HL Deb 23 July 1970 vol 311 cc1087-93

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, we are still awaiting news from another place as to whether the further Statements which are due to be repeated in your Lordships' House—now three in number—have been made in another place. If it would be to the convenience of the House we might now fill in time (and, hopefully, the Statements may be ready for us in a minute or two) in dealing with the slight procedural tangle which we got into earlier in the business to-day. I then undertook, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to make a further statement on the position in which, rather unexpectedly, we found ourselves, arising from the slightly unheralded appearance before us of the First Report from the Select Committee on the House of Lords Offices.

In that procedural tangle I think that three points arose, apart from the substantive point (on which the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, will be quite happy to expand if any Member of your Lordships' House so desires) as to why, in substance, it was thought desirable to seek approval of this Report this afternoon. My own feeling on that, however, is that he has explained this, and that perhaps we might let the matter of substance lie. But I will say a word on the three procedural points in which we got somewhat ensnared.

The first was whether it was in order for the Lord Chairman, without notice to move, That the Report from the Offices Committee be considered. I think there is a balance here. On the one hand, there is of course Standing Order No. 31, which says quite explicitly, Where it is intended to raise a discussion on a question, notice of the question should be given in the Order Paper. Undoubtedly, in the spirit of that Standing Order, notice should have been given of the consideration of the Report. I think this is perfectly clear. As I understood it, however (I do not know this explicitly, but it was certainly my understanding), the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees thought it essential that certain items in the Report should be dealt with before the Recess, and he was therefore asking the House, exceptionally, to consider the Report notwithstanding that no notice had been given. That was my understanding of the position, and it was also my understanding that he explained this in rising to move the Report.

I should like, however, to make clear my personal expression of regret on this matter. It was a matter of particular regret to me that neither I nor the Chief Whip had prior knowledge—or, at any rate, had only a minute or two of prior knowledge—that this was coming. It is also a matter of concern to me that neither the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, nor the noble Lord, Lord Byers, had any prior notice. Thus we were faced with this rather exceptional position.

My Lords, the second point, I think, that I was asked about was whether other matters might be raised without notice. My noble friend Lord Inglewood (who has apologised that he has not been able to remain, because he is otherwise engaged, attending a wedding in the neighbourhood) and my noble friend Lord Alport asked about this. There are, of course, a number of matters which can be raised without notice, although most of them are perfectly harmless and in the custom of the House. But they include, of course (though I do not claim that this is an exhaustive list), Messages from the Crown, questions of privilege, occasionally Messages from another place, the presentation of new Bills, Ministerial Statements and personal statements. Obituary tributes and similar matters are also taken without notice, as may be statements and questions on business.

That brings me to the third point which arose in our discussion; namely, whether it was in order to broach this subject during the consideration of the Motion of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack on the appointment of the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I have now looked into this position more carefully, and I have been advised (and if I got it wrong earlier I apologise to the House) that it is of course true that in both Houses points of Order may be raised in interruption of business. Had the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition prefaced his objection with the words, "On a point of Order", or something like that, I should have thought this would have made the matter clear beyond any doubt: but I did not hear him do so. I am not making anything of that particular point, although I think it would clearly be for the general convenience of your Lordships' House if noble Lords wishing to raise points of Order did so on the business to which they related. But this item of business, the Report of the Offices Committee went through very fast and, as I say, I am not leaning on that particular argument at all. I think that this is rather a fine point, and if I erred I ask your Lordships' indulgence. My Lords, that is the position as I understand it.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl stands most elegantly in his sackcloth and ashes and, quite frankly, I am prepared entirely to exonerate him in this matter. I do not want to prolong this discussion, but perhaps it may occupy time until we receive the other Statements. I think that there is an important point here. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for whom we all have such high respect, undoubtedly asked the House whether it was prepared to consider this Report, and the Question was put. But due to circumstances which were beyond our control—certainly the noble Earl's control and mine—no warning of this Motion was given. While I was listening to the noble Earl it began to dawn on me what we were doing. I grabbed for the bit of paper (which the Clerks were kind enough to pass to me) but by the time I was ready to ask "What are we doing?" it had all been done.

The purpose of Standing Order No. 31, of course, is precisely to prevent this sort of thing happening. Technically, this had appeared; an Order had been made, I understand, two days ago. But Standing Order No. 31 does say: If a statement be made or a question asked which does not appear on the Order Paper"— I do not want to get too deep, but I would submit that "the Order Paper" must mean the Order Paper in front of the House at the time— but of which private notice has been given, such statement or question should not be made the occasion for immediate debate unless the House so order. There are a number of very pregnant phrases there which could be interpreted in different ways. It is always difficult for us to attempt in this House to interpret precisely what the Order means. My first suggestion is that this is a matter which the Procedure Committee might well look at. There is no doubt whatsoever that there was no intention to "pull a fast one". The noble Earl did tell us that there were in the Offices Committee's Report certain matters relating to pay and superannuation, but I do not know whether the House also appreciated (because it was not on the Order Paper), that there was a decision to prolong the experiment on new forms of Prayers. There was also an item proposing a quite sizeable increase in Peerage claim fees—which of course does not worry any of us, and certainly does not worry Life Peers; and it may be that there will be disputed Peerages in the future which could be rather expensive. This is not, I would submit, a matter which should just "whistle through" without the House even knowing that it is in front of it.

However, my Lords, these things do happen, and I sympathise with both noble Earls in this matter because the usual channels are usually very efficient. Despite the slight slipping up over the Statements, which has happened before now in our time, this is the first occasion I have known when neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the Leader of the House was aware of what was about to happen.

Perhaps I may make one small point on this question as to whether it was in order for me to raise it at that particular moment. It was a moment of some confusion in the House: it will be recalled that my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner was speaking (I do not know whether he is here now, but I am not absolutely sure I agree with him about the collecting of voices), and I did not quite know when to get it in. But I am bound to say that in your Lord-ships' House we do not use the expression "point of Order", and I think I used the formula (I am getting fairly confused) that I would ask the guidance of the Leader of the House, which is the usual formula in your Lordships' House. I think, therefore, that I behaved quite correctly in this matter.

My Lords, there is here a point of real importance. Noble Lords might have wanted to raise a point, for instance, on the increased fees for Peerage claims, and they would have had no notice and no opportunity to do so. It would have been possible merely to move only those parts of the Report dealing with such items as the appointment of subcommittees, which would not in any way have been contentious. Or noble Lords might have wished to discuss the new Prayers, and it might have been useful to have had the opinion of your Lordships. I would suggest, unless other noble Lords wish to discuss the matter again—in which case an opportunity could be provided—that this is a matter which, in accordance with our way of doing things, the Procedure Committee might consider at leisure so that we do not get into difficulties in the future.


My Lords, may I just endorse what the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition has said about the question of "point of Order". I would plead that we should not introduce the "point of Order" system as it will change adversely the character of the debates in this House.


My Lords, I was strongly pressed by various Members of your Lordships' House to raise the question, at the last meeting of the Offices Committee, whether this House should join B.U.P.A. as a group. I went there and made that proposal which, I was assured, would be received with enthusiastic acclaim. On the contrary, I was brushed off completely, and I retired, having apologised, with my tail between my legs. I should rather like to know whether the Lord Chairman reported that to your Lordships' House, and whether it has been given any consideration at all?


My Lords, I will, of course do my best to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Bootnby. He has asked a question about a matter of fact, whether or not the Procedure Committee decided to report on the matter of B.U.P.A. As I understood it, the Procedure Committee did not decide to report on the matter of B.U.P.A. and therefore there was no reference to this matter in the Report of the Procedure Committee.


My Lords, the Offices Committee.


My Lords, I apologise; I should, of course, have said the "Offices Committee".


My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, on a gallant attempt to keep us going. However, I think we are all running out of steam. I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said, and say that I entirely agree. It seems to me that this is a point which might very well be looked at by the Procedure Committee when we come back. On reflection, I should also like to say that I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said. So long as we make it clear that we are raising a business point, and can avoid the horrid expression "on a point of Order", I think that we should be well advised to do so.

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