HL Deb 05 May 1971 vol 318 cc356-65

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, namely: That the Standing Orders relating to Public Business be considered with a view to their being amended as follows:—

Standing Order No. 8.

Line 5, leave out ("except") and insert ("but")

Line 6, leave out ("where") and insert ("except where divisions are recorded")

Standing Order No. 17

Line 3, leave out from ("Speaker") to second ("the") in line 7, and insert ("of the House; and in case the Lord Chancellor be absent, his place on the Woolsack may be taken either by a Deputy Speaker, authorised under the Great Seal from the Queen to supply that place, or by a Deputy Chairman, appointed by the House; and if neither a Deputy Speaker nor a Deputy Chairman be present,")

Standing Order No. 36

Leave out paragraphs (1) to (5), and insert: ("(1) Starred Questions shall be entered before other business. (2) Notices relating to Private Business may be entered before Public Business. At the discretion of the Chairman of Committees they may also be entered later in the Order Paper. (3) Notices relating to the Business of the House and to the Chairman of Committee's Business, shall, if he so desires, have priority over other Public Business except Starred Questions. (4) On all sitting days except Wednesdays notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures and Orders shall have precedence over other notices and orders save the foregoing; and on such days the precedence of notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures and Orders may be varied, if the convenience of the House so requires,")

After Standing Order No. 46.

Insert the following Order:— ("Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, 46A. 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.)

Standing Order No. 48

Paragraph (2), line 4: leave out ("Tellers shall be appointed")

After paragraph (2), insert the following new paragraphs:— ("( ) During the four 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. ( ) If, after the lapse of four 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.")

Standing Order No. 53

Paragraph (1) at end insert ("and entered in the Journals").

Leave out paragraph (2).

My Lords, all the Amendments to the Standing Orders that I am proposing are those recommended by our Procedure Committee in their First and Third Reports, both of which, I need hardly remind your Lordships, have been approved by the House. The Third Report was agreed to last Tuesday, April 27, and I am moving this Motion in order to give effect to the House's approval of these recommendations. The new Standing Order relating to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills was recommended by the Procedure Committee before Christmas, in their First Report which your Lordships agreed to after the Christmas Recess, on January 13. It was, however, thought more convenient to hold this up to allow time for the Commons to agree to the proposal in the Procedure Committee's Report. The House of Commons Procedure Committee have recently recommended a similar Standing Order for another place so I think—and I am confident that your Lordships will agree—that it would be appropriate that this House should now approve this new Standing Order.

Your Lordships will note that I am asking you to approve an Amendment to Standing Order No. 48 which governs our procedure on Divisions. Your Lordships will also see from the Fourth Report of the Procedure Committee, which is available to-day in the Printed Paper Office, that the Committee have recommended an experiment in the procedure for taking Divisions. I do not think it would be proper for me to go into details to-day, but the Procedure Committee's Report sets out the changes which I hope to propose to your Lordships next week. In the meantime, it would be possible for noble Lords to discuss the proposed changes in our procedure for Divisions at their respective Party meetings next Thursday, and to seek advice from the Leaders of their Parties and the Clerks.

I also understand, my Lords, that my noble friend the Government Chief Whip is hoping to organise, here in this Chamber, a "dummy run", if that is a Parliamentary expression, of the new procedure at two o'clock in the afternoon of next Tuesday. Noble Lords are invited to attend that dummy run if they are so disposed. I hope that a fair number of noble Lords will do so, because this is something of a new procedure for us. No doubt there will be some "teething troubles" to be ironed out—if that is not a mixed metaphor—and I think it is easier to iron out teething troubles if there are a few "teeth" with which to iron them out.

It may be a little surprising to your Lordships that I am asking the House to amend Standing Order No. 48 this week when further changes may be taking place later. The reason is that the present arrangements represent a tidying up of the existing procedure and have no connection with the new proposals from the Procedure Committee. Meanwhile, the Procedure Committee have recommended that, for an experimental period, your Lordships should vote in two streams, A to K and L to Z, in each Division Lobby This requires no amendment of our Standing Orders. It has been agreed through the usual channels that this experiment should start next Thursday, when we might have an opportunity for a number of non-dummy runs on this particular part.

There will be a large card in each Division Lobby, telling Peers that those whose names begin with the letters A to K should pass to the left of the Clerk's table and those with names beginning with L to Z should pass to the right of the Clerk's table. There will, therefore, be two Division Lists in each Lobby, one for names beginning A to K and the other for names beginning L to Z. If any noble Lord selects the wrong stream when voting, he will find that the list before him does not contain his name, and naturally this will cause delay and inconvenience to others.

In concluding this rather lengthy statement, may I ask your Lordships to do your best to facilitate this new procedure —which I think should prove useful; it follows the precedent, for better or for worse, set by another place—by giving your names clearly to the respective Clerks. It would also be helpful if you could point to your name on the Division List sheet as you come up to the Clerk's table. So that your Lordships may discover where your names appear on the new divided lists, arrangements have been made to pin up the new Division sheets in the Division Lobbies and in the Princes' Chamber. But, as your Lordships will appreciate, when you actually come up to the Clerk's table, your name will appear upside down. My Lords, I can, of course, move these Amendments seriatim or I can, with the leave of the House—unless there are particular points about which individual noble Lords would like to question me—move them en bloc which might be to the convenience of your Lordships' House. My Lords, I beg to move.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, dealing first with the new Standing Orders, I would agree with the noble Earl that these have been fully discussed. None the less, it is important that the House, having, I hope, properly taken note of the Report of the Committee on Procedure, should consciously agree to them rather than just do so out of trust of the usual channels—conscientious as I hope that we all are. I think it is satisfactory to move all the Amendments together, but I am glad that the noble Earl indicated that he would in fact move them separately. I take it that he is in order in doing so. It may be that we have amended Standing Orders now so that he can move them separately, but no doubt if the noble Earl wished to discuss one Amendment particularly there would be some way in which this could be done. I hope that the noble Earl or the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack knows how to do it. As I understand it, the new Standing Order No. 48 will again need to be subsumed in whatever new procedure we adopt of the kind on which a report has been made.

Turning to the proposals of the Committee on Procedure, which fall into two parts—and, if I understand it rightly, to-day we are only considering the division into two streams of those who pass through the Lobbies—a small point has occurred to me; that is, whether in fact the House ought not formally to approve this even though it does not involve a Standing Order. I very much hope that the House would do so, and I am sure that the many Members of your Lordships' House who are accustomed to the proceedings in another place, and especially in another place when we were there, have always been astounded that in the day when we had to get 400 people, and more on occasion, through one of these Lobbies, we were always able to do it within 12 minutes, and that when we have the sort of numbers which the conscientious actions of the Government Chief Whip are now bringing into this House, it seems to take very much longer. In passing, may I say that I hope the Government Chief Whip will not be putting a Whip on for the dummy run, or we shall never be able to start our proceedings that day. None the less, I think this arrangement of dividing into streams is satisfactory. I am sure that the noble Earl would not wish to proceed with it if there were any serious objections from any quarter of the House, but I would strongly recommend the House to concur in what is now proposed.

If I may trespass a little on the noble Earl's point, perhaps I might add that it is also necessary for us to consider that this will put quite a burden, certainly in the first and particularly in the second stage, on Officers and Doorkeepers, and it is conceivable that there may be the odd slip-up at some time. I am sure that your Lordships, with your perennial courtesy, will be tolerant and sympathetic to those who are having to adopt this immensely computerised method of ironing out—I cannot remember what it was: teeth, I think.

My Lords, when we come to the other proposals mentioned in the Report, which I understand is in the Printed Paper Office, I would only say that, so far as I can understand them—and I think I understand them—they are a sensible adaptation of the methods employed in another place, but adapted to suit us. But I stress that this must be a matter for the House; and while discussions take place, sensibly I hope (because this is how the House runs), through the usual channels and subsequently in the Procedure Committee, I hope it will be borne in mind that it is for the House itself to be satisfied on all these proposals: none of us is arrogating to himself responsibilities for that.

I welcome the suggestion about opportunities for discussions, at our Party meetings. This involves problems for the noble Earl, because without in any way depreciating the contribution of hereditary Peers, I must point out that he has so many more hereditary Peers, including his Front Bench, hardly any of whom has ever walked through a Commons Lobby in the way noble Lords such as those sitting below the gangway have done. I personally think it is right that we should adopt this procedure. None of us wishes to adopt any form of delaying tactics at all, and it may even make a small though uncovenanted contribution to the unlikely rapid progress of the Industrial Relations Bill.


My Lords, as there are a number of points in the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition to which I should like to refer, I would agree straight away that I think the new Standing Order No. 48 will be subsumed—


May I interrupt the noble Lord? We are speaking on a Motion, he needs the leave of the House to speak.


My Lords, I think I asked whether I could come back, but if I may more formally ask the leave of your Lordships, while the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition are in the immediate recollection of your Lordships' House, may I say that I would agree straight away that Standing Order No. 48 will be subsumed in our new procedures. So far as the two streams are concerned, I would endorse what the noble Lord has said about this, which I think is a sensible arrangement. I do not think it needs the formal approval of your Lordships' House, but if there is a considerable body of the Members of your Lordships' House who are worried about this, then it is something we shall need to consider. But I should like to assure noble Lords opposite that I do not think they need unduly worry about the ability of the mainly hereditary Front Bench on this side of your Lordships' House, with their well known intellectual capacity and adaptability, to reconcile themselves to these new arrangements, more especially as we have the advice and experience of a twice-blooded "another place" man in the person of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to advise us if need be. The only other immediate point—and I apologise for intervening now—is that of course the Fourth Report of your Procedure Committee will not be before your Lordships' House formally for approval until next Wednesday.


My Lords, I welcome these proposals and hope that they will commend themselves to the House, particularly the proposal to speed up the taking of Divisions and recording of votes. May I take it that for the dummy run on Tuesday your Lordships will be invited to attend this House in an informal manner, possibly to receive a lecture from the Chief Whip?


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I ask him whether, in the new procedure for dividing into two groups, it is clearly understood that the recording of the vote is not the actual Telling and that the arrangements so far as the Tellers are concerned will still be adequate for them to count heads?


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that noble Lords go through the Division Lobbies with lightning rapidity? The Whips will now face two streams. Could he ensure that the Whips will be efficient enough to count the heads at such a fast pace?


My Lords, may I refer to the final paragraph in the new Standing Order No. 48. This is a new version and I think preferable to the former version, which was full of stuff about wands. But, my Lords, I still think there is a little ambiguity, for this reason. If noble Lords will look at the final paragraph of Standing Order No. 48 it assumes that one side or the other may have failed to appoint Tellers, but it makes no provision for the case where neither side has appointed Tellers, and thus leaves the noble Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair without any guidance whatsoever.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl realises that this instalment of the improvement and reform of the procedures of this House is generally welcomed, but may I ask whether he could make any statement with regard to the progress which has been made by the Committee which he appointed some weeks ago in order to advise him on further changes in our procedure which would help us to conduct our business with greater expedition and efficiency? Further, may I ask whether he intends in the near future for us to be able to learn the recommendations which have been made as the result of the Report of that Committee and whether in due course we shall have a debate on it?


My Lords, as a matter of interest, I wonder whether my noble friend could tell us why in another place six minutes are allowed before the doors are closed, whereas here it is only four minutes? Are we supposed to move quicker than in another place?


My Lords, if I may speak once again with the leave of the House, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that this dummy run will be entirely informal, and the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, that he will not find the arrangements in any way inadequate. My noble friend Lord Alport went a little wider than the Motion now before the House but, if I may trespass on the same ground on which I think he has slightly trespassed, my information is that I will be receiving a report very shortly from the somewhat informal group who have been considering matters of the machinery and procedures of your Lordships' House and therefore I hope within a matter of weeks (to use a hallowed phrase) I shall be able to put my suggestions before the Procedure Committee.

I do not entertain the same doubts as my noble friend Lord Conesford entertained, but I know that he has an eagle eye for these matters. I wonder whether, unless he is seriously disquieted, he would agree to the Amendments now proposed? I am sure that the Procedure Committee would wish to take note of his remarks and look at this in their next consideration. As to the question of six minutes, I think I can assure my noble friend that here again I will be proposing shortly that we should follow the same procedure as another place, and this will come before your Lordships for discussion next Wednesday. I believe that that Report, combined with the present alterations for the speeding up of our Divisions, will be a great improvement, more especially for noble Lords who are engaged in Committee work and other matters. It is tremendously difficult for many of us to get back in time for a Division within the existing four minutes, and I think one of the advantages in the new procedure to be recommended to your Lordships' House next Wednesday is that it will allow our Divisions to be speeded up, and at the same time allow more time for noble Lords who are outside your Lordships' Chamber to get back for a Division.


My Lords, may I say that I very much welcome the last remark of the noble Earl? In the Parliament of 1945-1950, I happened to be a junior Whip and the Parliament of the day was then occupying this Chamber. I can say that without the benefit of hoists from rather large Whips it was difficult at times to get support through the Lobbies of this House. The time factor is rather important. In those days at times the situation was rather like the Tokyo Underground at rush hour.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and the said Amendments made accordingly. Ordered, that the said Amendments be printed, and that a Message be sent to the Commons to acquaint them with the new Standing Order on the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.