing as a result of this change, and this strikes genuinely to my heart, but we have done our best for seals on this occasion.


My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord does not think that I fully appreciate all the advice he has given and in particular the trouble he took, at my request, to see noble Lords who had put their names down to speak and tell them, that I thought it would be for the convenience of the House if I did not move this Second Reading to-day. He has been exceedingly helpful throughout, and if he feds that I suggested otherwise I apologise for having given him that impression. None the less, I think it is worrying that the business of the House can get to such a pitch that we can now be at 8 o'clock when we had anticipated that the previous business would have been completed at about half past four, a though this is probably the fault of noble Lords and not in any way the fault of the Leader of the House. But I am talking rather longer than I should and also keeping your Lordships from the Countryside Bill.


My Lords, there is just one point as to whether Friday is a suitable day to discuss a measure which particularly affects Scotland.