HL Deb 20 March 1969 vol 300 cc1022-9

3.22 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to move, That the Clerk of the Parliaments do prepare and lay before the House a Return of the Number of Days on which each Lord was recorded as being present in the House during Sessions 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1966–67 and 1967–68. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion in my name on the Order Paper, I should like to give a short explanation of the background and my reasons for tabling it. In particular, I should indicate why this seemed to us, after consultation through the usual channels, to be an appropriate action. I ought also to say that I regret having to take up the time of the House on what is essentially a small matter, but we are in some difficulty, despite the flexibility of the procedure of your Lordships' House. When I was asked privately to make this information available, I pointed out that I had no more authority than any other noble Lord in this matter. May I say that, although this Motion concerns the Clerk of the Parliaments, your Lordships will have seen that he is not in his seat to-day. That is because of a sad bereavement he has suffered, and I am sure that the whole House would wish to express our sympathy to him.

Obviously the Motion bears on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, and it will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that there is some discussion going on in another place, perhaps not always on the Bill but on matters that occasionally may be related to it—but I think it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the proceedings there. I have been asked by another place, informally, that this information should be made available. After careful thought, I believe that to be a reasonable request. Your Lordships will have noticed that the Motion instructs the Clerk of the Parliaments to prepare and lay before the House details of attendances over a number of Sessions. Nobody has asked me for anything quite so long and detailed as this, but I think that if anybody wants figures he may as well be given the lot. If there are conclusions to be drawn, obviously it is useful to show the figures over a longer period, which, if it does nothing else, shows the increasing assiduity of your Lordships in attending this House; and the figures for one Session are certainly not statistically significant.

Perhaps I should explain that the information which this Motion seeks to provide is in effect already available. It is contained in the Lords' Journals which, as soon as they are published, reveal the attendance on every sitting day. Your Lordships' House, as some of your Lordships, though not all, know, is a Court of Record and, as such, the Journals of out proceedings are open to public inspection. But the way in which the daily attendance is set out in the Journals is based on ancient custom, and the order in which the names of individual Peers are placed is arranged according to the provisions of the Act for the Placing of the Lords, Chapter 10.31, Henry VIII; and the degrees and styles of individual Peers are set out in Latin—but Latin which most of us would be able to translate.

Your Lordships will appreciate that while this information is available to the public, it is not in a convenient form and does not lend itself to easy digestion. For a number of years the Clerk of the Parliaments has caused the Clerk of the Journals to prepare each Session an Alphabetical List of those Peers who attend our debates during that Session, showing the number of times that each attends the House. This is prepared for reasons of convenience connected with Leave of Absence and other matters.

I think it is right to say how often statistics of this sort are open to misinterpretation. Let me emphasise that I would not guarantee, and I am sure that the Clerks would not guarantee, that in every respect these lists are correct. There may be as much as a 1 or 2 per cent. statistical error. Furthermore, a noble Lord might be assiduous in his attendance on some occasions and then, for reasons of public duty or of ill-health, or indeed because it is the custom of the House, might not wish to attend except occasionally. Therefore, it is necessary to indicate that, whereas one has a high regard for those faithful Members of the House who do attend regularly, one should not attribute infidelity to those who do not attend regularly. This is part of the freedom and the value of your Lordships' House, and I think we can say with some certainty that we have no skeletons to conceal in our 19th century Gothic cupboards.

I would suggest to your Lordships that, since this list is already available, we should instruct the Clerk of Parliaments to lay before the House the information which he has hitherto had compiled and properly used for such purposes. Once the House has received this information, we would then, in accordance with our normal custom, automatically make a printing order and the figures would thus be available to your Lordships and to another place. In due course, we should consider in the Offices Committee whether this information should be made available regularly, but for the moment this seems to me a reasonable thing to do. I think that this House should agree that these figures should be made available. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Clerk of the Parliaments do prepare and lay before this House a Return of the Number of Days on which each Lord was recorded as being present in the House during Sessions 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1966–67 and 1967–68.—(Lord Shackleton.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is right. As I understand it, the information is available and all we are doing now is to give another place the advantages of the additions and multiplications done by the Clerk of the Journals. I do not think it would be reasonable for us to expect Members of another place to undertake a lot of mathematical labour which has already been done. Nor do I think that this House, reformed or unreformed, has any need to preserve its dignity by standing on its exact rights. One of the more agreeable features of this House is that we look upon our privilege in a thoroughly tolerant and sensible way. May I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether comparable statistics of the attendance of Members in another place are available? I am sure that no Member of another place would have anything to fear by their publication, and I have no doubt that all of us, in and out of Parliament, would be very interested if the figures were published.


My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches, I should like fully to support this proposal, not only because this information is already available but because I think we ought to do this. There is no need for secrecy between the two Houses of Parliament, and there is definitely no need, in my view, for antagonism between the two Houses. I hope it will be conveyed to another place that we are more than willing to co-operate with them on any reasonable request that is made. I should only like to venture the comment that it is a pity this request was not made earlier, so that we could have saved valuable Parliamentary time in another place. I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said (I had already made a note of this point): that the day may come when we may want the statistics of another place, and we should be grateful if we could have them fairly quickly.


My Lords, I too, should like to support this Motion. But while supporting what my noble leader has said with regard to it, I wish to refer to one or two other matters related thereto. It is no secret to this House that this Motion really comes about because of a document which, somehow or other reached the Library of another place—and I am not concerned as to how it got there, or indeed as to what has happened to it. I do not know what that document contained; I have never seen it. It may be that it contained nothing more than the information in relation to the five Sessions which will be provided in consequence of this Motion being carried. In that connection, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whether he can say when that information is likely to be printed and made available, because if it is information of any value there is a certain degree of urgency about it.

But, as I understand it, the real reason for this information being of value is that it was thought, rightly or wrongly, to be the basis for the calculation that in a reformed House a membership of about 230 voting Peers would suffice. Many of us feel some doubt whether that is a correct estimate: it may be too large, or it may be too small. But if I am right in thinking that the figures of attendance have any relevance to what is the size of a working reformed House of voting Peers, and that the Government made calculations based upon those figures of attendance, could not thy: Government go a little further than merely provide, by moving this Motion, that records of this House, in a summarised form, should be available to another place, and disclose now (I think they will have to disclose it at some time) the calculations and the reasoning which has led them to the conclusion that 230 voting Peers is the right number for this House?

I do not want to develop the matter at great length to-day, because I have put down an Unstarred Question to raise it, as I think it is a matter of great importance. But it will avoid my having to do so if the noble Lord, here and now, bearing in mind the object for which this return is required, could say that the Government will make available the calculations on which they base their conclusion that 230 voting Peers is the right number for a reformed House.


My Lords, I should just like to say that I hope it will not be carried to the extent of inquiring into the attendances in another place. After all, these attendances are not available. Here a record is kept, but there is certainly no record kept in the other place; and to suggest that a record ought to be compiled in order to meet the wishes of this House would, I think, be going a little too far.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and for the characteristic reaction of your Lordships' House. I absolutely echo what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that we do not stand unnecessarily either on our privileges or on points of order. We try to get on with the business. Let me first deal with the point made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. I have listened to what he said. I know that he has a Question down for next Thursday, and obviously the Government will reply to that. Before then, I will give consideration to what he has said, but I am sure he does not expect me to say anything further on this point now.

I should emphasise that this list to which I have referred consists purely and simply of names and the number of attendances. There is no further information. I believe there may be some figures which might usefully be given about the average attendances in your Lordships' House, which I think is running at somewhere between 200 and 250 per day.

On the interesting and, if I may say so, original suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we should ask the other place to supply comparable figures, I rather suspect that those figures are not available—and I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, had to say. We keep our figures rather meticulously, bound as we are by custom and the Act of Parliament. There is the further point that it is the reform of your Lordships' House which is under discussion, and not the reform of another place, although people may occasionally get ideas on that subject, too.

As I have said, I am grateful for the way in which your Lordships have received this Motion. The advantage, if we pass it to-day, is that I hope the details will be available by about the middle of next week, or by Thursday of next week. They will take some time to prepare and to print, but they should be available long before the other place or this House comes to resume discussion on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. In passing the Motion, if I can be of any assistance to the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Dilhorne, by perhaps making an advance copy of the details available, I imagine that your Lordships would not regard this as too serious a breach of confidence. Perhaps I should mention that this document had been lent to another place in order to enable statistical work to be done. We note now that there will be nothing confidential in the House of Commons Library, but that is a matter for another place.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I am not quite clear from what he says whether he accepts the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Carrington that the other place should produce similar figures. As a former Member of the other place, I should like to register my view in contradiction of what the noble Lord opposite said, and to say that I can see no reason why similar information should not be given by another place: indeed, it would be of great interest to many people in the constituencies.


My Lords, if I may, with the leave of the House, speak again, I would say that I shall be happy to convey this suggestion (it is, of course, on the Record) to the Leader of another place, who will certainly discuss this matter in a most friendly and courteous fashion. But it is my understanding—though I speak subject to correction—that they do not keep such a record.


Why not?


If I may say so, that is not the matter we are discussing now. I do not wish to be drawn on this, but there are, of course, Division records open for the public to inspect, and no doubt there are assiduous people who compile records from them. But I am told that there is no daily attendance record. I am, as I say, grateful to your Lordships, and I hope that this Motion will be passed without further ado.


My Lords, without wishing to delay the House, perhaps I might ask the noble Lord to keep one matter in mind—it may be that it is already being attended to. It is possible that in this list some noble Lords who are named have during the period which the return covers had Leave of Absence. It seems to me that it might be convenient if the return made that clear in respect of any noble Lord who during that period did have Leave of Absence.


My Lords, I do not want to add to the figures. Let us get out these figures first. I think I made clear that noble Lords may be absent for all sorts of good reasons. Many have Leave of Absence. This is a different type of set of figures. I will discuss with the Clerks whether figures are available on Leave of Absence, but we are not asked for these, and I think we might confine it now to the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.