HL Deb 09 November 1971 vol 325 cc237-43

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, in another place yesterday my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council made a Statement setting out the Government's answer to the unanimous Report of the Commons Select Committee on Procedure which was published in the Summer Recess. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to repeat the Lord President's Statement, which covers matters outside the concern of this House. However, since some of the recommendations of the Commons Procedure Committee have important implications for this House, and since some of your Lord-ships will know that the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton, Lord Byers. the Lord Chairman of Committees (Lord Listowel) and I myself gave evidence to that Committee in July, I think it might be helpful if I were to inform your Lordships directlyof the Government's attitude to those aspects of the report which will impinge on our procedures.

I would first refer to the two recommendations which the Government see as most important in the longer term. These are the proposals for a Joint Committee of both Houses to inquire into the control exercised by both Houses over delegated legislation (Recommendation 24 and Recommendation 28 of the Commons Select Committee's Report), and for a Government-appointed Committee to review the form, drafting, amendment and preparation of legislation that comes before us. The Government accept both those recommendations, but as far as Recommendation 28 is concerned the precise composition and terms of reference of the Committee will have to be discussed with all those concerned. The inquiry to be set up in consultation with another place into Parliamentary control over delegated legislation will be a comprehensive one. It will therefore include proposals for the scrutiny of Statutory Instruments made in Recommendations 19 to 21.

As to Recommendation 23, which also concerns delegated legislation, every effort will be made to ensure that Departments do, whenever possible, observe the suggested 21-day interval between the laying and coming into operation of Statutory Instruments, but the Government are unable to accept that a formal explanation should be provided in every case where it is not possible to observe the interval.

The Government accept in principle the recommendations (Recommendations 1 and 2) for the use of pre- and post-legislation committees, but I think every-one in the House will appreciate that scope for their use may be somewhat limited at the present time. In addition, the Government welcome the proposal of the Commons Select Committee on Procedure for the relaxation of Commons financial privilege. This will give more opportunity for starting Bills in this House. As your Lordships know, this has been the constant endeavour of successive Leaders of this House for many years now. I hope that we may now, with the concurrence of another place, be able to make some effective progress in this direction. In conclusion, I feel your Lordships would agree that our Procedure Committee may wish, at an early date, to give consideration to some of the matters to which this Statement has referred.

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for making this Statement, which may cause some mystification to your Lordships because the evidence that was given to the Commons Procedure Committee rests in a very large volume, and I doubt whether most noble Lords will even know that the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel and I gave this evidence. It is perhaps desirable to point out—and I am sure they would endorse this—that we gave it in a personal capacity. We were given the leave of the House (as was necessary) to give this evidence, but of course we have not bound anyone by it. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he would consider arranging to extract the evidence, the discussion in the Committee and the relevant recommendations. It might be rather cheaper to do that as a reprint, rather than to present to your Lordships large quantities of that rather vast evidence dealing with many other subjects. I think the House would then be able to consider the proposals a little more closely

Having said that, I welcome the Government's acceptance of the Commons recommendation that there should be an inquiry into delegated legislation. There is no doubt that Parliamentary control is exiguous and insufficiently detailed. This is a real problem, and it was one of the points which was referred to in the ill-fated proposals for House of Lords reform. I will say no more on this particular point, other than that a far-ranging inquiry is caned for. I believe it will be the first since the Donoughmore Committee.

The proposals for pre- and post-legisla-tion committees are again subjects which we could debate. I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Byers (who no doubt will be commenting on this matter), that there are, as the noble Earl said, limits to the use of these committees. None the less, these are matters which will be further considered. I urge the noble Earl to continue his efforts in the mean-while to get us legislation. He has not done badly except in one respect; he has produced in this House one of the most controversial Bills, the Museums Bill, and I am not sure how we are going to handle it. The essence of the Bills introduced in this House is that we ought to be capable of giving them a Second Reading without controversy.

I would congratulate the noble Earl on the efforts he has made. I take it that the Commons will yet have to express their views on this subject and we, as a House, must also do so. I take it that the Procedure Committee will be invited to consider the evidence we gave and whether they would recommend the House to accept these proposals. It may be that there will be an opportunity to do so when we debate Procedure on November 23. Ultimately we shall presumably need formal Motions to approve. I very much welcome the Statement and I congratulate the Government on moving to this rational advance in Parliamentary matters.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, we very much welcome these proposals as a great step forward, and I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have handled the matter. We are particularly grateful for the response from another place to the setting up of a Joint Committee, and also the waiving of financial responsibility, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said should give us a much better work-load in this House. Although we have our own views on the Museums Bill, I do not think we ought to look a gift horse in the mouth at the present time. I should just like to put one point which I think we put when we appeared to give evidence before the Committee in another place It is that there is quite a difference between pre-legislation scrutiny and post-legislation scrutiny. I can quite see the Government's difficulty about pre-legislation scrutiny at the present time, but I hope we shall not rule out the possibility of looking at some of the Bills which have been passed by both Houses to see how they are working.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for their response to this Statement. I should like straight away to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said about the evidence we gave: it was given in a personal capacity, and this was made perfectly clear to the Commons Select Committee. I shall look into his suggestion as to the possibility of extracting from the large corpus of evidence given to the Commons Select Committee the slender, but succinct, statements of the four noble Lords concerned and those recommendations which relate to those statements. I also agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, said about the importance of delegated legislation. I think I can con-firm that it is the Government's intention that the wide-ranging inquiry they have in mind shall be as comprehensive and deep as that of the Donoughmore Committee in 1932. It is our feeling that this is an area which needs looking at in a searching and probing way.

While turning to leg, if I may, the Party political comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on the Museums Bill, I should just like to say that I think it is right, when it is within our rules, that legislation, albeit controversial, which falls within the province of a Minister who happens to sit in your Lordships' House should be introduced in your Lordships' House. That said, I would endorse the feeling which both noble Lords have expressed that perhaps a would be a good thing—


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl could elucidate, for the benefit of ignorant Members of the House—if there are any such beside myself—the rather estoteric exchanges which have taken place over the Museums Bill? Are we to prepare our minds in a very special way for the Second Reading? Is there a new code of behaviour which will be applicable to noble Lords when this Bill conies up, or not? I confess that I am completely mystified.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is not only mystified but also mischievous on this occasion, and I will not be tempted any further on to these potential rocks to which I have been lured by the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition. I would confine myself from now on strictly to procedure, and say that I agree with both noble Lords that our debate on Procedure, which I think we are having on November 23, would afford a very good opportunity for ventilating these matters, and express the hope that it might be possible for the Procedure Committee to look at some of them beforehand.

That said, there is one point on which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, touched and on which I must say I personally agree with him. While I think that both the post- and the pre-legislation committee ideas present difficulties—and this is something where we all have to feel our way—I rather agree with him that the post-legislation field is at least initially an easier and more fruitful one. Having said that, I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said and express my appreciation of the lead which another place has given in these matters and for the expressed desire for co-operation in the better working of Parliament which comes right through the Report of the Commons Select Committee. This is a welcome evolution in our Parliamentary affairs.


My Lords, as regards the evidence which has been given, may I ask the noble Earl whether noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches had the opportunity of giving evidence to the Procedure Committee, particularly in view of the fact that several of them show a deep interest in the procedure of this House?


My Lords, I think it was the Parties who were asked to give evidence to the Commons Select Committee, but although that was so I do not think it was given in a Party political spirit. I am well aware of the contribution which Cross Benchers make to your Lordships' House, and if there were a need for non-Party representation I think the noble Lord would have found that incarnated in anything which the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees—who was speaking not only for the Parties, but for the House as a whole —said.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Earl that, in fact, we went on the suggestion of the Procedure Committee; and that of course the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, adequately represents all opinions in this House. There is a limit to the number of people who can give evidence, and we thought that four was enough. Certainly, as I emphasised and as the noble Earl agreed, we went merely in a personal capacity. I am sure that the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Royle, would be very welcome on any matters.


I am not on the Cross Benches.


I know that, my Lords. But the noble Lord is very concerned in these matters and I hope he will speak in the debate.


My Lords, I am delighted to see that there is a possibility that the noble Lord, Lord Royle, may be moving a little towards the Right. Nevertheless, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, has said. I would only add that I hope it is true to say that in these matters not only would it be normal that the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, would give evidence which would embody the feelings of the Cross Benches; I hope that those on the Cross Benches agree that in a matter of this sort I, and noble Lords opposite, would adequately represent their interests. May I assure the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that those on the Cross Benches are ever present in my mind?