HL Deb 16 December 1971 vol 326 cc1271-89

3.8 p.m.

THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL) had given Notice of his intention to move that the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House be now considered.

The Committee's Report was as follows:


The Government's conclusions of the Second Report of last session of the Commons Select Committee on Procedure dealing with the Process of Legislation were set out by the Leader of the House in a Statement made on 9th November (H.L. Hansard, cols. 237-8). The Committee have now considered a Report from Lord Jellicoe amplifying that Statement.

The Committee recommend that the House should:—

  1. (a) welcome the proposals for:
    1. (i) a Government Enquiry into the Process of Legislation;
    2. (ii) a Joint Select Committee on Delegated Legislation;
  2. (b) welcome any measure which may be taken by the Commons to facilitate more equal distribution between the Houses of the Bills introduced; and
  3. 1272
  4. (c) note with approval that experiments in the use of pre- and post-legislation Committees may be made.


Last Session the Leader of the House appointed, with the approval of the House, an informal Group to report to him on the working of the House. The Group made two Reports, which were published by this Committee without commitment in the Tenth Report of last Session and the First Report of this Session. These Reports were debated in the House on 23rd November, 1971. The Committee wish to record their appreciation of the value of these two Reports which they have considered in the light of the debate of 23rd November. They submit their recommendations on each conclusion of the Group (Tenth Report of the Procedure Committee, 1970/1, paragraph 50), as follows:—

(i) Self-Government: the Simple Guide and Speakership—Conclusions (a), (b) and (c)

The Committee accept these recommendations. In particular, they consider that the procedure and practice of the House should be better known and understood in order that all members of the House may play their part in maintaining order. For this purpose a Simple Guide to the procedure and practice of the House should be prepared and published.

(ii) Talks by the Clerks—Conclusion (d)

The Committee agree that talks on the procedure and practice of the House should be given by the Clerks on an all-party basis at regular intervals (say once a year).

(iii) Further Improvements in Procedure—Conclusion (e)

The Committee accept this recommendation; as a first step they intend to consider at a later meeting the proposals made in the debate on November 23rd.

(iv) Advisory Committee of Back-Benchers to the Leader of the House—Conclusion (f)

The Committee are not in favour of this recommendation which, if effective, would tend to replace the existing channels of communication open to Back-Benchers, and would not be therefore in the best interests of Private Members or of the smooth working of the House.

(v) Wednesday Debates—Conclusion (g)

The Committee support the proposal that one Wednesday a month should be set aside experimentally until Whitsun for limited time debates of two and a half hours each, which would be initiated by Private Members and chosen by ballot. They consider that for the purposes of the experiment the operation of the time limits should be left to the good sense of the House subject to an understanding that adequate time should be left at the end of the debate for winding-up speeches from the Government and Opposition Front-Benches. The Committee recommend that the subjects for the other Wednesday Debates should continue to be chosen as at present, by agreement through the usual channels.

(vi) Monday Sittings—Conclusions (h) and (i)

Conclusion (h) states that "the House should normally meet on Mondays"; the Committee recommend instead that the House should sit on Mondays when the business of the House requires it to do so. The Committee agree that it is desirable, where possible, that business of special interest to Peers living a long way from London should not be taken on Mondays unless arranged well in advance. The arrangement of Monday Sittings at short notice may cause inconvenience.

(vii) Choice of Subjects for Debate—Conclusion (j)

The Committee recommend that the subjects for the two limited time debates for Private Members on one Wednesday a month should be chosen as an experiment by ballot to be conducted by the Clerk of the Parliaments. There should be a separate section in the Order Paper devoted to the names of the Peers entered for the ballot and the terms of their Motions; Peers should only have one such Motion down at a time. Detailed arrangements will be formulated and brought before the House in due course.

(viii) Timing of Sittings—Conclusion (k)

The Committee agree that there should be no alteration in the time of the sittings of the House.

(ix) Speakers List—Conclusion (l)

The Committee are in agreement with the Group's recommendation that the Leader should have overall responsibility for the drawing up of the Speakers List. In practice however, he does not always have opportunity to give detailed attention to the list, and it must, therefore, continue to be drawn up largely as at present. They endorse, however, the proposal that the Mover of a Motion should be consulted when the list is being compiled. The Committee are not in agreement with the Group's suggestion that "better speakers" should be spread throughout the debate, because of the impossibility of deciding who are the "better speakers".

(x) Length of Speeches: Time Limits: Clocks—Conclusion (m)

The Committee agree that it is undesirable at present to impose any specific limitation on the length of speeches. They recommend that two clocks of a suitable design should he installed on either side of the Chamber, with indicators to show how long a Peer has been speaking.

(xi) Debates on Matters of Urgency—Conclusion (n)

The Committee are not in favour of the Group's conclusion that there should be emergency debates on the pattern of S.O. 9 Debates in the House of Commons. They consider that through the usual channels adequate opportunities exist at present for arranging debates on matters of urgency at short notice.

(xii) Starred Questions—Conclusion (o)

The Committee agree with the Group's recommendations. They are, however, concerned at the growing disorderliness of Question Time and deprecate the following undesirable features of Question Time which they draw to the attention of the House:—

  1. (a) the tendency for small debates to develop;
  2. (b) lengthy Ministerial replies which encourage lengthy supplementaries;
  3. (c) the practice of advancing a point of view under the guise of a supplementary question; and
  4. (d) the habit of reading out prepared supplementary questions.

(xiii) Starred Questions on Matters of Topical Interest—Conclusion (p)

The Committee do not accept the Group's recommendation for the introduction of one double starred question each day on a matter of topical interest. They are unwilling to recommend anything which would increase the claims of Question Time upon the time of the House and are impressed with the extreme difficulty of defining topicality. They consider that the four questions at present allowed on each sitting day, together with the opportunity of a Private Notice Question when it fulfils the criterion of urgency, should be sufficient to meet present needs.

(xiv) Questions for Written Answer—Conclusion (q)

The Committee note with approval that there has been a considerable increase in the use of Questions for Written Answer which provide a useful method of saving the time of the House, especially on matters of technical or local interest. They recommend that in appropriate cases it should be open to Ministers to answer a QWA on the day when it is tabled. This would require a small amendment of Standing Orders. They agree that QWAs should be answered as quickly as possible, but do not consider that an attempt should be made to lay down a precise time limit of seven days within which they would normally be answered.

(xv) Ministerial Statements and PNQs—Conclusion (r)

The Committee are not in favour of the Group's view, referred to in paragraph 45 of the Report, that

"(3) Front benchers have an established right to comment …" while

"(4) Back bench supplementaries should be asked for information only …"

The Committee recommend that all members of the House should have a right to comment briefly on Ministerial Statements. But they agree with the Group in thinking that more restraint should be exercised in all parts of the House in discussing Ministerial Statements and that under the terms of S.O. 33A the exchanges should not develop into a debate. They further agree that no change in the arrangements for the timing of Statements is feasible.

(xvi) Legislation-Conclusion (s)

The proposed enquiries into legislation and delegated legislation will examine the role of the House of Lords in the whole legislative process. Meanwhile, a number of detailed suggestions for improving the procedures of the House in dealing with legislation will be further considered by the Procedure Committee.

(xvii) Composition and Membership of Sessional Committees-Conclusion (t)

The Committee endorse in principle the proposals for a regular turnover in the membership of most sessional committees, with all members (save the Leaders and Whips, Lord Chancellor, Lord Chairman, two Deputy Leaders and the Chairmen of Sub-Committees) retiring after three years service. If the House agrees in principle with the Group's proposal, they suggest that it should be modified in detail so that for the first three years retirement from committees should be governed by length of service on committees, and those who have served longest should leave them first. The Committee recommend that if the House accepts this recommendation, sessional committees should be reconstituted after the Christmas recess, so far as necessary, in accordance with suggestions made by the Group which were printed as an Appendix to the First Report of the Procedure Committee for this session.


Current procedure on Divisions is governed by S.O. 48 to which a number of experimental amendments have been made. The authority for these amendments expires at Christmas. The Committee are satisfied with the experiment and recommend that the House should now adopt S.O. 48 in the following form:— Mode of taking divisions 27 June 1965.

48.—(1) When, on the question being put, a division is called for, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall order the Bar to be cleared, and thereupon the Bar and also the division lobbies shall be cleared of strangers, but not the galleries and the space within the rails of the Throne, unless the House shall so order; and the doors at either end of the division lobbies shall be locked.

(2) During the three minutes after the Bar has been ordered to be cleared, two Tellers shall be appointed by the Contents and two by the Not-contents, and their names communicated to the Clerk at the Table.

(3) If, after the lapse of three minutes, Tellers have not been so appointed either for the Contents or for the Not-contents, a division cannot take place, and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall, instead of again putting the question, declare the question decided in favour of the side which has appointed Tellers.

(4) After the lapse of three minutes from the time when the Bar is ordered to be cleared the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall again put the question, and the doors at the exit from each division lobby shall be unlocked.

(5) A Lord may vote in a division although he did not hear the question put.

(6) On a division, the Contents shall go forth through the door on the right side of the House near the Throne which leads to the right lobby, and shall proceed through the right lobby, and re-enter the House through the door on the right of the Bar; and the Not-contents shall go forth through the door on the left of the Bar which leads to the left lobby, and shall proceed through the left lobby, and re-enter the House through the door on the left side of the House near the Throne.

(7) After the lapse of six minutes from the time when the Bar is ordered to he cleared, the doors of the Chamber shall be locked, and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall inform the House or the Committee of the question which is the subject of the division.

(8) One Teller for the Contents and one for the Not-contents shall be appointed for each division lobby without respect to their degree and Clerks shall be in attendance in each lobby to record the names of the Contents and Not-contents respectively; the Tellers shall count the votes and announce the numbers to the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair.

The Committee also recommend that the following amendments to Standing Order No. 50. which formed part of the experiment, should be made:—

Line 11, leave out from ("whether") to ("he") in line 13;

Line 14, leave out ("on such question").


The Companion Sub-Committee has been reappointed as follows:

with the Clerk of the Parliaments and

with the power to co-opt further Lords.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now considered. Before we debate the Report itself, which the House will recollect it is our custom to do on the subsequent Motion, That this Report be agreed to, may I perhaps outline to your Lordships the manner in which it has been suggested that it would be convenient for the House to take the questions on the whole Report and the Amendments standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd? It may be for the convenience of the House if we debate the whole of the Report of the Procedure Committee, which is before the House this afternoon, on the Motion which follows this present Motion, That this Report be now agreed to. Would any noble Lord who has general observations to make on the body of the Report therefore speak then, so that we may have a general debate at that stage, except for the subject matter of the two Amendments. Thereafter, and before the Motion is put the noble Earl, Lord Perth, will move his Amendment, which will then be discussed and dealt with; and after that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will move his Amendment, which will be similarly dealt with.

I hope this procedure will be acceptable to the two noble Lords who have Amendments, as well as to the rest of the House. After these two Motions have been dealt with, the Motion on the Report as a whole will be put to the House from the Woolsack. I hope that this procedure, which may sound a little complicated, will be the most convenient way for the House to handle this Report and the two Amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Report be now considered.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, on the point that the noble Earl has made, I am quite sure the procedure he has suggested is the best one. It will, of course, be a full debate, not a Question and Answer period; that is to say, nobody can speak more than once, so except for the movers themselves, speakers will have to seize their opportunities. There is, however, one point that causes me a little concern. I entirely applaud the energy with which the noble Earl has pressed on with this matter, but the fact remains that the House has not had very long to consider it. I hope that the House will come to decisions on these points to-day; but if there is a lot of discussion and there are certain matters which the House wants to look at further, then I hope that the noble Earl would not object, if necessary, to adjourning the debate. I hope very strongly that such a course will not be necessary.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that the general procedure outlined is acceptable, and, of course, I should be entirely willing to adjourn the debate to a later date if that is the wish of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now agreed to. In doing so, I would only say that the Report speaks for itself and I shall say nothing more on the subject matter of the Report, except to mention one point which requires clarification. Your Lordships will see in Item 2, subparagraph (xvii), a reference to those noble Lords who, it is suggested, are not to be subject to the retirement rule for sessional committees. I should like to make it clear that the expression "Leaders and Whips" in line 3 is intended also to cover the co-ordinator of the Cross Bench Peers. This point is made clear in paragraph 1 of the Appendix to the first Report of the Procedure Committee for this Session where the co-ordinator of the Cross Benches is included in the exempted category. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Report be agreed to.—(TheEarl of Listowel.)


My Lords, I should like again to congratulate the noble Earl, and indeed the officials who have been working on this Report, on the speed with which they move. We have, of course, very fully debated this question in the debate we had on November 23. There are one or two points in the Report on which I think it may be desirable to get some sort of opinion from the House. There is one matter that causes me slight concern. I am a little 'concerned about the rejection of the proposal for the Back Bench Committee. When I say I am concerned, I must also say that I was and remain against the idea of this additional channel, because I think we ought to use the existing machinery. But to those noble Lords who may feel that something still ought to be done, I would say that it is for them in fact to express their views now, or, shall I say, for ever hold their peace. I know that the noble Earl was not averse to such a committee, but I think the Procedure Committee did not see the special case for it. As for the other proposals, we have debated all those at some length. We shall be coming on to the Division procedure on a subsequent Motion to include a new Standing Order. I hope that this will be accepted, and I certainly once again congratulate the special Working Party on the measure of success they appear to have achieved.


My Lords, I was not able to be present on the previous occasion when this matter was discussed, but I am very concerned to put on record my own view with regard to the putting in of clocks. I regard it as completely beneath the dignity of this House that any of us should stand in our place and address the House, with a clock in front of us ticking away to the minute the time that we are addressing the House. It seems to me to be quite sufficient to have just the present clock which noble Lords can keep their eyes on. I hope I am one of those Members of your Lordships' House who does not speak for longer than is necessary; I try to make my points as quickly as possible. But some people cannot do so quickly. I feel that this is purely and simply a question of dignity. I do not know what people in the galleries will think of something ticking off the minutes. I protest very strongly against the whole idea.


My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Royle, on this matter. I think these clocks would be quite objectionable. I remember very well hearing a notable performance of the Schubert Octet in a B.B.C. hall before an invited audience. Seven o'clock was rapidly approaching, and then they had to stop. The performance was ruined for me because I could not take my eyes off the beastly clock. I thought it would reach seven o'clock and the musicians would have to finish before the final chords were sounded.


My Lords, may I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Royle. I have sat regularly in your Lordships' House for 25 years and been a Member for somewhat longer. The length of speeches goes in waves. I remember several occasions in past years when there were great complaints and grumbles about the length of speeches emanating from the Front Bench. The Departments think they have not done their Minister justice unless they produce a 30 minute brief, which he takes 35 minutes to deliver; that starts off a wave of complaints, and of course the other speeches are lengthened in proportion. I regard the new Wednesday debate with some degree of apprehension on that particular score. When we say that it is going to be a two-and-a-half hour debate and sufficient time must be left for the Government and Opposition spokesmen to answer, if we are to have 30 minutes for the Government and the Opposition need 30 minutes too, there is not much time left for debate. I do not think the clock idea is a good idea. In other assemblies sometimes one has a red light which comes on after 10 minutes. I personally would much prefer an oubliette which opened when sufficient buttons were pressed.


My Lords, as one of the relatively young Members of the House, I rise to say that I very strongly support the idea of the clock. I feel that this sort of thing is even more necessary to-day when your Lordships' House has so many more speakers. A debate with 25 speakers in one day can get extremely boring for those who are speaking and feel it their duty to remain throughout. I am in favour of the clock. I think a good many noble Lords are in favour of clocks, though they would not necessarily get up and say so. It is those who are against it who speak up.


My Lords, perhaps I am striking a somewhat discordant note in the congratulations which have been passed to the Procedure Committee when I say that I feel that this is a most disappointing Report. I feel that to a very large extent it has wasted the work which was put in over some time by those who formed part in the Advisory Committee to the Leader. Those of your Lordships who have studied carefully this Report will realise that the proposals made by that Committee which have been accepted are those which tend in all probability somewhat to curtail rather than extend. he responsible position of private Members in this House, whereas those which have been turned down by the Procedure Committee are those which, on the whole, would have helped private Members to play a more effective part in the House, though it might have been to some extent an embarrassment to the management of the House, to the usual channels and to the two Front Benches. I think this springs from a difference of philosophy as to the role which your Lordships' House should play in the present Parliamentary constitution of this country and in the political life of our country at the present time.

I have always assumed that the role of your Lordships' House, since we have had the powers taken from us, is that of an independent Chamber consisting, to all intents and purposes, of independent Members who are in a position to give whatever their experience, background, knowledge, or wisdom can provide for the general benefit of the political life of this country. We are not here as a machine in order to process Government legislation. We do our best during the process of the legislative period to give to the legislation which comes up to us from another place, or which originates here, our attention and our best endeavours to ensure that it reaches the Statute Book in the most acceptable and effective manner. But in my view, the processing of Government business through this House is not the main object.

I must say that I am deeply disappointed that the initiative which my noble friend the Leader of the House undertook in order to set up this Committee should, to a large extent, have been vitiated by the very powerful influences which exist in this House and which are determined to ensure that the control rests securely and permanently in the hands of the usual channels. There is an unholy alliance, if I may put it that way, between the two Front Benches to ensure that this is the case.

Some time ago I called together a number of colleagues in the House in order to consider this problem. We had one meeting, and we had the advantage, on that occasion, of the thoughts of a number of very experienced Members of your Lordships' House. When the Report of the Leader's Advisory Committee was received, I thought perhaps that it would be right to call together those colleagues once again, or some of them who might be interested in it. I informed, as I always do on these occasions, the Whips on the Government side and the Opposition side, and also the Liberal Whip. In replying to me my noble friend the Chief Whip said that while he was glad to have the information which I passed to him, he hoped we would not make up our minds before the debate that was to take place. I thought that that was a right and proper point of view. I was somewhat surprised—and I hope I am correct in the information which has been given to me—to find that in fact the Procedure Committee considered these matters before that debate took place, and that it is recorded that their objections to certain points were already made known at that time.

I do not think—and I say this with all sincerity and quite frankly—that your Lordships, who, after all, are in all cases experienced people, who have a responsible role in the public life of this country, are being properly treated in the way in which the business of this House is managed at the present time. I realise that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to try to get into this House the reforms which I believe are of value to it, and in being able to obtain from the talents and experience of its Members the best service to the country. Although I regard this Report of the Procedure Committee as a rebuff to the Leader of the House, and to those noble Lords who took part in the Advisory Committee (and at the same time to those of us who have tried to serve this House in the best possible way through our individual and independent roles), I hope that this will not discourage noble Lords who think along my lines from continuing their efforts to ensure that your Lordships' House continues to play an effective part in the political life of this country.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I briefly add a word, and apologise for a momentary departure from the Chamber. I should like to thank my noble friend for this Report. I feel that it is helpful to us, and that it incorporates many of the ideas that we discussed on the Report of the Group which my noble friend Lord Aberdare introduced to the House, and which I feel will help marginally in the operation of the business of the House.

I speak, like a good many other Life Peers, as a relative newcomer here, but my impression of the House is quite different from that of my noble friend Lord Alport. I feel that the procedures here work extremely well. Sometimes I feel that my noble friend, with all his distinction, is almost out-Jeremiahing Jeremiah with his sense of disappointment in the general trend of affairs. This House does work well: there is an independence. Naturally the Party loyalties mean something to all of us who sit in Parties, and naturally that has an influence on how we vote and what we say; but the freedom for Peers to speak as they wish to, and draw upon their experience and expertise, is to me a matter worthy of constant admiration; and I am sure that that applies to all other noble Lords here. Therefore, I would feel that my noble friend is wrong in his sense of disappointment.

Things are working pretty well. This is a remarkably flexible Chamber, and it caters for really everything. I feel that we are right to maintain the general form that exists here, with its very pleasant spirit and polite way of doing things, but nevertheless having the substance underneath. It seems to me that this is a very good way of doing business; it provides for everything. These marginal changes that are suggested may, and I hope will, make the Chamber work even better. I hope that noble Lords will accept these proposals as being something which will strengthen the life of the House, will serve this House well, and in addition continue to serve Parliament and the country well.


My Lords, I am sure that when we meet outside the House my noble friend Lord Alport will again, as he once did before, call me "old shellback" if I say how very strongly I agree with my noble friend Lord Nugent. I ventured to address your Lordships in the debate we had a short time ago on the Report of the Group of which my noble friend Lord Aberdare was chairman. I said then, and I still believe, that there is adequate machinery already existing in this House which noble Lords can make use of if they feel inhibited in any way. Apart from that, there are these other channels. I am quite certain that the noble Earl the Leader of the House need be left in no doubt whatsover about the feelings of noble Lords, or their inhibitions and frustrations, and so on. I cannot help feeling that my noble friend Lord Alport is a little less than generous in his reception of this very good Report.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, the Report undoubtedly shows that an attempt is being made to get over the problems of this House in regard to procedure, but I really am surprised to find that there is no reference at all to the reading of speeches in the House. I do not think the Committee could have been unaware of the fact that a resolution was passed in this House—I think it was in July, 1937—deprecating the reading of speeches, on the ground that it was injurious to the conduct and dignity of the House, or language to that effect. When I came to this House about 13 or 14 years ago, I was appalled to find speaker after speaker reading their speeches from end to end. This practice I have seen on so many occasions that often I have wondered whether the House was listening to the remarks of the speaker. It is very simple for a speech that is compiled by others to be read by a Member of this House. I do not allege that that has taken place. But when I was Secretary of the Trades Union Congress I remember several times that speakers, particularly those critical of the General Council of the T.U.C., read speeches in which they could not pronounce the words. I have not seen that disability in this House, but no doubt there might be a rehearsal or two to get over that sort of difficulty.

It seems to me that the spontaneity of debate lies in the fact that one speaker will make some comments on the speech of a previous speaker. Surely that is the essence of debate. Yet it is very seldom in this House—whether from an overdose of courtesy, or something of the kind—that we hear anything of that sort. I feel sure that these debates, to say the least, would be much more animated if an attempt was made to avoid the reading of speeches. I realise that there is a problem in regard to ministerial statements; I understand that quite well. We are to some extent a sort of gramophone record of what occurs in another place, particularly in regard to questions dealt with by the Front Bench. That is inevitable. I am not criticising it; all I am saying is that some attempt ought to be made and some thought given to obviate this House being turned into a place where speakers are simply reciting essays some of which may have been prepared for them.


My Lords, having sat in this House now for quite a long time, I should like to support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Citrine. Over the years we have had this discussion often, and everybody knows what it means, but there have been cases of long speeches, doubtless of great virtue, which have been read without any attempt at extemporary exposition. It is boring, it is contrary to the rules and traditions of the House, and it would be fortunate if some way of delicately but appropriately giving something of a warning, as the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, mentioned, could be discovered.


My Lords, may I suggest to the Leader of the House that surely the choice is this: whether someone should read a speech which he has worked on and which is short and reasonably good, or whether he should speak off the cuff, usually at great length. This is what we have to make up our minds about.


My Lords, those who sit in the Back-Benches notice noble Lords opposite, and I have no doubt that people who sit on the Back-Benches looking at noble Lords on this side of the House see what appears to be a row of elderly gentlemen suffering from spondylitis, with their heads bowed and plunged in the papers they hold in their hands. It is contrary to what has always been, to my mind, a tradition of this House—and I have been a Member of it for a very long time. Surely the remedy is in our own hands. Any one of us can stand up at any one moment and draw attention to the fact that a noble Lord is reading a speech, which is contrary to the traditions of the House. If more noble Lords would do that, we should have fewer speeches read.


My Lords, in regard to recommendation (m), about which five or six noble Lords have spoken, I wonder whether my noble friend the Leader of the House would be able to confirm that no such devices as clicking clocks will be installed in the Chamber during the Recess and that no orders have been placed for so doing.


My Lords, will the noble Earl the Leader please understand that to some of us extempore speaking is very difficult and we depend not only on notes but even on written texts. Of course one should not read, or at least be seen to be reading, but some of us are not gifted with the power of spontaneous speech, and perhaps tolerance can be found for people like ourselves.


My Lords, in regard to the reading of speeches, I notice that the habit is growing for some noble Lords to read supplementary questions, which is perhaps the reason why some Questions are turning into mini debates. For supplementary questions to be read is certainly a practice to be deplored.


My Lords, the other day we had a long debate on the Report of the Group, and I wonder whether, in fairness to some of the very loyal servants of this House who, I gather, have their annual Christmas dinner this evening—and I understand that the House will rise by 6.30 p.m.—we could come to a conclusion on this debate. I rather stand between the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Alport: I am not quite so complacent as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, nor as critical of the procedures of this House and the way we carry them out as the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I should like to say one thing about the clock. I believe it can safely be said that the Procedure Committee of your Lordships' House are not exactly a radical group of people. It takes years for them to come to a conclusion. Some seven years ago I recommended the installation of such a clock for the object that we have still in mind—the reduction in length of speeches. I felt then, as I now feel, that unless noble Lords have a clear indication of the length at which they have been speaking there is no way in which speeches can be made shorter. I thought the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, amply bear that out. If we knew how long we had been speaking, I am sure we should be shorter than we are at present.


My Lords. there are better ways of doing things than by having clocks and strict regulations. I think particularly of the tolerance which this House usually shows to me when I overstep the mark on points of order, et cetera. The noble Lord, Lord Citrine, made some very apt comments. Like him, I have had something to do with running organisations and dealing with people who will insist on taking up time at conferences, as noble Lords do in this House, by very long speeches. Those who arrange the order of speakers could cure this. If speakers have a record of fairly long speeches, they could be put at the end of the debate, so that those who made short speeches could go home.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to come in on the note which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, struck. I think there are reasons affecting the staff, who serve this House loyally and conscientiously, which point in favour of our keeping this particular discussion fairly short, as we have two Amendments to come and a good deal of business thereafter. I should like to say, as respectfully as I can, that it is rather a pity that some of the points which have been put in this short discussion on the Procedure Committee's Report were not put when we had an opportunity for debating this matter at length on November 23. It seems to me, if I may say so with all respect, that that was the right moment to do this, as, apart from anything else, it would have given the Procedure Committee an opportunity of bearing these points in mind in their consideration. If I may say so, again with respect, I think this applies particularly to the question of the clocks. Again, the Procedure Committee would have liked to know the views of the noble Lord, Lord Royle. I realise he could not be present at that stage, nor could the noble Lord, Lord Platt, my noble friend, Lord Hawke, and some others. It was a very clear recommendation, and made in the report of the Working Group, and it was not queried save on Lesthetic grounds by my noble friend, Lord Sandys, who referred to it in the debate on November 23. I hope we can leave it as it is. I can give the noble Lord the assurance he asks for: that he will not find any infernal devices, of this sort at least, when he comes back at the end of his well-earned Christmas Recess.

I must say, once again, how much I value the report of the Working Group and how useful I think it has proved. I was not a member of it, nor, incidentally, was my noble friend, Lord Aberdare, the chairman of it. His name just happens to begin with A. That is why he was the first to speak in our debate on November 23. But I do not think that the members of the Working Group, some of whom may have some reservations about some omissions or commissions in the Procedure Committee's Report, would wish to endorse the strictures which my noble friend Lord Alport has poured on that Report. I believe that my noble friend Lord Alport, speaking with all sincerity—and I know how much he has the interests of this House and of Back Bench Members of this House in mind—was being a little ungenerous in his interpretation of the Procedure Committee's Report, because there are a number of recommendations embedded in it which are clearly designed to favour the private Members of your Lordships' House.

The Simple Guide will help the new Member. Recommendations (v) and (vii) for the short Wednesday debates will also assist. Indeed, the ballot, right or wrong, is something which takes the ordering or the choice of business out of the hands of the usual channels, and is purposely designed to help the Back Bench Member. Again, there is what was said about Ministerial Statements. The freedom of Back Benchers to comment, if need be, on Ministerial Statements is, right or wrong, also designed to safeguard the interests of Back Bench Members of your Lordships' House. In considering this, I know that the Procedure Committee had very much in mind what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said when we debated this whole subject on November 23. Again, my Lords, the recommendation about the greater turnover in our Committee structure, in the composition of our Committees, is designed to give a greater say to private Members of your Lordships' House and is, almost consciously, an anti-Establishment measure.

With all those factors, I believe that my noble friend was going a little far in his choice of epithets, as if suggesting that this Report was the product of an unholy alliance between the Front Benches and the Establishment in your Lordships' House, whatever that may be. There was one particular comment which he made to which I am afraid I must refer, and that was his implication—and I speak here as only one member of the Procedure Committee—that the Procedure Committee made up their minds about all this before the debate in your Lordships' House on November 23. If I may say so, I think my noble friend was labouring under a misapprehension. The exact position is that I made a report to the Procedure Committee, giving my reactions to the Working Group's Report. The Procedure Committee considered my Report and decided that, before taking any action on this, they wished to listen to the view of the House as a whole. This is, in fact, what the Procedure Committee did, and their late subsequent discussion was very much in the light of the views expressed in your Lordships' House on November 23. For all those reasons, I certainly do not regard the Procedure Committee's Report as a rebuff to me, nor do I suspect that the members of the Working Group regard it as a rebuff to them.

In conclusion, all I should like to say at this stage of your Lordships' discussion is that I personally should like to express the hope—the two Amendments apart, which we shall be considering separately—that your Lordships will give these suggestions a try. On the whole, they are not very revolutionary. There may be some noble Lords who feel that they do not go far enough, and others who feel that they are rather too radical. All I would suggest is that we give them a try, because there is no finality in these matters and your Lordships' House is used to working by an evolutionary process. That said, I should once again like to thank the Working Group for what has been a small, but possibly significant step in the workings of your Lordships' House.