HL Deb 20 April 1972 vol 330 cc185-91

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the following Lords be proposed to the House to form the Select Committee for the consideration of the said Bill; vizt:

  • V. Caldecote,
  • L. Conesford,
  • L. Delacourt-Smith,
  • L. Gardiner,
  • B. Macleod of Borve,
  • L. Royle (Chairman),
  • B. Seear:
That the Committee have power—
  1. (a) to send for persons, papers and records,
  2. (b) to adjourn from place to place, and
  3. (c) to report from time to time:
That the Committee have power to appoint persons with specialised knowledge for the purposes of particular enquiries, either to supply information which is not readily available, or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's Order of Reference:

That the evidence taken before the Committee from time to time be printed, but that no copies be delivered out except to members of the Committee and to such other persons as the Committee think fit, until further order:

That the Committee do meet on Tuesday next at half-past Four o'clock in Committee Room No. 4.—(Earl Jellicoe.)


My Lords, in view of the fact that this Committee already shows discrimination against women by having on it one Tory lady and no Labour women, may I ask the noble Earl whether it is possible for this Committee to be enlarged so as to put this matter right?


My Lords, since I must share some of the responsibility with the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and I feel that he alone should not have to bear the brunt, I should like to make one point clear. I had always understood that this was a wrong inflicted by men on women and that it was for men to put it right. Indeed, that has been the attitude of some of us in supporting this measure, the merits of which we do not wish to discuss. But it is a fact that the composition of this Committee in relation to the law, and in relation to industry and the trade unions, was very carefully considered and it was a mischance, as the noble Earl knows, that a particular Baroness from the Labour side was not eligible to serve. I appreciate that some of my noble friends feel strongly on this matter, and if the noble Earl the Leader of the House is prepared to have discussions about enlarging the size of the Committee, as my noble friend has suggested, it may get us out of an awkward and certainly unintended piece of discrimination.


My Lords, are not all Peers, male or female, equal?


My Lords, is it not a fact that we have to persuade our male colleagues of the Tightness of our cause, and that it is therefore very advisable that we should have a majority of male Members on the Committee to be convinced?


My Lords, in view of the emphatic vote given by this House during the Second Reading of this Bill, is it not the duty of the Government to see that everything is done not to emasculate it?


My Lords, as a firm supporter of this Bill, I do not want to follow my noble friend Lady Gaitskell in discriminating between what she has called Tory ladies and Labour women. But I want to suggest that there is an easy way out of this dilemma, as hinted at by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. If the size of the Committee were increased by two—that is to say, from seven to nine—that would enable this difficulty to be overcome. The change would have a further virtue about it. With a membership of only seven, it is inevitable that from time to time there will be absences by Members of the Committee, and with a float, so to speak, of nine members it will always be possible to get a respectable kind of quorum.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether there is any special virtue about the number of seven, and whether the suggestion that has been made to increase the number to nine is not too modest? Would it not be better to increase the number to eleven and to have a more representative Committee?


My Lords, I feel that I must tread water rather delicately, swimming as I am between Scylla, if she was a lady, and Charybdis, if he was a gentleman. I am told that they were both ladies: they were clearly very discriminatory rocks on which I have managed to impale myself. First of all, I should like to assure your Lordships' House that there was no intentional discrimination. I should also like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for the gallantry (which I think is the right term in this context) with which he has come to my rescue. I think perhaps I should explain the considerations (they were hinted at by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition) that lay behind the composition of the Committee—which was decided on, of course, through the usual channels. We felt that it would be right to include an industrialist with experience of employing both sexes; that the Chairman should be someone who had not taken part in the Second Reading and who was a member of the Panel of Deputy Chairmen, and that the Committee should include opponents of the Bill as well as supporters. The end result, which has been open to some criticism, was that the Committee proposed included two ladies, one of whom voted for and one of whom voted against the Bill; two lawyers, one of whom voted and spoke for the Bill and one who voted and spoke against it; one industrialist, one trade unionist and a neutral (if that is the correct term) Chairman.

My Lords, I understand the opinions which have been voiced in your Lordships' House. I think, though, that one of the opinions that was voiced two days ago, when we had a little discussion about the Committee, was that there was a real need to get on with this Bill; and that perhaps has been one of the difficulties. I personally would not wish anything that we now decide in any way to hold up the work of this Committee. If your Lordships agree to approve this Motion now, I shall be very glad to hold immediate discussions, through the usual channels, with a view to seeing whether the sort of suggestion which has been made, and which I should have thought would be perfectly practicable, could be carried out. I must confess to some slight preference. If one were opting for a figure, I personally believe that there is something to be said for keeping within single figures if possible: I do not myself favour very large Committees of your Lordships' House. But I shall be very glad to consider these suggestions. I am quite certain that we can work something out that will be agreeable, not only to the unrepresentative male majority of your Lordships' House but also to the minority.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether he would look at the penultimate paragraph of the Motion now before your Lordships, in which there is a reference to the evidence taken before the Committee? Does that relate to evidence given by persons specially appointed, with specialised knowledge, or does it relate to the proceedings of the Committee? If it relates to the evidence given by persons with specialised knowledge, would it not be open to any Member of your Lordships' House to ask for a copy of that evidence and expect to receive it?


My Lords, the answer to the first question is, "Both": it extends both to the proceedings of the Committee and to the evidence submitted to it. On the point about making a copy of the evidence available to the House as the Committee goes on its way, this would be a matter for the Committee itself. But I am sure this could be looked at.


My Lords, with great respect, may I ask the noble Earl to keep in the forefront of his mind that this is a Committee of your Lordships' House, and surely Members of this House are entitled to know what takes place in a Committee?


My Lords, is it not a practice, firmly established in both Houses, that Select Committees control the time and date of publication of their proceedings? There are powerful arguments in this respect rooted in Parliamentary history, and, if I remember my Erskine May aright, this is a strong one. Is it not also a fact—if I may ask the noble Earl, as I have no leave to speak again—that Committees frequently do publish interim Reports as they go along, but that it is a matter for the Select Committee itself to control, charged, by custom, by the House with this power?


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is right. This is a matter which, by custom, rests within the discretion of the Select Committee itself. But there is absolutely no reason why the Select Committee should not publish an interim Report as it goes along (and this would include, of course, any expert evidence which had been submitted to it) if the Committee so decided.


My Lords, if, as the noble Earl declares, this is a matter within the discretion of the Committee itself, why does the Motion specifically state that, so far as evidence is concerned, copies should be made available, apart from Members of the Committee, only to such other persons as the Committee think fit"? Is this not explicit and specific? Therefore, how is it only within the discretion of the Committee, when it is specifically stated here? What is meant by persons whom the Committee think fit?. Are the Committee sole judges of who are fit to receive copies of the evidence?


I think the answer is "Yes", my Lords. In fact, this is precisely the formula which we adopted when we set up a Select Committee on Sport and Recreation only the other day. We can certainly look to see whether this hallowed formula should be changed, but I personally believe that we are becoming a little too introspective about certain of our procedures. Certainly we can have a look at it, but this is the customary formula.


My Lords, that is what I wanted to follow up. I may be wrong, but may I ask the noble Earl: are not these Committees open to any Member of this House? Cannot any Peer go to these Committees if he or she so wishes?


Yes, my Lords. This point came up in our discussion two days ago, and I confirm that of course any Peer can attend. He does not, of course, have a right to speak or—


My Lords, he has a right to speak.


He has a right to speak but he has not a right to vote.


My Lords, he has a right to listen.


Yes, my Lords; and one would hope that he would exercise his right to speak only when he had exercised his right to listen beforehand.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether it is not a fact that the matter still remains within the control of the House, which can order what it wishes at any time? Does not the thought also cross his mind that the Procedure Committee—that safe haven for sorting out difficult problems on which Leaders of the House or Leaders of the Opposition are not fully briefed—might give some consideration to the matter?


My Lords, thoughts are crossing my mind at bewildering speed at this particular moment. I think this is certainly something which the Procedure Committee could look at. They have been working so busily of late that I thought I would try to avoid saddling them with this extra responsibility; but if the House feels that this aspect of our procedure should be looked at, of course that could be done by the Procedure Committee.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the custom of occasionally withholding the publication of evidence arose in connection with Committees which dealt with matters requiring confidentiality, such as matters of finance; and might it not be a matter which the members of the Select Committee could bear in mind that relations between the sexes are not necessarily of that order?


My Lords, I think that is a very debatable statement.

On Question, Motion agreed to.