HL Deb 13 January 1971 vol 314 cc97-106

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the First Report from the Committee on Procedure of the House be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

The Committee's Report was as follows:


The Committee have considered a proposal that there should be a new Standing Order governing the appointment by this House of the Lords members of the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

At present the Joint Committee, consisting of 12 members of each House, is appointed afresh at the beginning of each Session and the Committee lapses on Prorogation, in accordance with the practice of Parliament. The reappointment of the Committee each Session involves the passing of a series of Motions in each House, the purport of which is conveyed by messages from one House to the other. This procedure is necessary because the Committee is a Joint Committee and in such cases each House has to agree to what the other proposes before the other can function.

It is now proposed that there should be a new Standing Order in each House on the lines of those already existing for the Appellate and Appeal Committees in this House and the Public Accounts Committee in the Commons. This Standing Order would establish the existence and terms of reference of the Joint Committee on a permanent basis, so that at the beginning of every Session it would only be necessary to move Motions in both Houses to appoint their respective Members and fix a time for the first meeting of the Committee.

It is hoped that a similar Standing Order will be passed by the House of Commons.

The Committee recommend that a new Standing Order should be made by the House to give effect to these proposals in the following terms:

Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

There shall be a Select Committee consisting of twelve Lords, who shall be appointed at the commencement of every session, to join with a Committee of the House of Commons as the Joint Committee on Consolidation etc. Bills, to which shall be referred—

  1. (1) Consolidation Bills, whether Public or Private;
  2. (2) Statute Law Revision Bills;
  3. (3) Bills prepared pursuant to the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act 1949, together with any memoranda laid pursuant to that Act and any representations made with respect thereto;
  4. (4) Bills to consolidate any enactments with amendments to give effect to recommendations made by one or both of the Law Commissions, together with any report containing such recommendations;
  5. (5) Bills prepared by one or both of the Law Commissions to promote the reform of the Statute Law by the repeal, in accordance with Law Commission recommendations, of certain enactments which (except in so far as their effect is preserved) are no longer of practical utility, whether or not they make other provision in connection with the repeal of those enactments, together with any Law Commission report on any such Bill."


The Committee have considered a difficulty which sometimes arises, especially late in the evening at the end of a Committee stage on the floor of the House, when, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor, there is no Deputy Speaker available to take the Woolsack apart from the Lord in the Chair.

The Committee recommend that in such circumstances the Lord in the Chair should go straight to the Woolsack as soon as the House is resumed and report the Bill to the House from the Lord Chancellor's place at the side of the Woolsack.


The Committee have considered the difficulties which arose at the beginning of this present Parliament and especially on the first day in connection with the arrangements for taking the Oath. On Monday, 29th June, 1970, 344 Lords took the Oath and, contrary to recent precedent, there was also the introduction of a new Peer, which took place in the middle of the afternoon under some difficulty and confusion because of the crush of those waiting to take the Oath. It was generally agreed at the time that the arrangements were not satisfactory and should be reviewed.

The Committee recommend that the following measures should be taken to alleviate these difficulties in future:—

  1. (a) In the notice circulated by the Clerk of the Parliaments at the beginning of each new Parliament which reminds Peers of their obligation to take the Oath of Allegiance afresh in each Parliament and informs them of the opportunity to do so during the first three days, or at any subsequent sitting day, it should be emphasised that the Oath may be taken throughout the afternoon and not only at the beginning of the sitting of each swearing-in day.
  2. (b) Introductions should not take place on the first day of a new Parliament.
  3. (c) The practice of the House should be revived whereby the Archbishops, the Party leaders and the occupants of the front benches including those used by ex-Ministers nearest the Bar, may take the Oath immediately after the Lord Chancellor and before other members of the House.
  4. (d) Peers should be reminded of the advantages of remaining in their seats while waiting to take the Oath.

The Committee are of the opinion that Peers should take the Oath of Allegiance before attending the State Opening of Parliament by the Queen.


The Sub-Committee to supervise the task of revising the Companion has been reappointed as follows:

with the Clerk of the Parliaments and with power to co-opt further members.


The Committee have considered the Journals Committee which is appointed at the beginning of every Session by minute entry. It is the only Committee now appointed without a Motion made in the House, except those appointed under Standing Order 77. It is also the only surviving Committee, consisting of all Lords "who have been or shall be present this Session". From time to time the Committee (which is charged with the duty of perusing and perfecting the Journals) is deemed to make Reports that they have met and resolved that new volumes or indexes of the Journals are ready for delivery; such Reports are deemed to have been agreed to by the House. Apart from these formal entries, there is no trace of any activity by this Committee since 1826.

In these circumstances the Committee are of the opinion that the Journals Committee do not serve any useful purpose and should be discontinued. The Committee recommend that, in future, the Clerk of the Parliaments should be responsible to the House for keeping the Journals and for deciding any questions which may come up from time to time upon their form and content, and that he should be free to consult the Procedure Committee on any matter of major importance concerning the Journals.


The proceedings in the House on the Second Reading of the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill of Thursday, 10th December, revealed an ambiguity in the wording of Standing Order 48 which does not state in terms what the procedure should be in circumstances where no tellers are appointed before the lapse of four minutes from the calling of a Division.

The Committee recommend that Standing Order 48 should be amended to make clear that two tellers each for the Contents and the Not-Contents must be appointed by the time that four minutes have elapsed; and that if by that time either side has failed to appoint tellers, a division cannot take place and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall, instead of again putting the question, say the words recommended by the Second Report of the Procedure Committee on 16th July, 1969, and agreed to by the House, as follows: My Lords, tellers for the Contents [Not-Contents] have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order 48 and, therefore, a Division cannot take place and I declare that the Not-Contents [Contents] have it.

The Committee are further of the opinion that it is desirable to determine precisely what constitutes the appointment of Tellers, in terms of paragraph 2 of Standing Order 48. Following current practice, the Committee consider that a Teller is appointed when a Lord who offers himself as a Teller is given a Teller's wand by the Clerk at the Table.

The Committee recommend that the definition should be recorded in the revised Companion.


My Lords, before I move that this Report be now agreed to, I think I should inform your Lordships that I received representations this morning which show that there is not general agreement in regard to Section 6 of the Report. In view of those representations I take the view that this section requires further consideration by the Procedure Committee. I have not had time to consult the members of the Committee, but I should like to reserve this section, and I therefore ask the leave of the House to move that this Report, with the exception of Section 6 thereof, be agreed to.

Moved, That the Report, with the exception of Section 6 thereof, be agreed to.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees for receiving representations this morning in regard to Section 6 of the Report. My apologies are specially due to him and to your Lordships' House that although this Report was printed on December 16 last it was only this morning that some of us woke up to the significance of certain of the words. I think we can only put it down to the fact that after some five years of hard work as a successful Administration we were enjoying our first Christmas Recess for that time. I think, too, that one of our difficulties is that there was a fair lapse of time between the meeting of the Procedure Committee, which was a long Committee, and the production and the reading of the Report. In some respects there is doubt in our own recollection of what was agreed and what is put in the form of words in this Report. It may well be that the difficulties we felt in regard to Section 6 can be reconciled after further consideration. I should not like to say anything further about that section.

I wish to say something special in regard to section 3, regarding the arrangements for the taking of the Oath at the beginning of the new Parliament. I think any noble Lord who was present on that first day would have been slightly shocked by what can only be described as the unseemly scene of large numbers of your Lordships pouring forth from the Benches, trying to get into the very narrow passageway in order to take the Oath. The Procedure Committee thought it right and proper to consider whether there were ways of avoiding such scenes in the future. I would not disagree with what has been recommended here, but I must say I still prefer the idea of Members of this House, irrespective of their rank, being treated the same. However, I think the question of the Archbishops and the Leaders of the two Front Benches, and perhaps other senior Members, being in a special position for the taking of the Oath might be considered.

I am not quite certain whether paragraph (d) really reflects what the Procedure Committee had in mind. I think that the Procedure Committee felt that Members of the House should remain in their places but should rely upon the Leader of the House, or some noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite acting for him, indicating which Bench should be next for the taking of the Oath. I do not know whether this is a matter which should have been put in the Report or not, but it is a subject we might have another look at in a future Procedure Committee to see whether or not a further addition should be made to this Report. Having said that, I recommend that the Report be now agreed to.


My Lords, as a comparative newcomer to this assembly I should be grateful to the noble Earl if he would clarify the position in regard to what has been referred to in the Report on Procedure as a senior Member. Will he define what is meant by a senior Member, who apparently should have privileges not accorded to other noble Lords? The noble Earl will be aware that in the other place over the years there has been considerable controversy about the privileges accorded to Privy Counsellors, and I understand that it has now been decided to abandon those privileges and that Members are to be treated on equal terms. May we understand that such is to be the position of this assembly in the future?


My Lords, I wonder whether I may have one word on Section 3, referred to by my noble friend, Lord Shepherd. It was always the custom in another place that on the days of the taking of the Oath the Speaker of the House called certain sections from certain Benches in turn. I am not sure whether that applies to-day, because I have not been there for some years, but it always worked very satisfactorily. I cannot understand why it should not be possible for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to say, "I will now take the Benches on the Government side above the gangway", as an illustration. I must say that none of us was very proud of the scene on the first day in this House. It does not seem right for noble Lords to be in that position, and I think, supporting my noble friend, that the method adopted in another place could very satisfactorily be adopted here.


My Lords, may I reply to the questions that have been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Royle and the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell? In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Royle, I would say that I think the Committee agree with him that the experience that the House had on the first day of taking the Oath in the present Parliament, which was uncomfortable and I consider unseemly, should not be repeated. That is the purpose of the recommendations in Section 3 of this Report. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked me two questions. One was whether there is any seniority for Privy Counsellors in your Lordships' House, and the answer is, I think, that in the past it has not been the custom of this House, as distinct from another place, to give any priority to Privy Counsellors. The other question he asked was what is meant by "senior Members of the House". I think that what is meant by that phrase in subsection (c) of Section 3 is ex-Ministers nearest the Bar: in other words, the former Ministers who sit on the two front Benches nearest the Bar of the House.


My Lords, may I have further clarification about two points? First of all, I did not make any suggestion about Privy Counsellors in this Assembly having any privilege, because that custom has now been abandoned in the other place, and, in my opinion, it ought not to be revived here. On the other point, I am not quite clear what is meant by Ministers sitting below the gangway or above the gangway. I am not sure which is above and which is below. Perhaps I might be informed about that. I notice that occasionally Members sit near where the Cross-Benches are. Are those the Members who have been Ministers in this Assembly, or Members who have been Ministers in the other place? We need a little clarification about that. May I make it quite clear, in case there is any misunderstanding, that I have no desire to occupy a privileged place; I am quite content here.


My Lords, one of the most fascinating characteristics of Committees, in my experience in Government, is the different impression that Members have when the Minutes are forthcoming the next day. Certainly my recollection is different from what is contained in the Report here. I was of the view that we had accepted the suggestion put forward by Lord Royle, that there should be guidance from the members of the Government opposite or from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as to the order in which Peers should take the Oath. There was no question at all of anyone having seniority over another. It was a matter of having proper order and for the convenience of us all that we should have some system about it, which might be indicated on the day by a responsible Member of your Lordships' House; I agree with my noble friend Lord Shepherd that subsection (d) of Section 3 might well be looked at again. There is one other point I should like to raise, and that concerns Section 1, dealing with the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. We had a very long discussion on this item, but it was wholly on the point as to how the Committee should be composed. Certain proposals were before the Procedure Committee. I remember that I ventured to make certain other suggestions, and I was of the view that the proposals before the Committee were to be somewhat revised. I notice that there is absolutely no mention here of how the Peers from this House, members of the Committee, should be nominated. I wonder whether the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, would give some indication as to what interpretation we should, in his view, put upon this section as far as the composition of the Committee is concerned.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether it is correct to assume, from what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick has just said, that the members of the Committee had not seen the Report before it was laid on the Table of the House, even though it has been there since before Christmas? Would it not be wise another time for the members of the Committee to see the Report before the time of the House is taken in considering their deliberations?


My Lords, I will do my best to answer the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. So far as guidance to Peers who wish to take the Oath is concerned, whether it be from the Leader of the House or the Lord Chancellor, there is nothing in this Report to preclude such guidance, and if the noble Lord cares to raise the matter at another meeting of the Procedure Committee I am sure that it will be carefully considered. So far as the noble Lord's suggestion about the method of appointments of the Members from this House to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills is concerned, I think that is a matter for the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, but I would willingly go into it with him in the light of the views which I know the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, holds and let him know the result of that consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier asked about opportunities being given to Peers to consider this Report. It was ordered to be printed on December 14 and has been available for some time in the Printed Paper Office. Nevertheless, I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has said. It suggests that a large number of noble Lords had probably not seen the Report until we returned yesterday from the Recess—I said a large number; I did not say all noble Lords—and that is certainly regrettable. But there are certain matters in the Report which are urgent, and for that reason we thought that it should be brought before your Lordships for your approval in the first week after the Recess.


My Lords, I shook my head, not because I was contesting what the noble Earl said about the availability of this Report, but because, as I understood what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier said—and it was a very wise suggestion—on an important matter of this kind the Committee really should agree upon the draft Report before it is printed. I suggest that that is a practice we might very well consider.


My Lords, I agree entirely that it is an important matter, and I hope that the noble Lord will be good enough to raise it at an early meeting of the Procedure Committee.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in the six years since I have been here, when we have seen the names of the members of the Committee at the beginning of each Parliament they have always seemed to be the old gang: new Members never get a chance. It seems to me that the people who get on the Committee are nice to the Establishment on both sides, and other people never get a chance.


My Lords, I am sure the Committee will bear in mind what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, if the Committee decided in favour of some arbiter as to who should be chosen, it might well be that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would have a built-in prejudice against Cross-Benchers—and I should not blame him altogether. I should like to make quite sure that Cross-Benchers will get their proper turn in taking the Oath, if it is all to be arranged.

On Question, Motion agreed to.