§ 3.8 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Tenth Report of last Session and the First Report of this Session from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House. The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend I beg leave to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper. Even the prospect of debating this Report seems to have had the effect of stimulating a lively consciousness of the matters involved this afternoon, judging by some of the feelings that were expressed in the course of Question Time and some of the remarks that have been made in discussing the House of Lords Offices Committee. My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity of opening a debate on this subject, and I am sure that we shall enjoy an interesting and stimulating discussion, judging from the list of your Lordships who have put your names down to speak. This is certainly one subject on which we are all equally expert. We should be grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for his initiative in setting in motion a process which has resulted in to-day's full-scale debate.
§ As your Lordships will see from the Report. my noble friend invited four of 907 us: the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd and me to study this subject and make recommendations. May I make it clear at the outset of my remarks that the fact that I head the list of noble Lords who signed the Report is purely a matter of alphabetical precedence and nothing else. We sat as four equals and evolved our own procedure in the best traditions of your Lordships' House. May I also preface my few remarks by saying how much we appreciated the assistance in preparing our Report of our Secretary, Michael Wheeler-Booth. He worked most diligently in assembling the background information that we asked for and in putting together a Report which, though it may not appeal in its entirety to all of your Lordships, I hope you will feel has been of some value.
§ Nor could we have begun to compile our Report had we not had the co-operation of a great many of your Lordships who expressed your views to us, forcefully sometimes, either verbally or in writing, or by completing the questionnaire which we circulated. We were particularly grateful, too, to certain groups of your Lordships who helped us. My noble friend, Lord Alport, who had invited an ad hoc committee of his own to study this subject, was kind enough to allow us to sit in on his meetings and to see the conclusions to which his group had arrived. And other groups of Peers —the Scottish Peers, the Cross-Bench Peers and the Bishops—all gave us the benefit of their advice. In compiling our Report we have, as your Lordships will see, included on each item a heading "Evidence from Peers" under which we have listed the various suggestions we received. We thought it was important in considering the whole subject not just to give our own recommendations but for everyone to be able to see the different suggestions that had been made to us and to judge our recommendations against that background.
§ My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to run through the Report in detail. Those of us who were concerned in producing it are rather more inclined this afternoon to listen to what others have to say, and my noble friend the Leader of the House, 908 who will be winding up the debate, is, I know, particularly interested in hearing your Lordships' comments, which I am sure he will consider, as will the Procedure Committee in due course. Perhaps I may confine myself to just some of the feelings I myself had in considering the whole subject and the underlying reasons that led me to join with the others of my colleagues in making the recommendations that we have. No one can foretell with certainty what the future of this House will be. Many of us supported the reform of the House of Lords along the lines suggested in the Parliament (No.2) Bill in the last Parliament. But those proposals failed to gain the approval of the other place and there seems at present little prospect of any fundamental reform. But it would be a pity not to follow up some of the impetus behind those proposals in order to ensure that we function as efficiently as possible within our present constitution and in our present role. We are sometimes inclined to flatter ourselves and to take credit for the way in which we conduct our business, but I think we can modestly claim, with some justification recently, that we have been fulfilling our task as a Second Chamber fairly well. I suggest that, while we should always be ready to adapt our procedures for the sake of greater efficiency, we should be most reluctant to alter or discard systems and traditions that have served us so well for so long.
§ One such tradition is the freedom of the House to regulate its own procedure, the consequent minimum number of Standing Orders and the absence of powers of control by a Speaker. I personally am fully convinced of the value of this traditional method of conducting our business. But we also have to realise that along with this freedom and flexibility goes the need for a corresponding sense of responsibility. The difficulty is that traditions of this kind are harder for a newcomer to grasp than a printed book of rules, and in cases of difficulty a set of rules can be enforced by a chairman while our traditions require the sanction of the whole House. It is not right for us to look to the Leader of the House as a substitute Chairman. His task is to interpret the wishes of the whole House and his hand is greatly strengthened by the clearly expressed feelings of the House as a whole—and, 909 if I may say so, in the course of Question Time this afternoon this principle was admirably illustrated.
§ In an effort to help newcomers to the House to grasp these niceties, and to remind some of the old-stagers of our traditions and customs, we have proposed in our Report a new booklet—a Simple Guide. There already exists a booklet, with which I am sure your Lordships are familiar, entitled General Information for Peers. It mainly concerns itself with administrative matters, and I should think that the suggested new Guide and this existing booklet could be combined into one short booklet which would be given automatically to every existing Member of the House and to all new Members. This would seem to me to be the best way of trying to ensure that all Members of the House are aware of our tribal customs and encouraged to see that they are followed.
§ One of the points frequently made to us from many quarters, and certainly contained in the valuable comments from the meeting convened by my noble friend Lord Alport, was that those on the Back Benches were unable to make their voices sufficiently heard. We took this criticism very seriously, and certainly for myself I should think it right that all Members of this House should have every opportunity of expressing their views on any subject, consistent only with the fact that we are one of two Houses of Parliament and the Government and the Opposition have constitutional duties to perform. Obviously the Government must have priority to get their business through; obviously the Opposition must have facilities for expressing its criticisms and propounding its policies. But in the time that remains I believe there is more scope for participation by Back-Benchers in the work of the House.
§ It was for this reason that we made two specific suggestions. The first was to set up a permanent Advisory Committee to the Leader of the House. We suggested that this should consist of four Back-Benchers, one from each Party and one from the Cross-Benches, and it would in future form a channel of communication from the Back-Benches to my noble friend the Leader on all matters relating to the working of the House. Of course, this Committee would in no way inhibit the present right of every Member of this 910 House to direct access to my noble friend, but it would provide formal machinery for a regular review of our procedures and would serve to carry forward into the future the kind of exercise that we have conducted and which is dealt with in this Report.
§ Secondly, we suggested that it would give greater scope to the Back-Benches, the Cross-Benches and the Bishops' Benches if once a month two short debates were held, on a Wednesday, on Motions in their name. In the case of these debates we thought it advisable to recommend a time limit, which would ensure that they were pointed and lively debates and that the one that happened to come second on the Order Paper would be held at a convenient hour. So often we have heard complaints that the Unstarred Question, which at the moment is the only vehicle, or the easiest vehicle, for a Back-Bencher to get a subject considered, comes on at such a late hour. How these Motions should be selected—whether by the Leader of the House or by ballot—we left for later decision, and any comments that are made in the course of this afternoon's debate will be of great interest in coming to a decision on this proposal.
§ Along with respect for the traditions of the House, I personally was influenced by the need to maintain the dignity of the House. Some of the suggestions made, particularly suggestions for curtailing or endeavouring to shorten the length of speeches, seemed to me to be unacceptable for that reason. There was a suggestion that flashing lights should indicate the length of time a speaker had spoken, but this sort of device, which may be appropriate enough at Party conferences, does not seem to me to be consistent with the dignity of the Upper House of Parliament. But I was prepared to go as far as the fairly modest suggestion, whose author's views I very much respect, that we might install two extra clocks in the Chamber—
§ LORD ABERDARE
—and that we might perhaps reinforce this by a paragraph in the Simple Guide.
I should like to make a few quick remarks on the last three sections of the Report—Sections XII, XIII and XIV. Questions on the legislative role of the 911 House we consider to be outside our terms of reference, and when we received an approach from the Procedure Committee in another place we thought it appropriate to refer it to the Leader of the House. I am sure it is a source of great satisfaction to all your Lordships that at present we enjoy a happy relationship with the Procedure Committee of another place and that discussions are continuing on the subject of further co-operation between the two Houses.
On the subject of the membership of the various House Committees, it is obvious, from the questions that were asked in the course of the discussion on the appointment of the Committee of Selection yesterday and to-day's events on the appointment of the Offices Committee, that your Lordships have strong feelings, and I hope they will be expressed in the course of the debate to-day. In our second Report we have recommended certain changes in these Committees, although we did not recommend any change in the Committee of Selection which was criticised yesterday. We were anxious to infuse new blood into these Committees by establishing a rule of automatic retirement, except for a few ex-officio members, after three years' service. If strong views are expressed this afternoon, I certainly see no reason why this should not also apply to the Committee of Selection, but in fact we did not propose it because the Committee meets so infrequently.
Finally, we reported on some of the views expressed to us about accommodation and facilities in the House. We felt this also to be outside our limited terms of reference and that it was a matter for the Offices Committee. But we thought that as the views had been expressed to us we should record them, although I hope that in the course of our debate this afternoon we shall confine ourselves to matters to do with the working and the procedure of the House. I know that my noble friend the Leader of the House intends to find time at a later date for a debate on the accommodation and facilities of the House, if this is desired. I do not want to say any more about the details of the Report, except to remark how much we look forward to hearing all the varied views that may be expressed this afternoon. We hope that in the light 912 of the views expressed we may be able to make some useful improvements in our procedure.
§ LORD SLATER
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he mind if I asked him a question? We are asked to take note of the Report before the House, and in the Conclusions in Section XV at paragraph (l) (1) it says:the better speakers should not be concentrated at the beginning of the Debate,Is the noble Lord in a position to clarify that statement? Does it refer to certain individuals who are good orators, or does it refer to the substance of what an individual here has to say in the course of his speech? I should very much like to know how the classification of a good speaker is arrived at.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I should not like to answer that off my own bat. I think it is something about which we might have a ballot at some time.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he will not perhaps reply to the noble Lord to the effect that this is evidence given to the Committee and is not, as I understand it, in any way the opinion of the Committee.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Tenth Report of last Session and the First Report of this Session from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House. —(Lord Aberdare.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing this Motion, and in particular it will be grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for arranging an early debate on this Report. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in expressing appreciation to noble Lords on all sides of the House for the views that they gave to the Committee, and in some cases specific recommendations. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in congratulating and offering sincere appreciation to Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, who provided the Committee not only with invaluable advice but with a great 913 deal of information, some of which is contained in the Report. Eventually, of course, the Procedure Committee will have to make up their mind what sort of recommendations to make to the House in the light of this Report, but I hope they will take into account the views that are expressed in the course of this debate.
On the question of procedure, it always seems to me difficult to know where to strike a balance between a whole series of conflicting interests. I have never liked the phrases "Front Bench" and Back-Bencher", which seem to indicate that there is a great deal of difference between us. The Back-Benchers certainly have a great deal more freedom than those who sit on the Front Bench. We on this side of the House, and certainly the Party Leadership, have been elected to represent the views of our Party as a whole. We are elected annually and therefore we are particularly conscious of the views of our members; and certainly my approach to this Committee, seeking to strike a balance, was to see how best we could develop Back-Bench influence without in any way blunting the effectiveness of the Party political machine, upon which this House in the end so much depends.
I do not think there is any doubt that this House can provide an important quorum for the debate of national affairs, and is uniquely equipped to deal with specialised subjects. I should like to see this developed, but in such a way that in the end we became—certainly from an outward appearance—a formal debating society. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has said, we are the Second Chamber of Parliament, with responsible functions in a Parliamentary procedure.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that the Government must have their time to get their legislation through. Equally important, and perhaps of greater importance—certainly from the official Opposition point of view —is that the Opposition should have ample and suitable time to carry out its function of scrutiny of legislation and watching carefully the everyday functions and performances of the Government.
If I had to express a view as to whether the balance has been struck properly, I would say that it has. I 914 think that we in this House are deeply indebted to the usual channels, the Chief Whips of our three Parties and the noble Lord, Lord Strang, the representative of the Cross-Benches. They have a nearly impossible task. There are many conflicting interests and strong views, but I think by and large they achieve the right balance between the needs of the political Parties and the aspirations of independent Members of this House.
I think one of the frustrations of this House is that when Members wish to raise a subject, for instance by an Unstarred Question—I personally attach considerable importance to the Unstarred Question—no one, even at the last moment, is ever able to say whether that was the right day for that Unstarred Question to be put down. This is frustrating not only to the person asking the Unstarred Question but to all those who may wish to take part in a debate upon it. I do not see how this difficulty can be avoided if this House, as I hope it will, wishes to continue to work with its flexible arrangements and not, as in another place, have some form of fixed, rigid timetable. There may be ways, particularly on Government days when we are in Committee, for the usual channels to agree among themselves as to what would be the right moment to adjourn in order that an Unstarred Question can be taken. I believe this arrangement in fact exists to-day, although I do not think it is quite understood by noble Lords.
I personally attach very great importance to the Starred Question. We are now limited to four a day. I myself believe that there is an undoubted case for an increase from four, perhaps to six. It is interesting that in 1953–54 your Lordships' House decided to increase the number of Starred Questions from three to four. Then the average attendance was 97 Members; to-day it is some 265, a considerable increase in daily attendance. In 1953–54 the average number of Starred Questions asked per day was 1.5; to-day it is about 3.5. So if there was a case in 1953–54 for an uplift from three to four, at least statistically one could say there is now an undoubted case for an increase from four to about six. However, I share the view of the group that we would not want to increase the number of Questions of the general typo that we normally have. I am particularly 915 concerned about the House being able to raise topical matters at Question Time. I should not wish to criticise either the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, or my noble friend Lord Brockway, but I could not help feeling that the Private Notice Question that was asked yesterday was very borderline indeed. I should have thought that had it been possible for such a Question to be raised this week as a Starred Question then it ought to have been done in that way. But my noble friend was unable to do so, and he asked a Private Notice Question. I should like to see the number of daily Starred Questions increased, but to be of such a character (if it is possible to define it) that the increase will be available for topical questions, particularly those that might fall in the marginal area of being Private Notice Questions.
I have only one further point to make about Starred Questions. It is not mentioned in the Report, but is a matter I have thought about more recently. I wonder whether we have not now reached the stage when Questions should be put to specific Departments on specific days. I well remember sitting on the Bench opposite answering Questions every day of the week. This, of course, created great confusion in one's own Department, because it meant having to rearrange various meetings. It also means that from time to time one is called upon to ask a colleague, perhaps a Lord in Waiting, to answer what can be a very difficult Question. I will not mention the noble Lord's name, but there was an instance the other day where clearly the noble Lord was in great difficulty, and I can well understand why; he was called upon to answer for a Department with hardly any knowledge of the background and of the detail. If we were to adopt a system by which Questions could be put to Departments on certain days, it would be possible for Ministers to so arrange their business that they could be present when those Questions were being asked.
In regard to Motions, it was alleged in the Report that Front Benchers hogged the Wednesday Motions. The statistics in the Report will show, by the last three years' figures, that Back-Benchers had some fifty Motions while the FrontBenchers had forty-four. I think it is true to say that it is unlikely that a 916 Back-Bencher will be allotted time for a debate on a Wednesday or a Thursday without agreement from his Chief Whip or from his Leader. So to that extent Back-Benchers have not the freedom of raising subjects in your Lordships' House. There are some times, too, when Questions are on the "No Day Named" list, on subjects that ought to be debated, when clearly, from a Party political point of view, if it were known that those Questions were being raised on a Conservative Day, a Labour Day or a Liberal Day, it could cause embarrassment to the Party, a feeling that the Party was sponsoring them.
Therefore, I have always been attracted to the idea of trying to find a way in which Back-Benchers in this House could, as of right, have Motions before the House on Wednesdays or Mondays. I am particularly attracted to the suggestion of the Group that one Wednesday a month should be set aside for two debates to be decided either through selection by the Leader of the House or by ballot. May I say frankly that I stand by the ballot. I do not believe that the Leader of the House is going to be any freer of criticism than the Chief Whips on the question of what Motions should be taken. Therefore, I would go very much for the ballot, and then it would be quite clear that it is a question of luck and nothing else as to whether a Motion is taker.. I particularly like the idea of two short debates in the afternoon. It may be a special discipline on us for the shortening of our speeches in our general debates.
May I raise yet another new matter? That is. whether it would not now be better to take general debates on Thursday as opposed to Wednesday. The basic function of your Lordships' House is the scrutiny of public legislation. I do not want to embarrass some of my noble friends, but I am deeply conscious of quite considerable hardship on those noble Lords who live in the Provinces and who come to London and have to spend a night in hotels. Apart from the expense of staying in London on Thursday night. one knows, particularly in the tourist season. that there is great difficulty in keeping one's room for that Thursday night. Not until the very last moment can there be a decision by the Chief Whips as to what hour we should sit on Thursday if we are taking legislation. I would 917 therefore suggest that the Wednesday debate should snow be transferred to Thursday. Since the Motion is down on the Order Paper some two or three weeks before it is taken, noble Lords who wish to remain or take part in the debate certainly would have full knowledge of it, and would be able to make the necessary arrangements.
So far as length of speeches is concerned, I am here treading with some difficulty because I am not exactly so renowned, as is the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for making short speeches. I think the House would agree with the Group's view that it would be wrong to limit the length of speeches. If a noble Lord has a right to speak in this House, then he has a right to deploy his argument as he thinks best. I personally have very little idea, once I am on my feet, for how long I am speaking. I tend to concentrate very much on what I wish to say. There have been occasions when I have thought that I have made one of the best speeches of my life, and I have looked at my wife in the gallery expecting an indication of applause, and I see her looking at her watch. I think there is a real difficulty here. We have only one clock, and it is not particularly easy to see. Therefore, I very much support the idea of having two extra clocks on the walls and putting a device in them so that by a quick glance any noble Lord will know how long he has been on his feet. I believe that this would be more salutary than anything else that has previously been put to the Group or to the House. If it fails, we could then adopt a suggestion put to me at lunch-time yesterday by the noble Earl the Chief Whip namely, to include a cuckoo in the clock.
I now turn to debates of urgency. I do not think that there is any disagreement that Standing Order No.33A is unsatisfactory. This is a Standing Order to the effect that Statements are not subject to debate immediately unless the House so orders, but this has been construed as meaning that such a debate arising from a Statement can only be taken on the same day as the matter arises. It may be true that Front-Benchers and more distinguished Members of your Lordships' House who know the Chief Whips could get a debate on a matter of urgency, but I do not believe that this is likely to happen for—and I use the words 918 carefully—the average Back-Bencher. I believe that if a matter of urgency arises, and if one of my noble friends or one of the noble Lords opposite feels that it is a matter that ought to be debated urgently, there should be some right within our Standing Orders, and provided the House agrees, for such a debate to be taken fairly quickly, within two or three days. I believe it important that such a debate should take place at an early stage of our proceedings, and not late in the evening.
My Lords, this afternoon a number of questions have been asked of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about how Committees are nominated. I think most of us know that again this is done through the usual channels, in consultation with the Chairman of Committees. The numbers are too big, and their membership is certainly too rigid. I think that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, knows the reason for that as well as I do. Chief Whips are meant to be tough, but in the end they are not. They have not got it in their hearts to go to someone who has rendered distinguished service to this House and who likes sitting on a particular Committee, and to say, "Look, I think you should now leave" I do not think any of us have really faced up to the problem. Therefore, the system of rotation, which I hope the House will adopt, will mean that we can get new blood on to our Committees, and we shall not hurt the feelings of any of our friends who have rendered great service for many years. So far as the Advisory Committee is concerned, if this can provide a real link between Back Bench Members and the Leader of the House, then I support it. However, I must say that I should not like to see this Committee in any way reducing the effectiveness, or the confidence, of the House in the system of usual channels. If this were to happen, then I believe we would have done a grave disservice to this House.
Accommodation is, I suppose, the area about which we received most criticism. I suspect that little can be done until we get more money for new buildings, new structures. But I wonder whether the noble Earl will look seriously at the suggestion made in regard to the Royal Gallery? A few carpets laid around the existing tables, with perhaps a little more heat, and I think that this accommodation 919 would lessen some of the pressure that is undoubtedly felt to-day in the Library.
In conclusion, I should like to say a few words about Part XII of the Group's Report on the Legislative Role of the House. We received an overture from the Commons' Procedure Committee suggesting co-operation between the two Houses in an inquiry into the processes of legislation in both Houses. I do not think there is any doubt that not for many years has the relationship between the two Houses been so friendly as it is to-day. I was glad that the Party Leaders, in their personal capacity, gave evidence to the Commons Committee, and that this evidence, so I understand, made a very great impression in the House of Commons. I think that we should respond to any move that will increase the effectiveness of Parliament as a whole, and the co-operation between the two Houses. There is perhaps one improvement that the noble Earl could immediately consider. If a Private Member's Bill is passed by another place we always consider it. Would it be possible for the House of Commons to provide reciprocal treatment, so that if a Private Member's Bill is passed by your Lordships' House by a given time, then it would be considered in the House of Commons and not be subject to support by the Government?
The Group's Report may lead to some improvement in our procedure. How far it makes the House more effective is open to serious doubt. In the Introduction to the Report reference is made to the twilight period of 1965 to 1969 when it was expected that radical reform might be undertaken. Many noble Lords, like myself, would wish the House to play a more effective role in Parliament. We share with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, a deep sense of bitterness that the proposals based on the conclusions of the inter-Party conference were not proceeded with in the last Parliament. This House passed, by a large majority, these proposals. I accept from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that it is not possible to consider legislation at this moment. However, I wonder whether we cannot achieve some progress by making use of our Standing Orders and our customs? We wish to be a credible House of Parliament. Can we really be a credible House 920 with a potential membership of over a thousand? Can we be credible when great numbers of our Members do not even bother to come? And how can we be credible when those large numbers who do not normally come suddenly arrive and take part in important debates? I have a feeling that unless we deal with composition we are going to lose the respect not only of Members of this House and of Parliament but eventually of the public at large.
We have dealt with some of our rights in this House. We can no longer vote by proxy. Through our Standing Orders we have leave of absence. Would it not be right for us to consider ways and means by which, through custom and then through our Standing Orders, we could limit the number of those who do not normally attend this House coming as and when it suits them? I will not press this matter, but I hope the House will agree that while it is correct to bear in mind the rights of Members of this House it is of equal importance, if not of greater importance, that we seek to enhance the reputation and position of this House. Until we ourselves have dealt with our composition—if we can—I do not believe that this House will have any real future. I believe this Report is useful, but it only scratches the surface. hope that after adopting it your Lordships will go ahead and find ways and means of increasing the effectiveness of this House within our Parliamentary system.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I think I should begin by saying to the noble Lord. Lord Slater, that if he will bear with me it will immediately become clear to him that the early speakers in a debate are not necessarily the best speakers. We have a long debate still ahead of us, and I shall therefore content myself with making just three general observations and then some short comments on five of the points arising out of the Tenth Report of the Procedure Committee.
To begin at the beginning, I wonder, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, wondered in the debate on the Address the other day, whether it is still necessary for the Lord Chancellor to reread the Queen's Speech to us on the afternoon of the opening of Parliament, Her Majesty having already read 921 gracious Speech to your Lordships in the morning. I suspect that this custom originates alongside the custom when Bills really were read a first time, then, after an interval, a second time, and then, after an interval, a third time. In those far-off days it was not expected of a Peer of the Realm that he should necessarily be well versed in the art of reading and writing. He was probably very much more at home in the deer forest than he was sitting at a desk, and he was very pleased to have at the Table in his House of Parliament Clerks well versed in this mysterious art who would read out at suitable intervals the Bills which were before the House and which noble Lords could gradually assimilate and understand as they went along. That is no longer necessary to-day and I very much wonder whether it is necessary on the afternoon of the Opening of Parliament, when all noble Lords—or as many of them as wish to have one—have a printed copy of Her Majesty's Speech. that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should begin the proceedings by reading the Speech again to your Lordships.
I come to Introductions. It has always struck me as rather strange to have two identical ceremonies, one after the other: I should have thought that when more than one new Member was being introduced it would be friendlier for the two new Peers concerned, and perhaps pleasanter for everybody, to have one procession composed of the two new Members and their sponsors taking part in one single ceremony. It would also save a certain amount of time.
The reading of speeches is often adversely commented upon, and of course it is generally a bad practice for a speech to be read, because a read speech is not really part of a debate; but I have always felt that there is absolutely no objection to the mover of a Motion's reading his speech if he feels happier that way, because in doing so he is in no way interfering with the spirit of debate. I should like it to be generally agreed that there is no objection at all to his reading his speech if lie feels inclined to do so. On this topic, I feel that what is really malevolent is the supplementary question which is read out verbatim from a piece of paper. If 922 I were a Minister answering such a supplementary question, I should be very tempted to say, "It is a great pity that the noble Lord did not give me that piece of paper in advance. I could then have prepared myself with the answer to that question which he knew very well he was going to ask."
Turning to the Tenth Report, I think there is a very interesting suggestion in paragraphs 20 and 37; that is, that we should have these "limited debates" and they may well be a great success. But let us be quite certain about this: a limited-time debate is going to take away a very valuable right which we all have now; that is, the right of any noble Lord to address the House for any length on any subject which may come before the House. A limited-time debate must remove that right. Furthermore, I should have thought that a limited-time debate must mean a limited time for speeches within that debate; otherwise, I do not see how the debate can be organised. I imagine that there will still have to be a list of speakers, because we set our face—quite rightly, I think—against any suggestion of conducting a debate by "catching the Speaker's eye"; and the length of the list of speakers will more or less dictate the length of the speeches within that debate. It is going to be a delicate task —even more delicate than it is now—to compile the list of speakers in a limited-time debate. But that is a problem with which I myself, I am glad to say, shall not be involved.
In paragraph 29, the Committee recommend the T.V. annunciator system, which they have in another place. I entirely agree with this, subject to the proviso that it has a sound channel attached to it, as do the television sets which we have in our own homes. I do not suppose it will be possible to have so many T.V. annunciators that every noble Lord who wishes to watch on the annunciators the progress of a debate in the Chamber will always be able to be sitting facing one. And even if you are facing a T.V. annunciator, unless you are watching it constantly you are not going to see the message upon the screen as quickly as you will get the message if you are also listening for a spoken announcement. Every important 923 announcement which appears on a television screen in one's home is accompanied by a spoken announcement, and I hope that that is what we shall have in this House.
In paragraphs 40 and 43, the matter of questions of local interest is touched upon. I have always thought it a great pity when one or more of the four Starred Questions concerns a subject that is only of very limited interest—some particular stretch of road, for instance. I suppose that 75 per cent. of the Members present cannot be expected to be interested in one particular stretch of road, and I should have thought that Question Time was intended to be for the discussion of matters which would be of some interest to, say,75 per cent. of the noble Lords present.
My Lords, paragraph 41 suggests that Questions of topical interest should be denoted by having a double star. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I think, would even like not one a day but two a day of these special, topical, double-starred Questions. I have reservations about this. My tendency is to go the other way and to say that, if this is to be an experiment, let us have not one a day but one a week, because I can see certain difficulties arising here. A Question of topical interest is surely going to be of very general interest, too, and it is going to lead to a great many supplementary questions. There will thus be a strong tendency for Question Time to be turned into a debate, and it is going to be extremely difficult for the Leader of the House to keen control of this situation, since his powers are rather tenuous in this respect at the best of times. The end result of all this, I fear, will be a renewal of the demand that we should have a Speaker with disciplinary powers, and I am bound to say that I hope I shall never live to see the day when we have in this House a Speaker with disciplinary powers.
Finally, my Lords, having disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on that point, I join with him on the question of the possible use of the Royal Gallery, of making greater use of it than we do now. It seems to be extremely under-used at the present time. I understand, of course, that this is a matter for Her Majesty. I have no reason to doubt
924 that Her Majesty would be agreeable to the greater use of the Royal Gallery by your Lordships, and I hope that this may come about.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, when I re-read the Report after the holidays I said to myself, "What a very good Report the four of us made!" Then I thought a little further, and I said, "Well, it covers wide ground; I think it shows wisdom, and it is well written". But for none of those things does the credit really go to the four of us: it was your Lordships who made most of the suggestions and who gave us the lead on the wisdom of what we should recommend. As for the Report's being well written, that was entirely the work of our Secretary, Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, and I can only say that without him we should not have done a very good job.
My Lords, although there is not a clock —at any rate, not one that I can see—I shall be brief. Generally, I would say how very proud I am that we in this House rule ourselves, that we have no Speaker to call us to order. But that, of course, entails certain responsibilities, particularly from the Back-Benchers, whose job it is broadly to see that the Rules and order are kept, be it on Questions, on Statements or in debates. I well remember, when I first came to this House, how the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, was perhaps outstanding as somebody who knew the Rules and who kept us in order. When he thought that we were overstepping in one way or another, his voice, shouting,"Order!", could be plainly heard; and it was very effective. In future, if the advice is followed, we are to have a simple Guide on how to follow things out and how to ensure that the Rules are kept. I know that I, for one, shall welcome this simple Guide, because I am not sure, after fifteen years or more, that I myself am fully informed —and I am sure that that is equally true of many of your Lordships.
I should like to touch on only one or two of the points that arise in the Report, in the hope that your Lordships may find it worth while to think about them or speak about them later this afternoon. One or two of them have already been touched on by previous speakers. First of all, in paragraph 11 there is the proposal for an Advisory 925 Committee to assist the Leader. I would make only three points about this. One is that, if your Lordships decide on such an Advisory Committee, it will be an informal Committee. It will be, in fact, as it is put in the Report, a type of living "suggestions box". The Committee will not be given every grievance that may arise every day, because the thought is that it should meet only once a Session in consultation with the noble Leader, and therefore one need have no fear of danger on that score. On the other hand, I should like to think of the Advisory Committee as being something which is, in a sense, a carry-over from the Report of the four of us. In that way, if our proposal is accepted, the Committee will be of real value in enabling Back-Benchers and others to bring forward points which otherwise they might have to pursue through the usual channels. If there is an established machinery, and they know who it is, the proposed Committee have that advantage.
Then I come to paragraph 22, which deals with the question of how to choose subjects for short debates and Motions. Your Lordships heard the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, coming down in favour of the ballot. I am afraid that I come down in favour of choice by the Leader, and the reason why I suggest that we should differ from the other place is that they, after all, have over 600 reasons why the ballot is necessary. Members of another place all want to be able to let their constituents know that they have been talking about them. We have no such responsibilities. On the other hand, I do not like the idea that we should depend on chance, when I think that we ought to be able to judge what is the right thing. In that connection, I should have thought that what is suggested—namely, that it should be the responsibility of the Leader and the usual channels (and, if they wish, though not necessarily, perhaps that small Advisory Committee of four that we have been talking about could help)—is right, rather than, as I say, leaving it to the ballot box.
My third point arises on paragraphs 27 to 29; namely, who is to arrange the list of speakers, who is to decide the batting order in a debate. I am quite clear in my own mind that the right answer is what we have said; namely, that it should be the usual channels aided 926 by the mover of the Motion, whoever that may be. I have several times had the honour to move a Motion in this House, particularly on Scottish affairs, but never once have I been consulted by the usual channels about the order of those who wish to speak. I feel that this is a mistake. Admittedly, I never asked them, so I am not blaming them. But I do think that the mover not only should he consulted about the order of speaking but also, perhaps a week or more before his Motion, should consult with the usual channels about who is likely to speak, and generally, with them, ensure that the debate will be a worth while one from everybody's point of view. My Lords, I said at the beginning that I should be brief. I have finished.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, my contribution also will be brief. It will deal with one point only and it is aimed at preserving the freedom and rights of private Members. I would ask your Lordships to turn to page 19, paragraph 45, sub-paragraphs (3) and (4) of the Tenth Report of the Select Committee. May I refresh your Lordships' memories by reading the words? They are:(3) Front-Benchers have an established right to comment on important Statements which should not be reduced;(4) Back-Bench supplementaries should be asked for information only, and it should not be permissible for Back-Benchers to give statements of their own view prefaced by 'Is the Government aware …';I would ask both the Front Benches and Back-Benchers like myself to ponder for a moment on the implication of that proposal of which I hope, after to-day, we may hear nothing more. If Back-Benchers are denied any expression of approval or disapproval of a Government Statement; and if such a Statement is not followed by an early debate—and I do not think that we can rely entirely on Lord Shepherd's proposal for early debates—it means that the Front Bench are in a monopoly position as regards the expression of opinion of this House.
Let me take a specific but hypothetical example. The Government of the day, whatever colour, come here and make a Statement on policy. There are many, perhaps on the Back Benches, who object very much to that policy which their own 927 Party is announcing. They would like to get up and to say, "Are the Government aware that this policy will not find support in many quarters?"—which they, as Back-Benchers, are perfectly entitled to do and rightly should do. Under the direction of this recommendation, if it ever came into the Guide and it will be the duty of the Leader of the House to see that we conform to the Guide—no Back-Bencher will be able to declaim any form of disagreement with Government views. Let us take another case. The two Front Benches get together on something and they agree: they absolutely butter each other up "The Government say something and the Opposition say," How good that is! "When that happens I am always scared stiff. It would mean that no noble Lord on that side of the House and no noble Lord on this side would be able to say, "Are the Government aware that although the Front Benches may agree, we Back-Benchers have different views on that position?" That is why I object most strongly to those two sub-paragraphs of paragraph 45.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that he thought there was very little perhaps between the Front-and the Back-Benchers. If this recommendation were implemented, it would become a matter of the privileged few against the humble sheep who are expected to go into the Lobbies. Let us hear no more of this proposal. I hope sincerely that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will tell us that it is dead from now on.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, it is not my intention to go through this Report in any detail. I think that perhaps my main criticism of it would be that the four Members, who have done a very good job indeed, have not really appreciated the nature of this Chamber and its tradition although they have paid verbal tribute to it in the Report. This is really a unique Chamber. Look at its composition! The Membership comes from all sorts of unconnected quarters: the Life Peers, hereditary Peers, the Law Lords and the Bishops. There is no common thread connecting them. They are not necessarily politicians; they are not even necessarily interested in politics.
928 That is particularly the position more recently with Life Peers. We get Life Peers who were ennobled because they did good work for their respective Parties; we get other Life Peers ennobled because they are distinguished in their profession—distinguished civil servants, scientists or economists, but not in any way concerned with political work. It is from this kind of Chamber that we are trying to create a working instrument for the purpose of legislation and debate.
I hate introspection and I do not like this kind of debate at all. But since we are introspecting—and I hope that it will not be done too often—I will say that I have been here for 21 years and that I have enjoyed every moment of it. I should like to say specifically that I think that this Chamber is working extremely well. I will not even say, "extremely well in all the circumstances. "I think it is working extremely well for a Chamber which might have been designed for the express purpose of the work we are doing. Take legislation, which I suppose is our primary function. As a general rule we get our legislation from the other Chamber very late in the Session. Often the very big and important measures have been "guillotined" in the other place and much of them has not been properly considered at all. We are expected to go through this legislation to see that it really is in proper shape. I am bound to say that I do not know of any occasion when we have failed to do so. We have worked hard at times but we have done it; and I would say that I find it very difficult to conceive that we could have done it much better.
Our debates are known to be extremely well-informed; we have some of the leading authorities on any subject on which we choose to speak and the standard of those debates is remarkably high. I would dare to say—and I have been a Member of both Houses—that the standards of our discussions are considerably higher than those in another place. Furthermore, we are not interrupted by Points of Order and appeals to the Speaker which distract the mind of the person speaking and the minds of those who are listening. Our discussions are conducted in an amicable and civilised way and, generally speaking, although views may differ diametrically, we get the important aspects of the debate 929 brought out clearly before us. In those circumstances, my Lords, I would be disposed to say, "Why not leave well alone?"
What are we doing which necessitates bringing in a considerable number of changes? Is it because some Members have brought forward—perhaps they have been instigated to bring them forward—points which are regarded as unsatisfactory? I have never heard of these dissatisfactions throughout the time that I have been here and I think that I would have heard of them. Some of them, like the way in which Members are appointed to Committees, could well be discussed in a friendly way without all this paraphernalia. I think we are making very heavy weather of the slight improvements that it might be possible to make.
My Lords, reference is made in the Report to the length of speeches. I do not know who has been complaining about the length of speeches, but I noticed that in the test made in January and February of this year the average length of a speech by a Back-Bench speaker was just over 15 minutes. Is that too long? I do not think so. For many years I was a member of the London County Council and there we had a rule that no member could speak for more than 15 minutes and when that period of time was up the chairman banged the table and said, "Order, the member has been speaking for 15 minutes" Generally, but not always, he was allowed to go on for another five minutes, but no longer. I suppose we cannot do that here, unless we appoint a Leader of the House as a sort of Chairman, which most noble Lords are very reluctant to do. But I think that if it were generally understood that a Back-Bench Member should speak for a maximum of 15 minutes, that arrangement would be followed.
I have been wondering why people talk too long. I think many noble Lords believe that they have something to say and they want to cover a very wide field. When they embark on their speech they do not realise how wide is the field and how long it will take them. I agree with my noble friend Lord Shepherd, that having got into the enthusiasm of their speech they do not realise how long they have been talking. I think that the steps suggested might do the trick, but if there was a general understanding, and if it were indicated in the booklet that we 930 are going to publish, that 15 minutes should be regarded as the maximum period for the ordinary Member, that arrangement would be followed. I should like to have a maximum period also for Front Bench speakers. I have known some of them to go on for an hour and more. I shall not mention any names, but the other day one noble Lord went on for an hour. I should like to suggest that 25 minutes should be the maximum period for a Front Bench speaker, or perhaps half an hour.
My Lords, I said that I was not going through this Report in any detail because, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, it is scratching at the surface and I do not think that scratching at the surface is a good idea. I would much rather have left the thing alone. But we are going to make certain amendments; I do not think they will be very far-reaching and I do not mind whether we embark on them or not, but I hope that there will not be too many.
I was sorry to see in the Report the idea of having good speakers and bad speakers and arranging the order of speaking in accordance with somebody's view about who is a good or a bad speaker. My Lords, different people may disagree about that very much. They may disagree about who is a good speaker and what are the ingredients that make a good speaker. I think it would be a very great pity if we were to arrange our order of speaking in accordance with the idea of someone—is it suggested that it will be the Leader of the House or the Whips? —who will decide whether or not a person is a good speaker.
My Lords, there is nothing more that I want to say on this matter. I regret that the whole thing has been raised and that it was necessary to set up a Committee to go into what I regard as trivialities. I feel that as we go along we are able to adjust our business according to the ideas that we have. May I conclude by saying that in the 21 years during which I have been in your Lordships' House I have never known a time when our discussions have suffered as a result of the limited amount of procedure that we enjoy, and I hope that will always continue so.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD OAKSHOTT
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow so respected a Member of your Lordships' House as 931 the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and to listen to his comments and his impressions of your Lordships' House which, with a very much shorter record here than that of the noble Lord, I cordially share. In my admiration for your Lordships' proceedings and the atmosphere in your Lordships' House I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I agree also with him in his distaste for introspection. I have now reached the age when I am not very keen on it either. I am very conscious of the inexorable movement of the clock at the end of the Chamber, pending the installation of the two new clocks, and so I must get on with my speech.
My Lords, it must not be thought that, if I express some reservations about one of the proposals in the Report, I am not very conscious of the debt which all your Lordships owe to my noble friend Lord Aberdare, to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for all their work and for the very thorough and painstaking Report which they have prepared. I am quite sure that the Procedure Committee will find it of the greatest possible help and I hope very much that we shall see many of their proposals carried out. But I do have reservations about their proposal to set up a new Advisory Committee. I must say frankly that instinctively I am not in favour of setting up yet another committee unless the need for it can be very clearly shown and I question whether in this case that need has been shown. If there is a feeling among Back-Benchers and among Peers on the Cross-Benches or independent Peers that their views about the running of your Lordships' House are being ignored surely they have their own remedy. They should make use of the existing machinery of the House. They should approach the appropriate House Committee and I am quite certain that any representations they might make would be received sympathetically.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Aberdare suggested that we on the Back Benches felt inhibited. I do not feel inhibited. I know that there is machinery I can make use of, and if I ever felt that I had to I would do so. But if there is any feeling of frustration over perhaps the inability of Back-Bench and Cross 932 Bench Peers to persuade the Leader of the House that a debate on something or other might be desirable, then I suggest that there is an alternative to this new Advisory Committee. Both Parties have a weekly Party meeting at which grievances can be ventilated. The Cross-Benchers have a weekly meeting, too. I cannot imagine that any Leader of the House would not be very willing to receive and listen sympathetically to representations which conic to him as a result of these meetings.
There is a further idea, which I throw out as a suggestion. I am sorry that my noble friend the Leader of the House is not in his place, and I am not sure that he will bless me for this suggestion. but I wonder whether it would not be possible on Thursdays, after Questions, for the Leader of the House to announce the Business for the following week, as the Leader of the House does in another place. That would give noble Lords in all parts of the House ample opportunity to question the Leader of the House and to press him for debates on particular topics or for debates on Motions which they have in their names on the Order Paper. I think that if this idea could be adopted, and in view of the regular Party and Cross-Bench meetings, the Leader of the House need be left in no doubt at all about the feelings of Back-Benchers. Above all—and here I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said—I should be very reluctant to see any weakening of or interference with the usual channels which serve the House so well; and I have a fear lest the setting up of a new Advisory Committee might in fact have just that result.
There is one other point in the Report which I should like to mention briefly. It arose both yesterday and to-day, when we had Motions before us for the appointment of Committees. I refer to paragraph 47, which deals with the Composition and Membership of Committees. Of course, I agree—who would not?—with the absolute necessity to revitalise these House Committees by the infusion of new and young blood. Certainly we must do that. But I would just say this: I hope that in doing so we shall remember the wealth of experience that already exists in these Committees and remember, too, the importance of continuity.
Finally, I would mention one other thing which is not in the Group Report. 933 I take it that it was not within their terms of reference, because it has to do with the legislative procedure of the House. This is a suggestion in regard to Amendments at various stages of Bills as they go through the House. As your Lordships know, in another place both on Committee and on Report stages there is selection and grouping of Amendments. This process is at the absolute discretion, at the Committee stage, of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and at the Report stage, of Mr. Speaker, but I suspect that they are always willing to listen sympathetically to representations made to them by individual honourable Members who have Amendments on the Paper. Perhaps I should add at this point that of course all Government Amendments are selected.
Let me say at once that the last thing I want to see here is a Speaker or a Chairman of Committees with real control and authority over the House. I think that in this regard things would be much better left as they are. Nor do I wish to see this House turned, as it were, into a second House of Commons, greatly though I enjoyed my years there. Far from it. But I know that we are always looking to see whether and, if so, how, we can improve our procedure; and I should very much like to see the process of the grouping and selecting of Amendments being carried out here, as it is in another place. I believe that it would be especially helpful on the Report stage of Bills. A noble Lord may put down an Amendment at Committee stage and it will receive a full and long discussion, and at the moment there is nothing whatever to stop him from putting it down again on Report stage and having another long and full discussion on precisely the same thing.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would agree that the trend is towards the Report stage simply being a continuation and repetition of the Committee stage. I think that it is intended to be something rather different.
§ LORI) OAKSHOTT
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. This has been very noticeable recently in several pieces of legislation. But I assure your Lordships that in another place Amendments which have already been 934 discussed in Committee and are put down again on Report would, unless there were special circumstances, as sometimes there are, not be selected by Mr. Speaker. This idea would have to he carefully thought out and there would be difficulties at times. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the question of Bills which are under a timetable in another place. Of course if the various stages of a Bill in another place had been subject to a timetable, the Bill would require more detailed consideration here. But I am certain that these difficulties can be overcome.
The 64,000 dollar question of course is: who is to do the selection and grouping? This may be in apparent conflict with something I said a little earlier about not being in favour of the appointment of new Committees, but I suggest a permanent all-Party Business Committee, with expert advice from the learned Clerks, with a Government majority, but it being perfectly clearly accepted and understood that, in spite of a Government majority, the Committee would always receive and listen sympathetically to representations from individual noble Lords about Amendments which they have on the Paper.
With great respect to my noble friends on the Front Bench, the last thing I would do, for I have far too high a regard for the traditional role of Parliament as a check on the Executive of the day, is to suggest anything which would weaken that check or make things easier for the Government. I can only say to the House, and this will be borne out by noble Lords who have served in another place, that this works very well indeed there and is accepted as a recognised part of the procedure of the House.
That is all I have to say. I hope very much that the Procedure Committee will find time to look at this suggestion. As I resume my seat, I would again express my warm thanks to my noble friend Lord Aberdare and to those who sat on the Group with him for all the work they have done on our behalf.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend the Leader of the House will bless my noble friend Lord Oakshott for his suggestion that Thursday should be an occasion when the Business of the House for the ensuing 935 week is announced, but I am certain that my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn will bless him for coming to his support in trying to damp down any enthusiasm there may be in your Lordships' House for the Advisory Committee to advise the Leader of the House and bringing to that effort all the experience which my noble friend has had of operating the usual channels in another place very effectively in the Government's interest over a long period of time.
I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and reflected, as I have on many occasions, that if you want to hear a really good Conservative speech in defence of the historic and aristocratic institutions of this country, you are only likely to get it from the Benches opposite. I also listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He is speaking with all the experience as Chief Whip in your Lordships' House and no doubt in anticipation of in due course, being perhaps something more elevated. He spoke with the tender interest of the "usual channels"; of their sensitiveness; of their helplessness; of the great public service which they render, both to your Lordships and to the country in general. He posed the question: if it was not possible to exercise the limited powers which they have at the present moment, how would the business of this country and of Her Majesty's Government be carried on? I do not know really whether there is any piece of legislation under any Government, except, I think, the Third London Airport Order, which has failed to pass your Lordships' House during the last ten or fifteen years. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had some difficulty in keeping control over what. I suppose, lie regarded as his sheep during the last Parliament; and he may indeed do so on another occasion. But the truth of the matter is that this House has always put through legislation, although amended, improved and revised—as is our duty—passed to it from the House of Commons.
Really the management of your Lordships' House is not the great political problem and hazard which the Front Benches on both sides, and no doubt noble Lords on the Liberal Front Bench as well, always pretend that it is. Your Lordships have a strong sense of responsibility in carrying out the needs of Gov 936 ernment, the legislative needs of Parliament and the maintenance of the authority of Parliament, and will, I think, always support, within reason, though no doubt on occasion critically, efforts of Governments to ensure the legislative welfare of this country. That is not the problem with which I am concerned; nor is it the problem, I think, with which the Advisory Committee appointed by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe was primarily concerned.
We have in your Lordships' House a great deal of experience and knowledge that ranges over almost every aspect of human interest and political concern. The problem which I see is how we can mobilise this to the benefit of the country and of Parliament in the most effective way, and at the same time ensure that, through the speeches that are made in this House and the opportunities that are given to experts to speak in this House, public opinion can gradually be formed and educated and given the raw material upon which, in its turn, the country at large will make up its mind on the issues of the day. I think we should judge this Report by our four colleagues on the basis of how far it advances the opportunities, not of the Front Benches to carry on the management of this House, but of private Members; not particularly of members of the three Parties, but most particularly of noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches, many of whom do not come to this House and contribute to the deliberations of the House because they find it difficult to discover the best opportunities of doing so, or in fact do not get adequate opportunities to do so. I think this is the most important aspect of this opportunity to improve our procedure.
I would say that all the suggestions which are designed to give greater opportunity to private Members of your Lordships' House to give their views, not at length perhaps, but when the opportunity arises, on subjects in which they are particularly interested and knowledgeable, are suggestions that should be supported by your Lordships and, I hope, accepted by the Procedure Committee and subse-qently by your Lordships in this House. I hope and pray that your Lordships will not allow the myth of the needs of the Front Benches to carry through Government business to blind you to the fact that the real object and the real function 937 which this House can perform in Parliament to-day is to provide a platform for Peers to give their views on subjects on which they are experts, rather than to carry on the back-chat of the Party battle or, for that matter, to engage in the ordinary give and take—the ordinary currency —of British politics. I may have a wrong view about the functions of this House, but certainly that is my view.
I do not speak only for myself on this subject; I hope that I speak for a number of noble Lords on the Cross-Benches. It is no good my noble friend Lord Oakshott saying that everybody can use the "usual channels". It is true that members of the Conservative Party can go to the usual channels, and it is no doubt the same with the Labour Party. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Strang, can speak for some of the Peers, or all the Peers, if they like to go to him, and he will have his own influence. But this is not really the way in which an ordinary Cross-Bench Peer of great experience and great standing can find a means of taking a proper part in the life and work of this House.
§ LORD OAKSHOTT
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I did not suggest only that there were Party meetings at which representations could be made. I suggested that there was existing machinery in the House that could he made use of by an approach to the appropriate House Committees.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I have never discovered where a House Committee sits, or when it sits; maybe I am at fault in this matter, but it is not easy for a Peer coming into this House without experience of the House of Commons to know how a place like this works. It is not going to be sufficient to produce some little volume or pamphlet that will enable new Peers to learn something about how the House works. The fact of the matter is that if noble Lords know that there are four, five or six individuals whom they know personally and can talk to personally, who are not concerned with any Party machine and are not representative of the Front Benches, but who are, it is my hope and belief, friendly and approachable people to whom they can put their views and ideas and who can help them in the part that they wish to play in this House, and do that effectively, 938 then I am certain that we shall give to a great many Members who are joining us and are able very valuably to contribute to our affairs, the opportunity of doing so which at the present moment they do not have.
I do not want to speak longer on that. I have made the point to the best of my ability. I sincerely hope that the Report will be accepted by your Lordships. I believe it can do a great deal of good, not only for this House but also in the interests of the Members of this House, and particularly those who join us without the previous experience of a Parliamentary institution such as many of us here have.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Aberdare and his colleagues for this excellent Report, which I have read with great interest. I confess that I do not entirely share my noble friend Lord Alport's anxieties about the position of BackBenchers. My experience in the five short years that I have been here has been that this is a very friendly place, and that everybody—noble Lords in all parts, and officials—is out to help in every possible way. So I do not myself feel quite the same anxiety as my noble friend Lord Alpont feels about the need to, find additional facilities for Back-Benchers.
I confess that my major anxiety on reading this Report was to see how we were going to cope with the kind of strains that we experienced during the last Session when very controversial legislation was under consideration. I think that I am not speaking for myself alone in saying that some of us felt a good deal of anxiety last summer about how our procedures were standing up to the great strain that was put upon them. The message of this Report is that the method of working in this noble House will survive the rough shaking it got in the last Session; that all that is required is to issue to all of us a booklet explaining our individual responsibilities in the operation of this Chamber, and to fix a couple of clocks in the Chamber to remind us of the length of our speeches. With that I heartily agree. In fact the Report is an implied statement of faith in the good sense of noble Lords' 939 returning to that traditional sense of self-discipline on which this Chamber depends. After a good deal of thought, I am bound to say that I agree with that. In any event, feel that we have something of very great value to preserve here, and we should certainly continue to try to operate it if we can. Especially to those noble Lords who have been Members of the other place, the greater flexibility of this procedure appeals strongly. The more rigidities one puts into form and procedure, inevitably the greater are the dangers of an explosion.
I should like to make two brief points in support of this contention. First, in considering Parliamentary procedure one must always remember that Parliament is designed at least as much to stop legislation as it is to get it, and too much facilitating of Government legislation would therefore be against the ultimate interests of Parliamentary democracy. That view, of course, will be warmly supported by noble Lords sitting on the Opposition Benches; and I would say even more there.
My second point is a rather more philosophical one. Looking back over our history, although Governments have from time to time shown themselves capable of strong action to check abuses when necessary, we find that, generally speaking, our history has shown a disposition to patience and forbearance. We can take an immediate example: the Government's sufferings in this House last summer in dealing with the Industrial Relations Bill were miniscule compared with the sufferings of our honourable and right honourable friends of the Government in another place when they were being subjected to a form of Chinese torture, with the Opposition forcing a sequence of Divisions, one after another, throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning. Many people outside Parliament, and some inside Parliament, commented on this as being further evidence of the general deterioration of Parliament in our time. But in fact this was no novelty at all.
In 1773, no less a Parliamentary figure than Burke organised the Opposition of the day to divide no fewer than 23 times against the Government, continuing the Divisions right through the night until four o'clock in the morning. It was not 940 even on a matter of vast constitutional importance such as the Independence of America: it was about some matter of privilege and the publication of Members' speeches in newspapers. But, my Lords, the point is that neither the Government of that day nor the Government of this day has shown any disposition to take action to check a manœuvre which apparently is used only once in 200 years. This disposition to tolerance, I am sure, is a right one—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He is inaccurate in saying "once in every 200 years" because he will recall that he and I both marched 26 times through the Division Lobby when the Conservative Opposition divided against the Transport Bill.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
Very well: maybe this happens once in 20 years then. But the point I wish to make—and I think it is a good one—is that Governments of any shade have always shown the utmost forbearance in dealing with expressions of opinion of this kind on matters where feelings have run very high. And it seems to me right to make the point that Ministers and Members of Parliament in our tradition have always been conscious that when they form the Government they are indeed clothed with sovereignty and that the old adage that "Mercy is the gift of kings" is ever, and should ever be, in our minds.
I should like to make two further points. The suggestion to install two clocks is, I think, admirable. A speech of 10 to 15 minutes is by far the most effective length of speech in this House, but all of us get carried away at times. If there were two clocks ticking away I think that it would help to remind us that we were going on too long.
Secondly, points of order in this House present real difficulty. I am inclined to 941 think that a point of order is usually best made by the noble Leader of the House and it is usually taken most readily —or let us say less unreadily—by the noble Lord who is being checked. In the last Parliament the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, frequently made points of order against me, all of which I unhesitatingly accepted. I may say that he made them so skilfully that it would have been difficult to do anything else. But it is not easy for Back-Benchers to raise a point of order successfully. When a Back-Benches' does so, I suggest' we should all feel that we have a special responsibility, when a noble Lord on our side is out of order, to check him, rather than leave it to a noble Lord on the other side to do so.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I may say that I have noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, does this sometimes with great felicity and dignity.
Another point—my third—has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, and by my noble friend, and it concerns Amendments to legislation. We can all recollect the mass of Amendments on the Marshalled List during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill. Our procedure is that every Amendment moved must be debated. I do not believe that this is really in the interests of the House, for when Amendments are what are called "wrecking Amendments" they are not really serving a useful purpose: and this is particularly so on Report, as my noble friend has said. Maybe we have now got all that out of our system and it will not recur. But if it did, I would certainly support the suggestion of my noble friend that we should consider setting up a Business Committee. appointed by the Leader of the House, to deal with the selection of Amendments, on the same lines as is done in another place.
My Lords, I conclude by expressing the hope that this Report, so felicitously compiled by those four noble Lords and representing, as it does, an act of faith in the strength and the virtue of our procedure, may strengthen the common sense and devotion which we all feel for this House and on witch its working depends.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, like every other speaker, I should like to pay tribute to those who wrote this clear Report. My reason for intervening in this debate is that it seems to me that your Lordships' House is only as good as its procedure. Whether we are scrutinising the Executive or acting as a forum for ideas or improving laws, our procedure must determine our effectiveness, and the more antique and in need of reform are our constitutional machinery and composition, the more important it is that that machinery should keep ticking over and the more necessary it is to have flexible and sensible procedures. I should like to welcome nearly all the suggestions in this Report.
Nobody has talked about Questions for Written Answer. I should like to see these Questions answered much quicker, as is suggested. I may be odd, but I usually want to know the answers when I put down Questions, and I usually want to know them for a speech which I may be making in your Lordships' House. If an answer comes quickly I may not speak at all, and that can only be of benefit. If this system of Written Answers worked better, I am sure that some Questions now asked orally would be written and there would be more room for those who wanted to ask oral Questions. I hope that the system of Questions for Written Answer will be made more attractive, and one of the ways of doing that would be to speed up the Answers. I also support the idea for Questions to be put down for answer on a specific day.
I should like to refer briefly to one or two of the other suggestions. I am against a Speaker; I am for a hand-book. I am for talks to be given by the Clerks; I am for a permanent Advisory Committee. I am very strongly for the idea of mini-debates on Mondays and Wednesdays. The present position of Unstarred Questions is hopelessly inade-quate and very discouraging for those who want to take up important topics of minority interest. I believe that we ought to meet on Mondays, and I am for a T.V. annunciator and also, for that matter, the televising of Parliament, too.
From personal experience, I feel very strongly that the mover of Motions should have some say in the order of 943 speakers. The mover of the Motion has probably worked quite hard on his speech and in chivvying people to contribute to the debate. The pattern of his debate may well be diverted and disrupted by Statements. Front Bench speakers on either side may use the debate for purposes quite alien to the spirit of the Motion. The mover ought to have more control in the shape of the debate that he has initiated. One way that he could do that would be to have a right to be consulted on the list of speakers. I must confess that I am not keen on the idea of topical questions, although I hope that they will be tried. Perhaps the Private Notice Question procedure could be better explained and more use could be made of it. It takes a long time before we start on the real business of the day and one cannot but groan at the thought of disagreement about what was and what was not topical.
I have a particular interest in putting forward a point of view about Second Readings—I am not sure whether it is relevant. I hope that we shall be able to express our views on a major Bill without voting against the Second Reading, but by voting. That may sound a contradiction, but we did it on the Immigration Bill and it ought to be possible, and should be encouraged, for this non-elected Chamber to vote against some of the main ideas in a Government Bill without actually voting against the Second Reading itself. If we vote against a Second Reading, there are obvious difficulties with the other place; but many of us may have strong views against a Bill which we should like to express and which could be best expressed by a vote. I hope that thought will be given to the procedure of the taking of a vote on Second Reading without actually voting against the Bill.
Your Lordships' House is, I am beginning to realise, a useful place—it has certainly educated me better than either school or university—and I am very fond of it. I feel that there are many people here who are under-used. I am in considerable sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said regarding this point. I am not referring to myself, and I do not want it to appear that I am being rude about people who have sat in another place, but those who have sat there are at an advantage but are some 944 times misled by their previous experience. The people I am talking about are those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred. There is insufficient use made of some of your Lordships who have real expertise but have no experience of Party politics and Parliament. The techniques of procedure are familiar to ex-M. P. s and because our procedure is analogous to the procedure in another place obviously there is considerable advantage. Whether it is lectures from the Clerks, a new handbook, a film or film strip taking to pieces what happened on one particular day, explaining the things that can and cannot be done, I hope that something can be devised to utilise more imaginatively the existing membership of your Lordships' House without trying to turn this House into another place, or into a feeble copy of it.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell us what he means? He came into this House as a very young man and immediately made a mark here because he took some interest in our procedure and immediately began to use it. What he did, surely other noble Lords coming into the House can do quite as successfully.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I am grateful for what I suppose was a mixture of compliment and criticism. I was, for various domestic reasons, prevented from doing a full-time job while very young, but my financial position enabled me to attend here. There are not many people in that position. Because I took it as a great privilege to be able to come here, I took a great deal of trouble to try to learn how to behave. I am talking about distinguished people at the end of their careers rather than the few, like me, who happen to be here at the beginning of their careers. There are a large number of these distinguished people who would be able to play a greater part in the working of this House. I was referring to those people; I was not meaning to be critical of people who have had experience in another place. I was saying that they had experience which was of use to them here, because it is another part of Parliament, which other distinguished people who come here do not have.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I should like to join my voice with those who 945 have complimented my noble friend Lord Aberdare and his team on this Report, which is to be welcomed.1 agree with the Report when it says on page 8 that it is necessary:… not only that those members of the House should have their interests safeguarded but also that Back-Bench opinion should be reassured.I listened with great interest to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and his feeling that we might leave well alone. I suggest that my noble friend Lord Alport, with whom I do not always agree, is right: there is a measure of disquiet, or there has been such a feeling, in the Back-Benches which needs to be assuaged. This Committee's Report and, I imagine, a study of this debate will give material for some wise reforms.
When my noble friend Lord Alport referred to the difficulty of getting matters through the usual channels, I looked at my papers and saw that a Report laid on the Table of your Lordships' House on May 6,1970, has not been discussed (I put down a Motion to call attention to it in the spring of this year) and I now hear that it might come up for discussion next year. However, let us leave it at that. It is frustrating. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will recall, in the matter of televising the proceedings of the House, I think I am right in saying that our own Select Committee's Report lay on the Table for a year before the matter was brought up, and then by a Back-Bencher. So there is a measure of justice in what the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, says: that Back-Benchers need some reassurance, and I believe that in this way we are getting it. Before I go on to my brief notes on one particular item, I should like to say that I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said about the question of ballot or the question of leaving the matter to the Leader of the House. I am in favour of that; I am not in favour of a ballot, and I think the noble Earl gave a very good reason why it is perfectly possible for us, with this Advisory Committee, to leave these matters in the hands of the Leader.
The only section to which I would refer in detail is Section 19 of the Tenth Report. This deals with Motions, Unstarred Questions and Monday Sittings. In so doing I have a specific point 946 to urge; namely, that the proposed grouping, perhaps, of Unstarred Questions on Mondays will not eventually preclude a Peer from putting down an Unstarred Question on any day and taking the consequences. Indeed, the opening words of Section 22 seem to confirm this. But I myself am not happy about the tendency to discourage Unstarred Questions which has developed over the years. After all, when one looks back, they have been put at the end of business and there have been other discouragements. Although they have increased in number, they are not at all popular with the usual channels. I can understand that, but I think this is a pity and it stems in some measure from the length of our Question Time; it sterns from the length of speeches on Motions and the time taken over Government Statements, which all in the aggregate mean that we sit later and later and Back-Benchers do not get the opportunity of discussing matters in which they are interested, which I believe they ought to get by way of Unstarred Questions.
Of course, one cannot but admire the ingenuity of some noble Lords who manage to have mini-mini-debates on Starred Questions—we had two to-day. But they take up time, and for that reason I tremble at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that we should add two more Questions to the four which already take us—well, it was more than half an hour to-day. Possibly Lord Shepherd might think again, unless some noble Lords can be persuaded not. against the obvious wishes of the House, to go on turning Question and Answer into what I have called a mini-mini-debate. However, it is not my intention to deal with the length of speeches; other noble Lords have mentioned that matter and no doubt others will mention it again; though I think that an average of fifteen minutes, when many speeches are of five and seven minutes' duration. is still a little on the long side.
As the Tenth Report states, the idea of Monday Sittings is repugnant to Peers whose homes are not metropolitan or nearly so. It seems certain that upcountry Peers, if I may call them so—by which I mean Peers who live at, say, at least a night's journey from Westminster, whether they come from the North or the South or the West; it is 947 not only the Scots—suffer in this respect. It seems to me to follow that Monday attendances, however popular with some Members of your Lordships' House, may never cover the whole spectrum of opinion. Indeed, I suggest that paragraphs (1) and (2) of the Section on Unstarred Questions on page 11 may well be counter-productive. There is another relative point about inadequate notice of Motions. This is a very difficult point, because sometimes when one wants to have a Motion moved from the "No Day Named" list to the Paper, it may be that it must be given a fairly early date. At the same time, it has been on the Paper. That enables Peers to judge what may come forward. Often Unstarred Questions concern matters of fairly immediate interest, and in any case generally appear on the "No Day Named" list long before they reach the Paper. My experience has been that the author of an Unstarred Question can often judge whether to press for an early date by the number of Peers who inquire of him whether his Question is likely to come on the Paper. It is for consideration that the time which a Motion or an Unstarred Question spends on the "No Day Named" list might be given more weight by the usual channels. I think that is an interesting point.
I personally am in favour of the mini-mini-debate proposal under Section 19, paragraph (4), and I think it is well worth trying. However, if such a mini-debate is on an Unstarred Question, then I disagree with paragraph (5), which says:The questioner should have the right of reply.I do not agree with that.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, the noble Lord is quoting from Peers' Evidence, and not from the Group's recommendations.
§ LORD FERRIER
I beg your Lord-ships' pardon. I see what the noble Lord means. I should like to develop this point. As someone fairly experienced in the matter of Unstarred Questions, I believe that the questioner should not have a right to reply, because that is breaching the clear distinction between an Unstarred Question and a Motion, and it would to my mind alter the whole structure of the debate which arises from 948 the said Question. It follows, I hope, that Back Benchers will stoutly uphold the right of any Peer, other than the questioner, to speak on an Unstarred Question after the Minister has replied. Indeed, I think that that right is recognised at the beginning of Section 22 at the top of page 12. I know I am not alone in feeling that, though deeply interested in the subject of some Unstarred Question, it is preferable not to waste the time of the House by speaking to a Question before the Minister in his reply has unfolded both sides of it. It is for this reason that I support paragraph (6) and hope that such leave will always be granted; namely, that if somebody speaks after the Minister has replied, then, with the leave of the House the Minister should he entitled to answer any question or to deal with any further point raised on an Unstarred Question With this latter departure from accepted practice, I favour the retention of the Unstarred Question and at the same time welcome the idea of mini-debates, at least as an experiment.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in referring to Section 45, paragraphs (3) and (4), raised the point of the limitation of, as it were, debates, speeches certainly, on Government Statements; and I think I am right in saying (the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will correct me if I am wrong) that this proposal that Back-Benchers should only ask questions was brought in very recently, and I believe largely because the treatment of Government Statements was being abused. If it had not been for the length of time that was being taken up by Government Statements, this would never have been put forward; and I, for one, while disagreeing in a measure with what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, feel that it is proper that opportunity should be available for a Back-Bencher to say,"Are the Government aware that …?"
There is only one matter that I wish to refer to now, in two questions about the last conclusion, (v?)—V for "Victory" on page 22 of the Report. This question of a T.V. scanner is referred to in the body of the Report and I am in favour of it in substitution for the present system, although an interesting point was made by one noble Lord, that it might perhaps be supplemented by the Tannoy. On the other hand, I believe I am right in saying 949 that in another place the T.V. scanner was experimented with, and various sounds were tried in order to arouse Members in the Library; and perhaps we might have some experiments here. However, there is one thing about which I feel most strongly: can it be arranged to broadcast on the scanner a few minutes' warning of the imminence of a Government Statement, in order to give Peers time to enter the Chamber before the actual Statement begins? It seems to me that the T. V. scanner would give an opportunity for this which the Tannoy does not.
My second question is whether steps will be taken to ask the powers-that-be in another place to install a scanner of ours over there, if only in the Press Room behind the Press Gallery.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he would agree with me that those of us who live in the remote areas of the United Kingdom do not always have sufficient time, on reading the Notice Papers, to get down to London and take part in your Lordships' debates?
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I do not live as far away from Westminster as the noble Lord does, and I am a fairly regular attender. The difficulty he mentions has occurred to me before now, and I think that probably if I lived as far away as he does it would occur more often.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, as a comparative newcomer to your Lordships' House I hesitated to put my name down to speak in this debate, but I did so, thinking that after a number of years in another place one might give one's first impressions. I should not want it to be thought that it was brashness on my part, that I was telling this House how to carry out its Business. I must confess, my Lords, that in another place in this present Parliament I found it difficult, for one reason or another, to "take" more than about 90 minutes of the debate; and coming to your Lordships' House I find it much easier to sit through two or three hours' debate—and noble Lords may know the reason why. The debates are probably of a higher standard, there is more 950 courtesy, and I must say that it is most impressive to a newcomer.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd (who I am glad to see is in his place), talked about giving a lot of notice to Ministers. I am usually sympathetic to Ministers, but not all that sympathetic. I think it is not a bad thing that they should sometimes be ready at short notice to come and answer for their Departments. The noble Lord spoke about matters of urgency being debated early in the proceedings and not in the evenings. In another place, when there is a request for an urgent debate (under Standing Order No.9) on a particular matter the Speaker considers it and it is debated the following day. I personally can see nothing wrong in the idea that we should debate it later the same day, which would give the Minister and those who want to participate time to prepare their speeches.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that it must be the right of Back-Benchers to interrogate Ministers succinctly and profitably, and without going on to make a long speech. I think that all noble Lords should preserve that right, which is very dear to the House. My noble friend Lord Oakshott suggested that it might be a good idea if the noble Earl the Leader of the House were to announce future Business on a Thursday. I do not know what my noble friend the Leader of the House thinks about that, but if he is in favour I would recommend, having seen the system at work in another place, that he should have second thoughts. It goes on for an hour small speeches are made and poor Mr. Speaker is very frustrated at the end of it all, as my noble friend Lord Maybray-King well knows. I should have thought we got on very well without it and-I should be sorry to see it adopted here.
Coming here as a new Member of your Lordships' House I find that one never gets to know the names of noble Lords unless one meets them in a place of refreshment or somewhere else in the House. No names are mentioned when they stand up to speak, although, of course, they may be mentioned subsequently by another noble Lord. It is an arduous task for a new Member of the House even to know the names of those sitting in different parts of the House 951 unless he meets them in the bar, and that is not always likely. I do not know what can be done about it, but it certainly puts a new noble Lord at a disadvantage.
When I came here, my Lords, what surprised me was the amount of legislation carried out in your Lordships' House. It is quite amazing, and I believe that the country is quite unaware of the work done by your Lordships' House. Even the honourable Members of another place are unaware of it. In addition—and I do not say this in a derogatory way —the work is done at very little cost, and on a shoestring. It seems to me that more should be done to inform the country of what your Lordships have achieved in recent years. Of course this last summer I came from another place, having sat through the Committee stage of the Industrial Relations Bill, and the day I arrived here I got a second dose of it. That was pretty ill-timed, to say the least of it.
Looking ahead to next summer, when there will be something rather like the Industrial Relations Bill, only dealing with the Common Market, it seems to me that the House of Lords gets the "dirty end" of it. We get into June and July, when we have all-night Sittings and very long debates. I do not know what can be done about this problem, unless the Parliamentary calendar is changed. But we ought to be having the late nights now, and in January and February, when there are no Wimbledon, no racing, and other attractions. This difficulty ought to be looked at by both sides, in an effort to tidy up our method of carrying out our legislation.
The other House, under successive Governments, is so overloaded with legislation. for one reason or another, that there is little time available to debate subjects which the public expect to be debated. I will mention one simply because I have spent my working life in it—the aviation and aircraft industry. I do not think it has been debated in the other place in the last eighteen months, and I do not know whether it has been debated here. I asked a Question on it a few weeks ago. This is a matter of technological progress. Vast sums of money are being spent on Concorde and other things; there is a vacuum in certain parts of the industry and redundancy 952 in other parts of the country. Here is a matter which your Lordships' House could well debate. There are many experts sitting in your Lordships' House who could make valuable contributions to a debate on this industry, and on many other subjects. I think the country expects these things to be debated, and it is good for Parliamentary matters generally that the public should he informed that these things are being debated and that Parliamentarians are aware of the situation.
What has also impressed me is that your Lordships manage efficiently to conduct your business without a Speaker to call you to order if necessary. I never knew how the system worked, but it seems to work, though I do not think anyone could give a real explanation of the reason. Personally I have the greatest admiration for the five Speakers under whom I have served in another place, including my noble friend sitting on the Cross-Benches. Lord Maybray-King. They carry an unenviable responsibility and a tiring one, day and night, through-out the Parliamentary year. Mr. Speaker is compelled to act on the Standing Orders laid down by the Members them-selves, and I am afraid that if we ever adopted a similar system in your Lord-ships' House incessant points of order would be raised for one reason or another, getting round the Rules. But as I see the position now every noble Lord is placed more or less on his honour to play the game fairly and squarely, and this seems to work. It is hard to see how, and it is quite illogical: hut it does work.
I get the impression that some of the supplementary questions on Ministerial Statements are far too long, and when it comes to the Starred Questions I understand that four are allowed and that one noble Lord can take 50 per cent. of them. I wonder whether that is right, and whether they ought not to be shared out rather more with other noble Lords, certainly if the number of such Questions is increased to six. I should have thought one per day per person would be reasonably fair. I do not think the speeches are too long. We have got through 17 or 18 to-day in just over two and a half hours. I think that if we start looking at the rules, as to how long noble Lords should speak, we 953 should lose something of value. By all means have the additional clocks referred to in the Report, but do not put too many attachments or noises on to them. It is said in the Report (paragraph 29(b)).good speakers should be more evenly spaced".Who is going to do this? Are we going to have "A" levels every year, and put up a badge, first, second or third class? I think that if this suggestion were followed up we should be in serious trouble. I have no doubt that those who make the longest speeches think they are the best. I think we should leave this matter alone and carry on as previously.
It has been suggested that Peers should stay behind after speaking, to hear the rest of the debate. I think they usually do—certainly for a few speeches after their own. I feel that a few interruptions, politely put, and questions while a noble Lord is speaking, are not a bad thing. It adds to the debating atmosphere of the Chamber, and I do not disapprove of that at all. I notice that in your Lord-ships' House there are many Privy Counsellors who are not on the Front Bench and do not get the same privileges here as in another place. With great respect to them, it is a great relief that they cannot speak as and when they want to. Your Lordships have taken care of that very efficiently. I should say that, taken all round, the House and its procedures must of course be brought up to date from time to time, but I should recommend our being very careful in taking extreme steps, because I think we have a magnificent House and it is working well.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is in favour of a speaker getting up and announcing who he is?
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, it would be an imposition for me to say; but I think that if we could, by some means, know the name, it would be helpful.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
My Lords, I also want to welcome this Report, and particularly to thank my noble friend, Lord Perth, for the great 954 trouble he took to ascertain the opinions of that rather amorphous body, the Cross-Benchers, and put them across to the Committee. I think it is satisfactory that so little change is suggested, but at the same time I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the Report is unnecessary. I think that there has recently been a slight tendency to kick against the traces and a good deal of prolonging of the business of the House which was not strictly necessary and was really not in accordance with our own unwritten rules. So I think the Report has served a useful purpose.
I take the view, as a dedicated Back-Bencher, that we have far less to fear from the Front-Benchers than from our fellow Back-Benchers in the way of lengthy speeches. The trouble with the lengthy speech is not that it may be tedious or boring; it is that very often it is apt in a fairly long debate to empty the House at far too early an hour, and people like myself, who normally come in seventh or eight wicket down, find themselves speaking to a couple of people on each side of the House. It is a little depressing if it happens too often. That is one reason why we should persevere in our efforts to induce Back-Benchers to keep their remarks reasonably short; but I think any rigid rule would be quite disastrous. I am sure we all know people who have come on late in the debate, experts in their subject, who have spoken with acceptance for much more than a quarter of an hour.
I think noble Lords on the Back-Benches could make it easier for themselves if they were more punctilious in following the conventions we already have. For instance, there are still too many people who not only read their speeches but quite obviously read their speches, which one can see from the fact that they break into a sentence when they turn a page and cannot find the rest of it. Reading is a practice which leads to long speeches late in a debate, if a noble Lord has written out his speech and has by hook or by crook to get through it, whatever anybody else has said before him. I have known, and I am sure some of your Lordships have, too, noble Lords who have become desperate three-quarters of the way through their speech, realising that they have already exceeded their time, and they read faster 955 and faster until one can barely understand what they say. I have even known noble Lords who cannot read their own writing. It is easy to criticise that. There is nothing to prevent one from writing out one's speech, but one must try to get into the habit of not appearing to read it. So much for the length of speeches, which is common to all assemblies. I do not think we should worry too much about it, but it does require to be kept continually before our eyes.
There is one other small point to which I would refer: the question of the selection of Motions for debate. I feel that a ballot is not a good idea at all, the real reason being that if there were a ballot system I foresee an enormous extension of the No Day Named list, with the same name appearing on every fifth Motion in the hope that, on the principle of the pools, the more Motions one puts down the more likely one is to get an earlier place in the ballot. Another reason—which would affect the Government side in arranging its debates —would be that if there were a ballot for Motions (and it might be that very uninteresting or unsuitable ones would always be coming to the top of the ballot) the Government, in picking out certain Motions from the list which they felt ought to be debated, would find themselves forced to give their own time to produce a debate on that subject. That might be embarrassing from the point of view of those who organise the business. Apart from those points, I think that everything else that requires to be said has been said. I consider that the Report has been extremely helpful.
§ 5.38 p.m.
LORD ST. JUST
My Lords, we heard tributes this afternoon to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. I once spoke, I think, for eleven minutes when he was sitting on the Front Bench; and one look from him was enough to get me down in about thirty seconds. With that experience I am very tempted to-night, with no clocks, and Lord Goschen having retired from that position, to let rip and speak for about an hour. But that I will not do. The only reason I am on the list to speak is that I have been a Member of this House since 1944, possibly far too long, having joined this Assembly 956 when we sat in the Robing Room. One of the things that I am very glad has come into operation is this booklet. I returned at the end of the war to find, after the great avalanche, that the Party opposite was in power. I charged into the House and sat myself down in what I thought was my normal position, to find the late Lord Strabolgi turning round and saying to me, "I'm very glad you have joined us". I wondered whether something was wrong, but I soon realised what had happened. I have since seen it happen many times in your Lordships' House, after a change of Government. That illustrates what can go wrong when one is young and has not had much experience.
The question of having a Speaker has been covered by many noble Lords this afternoon. One aspect that impressed me deeply in the few years after 1 joined this House, my being young and impressionable and with not very much Parliamentary knowledge, was to see the working between the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I believe they were two people who had the deepest respect for each other, and they achieved a working agreement which caught on throughout the House and which worked very well. We were strained very deeply this summer during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill, and I was interested at that time by the letter which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, wrote to The Times. However, I hope and pray that the day will never come in this House when we have a Speaker. If I may say so to my fellow Peers on all sides of the House, it is up to us to help the Leader of the House. Many of us—and I blame myself for this as well—do not know our procedure well enough. It is often difficult for the Leader of the House to intervene if he is not backed up. This is a subject we ought to have at our fingertips.
One matter raised in the Report is the arrangement of business. I must say that I am in favour of the House sitting normally on Mondays. In principle this is a good thing. As the year goes on we know that Mondays must be taken by the Government for legislation, but too often we leave it too late in the Parliamentary year before we start sitting on Mondays. What has emerged from this Report regarding the possibility of 957 Unstarred Questions being taken on Mondays is a very good idea. It is depressing for someone who has worked very hard on an Unstarred Question to find it coming on late in the evening when the House is not very full. I think that if we could occasionally have a mini-debate or possibly deal with a couple of Unstarred Questions on a Monday, it would help from all angles.
Another point raised in the Report concerns the question of times of sittings. This is a very small point, which was, I think, brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and his small Committee, as to whether the House should sit on one day a week at, say,4.30. I am quite certain that it is right that the House should keep to its normal time of sitting, but possibly, as has happened in the past, the House could sit slightly earlier, at 2.15 p.m., for Introductions on a Wednesday. I know that this summer, at various times, it was necessary that the House sat at 2 o'clock, and this produced some pandemonium in one or two quarters.
I think that ill principle the idea of having closed circuit television is a good one. I am not quite clear on the type of television project that is contemplated; whether there should be the speech as well as the actual name of the person, and the time he started to speak. I am against this. I think they have the right system for the House of Commons, and I think this system would work very well here. If one were concerned in a debate one would not permanently have to be worrying who was speaking. All one has to do is look around at the end of the room; anyway, one is reminded when the speaker changes because one hears that dull tone of a bell ringing. May I also ask the Leader of the House whether it would be possible for this system to be installed in the Public Gallery?
My final point I know is a sensitive matter, and I am very glad that the Leader of the House has served on a Committee to look into leave of absence. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, talked about this problem, and in his speech really dealt with the question of back-woodsmen. I remember some time ago, when I was in a slightly truculent mood, I climbed the Victoria Tower and saw the gentlemen at the Writ Office. I came back with ammunition that I felt would 958 floor any Government at any time on the whole question of leave of absence. I tabled a Starred Question, and then, after some very good advice from various Members, I removed it and then tabled it again. My Chief Whip thereupon sent for me and said, "Look here, this is a very delicate matter. Would you possibly think of withdrawing it again?" He was my Chief Whip. I completely understood, and I withdrew the Question. I realise that this is a delicate matter. There is something not right here, and I hope we shall get some clearer findings from the Committee that has been set up.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, the reason I wish to intervene in this debate this evening is largely historical. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and his three colleagues for the admirable Report which they have laid before us. I agree with almost everything that is said in the recommendations, until we come to recommendation (m), which relates, as your Lordships will be aware, to time limits of speeches. I agree with the first part, that there should be no set time limits as such; but when we reach the point of clocks, I shudder—as I rather think my noble friend Lord Aberdare did when he referred to the fact that flashing lights, clocks, and other instruments would be almost wholly detrimental to your Lordships' House as a procedural device to shorten speeches. In my view, this is true. It is in no way a method of enhancing the dignity of this House that speeches should be in any way inhibited. I believe that clocks, or some type of timing device, would inhibit certain speakers—probably myself among them, no doubt to the benefit of your Lordships. While I think this point should be looked at, I do not recommend that your Lordships should feel it a good idea to have a temporary experiment, for in my experience there is nothing so permanent as a temporary experiment.
Another reason, which I hope will not be thought in any way frivolous, is that I consider that when the interior of this House was first designed by Augustus Pugin it was designed and equipped for the precise purpose which it fulfils to-day, which is to be the Upper House of Parliament. His design did not provide us with more than one timepiece; the 959 timepiece that exists to-day is the one that he put there. I personally find it in no way inhibiting, but quite sufficient in itself. There is a further suggestion on timing devices in recommendation (m). It says, to my horror, "two or more clocks". This would suggest a whole battery of them along the back walls of the Chamber. I feel that this is totally unnecessary. Even if your Lordships should feel it is necessary to install one clock on each side, I hope that you will not fall into the error of installing more.
My third point in regard to timing is that I do so agree with the evidence put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, and dealt with in paragraph 34(5) at page 16, that pressure could be brought to bear on offenders through the Whips. In my view, it would by an extremely good idea if this procedure were adopted. We should avoid having these clocks or other devices, and it would give the Whips a particular role to play in this sphere in furthering the efficient management of business within the House.
There is one further matter to which I should like to refer in a historical sense, and that is the office of Speaker. My researches have led me to believe that the office of Speaker was abandoned towards the end of the eighteenth century, and one of my forbears fulfilled the role of Speaker in your Lordships' House, being appointed in December,1756. Most sensibly, noble Lords then thought that this was wholly unnecessary and at a later date in that century it was felt very much better that we should manage our affairs without the office of Speaker. I wish in no way to suggest any discourtesy to the Speaker of another place, or to Speakers anywhere else, but that noble Lords should have found this unnecessary is an indication of the evolution of Parliament; and the evolution of the management of our affairs is something which we should not retard in reconsidering the question of a Speaker of your Lordships' House.
Finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a matter which is not specifically mentioned in the Report but which was within the Committee's terms of reference. The Committee was asked,to examine the working of the House and to make recommendations for the more effect 960 tive deployment in the public interest of the time and talents of its members".Possibly this did not include the more efficient employment of public funds, but it occurred to me that it was unnecessary to print this Report twice. Naturally, when one Parliament or one Session comes to an end all of the Reports are taken to be concluded. But it occurred to me that printing this Report twice, as the First Report of this Session and the Tenth Report of last Session, was perhaps unnecessary.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could explain a little more fully the duties of the Whip in connection with shortening speeches. I was not quite clear about that point.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, the recommendation will be found at the top of page 16. With your Lordships' permission perhaps I may read it out. It states:(5) Lord Younger suggested a method whereby further pressure on persistent offenders could be exercised by the Whips: Back-Benchers could be asked to indicate the length of their proposed speeches when they put their names down. This would allow the Whips: —
- (a) to appeal for the length of the speeches to he cut in view of the number of speakers; and
- (b) to come back on people who exceeded their hid, when they next put their names down."
§ 5.54 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I should like to repeat what the noble Earl. Lord Perth, has said so eloquently about the quality of this Report. He spoke extremely well and I cannot do better, but I feel that it is a considerable contribution to this House that the Report should have been made. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whose speech I found most interesting, I think it is much better to look at these matters from time to time, even if one does not want to do a very great deal. Otherwise people may well say, "You are afraid to do it."
Of course the most important recommendation in this Report is that we should not have a Chairman to control the proceedings; and nobody to-day has suggested that we should. The noble 961 Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, asked how it was that we managed without a Chairman.1 think the answer is very simple; it is that any breach of a Rule of the House is an affront to every Member of the House. The only occasion on which I feel uncomfortable is when somebody tries to use the latitude of this House to get around its Rules. Apparently some noble Lords find it difficult to understand just what that means. I do not think that anything which is offensive can be said in this House within the Rules. Any views on any subject may be expressed with perfect frankness. But if any noble Lord wants to break the Rules, then it is a matter of pain. It is only if the majority of this House think that the Rules are worth maintaining that we shall be able to proceed, as we do at the present time, without a Chairman.
I think that the idea of a clock is right. I agree that very few noble Lords make unduly long speeches, but there are exceptions. I recall one a long time ago by the late Lord Vansittart, who made a maiden speech of one hour without a note. It was a tour de force and was absolutely fascinating, but was not to be repeated. But if an attempt is made to keep speeches to within a quarter of an hour or so, that is at least a warning.
I am glad that the question of Committees has been properly raised. I think it ought to have been kicked pretty hard quite a number of years ago. Committees have been reappointed year after year and, as some noble Lords have said, Members have been kept on because they were on them earlier. I should like to see new Members coming to this House put on to a Committee fairly soon, so that they learn a little of the problems which arise and which must be solved to make the House work as smoothly as it does. Such appointments would be for three years. I also accept the point that there must be one or two Members of pretty mature experience on most of the Committees of this House.
There have been some suggestions about the order of speakers. My own guess is that this is arranged fairly well, on the whole, although I am not sure who is responsible. There are also the questions of last-minute changes and of special factors which call for attention. I doubt 962 whether any system would really be very much better than our present system: somebody, no doubt will not get what he wants. In passing, may I say that I do not think to-day's order is the best example of what a list should be. Of the first four speakers, three had written the Report. This is really not the way to approach the subject. I do not make any comment on the noble Lords who made the speeches, but this is not the way to handle a Report of a Committee of this House. We have not talked much about accommodation, but I think the secretarial arrangements here are totally inadequate. But I have no doubt that this will be dealt with on another occasion, so I will not enlarge on it this afternoon.
I believe that we could make much more extensive use of Committees off the Floor of this House. I do not know what has been the experience of other noble Lords, but I have been on one and I thought it worked very well. Such Committees have one great advantage, which overcomes one of the real difficulties in this House, and that is in regard to the question of time. One comes here and one never knows when one is going to come on or what is going to happen. But with a Committee off the Floor of the House, one sits there from, say,3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and one knows exactly when one is wanted. Otherwise, one may hang about for a long time and make absolutely no contribution whatsoever to the House. I do not think we should be too worried about the question of prestige, which sometimes arises in regard to Committees off the Floor of the House.
A good deal has been said about Statements and I endorse entirely what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has said. I think the one real error in this Report is in regard to Statements. But there are difficulties. First, Statements are very important. There is no doubt that, among all the speeches made in the House, the Statements made from time to time by the Government are among the most important. Secondly, they are a relatively new innovation, at least in the numbers in which they are made to-day. My volume of Standing Orders, dated 1970, does not contain any reference at all to Statements. Since then, I think there has been an Edition No.33A. There was no reference to Statements in the Thirteenth Edition of Erskine May, but 963 there was a short reference in the Seventeenth Edition. I cannot say when Statements were first mentioned, but it was very recently and very shortly. This is what the Seventeenth Edition says:Questions may be asked upon such statements but they should not be made the occasion of immediate debate.My Lords, I do not distinguish between what Front-Benchers and what Back-Benchers can say. I think Front-Benchers have a duty, partly because they get a copy of the Statement, to help the House to elucidate what the Statement means. I think that is a proper task for them. I do not think it is an occasion on which to make a speech; and I think I have seen a noble Lord on the Front Bench make, on a Statement, a speech in which he had nothing to say whatsoever. So I do not think that anything much more than the sort of interrogatories, as I read it, that are put on Starred Questions should be put on Statements. That is my suggestion; but, with respect to the Leader of the House, I suggest that this subject requires a little more examination. It is a relatively new instrument in our Parliament; it is carried on very extensively to-day, and I am not quite certain how it should be handled. I will not carry the matter any further. I think this has been an extremely interesting debate, in which we have heard a number of very interesting points. I believe that our procedure will he improved by these discussions.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I am speaking on a subject nobody has spoken about before so far as I have heard, and that is the difficulty of individual speakers timing their speeches as they make them. It depends a great deal, of course, upon the type of speech. One would think that one was certain with a speech dictated to a secretary, typed out and put in MS form. One would think that one could not go wrong with that speech, that if one read it from beginning to end one must finish in the time one thought correct. But I hope to show you, my Lords, that even that type of speech can fail. When I first had the honour of joining your Lordships' House I went down round to the other place and listened to a speech which was being made from the Front Bench, and I was very interested in an 964 expression that I heard, which I thought was a very good simile—"the difference between chalk and cheese". Later in the speech I heard an expression which I thought had been dead for a long time. "Back to square one" is an expression I used in a novel 30 years ago, and I thought it had been dead for many years. These expressions stuck in my mind when I returned to your Lordships' House, and when I heard the Front Bench speech here I noticed "chalk and cheese" cropping up. Suddenly I realised that it was the same speech which was being read in your Lordships' House. I was interested in the way it was done, because I thought that your Lordships' Front Bench speaker did it much better. He seemed, if I remember rightly, to shorten the speech a bit. It was all typed out before him, but he seemed to get some life into that speech, which in the other place I had found rather dead. The point of that story is that the Front Bench speakers seem to be able to shorten their speeches even though they are all written out for them. Some noble Lords, as we know, are extremely good at doing that; but otherwise I fancy that Front Bench speeches are always too long. They could always be delivered in a simpler manner.
My Lords, as we all know, we have different types of speakers in your Lord-ships' House. I shall deal first, as I began with him, with the speaker who has the written speech. When I first had the honour of joining your Lordships' House a very popular form of speech was that used in the Army by the instructor, in which you had a board with the pages clipped on to it. You took one page off and dropped it on the floor, and you found your next page underneath. That system is now rather out of date, but it was a very simple form of written speech. Then there is the one that I have described, which is dictated to a secretary, is typed out for you and bound as an MS and, so long as you start at page 1, you must finish at the end, and you should know how long it will take. Then the third and the best type of written speech, I think, is that when the Member himself has written a certain amount down on odd sheets of stamped notepaper before he arrives, and while the other speeches are going on he takes notes on the back of Order Papers, or anything 965 else which is handy in the House, to add to his speech and make it more up to date. This is very informative. He has a certain number of newspaper cuttings with him, which arc incorporated in this package of loose literature. He then starts to make his speech; and I think that some of those written scrapbook speeches are some of the best in the House. They are very natural, up to date and on point.
But here a difficulty arises in written speeches. It happens that in all these speeches somebody interrupts; somebody has something to say, and the speaker has to give way. I do not think that the speaker who is out of date, the Army speaker, is ever caught out, because he still has his pages on the floor and he can go straight back to the page he was on, and then continue straight on again. But even the absolutely cut-and-dried typewritten MS speech can go wrong, because sometimes the speaker gets interested in the interjection, and he argues and waves his speech about, rolled up like a baton. He cannot help it; it is quite natural. But when he re-opens his speech he cannot get back to the right page. That creates a pause, and his timing goes wrong. The fate of the user of the loose-leaf written speech is ghastly, because very often he drops his speech on the floor when he is arguing and Peers on each side of him have to grope down and try and pick the pages up again. It is very seldom that that speaker can get back to what was an excellent speech.
The next type of speaker is a very popular and a very good type. He has his headings written on a card or on a piece of notepaper or on the back of an envelope in his hand, and therefore he has only to refer to his headings and he knows what he is going to say next. I should like to pay a great tribute to a noble Lord who is not with us to-day, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, who makes the most wonderful speeches in this House with, in his hand, a card written in braille, which he feels with his fingers the whole time. His speeches are always short; they are always ad hoc, and are always good. He always has something worth saying, and he says it very well. This type of speaker has an enormous advantage over other users of written speeches in that he can keep his head still in the 966 region of a microphone, and therefore he is always clear. When Members are looking down parts of their speeches do not come out at all. You know they are very good, but you have got to wait for Hansard to read them. Here I make this point, which is a little away from my text. When a speech is properly typed and well written, it reads much better later in Hansard because it is written in prose. When I and others who speak ad lib make their speeches, they can never read well because we speak in dialogue, and dialogue and prose are two entirely different things. I will not enter into a discussion about that because it would take too long; but it is true.
The next type of speaker, who comes after the pure ad lib speaker, is the library speaker. I think he is a very strong type of speaker. I have heard some brilliant speeches made by library speakers. Usually the Benches are cleared by the other Peers, and he arranges his books, his dictionaries, his hymnals, his quotations, and his newspapers, and he starts to speak practically without any notes at all because he knows his subject —he is an expert. He can just start at the right page, which is marked, and read out a very authoritative and apt passage. I give full marks to the library speakers, but they have no possibility of timing themselves unless they start looking at the clock. Normally, turning their heads from one side to the other, which is the custom in your Lordships' House, they cannot time themselves. Therefore, they are at a disadvantage, but theirs is a very good way of speaking.
So we come to the ad lib speakers. The ad lib speakers, as your Lordships know, are again divisible into different types. There are brilliant speakers in your Lordships' House who can make a speech without using any notes at all. I have no idea how they time themselves, but their speeches are excellent. They never make mistakes; their whole speech can he printed in Hansard right away, and it is in every way excellent.
Then you come to the absolutely pure, unadulterated ad lib speaker, like myself. My Lords, I am going to pause for a moment on this subject because I do not know, and I do not suppose any of your Lordships know, how an ad lib speaker 967 makes his speeches. How does he produce this wealth of words and of wisdom which pours from him in a perfect stream? Where does it all come from? How does he do it? I am going to tell your Lordships. I shall not be speaking for very long in your Lordships' House, either now or at any other time—but I will not go into that. But I shall tell your Lordships my secret. You might as well know how ad lib speeches are made. First, I have a passionate desire to say something, something on which I am right and everybody else is wrong. Then I think it over and find that perhaps I do not want to say that; I probably do not say it. I do not put my name down. There it ends, very often, until I get the subject I want.
I think that restraint is a very great factor here. I wanted to say something to-day; I wanted to make an intervention. What I wanted to say was quite simple. But I just thought that I would not say it; and I did not. I wanted to say that we should have governed India for 20 years longer; and the same for Africa. But I did not say it. I thought, well, it is obvious, anyway. I arrive at the idea of a speech with a lot of ideas. I listen to the Front Bench speeches of both sides very carefully. Then I go out into the corridor and I wander up and down making up a speech. Having made up my speech I return and listen to the other speakers, and—this is true—I then find that I want to say some of the things they have been saying. So I mix it all up until it becomes a terrible jumble. About the time that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, was speaking, I was making my own mental headings to my speech and when I got to my feet I found that I had forgotten my speech and all my mental headings, and I just used what I think is a very good principle for ordinary speeches.
It is this. I watch my audience. If I can establish with my audience a thread of attention, then I know that if that thread is not broken I can go on mumbling away until I come to a definite end, to a point from where I can go no further; then I can sit down. But here the timing comes in. I am lost for time. I must be lost for time. I have no idea how long I have been speaking now. If I turn my head to look at 968 the clock I may lose that thread; and once that is lost it is better to stop and to sit down; for it can never be recaptured. This is an interesting point to remember. Once you know that people are no longer interested in you or in anything you are saying, then sit down. There is nothing else to be done. Do no go on. Nobody minds. Remember that. My Lords, that is the magic thread. I have found so often that if I have looked at the clock and then come back it is too late. Another thing about this type of speech is the matter of interruptions and getting into discussions with other people. It is better after an interruption and you come back to your speech to finish it and sit down; for you have lost attention.
That is really what I wanted to say and what I had in the mental notes that have lost. But I think I have said it. The point I would make is this. Yes, there must be some form of visible timing. That is essential. Look how essential it is! Immediately I turn my head, I have lost the thread. Although I am a "ham" inventor among other things I am personally against any electronic complications or anything of that sort, or even against another clock. I believe that it would be in the tradition of your Lordships' House if we were to have a batch of hour glasses—which for most speakers would be more like egg glasses. I trust. One of them would run out in five minutes; another would run out in 10 minutes and a third would run out in 15 minutes. At the end the speaker would merely see a blank in front of him: which may or may not be a hint. If there were two batches, the Clerk at the Table could turn one over for the next speaker. That is all I have to say. It may be that I have said enough.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, it is almost impossible to follow the noble Lord. Lord Strange, except to say that we are glad that he lost the heads of the notes of the speech that he might have made and, instead, gave the House the brilliant speech that he did. After he analysed every kind of speech imaginable most of us will be subjective about our speeches for quite a long time. As a "new boy", I speak with much hesitation and much diffidence. I welcome the opportunity to say how grateful I am to 969 the House for the courtesies that have been shown me since I came here. I admire the qualities of your Lordships' House, its debating qualities, but I do not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, in deprecating in some way the other Chamber. The debates are different: it is not that one is better than the other; it is just that they are different. They are like the chalk and cheese to which the noble Lord, Lord Strange, referred.
The whole patterns of the procedure of the two Houses are different. Either House would be very arrogant if it assumed to itself the virtue of being the better of the two. In another place, Mr. Speaker is procedurally all-powerful and politically powerless; in this Chamber, the Lord Chancellor is politically powerful but procedurally powerless. If there is any vestige of a Speaker in this House —and as an ex-Speaker I feel like a shadow at the feast—that vestige resides in the Leader of the House, who will venture occasionally to hint at some sort of control of procedure, and in doing so walk delicately, like Agag, without suffering the ultimate fate of that unhappy monarch. I would congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on the way in which he carries out this particularly delicate side of his work as Leader. I agree with those who say that they are not too certain about the idea of that function and others, being carried out by a Committee of three or four. I think it would be well to leave them in the hands of the Leader and the usual channels.
I congratulate the Committee on their proposed reforms, or on most of them. They are singularly few in number because singularly few are necessary. I am not too happy about the proposed rotation of Members on Committees. It has been tried in some county councils as being more democratic to spread out the jobs among the members. I feel that the House would be acting more reasonably, if it found that somebody on a Committee was too old and, because of his age, was unfit to serve on the Committee, if it told him so. There need be no discourtesy in doing so. I am in favour of the other reforms suggested. I believe, however, that in the years ahead many more changes may be necessary, with the growth, the staggering growth, of the activities of the Members 970 of this House; with the increase in the weight and complexity of business to discuss; with the growth in the numbers of Cross-Benchers who are becoming almost a Third or Fourth Estate in the House—and I say that with apologies to the Liberals.
I want to say one word about long speeches. In the other place, when I was asked to, I advocated a time limit on speeches. I see no derogation of dignity in being invited to speak inside a fixed pattern of time. I once said that a speech to be immortal need not be eternal. I illustrated this in evidence that I gave to a Committee in the other place. In the other place when a Member makes a speech in an Adjournment Debate he is confined to a quarter of an hour. Many of the best speeches in the other place were made by Members who had prepared a long speech and boiled it down to that quarter of an hour. I agree that the time is not yet ripe for a time limit on speeches. What I admire about this House is its own voluntary restraint. The brevity of some of the speeches made by noble Lords is due not to a time limit but to the fact that they accept the philosophy set out in this Committee's Report. I have always felt that the Council of Europe had a good idea in asking members (and reference has been made in the Committee's Report to a similar idea) who wanted to speak how long they intended to speak; either for the purpose mentioned in the Report of the usual channels suggesting to Members that they might speak less briefly than they said they would, or even for punishing, by giving them lower places in future lists, those who spoke longer than they said they would.
I think, too, that at some time ahead the House will have to look at certain reforms of procedure. When the pressure of business becomes intense enough —as nearly happened in the summer—the House will have to look into the question of whether to continue to allow the Report stage to be a continuation of the Committee stage; of the necessity of separating two vitally different stages of a Bill without their running into each other and without repeating each other; as to whether the Third Reading should not be a Third Reading without the number of Amendments which can be taken at Third Reading; and whether the 971 House should not consider that when an Amendment is being discussed in the Committee stage or the Report stage that is not an occasion to make a kind of Second Reading speech, as so often has happened.
The difficulty, my Lords, lies in imposing any checks. Checks were imposed in the other place because of the intensity of the struggle, the nature of the business and the ever increasing volume of business which had to be put through. All the checks in the other place are justifiable. So far, my Lords, this House does not need them, but if its work grows—and I believe that it is growing day by day—some reforms will have to be introduced in the interests of efficiency.
My Lords, I am glad that there is to be a debate about the provision for facilities for noble Lords. For the Cross-Bench Peers there is one tiny room. Ordinary Back-Benchers have one little locker each in a corridor. The time has come when we must improve the facilities for noble Lords in their work in this House. I like the idea of a "double topic" day, a day in which two topics are taken—two half-day debates. I like the idea of a double-starred emergency Question. Very often Questions on the Order Paper are out of date by the time they are asked. These proposals corn-mend themselves to me. But so far I believe nothing has arisen that would justify any radical change in the procedure of your Lordships' House. The basis of the House is noblesse oblige. I hope the the House will keep it so and that it will keep it so as long as nobility accepts the responsibility as well as the privileges of its utter freedom of procedure.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, first, I would warmly congratulate the members of the Committee. They are all pretty busy chaps—I know how busy is the noble Lord, Lord Byers—but they all seem ready to take any punishment that we dole out to them: the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I think that they have done a very good job. There was, I believe, force in what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about not 972 seeking to alter what need not be altered. But the Report did serve one important purpose—it was the purpose to which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred—of providing not just a safety valve but an opportunity to discuss and perhaps assuage feelings of some discontent. There is perhaps some feeling that we are a very polite House and therefore there is some hesitation on the part of those who are slightly discontented to bully the Leader of the House or the usual channels too much.
The purpose of this debate has been to enable us to look at our procedure and to consider worthwhile reforms, but basically to suggest no major changes. We have had a very encouraging endorsement from one who is probably as great a judge as could be found in this House, in the shape of a former Speaker of the House of Commons. With his long experience of the way they do things in another place, and after observing how we do things here, where practices are different. the endorsement of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, seemed to me to be very satisfactory. There are, however, a number of particular propositions with which I shall deal briefly. Like other noble Lords, I am expressing my personal opinion in the light of my experience in these matters.
There is one point which I should like to stress. It is that there are still, I fear, too many noble Lords who do not attempt to master or to understand the procedure of the House. There are too many people who constantly break Standing Orders, being under the impression that there are no Standing Orders. Of course the House itself is sometimes guilty of that. There is advice in the Companion which flatly contradicts what is contained in Standing Orders. I congratulate the Leader of the House, who in a more modest way is a much more successful reformer than the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and me, who set our sights rather higher. His reforms are going to come about. Some of them we had considered and they were included in the White Paper on the general reform of the House of Lords.
I want to stress the importance of procedure. From bitter experience I have learned to attach great importance to it. 973 In 1946, when I was about to make my maiden speech in another place—the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, was not then the Speaker; it was in fact the Deputy-Speaker who was in the Chair—the debate was on the Air Estimates. To the best of my recollection, and for reasons that at that time I never fully understood, the debate took place on the Motion. That the Speaker do now leave the Chair. It seemed to me odd, because it was the only occasion when the Speaker did not leave the Chair. Sandwiched in the middle of the debate (the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will also remember this) there was a mini-debate on an Amendment. At the end of it Mr. Deputy Speaker said, "The Motion is that I do now leave the Chair."
I, as a new boy, was not going to be the first to rise, and I did not get up. The Deputy Speaker left the Chair and the debate ended. I was suffering from the worse form of "ingrowing speech", an ingrowing maiden speech, and I walked out of the Chamber almost beside myself with frustration and emotion. And an old Labour Member of Parliament said to me, "That will teach you to learn the procedure of the House." If I may say so, my Lords, this is something which I think we should all benefit from. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I have occasionally in the past, when there were very few of us on the Opposition Benches, succeeded by an intelligent use of the procedure of the House in doing things which the Government of the day did not entirely welcome, but, generally speaking, I am not in favour of carrying out Parliamentary battles here by procedural tricks, for various reasons. There is a Speaker, and it is important to recognise that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, is in fact the Speaker of the House. But, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, the noble and learned Lord has great political power but is rather strikingly restricted, almost more so than other noble Lords, when seeking to put the House to rights; because expressed in the Standing Order is the one power which is given to him; namely, to rebuke Peers who speak behind the Woolsack. That is the limit of his powers. When he speaks politically, he speaks, as the 974 Standing Order makes clear, by going to his own place as a Peer, and then his rights and powers are the same as those of any other Peer.
I should like to refer to the advice I was given by my noble friend Lord Silkin when I first entered this House,12 or 13 years ago. He said that I might think that the House of Lords was just like the House of Commons in lots of ways; that it was like a parallel universe; but in fact it was different and it took some while to perceive that difference and to understand it; and in order to be an effective Member of your Lordships' House, one had to understand that difference. That is the point which is brought out clearly in the Report, when it says thatthe continuance of the present system of order in the Lords depends on the voluntary co-operation and efforts of all its members.It is important to preserve this remarkable freedom, and it is a striking thing how great the freedom is in comparison with that enjoyed in another place. There is none of the agony Members have in another place of hour after hour trying to catch the Speaker's eye. Mr. Speaker either must get very hardhearted or bored himself at the growing frustration, and my noble friend who recently was Mr. Speaker will remember Members being carried from the House, actually foaming through frustration. We do not suffer from that; but the self-discipline imposed on us is very great.
In this connection I very much welcome the recommendation that there should be a Simple Guide for Peers. I also welcome the fact that the Companion is being rewritten. It is basically a work of reference. At the moment it is rather a hoteh-poteh. There are surprising things in it and surprising things left out. One of the most curious omissions is that there is no reference to the Leader of the House. He is a sort of disembodied figure, who exercises no power but a great deal of influence and on whom the House depends. I am glad to know that there will be a passage in the rewrite of the Companion dealing briefly with the role of the Leader.
This brings me to the matter of the Leader's Back-Bench Committee. I support those noble Lords who say that this proposition will not serve a useful purpose. Speaking personally, I fear that 975 it will weaken the existing institutions. So often when something is not going well, it means that people are not using the existing institutions. The person who over-works may be misemployed, and the person who is not getting what he wants is failing to use his opportunities. I hope that noble Lords like Lord Alport and Lord O'Hagan realise that the Leader of the House, though I do not wish to establish too large a queue at his door, is available to advise and help all Members of the House. That has always been the practice. Normally noble Lords approach their own Whips, if they have them. I certainly always found that I should be available to give advice—indeed, frequently Peers would come and tell me how to do my job—and I suspect that the present Leader of the House, who does his job admirably, has found that also. I think that the Simple Guide is a desirable recommendation, and I have always been in favour of talks by the Clerks. They have them in the other place at the beginning of every Parliament and older Members do not disdain to go to those meetings, because it is easy to forget procedure.
I shall not, I hope, speak at great length, but I have always wondered, I must admit, how the noble Lord, Lord Strange, came to make his speeches. The only occasion I know of when he was actually stopped was when my noble friend Lord Beswick interrupted him, just when he was coming to the climax of an exceedingly long story—and we have not yet heard the end of it. It is obvious, though, that the noble Lord is in need of a clock, so that he will not have this nervous turn of his head to look at the clock, as a result of which he loses the thread of his speech and his contact with the House of Lords. I am in favour of the Committee's proposal for clocks. It is not convenient to be looking round all the time. It is all right for noble Lords like Lord Sandys, who sit at the end of the Chamber and naturally look towards the clock, but for many of us it is not convenient. I would not entirely reject the idea of hour-glasses—but this, again, may be another idea from the very pleasant imagination of the noble Lord, Lord Strange. I have heard other suggestions for limiting speeches. My noble friend Lady Phillips, in a wilder moment, 976 suggested that there should be ejector seats. Whether she means them to be on the Woolsack or on the Front Bench or wherever, I think that is going a little too far and involves a deal of organisation for which we are not well equipped.
It is important to remember that this is a part-time House. I think that we should be a part-time House. I will not go at length into the merits of the degree of casual excellence brought occasionally to our debates by great experts, but when some noble Lords are a little frustrated and think that the usual channels are not so efficient as they should be, they must remember the limited resources that we have. At this stage I would hesitate to seek to change this state of affairs, beyond taking up, very hesitantly, the proposal of my noble friend Lord Shepherd for a kind of self-reform. I suspect that in doing so we should be even further in fundamental constitutional conflict, as indeed we were over leave of absence, though the House has found a sensible solution to that problem. But this is something that should not be entirely dismissed, because I do not know whether anybody is ever going to reform the House and there are some more fundamental improvements that might be made.
I would look briefly at the other recommendations. I support the over-whelming majority of them. I have already said that I am against the Back-Bench Advisory Committee but I think that in rejecting it we have to bear in mind that there are these proposals for the rotation of members of Committees. I am bound to say to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who I think said that the honest thing is to tell somebody that they are too old and they should get off a Committee, that this is not the easiest of things to do. I remember the late Lord Kilmuir telling a story about judges which bore painfully on this subject. However, we ought to seek to get more Members of the House to serve on Committees and sub-committees. I know there is great difficulty on occasion to get Peers to serve on particular Committees, particularly Private Bill Committees, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to a number of noble Lords who practically never speak in the House but do a great deal of work on these Committees.
977 I like the proposal that one Wednesday a month should be set aside for two limited-time debates. I should personally be in favour of balloting. Whereas I feel that the main debates, for all sorts of reasons, have to be handled through the usual channels, I hesitate to put further responsibility on the Leader of the House when it comes to this sort of selection. I do not see why we should not do what, to my recollection, is done in the House of Commons: ballot for Adjournment Debates. There is a particular difficulty here about introducing a time rule. I am wondering whether we can manage without a Standing Order that imposes a hard two-and-a-half hours and establish a custom—let it be set out somewhere in the Coinpanion—that on such occasions, by voluntary means, the House does not go beyond two-and-a-half hours, or perhaps just a little further. On the whole, this is how they manage Adjournment Debates in another place. They always provide time for the Minister to wind up—except that on one occasion I remember the late Mont Poflick took the whole half an hour for his Adjournment Debate on a visit to the West Indies because he found it the best way of getting his lecture printed. However, I must not be anecdotal. I hope that we can avoid a time Standing Order on this matter.
As for Mondays, I think that we meet on Mondays when it is necessary, and not when it is not necessary. But I want to make a plea for Ministers in this House. There is a general impression among Ministers in the Commons that Ministers in the House of Lords have absolutely nothing to do, whereas in fact they have more Parliamentary duties to carry out, and, at the same time, are always expected to take on the most difficult duties outside London. It is always: "Send the Under-Secretary; he is in the Lords." It is not easy for Government Ministers here always to be readily on tap. Therefore I hope we shall look further into the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Shepherd; and we might consider whether it is desirable to establish certain Departmental days. I have no idea whether this is possible, but it is an additional thought to be considered.
There is the proposal that the Leader should have overall responsibility for the preparation of the list of speakers. I 978 think this is a very difficult point.1 should have liked to experiment, since it really is a most painful subject, as to which nobody is ever satisfied and the Whips always get blamed for it. I am wondering whether the concept of some form of grouping of people, and then balloting for order, might be worth trying. I know that it is a difficult thing to decide, but recent events particularly bring home to me the desirability of this. I know that the Government Chief Whip will oppose this, but if I have gone as far as to say that it is possible, he may think about it again.
For various reasons, I should not be in favour of a trial period of allowing short debates on matters of urgency to be taken as first business. I think it is far more important, if it is necessary to have an urgent debate, that we put it on. But again we have to remember that we arc not the same as the House of Commons; and on the critical issues where there are great Party struggles the holding of urgent debates is much more the role of the other place than it is of us. None the less, perhaps the usual channels ought to be more flexible and a little less discouraging. I agree that we always are rather discouraging, because people have to get the business through. Of course, the role of this House is not solely legislation: on that I could not agree more strongly. We have an important role outside this field. One of the strengths of the House of Lords is that it is able to tackle subjects which another place will not tackle. either because they are too busy or because there is not enough Party political content. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and I, when he was Leader of the House, were debating issues like pesticides and pollution long before the Commons ever took an interest in the subject. I believe that there are great issues, like the environment, and so on, to which we should turn our attention. Therefore I welcome the noble Leader's initiative in setting up a Select Committee to deal with recreation, about which he told us on the occasion of the Queen's Speech.
Finally, my Lords, I would only say, having supported all the others, that I particularly support the proposal for a double-starred Question. But I would not put on the Leader of the House the responsibility of deciding, on the Private 979 Notice Question analogy, whether it is an urgent Question. I would merely require that this particular type of Question (and I personally would rather have had two) should not be set down until, say, three days or a week before, with the general requirement that noble Lords, in seeking to get a particular day, should do so for topical reasons. If noble Lords consistently abused the principle, the House could refuse leave to ask the particular Question—an action which is within its power.
I think we can say that noble Lords who have not chosen to speak this afternoon are, presumably, happy with the Report and more or less with the conduct of affairs as it is. I suggest to the noble Earl the Leader of the House that the Committee of Procedure might have an analysis made of this debate. No doubt in due course they will wish to come forward and propose certain changes. Again I thank the Committee. They have done a good job; I think the House can be pleased with them, and indeed pleased with itself.
§ 6.47 p.m.
My Lords, I am speaking this evening as something of a split personality. I suppose that to some extent I am speaking as Leader of your Lordships' House—and I am looking forward with interest to seeing in the revised Companion what the duties of the Leader of your Lordships' House are. But the debate also gives me an opportunity to give my personal views on some of the matters that we have been discussing. I have found this a most illuminating debate, especially as the procedures and working of this House are very much a matter for the House as a whole. Following what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has just said, it is certainly my understanding that the decisions on this Report and its recommendations must be taken in the first instance by the Procedure Committee. I think it is a useful suggestion that an analysis should be made of this discussion by the Procedure Committee, and then of course ultimately by your Lord-ships' House. All in all, I think it might be useful if I were to indicate swiftly, and therefore sketchily, my own personal reactions to the Report.
980 My noble friend Lord Aberdare explained at the start of the debate how the group came into being and the way in which it has worked. It is my first and pleasant duty to thank my noble friend and his colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd, Lord Perth and Lord Byers, and also the noble Lord. Lord Henley, who sat in from time to time for the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for all the work which they put into preparing this Report—for preparing it not only comprehensively, but also in very quick time—and also for preparing a short supplementary Report (which your Lordships now have before you) on the Committees of your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may say, in answer to my noble friend Lord Sandys, that I think he is wrong in thinking that this Report has been printed twice. It was another Report to which he referred. I think he will find, if he fingers the two, that one is rather thicker than the other. But I share, of course, his concern about economy and efficiency in Government business. I should also like to echo what other noble Lords have said, and express my gratitude to Mr. Wheeler-Booth for the work he has put in in helping the Committee: I think that he made a material contribution.
My Lords, my reason for asking the Group of Four if they would undertake this task was simply my feeling that there were a number of matters affecting the conduct of your Lordships' House and its procedures which were giving rise to concern and which had reached my ears. Most of these problems stem from the greatly increased activity and membership of your Lordships' House—the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, drew attention. For instance, in our last Session the average daily attendance was 40 more than in the previous Session. It is now 265, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said; in 1963 it was only 140, and in 1955 it was only 92. This "population explosion", this demographic time-bomb which your Lordships have ticking under your seats, has undoubtedly created serious problems which I think it is right to consider. It may even be that later on, whatever we decide now—and I share the views of most noble Lords that we do not need anything very radical at the present time—further changes may be necessary. I 981 certainly do not rule this out, but I hope that we shall always walk the evolutionary path in this respect. Some of these problems were indeed confronted in some of the proposals for the reform of the Lords, the proposals which foundered in rather heavy seas, unfortunately, in another place some three years ago. I believe that that shipwreck has made it no less urgent—indeed perhaps the reverse—for us to look at our working procedures now.
That said, and before turning to the specific recommendations which we have been discussing to-day, I should like to mention the problem of accommodation. I personally find the material problems of accommodation and facilities rather absorbing and I realise that noble Lords have views on this subject: it is a matter of concern to us all. I think many of us share the views expressed by the noble Lord. Lord Maybray-King, and others, that in many respects our facilities are inadequate for the demands which are being placed upon your Lordships' House these days. In any event, after consultation with the Chairman of Committees, I should like to confirm to the House that we hope to have a Report from the Offices Committee dealing with these matters, which will be brought before your Lordships later this Session and could then be usefully debated.
I now turn to the recommendations of the Group of Four. For simplicity's sake. I will proceed to examine them individually, following the order listed by the Group itself in their conclusions at paragraph 50 on page 21. I think that is perhaps better than jumping grass-hopperwise through the Report. I will deal with only some of them, as not all of them have been touched upon in our discussion this afternoon.
First, I should like to refer to recommendations (a), (b) and (c), which touch on the whole question of the self-government of your Lordships' House. I believe there has been complete agreement here this afternoon that we prefer to govern ourselves and not to be governed; that we do not wish to import into our House a Speaker in the Commons sense, although we are very content with the "Speaker" that we have. I think there has been a very general welcome for the idea of a simple guide, 982 short and in good plain English, to the workings of the House and to some of its procedures. On this particular aspect, I should like to endorse as strongly as I can something which my noble friend Lord St. Just said, and which was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton: it is unfortunate that sometimes we forget (despite the fact that we do not have very elaborate or vastly complicated procedures) that we have pretty clearly-defined procedures. We have been working over them pretty carefully this last Session. I think it is a pity that not all of us—and I myself am a sinner in this respect—carry these procedures as clearly in our minds as perhaps we should. I very much agree with what was said by the two noble Lords in this respect.
The next recommendation which attracted a good deal of discussion was recommendation (f), that there should be a Back Bench advisory committee established as a "living suggestions box", as the phrase is in the Report, to advise the Leader of the House on a number of matters. There has been a balance of argument in your Lordships' House on this particular point. It was endorsed by my noble friend Lord Aberdare, by his colleague on the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and others. On the other hand, strong contrary views were expressed with great authority by my noble friend Lord Oakshott and by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I find myself in a rather platonic state of mind on this particular point. I would not personally have ruled out this possibility. If this was an idea or piece of machinery which commended itself—as may not be the case—to a clear consensus in your Lordships' House, I should be willing to try it as an experiment. Although I believe that the terms of reference suggested by the Group of Four went very wide, I should like to see this experiment, if we were to try it, restricted very much to a "living suggestions box", and I should like to see this advisory committee as informal as possible, meeting not too often and certainly not cutting across the usual channels. I think this is extremely important, because if it were to cut right across the usual channels then I would not favour, even platonically, such an experiment. I feel that this 983 is a matter which the Procedure Committee will wish to consider in the light of this discussion.
Recommendation (g), which was fully discussed, touched on the mini-debates, the so-called "Wednesday debates". I share the doubts which have been expressed about the rigid time limits here, though I believe that the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, in this respect is very worth while. I should like to say straight away that I favour trying out, again as an experiment, the idea of devoting either a Wednesday —I see the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, now favours a Thursday, but I am a Wednesday man myself—or one day a week to a couple of mini-debates. Here I gather there is a difference of opinion between the selective approach to the choice of subjects and the chance approach through the ballot box. Again, I should myself be quite happy, like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, to try out the ballot idea but restrict it merely to this choice of debates or for this particular occasion perhaps once a month. In this context my noble friend Lord Ferrier referred to the Government's distate for Unstarred Questions. I should like to suggest to my noble friend that Unstarred Questions, although coming rather late in the evening, which may be trying for hard-pressed Ministers, are not all that unpopular with the Government. Looking at the Order Paper, I notice that there are seven Unstarred Questions down for debate between now and Christmas.
My Lords, I must apologise for my perhaps over-schematic treatment, but it makes it easier to follow. The next suggestion from the Committee was that the House should normally meet on Mondays, coupled with the idea that the House should regularly meet on Mondays. In my view this recommendation goes rather too far. I share the view of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, that if we were to make this a regular feature it would be very difficult for hard-pressed Ministers in the Lords. My own feeling is that the proper criterion here is that of need. We should have Monday debates when our business makes it necessary, although it is quite possible that we could have them more regularly than we have had them in the past. It would be a great mistake for us to insti- 984 tute Monday debates just for the sake of having them and then not to be able to fill up the time properly.
Next there is the suggestion in conclusion (m) that no time limits should be placed upon speeches, but that we should have some form of clicking clocks or other devices to remind ourselves of the passage of time.1 share the wide consensus which 1 found expressed this afternoon that we should not impose rigid time limits. I agree entirely with the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, here. I believe that, without offence to the spirit of Pugin, we could probably install a couple of timepieces of suitable Puginist design—possibly one on one side of your Lordships' House, which would keep the Leader from speaking with his usual loquacity, and another immediately behind me. I agree with my noble friend Lord Sandys that the msthetics here are important and we will give them due attention. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whose reactionary views on other matters I sometimes share, I would not entirely rule out the idea of a battery of hour glasses, should this be thought to be appropriate.
There was then the conclusion (n) about debates on matters of urgency. I confess to having some real doubts about this particular recommendation. I am somewhat uncertain about our instituting mechanisms which would tend to make this House more of a mirror image of another place. I am also very conscious of the fact—as any Minister in your Lordships' House must be—that many Ministers here are not directly responsible for Departments, and it is not easy, although I would not plead this as an overwhelming reason against accepting this recommendation, for them to answer authoritatively with the sort of authority which is demanded of a Minister a debate mounted at very quick notice. This should not be an overriding objection. It is always possible, through the usual channels on a matter of real urgency, if this is the feeling of your Lordships' House, to demand a debate at short notice. My own instinct would be against over-formalising matters in this respect.
There was a further important recommendation, conclusion (p), about the Double-Starred Question—a matter of 985 balance. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would like two Unstarred Questions; the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is a "one and a half man".1 am very willing, provided that the House and the Procedure Committtee favour this idea, to try this as an experiment, seeing how it works, although I would certainly be a one Double-Starred Question man, at least to begin with. I agree with my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury that there may be some case, if we introduce this new machinery, for providing some mechanism whereby some blocking device may be used against any Member of your Lordships' House who unduly or slightly abuses this new piece of machinery.
Another matter which has exercised a good deal of attention this afternoon was how we should handle Ministerial Statements. I am glad to have heard the views of your Lordships on this matter. This is not an easy question; it is a matter of our exercising self-restraint. I have been impressed by the weight of opinion which has followed in the wake of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who was rather critical of the distinction which he felt that the Group of Four were drawing here between the "privileged few" and the "hungry sheep". It seems to me that the "hungry sheep" have attracted a good deal of support in your Lordships' House this afternoon. No doubt this is a matter to which the Procedure Committee will wish to give careful attention.
Another matter dealt with at greater length in the First Report from the Procedure Committee in this Session was the regular turnover of membership of House Committees. I have listened carefully to what has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I must confess to a personal bias in favour of a more rapid turnover than we have achieved in the past—a quicker rotation of crops, if this does not sound impious. As I read the recommendation, it does not mean that if a noble Lord leaves a Committee, having served his three years, he cannot come back again. He may come back fresher and better—
—after one year. When I was at Cambridge I had a distinguished tutor in medieval history. I 986 fear that he is now dead but his name may be familiar to some of your Lord-ships. I refer to that great mediaevalist Gaillard Lapsley. He was a considerable epicure. One of his pleasures was that every year he religiously rotated the sardines which he kept in his cellar. He found that as a result of this annual rotation, the sardines, when eaten, tasted a great deal better. It is just possible that the same principle might apply with the rotation of Peers in Committees of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I notice that the clock is moving on, so perhaps I should return to my concluding remarks; and I should like, in those concluding remarks, to put my thoughts in a rather wider framework.
One of the most significant points made to the Group was that recently your Lord-ships' House has passed through a period during which it was expected to be radically reformed, both in its powers and in its composition; and as we all know, and as I mentioned at the start of these remarks, these measures for reform were shipwrecked in another place. Since a radical reform of this kind went on the reefs in another place it has been the concern of all Members of your Lordships' House to do what they can to make the best possible use of the House as it now stands to see whether there are ways of making better use of the time, talents and expertise which are undoubtedly to be found in your Lordships' House.
The ways in which we have been trying to adapt ourselves to this task of evolutionary improvement, if I may so term it, are primarily, as I see matters, three. First, there are the various projects for closer co-operation with another place; second, there are the possibilities of expanding the work of Committees of your Lordships' House, and, third, there is the field of the working of your Lordships' House—the field which we have been discussing this afternoon.
In common with other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I should like to commend to your Lordships the Second Report of the Procedure Committee in another place. That Committee, 987 under the Father of the House of Commons, Sir Robert Turton, has made a number of far-reaching proposals. The two most important, probably, concern the predicted Joint Select Committee on Legislation and the proposed inquiry into the whole process of legislation—both proposals that have been welcomed by the Government.
These are two really big subjects. The methods of control over subordinate legislation are, I think, generally acknowledged to be ill-co-ordinated and to be in need of a really searching look, and very possibly a comprehensive overhaul. It speaks for itself that there has been no comprehensive overhaul in this whole area since the 1932 Donoughmore Committee. I am glad that this proposal seems to have found favour in your Lordships' House, and I hope very much that our Procedure Committee will soon be able to give it what I hope will be a formal blessing, as it were, so that we may go forward to the composition of this very important Joint Select Committee.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question? I am not sure, but did he explore the possibility of having the evidence in that Report specially reprinted for your Lordships' House?—because I am quite certain that hardly any noble Lord will have read it because it is in such an inconvenient form. Even though reprinting has not been done in time for this debate, I still think it is important enough to have it in a convenient form.
My Lords, I did explore that possibility but, as sometimes happens with explorers, I am not quite certain where I have reached. But I will continue my explorations and prosecute them with even greater zeal that I have done hitherto.
The second and I think even more important proposal is the projected Committee on the process of legislation. Their job, as I understand it, would be to review the form, the drafting, possible amendment and preparation of legislation covering both Houses of Parliament; and I am very sure—again this has been welcomed by the Government—that Members of your Lordships' House will 988 be able to make a most important contribution to what will be a very important Committee.
In addition to these two far-reaching and longer-term projects, there are three other matters on which I gave evidence to the Commons Select Committee, together with the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel; that is to say, the distribution of Bills between the two Houses, and joint pre-legislation Committees and joint post-legislation Committees. I personally feel—and I believe many of your Lordships would agree—that it is in the interests not only of this House but also of Parliament as a whole that we should try to secure a better balance between the two Houses so far as the initiation of legislation is concerned. I will not elaborate further on this matter since it is still under discussion in another place. But, by the same token, I rather hope that we can move in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd: that is, another place (and I say this with all respect and due diffidence) can treat Private Members' legislation coming from this place in the way in which we treat Private Members' legislation coining from another place—but I say that sotto voce.
My Lords, in the case of both the post-legislation and pre-legislation Committees, I hope that we can make progress in these two fields, although personally I would put more weight, at least initially, behind the post-legislation Committee idea than the pre-legislation Committee idea. The second area which I believe is open to our initiative lies in the field of expanding our own Committee structure and system. Your Lordships will recall what was said about this in the White Paper on House of Lords Reform—the abortive reform. This seems to me one of the best ways of tapping the undoubted pool of experience which lies in your Lordships' House, and I hope that we may be able to make judicious and selective use of Committees of this kind. And. by that token, I hope that we shall make a real success of the first one, which is the proposed Select Committee, a Lords' Select Committee, on Sport and Recreation. Finally, my Lords, there is the whole area of procedural reform which we have been discussing this evening. Of course, much has been going on apart 989 from this. There is the work of the Companion Sub-Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, alluded.
I have attempted summarily, to give my views on the recommendations of the Group of Four and it is my hope that we can make rather rapid progress in this field now. I say this because it would be a mistake if we were to become too obsessed in an introspective way with procedural matters. They are only an aid to the better discharge of our business and it is important we should keep our eye on the main ball. That is one of the reasons why I hope the Procedure Committee can take quick note of this debate and that what is to be approved can then quickly be approved and instituted.
My Lords, that said, I think it is true to say that, wherever we sit in this House, all of us have the interests of this House and indeed of Parliament very much in mind. I believe that in a modest way the interests of both will have been advanced by this debate and by the action which I hope will flow from it. In saying that, I should like once again to thank the authors of this Report for their report and for their labours, and to thank those of your Lordships who have helped to make this debate a very interesting and, I hope, constructive contribution.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.