HL Deb 12 January 1971 vol 314 cc11-3

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House a Question regarding certain arrangements for the distribution of Papers to your Lordships. It will be recalled that on December 18 a Statement was made in another place with regard to the summarised version of the Roskill Commission Report, and the Minister concerned there said: I am arranging for copies of this Press release to be sent to hon. Members. There were no arrangements, as I understand it, to make it generally available to your Lordships' House.

I am well aware that the Government Chief Whip did his best to distribute copies that were made available to him to Members of this House whom he or the other Whips knew were interested. But it really in intolerable when a statement as important as this is not available in the Printed Paper Office. [Interruption from the Public Gallery.] I hope your Lordships can hear me. I will not start participating in the "other debate". I wonder whether the noble Earl may wish to consider the Question of which I have given him Private Notice. It is unsatisfactory that this Report was not available, and it is very embarrassing for the Printed Paper Office. Perhaps the noble Earl the Leader of the House would now like to "have a go", and I will reserve further remarks.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for raising this matter, and also for his timing in that he managed to put his question at a moment which has enabled me to answer it more or less in peace. I am also grateful because it gives me an opportunity of expressing my regrets to your Lordships, for I think there was a slip-up here. The subject dealt with by the Report is a very important matter and one which has aroused great public interest, and copies should have been immediately available in the Printed Paper Office.

Of course, the only promise or understanding was tendered to Members of another place. Nevertheless, the digest of the Report should have been more freely available. My understanding is that the slip-up revolved round the rather technical point of who were "interested Peers". Arrangements were made, as the noble Lord has suggested, to send copies specially to Peers who were known to be interested in this matter. But, through sheer inadvertence, no central distribution point was arranged for this, and copies were not therefore in the Printed Paper Office. Copies of course are available now, and noble Lords who are interested in this matter will no doubt wish to avail themselves of that facility. But they should have been available before.


My Lords, I certainly acquit the noble Earl himself, or indeed the Government Chief Whip, of any discourtesy to your Lordships' House, but it really is unsatisfactory. They are apt to forget the House of Lords. In the Press statement of January 4 it was said that a summary was released the same day to Members of Parliament and the Press—no mention of the House of Lords. Furthermore, summaries were not in fact available to Members of Parliament either, because they were sent to them by post. One had the unsatisfactory position of copies of a crucial statement being in the hands of the Lobby—and I do not criticise the Lobby's having advanced copies—and Members of Parliament and Members of your Lordships' House trying to get hold of them. I hope the noble Earl will make a protest to the Department concerned. If Departments are going to try to be clever about this, they had better be a bit cleverer still. The moment there is departure from the proper procedure, Members of your Lordships' House are going to be deprived of their rights in this matter. I am sure the noble Earl accepts this, and I am grateful to him for expressing the Government's apologies.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was Leader of your Lordships' House I think every Member of the House knew how jealous he was of our privileges and of our due rights, in order that we should be able to discharge our responsibilities. I should like to assure noble Lords that I am no less jealous of those rights and responsibilities, but I think the noble Lord must leave it to me how I see that they are properly discharged.


My Lords, as we are on this subject, may I ask the noble Earl whether it was also sheer inadvertence that the announcement was made the day Parliament rose for the Recess? As this is a most important matter which involves both Houses of Parliament, ought it not to have been the subject of a Statement?


My Lords, this is rather a different matter. It was purely the timing of the workings of an independent Commission, and that is the answer I must return to the noble Lord. But, generally speaking, what we should do is await the full Report of the Roskill Commission before forming our considered judgments in this matter.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House (and I do so as one of those who have been interested in this matter) whether he will take steps to see that the full Report is available to Members of your Lordships' House well before any decision about the ultimate destination of the airport is taken? Is he aware that that full Report is likely to contain statistics about the validity of which there may be some question, and that some of us would like to have ample time in which to test those statistics?


My Lords, I will certainly take due note of the noble Lord's point. I believe that already two Motions on this matter are down in the name of noble Lords, and I shall make certain that I listen to them. I do not think I shall need the promptings of noble Lords opposite to make sure that copies of the full Report are available to your Lordships.