HL Deb 12 May 1971 vol 318 cc1068-76

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Fourth Report from the Select Committee be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

The Committee's Report was as follows:


1. The Committee have considered at two successive meetings a number of suggestions for speeding up the procedure followed in Divisions with a view to cutting down the time taken (which is at present up to a quarter of an hour or more). They recommend that, as a first step, the House should adopt experimentally the practice of dividing those voting in each Lobby into two streams, A-K and L-Z, according to the first letter of the name of each Lord in the alphabetical list. This recommendation involves no change in Standing Orders.

2. Secondly, the Committee recommend a wider experiment on the following lines:—

  1. (i) On a Division being called, the Bar will be cleared in the usual way. The doors at either end of the Division Lobbies will be locked, but all doors into the House will remain open.
  2. (ii) Lords may enter the Division Lobbies as soon as a Division is called; and a Lord may vote whether or not he was in the House when the Question was put.
  3. (iii) Within two minutes after the Division is called, Tellers will be appointed and their names communicated to the Clerk at the Table.
  4. (iv) After the lapse of two minutes from the Division being called, the Question will be put a second time. Provided that the challenge is also repeated, the Division will then proceed, as soon as the Tellers and the Clerks are in their places in each Lobby. The door at the exit to each Lobby will then he unlocked to enable Peers to leave, if they wish after voting.
  5. (v) On the expiry of six minutes from the calling of the Division, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair will inform the House or the Committee of the Question which is the subject of the Division and the doors of the Chamber will be locked. From this moment only Lords who are already in the Chamber or the Division Lobbies will be able to vote. By this time, however, most of those who wish to vote will already have done so.

3. The Committee recommend that the proposals described in the previous paragraph be tried out as an experiment until the Whitsun Recess.

For this purpose, Standing Orders 48 and 50 will need to be suspended to the extent necessary to permit the experiment to be tried out. A Motion to this effect, setting out the proposed experimental modifications of the existing procedure and limited in time to the period up to Whitsun, should be moved in the House. At the end of the experiment, the procedure should be reviewed in the light of experience gained.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be agreed to.

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


My Lords, I am not clear about the meaning of the amendment—


My Lords, I think I should have come in a little earlier. I wonder whether I might speak to the Motion of the Chairman of Committees because, if it were agreed to it would then he possible for me to move formally the Motion standing in my name which immediately follows that of the Chairman of Committees on the Order Paper.

As your Lordships will see, the Procedure Committee have recommended certain experimental alterations in our procedure in taking Divisions, and my subsequent Motion would implement the recommendations if by then they had been agreed by the House. I hope that most of your Lordships will by now have had an opportunity of reading the Fourth Report from the Procedure Committee. I know, too, that some of your Lordships had an opportunity yesterday of taking part in a dummy run of the new procedure, which was organised in the best traditions of an impresario by my noble friend the Chief Whip. I hope therefore that your Lordships will either be familiar directly, or through having read the Fourth Report, with the main features of the proposed experiment so I do not propose to go into great detail on them, but if there are any questions I shall be glad to try, to answer them, or indeed my noble friend the Chief Whip will be glad to do so.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Procedure Committee recommended that we should proceed with this experimental procedure in two stages. We have already embarked on the first stage, which was concerned with the actual process of voting in the Division Lobby. We now vote in two streams—A to K and L to Z —and for some reason the A to K stream, at least on our side of the House, seems to go much slower than the L to Z stream. I believe this innovation has produced some considerable measure of acceleration in our procedure. I believe that the time saved per Division is about three minutes on a large Division. I think your Lordships will agree that this is a sensible thing, although at present the time we save on the swings of Divisions we seem to lose on the roundabouts elsewhere. But that is by the way. I am grateful for your Lordships' co-operation, and particularly for the help that your Lordships have given the Clerks by giving your names clearly and distinctly as you pass the Clerk's desks, and I must congratulate noble Lords on the ability which you have shown on reading your names upside down.

Turing to the second stage, which is what really concerns us now, the main feature of the change is to enable a Division to get under way after the lapse of two minutes when the Question is put a second time. Provided the challenge is not repeated the Division will proceed as soon as the Tellers and Clerks are in their places in the Lobbies. In this way it is hoped that much of the voting will be completed by the time the doors of the Chamber are finally closed at the end of six minutes from the time when the Division was originally called.

I should also like to remind your Lordships that the Procedure Committee thought it right to recommend an extension from four to six minutes in the time allowed for us to arrive in the Chamber before the doors are finally locked. Having regard to the fact that voting will have started after two minutes I do not believe this extra time will acid anything significant to the total time taken by Divisions. I am quite certain in fact that we shall make a quite considerable net saving in time.

There is one other particular aspect which I should like to mention. It is an old tradition of your Lordships' House that a noble Lord could only vote if he had heard the Question put. Under the experimental scheme he will be relieved of any obligation to hear the Question put, since it is clearly not possible to allow voting to proceed after two minutes if this course is to be maintained. But some of your Lordships may think that there is something in this tradition and that we ought to offer every opportunity to Members of this House who wish to vote, of hearing the Question that they are being asked to decide. For this reason under the experimental scheme the Question will be repeated for the information of the House but not, of course, put when the doors are locked at the end of six minutes.

My Lords, perhaps I may add just two further points. The new arrangements, if they are agreed by your Lordships' House, would of course be put into effect immediately. If, therefore, there is a Division later to-day they would apply then, or if there are Divisions tomorrow (which seems possible) they would certainly apply then.

The other point is that noble Lords will have observed that the authority for the new proposals expires at Whit sun. That is when the present experimental period expires. We shall then need to consider carefully whether the experiment has succeeded and what arrangements we should make thereafter for the future. The Procedure Committee is, I understand, meeting before the Whit sun Recess and it will therefore be possible for the Committee to consider how the experiment has in fact worked out, and the Committee will no doubt report to your Lordships' House. But of course it will be for all of us here to decide, in the light of that Report, whether we feel that the experiment on which I hope that we are now embarking should continue and, if so, in what form. In this sort of thing we really need to feel our way to a certain extent and then react in the light of experience. That said, my Lords, I hope that, generally speaking, the scheme will commend itself to your Lordships' House.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I for one support the proposals put forward in the Report of the Procedure Committee which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has explained to us. I have a small technical point in relation to the Motion which he is about to move and I should like to reserve it until he moves it. I think the experiment of dividing into two streams is so successful and has so speeded things up that one wonders why we have waited so long. Perhaps this is going to be the only useful product of the Industrial Relations Bill because of the need for higher productivity on divisions.

In regard to the new proposals, I think they represent something similar to that with which those of us who have been in another place are familiar, but with sensible adaptations to meet our particular circumstances. But, my Lords, I think we should regard this very firmly as an experiment. It is conceivable that the fact that noble Lords will go into the Division Lobbies early will deprive the House of some of the indicators that affect how people will vote. There are occasions in this House when we do not vote strictly on Party lines (I have in mind the Meteorites Bill), and people may be influenced when they are in the Chamber by the voices for or against the Question. This is not. however, to oppose what is proposed, because I think it is right. In my view it is important that the House should be informed, even though for a third time, so that noble Lords may hear what is being said.

If I understand the noble Earl correctly, the Lobby will be open as soon as the Question is put for the first time, and it will be possible for noble Lords to go into the Lobby; and some will do so as they have always done in another place. But I am inclined to hope that at least a number of noble Lords—and not merely the formal representatives of the Front Benches—will not dash straight into the Lobbies. There are advantages in collecting the voices properly a second time. Therefore, my feeling is that we should not all immediately rush into whatever our chosen Lobby is. This is a matter of practice and how we feel about this, and I think at the end of the period of experiment we shall need to see whether it has in any way affected our decision-making procedures. The noble Earl knows that I am in fact very strongly in favour of what is now proposed, but it does import a change and a departure from past practice; I think a desirable one. I am inclined to think that the period of the experiment is going to be too short, and I think that the House will need to be ready to continue the experiment after Whitsun. After all, we are not likely to have very big Divisions with 300 or 400 Peers voting between now and Whit sun. But one can never tell what the Government may find for us to vote upon. But my personal opinion is that, provided the experiment is not a ghastly failure in the first week or two, we ought not then to come to a final decision before the Summer Recess.

I would make only one further point. I believe a great deal will depend on the competence of the Tellers, who will have certain responsibilities in this matter and who will be in a position to tell those who have gone into the Division Lobby that the Division is off if on the second call no Division results. I think it would be desirable if some instructions could be made available, because although the Whips on both the Front Benches are no doubt highly professional in their approach, I have known them to get it wrong. There are occasions when other Peers may be Telling, and I think it may be useful to have some brief instructions. I hope your Lordships will consent to this experiment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, a question? I understood him to say in the Government Lobby when a Division is being taken progress is very slow. Surely, there is a simple remedy. Could not it be arranged that fewer noble Lords on the Government Benches voted in the Lobby?


My Lords, is it a fair inference from this Report that there will in fact he a Whit-sun Recess and will the noble Leader tell us when it will be and how long it will endure?


My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their reception of the Lord Chairman's Motion. I should like to say three things. First, I recognise—and I think I made it clear in my opening remarks—that this is an experimental system; we shall have to see how it works in a pragmatic (to use that awful adjective) way. Like the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, I do not think we need decide now how long the experimental period should be. I would not wish myself to pre-empt any recommendation the Procedure Committee might make; they might well wish to recommend that we should have a further experimental period. I think we should see how that goes. I was very interested to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that he does not anticipate any very large Divisions between now and Whitsun.

On one specific point, so far as instructions to Tellers are concerned, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and it is my understanding that instructions of a simple sort for Tellers will be available very shortly at the Table. I fear, in answer to the noble Baroness, that I am not able to enlighten her at the present time on the precise length of our Whitsun holiday. Perhaps she might consult some of her noble friends about that. But having said that, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for his reception of my remarks, and also to say that I think the House is very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the very keen personal interest he has taken in helping us to work out these proposed new arrangements.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I understand from my noble friends that I was out of order in not seeking the permission of your Lordships' House to speak a second time just now. But having said that, I should like formally to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That until the House adjourns for the recess at Whitsun, the Standing Orders relating to Public Business be amended as follows: —

Standiqg Order No. 48

Paragraph (1), at end insert ("; and the doors at either end of the division lobbies shall be locked")

Leave out paragraph (2).

Paragraph (3), line 1, leave out ("four") and insert ("two")

Paragraph (4), line 1, leave out ("four") and insert ("two")

After paragraph (4) insert the following new paragraphs— ("(4A) After the lapse of two minutes from the time when the Bar is ordered to be cleared the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair shall again nut the question, and the doors at the exist from each division lobby shall be unlocked. (4B) A Lord may vote in a division although he did not hear the question put.")

After paragraph (5) insert the following new paragraph— ("(5A) After the lapse of six minutes from the time when the Bar is ordered to be 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.")

Standing Order No. 50

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

Line 14, leave out ("on such queston"). —(Earl Jellicoe)


My Lords, it was because I was aware that under Standing Order I could not reply to the noble Earl that I reserved my right to speak on this particular item again. I, too, am scinated by my noble friend Lady Wootton's question about the Whitsun Recess, but I will not press it further.

There is only one technical point that I should like to make. I am bound to say that I dislike a procedure in which you amend Standing Orders for an experimental period. I am not raising an objection, but I am quite sure that if you amend Standing Orders you should do it with the intention of amending them permanently; and if it is only for an experiment, you should suspend the Standing Orders and pass a Motion saying that while they are suspended the following procedure shall be deemed to apply. This is a small point but I think it is not unimportant, because it makes things terribly difficult if you have short-term amendments. I think perhaps I was lax in not pressing this more strongly at the Procedure Committee. I think there is some validity in this point from the standpoint of our conduct of these arrangements, and I think we ought to be very careful not to start amending Standing Orders until we have finally made up our minds about it.


My Lords, may I point out that the addition to paragraph (1) is by no means clear? As it stands, it is a verbal inexactitude. If it means that the doors at either end shall be closed, it should say either one end or the other end; or if it means both end it should say both, clearly and unequivocally.


My Lords, if I may with permission, reply to the two points put to me, I may say that I had a certain foreboding when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, say that he had a technical point. I wondered what was coming. I think it is a narrowly balanced argument, and I should like to consider with noble Lords opposite, if we are to have any more experiments—I hope that we shall not have too many—how best we deal with this so far as Standing Orders are concerned.

So far as the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Brock, is concerned, certainly it is intended by the wording "at either end of the division lobbies" to indicate both ends of the Division Lobby. If this is incorrect grammar, perhaps my noble friend Lord Conesford will be able to put this right. In any case, I think the Procedure Committee might look at the grammatical point here.

On Question, Motion agreed to.