HL Deb 26 June 1969 vol 303 cc290-2

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord moves the Adjournment of the House, I should like, with the permission of the House, to raise a matter relating to our business and to express concern about the arrangements which have been made for the debate in your Lordships' House on the Divorce Bill. Your Lordships will have seen from the Order Paper that this is down for debate on Second Reading on Monday of next week. This is a very important Bill. It is one of the most important features of the legislation to go through Parliament during this year.

I have no wish to score Party points, but I should have thought that, with the withdrawal of the legislation on House of Lords Reform, and of the industrial relations legislation, there should have been plenty of time remaining at the disposal of your Lordships' House to give the best possible facilities for the consideration of this important social measure. Yet the Second Reading is put down for Monday of next week—Monday being a day on which your Lordships do not normally sit, and a day which is extremely inconvenient for the noble Lords who have to come long distances to attend and particularly for Scottish Peers—on the day immediately preceding the investiture of the Prince of Wales, an occasion which means, as I understand it, that practically all the Welsh Peers will be required to be in Wales on the Monday.

There are, in spite of that, I am told. 29 Members of your Lordships' House who wish to address the House on the Second Reading of this Bill. It may well be that those who are opposed to this Bill will wish to have a Division, and if there are to be 29 Peers speaking the possibility is that that Division will take place later at night than is normal for the convenience of your Lordships' House. There may be good reasons, which as a private Member do not know, as to why this decision has been made, but I feel that in the interests of those of us who are opposed to this legislation it is right to raise the matter at this time, since we are likely to rise before a quarter past four on one of the important debating days which are at the disposal of your Lordships' House. I wish merely to make this point because I think it is right so to do.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will try to answer the point which the noble Lord has made. May I first say that I have a good deal of sympathy with him he sees that we are rising shortly after four on one day and then on the next sitting day we are likely to go on quite late. Nothing pains me more than when business so works out that we have this irregularity of Sitting days, and if it were possible to work it out perfectly evenly then I, for one, in so far as I have a responsibility here or have anything to do with it, should be very happy to make the necessary arrangements. But the fact in this case is that we were intending to take the Post Office Bill Committee stage to-day, Thursday.

We took the first day of the Committee stage of that very long Bill, with its 138 clauses and 11 Schedules, on Monday. Everyone anticipated that we should have two long days on the Committee stage. Then, as I was entering the Chamber on Monday, I was told that certain of the Amendments were not to be moved. Of course, the noble Lords who had put down those Amendments were perfectly entitled to move them or not to move them; but I am sure the noble Lord himself will agree that the decision not to move could cause a certain degree of inconvenience. It meant that other noble Lords who had come along to speak to those Amendments had not, in fact, the opportunity they expected to have. But one consequence of what happened then was that we finished the Post Office Bill Committee stage on Monday. That has meant that we have had a light day to-day.

I am not sure what the noble Lord would have us do in this particular case. To have Government business finish earlier than one anticipated is one thing, but immediately to run round and interfere with private Members' business would be quite another. After all, in the case of the Divorce Reform Bill we are dealing with an important Bill, a very important Bill, but it is a Private Member's Bill; and, so far as I am concerned, the Government in this case are acting only as a sort of honest broker. I did put up a proposal that we might meet to-morrow, so that some part of the speeches on the Bill could have been delivered to-morrow. But the general opinion of the House, as I was able to measure it, was that we should start the Second Reading of the Bill on Monday. And we are starting it slightly earlier, at 2 o'clock. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, says, some 29 noble Lords have put their names down to speak. Provided that they speak with reasonable brevity, I should have expected we could reach a conclusion and have the Division at a reasonable hour—at about 8 or 9 o'clock was my estimate; and that was, I hope the noble Lord will think, a reasonable way to look at it.

There is one other point that I would make. In July we tend in this House to become rather congested. There are certain very substantial Bills still to be considered. We have, next week, this special event at Caernarvon to which many noble Lords will be going, but if the House wishes to rise by the end of July, which I think would be the wish of most of us, then it is necessary to accept this congestion as from about now. Had the Post Office Bill taken the time that we expected it to take we should have been sitting until quite a late hour to-night. With that explanation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, will believe that we have not acted entirely irresponsibly, and I assure him that before the arrangements were made we endeavoured to get the general feeling of the House.