§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK rose to move, That this House takes note of the increasing pressure on the time available for legislation and other business taken on the floor of the House and would welcome consideration of steps which might be taken to alleviate it. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend, Lord Shackleton. May I make it plain at the outset that I move this Motion realising very clearly that, compared with many others, my experience of your Lordships' House is limited, and, of course, my experience of this office of Chief Government Whip, which gives me some responsibility for organising business, is even more limited.
§ I hope that modesty alone would prevent me from moving the Motion which stands in the name of my noble friend were it not for two factors: First, that I do not seek to lay down any law but am anxious primarily, to collect opinions; secondly, though my membership of this House does not go back nearly so far as others, nevertheless we must all be aware that the character of the House itself is changing and the context within which it works is changing even more. Most of these changes, as I shall seek to 700 show, make more difficult the task of arranging business to the general convenience of the House.
§ It would be a simple reaction to this Motion to say that if business presses too hardly upon available time, then the solution is to restrict the volume of business. Throughout the years Oppositions have always tended to think that legislation going through either House of Parliament is too great in volume and wrongly conceived in character. I trust, however, that the approach this afternoon will be somewhat more constructive, and I am encouraged in that hope because on recent occasions when noble Lords on all sides of the House have complained about the lack of time available for particular pieces of legislation, they have also suggested that we had such a discussion as this, and indeed have put forward particular proposals designed to help meet this conflict with time. In any case, even if there is this inevitable wish to restrict the volume of business, the fact is that in this House our influence in that direction is not great and a much more useful approach is to consider the situation which in fact faces us.
§ May I explain a little more what I mean about the changing character of the House and of the context in which it works? First, it is obvious that we have in recent years had an increasing rate of recruitment to the membership of this House, and a recruitment of a somewhat different character. As I put it elsewhere the other day, we have not only more Peers, but Peers more assiduous in sitting and talking. I think many of us could take a lesson from the short debate to which we have just listened, when ten speakers to the Third Reading of the measure occupied no more than three-quarters of an hour all told. Fifteen years ago the average daily attendance was well under half of what it is to-day. In fact, the average was 96. Ten years ago the average daily attendance was 124. By 1961–62 it had risen to 143. In 1966–67 the average attendance was 200, and to date this Session we have an average of 225. There appears to be a correlation between the number who sit and the length of time the House sits, for over the same period not only have we sat more days but the average of each day has risen from under 5 hours to 5¼ hours 701 and this session to an average of 5½ hours a day.
§ My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House, and myself as Government Chief Whip have listened in recent weeks to earnest pleas, sometimes couched in fairly strong terms, to adjust our business to meet the convenience, or essential interest, of this person or that, or one section of the House or another, or one nationality or another. I will claim that my noble friend and I invariably honestly endeavour to reconcile a particular interest with the convenience of the House as a whole. I ask your Lordships to believe that to an increasing extent, because of the diminishing freedom of manoeuvre, it is becoming less easy to meet the wishes of everyone at the same time on the same issue.
§ My Lords, so much for the changing character of the House. Now, about the changing context in which it works. If anything, this is an even more decisive factor. All legislation going through to receive Royal Assent has to go through the two Houses of Parliament. If the way through the other place is easier or speedier, than here, then if we are to keep pace some adjustment needs to be made in this place. For many years the other place have used the process of the Standing Committee in order to expedite the passage of the majority of Bills. In recent years the number of Standing Committees has increased. I understand that there are now eight Standing Committees. In addition, there are now two Scottish Standing Committees and a Scottish and a Welsh Grand Committee. Although Grand Committees, as I know, are not concerned with legislation, nevertheless they do take off the Floor of the House the discussion of important items of business which otherwise would be taking its attention.
§ This Session the other place has seen the regular institutions of a Second Reading Committee. We are now taking on the Floor of this House Bills which have been considered in Second Reading and Committee upstairs in the other place. Both the Second Reading and the Committee stage of certain Bills are now taken upstairs in the other place, but they all again have to come to the Floor of this House. And now we have another innovation down the Corridors of the Palace of Westminster. I understand 702 that at this time of year there was usually some relaxation of pressure because the other place was locked in combat, on the Floor, over the Finance Bill in Committee. This year we are denies that respite, for the Finance Bill, too, goes upstairs for Committee consideration.
§ We therefore have this situation in which the other place can deal with more legislation more speedily, but here we still continue to deal with the flow solely on the Floor of our Chamber. On the one hand, therefore, in the one House we have had the evolution of an elaborate system of Standing Committees. On the other hand, in this House, the changes, such as there are, have been the other way. In the first half of the 17th century virtually all Public Bills were communed to Select Committees of this House. The practice declined in the 18th century as the use of the Committee of the Whole House increased. There was an attempt to resuscitate the practice at the end of the 19th century by means of a Standing Committee, but since the Second World War, apart from the special case of Consolidation Bills, all Public Bills have been dealt with at all stages on the Floor of the House. As a matter of interest, I think it was the Bastardy Blood Tests Bill moved by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, which was the last Bill from your Lordships' House to go upstairs.
§ Before I go on to say what might be done to deal with this situation, may I mention one other activity, excellent in itself but which in a small way has not eased the situation? I refer to the growing readiness of your Lordships to introduce Private Members' Bills. In 1945–46 only one Private Member's Pill was introduced into this House; from 1946–47 to 1953–54 only two each Session were introduced. Gradually this number has increased. In 1964–65 there were thirteen, in the last session there were fifteen, and already this session we have had eight. Maybe one might say, with a degree of satisfaction, that whilst up to 1955 no Private Member's Bill starting in this House received the Royal Assert, in 1963–64, of the eight Private Members' Bills introduced, seven went on to the Statute Book, and last Session five were similarly fortunate.
§ What then, my Lords, can be do le to help redress the imbalance as between this place and the other? From time to 703 time a number of suggestions have been made, and many of them can be implemented by the will of individual Members. There is always, of course, the proposal in the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, that speeches should be shorter—a proposal widely welcomed but so far honoured more in the breach than in the observance. There is the possibility that we should tighten our procedures and enforce more strictly those Standing Orders designed to facilitate business. For example, there is the tendency remarked upon by my noble friend Lord Rowley the other day to make Second Reading speeches on Committee stages. Then some of us seem to seek the leave of the House too readily to make a second contribution to the same Amendment on the Report stage. We all might, with advantage, decide ruthlessly to cut out repetition, and if a point has been made well by another not to remake it ourselves. No doubt we shall all have our ideas as to how small but useful gains could be made in this way. As I have indicated, all these small reforms require only the individual volition.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, in a short preliminary exchange we had about the unsatisfactory character of the way the business is managed in this House these days, said that one solution was the initial introduction of more Public Bills in this House. I quite agree that if too many Bill are started in the other place inevitably we get congestion here. This is a point to which I have endeavoured to give special attention. The facts are that, apart from the long Session of 1966–67 (and that was really a Session and a half), only in two Sessions since 1950 have we had as many Bills initially introduced in this House as has been the case this Session. Incidentally, I well remember with warm appreciation the kindly word given me by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, when I announced at the beginning of this Session the number of Bills which were to be started off in your Lordships' House.
I come to another proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, also supported, and which was put by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, the other day. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said on April 25:
I hope that one day we shall be sensible and send this"—
that was the Social Work (Scotland) Bill—
and many other Bills like it to a Committee".
Maybe we might agree to consider again to-day whether we should try out this idea. It is not, of course, an entirely novel suggestion. The idea of committing Public Bills upstairs rather than to have the Committee on the Floor of the House has been current for some years. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, had much to say about this in a Motion which he moved some time ago.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what was said in the Second Report of the Procedure Committee, 1965–66. In paragraph 4 it was stated:
The Committee have considered in detail the proposal to set up Standing Committees and attach particular importance to the objection that the House, owing to the representation of political Parties, cannot be usefully or satisfactorily sub-divided into smaller replicas of itself and that therefore it would be impossible to obtain political balance in a Standing Committee.
The Report goes on to say that in addition there is the difficulty of selection,
In view of the fact that Standing Committees would have to meet in the mornings, the Committees were conscious of the difficulty of getting Peers to attend regularly.
Maybe your Lordships will consider whether the following conclusion which our Committee reached is still valid.
For these reasons the Committee fear that the expedient of referring Public Bills or a particular class of Public Bills to a Standing Committee, if tried again, would be likely to meet the same fate as the unsuccessful experiment of 1889–1910.
Some of your Lordships may feel it is reasonable, after the lapse of 58 years, to try again. But in any case the Report of the Procedure Committee went on to say:
The Committee would nevertheless not be opposed to the reference of a suitable Bill to a Select Committee should the situation seem to require it".
§ A possibility which I put to your Lordships for your consideration is to commit one Bill upstairs before August and see how we get on. It would be a sort of pilot experiment. I recognise that there are difficulties and, of course, the 1965–66 Procedure Committee mentioned some. The difficulty of manning a Committee is one, though we could get round the particular 705 problem of a morning Sitting by meeting concurrently with the House in the afternoon.
Selection of members of the Committee and the political balance together constitute the main problem. Here again we can probably solve that problem by going round it. I cannot see that we can aim at a proper political balance, since there can be no agreement on the word "proper". Many of us would say we lack a proper balance when we have a Committee of the Whole House. So that the solution may lie in allowing the Committee to choose itself or, as the Standing Committee in 1731 put it:
All the Lords who shall come to any Committee"—
they were speaking about the Committee for Privileges—
shall be of that Committee.
If we had this choice to attend formally, certain other problems come to mind, but none that good will, probably expressed by consultation through the usual channels, could not overcome.
§ I shall probably be asked: but what about voting rights? Here is both the nub of the problem and the core of the solution. What we seek here is an opportunity to influence, not primarily the power to vote. Let us vote by all means, but the contribution of this House will be in the deploying and examination of argument. Discussion not division is our strength, and we should not underestimate its importance. This was a point which was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his most interesting speech on April 29, 1965. I can think of two quite important issues which in recent weeks have, or will have been, significantly amended not really by vote but by argument.
§ If, then, we can clarify all questions on the Bill upstairs, decide some, maybe re-commit others, certainly the contentious issues, to the Floor of the House in a Re-committal stage, we could provide ample opportunity for discussion and less opportunity for delay. Recommitment would be followed by Report stage, though presumably at a shorter interval. It might also be possible to take Report and Third Reading on the same day. What is aimed at here is not so much to speed the passage of a particular Bill, but to relieve the strain on 706 the Floor of this House. This objective will not be achieved if all the arguments advanced upstairs are duplicated on the Floor. It may well be that experience will show that some power of selection of Amendments on Report stage would need to be vested in our Chairman if undue duplication is to be avoided. This proposal, therefore, is to try again the upstairs procedure for the extension of available time. My noble friend who will wind up can spell out the details if it appears to meet the wishes of your Lordships. It may be that other more valuable suggestions will be advanced by others who are to take part in this discussion.
§ Let me end by saying this. If we are adequately to consider legislation and to ventilate the important issues of our time, I believe that some changes in our procedure will be inescapable. A readiness to experiment and change now may well help more fundamental changes for the future. I have learned during my membership of your Lordships' House to respect its potential. I believe that it has a future, and I hope all the more, therefore, that the debate on this Motion will prove productive.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the increasing pressure on the time available for legislation and other business taken on the Floor of the House and would welcome consideration of steps which might be taken to alleviate it.—(Lord Beswick.)
§ 4.6 p.m.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us this opportunity of discussing means whereby the House can try to cope with the mass of legislation which the Government are, quite unreasonably, expecting us to pass between Whitsun and the Summer Recess. This shows the good sense of the business management of this House, as opposed to the legislative madness of the Government business managers as a whole.
It is not just the Conservative Opposition who are worried by the spate of legislation and the limited time in which to discuss it. Noble Lords probably will have read the excellent article by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, which appeared recently in the Spectator criticising the volume of legislation and the 707 ever-increasing number of restrictions imposed on our liberties. Only last Sunday the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—a Peer with whose views I seldom agree, though I certainly did on this occasion—was reported in the Observer as mounting a strong attack on the Government for bringing the legislative process into contempt. In particular, he criticised the rushing of Bills through both Houses in a very short time, and pointed to the harmful effect of this extreme speed on the drafting of Bills.
The noble Lord also expressed the opinion that it had reached almost catastrophic proportions, and in particular he cited the Companies Act and the Criminal Justice Act. The Liberal Benches, too, have not been entirely silent on this subject. The right honourable gentleman, the Member for Orkney and Shetland, described the guillotining of the Finance Bill and the Transport Bill as an abuse of Parliament—"not Fascism, but sheer incompetence", he called it.
The burden of all these complaints is that there is not only too much legislation, but too little time in which to consider it. Mr. Grimond's justifiably strong words about the guillotine should concern us in this House. In the case of the Finance Bill no doubt it will be considered by the Government that this is no concern of ours, because we normally respect the Commons' financial privilege and regularly refrain from going into Committee on such Bills. But the whole question of the use of the guillotine in the Commons (a process which I am happy to say has never been introduced here) is of vital concern to this House, especially in light of Lord Chorley's speech, because your Lordships traditionally, and I think quite rightly, take especial pains to give full discussion to those parts of a Bill guillotined in the House of Commons which did not have a full, or indeed any, airing because of the time table imposed.
The guillotine procedure is acknowledged by both Parties to be an occasional necessity in the Commons, but only for Bills which can subsequently be discussed and amended in the Second Chamber. It is quite monstrous and a denial of all democratic rights that not only should the Finance Bill be taken off the Floor of the House of Commons, 708 so that many of the experts are precluded from taking part in it, but also that this Bill, of all Bills—the Finance Bill—should be subject to guillotine. The Government know full well that your Lordships cannot, and will not, challenge the Commons' financial privilege; so this Bill, which affects us all intimately, may go substantially undiscussed in detail by Parliament. So far as I can ascertain, the Finance Bill has been guillotined only once before and that was in 1931, under the Premiership of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. That was a period in their history which I should have thought noble Lords opposite would have preferred to forget. Certainly, it can hardly be considered a good precedent.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, noble Lords liked him as a Prime Minister immediately afterwards, did they not?
EARL ST. ALDWYN
Quite seriously, my Lords, I appeal to the Government to give us an undertaking to-day that they will never again guillotine any Bill which is incapable of amendment in this House. With regard to the guillotining of the Transport Bill, all I shall say at this moment is that a very large number of clauses and Schedules remain undiscussed in the Standing Committee in the Commons because of the guillotine, and the Minister of Transport has now tabled no fewer than 222 Amendments on the Report stage which cannot be fully discussed on the Floor of another place. This House will need to have ample time, if only to discuss those parts of the Transport Bill which have either not been scrutinised at all in the Commons or insufficiently scrutinised through lack of time.
I conclude this part of my speech by begging the Government in future, if they are still in power, to make every effort to regulate the flow of Bills between the two Houses. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has referred to this matter and has taken some credit because more Bills are starting in this House than started in it in the past. But that is only the beginning, and we have to go a good deal further in that direction. Possibly the most important step is to introduce fewer Bills, but I must admit I get the impression that the Government are petrified of having to fight a General Election, and are therefore trying to rush through 709 Parliament as many Bills as they possibly can. In some ways the real fault lies with the Government's Future Legislation Committee, of which I have no doubt the Leader of the House and/or the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, are members, for they must have foreseen the appalling congestion that was bound to arise when authorising the presentation of this great weight of legislation. Having said that, I think the Opposition are willing to co-operate with the managers of the business in this House to try to help them out of the legislative mess which the Government as a whole have got them into.
As I see it, there are four courses open. First, we can abandon our role of scrutinising legislation in detail; but that is a doctrine of despair which the House should reject, while recognising that the Government are pushing the House very nearly to a state of desperation. Secondly, we can examine on the Floor of the House every piece of legislation with the care and attention it deserves, and that implies the necessary quota of time for each stage and for decent intervals between stages. If we followed that course we should no doubt need to prolong our deliberations well into the next Session. Thirdly—and I am sure that in this particular Session this is what would be the most acceptable solution to the House as a whole—the Government should drop the Transport Bill altogether. But if, for some reason, they are not prepared to do that, we have, as a fourth alternative, to devise machinery for alleviating the pressure of business on the Floor of the House in the terms of the Motion which is before your Lordships to-day. As I say, if the Government are not prepared to adopt my third proposal then I think the fourth course is clearly what noble Lords should address their minds to, and I hope that many valuable suggestions will be thrown up during the course of this afternoon's debate.
Of the two categories of business, legislative and other, mentioned in the Motion, the legislative business is far the more important item in terms of time taken up on the Floor of the House. It is therefore worth examining that first, especially as the pressure in the weeks after Whitsun will come from legislation and not from other business. But before 710 doing so, I should like to make one point of general application. We should, I am sure, be extremely slow to adopt any form of time rules for either legislation or any other business in this House. We are a House which has hitherto prided itself on conducting its business by common sense and common control. If we started to introduce time rules, it would be a very dangerous precedent and might well lead, in all too short a time, to the rigid procedural arrangements which now obtain in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, suggested a plan for taking a Public Bill in Committee off the Floor of the House. I, for one, have considerable sympathy with that proposal and would welcome an experiment in that direction. I think it is potentially a most valuable procedural proposal for relieving the pressure on the Floor of the House. But we must be very careful not to reduce such proceedings to a second-class status. The proposal involves serious considerations, and the noble Lord has mentioned some of the difficulties. First, the question of the selection of Bills to go to such a Committee is obviously of the highest importance, and although the noble Lord is talking about only one at the moment, we may—assuming it is successful—do it with others. I take it that in every case there would be a Motion to refer each Bill to a Committee off the Floor of the House, because it is essential that the House as a whole should agree and not just the Party managers.
I can see that there might have been a case for sending the Theft Bill to such a Committee. It may well be that it will meet the convenience of noble Lords from Scotland that Scottish Bills should be taken off the Floor of the House on, say, Tuesdays and Thursdays and no other days. But on that I have no doubt they will express their opinion in due course. I have read in The Times that the Town and Country Planning Bill might be chosen for our first experiment. If so, it is important that the House should agree that that is the right type of Bill to go there.
Secondly, the question of the selection of Members, on which again the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, touched, is obviously vitally important. If such a Committee is to be fully effective it 711 must be open to any Lord who has something to contribute to go and sit in the Committee. Otherwise, one of the distinctive features of this House will be lost; namely, the attendance of the expert Peer whose special knowledge of a particular subject gives excellence to all our debates. I should therefore be opposed to any selection, and these Committees should be open to any Member of the House who chooses to go.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, would the noble Earl make it clear whether he is suggesting that the other Peers should be able not only to sit but also to vote?
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I shall come on to voting in a moment, if I may. Thirdly, there is the question, on which again the noble Lord touched, of when the Committee is to sit. This is a very difficult dilemma, because if we sit in the morning there are obviously many Peers who have their own businesses to attend to and who would not be able to get to a Committee of the House. If, on the other hand, we sit in the afternoon, there will be the rival attractions of the Committee off the Floor and of the concurrent business in the House. On the whole, I myself am inclined to favour sitting from, say, 3 to 5.30 p.m. The House of Commons Standing Committee sits 2½ hours, I believe. This would give Peers the opportunity to sit in the House for Question Time and to attend the House for the latter part of the afternoon, after the Committee had risen.
Fourthly, my Lords, I think it is essential that there should be a sufficient interval between the conclusion of the Committee off the Floor of the House and the next stage of that Bill, which I take it would be Committee on Recommitment. It may well be found—in fact I think it is essential—that if there are to be Divisions on controversial Amendments, then either the consideration of these Amendments, or at least the voting on them, should be postponed until the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Recommitment.
Fifthly, there is the question of publicity of the Committee proceedings off the Floor. It is essential that there should be no less publicity than that which is given to a Committee of the Whole House. That means, really, that Amendments to be dealt with by such 712 Committees must be circulated widely. In fact, they must receive the same treatment as Amendments moved on the Floor of the House.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl would mind developing the point he made about the voting in such a Committee upstairs, because I do not think I quite followed it. We have tried before the experiment of sending a Bill to a Committee, and it did not work very well—though of course that is no reason for not trying it again. If we send a Bill upstairs, surely the Committee has to vote upstairs, and when the Bill comes down here, as it must, on Report stage, every Peer will be entitled to vote on any important Amendment. Is that not the way the system would have to work?
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I am not entirely sure of that, because it seems to me that if you are going to have any number of Peers—ranging from whatever is decided should be a quorum for the Committee up to virtually the whole House—going upstairs, the numbers are bound to vary so tremendously that it would be better, I should have thought, to postpone the consideration of any Amendment on which it is recognised there will be a disagreement, and that such Amendments should be taken on Recommitment on the Floor of the House and not, as my noble friend suggests, on Report. I think it is important that these controversial matters should be considered on Recommital; and although there might be some discussion on them upstairs, I do not think a final decision on them should be taken until the Bill comes back to the Floor of the House.
My Lords, I was talking about the publicity which should be given to the proceedings of a Committee upstairs. It seems to me that there must also be a full transcription of the proceedings, and that this must be given the same circulation as the OFFICIAL REPORT, either attached to it or as a separate document. But how it is circulated is, I think, merely a matter for consideration. In all these matters we must not forget the important question of the staffing of the House. Obviously, we must begin with a modest experiment. The noble Lord has wisely suggested one Bill, and 713 I suspect that that is about all we shall in fact be able to cope with during this Session. But we must think of the staff, not only the Clerk of Parliaments but also the Doorkeepers, the Printers and the Official Reporters—and I think that of all the staffing problems, which are acute, perhaps the most acute is that of the Reporters.
My Lords, so much for the Committee off the Floor of the House. Is there anything else that we might do to ease the legislative pressure on the House? Apart from better programming by the Government and self-restraint by Members of the House, I should say that there is really very little more that we ought to do. I think that if the Government do their part, then noble Lords should do their part, too, by trying to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, to keep their speeches short. If I may, I would say here that a really good example should be set from the Government Benches. I know only too well that Ministers are continually pressed by their Departments to say a great many things on a large number of subjects. It is not always easy to resist one's own Department, but perhaps Ministers could give priority to the House on some occasions rather than to their own Departments.
My Lords, I have one suggestion to make from which I myself do not think any evil consequences would flow, but which would undoubtedly need legislation. However, it may be that there are a lot of snags in it which I have not seen, and that therefore it may not be entirely practicable. If we receive a Bill from another place and it is read here a first time one Parliamentary month before the end of the Summer Session, then we should be able to continue consideration of that Bill up to the beginning of the Christmas Recess. In practice, that would mean that Bills which are received here by approximately the beginning of July we could carry over, in this House only, until the next Session, and consider between the opening of Parliament and the Christmas Recess. I think it is essential that we should receive these Bills a clear working month before Prorogation. Otherwise, we might be floundering in a mass of Bills at the end of July, and the last state could well be worse than the first.
714 I now turn to consider what savings could be made on the Floor of the House on business other than legislation, and here it is very much more difficult, I think, to offer any constructive suggestions without at the same time introducing dangerous restrictions on the rights of Peers to speak, to move Motions and to ask Questions. I reject utterly, as I said earlier, any imposition of time rules, and I feel sure the House is capable of regulating its own affairs without them.
I should like to make a plea that Members of the House should use their traditional methods to keep order. At Question Time to-day we had a number of noble Lords on one side of the House shouting, "Question! Question!" to a noble Lord on another side of the House, and I was frankly disappointed that there were no similar cries from all round the House. This surely must be taken outside Party politics entirely. It is not right because it is my noble friend who is speaking: and wrong because it is a noble Lord opposite. If a noble Lord is breaking the Rules of this Howe, the House itself must, as a body, say "No". I feel that some of the older Members are a trifle diffident about this; and some of the newer Members may not know exactly what our traditions are. But I think that every one of your Loidships is aware of the case I have just mentioned.
In the case of Starred Questions particularly, I think there is a tendency for them to go on when most of us feel they have been going on quite long enough; and if noble Lords would shout, as they have every right to do, "Next Question!", and would continue to shout, "Next Question!", then I think we might get on rather faster. But this also requires the co-operation of individual Peers. I have noticed, particularly in the case of those noble Lords who come from another place, that, because the House calls them to Order, they feel that it is their right and duty to stand up and disregard the House. This is wrong. The House is entirely the master of its own order; but it is up to the individual Members also to be prepared to accept the House's ruling.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, on behalf of my Liberal colleagues I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for 715 introducing this Motion. At the same time, may I make it clear that any comments I have to express are my own opinions, my own personal point of view. I think this is essentially an occasion on which noble Lords should make their own individual contributions. I hope to be constructively critical. This is certainly a very topical subject; in fact, to-day's debate almost broke out yesterday in the discussion on the Countryside Bill. If I may say so, the Motion, although wide in terms, is modest in its wording. Having regard to the congestion in the House of Commons and the prospect which lies before us in this House in June and July, I think the word "suffocation" might be more appropriate than the words "increasing pressure".
My Lords, the problem is certainly a real one; but, unfortunately, in debating it we are under a number of handicaps. The questions which we should be asking—and which, in fact, were asked by the noble Earl—are these. Why is there so much legislation? Is it absolutely necessary? Is it imposing too great a strain on our Parliamentary system? I think that is one of the root causes of the trouble; but it seems to me to be somewhat outside the scope of the Motion now being debated. The second handicap is that we are debating without any official knowledge of the proposed reform of the composition and powers of this House; we have to speak this afternoon on the assumption that we are unaware of the changes that may take place. Therefore, it seems to me that any suggestions that are put forward must be of a somewhat temporary nature. Thirdly, I believe the pressure on our time table cannot possibly be solved by this House alone. The phasing of the legislative programme must largely depend upon the decisions of Ministers as to whether a Bill should be first introduced in another place or in this House and also, ultimately, on the wishes of another place. The legislative programme is not entirely in our own hands.
I understand that in 1945 a considerable number of Bills—I am told that it was 40 per cent.—were introduced first in this Chamber. Possibly we have an example there that might be followed. It does not appear to have been followed in recent years. It would help consider- 716 ably in this House if there were better phasing of legislation which came before us. Therefore, I think it is clear that the pressure can be alleviated only by co-operation with another place. It may be that that will not he possible until the reform of this Chamber has been decided. But the debate to-day is clearly subject to these limitations. I am quite willing—as I am sure are my colleagues—to consider any proposals and suggestions carefully; but we must look at them critically. I do not regard myself as, by nature, conservative, but I believe that any changes must be carefully examined; and that, presumably, is the purpose of this debate.
My Lords, there is one proposal which has been put forward from time to time that was not mentioned by the two previous speakers. I think it is, perhaps, worth touching on. It is the proposal that we should elect a Speaker with powers similar to those of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The great authority of the Speaker of the House of Commons is an essential feature of the Parliamentary system. That is widely recognised; but it does not necessarily follow that this would be appropriate for a Second Chamber. Having served under the procedures of both Houses I am persuaded that we should not gain any material benefit from having a Speaker with powers similar to those of the Speaker in another place. I am definitely of that opinion.
I realise that at Question Time, for example, some noble Lords stray from the original Question and perhaps, from time to time, are out of order. It may be that we lose ten minutes or more because the supplementary Questions go somewhat wide. On the other hand, I notice that, with rare exceptions, great courtesy in the matter of giving way is shown in this House when two or three noble Lords wish to ask supplementary Questions. I wonder what would happen if we had a Speaker. It would be the Speaker's duty not only to keep Members of the House in order but also to call the next Question. If it were known that if one did not get the supplementary Question in quickly "the chopper" might come down and one might not have the chance of asking it, I think the atmosphere might become much more competitive. If noble Lords were to keep popping up and down trying to 717 catch the Speaker's eye, the character of this Chamber would change—and it would not necessarily change for the better.
As to the matter of points of Order during debates, if there were a Speaker it may be that it would save the Leader of the House some embarrassment. But it would only require two or three Members of this House who regarded themselves as experts on the Rules of Order to turn the whole proceedings into a battle of wits between the Members and the Speaker. We could easily take up half-an-hour or more on points of order. I do not think the solution lies in appointing a Speaker comparable to the Speaker in the House of Commons.
I would throw out this suggestion. I wonder whether it would be worth while studying the functions of the Chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons. I am thinking of those functions quite distinct from those of the Speaker, mainly the power to decide whether a matter has been adequately discussed on Committee and whether it should be debated again on Report stage and, in this Chamber, again on Third Reading. We might perhaps look into that and consider whether time is taken up unduly in debating points on more than one occasion. I merely throw that out as a suggestion.
But we shall still be faced with a tendancy for Governments to try to get business through without adequate time for discussion. That brings one to the question of Standing Committees and to the question of whether it would help if some Bills were taken through their Committee stage elsewhere than in the Chamber. A number of questions arise from this. Most of them were considered by the Procedure Committee, but it is right and proper that they should be asked again. The first and obvious question—and one which has been mentioned by the noble Earl—is whether the meeting of a Committee would be in the morning or in the afternoon. I see practical objections to morning sittings. Those with expert knowledge and experience might not be available in the morning. On the other hand, if the Committee sits in the afternoon it means that the Committee and the House are sitting contemporaneously. In either case, there is this problem of selection of members to sit, 718 which I think is even more difficult in this House than in the House of Commons.
There is, of course, a dirt notion between opposed Private Bills on the one hand and Government tills and Private Members' Bills on the other hand. Selection is not at all a simple matter. During the period that I was in another place, I had the responsibility for about six years of nominating members of my Party for service on Select Committees and on Standing Committees dealing with the Committee stage of Bills, and it was not at all an easy task. It is very difficult in respect of a small Party, because there are not enough Members to go round, and it is difficult for a large Party because there are so many different groupings and shades of opinion to be taken into account.
My Lords, if I may turn aside for a moment, I recollect that for years there was this strong plea for sending the Finance Bill to a Committee upstairs, and it was regarded as a very radical reform. But from what I have seen, I do not think that it has been entirely a success. I am not thinking just of the physical conditions. It seemed to me, as an observer, that it is not just a case of getting experts on the Committee; it is also a case of trying to satisfy the different political groupings within a Party, and one does not necessarily get the best Committee. Furthermore, so far as appointing experts is concerned, all too often a Bill is more than one Bill; it covers a number of different subjects. The Finance Bill is really several Bills rolled into one. The Land Commission Bill was really two Bills—I think that originally it was intended to be two Bills, and for reasons best known to the Government it was incorporated into one Bill. The Transport Bill is really several Bills.
It may be argued that only Bill is not involving Party political controversy would be sent to a Committee, but if a Bill is entirely uncontroversial no great problem of time arises. The Bill could be dealt with on the Floor of the House. If, on the other hand, there are differences of view, surely there is a case for a cross-section of the whole House being represented on the Committee as well as persons with special qualifications, and this is by no means a simple matter to achieve. 719 After all, there are at least four groups in this House to be considered—Government, Opposition, Liberals and the Cross-Benches. I said "at least" because there are the right reverend Prelates and the Law Lords, and this becomes particularly important if there is to be voting on the Committee.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Earl said about voting; that if there are differences of view, presumably the Committee would wish to vote; and that if there is to be voting, there ought to be a fair cross-section of the House on the Committee. I do not think it a sufficient answer to say that it could be dealt with on Report. There is the other suggestion, that certain Members should be nominated for the Committee and that anyone who wished could attend, or, alternatively, that the Committee should be composed of those who desire to attend. But what exactly will happen? In those circumstances who will vote on the Committee stage?
I can foresee the possibility of members of the Government being very anxious to carry a particular clause or to throw out a particular Amendment, and, as the time approached for a Division, going round and urging noble Lords, who might perhaps be in the Chamber, or in the Library, to go and vote in the Committee. If that were to happen, it might bring the Committee stage into disfavour and I think that the nominated members, the regular Committee members, would soon object. The only solution would appear to be that where there was a difference of view no vote should be taken and the matter should be referred to the House. I can see that possible line of argument, but I am wondering whether, in those circumstances, there would be a great deal of saving of time. I assume that if the Committee unanimously favoured some change, that would be all right, but if there was a difference of view this would be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. And if that were to happen I think that we should not really gain a great deal in time.
In any case it means that the House and the Committee would be functioning at the same time. I am very willing that we should try out any experiment, but let us do so with our eyes open. If I have expressed the need for some caution 720 it is because I have another reform very much in mind. I am most anxious to see Select Committees or Standing Committees of both Houses set up on, say, defence, foreign affairs and the economy of the country. In this House there is a great reservoir of talent, and I do not think that full use is made of it. It is true that noble Lords take part in debates, and one hopes that their views percolate through to the right quarter. But I feel that we could make more use of their services if they served on Joint Committees of both Houses. With the limited amount of manpower that is available, I do not wish to see too great a burden placed on Members who are serving in this House and on Committees, and who may therefore be unable to attend the Joint Committees which I think would be so valuable.
So far as the timetable is concerned, perhaps a little more thought might be given to making the best use of the time that is available. Could we not get a little nearer to a regular sitting from 2.30 to 10 o'clock, rather than sitting to midnight on one day and rising at 5.30 p.m. on another? But I come back to my general observation, that this Motion, though producing, I hope, a very valuable debate, leaves the main issues unresolved; namely, the sum total of legislation and the need for co-operation with the Commons. Without this co-operation I do not think there can be any simple or satisfactory solution.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for providing an opportunity for what is, in effect, a dialogue on the problem of legislative pressure which faces our House to-day. I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, the Opposition Chief Whip, and I must confess that I was most interested in what he had to say about the guillotine. He said that the Government should use the guillotine only, as was done by previous Conservative Governments, when the Bill on which the guillotine was to be used was capable and likely to be amended when it reached the House of Lords. I sat in Opposition in another place for at least 18 years when there were Conservative Governments in 721 power and the guillotine was used on many occasions during that time, and quite properly so—as the noble Earl himself said, all Governments make use of the guillotine when necessary—but I am bound to say that I cannot remember a Conservative Government ever giving as their excuse the reason that the noble Earl gave, that the Bill could be amended when it reached the House of Lords. I think that when we are in power we are entitled to use the guillotine, even if we know that when the Bill gets to the House of Lords the majority there is opposed to a Labour Government. On the other hand, I was more in agreement with him when he talked about the congestion—
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask whether he is saying that the Labour Government should use the guillotine to ensure that this House is not able to amend a Bill? In other words, to avoid any discussion in another place on a Bill which this House cannot amend?
§ LORD ROWLEY
No, my Lords, what I am saying is that the Labour Government uses the guillotine for the same reasons as Conservative Governments used it, in order to avoid unnecessary obstruction on the part of the Opposition of the day. That has always been the reason why the guillotine has been used; it is the reason why the guillotine was introduced in the early part of this century.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
But not on the Finance Bill, my Lords. As I said, it has been used only once before on a Finance Bill.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, if the noble Earl looks at Hansard to-morrow, he will find that what he said about the use of the guillotine was not restricted to its use on the Finance Bill. I was taking up his charge that the Labour Government were using the guillotine much more widely than previous Conservative Governments have done and for different reasons. What I am saying is that both Conservative and Labour Governments have used it for the same purpose. In my opinion no Government will get rid of the guillotine in the other place, any more than they will get rid of 722 the closure. I am of the opinion that neither should be used in your Lordships' House. That is not in accordance with the tradition of the House: and although I am a comparative newcomer I have seen enough to realise that there is no need for either guillotine or closure at the present time.
I support the proposal of my noble friend Lord Beswick for a Committee as an experiment. I understand that both the noble Earl who speaks for that Conservative Party and the noble Lord who speaks for the Liberal Party are in agreement with that proposal. I do not know whether it will suffice to get us over this congestion. We have, for instance, the Transport Bill coming up, with 148 clauses, 50 of which were not discussed in another place because of the guillotine, and there were something like 2,000 Amendments to the Bill in another place. It is one of the largest Bills of recent years. I am not sure that the proposed Committee is going to have much effect in relieving this congestion. I hope it does.
I should like to put forward an idea in this dialogue, because I see this as a dialogue in which we can put forward our personal ideas without regard to whether they are acceptable to either Front Bench. What is sacrosanct about ending a Session at the end of October? Why not extend it to the end of November? It is difficult to accept this sudden splurge of legislation coming to, your Lordships' House to be dealt with in June and July. We shall have not only the Transport Bill but also the Prices and Incomes Bill, which is extremely controversial. It is difficult to accept that we are going to be able to get through all the stages of these Bill; without having to sit very late on a good many days of the eight weeks covering June and July. I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government should consider extending the Session until the end of November. That would make a great difference towards relieving congestion.
I was also interested in the point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about phasing legislative Bills. Would it not be possible at the beginning of a Session for the usual channels to meet and agree on some sort of planned timetable? I know that the Legislative Committee of the Cabinet 723 may not know at the beginning of a Session all the Bills that are going to be brought forward, but I do not believe any joint planning takes place. I am talking about planning between the usual channels in both Houses. I am suggesting that they would need to have joint meetings so that legislation could be streamlined from another place to your Lordships' House and, if necessary, from your Lordships' House to another place. If this does take place, I should like my noble friend the Leader of the House to tell us. It is something that may well be considered if we are going to begin to handle efficiently this great mass of legislation, which I think is inevitable in these days. The noble Earl opposite said that there is too much legislation. It may well be, but apart from the Party approach, which Bills are unnecessary?
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, that is away from what I call the dialogue and gets on to the basis of Party politics. It is difficult to say that any Bill is unnecessary, because the Government of the day would not introduce a Bill for the fun of the thing. They introduce it because they consider it essential to deal with whatever problem it is intended to remedy. We are not going to get very far by saying that this Government, or any other Government, should ration their legislation, though fundamentally the amount of legislation should have some relation to the effectiveness of the legislative machinery in this House and in another place.
That brings me to another point. If we expect the Government, in conjunction with the usual channels, to rationalise the legislative programme, we in this House must do a little rationalisation as well. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about the undesirability of a Speaker. Certainly at this moment I would accept that view. There can be no changes like that unless there are major reforms of your Lordships' House. After all, the collective responsibility (as it is called) of this House in respect of the enforcement of Standing Orders and the maintenance of order among noble Lords, goes back centuries.
724 Only 50 or 60 years ago the House met at half-past four and usually rose at half-past six. There was no need for a Speaker and Standing Orders dealing with all the points that arise in a Chamber like the other place. But we have already moved away from that situation to a great extent. While I agree that we must not have anything in the nature of a Speaker in the present situation, if and when there are drastic reforms in your Lordships' House it might be (I put it no higher than that) necessary to consider some change in the Presiding Officer of this Chamber. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes here day after day and sits for hours. He has many other great responsibilities of State. Is it not possible to have some sort of modification, even an alternative, to the requirement which at present compels the noble and learned Lord to sit on the Woolsack for so many hours a day so many days a week? We are now talking about a five-day week. In my view, even if we retain the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as our Presiding Officer, something ought to be done to assist him.
The same thing would apply to the Committees. We have one Chairman of Committees. Is there not a case for having one or more Deputy Chairmen, with adequate remuneration, not merely calling upon noble Lords to volunteer for two hours at a time, no matter how many hours we sit? In the other place there is the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman, who are both paid, and I see no reason at all why we should not have a Deputy Chairman who is given proper remuneration.
What about the powers of the Chairman? We have no Standing Orders which permit him to interfere when Amendments are tabled, say, in Committee, and rejected, and the same Amendments are tabled on Report stage. Surely that is not justifiable. Should we not give power to the Chairman of Committees, with assistance and advice, to prevent the same Amendment which has been rejected in Committee being proposed on the Report stage? Reference has been made by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, to the fact that sometimes noble Lords intervene two, three and four times in one Committee discussion. Is that desirable? 725 If we expect the Government to streamline their legislation and the number of Bills, surely we ought to streamline our proceedings and make them as efficient and effective as possible. I throw that out merely as a suggestion.
I would even go further and say (I realise that it is not strictly relevant to this discussion) that we have at the beginning of a Session the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party and 40 or 50 Members of the other House who come and stand at these iron gates. Why could we not provide them for the State Opening of the new Session with these three Cross-Bench seats? There is no question of any breach of privilege, because we have diplomats sitting on those Benches for that afternoon.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
It might make the occasion more comfortable for the Prime Minister, but I doubt whether it would make this House more efficient.
§ LORD ROWLEY
He would be accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition. Does the same apply to him? I am merely ventilating ideas that I think must be turning in all our minds, whether or not we are completely in agreement. We have the short-term problem of having to make our Committees more efficient; and then we have the longterm problem of how we are going to conduct our proceedings later on, as and when we become reformed.
Meantime, I would say again that I think this discussion this afternoon can only serve a useful purpose. There will be many ideas put over which may or may not be accepted in various parts of the House, but I think the sum total of them all will be for the benefit of the House. I have now completed two years as a Member of your Lordships' House, and I have come to the conclusion (I was always a bi-cameralist) that there is a vital need in the life of our community for a Second Chamber with revisionary responsibilities, and I believe that we can improve the efficiency of this House without impairing all its traditions.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for placing this Motion on the Order Paper. To meet the situation to which Lord Shackleton's Motion 726 draws attention there are some things which the Government could do an3 some things which we ourselves could do.
Let me start with the Government. First, the Government should try to curb the torrent of legislation which threatens to overwhelm Parliament and which Parliament is not being allowed adequately to examine. This has been said before and I do not intend to embroider further upon it. There is one way of solving the problem, but it would be a mcst undesirable way. That way would be to proceed by enabling legislation, Leaving the details to be filled in by Order. That system is all very well, and indeed very proper, in technical cases such as, for example, the Food and Drugs Act, where the principles of the Act are applied in detail by regulations which are adequately scrutinised before being laid before Parliament. But, since such Orders cannot be amended, there would be the strongest objection to matters of real substance being thus passed into law. That way tyranny lies.
Secondly, the Government should see that more Bills are started in this House. A good deal has been done already in this direction, and for that we are grateful; but at present we are underemployed in the early part of the Session and intolerably overburdened towards the end. Thirdly, the Government should see, so far as they can, that our work in this House is more evenly distributed from day to day. To sit until after midnight one day and to rise soon after 5 p.m. the next day is not very good management. One may have full sympathy with the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip in the problems they have to face; and they do the best they can. It is clearly, in the nature of things, difficult to foresee how this House will conduct itself; but I should have thought that some improvement could be made possible in this sphere.
Now as to ourselves. We should be ready, as indeed we now are from time to time, to sit four or even five days a week, if this is required to get business through with reasonable convenience to Members of the House. A three-days-a-week Chamber is not something that we ought to try to maintain. Secondly, there are a number of ways in which we could usefully exercise self-restraint: for example, by resolving not to speak unless 727 we really have something to say, and, if we do speak, to speak with reasonable brevity. This applies as much to Second Reading debates as it does to Wednesday Motions. A dozen or so speeches on a Wednesday is all right, but if we have 20 or 30 speakers, no matter how important the issue, I am afraid that experience shows that more means worse, and much tedious repetition.
Similarly, we could pay more attention than we do to the Standing Order on Starred Questions, Standing Order No. 32, which says:Such Questions are asked for information only; no debate may take place; and supplementary questions must be confined to the subject of the original Question.That Standing Order is breached every day. It is far too often disregarded. We tend to have miniature debates outside the original Questions. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he says that we ought to speak up and call, "Next Question" if we find that the Standing Order is being disregarded. It is fair to say, I think, that Ministers themselves are sometimes to blame in this respect, because some of them spread themselves unduly in their Answers to supplementary questions and thus open up the ambit of the Question.
Another Standing Order that is frequently breached is Standing Order No. 28, which says that no Lord other than the mover in reply is to speak twice on any Motion, except in Committee. There is thus a tendency, which we have seen quite recently, to turn the Report stage of a Bill into a second Committee stage. There is perhaps some excuse for this, since the Government, as has recently happened, have encouraged this tendency when they have allowed insufficient time between Committee and Report stage to consider new Amendments brought forward at short notice. But in general we ought to try to keep the Report stage what it is, and not overdo it with too many speeches. We could help to save time, also, if we refrained, except on special occasions, from moving all over again, on Report, Amendments which have been rejected after full debate and a Division in Committee of the Whole House. That, I think, is an abuse.
Another practice which involves longer debates than should be the rule is the 728 practice of drafting Unstarred Questions in wide and comprehensive terms more suitable for a Wednesday Motion than for an Unstarred Question. An Unstarred Question should be of limited scope.
My Lords, I have indicated some of the things which either the Government or we ourselves could do in order to help to relieve the pressure. But there is one major change of procedure which it would be well, I think, to consider. It has already been brought forward, in my view quite rightly, in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick; and although the Procedure Committee some time ago reported against it, it certainly is worth looking at again. There are some Bills, technical and perhaps politically non-controversial, the Committee stage of which could, if the House agreed, be taken in Select Committee upstairs. The Theft Bill has been mentioned as one possible example.
Here I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he says there would have to be an express decision of the House before any Bill were thus committed to a Select Committee upstairs. That procedure could, I think, apply both to Private Members' Bills and to Government Bills, and they would, I should think, be the kind of Bills which, if taken in Committee of the Whole House, would not in practice involve the intervention of very many Members of the House.
The selection of the membership of Select Committees is an extremely difficult question. I should have thought that the members of the Select Committee should be selected for each Bill at an actual meeting of the Committee of Selection. I do not know whether that would work, but the Procedure Committee would be in a good position to review the situation each time and find the best composition for the Select Committee. May I be forgiven for saying that I think there ought always to be Cross Bench Members on Select Committees? It is not essential, I suggest—though perhaps I am wrong here—that the Government should always have a majority in a Select Committee as a whole, even perhaps for a Government Bill. And we ought to remember that under Standing Order No. 58 any Lord, though not of the Committee, would not 729 be excluded from sitting in a Select Committee, though he would not be able to vote. That point has, I think, been raised. A Peer should have liberty to attend any Select Committee and speak if he wished, provided he did not vote. It would certainly open up the Committee and allow those with a special interest, although not members of the Committee, to take part in the discussion. So I think, going back to the question of procedure, perhaps the procedure in the Select Committee for the Committee stage of a Bill would be modelled so far as possible on that observed in Commitees of the Whole House.
Voting, again, is an extremely difficult question, and I do not think I have any solution to suggest. I would take it that Bills after passage through a Select Committee would not always be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House—not always—though there would no doubt be occasions, and a good number of occasions, when this would be called for, especially if important matters of controversy should arise. And I agree with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, that in that event there should be a Division in the Committee of the Whole House, no matter what had happened in the Select Committee. But my mind is not made up on this question. There is a real difficulty. I have no doubt that we could find a solution to it. So for all those reasons, my Lords, I am very much in favour of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that we should try an experiment; pick out one Bill this Session and see how it works.
It is matters like these that we ought to have in mind as the days pass. If, as many of us sincerely hope, agreement is reached on the reform of your Lordships' House, and if your Lordships' House acquires new qualities as a working Chamber, a review of its procedure will be part of that operation, and to this I am quite sure the present debate should make a useful contribution.
§ 5.14 p.m.
My Lords, I shall keep you for only a few minutes, but I felt that I must say a few words on this subject. Having now heard the speech of the noble Lord, the Government Chief Whip, I am able to give my views. I am firmly of the opinion that no change 730 should be made in our procedure prior to the reform of this House. It is the undoubted tradition of the House that what appears to be uncontroversial will suddenly, on the Floor of the House, become very controversial to the House as a whole. May I quote as a simple example a small Bill which I piloted through this House? It was called the Pharmacy Bill. It seemed to be very non-controversial; it seemed to be quite simple. But after the Second Reading, when we got to Committee stage, we had one of the biggest votes that we had had in the House for quite a long time. This decided me to withdraw my support for the Bill. I mention this only because it seems to me that if we go upstairs at present, as we are constituted, we might lose a great deal a that feeling of the House for any Bill which comes before us.
It is impossible to know, prior to consideration of a Bill, how many noble Lords will wish to speak and vote on its Committee stage, and it would be impossible for a great number to congregate upstairs. For this reason, I think it would be inevitable that by usage the Committee stage would take on the form of a Committee stage in another place; and I understand from a number of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place that that has not been an unqualified success. I fully realise the difficulties of the noble Lord; responsible for business. But with a flood of legislation, most of it highly controversial, being presented to this House, I should be sorry to see any change at the moment. Maybe when the reform of the House is fully put before your Lordships the matter may solve itself, but before that I believe it would be dangerous to make a change, as in many cases changes of this sort cannot be reconsidered. I believe that at the moment we must soldier on, and if we accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who has just spoken, about our speeches, our interventions and our Questions, I believe we can save a great many minutes, perhaps half hours, in each Sitting. I feel sure that this is the way we should proceed at the moment, and when the time comes to reform your Lordships' House we can then take everything in one stride rather than in small pieces.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I hope we may be able to-day not only to be grateful, as I am sure we all are, to the Leader of the House for having given us the opportunity to debate this subject, but also to look at this matter a little more broadly than the rather narrow terms of the actual Motion suggest. It strikes me nowadays that the whole machine of Parliamentary administrative government and management is creaking badly under an increasing burden, not only in this country but in other countries too. If I were asked, speaking personally, to explain the very odd results—because they were very odd results—of some recent by-elections and local government elections, I should say that the people of the country were distrusting the machine and finding themselves too far removed from it. We can all form our own opinions about a matter of that sort.
About the time when this present Chamber was built on the burnt ruins of another, the province of the Government was thought to be not to interfere too much, and since that time there has been an increasing pressure on Governments to do more and more. This is not to any major extent a matter of Party politics. I agree that the more progressive Parties, such as my own, have been more susceptible to the pressure, and to that extent more democratic; but when we are told that this Bill or that Bill ought not to be introduced, the question that seems to me to be put by some of your Lordships is, which Party has introduced it? The general view seems to be, "If it is my Party which has introduced it, that is all right; if it is the Labour Party then it ought not to have been introduced".
I would put a rather different question. What is the opinion of the people about this? Transport, for instance, and the integration—to use a rather hackneyed word—of road and rail transport has been before the public of this country for years. It has been discussed in another place until one became almost sick at some of the catch phrases that were used. But there is no question whatever that people felt that there was something very wrong about it and they wanted something to be done. Such people were not confined to my Party; there were prominent Conservative politicians—there still 732 are—saying that British Rail is one enormous mistake and does nothing but incur debt. I do not agree with the view, but it is an indication that something or other ought to be done, even in their view, about the transport of this country.
Would one expect anything else? Is there any modern country where a similar problem in regard to transport is not occurring? I cannot speak for Luxembourg, but in most parts of Europe, and in the United States of America most certainly, it is occurring, and I should have thought it was a necessary consequence of the changes in science and technology which have led to the use of motor vehicles—different motor vehicles and in different circumstances. To say that the Government ought not to introduce the Transport Bill now appears to put forward a claim that what should or should not be introduced ought to be decided, not by the wishes of the people but by whether it can be got through the House of Lords in time.
The short answer to that is that if it cannot be got through the House of Lords in time it is about time the House of Lords had a look at itself and had not its head but its Constitution examined. It is really absurd. The reason why the Finance Bill has been sent upstairs in another place is perfectly clear to anyone who has had as much to do with it as I, and possibly some others of your Lordships, have had. It becomes extremely technical and boring, and in practice there is only a small number of people who sit through it and work on it. There is always the question whether the lawyers should be put on the Committee to examine it upstairs or those with particular constituency interests. I remember one stout trade unionist who had a powder puff factory in his constituency. He made the same speech about powder puffs year after year. It interested him, and no doubt it interested his constituents, but it did not interest anybody else. I should have thought it a worthwhile experiment to try it out.
What was feared, and what has in fact happened about the Finance Bill, is that the Opposition would use the opportunity to block it as far as they could. I quite appreciate that every decent Opposition, including Oppositions in this House, do their best to block the Government's business, but one has to arrange one's 733 affairs so that they cannot do it successfully; and that is the question we have to consider here to-day.
Individually all noble Lords I have met are quite charming; collectively they are like the curate's egg, better in some parts than in others; but I think constitutionally they are totally absurd and indefensible. You really must realise that this is not just the opinion of a fanatic; it is the opinion of a fanatic nowadays to defend the House of Lords as it is. It is all very well to talk about tradition, but has any other country in the world got a House like this, and would any other country in the world want a House like this, and is not that question sufficient?
Of course we have to face reform, but meanwhile, if I may say so, the Government are quite right to give us this opportunity to consider the rather narrower question of what we should do about saving the time of the House. Your Lordships are very prodigal of it. We have the most peculiar tribal dances over unopposed Bills, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gets up from one place and says something and moves back again and says something else. This goes on three or four times, and everybody in the House knows perfectly well that nothing else will happen and that it means nothing whatever. As for the tribal dance when noble Lords are introduced into this House—well, perhaps any further comment would be superfluous, and in any case that does not take up as much time as the others.
The Rules of Procedure in this House seem to me to be fantastic. There is no one in the Chair in a position to call any Member to order, but the House is supposed to do it. The short answer is that it does not do it, and one has only to listen to the proceedings in order to realise the amount of time that is wasted. People say the same thing over and over again. They introduce the same Amendment, or a similar Amendment to the same broad point, not once but three times in the course of a Bill. I listened to the Countryside Bill at intervals, and this was taking up an interminable amount of the time of the whole House. Then there was the Theft Bill. That Bill had some very technical questions in it, almost entirely legal questions; yet it was discussed again and 734 again and again in the presence of the whole House.
If noble Lords want to shorten the business of the full House I suggest that we must have Committees, and if we are going to have Committees and to use them, as I suggest they should be used, to get through legislation more quickly and—forgive me!—more efficiently, then it is perfectly clear that the Committees must proceed more or less on the same lines as a House of Commons Committee would proceed now, with a Chairman having the power of selection. And when the Bill, having been through Committee, comes back to this House on Report, there should be a power of selection exercised over the Amendments made by the Committee.
I remember very well in another place going through a long and arduous Committee about the last Rent Bill introduced by the then Conservative Government. It was a highly contentious Bill. I think we took every major point in Committee, including that of whether the Scots should have a separate Bill of their own. We took a good long time about it and we were pretty frank with one another in our discussions. I was leading for the Opposition, and afterwards I had to go to the Speaker and say to him, "Look, if you are going to adopt what I know is the usual practice and refuse, on Report, any Amendment that hay been discussed in Committee, there will be nothing left to discuss". He, exceptionally, allowed us to introduce a few major points again on Report, but the general rule of another place—and I suggest it is an inevitable rule, if you are going to save time—is that a matter which has been discussed in Committee is not selected by the Speaker for discussion again on Report. I do not see how you can do other than that. If you start going to Committee and then leave the Bill open to come back t) the House and have the same points raised, where will there be any saving in time? I very much doubt whether there will be any saving at all. I should have thought there was no way out the difficulty but to adopt something very close to the Commons system in that respect.
Another thing that frightens me is this. I am really terrified of the idea of having 735 a Committee upstairs which has been appointed, say, by a Committee of Selection, and for it being then open for any noble Lord to go up to the Committee and take part in the proceedings, and presumably to go away again afterwards. One of the features of this House is that there are a great many special interests occasionally openly represented in it. I think that happened over the Pharmacy Bill. We get noble Lords appearing on a point of particular interest to them and taking part in the proceedings, and then going away again. They would not have heard what had happened before. They would not know what the Bill was all about, unless they had read it more carefully than in the circumstances one could expect them to do. I suggest that a Committee is a Committee and must be kept as one, and that you cannot make it work without a power of selection.
I have finished with Standing Committees. I want to say a word about another matter. The discussion to-day is not to be confined to legislation but concerns other matters, too. I think your Lordships often have some excellent discussions. In the Commons there are at present 14 Select Committees, and there are I think 14 sub-committees of those Committees, and some of them are closely concerned with matters which your Lordships would, I suggest, find extremely interesting. There are, for instance, Committees on education and science, and another on science and technology. There is a great deal of experience available in both those fields, and a great deal of knowledge, in your Lordships' House. I do not for a moment rule out—in fact I think it is well worth considering—a Joint Committee of the two Houses on subjects of this sort. There is another Committee on agriculture. I may point out that the science and technology Committee, which is fairly new, has already produced four sub-committees which appear to be working very hard, and it is chaired by the same honourable Member who is the Chairman of the very useful Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. There is really something to be done on the lines of appointing Select Committees of this character, thereby saving the time of your Lordships' House by getting discussions conducted by those who are particularly interested in them and whose 736 views, whether expressed there or anywhere else, are likely to carry considerable weight with the responsible Government of the day.
Lastly, there remain the Scots and the Welsh. It is not true to say that the Scottish Grand Committee does not deal with legislation, as somebody said, I think inadvertently. In fact it does. It deals with the principle of a Bill, with the Second Reading as it were, and it also deals very fully in Committee with estimates. It amounts, in fact, to a very large measure of Scottish self-government, and there may be something to be said for having this Committee sitting in Edinburgh. I have heard the suggestion mooted. But whether that is so or not, surely Scottish business could, whether in conjunction with the other place or independently here, be treated primarily by the Scots. I am very ignorant when it comes to Bills about sewerage in Scotland, and I suspect that other people are, too; though one tries to find out about it. It would be rather a good thing, I should have thought, in these days, given some very odd performances in elections, for the Scots to be given not only more freedom but the appearance of more freedom.
The Welsh are a different matter. They have the same system of law as we have. There is no Welsh Standing Committee, and although a Committee is set up in each Session of Parliament its scope is much smaller than that of the Scottish Committee.
I have said all I want to, but may I put this point?—and perhaps your Lordships will take it from me that I should not say it if I did not really mean it. I feel that at the moment in this world of ours the whole business of Government and administration is having a very heavy burden put upon it; and that one result of this burden is that people do not understand what is being done, what the people whom they have elected to represent them are doing, and in the result they get a sense of disgruntlement and frustration. That, I should have thought, is contrary to the wishes and feelings of all of us who have the progress and good fortune of our own country at heart. I should have thought it was vital for us to try to make our instruments of Government not only better but more comprehensible. It really is too much to 737 expect people, in this Year of Grace, to accept this House, with its hereditary element, its very curious mixture of other elements, its quite remarkable Rules—of absence of Rules—of conduct, and its lack of chairmanship and order throughout its proceedings, as an efficient part of a modern Legislature, accountable not to your Lordships, not to the other place, but, if it is to be part of the Legislature, to the people of the country. Otherwise, we shall get a slowly growing boiling indignation in this country that will lead us to some of the troubles we have seen in France lately.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I must confess that I did at first hesitate very much whether to trouble your Lordships at all to-day when there is a long list of speakers who wish to take part in to-day's discussion; and indeed the wording, if I may say so, of Lord Shackleton's Motion was of so very general a character that any noble Lord who was not in the secret might well have been puzzled as to what he had in mind to propose in tabling it. But fortunately there was, as some of your Lordships may have seen, in The Times newspaper on Monday, a very well informed and possibly inspired note which in the old phrase "blew the gall"; and it seemed to me that there could possibly he something that could usefully be said by someone like myself who, in the Dark Ages long ago, occupied the rather uncomfortable position which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, does to-day.
If the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will forgive my saying so, I hope that he will not expect me to follow him in all he has said, because he really ranged, even for this House, very wide indeed. What I really want to do in addressing your Lordships is merely to give the House, for what that may be worth, the fruits of my own experience; and the first thing I should like to do, if I may, is to express to Lord Shackleton and Lord Beswick my most profound sympathy in the situation in which they find themselves. There is, of course, nothing new in the hideous prospect which they see opening before them and which has led them to submit the proposals they have to your Lordships this afternoon, with a view to trying to help us to get through the accumulation of business with 738 which the House is likely to be faced in the next two months. As far back as I can remember, the months of June and July for the Leaders of the House of Lords have always been just hell and nothing else. An enormous mass of only very partially digested legislation is flung at us front another place, and we are expected to give full consideration to it, make valuable Amendments to it, and come to wise decisions on it—however lengthy the Bills in question may be—in the short space of eight Parliamentary weeks. In those circumstances a suggestion which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in his opening speech this afternoon, that we should do what we can ourselves to clear our decks for action by moving at any rate some business off the Floor of the House and dealing with it in a Committee upstairs, must seem, I think, most sensible and mild.
This experiment, I gather, is to be very carefully safeguarded. It is intended to apply, if I understood his speech right, only to uncontroversial Bills, or even to one uncontroversial Bill, and the proposal as a whole is to be regarded only as an experiment. That sounds very harmless indeed, and in any case I am sure we must all want to help the Leader of the House in his difficult task as much as we possibly can. But I must say just this one thing. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I could not hide from myself—and in this I felt a little like my noble friend Lord Grenfell—one uncomfortable reflection. Is this proposal really quite so insignificant as it might appear? May it not be the very thin end of a very large wedge? From what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said in his speech I have a strong suspicion that it will be. Is it, indeed, really to be considered as an experiment at all, or is it not something which has come to stay? And what is more, is it not capable of wide expansion? Will it always be confined to non-controversial Bills, and who is to decide which Bills are controversial and which are non-controversial?
I do not say that such considerations need necessarily or even properly be regarded as final against the proposal of the Leader of the House. On the contrary, we are all like the noble Lord himself, faced with a situation in which, 739 at any rate in my view, we must not turn down lightly any proposals that may be made, however novel, for lightening our labours. But whatever we do, I feel that we should do it with our eyes open; and, though I should certainly not oppose this proposal which has been put forward this afternoon, I feel pretty certain that if we adopt it, we ought frankly to recognise that, almost certainly, it will become a permanency.
And there is one other thing that I think we should recognise. This will not be a complete solution to our problems. Even if we adopt it, it will go only an infinitesimal way towards solving our difficulties. For the real truth is that so long as the House of Commons insist on passing on such a vast mass of legislation to us without even themselves giving it adequate consideration; so long as they throw it at us just at this time of year, in the few weeks before the Summer Recess, they are simply going to make it impossible for this House—one of the main functions of which is, after all, to be a revising Chamber—to perform the duties that lay on it under the Constitution: and that will continue to be true, however short our speeches may be.
Look at the Transport Bill, of which Lord Rowley has already spoken. That is a flagrant case of this kind. What are we to do about that? Does Lord Beswick suggest that that Bill should be sent upstairs? It is certainly not noncontroversial. It is a portentous Bill with 152 Clauses and 18 Schedules. It had its Second Reading in another place on December 20 of last year, and according to The Times, it went into Committee on December 20 and came out on May 15. During the Committee stage, which occupied 45 sittings, the Government had themselves to move 200 Amendments to their own Bill and to withdraw no less than 24 of the original clauses. What is more, as a result of the imposition of the guillotine, more than one third of the Bill's 152 clauses were never discussed by Parliament at all. The Government themselves inserted five new clauses and four new Schedules, none of which were discussed in another place; and even that is not the end of the story, so far as another place is concerned. Since the end of the Committee stage, I understand that the Minister has "popped" in a further series of Amend- 740 ments which are to come before the House during the Report stage, and one of these is apparently of considerable importance. This is the Bill which is to come to this House after Whitsun, and we shall be expected to deal effectively with it, in addition to all our other duties, before the end of July.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I know that the noble Marquess always wishes to be fair. As he has spoken about new clauses being "popped" into the Bill, will he refer to the fact that some clauses have been taken out?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, that will make what I may call a minimal difference to the Bill as it will come to us. One cannot help wondering what can have been the frame of mind of a Minister who deliberately set before Parliament a task so obviously beyond its capacity to perform. Did she and her colleagues say to themselves: "We have a majority in the House of Commons which can be relied upon to support any course which we adopt, and the Lords will not dare to say, 'No'"—I wrote down in my notes "Bo", but both mean much the same thing—" We can therefore cock a snook at Parliament"? Or did they say, "What we should really like, and what we are ultimately aiming for, is a system under which Parliament confines itself to enunciating just broad principles underlining a measure, and leaves it to Ministers and civil servants through Statutory Instruments to apply those principles"? Is it that they have in mind? To me, and I am sure to a great many noble Lords on all sides of the House, that would open up a terrifying prospect. It would mean, more and more, as the years went by, that Parliament would become a dead letter, and this country would be governed by a bureacracy over whom the elected representatives of the people would have no control at all.
Or, finally, my Lords, did the Government not think at all; did they just push this legislation at us to deal with as best we could, whether we did our duty under the Constitution, or not? I do not know the answer, but it seems to me—
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, is not the noble Marquess opening up yet another terrifying prospect—that the House 741 of Lords should tell the House of Commons how to conduct their business?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am going to say what I think the House of Lords should do, so as to be able to conduct their own business. I repeat I do not know the answers to the questions I have posed; but it seems to me that the time is coming (and this is what I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison) when we in this House shall have to say to the House of Commons, "You really must give us time to perform the duties that lie on us under the Constitution. Unless you do, we cannot undertake to pass the legislation at all". And, my Lords, we may find ourselves obliged to say that pretty soon, at no great distant date. In the meantime, if the Leader of the House wishes to try out this limited proposal, I do not feel that we can well refuse him an experiment so relatively moderate, whatever risks to the future may conceivably be involved.
I do not for a moment say that the present Government are the only sinners in this matter of legislation. If I may say so, with all deference, this is a particularly glaring case; but all Governments in recent years, including Tory Governments, have been guilty of the same fault with regard to your Lordships' House. In my view, this is not at all a Party question. It is a serious question affecting all Parties, and one with which all Parties alike will have to deal. Nor will it be dealt with merely by such devices as a reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. The new House, whatever its composition, would be faced with exactly the same problem, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, as we ourselves are now.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, made some extremely interesting suggestions. I certainly should not reject any of these from a mere spirit of conservatism—I mean, of course, "conservatism" with a small "c". And I would say the same of the interesting suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and others. They certainly deserve study, but I am afraid that none of them will be more than a palliative, and not a very effective palliative at that. And I would repeat, what is really required—I say this in spite of what Lord Beswick said in his opening speech—is that Governments, 742 by which I mean Governments of all political colours, should exercise at least some restraint in the amount of legislation which they introduce into Parliament in any one year. This is really, I believe, the only cure if Parliamentary government is to survive at all.
I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will make it clear to his colleagues, if and when he reports to them what has passed in the House this afternoon, that this is our view in the House. Otherwise, I am sure that at we may find ourselves, as a House, obliged to make our protest in the only way we can, by refusing, and continuing to refuse, to pass legislation which we have had no opportunity properly to digest.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I am rather sorry that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, seemed to see something secretly sinister in this Motion. I do not. I may be naïve; I may be right or I may be wrong, in seeing the proposal before the House as just a minor adjustment of our machinery. I think that what the noble Marquess should realise is that the world outside is moving very fast indeed. Whether we look at the city squares in Prague, the streets in Paris, or the universities in this country, we see evidence of this movement all around us; and we have got to move with it.
We are not concerned in this debate to-day with the question of the powers, the constitution and the reform of your Lordships' House. This simplifies the issue very much indeed, although I have noticed a tendency on the part of some noble Lords to stray a little way from the fold. If we do have changes later, then we shall certainly have to look once again at our whole question of procedure. But all we are concerned with at the present moment is to make our machinery as effective as we possibly can so long as this Session, and perhaps also the next Session, of Parliament lasts.
It may be asked how we can improve a piece of machinery that is almost perfect. We have had that point of view expressed in the debate. My Lords, it is a fact that the machinery of this House does work. It is a fact that the end product of our deliberations is usually something that the House as a 743 whole wants, even though it may not be what the Government want. But I think we are all agreed that the House does not work quickly enough, and this is the point to which we have to devote our attention this afternoon.
One specific proposal has been put before us: that as an experiment we should invoke the aid of Standing Committees, perhaps, in the first instance, for one Bill—and the Town and Country Planning Bill has been suggested. I agree wholeheartedly with this proposal for Standing Committees. It is a suggestion which I made when we had a debate about two years ago, but at that time it did not seem to evoke any resounding echo. It is true that an experiment of this kind, a system of Standing Committees, was tried many years ago, and failed, but that does not necessarily mean that there should be any objection to it to-day. This is a different kind of House: it has to deal with different kinds of legislation; it has different kinds of Members and it has more Members.
We all remember that quite recently we had two or three Scottish Bills; very complicated and intricate Scottish Bills, which took a very long time on the Committee stage and on the Report stage. I suggest that a Standing Committee could quite adequately deal with Bills of that kind. Then we may have Welsh Bills, with a localised atmosphere about them. I think that a Standing Committee could deal with those also. Then we have quite a number of what I would call Civil Service departmental Bills, technical in their nature, not giving rise to any important matter of political polemics, which again could well be dealt with by a Standing Committee. If in one of these Bills we found lurking in some innocent-looking clause some matter of important political policy, of course we should still have an opportunity on the Report stage to cancel out any decision, any drastic decision, which might have been made against our desires, by the Standing Committee. But, as has been stated from all sides of this House, any really explosive political Bills must have their Committee stages on the Floor of the whole House.
Then we inevitably have to consider how these Committees will be constituted, 744 and a number of suggestions have been put forward about how they should be based. In the other place the matter is quite easy. There is a system of proportional representation whereby the strength of the Committees is constituted in accordance with the strength of the respective Parties in the House. This means that the Government of the day, whatever it may be, automatically has a majority on the Committee. But in this House proportional representation would not work: it would not give the Government of the day a majority on that Committee. The result would be that we should have quite a lot of doing and undoing to attend to when we reached the Report stage, and we might very well waste more time than we saved as a result of the operation. I believe that as a general rule—and I have heard no Party line on this yet; I have merely heard the views expressed by Members in all parts of the House—the general basic principle should be that the Government should have a majority on that Standing Committee, or those Standing Committees. There would, of course, be some exceptions—Bills of a specialised nature, Private Member's Bills, and so on. When we are talking about setting up these Committees, we have to face one very difficult and awkward and unpleasant fact. Shall we have enough members to man these Committees if we go beyond the bounds of a single Committee in a single Session.
It is a fact, one of the harsh facts of life in these days, that there are not many people in your Lordships' House who belong to the really leisured classes. That applies to both sides of the House. I feel that some of our stipendiary Members might have to take a bigger part in the work of these committees, even if it means creating a few extra Lords in Waiting or Parliamentary Under-Secretaries until the time when the House is reformed. Whilst I am on that point, I think there is a need in this House for one or two more senior Ministers, probably of Minister of State status, so that we may keep in line with the important duties which your Lordships' House now has to perform. But all this is quite irrelevant, of course, to the immediate topic under consideration.
When we are considering this manning of the Committees we have to bear in 745 mind that quite a number of our Members, those who happen to have the spare time, do at present devote some of that spare time to the work of Committees which are dealing with privately promoted Bills, and this reduces still further the amount of time which the House will be able to collect and relate to these particular Standing Committees.
There is, of course, the question of voting. That has been referred to in several quarters. It was suggested in the Manchester Guardian some time ago that a very easy way out would be to have the Second Reading of Bills on the same day in both Houses; that the Bill should then be referred to a Joint Committee representing both Houses; that the Members of both Houses should have the privilege of speaking, but that only Members of the House of Commons should have the privilege of voting. Well that, my Lords, is going to reduce your Lordships to the state of being eunuchs, which is not a very edifying prospect.
I am afraid the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, with his vast experience of this House, did not provide us with a solution. He did not tell us whether the members of the Committee were to vote or not to vote. He said it might be an open Committee where, if there was to be a vote, somebody would run round the House and bring out 20 or 30 Members from one particular side and usher them upstairs into the room so that they could vote. Alternatively, I think he left it open that the Committee might not vote at all. If the Committee could not vote at all, how is it going to convey to your Lordships' House on the Report stage what Amendments it suggests should be made to any particular Bill?
A suggestion has been raised (it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who was the spokesman of the now vacant Liberal Benches—and it was referred to by my noble friends Lord Rowley and Lord Mitchison) that we might have a Speaker to keep order, with cast-iron rules, such as those which exist in the House of Commons. Two considerations arise here. The first is a pretty simple one: is it right that the Lord Chancellor, without any powers at all to regulate debate or to keep order, should have to waste many valuable hours sitting on the Woolsack, and then 746 stay up all night to perform his other important legislative, administrative, and judicial duties? If he had the power to control this House it would be an entirely different matter. I feel that he should be relieved of his routine duties. I believe that he should open the House in the traditional manner, that he should preside over Question Time, and then hand over to a person whom we would appoint as a Deputy Speaker and who, if your Lordships wished, could be adorned in wig and gown.
The second question in relation to the appointment of a Speaker is perhaps a more important and less personal one. It is whether the occupant of the Woolsack, or the Officer presiding at any of our other Sittings, should be invested with the full powers of a Chairman, deciding the order of speakers, dealing with points of order, silencing noble Lords for repetition, and perhaps choosing Amendments on the "kangaroo" basis that is common in the other place. This looks a rather attractive proposal. It would stimulate an atmosphere of cut-and-thrust in your Lordships' debates; it would make the whole proceedings brisker, more exciting, and it might possibly speed up some of our proceedings. But I am against it root and branch. Under the present system practically everybody has a chance to speak, and I take no notice of the fact that in our recent discussion of the Justices of the Peace Bill sixty or seventy of your Lordships howled me down. It may be that our present system gets a little tedious at times—but it works. It works because of the chivalrous and reasonable attitude your Lordships bring to bear on most of the matters which come before the House unless some vital, vigorous question of Party policy happens to be concerned.
What would happen if we put a sergeant-major in charge as Deputy Speaker? We should have rows, disputed decisions, interminable points of order, and we should have a long list of would-be speakers who had been denied the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House. Some disappointed Members might nurse a grievance and feel that they had a mission to beat the Chairman. A few clever Members after a close study of Standing Orders, could do much to delay the proceedings of any assembly. We should have a debate on 747 procedure probably every day, and would waste more time in the long run than we saved. I remember back in the '20s, when I was a Lobby correspondent at the other end of this building, that there were then a few Members of the other House who made themselves expert in this way. We all remember Pringle and Hogge; we all remember, if my noble friend Lord Strabolgi will forgive me, the names of Kenworthy and Wedgwood-Benn. I remember a bearded Scottish M.P. who made himself master of the strategy of being awkward. If a few Members of the House set out to make things awkward for the Speaker, the whole proceedings could be reduced to chaos. Moreover, the House of Commons has a fully armed Speaker—and are they always more orderly and more expeditious in the despatch of their business than we are?
I base this point of view not merely on theoretical observation. Many years ago I was the leader of the Opposition on a fairly important urban district council. I studied the standing orders very closely, and I was able to play havoc with the Tory majority that was in power, to hold up and delay a great deal of their business, and in the process I reduced one of them almost to a nervous wreck. That may not have been my finest hour, but that kind of thing can happen. Many years later I was chairman of a big county council. I found myself having to deal with a recalcitrant member who was almost the reincarnation of what I had been on that urban district council some years before. The work of the whole council was delayed, and regularly at every meeting I had to call in a police inspector and two constables to carry him out. I was for 15 years the chairman of the Party organisation for the eight eastern counties at a time when the Right/Left controversy was at its most intense in our Party. Therefore, as one who has had a great deal of experience of chairmanship, as no doubt have many other noble Lords, I consider that no matter how strict the standing orders, how stern or tactful the chairman, Satan will always find some work for a mischievous pair of hands. I do not want to see an almighty Chairman in your Lordships' House—I think that would waste more time than it would save.
748 Another proposal that has been made is to have a kangaroo or guillotine in Committee. I sometimes feel that we need it, especially when I see 100 Amendments or more down for the Committee stages of some Bills. But I am a fair man, and I realise that many of those Amendments are probably necessary or desirable because that very kangaroo or guillotine has been exercised in the other place, and they have had no opportunity to consider that particular part of the Bill to which your Lordships are putting down Amendments. So I do not think that the guillotine or kangaroo in this House in its present temper is desirable. Nevertheless, if there should be signs of a filibuster developing—and I have seen incipient signs during the last few weeks, although I may have misinterpreted the situation; there have been innumerable, superfluous speeches made on innocuous Amendments which have ultimately been withdrawn. I do not indict your Lordships on a charge of filibustering, but if one did see signs of one growing up on an organised basis I should be inclined to consider a guillotine or kangaroo. It would be a pity, and, as a realist, I would say that it might be difficult to persuade your Lordships' House to adopt it. The same thing applies to the straightforward closure, which is a procedure not unknown in your Lordships' House. It was employed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, at the time of the first Labour Government.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Marquess has to confess that something he did was a great failure. It was given authenticity by the fact that it was accepted by the Lord Chancellor of that time, though in what capacity I do not know. I feel that the real remedy is to put down fewer Amendments than we do at the moment. Many are purely probing, technical Amendments which could well be settled by correspondence between individual noble Lords and the Minister in charge.
I then come to the proposal that there should be a time limit on speeches. On this matter I have to move from the witness box to the dock. On the question 749 of time limits, as Professor Joad used to say, "It all depends what you mean". It would be a pity to cut short important and intricately argumentative speeches on some important subject. Equally, it would be a pity if because of imposing a 15 minute time limit we provoked people into going the full 15 minutes when otherwise they would have been content with ten. If they felt a grievance, they might be provoked into making six 15 minute speeches instead of being content with one speech of 25 minutes.
Another remedy which is sometimes suggested—perhaps by a noble Lord who walks into your Lordships' House, makes a speech urging shorter speeches and then goes away for months and we hear no more about him—is self-discipline.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord's intricate, well-argued and very good-humoured speech, but I should like to point out to him that he, himself, has been speaking for 19½ minutes.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
Yes, my Lords. I was just coming to the point that we need more self-discipline, and that after to-day's discussion we shall have to apply it. I was about to say that we should also have some of this self-discipline, self-sacrifice if you like, from the Members of the two Front Benches when they are making introductory speeches and answering on Bills which are of relatively minor importance. I certainly would not suggest anything like that where a matter of important State policy or, indeed, of important Party policy is concerned. But I sometimes feel that on little technical Bills of no vast public importance the speeches made for and against from the two Front Benches are a bit too long. I hope that I have not got into trouble with the Leader of the House for saying that.
We have heard it suggested from time to time that we should be allowed more than four Oral Questions on any day. Now some questions are good ones and some questions are bad ones, but the fact is that the full ration of four is not always taken up. So I think we must be content with the fact that a ration of four Questions obviously meets the requirements of the House. But I will say that we must be much more careful with supplementaries than we have been in the past. I 750 particularly dislike, and should like to curb, those multi-paragraph supplementaries which are carefully typed out beforehand on sheets of foolscap. But if supplementary questions genuinely and spontaneously arise out of an answer that a Minister has given, and if they are directly concerned with a Question and Answer, then the more we have of them the better, because we then get that cut and thrust that is missing from so many of the parts of the procedures of your Lordships' House.
Briefly, what about our Wednesday debates? think that if we tried to tamper with those we should destroy one of the most valuable features of the House. But, even here, some cooperation is needed among noble Lords. I think we should try to limit our list of speakers to 15 or 16, because a long list does not always stimulate debate. There must inevitably be a good deal of repetition and there are bound to be only a few noble Lords left to hear the speakers who happen to be at the bottom of the list. I remember a year ago rising to address your Lordships late one night, and saying that I felt like the boy on the burning deckwhence all but he had fled.But that, again, requires self-discipline, and this is rather easier to preach than to practice. This leads me to ask: will television help our business or will it hinder it? I think it is going to hinder it. We would have more speakers getting up than would otherwise be getting up. I think we are really a workshop and the television temptation would take our minds off our work. We have to get on with our job.
When all these things have been said, the main thing we all have in mind is to avoid wasting time. None of us wants regular morning sittings. None of us wants regular very late night sittings. We have wives, most of us; impatient wives, some of us. We do not want a permanent five-day week. But some of these things are inevitable unless our work is speeded up and unless we fill each hour with more busy minutes. I should not object to a shorter Recess, but I feel that many noble Lords would not like it. So, with that gracious attitude which I usually show, I shall not press that very seriously. But when everything has been filtered out, there 751 are only two aspects of our business where considerable savings of time can be made; that is, in the Committee stages and Report stages of Bills. I should like, first, to see non-political Bills sent to Standing Committees if we can manage it; and, secondly, fewer unnecessary Amendments, and shorter speeches, including the answering.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
You see, my Lords, I have you unanimously with me. Thirdly, we should be getting away from repeating on Report stage matters which we have already dealt with in Committee. If those three things are done, we can forget most of the other suggestions that have been made.
This is a good House. This is a useful House. It saves an enormous amount of time in the House of Commons and it often vastly improves legislation. But it would be a pity if, by failing to adjust our gear to cope with its work, we encourage the view, which is prevalent enough, that Parliament is out of date and no longer capable of dealing with the nation's needs. This is a vital consideration and one which we ought not to ignore. I thank your Lordships for your patience.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland. I remember well as a spectator, so to speak, watching the way in which he dealt with some difficult councillors when he presided over Essex County Council, which I should think is very good training for the high office which he now holds in Essex University. But I have a special reason for being grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for initiating this debate, for I had the self-imposed duty during, I think, three successive years of initiating debates on this subject. I can only say, in retrospect, that I am extremely grateful for the patience of your Lordships in allowing me to do so, for I realise that any ideas that were put forward on those occasions were not necessarily new. The only contribution I was tempted to make on those occasions was to draw your Lordships' attention to the urgency of the reforms in procedure 752 which the new character of this House makes necessary.
The noble Lord the Chief Government Whip, who opened this debate this afternoon, was quite right when he pointed out something which must be recognised; that is, that the character of this House has changed. Reformed or not, this House is a new House and we must recognise that, not only in terms of its composition but also in terms of its procedure. I believe—and here I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell—that the real solution to the problem of this House, the procedures of this House and the conduct of its business, will never be found until a full reform of this House has taken place.
It is reported that considerable progress has been made by the two Front Benches in their negotiations on this matter of reform, but I think there is a danger looming ahead; a danger which we face as a result of the pile-up of business during the last three months of this Session. That danger is that the House of Lords may get itself into serious political difficulties through no fault of its own. My noble friend Lord Salisbury said that the time might come when the House, in all conscience, would feel compelled not to pass legislation which had not properly been dealt with, regardless of its political content. There might in certain circumstances be strong arguments in favour of that, but your Lordships will realise the misunderstanding that such a situation might create in the country.
It must be recognised that so far we have devoted most of this year to relatively minor legislation, and once again we are prevented by the processes—what appear to be the normal processes— of the annual conduct of our business from carrying out our constitutional role, which is the revision of Bills—the important Bills which will come before us during the next few months. Those Bills are going to have very great political significance, and if we do not do our job properly then this House will be discredited, because it will mean that Parliament is apparently working, legislatively, only on a single cylinder. But if we do our job properly we may well interrupt and postpone important legislation which, at any rate in the view of the Government of the day, is essential to the conduct of the business of the 753 country. That is a very difficult dilemma in which your Lordships' House may well find itself within a relatively short time.
I should like to say very clearly that I deplore a recent speech by Mr. Julian Amery in which he invited the Independent Unionist Party in the House of Lords to harry the Government so as to force a General Election. I know of no more mischievous advice, and I regret that such irresponsibility should come from someone of Mr. Amery's standing. The House of Lords must not allow itself to be misused by the Conservative Party, or any other Party, in the interests of political tactics in the House of Commons or in the country generally. If this were to happen, then the Party so using it would discredit itself and, in the process, would discredit this House.
What we decide to do now, I suggest to your Lordships, must be in the interests of this House and of its constitutional role in the British Parliament, and therefore we must consider what machinery should be provided to enable us so to conduct our affairs as to fulfil our constitutional function properly. In my view, the Government should confess that the present log jam is to some extent due to their own fault, because it has not been the policy of the present Government to introduce major legislation early in the Session in this House, but to concentrate it all in the House of Commons. Unless there can be some better distribution of the introduction of legislation between the two Houses during a Session, I see no possibility of avoiding the situation in which we now find ourselves.
However, leaving that aside, we are in that situation, and the noble Lord who opened this debate proposed that the experiment should be initiated of a Select Committee or Standing Committee which would take the Committee stage of noncontroversial Bills off the Floor of the House and upstairs. I must say that I think there are strong arguments in favour of that, but the problem—and it is a problem of great difficulty—is: what should be the composition of that Committee, and how far should it go in dealing with Amendments to legislation on that Committee stage?
It seems to me that there are two alternative methods of appointing such 754 a Committee. First, it, can follow the pattern which I think (I do not know whether your Lordships agree with me) should be the pattern of the composition of the reformed House of Lords when that reform takes place; that is to say, there should be a Government majority over the Liberal and Conservative Parties, in the case of the present Parliament, with the Cross-Benchers holding the balance. Or, if that principle is not acceptable to your Lordships' House, or is not practicable, for some reason or other, then I would think that the Committee should be selected in the normal way by the Committee of Selection; and it might well be that in certain circumstances the actual selection could be made by ballot from a list of Peers who had signified their preparedness to take part in the Committee stage of a particular Bill.
If that were to be done, then I think it is quite clear that the point which was touched on by the noble Earl the Opposition Chief Whip should be further examined; that is to say, whether the Committe upstairs should in fact have the right to vote for or against an Amendment during that particular stage. I should have thought that there might be a system whereby, in the event of a certain number of the Members of the Committee voting against an Amendment, the Chairman would signify that that Amendment should be referred downstairs, to be considered by the full House during the Report stage; so that there would be no final vote taken in the Committee and the matter would be left for decision by the full House.
It might be said that this would delay our procedure, because it would mean a second debate on that Amendment on the Floor of the House. It may well be that that would be necessary; but I think that if a Record of the debates in Committee were kept and published, it would be the duty of all Members of the House to acquaint themselves with the proceedings of the Committee before the Bill was taken on Report stage on the Floor of the House, in which circumstances it might be possible for the arguments for and against to be put formally by one spokesman for and one spokesman against, so that the House could then judge and vote without further delay.
755 My Lords, I do not say that that is necessarily a practicable solution. What I am suggesting to your Lordships, however, is this; that we find ourselves now, at this stage, as we have in previous years, considering the problems of procedure in a single day's debate without having fully thought about, or fully examined, the implications of the proposals which have been put forward, or the problems of the situation with which your Lordships' House is faced. Although I know that on a previous occasion when I suggested that there should be a Select Committee on Procedure it was not acceptable to a majority of your Lordships, I feel, if I may say so, that if last year we had had a Select Committee to examine this problem then it would have reported by now, and we should not be entering into an experiment in procedural change in this House—an experiment which is going to be very difficult to carry out effectively—without (I say this with respect to the Government and, here, if I may say so, with respect to my own Party) really having thought out its full implications. I should therefore like to ask the Leader of the House once again whether he will consider, if necessary after discussions with the other Parties concerned, not referring this problem to the Procedure Committee, which in my view has quite a different function, but setting up a Select Committee to go into the implications of the changes which are necessary and will be necessary in the future.
My Lords, I have tried to put fairly shortly what I hope is at any rate a practical suggestion. I would say only this to my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip: that I do not think he is either wise or right to say that, apart from this sort of change, there should be no other changes considered in the procedures of this House. To the eyes of those who come fairly objectively from outside there are many things which can be improved, and all our experiences during these last years have shown that in fact there are certain changes in the procedures of this House which, if made, would rebound to the credit of this House and would further the efficient conduct of its business. Therefore, I would ask your Lordships once again, in accepting this Motion, as no doubt your Lordships 756 will, to consider whether this is not now the time to take a much more thorough and, if I may say so, a much more farsighted view of the future procedure in your Lordships' House.
§ 6.28 p.m.
My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed, as befits somebody who has listened intently this afternoon and learnt a great deal. I should like to thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for initiating what has been so far an extremely interesting debate containing many useful suggestions. We have heard some gunfire in the semi-distance, and I think it right that this should be so, as reform of your Lordships' House was in the Queen's Speech. I should like to say just one or two things in parenthesis. I noted that in his most interesting speech my noble friend Lord Beswick said that our function was argument, not division—I was very happy with that—and he expressed a wish to collect opinions. I remember seeing at the front of a procession of dockers going to the Ministry of Labour a placard which said, "Continuity is our right", and, Parties apart, I think that this is what we should think about in any changes we make.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has hinted, with legislation in the other place in a state of jam there is a danger that we might be tempted into a rescue operation, when in fact thought and argument are to us more important than actual legislation. My noble friend Lord Brockway has referred to what might become a permanent meeting of the British Association. I do not mean that we have nothing to do with legislation. I think the prime mood of our Chamber is the very one we have witnessed this afternoon, in which really serious thoughts are expressed without any sense of gain beyond the gain of more successful thought. It strikes me, in conclusion, that we ought to think hard all the time of the new people that will be coming to our House and of whether it will, or can, produce a more interesting opportunity for them. I suggest that it undoubtedly can. We ought to avoid this potential danger of "taking the washing", as it were, of the other place, and of getting too tied up in detail when our main aim, rights and tradition are to form a very wide survey.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, I am sure that some of your Lordships may be wondering why I, with less than one Parliamentary Session's membership of this House, should dare to intervene in this debate. I do so because it seems to me that on arrival here I am more acutely aware of those things that I find peculiar or that annoy me than probably I shall be in two years' time. This House, like so much of our British way of life, is founded on tradition; and the tradition of this House is something with which I should be the last person to want to interfere. But tradition is a very old plant. It is like one of those beautifully shaped trees that one sees on mediæval tapestries. They have to be carefully nurtured and pruned and they must have branches lopped off from time to time. It seems to me that that is how this House must be regarded if it is to survive as a vigorous growth in the body politic and not to become an untidy bunch of twigs that is of not much use to anybody.
It so happens that my experience in public work has been in an assembly where the talking is done either in anticipation of or as a result of taking some action. This makes for a profound difference of approach from that of your Lordships' approach to the problem of legislation, where you are assisting in making a legal system for this country for the future. I recognise this difference and it is a handicap to me, I will admit, in understanding some of your Lordships' procedures. But at the end of what has been quite a long debate, I want to list, quite briefly, those things which I should like to see done differently.
I would accept a limitation on the length of speeches of—shall we say?—15 minutes. I hold that what you cannot say in 15 minutes, you cannot say. There will clearly have to be exceptions for the Leaders of the Parties on Second Reading debates and on other special occasions of that sort; but, as a general rule, it seems to me that 15 minutes' limitation should suffice. I have never quite understood—as one day undoubtedly I shall—the difference between an Unstarred Question and a Motion for Papers. They seem to have the same effect of producing a long list of speakers at the end of the day's business. I should have thought 758 that without any loss of dignity or opportunity or any sense of putting on a silencer they could be limited in length to—I do not know what, but, let us say, two, three, or five hours. I have sat here and known them to go on for more than seven hours and I dare say there have been occasions when they have gone on for longer than that. I think that that is something which we could look at.
The other thing that has worried me is that there are occasions when this House adjourns in the middle of the evening. It seems to me that we are sufficiently part of show business for the show to go on. I think that except in constitutional emergencies the House should sit until it has finished its business. If it is necessary for other things to be done while the House is sitting, that is a different matter. For there ordinarily to be an adjournment when there may be 150 of your Lordships present who have to hang about or who are, perhaps, enabled to eat a meal, seems to me to be a gross waste of everybody's time. Tied up with an adjournment is another matter that I feel needs looking at very carefully. In making this a place which your Lordships will willingly and gladly attend and in which you will be prepared to sit through the Session, the matter of the arangements for refreshments during the evening is important. One can arrive here at 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock in the afternoon and may want to slay for several hours; but one may not have the least idea of what the refreshment arrangements are going to be. Sometimes it is very difficult to find out; sometimes they just do not exist.
We come then to the very vexed question of Committees of the whole House. I have never in my life seen the like of this cumbersome procedure. If there is a Committee, it should abide by the rules of a Committee. I believe those rules exist if we had the will to enforce them. It should not be possible, as is the case when the House is in Committee, for the same Lord to make a speech once, twice, three times or four times. And because it is a meeting of the whole House in Committee, it is not a question of comments backwards and forwards across a table, as is usually the case at a committee meeting. A formal and set speech is delivered on every occasion. This, I 759 think, is the greatest waste of time I have yet noticed.
My Lords, even if these difficulties can be resolved, we have still to overcome two of the greatest problems of them all. The first is this. I believe that in this Chamber there is no means of enforcing the will of the House. That is something to which we shall have to give thought if this House is to play its proper part in the great weight of legislation which is coming forward and in the business of government generally. It is not only legislation with which we have to deal. As a result of membership of the House of Lords, our mail is heavy with requests for engagements which, owing to our commitments, we are usually unable to accept. We should all be enabled to take a much larger part in the business of government if our commitments in this Chamber were reduced by what I would call the "pruning of our mediæval fruit tree." I would ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to consider some of these ideas in order that we can have a more lasting Chamber, a more useful Chamber in a more modernised society.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, when you have a leaking tap, sooner or later your sink will overflow. When this happens there are two remedies open to you. Of the two, that of installing a larger sink is the less satisfactory; for, by the time that that, too, overflows, as inevitably it will, the leak will have become much more serious and harder to mend. I can well imagine that it is becoming harder for Her Majesty's Government to fit in the business with which we have to deal; but if we are to contain the problem we must tackle the root cause. The reason for it is not so much the undeniable fact that the volume of business is increasing as the equally undeniable fact that we are talking longer about it. This, in turn, is not because we are actually saying more, but because we are taking more words and more time to say it.
My noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn said that the House conducts itself by common sense and common control. In the old days there used to be a third thing added: the House used to conduct itself by common good manners. The fact is that 760 many of the traditional courtesies of this House have over the past few years been going more and more by the board. The chief of the unwritten laws used to be that no one should speak longer than necessary; ten minutes was considered a short speech and twenty minutes a long one. With the list of speakers at medium length, speeches used to average out at four to the hour. Nowadays we may consider ourselves lucky if we get three to the hour.
I remember the late Lord Brabazon of Tara saying in this House that if you could not say what you wanted to say in twenty minutes you should go away and write a book about it. The trouble nowadays is that noble Lords write their book but instead of sending the manuscript to a publisher they come and read it to your Lordships. The length of speeches is aggravated by the constant breach of two more of the old rules. These are that you should listen to every speech before your own and that you should stay in the House until the end of the debate. My Lords, if you have not listened to all the speeches before your own, you have no means of knowing how many of your points have already been adequately made, and you cannot cut down your speech accordingly. If you do not intend to stay until the end of the debate, you have no incentive to keep the only part of the proceedings over which you yourself have control as short as possible. I have often heard a noble Lord make a 25-minute speech in the middle of a long list of speakers and then say, in a rather aggrieved tone, that as the debate seemed to be taking rather longer than he expected he would have to leave before the end.
My Lords, the official list of speakers, which is always printed before a debate such as this, apart from its merits in enabling a balanced order for debate to be arranged, should give the House some guidance as to the probable length of a debate. But in the same way as it is now difficult to calculate the length of speeches, it is now difficult to know how many speeches there are going to be. Most Peers do not announce their intention of speaking until just before the time of the debate; many Peers speak without having put down their names at all. It is therefore quite impossible for the Government Chief Whip to work out how much time to allow for each 761 debate and how to plan the Order Paper so as to get through the business with the minimum inconvenience to the House as a whole. That is why, for instance, last week, on Monday, we sat until twenty minutes after midnight even after a Second Reading debate had been dropped; on Tuesday we rose at 8.17 p.m. and on Wednesday and Thursday at 5.18 p.m. and 6.15 p.m. respectively. We could have risen at eight o'clock each night and still got through exactly the same amount of business, even with the same length of speeches.
Committee stages present even more problems than other debates. Too often, as has been mentioned before, speeches on Amendments are the length of Second Reading speeches. Too often, because a noble Lord has had to miss a Second Reading (or in spite of the fact that he has already spoken on Second Reading) they are Second Reading speeches. There is another point about Committees which is rather more important. The attendance in the House is at its highest early in the day, and numbers gradually dwindle as the afternoon and evening wear on. This is somewhat natural. What is always somewhat natural is that speeches are inclined to be longer earlier on, and they shorten as the day goes on. A combination of these two facts has a disturbing effect on a long Committee stage. Amendments discussed between 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. usually attract the largest number of speakers and the longest speeches, to the extent that it is difficult for the House, sometimes over a period of hours, to take in all the arguments for and against a particular Amendment. At the other end of the scale, towards the end of the evening, numbers shrink and speeches are short, so that very often Amendments do not get the discussion and attention they merit. It is only at some point between the two times—round about this time in fact—that the number and length of speeches achieve their optimum point. It cannot be right that whether a particular Amendment receives the closest attention of the House or not should depend on the time of day when it happens to be called.
All too often, when a short debate approaches its end at a reasonable hour, four or five unlisted noble Lords join in, sometimes at length, sometimes Peers 762 who have not been present throughout the debate even though there are more items on the Order Paper to come. If Professor Parkinson were to study the procedings in your Lordships' House, he would observe a particularly localised application of his law: debate expands to fill the time that is available. Once we start having Committees upstairs, we shall not be able to stop. With more time available there will be more talk.
My Lords, I cannot say that I enjoy the prospect. that I see for the future—of a noble Lord speaking up to 25 minutes in your Lordships' Chamber, and then rushing upstairs to a Committee and making another speech of 25 minutes there, and then leaving the building before the proceedings in either place have finished. After a time, with two or more assemblies working full-time, it will again be impossible to get the business through. Then we shall be forced to do what we should be doing now, what we should have done before, which is to tackle the cause rather than try to alleviate the effect. May I suggest to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that an ad hoc all-Party Committee should be set up, not so much to discuss the question of procedure as the noble Lord, Lord Alport (who I see has departed from the Chamber), suggested, but to see whether we can bring back to this House a little of the basic good manners which it used to have and which made things go so much more easily.
My Lords, the Select Committee should, if possible, do this by exhortation, but if not, by Standing Order. Because it is absolutely no good whatsoever going through all the expense, trouble and disruption of having a Committee upstairs if the time saved on the Floor of the House is going to be taken up by noble Lords taking 35 minutes instead of 25 to make a speech which ought to have been condensed into a quarter of an hour.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I want to join in the refrain. I want to make a very practical suggestion which has probably been made before, that we ought to have a clock on each of the four sides of the Chamber. I say that with some feeling, because last night I broke the rule which I imposed upon 763 myself when I first came to your Lordships' House, that I would not speak for more than 13½ minutes—that is a refinement of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske. I would point out that 13½ minutes is the practical length of a turnover article in The Times and of a "think-piece" in the New Statesman. In fact, it is about as much as most people can take at one swallow. Therefore, if you wish to get the best attention in this House, never speak more than 13½ minutes. To demonstrate that, and prove it experimentally, just watch someone listening to, say, a Reith Lecture—something for which you have made an appointment, and not something to which you just drop in and listen—and see how people start to fidget after 13½ minutes.
My Lords, I said that I was very grieved about last night because I had a similar experience at Cambridge when I was addressing the students and I ran over my time. I apologised, and I said: "It is all your fault because there is no clock in this hall." A very aggrieved student got up and said, "No sir, but there is a calendar." Sometimes I feel that there ought to be a calendar in your Lordships' House. I strongly recommend this simple discipline to your Lordships because it pays off. It is the experience of all mass-communication and of all people who successfully write for newspapers that if a speaker cannot say what he wants to say in 13½ minutes, it is not worth saying. I am quite serious about that. If you cannot say what you want to say in 13½ minutes, you do not know what you are talking about, and you have not done your homework properly.
The second thing that I would reinforce, and say again to both Front Benches (and here I am doing something I should warn your Lordships about, which is not to repeat other people's speeches), is that it is not necessary to read a White Paper into HANSARD. I know that many points have to be covered in a Front Bench speech, but most of it is substantiation of facts and figures. I strongly recommend that if we are going to expedite procedure, either in the Chamber or in Committee, let us start by strong self-discipline and restraint in the length of speeches.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, may I put to my noble friend that when he makes the suggestion of having extra clocks installed, he will not insist that they should be alarm clocks.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I was going to make the suggestion that noble Lords use what I provide myself with for my lectures in class, an alarm watch—which does not appear to work in your Lordships' House.
§ 6.51 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I at this stage dare a short intervention? I have informed the noble Lord Carrington, that I proposed to do this. It will last by my stop-watch two minutes and a half. This afternoon we have heard a great deal about the mass of Government Bills which come to us, often undigested, and which we have to swallow almost hook, line and sinker. But what about the position in reverse? What about our Bills, our Private Members' Bills? In many cases they do not even get considered at all in another place. There is not time for them. I speak with some feeling. I do not doubt that your Lordships remember the Sexual Offences Bill and the fact that it had to be passed three times by this House. I think your Lordships will remember this, because I know that we were all so heartily sick of the business that at the end a groan went up every time the subject was mentioned.
I am an unrepentant believer in this House as an initiator of non-political legislation. Sometimes I am tempted to think of this as almost our most important remaining function. Is there no hope—and I speak with great humility—that another place will perhaps pay more attention to our very serious attempts to change things which we believe to be wrong? It does not matter whether they do it upstairs or downstairs, or where they do it. Without flattering your Lordships, I believe this to be the most brilliant debating Chamber in the world. I speak without hyperbole, without exaggeration. Should not perhaps more thought be given to the things which your Lordships in your wisdom—and I mean wisdom—recommend?
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, we have had many speakers in this debate and I do not intend to be very long. 765 I confess that I find it rather ironic that the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, in a speech which lasted 26 minutes, should advise the Front Bench, to keep their speeches short. I should like to tell him that I do not think I have made a speech of that length in the last three Parliaments. So perhaps he might look to his own laurels. As my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn said, the House disciplines itself, and perhaps if we had been a little less polite and a little less tolerant, we might have shouted to the noble Lord, "Sit down!" or, conceivably, "Shut up!" But the noble Lord is so endearing that he gets away with it, and I only hope that the self-discipline he told us he was going to impose upon himself—starting to-morrow—will not be like "Jam to-morrow" and never actually arrive.
We have had some very interesting speeches, but for myself the most interesting was that given shortly and succinctly by my noble friend Lord Denham, who seemed to me to talk a lot of good sense. He sits on the Front Bench here as Whip and has to endure a great deal of the oratory that takes place in this House, and I think that we may learn a good deal from the short speech he gave us this afternoon.
I do not wish to enter at all into the controversy of whether or not our procedure is right or wrong, except to say that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that our procedure is all that wrong. I think that what is wrong with it is that we operate it wrongly and that we are being asked to do a great deal too much, though in some respects there are ways in which we could improve. I do not pretend to talk about the remedies that we could possibly try, except to say just this about the proposed new Committee. I am not entirely convinced that this is the right answer, partly because I do not think that it will save much time. If we send unimportant Bills up to this Committee, it is not going to save any time, because they would not have taken much time in the House anyway, and I think that we should not send up important Bills. Therefore, I have misgivings about whether this procedure is going to work.
Your Lordships' House as it is at present is not constituted to break into 766 separate parts. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that there were something like 220 working Peers, so to speak. Not all of them come for all the day, and I do not think that we are a large enough Assembly for two assemblies to be sitting at the same time. I would accept that this should be tried as an experiment—indeed a continuation, because we used to do this before the war—but I do not think we should accept that, because we are agreed to take this one Bill, whatever it may be, upstairs, it is a precedent that we should necessarily follow.
I rise really to talk about what worries me at this particular time—that is, what is going to happen to this House in the next few months. One of our justifications for having a Second Chamber is that it should be a revising chamber. It should revise what the Commons have done and, perhaps even more important, what the Commons have not done. What is happening at the present time? It seems to me that three things are happening. First of all, by revising its procedure in a fairly minor way—but nevertheless revising it—the House of Commons is turning out legislation like a sausage machine. There is a spate of Bills coming to us from another place, and I think that it is true to say that when we have a Labour Government there is always a good deal more legislation. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury that this happens all the time. It is always very much worse when there is a Labour Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I did not say that that was not so. All I said was that both when I was Leader of the House and when I was Leader of the Opposition, the House was always faced with this problem, in a greater or lesser degree, during June and July. I agree that this is a particularly glaring case.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, there always is a congestion, but on this occasion it is going to be something quite out of the ordinary. I have done some figures on this. In a Labour Government's day, if we take 1945 onwards and the three years of this Government, on an average they turned out 1322 pages of legislation in one Session. A Conservative Government, in the years between 767 1951 and 1964, turned out, on average, 890 pages of legislation in the Session. This is about 40 per cent. less than a Labour Government, and without wishing to be Party political, or too Party political, I should not have thought that the Conservative Government was noticably less efficient as a Government than the present Administration because it had turned out fewer Bills than the Government of noble Lords opposite. That is the first thing that has happened.
Secondly, some of the Bills which are about to come to your Lordships from another place are almost totally undigested. As some noble Lords have already said, there are large chunks of the Transport Bill which, when it arrives here, will never even have been discussed; and new clauses and new subsections have been added to the Bill between Committee and Report stages in another place. There is still the guillotine, and it seems most unlikely that a great many of these will be discussed. We have the Finance Bill, which has now been guillotined. I do not want to go into the merits of whether or not it should be guillotined: my Party's point of view is perfectly clear. But what is happening is that large chunks of the Finance Bill, which affects in some way or another everybody in the country, are never going to be discussed in either House of Parliament unless we in this House depart entirely from precedent and have a Committee stage on the Finance Bill. I must say that I do not know of any reason, strictly speaking, why we should not have a Committee stage on the Finance Bill, although certainly it would be most unusual and very time-consuming. But the fact is that unless we do there will be a vast amount of legislation put on the Statute Book which has never been discussed by either House of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene merely to say that I am quite sure we can do it; but any Amendments that we put in would be regarded as contrary to Commons privilege when they got back to the House of Commons, and they would not be heard. But if we wished to make a point, I think it would be the right thing for us to do.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I entirely agree with what my noble friend says. As a result of this, what is happening is that the whole Parliamentary procedure is being brought into ridicule and contempt. We had a debate the other day on our institutions in this House, when this point came very much to the fore. I must frankly tell noble Lords opposite that I think they are doing a great disservice to Parliamentary government in the way they are at this moment pushing legislation through both Houses of Parliament.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if the noble Lord is going to make so much of this point, that so much more legislation has come from the Labour Government since the war, would he make some passing reference to the fact that the entire structure of the Welfare State has been erected by legislation from that same Government? Inevitably if we are to be a reformist Party and a reformist Government, we shall pass more legislation.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, nobody can say that in the last three years there has been much structure of constructive legislation passed through Parliament, and certainly not in this Session. I do not want to get into a discussion of whether or not legislation is good or bad. What I am saying is that the Labour Government always have more legislation and, therefore, there is this jam in this House. The noble Lord can look as angry as he wishes, but it is a fact, and he cannot get round it.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? He is always so kind if I interrupt, and I am grateful to him. I understand that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill has been guillotined. Has the other place reached the Report stage yet? Is there any reason why those parts which have been subject to the operation of the guillotine should not then be discussed?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
What does the noble Lord think as an old Parliamentarian? Does he really think that all the points that have not been discussed on the Committee stage in the Commons are 769 going to be discussed on the Report stage? I do not think he does. Unless he has a very constructive intervention, may I get on?
§ LORD MITCHISON
All I was going to say was that there has been a great deal of discussion about this, and I think they ought to have agreed a timetable.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
That is a different point. The noble Lord has shifted his sands a little. The other point that I wanted to make—and I am sorry if I am annoying noble Lords opposite—is about the position of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who came to his great office with a very big reputation as a law reformer. He was expected, and desired by all of us, of whatever Party, to simplify, codify and make easy our law. It is, I think, ironic that he should be presiding in this House in this Session over a large number of the most complicated Bills that we have ever had, some of them so little discussed and so little digested that they cannot be in a state of which he himself can be proud.
My Lords, I do not understand how this House can fulfil its functions as a revisory Chamber between now and the Summer Recess. There are three factors. We are basically a part-time House as we are now constituted—and I hope, incidentally, that we shall continue to go on being a part-time House and not a House of professional politicians. We all have other things to do. Secondly, we are basically rather elderly, because the hereditary system by its nature produces a rather elderly House and, if I am not offending noble Lords who are not hereditary Peers, Life Peers are very often created at an age when they are past the first flush of youth. Thirdly, as I have already said, we are a rather small working House, and to put too much strain on what is after all a comparatively small number of working Peers will be very difficult. If the House is reformed, some of this may perhaps change, but I should not have thought that these three factors will change all that much. Anyway, we have to deal with the situation in the next three months as it is, and we must be allowed to do our job.
I understand (I hope I am not revealing any secrets) that the Party managers are talking about this House regularly 770 sitting during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill until 2 a.m. I find it simply ridiculous that the House of Lords, as it is now composed, should be asked to sit until 2 o'clock in the morning to discuss the Transport Bill. They will not do it well; they will not do it properly, for the reasons that I have already stated. If this is the sort of thing that is to happen, this House will not be able to perform the functions that it has under the Constitution.
We on this side of the House have been very co-operative, and some people are already beginning to say (perhaps I may have the attention of the Leader of the House for a moment, because I do not think he will agree with this) that we have been too co-operative. Well, there may be something in that. I must warn the Government that in my view they may be straining this House to breaking point between now and the Summer Recess, and we shall be unable to do our job; we shall be swamped with undigested legislation of a complex and controversial character. I must honestly tell the Government this. We have never been obstructive, and I do not intend that we on this side should start being obstructive now. But we have a duty to perform, and we on this side intend to perform it. If a situation develops or seems likely to develop, in which it appears that the Government are steamrollering Bills through Parliament, or Bills are going through Parliament undiscussed, or because of the state of exhaustion of this House either of those two things is happening, then we simply will not have it, and I think we shall have the support of a great many people in all quarters of the House. Either the Government must give us proper time or they must postpone some of their legislation. The Government are in a terrible mess, and it is of their own making and not ours. We have our job to do, and we are going to do it.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, my own personal contribution to the procedure of this House in the interest; of brevity is to throw my notes away entirely, and if therefore I fail to answer all the points that have been raised, it will at least have the effect of shortening my speech. There have been a number of notable 771 speeches, and I must say that one which commended itself very much to me was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. It is unfortunate that the noble Lord moves so rapidly from Bench to Bench that I am never quite sure where he is sitting; indeed, he also moves laterally along the Benches at intervals. But what he had to say about the procedure manners of the House is something that I, certainly, as Leader of the House, am very conscious of. I should like, therefore, to refer in the first instance to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and other noble Lords about the customs at Question Time.
It is exceedingly difficult (and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I am sure will bear me out in this) if it is left to the Leader of the House to act as a sort of schoolmaster to the House. There are times when I am inhibited from doing so, because the contributions that may come from both sides, including the Government Front Bench, are of the kind that suggest to me that it would be unfair for me to stop other people from being as lengthy in asking questions on replies conscientiously given by my very conscientious colleagues which have greatly widened the discussion. I cannot, obviously, refer in detail to our proceedings in the Committee for Procedure, but these are matters in which the cooperation of the House as a whole will make an enormous difference.
I do not need to reiterate the points which so many noble Lords have made beyond saying to my noble friend Lord Fiske—I very much welcome his speech from a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, and I hope he will accept this remark as intended in a courteous way—that when he has been here a little longer he will have found the answers to some of the points he made. We rarely adjourn for dinner, and when we do it is largely for the reason that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, gave in discussing the difficulties of Committees: to provide some moment in which those who serve us are able to get a meal. My noble friend Lord Beswick is constantly worried about this; he is sometimes more worried about the burdens we put on the Hansard writers and others—although we go on doing it pretty ruthlessly—than the convenience of 772 the House. And he is right to be. These are some of the difficulties. To use that terrible phrase which is sometimes applied outside the military field, we have not got the infrastructure for the extra operational activity that your Lordships are called upon to provide.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, made a number of interesting points in relation to the development of procedure. I certainly am unable to comment on any suggestions he may have made as to what any future nature of a reformed House would be, because so far as I know nothing has been settled about this. At any rate, I certainly should not wish to comment on it.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, may I say that I was referring to my own Bill as to what I regard as the nature of the reform which should take place. I am unaware of whatever is decided by the Front Bench.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
All I would say on this question is that we are in difficulties in this House because, in some sense, without being in any way in a state of suspended animation (because the one thing this House is not in is a state of suspension), we are probably moving between two stages of our existence.
My noble friend Lord Beswick made very clear the developments that had taken place in your Lordships' House, and I think there was a general acknowledgment of them. It may be very difficult for us to adapt our procedures as we might like to do, while the House is in an unreformed state. There are the problems that noble Lords are not only part-timers; they are very much part-timers. Many noble Lords have important engagements to fulfil. They have to earn their livings, and it is exceedingly difficult. I know how hard my noble friend Lord Beswick tries to suit the convenience of your Lordships in regard to debates. It certainly is true that there was a time when the most admirable excuse one could give for the postponement of a piece of business was that one happened to be dining out that night. If one was going to Glyndebourne, Ascot, the Derby, or somewhere like that, the reasons were even more respectable. But, alas!, we are not able entirely to suit your Lordships' convenience, and I am 773 very conscious that the Government are asking your Lordships to put up with a great deal. It would be useless for me to deny it.
What we have suggested is that there may be at least some changes in procedure that will help us. However, what has emerged from this debate, I think, is that perhaps the most useful thing we can do will be in fact to apply some of our basic principles, whether of good manners or of the custom of the House; and this we shall have to do ourselves. It is not true that the House is not able to enforce its will if it wishes, but it means that there must be a more conscious and collective approach, and I think there have been developments in this direction lately.
A number of points were made in regard to the working of a possible Committee system. My impression is that, on the whole, your Lordships would be in favour of an experiment. I myself share the doubts that have been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, pointed out very fairly that it is almost impossible to say what is a non-controversial Bill. In fact, one of the most fatal statements that any Minister can make to his colleagues in a legislative committee or some such body is that the little Bill he is going to introduce is going to be entirely non-controversial. Almost invariably it arouses some tremendous passions somewhere, and the Minister then finds he is in dead trouble. I do not think, therefore, that we could hope merely to pick out a Bill and say it was so innocuous as to be non-controversial. Indeed, if it is worth discussing and arguing about at all, there is likely to be some element of controversy in it. Therefore the procedure must depend upon the type and nature of the Bill. A major Bill like the Transport Bill, which is a major Bill in a Party's political programme, would clearly be as unsuitable to send upstairs as some of the previous Government's Bills relating to rent, or the introduction of commercial television, or Bills which in their time they guillotined without any complaint from your Lordships' House. I do not think such Bills would be suitable to send to the Committee upstairs.
But what will be important in carrying out this experiment, if we do, is that we shall have to do so with a great deal 774 of consciousness as to the risks we run. It may be possible to decide—it may not, but suggestions have been made by noble Lords; I cannot remember whether they came from the noble Lord, Lord Alport, or other noble Lords—that certain obviously contentious issues will be best preserved for the House. I rather share the view of those noble Lords who think that perhaps the greatest influence of this House is through discussion, through voices, rather than through votes; although in a sense there is a technical point where a voice, I think, becomes a vote. On this matter, however, I should have thought we might find, after a preliminary canter, that particular Bills were clearly going to involve a real fight, and at that moment the Committee, in an informal way, might decide to say "We won't pursue this matter any further". The Minister might say to a noble Lord, "Perhaps the noble Lord would wish now to withdraw his Amendment and put it down again on the Floor of the House, where he will be able properly to deploy arguments".
What would be fatal would be if in fact we were to have a Committee which was open to the whole House, and, in order to win a particular Amendment the House itself was suddenly denuded of all its Members, who were hauled in by the Whips Office in order to vote in Committee upstairs. This, clearly, would destroy the procedure. The object, of course, will not be to save time; it will be in fact to save time on the Floor of the House. Indeed, one hopes it might also contribute to the better and more thorough discussions which noble Lords are so anxious to achieve.
Pursuing the examples that have been given, and competing, if possible, for at least an honourable mention in relation to shortness of speeches—I do not think I shall ever do as well as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—I must nevertheless just refer to some of the rather more threatening remarks that emanated from noble Lords opposite. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he said, as I think he did, that the House would do its best with the legislation that comes before us. There seems to be an impression very notable among some noble Lords on the other side that all legislation is bad and that provided that you do not legislate on something you are 775 actually displaying your social virtue. I cannot accept that. Indeed, the Conservative Government never accepted it. I remember noble Lords opposite, when they were in Government, and in particular Lord Hailsham, complaining about the difficulties of getting legislative time, and in order to improve the output of legislation, particularly for secondary legislation of importance, devices like the Second Reading Committees were produced. The sufferers from bottlenecks in legislation are not the main Bills of strong Party political content but secondary Bills of importance—a Bill such as that concerned with libraries, which was held up for some time after the Roberts Committee Report in the days of the previous Government, and then it was found just possible to slip it in.
I am a little surprised that noble Lords who used the guillotine so freely should complain about the use of the guillotine by a Labour Government. In fact, twelve measures were guillotined in the days of the Conservative Government and there have been six in the days of a Labour Government since the war. Indeed even Lords' Amendments have been guillotined under a Conservative Government. This argument always arouses emotion, and in my view it is only partially sincere. I am not attacking noble Lords opposite, because I know at times they feel passionately on this question, but they really ought to consider the problem. When it comes to the Finance Bill it is difficult for us to discuss the procedure in another place, but there had been definite recommendations from a Procedure Committee that there should be time-tabling of the Finance Bill, and in my view it would have been perfectly possible to avoid the sort of delays that will now lead to the guillotine falling. I do not wish to criticise right honourable Members in another place, but I find it ludicrous to suggest that it would not have been possible to discuss the Finance Bill if the Opposition in another place had really wanted to do so.
Therefore I hope we shall continue to get the co-operation of noble Lords. I would not for one moment suggest—although the thought did cross my mind—that the Conservative Opposition are using this as a respectable excuse for holding up Government measures in your 776 Lordships' House. I do not accuse noble Lords of that, and I do not think the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, would suggest it, but I must say that I think they would not mind if they had an excuse of this kind. It would create the most tremendous difficulties and dangers and militate against an orderly development of procedure in this House and our future progress.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord can just sit and take it for a minute. I am not threatening, I am just putting ideas in front of your Lordships' House, in the same way that the noble Lord himself did. We were kept up night after night in the days of the Conservative Government on Bills—for instance, the London Government Bill. They will say that we kept them up, and I do not doubt that it will be the Opposition who will keep us up on the Transport Bill when it comes to this House, although I personally have not heard of the "two o'clock rule". Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is better informed than my noble friend and I. This may be part of "usual channel" discussions and it may well be that they are prophesying correctly.
To sum up, I think it is not possible for us at this stage to set in hand a far-reaching examination of our procedure in time to do anything which will alleviate the position in the next two or three months. I think all noble Lords will agree on that. I am grateful to the noble Marquess for recognising that this is not a new problem, even though he quite fairly pointed out that perhaps it will be worse this year than in previous years; but I hope very much that we shall continue to do our utmost, adopting some of the principles that have been enunciated, to cope with the legislation that comes before us.
I cannot accept that the requirements of the country as judged by a Government, whichever Government it may be, should suffer seriously as a result of outmoded procedures or practices. It may well be that it is unfair to expect our House at this moment to cope in this sort of way, but we are being asked to do so—and this is said in no threatening way at all. And however unpopular the 777 Government may be thought to be at the moment by Opposition members, I do not think it will be accepted as an adequate reason for refraining to do what we believe to be necessary. Much of the legislation coming forward is important legislation. I do not think anyone on the other side of the House would seriously suggest that it is legislation just produced for doctrinaire reasons or out of Party political spite.
In conclusion, I wish to express my appreciation to your Lordships for a most interesting debate. I think it has served the purpose which we had in mind; (a) to discuss certain things which we might do in the short term; and (b), to expose to the House the problems with which we are confronted. I hope it will be felt that those of us who have spoken from the Front Bench on this side of the House have been completely frank with the House. We shall continue to be so. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—if it does not embarrass him—that we appreciate that he also has difficulties. The task of the Leader of the House is supposed to be difficult, but I personally think that the task of Leader of the Opposition can be difficult as well. However, I hope that with the application of the principles of co-operation which have been enunciated, and with the prospect of experimenting with one Bill upstairs, we shall be able to get through somehow during the next few months.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, may I ask one question? This was raised by the Opposition Chief Whip and also by the noble Lord, Lord Rowley. Is there any reason why we should not seriously consider that the House should sit during the month of November to clear up legislation and that we should have the official Opening of Parliament at the beginning of December? This state of affairs will occur with much greater frequency, and indeed it has often happened, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury said; and I cannot see why we should not have an overspill and have four weeks to clear up a great deal of the legislation that comes up to us so late from another place.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I think I shall have to get the noble Lord, Lord Denham, to talk to the noble Lord, because he almost made a little speech, 778 which is contrary to our practice. I will take note of the noble Lord's suggestion, but I do not think it is something that can be lightly introduced, and I am passionately opposed to the idea of carrying over Bills from one Session to another as a general rule. Nevertheless, these points are of interest, and no doubt in future they will be considered. I do not think we can hope to do it this year.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.