HL Deb 10 February 1972 vol 327 cc1282-309

3.54 p.m.

House again in Committee.


I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in his Amendment. I do not quite know what the fuss is all about. In the last ten years I have had the honour of introducing five Wednesday Motions in your Lordships' House, and I cannot say that I have experienced any difficulty in obtaining a day through the usual channels. I have been allowed to introduce Motions on Leisure, on Christian Unity (the only occasion, I think, on which this subject was ever discussed in a Parliamentary assembly), on the Press (on two occasions), and on the first Report of the Royal College of Physicians on Smoking. The only time on which some doubt was expressed about the subject of the debate was when, in an excess of zeal, which Talleyrand warned us against, I suggested we should talk about happiness. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and who was at that time Leader of the House seemingly did not think—he may have forgotten this—that the Government had a contribution to make, though if the purpose of Government is not to make the electorate happy, then I do not know what it is.

Recently, I have become much less enthusiastic about our Wednesday conversations, if only because almost nobody except ourselves pays any attention to them. In passing, I may perhaps add that it is for the same reason that some of our industrialist Peers do not address your Lordships. If they have something to say, a paragraph in The Times is a thin substitute for a Press conference or a message to the Press Association. That does not mean that they should not speak—indeed, their non-attendance is pretty disgraceful. It is nice to be a Lord, especially if you have earned it; and they should show their gratitude.

But, to return to the subject of the discussion, if we are to establish a procedure I favour the noble Earl's Amendment, possibly because I have never been lucky in the pools. I do not believe in the goddess of chance. Moreover, I know from experience how disheartening it is to wait for the right number to turn up. After your Lordships' passed the Sexual Offences Bill I had to wait for the result of the ballot in the other place; and invariably the lucky ones were excellent hut elderly trade unionists; or Mr. Duncan Sandys. In neither case was it their "thing". But a personal appearance, of course, is not the thing that matters; it is the principle involved. If there is going to be competition—and I hope there will be competition—then surely the subject for debate should not be a matter of throwing the dice. It should be the decision of a responsible, if junior, body, such as the noble Earl suggests.

I am not over-keen on committees, but I prefer committees to casinos. I simply cannot understand the objections to the noble Earl's proposal. It is sensible; it is practical; it is non-political; it is democratic, and it in no way detracts from the authority of the Front Benches—unless they should be afraid of this. I would strongly contest the Select Committee's claim, although admittedly I am prejudiced, that the ballot system had proved successful in the Commons. To talk about "complicated machinery" and "cumbersome procedure" is so much poppycock. A committee, especially a small committee—and let us not forget that it may never be asked to sit; frankly, I do not foresee an ugly rush to the House—can make its decisions quickly and easily. It will be assisted—the word is "assisted"—by the usual channels, but not influenced by them. Why not give the Back Benches an opportunity to make their own choice? Why not? Let us not stand in fear of our leaders. I say, "To hell with them!" Let us Back-Benchers get on our hind feet and vote—and vote in favour of the Amendment.

3.59 p.m.


It is a long time since I have ventured to address your Lordships, and I hope I may be allowed to say a few words in relation to the Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I am also glad to have the opportunity of following the noble Earl, Lord Arran, confused though I thought his theme was. I hope very much that the Amendment will be rejected. I speak here not as a Cross-Bencher, not as a Front-Bencher, but merely as a member of the Cross-Benches; and I speak entirely from that point of view, as a former member of the Procedure Committee but no longer of that body. I hope I have not inconvenienced the noble Baroness, Lady White, in speaking before she speaks. I will not say anything about her Amendment except that it appears to me to be a compromise between both points of view and to get the worst of both worlds. Apart from that, it seems to me that it would make the procedure even more complicated and more cumbrous for dealing with what is, after all, a pretty simple matter.

Inherent in the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Perth (it was shown by his speech to-day and, it seems to me, it was shown by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in his speech), is a feeling that this is a case of the Back-Benchers against the rest—the Cross-Benchers being included with the Back-Benchers—and that the Front-Benchers should be nowhere about and should be left behind. That is not the issue. For myself I should like to say, not having sat on a Front Bench for many years. that I have thought throughout that the way in which the business of this House has been arranged, no matter what Party has been in power, has really been most satisfactory and is hardly capable of improvement. But now it is said by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that the Back-Benchers should have a chance to make decisions; and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, if I have his words aright, "Give the Back-Benchers a direct but limited function in arranging the business of the House". Lord Perth's suggestion does not do anything of the sort. That is my objection to it. It deprives those Back-Benchers who are not on this Select Committee of Back-Benchers of some of the rights that they now have. It does not give those Back-Benchers who are not selected after consultation through the usual channels any say in the matter at all. It may well act—


Now that the lights have gone out we cannot see the noble Viscount; but I am sure we can all hear him.


I am obliged to the noble Earl. I am in the danger that if I provoke him too much he may speak again. But I must confess that I see no advantages but a number of disadvantages in what is proposed. My main objection to the selection of these Motions for short debates on Wednesdays by a Committee of four (or it may be more) selected Back-Benchers who do not represent other Back-Benchers at all, in consultation, it is now said, with the Leader of the House, is that I think it involves a restriction on the rights of individual Peers, a restriction which I hope will be rejected.

Any one of us on the Back-Benches or on the Cross-Benches may table a Motion for a short Wednesday debate. We can say on what day we should like it to be taken. If there are a number of Motions down for a particular day—there are eight down at the moment, I understand—no one can object if the Motions to be debated are selected by ballot and the Peer who has been unsuccessful has no grievance if he has been unlucky. We are not talking about balloting for Bills in another place. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, may have been unfortunate in this respect; but I seem to remember that some of his Bills got on to the Statute Books although some of us wish they had not. But it is quite a different thing here if a Peer's Motion for a short Wednesday debate does not win in the ballot. He cannot have any grievance against any other Peer; he cannot think he has been obstructed. I suppose that any member of the Committee of Back-Benchers, however the Motions are chosen, will have the right to say that a Motion chosen by another Peer shall not be debated. Some of us are more popular than others; some of us speak better than others; some may put down more interesting Motions than others. What are the criteria to be applied by this Committee in determining what Motions to select? The noble Earl, Lord Perth, said not a word about that. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said not a word about that.


May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? What are the criteria laid down by the normal channels?


I am not and I have never been a "normal channel", so I cannot tell the noble Earl. Nor, if I may say so, have I ever been a "usual channel"—which I think is the usual way of referring to it. But so far as this is concerned, is it seriously to be suggested that a few Back-Bench Members of this House shall have the choice of what should be debated in this House—at their complete discretion—without giving any reasons and without any responsibility to the other Members of the House? That is what is proposed. Supposing that this Committee think that a Motion in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is really a very uninteresting one, that he has been speaking a lot recently and for one reason or another his Motion is not selected. I think that he might well feel a far greater grievance if those were the grounds than if he were just unlucky in the ballot. The Motion might be put down for next time and it may go on and on not getting selected—



We are in Committee. The noble Earl cannot, I know, ever be kept sitting for long; but perhaps he will restrain himself for a little while.

This process might go on and on; and if this Amendment is passed in the sense of putting that power in the hands of that Committee then what we are doing—I am not saying that it will be done—is giving that Committee the power to prevent a Motion by an unpopular Peer or on an unpopular subject from ever being discussed in this House. That I think would be very wrong. Let each Peer take the chances of the ballot.

I come back to this. This is not a question of deciding between the Back Benches and the Front Benches. There is no issue of that kind. It is a simple question as to whether the Motion shall be selected by chance—everyone having the same chance—or whether it shall be selected by a body which does not represent anyone, which has no authority over anyone and which exercises a power which may give rise to very great feelings. Supposing that a Peer's Motion is not selected. He will be told it is not selected. He may want to know why. The answer will be, "We are not bound to give any reason and do not propose to do so." Is that not going to be very unsatisfactory, and will it not perhaps leave a number of Peers with a real sense of grievance? I cannot think that it would be right to accept an Amendment which, to my mind, would amount to a restriction on the rights of individual Members of this House.


If my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne had happened to speak after me instead of before me, he would have found my theme even more confusing; because before all the lights went out I had some notes of what I wanted to say. Now that the lights have come on again I seem to have a completely different set of papers. Therefore I shall be very brief. I wanted to say that on the previous occasion when the noble Earl, Lord Perth, advocated this view I was very impressed. I was again impressed with the reasons he gave to-day. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, advised us that this was not a subject that we need approach in a spirit of deep passion. I agree with that. After careful examination, I can find no signs of any passion welling up in my breast at the moment. I was simply impressed with the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and by other speakers. I remember the ballot in another place. I think that sometimes it worked well and sometimes it did not work quite so well. Personally, I have great confidence in a Committee and if it did not work out we could always fall back on the ballot. But I have not the slightest dissatisfaction in any way with the present procedure of this House, which I find always extremely fair.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested that we might follow the example of the Athenean democracy but I hope that we shall not do that in all respects; they were rather long-winded and on occasions debated a subject from sunrise to sunset. It may be that the view I have expressed is due to some subconscious memory that, with the exception of one occasion, I cannot remember having won either a raffle or a ballot. On the one occasion when I did win there were 19 gifts to be distributed and 20 possible recipients. I won that ballot.

4.12 p.m.


The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, suggested that the Amendments to which I put my name at a later stage would mean the worst of both worlds. I would respectfully suggest that they would possibly mean the best. I support the Amendment now before your Lordships because it is a necessary paving Amendment to the other suggestions which come later on the Order Paper.

I put down my own Amendments because it seems to me that there are strong arguments on both sides. It is quite true that a ballot is simple, and the Report of the Committee says that it is manifestly fair and independent. It would also avoid the kind of heartburning from which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, imagines that his fellow members might suffer if they did not win. But, of course, the disadvantage of a ballot is that it is also blind, and if there should be a subject on the Order Paper for possible selection for one of these short debates in respect of which time, if not the essence, is at least relevant, the ballot cannot possibly take account of that. I am particularly concerned with foreign affairs and overseas matters, about which a debate at the appropriate time makes sense. If the debate does not come within a reasonable period, it loses all relevance.

I am not now speaking of instant topicality in the way one regards it in another place. I do not think that is the function of your Lordships' House. But there are matters which arise from time to time, and if one is to discuss them at all the discussion must take place within a reasonable period. For that reason, I think one should at least see whether one can have a method of selection which would bring that into account. As I understand it, we are being asked to agree to an experimental period from now until Whitsun. I would only suggest that, if we are to experiment, we may as well experiment comprehensively and try both ways to see how they work out.

I apprehend that we shall have to look at the matter again after the experimental period and decide which method we like, or whether we wish to go on with it at all. I am not very strongly wedded to be notion of a Back Bench Committee. I find that, with reasonably organised pressure, the usual channels will generally do what one wants—but perhaps I have been more successful than others. It seems to me that there are two possible matters of principle here: do we leave it entirely to the chance of the ballot, or do we as was suggested in the debate on December 16, think that at least there is something to be said for examining the list of subjects and deciding whether there are some which, if they are to be debated at all, ought to be debated in the fairly near future? That seems to me the great advantage of having some process of selection which is not entirely blind. Both methods have been used in another place and I believe that they are still used. In another place one has the advantage of having Mr. Speaker. Here we do not have a Speaker in that sense and therefore we cannot rely on that method. But if we are going to experiment, it seems to me that we should try to see how it works; and if we are to have two debates on each occasion, I suggest that one should be by one method and the other by the other, and at the end of the period we could decide which we liked better.

4.18 p.m.


The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, speaks with exceptional authority, but his principal argument appears to me to be fallacious. What was that argument? It was that the Committee suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, would not represent the opinion of all Back-Benchers. But there is not a single Committee appointed by your Lordships' House that represents the direct and specific opinion of Back-Benchers. So that argument goes by the board. And if it does not, it is completely irrelevant.

This debate is a continuation of the age-long conflict between Back-Benchers in the Parliamentary arena and the Establishment. We have had several examples of it in your Lordships' House. I want to address myself to what I believe is the substantial element in this discussion. It is this. What is the essential quality of your Lordships' House'? It is not the legislation which is introduced by the instructions of the Government of the day; nor is it the legislation which emerges from the other place. It is the opportunity to present ideas which make a profound impact on the public mind, either on national or international issues. If noble Lords will glance at the Order Paper and direct their attention to the great variety of Motions for which no day is named, they will agree that many of the Motions are of little or no consequence. They are the product of noble Lords who have theories about this or that, or are concerned about some local, minor issue. That is not the essential function of your Lordships' House. It is, as I have already said, to deal with matters of some profundity, of some quality, directing attention to what is the primary concern of every thinking person in our land; namely, what is our purpose and how are we to achieve it?

That is what I think your Lordships' House should direct its attention to. What about the position at present? There is no ballot. The decision as to the kind of debate which is to take place derives first of all from a number of Motions that appear on the Order Paper which may or may not be selected by the Government. That is a gamble in itself. The Back Benchers have no right or part in the selection. Individual Members of your Lordships' House may make an approach to the Establishment and plead for consideration and ask that their Motions be placed on the Order Paper in a direct fashion for the purpose of an early debate. Whether they succeed or not, I am unable to say. Otherwise, what is the position? It is that the Front Bench on the Opposition side of your Lordships' House decide to approach the Government with a view to having a debate on some topic. The Government may or may not agree to it. Here again, the Front Bench on the Opposition side of your Lordships' House may or may not consult the Back Benchers on this side of the House, or at any rate consult only a few of them. So Back Benchers have no privilege as regards a decision on the kind of Motions that should be debated in your Lordships' House.

How are we to correct the position? Should it be by ballot; by a gamble; by chance; by permutations, or something of that kind; or by asking a few Members of your Lordships' House, selected because of their experience of this Assembly, because of their erudition, or whatever it may be, to examine all the Motions on the Order Paper, or be approachable by Members of your Lordships' House on any particular topic which seems to be worthy of a debate, and come to a decision? That gives the Back Benchers a chance. In my submission to your Lordships' House, as things are in this Assembly the Back Benchers are a mere cipher: but they can of course take part in debates.

Take, for example, what happens at Question Time. A Question may be asked by a Member of your Lordships' House, and the representative of the Government is ready to answer. The questioner is permitted, only in the interrogative form, to put one or two, or perhaps three, supplementary questions, but not to make a speech. But it is quite different so far as the Front Bench is concerned. When it comes to the Establishment, they can get up one after the other and make prolonged speeches, some of them quite irrelevant. Why the difference between the Back Benchers and those who sit on the Front Bench? Of course, on the Government side those on the Front Bench are selected by the Prime Minister, and Back Benchers have no say in their selection. There is nothing democratic about that; but I am not suggesting that we should inject democracy into the selection of Government Members. But who selects Front Benchers on the Opposition side? Perhaps it is the Leader, the Deputy Leader or the Chief Whip. They are all fine people of excellent quality (I could write a book about their qualities and virtues, and forget all about their vices, if they have any), but who selects them?

Now and again I come into your Lordships' House and look at the Front Bench—I happen to occupy a position of advantage, and I can look down on them—and I find somebody there whom I have not seen there before. I do not indulge in any unnecessary queries, but I ask myself the question: Why is he there? And I cannot furnish myself with an answer. Is it because the person whom I see on the Front Bench for the first time has had some experience, coupled with length of service, in the other place? I ask your Lordships to understand that the last thing I ever want to do is to sit on the Front Bench I have sat there too often, to my disadvantage. But when it comes to experience, then obviously I should have been the first person to be asked to sit there. Who decides this? Where is the democracy? Or is there a ballot for this purpose? Of course not. This is completely anti-democratic. I accept that.

But when it comes to a decision about the kind of Motion that ought to be debated in this Assembly—and I again return to what I said about the essential function of your Lordships' House—then it is a matter upon which a number of selected Back-Benchers (they would not be elected by the great body of Members of your Lordships' House; they would be selected through the usual channels, and we should have to accept that), with their erudition, wisdom, knowledge and experience, could decide. This is what we are asking for, and it is all that the noble Earl, Lord Perth. is asking for. So I reject the gamble: I reject the games of chance and permutations.

Lastly, I suggest that it is not a bad thing, even in an age-long Assembly of this character, with all its qualities and great traditions, occasionally to indulge in an innovation: it may be a minor one. My noble friend Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the Opposition, said that this was not an issue that was worth while troubling about. Of course it is not a vital issue like the Emergency Powers, Ulster, or some important international issue; but it is a matter of how we conduct our affairs and how we satisfy Back-Benchers and provide them with the privileges to which they are entitled. Therefore, because of that and a great many other ideas that I have in my head but which I will refrain from mentioning, I support the noble Earl's Amendment.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to join my noble friend Lord Shinwell in the class war he has embarked upon between the Back-Benchers and what he calls the Establishment, but I think that in the middle part of his speech he seemed to be arguing from back to front. He cited the case of noble Lords who may have Motions on the Order Paper. He suggested that perhaps because of prejudice or antipathy the Establishment (whatever that may be) would not give them an opportunity to bring their Motions forward. I venture to suggest to my noble friend that, if they had the opportunity of a ballot and the chance of their Motions being discussed through the exercise of that ballot, they would be better off than they are at the present moment.

There is no Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I do not suppose there is likely to be one for some time to come. Therefore I have no personal interest to declare: I speak almost from the borderline of virginity. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, showed us that there are two sides to almost any question. He was most persuasive, almost seductive. But I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that I stand where I stood before; that is to say, I am a supporter of the ballot. We all know—and those great ethical authorities the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and my noble friend Lord Shinwell have reminded us—that anything which has in it an element of chance, an element of the sweepstake, is fundamentally wicked. But, at the same time, there has been a tendency for that kind of thing to spread itself over many of our everyday activities of life. I am not concerned only with horse racing and football pools, but with respectable things such as the stock market and Mr. Harold Macmillan's premium bonds. It may well be that we should be rather disgusted at the extent to which games of chance have spread in our community, and that we should eschew any inclination to join any "rat race". But there is another point of view. The casting of lots, of ballots, has stood the test of time. The pages of Holy Writ, to which I sometimes refer when I seek moral guidance, abound with examples of where the casting of lots has been used to settle controversial issues. There was the occasion when Joshua cast lots to decide how the land should be distributed among the tribes of Israel. I sometimes wish that the leaders of Egypt and Israel could adopt that form of settlement today, because they do not seem able to settle matters in any other way. Then there was the case of Jonah who, as a result of the casting of lots was thrown overboard; and that seemed to end happily, ultimately. Then there was the case when Mathias was elevated into what we might call the aldermanic ranks—those of the Apostles—again as the result of the casting of lots. So the casting of lots is something which is quite common in every branch of our everyday activities and it has stood the test of time.

We are asked to-day to decide between two systems. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, has suggested that we should have a Committee of four Members. Those four Members are not to be elected, but are to be appointed. They are not to be representatives of the whole House; they are to be chosen by a select few. It seems to me that they would in due course constitute themselves into a body which would become "second-class Whips". We should be endowing ourselves with two sets of bosses—the official Whips and the auxiliary Whips. Who is to say that those two groups might not sometimes quarrel and disagree about the kind of Motions that should be put upon the Order Paper of this House? We have no guarantee that the particular Motions which the Committee of four suggested should be debated on the Floor of the House would be those which would appeal generally to Members of this House.

What will be the upshot of that? We are going to find certain noble Lords disappointed because their Motions were not accepted, and they are going to cultivate a sense of grievance, which could ultimately translate itself into a spirit of ill-will that would pervade the House, whereas at the moment we have nothing but harmony and amity. Surely a much fairer way would be to have a ballot for these Motions. It would eliminate entirely any suggestion of favouritism. It would do away with the idea that certain noble Lords are regarded as sacred cows. Under the ballot all Members would have an equal right to have their Motions brought before the House, and if they were unsuccessful in finding a place in the draw they would have nobody to blame.

It is not as though this system is untried. It has been tried in many branches of our ordinary life. In the financial sphere we find many kinds of bonds and securities which are repaid to certain holders from time to time, purely as a result of a ballot which is held. We have new issues which are overstagged, and the lucky people receiving those shares are those who are drawn by ballot. In local government elections we sometimes have a dead-heat between candidates, and the successful man is elected by the spin of a coin. And in the Mother of Parliaments, in the other place, we have perhaps the bulk of Private Members' time determined by ballot. Even in the realm of sport we have a ballot to decide which teams shall meet each other in the cup tie; we have the rival football captains tossing up to decide which one shall have the better end of the field; and in cricket we have the rival captains tossing up to see which one shall take advantage of the climatic conditions of the day. If it is good enough for cricket, I think it is a good enough principle for the whole of our English conduct. We shall be benefiting ourselves and contributing to the good will of the House if we have a scheme whereby the disappointed people are not in a position to blame anyone else. Let us have a ballot—an impersonal, fair and independent scheme. I think that would contribute very considerably to the good will of this House, which is one of its most pleasing features.

I must say one word about the Amendment suggested by my noble friend Lady White, although I believe she is not going to press it to a Division. It is a compromise: as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said, it is making the worst of both worlds—and I emphasise the worst of both worlds. I do not like compromises unless I am forced into a corner and have to accept them. Compromises are like instructing an Ulster Protestant that he must attend Mass every Sunday and then compromising by telling him that he need only go on alternate Sundays and that the intervening Sundays he can spend singing hymns for Mr. Paisley. I do not think the compromise would work. If we find that the present suggestion of a ballot does not work satisfactorily, and that it is introducing too hidebound a system, then in the next Session we can consider the suggestion of my noble friend Lady White. In the meantime, may I say that I believed in the ballot at the beginning and I shall believe in it to the end.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that we shall reject the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Perth, for the reasons very powerfully put forward by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, because this Committee of "Four Wise Men" will be appointed by whom we do not know; they will work to criteria that we do not know, and apparently there is to be no appeal by those who feel they have been unfairly treated. I believe the ballot is the fairest means of selecting the subjects to be debated. But the noble Baroness, Lady White, has proposed a compromise which has been labelled by her as "a highly desirable one" and by two noble Lords as "getting the worst of both worlds". I think that the noble Baroness, Lady White, had one good point in her objective, but not in her method of attaining it; namely, that any system we have should enable urgent matters to be debated at very short notice. I believe the ballot system could adapt itself to this end.

We are conducting an experiment now. but nevertheless we are exploring the guidelines for a system of mini-debates in this House, for which many of us have felt the need over a long period. We have four Wednesdays now put down which will accommodate eight debates. I hope these debates will be the start of a Wednesday series in the future. For that reason I want to put to the Procedure Committee this thought: if Part II becomes popular there will be many Motions put down for it; but the more Motions there are the less chance individual Members have of their own Motion being successful in a ballot. I believe that at the moment we have down nine Motions. Suppose that we allocated four Wednesdays and there were a large number of Motions, the chances of individual Members being successful would be small. Perhaps it could be so arranged that directly there were a specified number of Motions down for a particular Wednesday (and we have four Wednesdays set down) the guillotine should fall and no further Motions would be accepted for those four Wednesdays. Assuming for the moment that 16 Motions were down for four Wednesdays —that is, eight debates—every noble Lord would then have a two to one chance. If the maximum number allowed to be put down were 12, every noble Lord would have a one and a half chance. Then, when the next four Wednesdays were reserved for these mini-debates, there would be another 16 names put down with a carry-over of those who had been unsuccessful in the first period. In that way noble Lords would have a better chance in each set of four Wednesdays. If some particularly urgent matter of public interest came forward, the usual channels—the much abused usual channels, whom I as a Back-Bencher have always found to be courteous and helpful on all sides—would ask the noble Lord who had on the Order Paper one of the Motions for debate on the next Wednesday whether he would postpone it and then offer him one of the preferential positions in the carry-over for the next four Wednesdays.

The only reason I put forward this suggestion is a desire to see that the ballot is limited in numbers so that each noble Lord has a fair chance of getting a Motion brought forward, and at the same time the House has a means of debating urgent public affairs. It is for that reason that I support the ballot, and with great humility suggest for consideration the guillotine procedure on Motions on the Order Paper.

4.41 p.m.


May I intervene briefly and say that the reasons why I wish to support the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in his method of deciding who shall have the honour of introducing these small debates against the ballot are these: I do not like unnecessary change, and the basis now of finding out who has the honour to introduce a Motion for debate is that one puts one's name down on the green Order Paper and I believe that the normal or usual channels finally decide whether you shall speak or not. The alternative to that course was very cogently put by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and it seemed to be so very strange to come from a lawyer. He said: "People may object to your decision. Why not always have a ballot?" I wonder whether he would take that thought into the law courts. It must offend somebody very much when he loses a case. It would be so much simpler to say, "But I have just tossed a penny and I am afraid you are out".

All that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, is saying is that here are some short—and I hope we emphasise "short"—Back-Bench debates and would it not be wise to have a small committee to assist the usual channels? That is all this committee would do; it is not going to be the tremendous dictatorial concern that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, fears. It is to be a small committee to assist the usual channels and perhaps to be able to lower them from their Olympian heights to tell them in what ways Back-Benchers think, hope and believe. It is so reasonable and so sensible. What could be wrong with that? Although he is apparently going to vote in the right lobby, I am afraid that I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, or to vote with him because I hope and believe that this is not a symptom of the war between men and women, the war between Back-Bench and Front-Bench. I trust it is not that at all.

I hope that its utter reasonableness will enable Lord Perth's Amendment to be carried, or if it is not carried, that, second best, Lady White's Amendment will be carried, so that we have one Motion selected by each method. The one Motion which is not on the Order Paper, and which I hope will not be carried, is that of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye: it seems to be an eloquent plea for a rigged ballot, which is neither here nor there.

4.45 p.m.


I wish to support with brevity and diffidence the Procedure Committee's recommendation and oppose the noble Earl's Amendment. It is only fair to point out, in view of what my dear friend Lord Shinwell has said, that whichever way this debate goes the House is proceeding to give new advantages to the Back-Benchers by the mini-debate system which mathematically doubles the opportunities for Back-Benchers to initiate debates on topics in which they are interested. I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for the work he did in initiating this particular reform. In any case, we are taking from the usual channels the initiative of selecting topics for the mini-debates. I have from some experience a great deal of confidence in the usual channels, tempered with the natural suspicion of one who was a Back-Bencher for 15 years in the other place and is now a Back-Bencher in this place.

I am not sure that the setting up of a new Committee would be free from any of the ills that are alleged of the usual channels. There would still be the dissatisfaction of the noble Lord or Lady whose subject was not chosen for debate. If we accept the Report of the Procedure Committee there is no question of blame; nobody is to blame but God or fate. If a noble Lord's topic is not chosen by ballot for a debate, nobody's pride is hurt. It has been pointed out that there might be pressure put on the Committee of Selection; there will certainly be grumbles at whatever they do. I believe that the neatest way of tackling this is by ballot. It will not be pro-Government; it will not be pro-Opposition; it will not be pro-Cross-Bench and it will not be a pro-Front Bench or pro-Back Bench.

I hesitate to mention the other place, hut in that other place selection of the right of a Private Member to introduce a new law—quite a significant right—or to put down a Motion for a debate on a Friday is decided by ballot. Selection for four out of five of the week's adjournment debates are by ballot. Selection for Motions on various allotted half days during the Session are by ballot, and now selection for the topics and the order in which topics can be discussed on the most important Back-Benchers' day of all in the other place, debates on the Consolidated Fund, is decided also by ballot. These work very well and without complaint.

I am quite certain that if the other place tried to tackle those topics and the arranging of such debates by small committees, there would be plenty of grumbling. One cannot complain against the Almighty; one must just trust him. The Report sets out fairly both sides of the argument. It comes down—rightly I believe—in favour of the ballot. It sums up the case against the ballot as being "irrational and undiscriminating". It sums up the case for the ballot as being "fair and independent". It is that fair- ness and utter independence which commends itself to me.

4.48 p.m.


I did not take part in the previous debate on this subject so I hope that I may be allowed to speak briefly in favour of the Amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Perth. There are one or two points which seem to be misunderstood about the proposal that the noble Earl has propounded to the Committee. My noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne has said that the Committee of Four would be unrepresentative. It may well be that it would work out that way, but there is no reason why it should be—


Perhaps the noble Lord—


Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to continue. There is no reason why it should be unrepresentative. It would be possible, if it were agreed by the House, for the responsibility for nominating a representative from the Conservative side to be in the hands, through the usual channels, of the I.U.P. In the case of the Labour Party, the Labour Party Parliamentary meeting, I know, would be available to do that. The same would apply to the Liberal Party, and the same would apply to the Group over which the noble Lord, Lord Strang, is Chairman.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way to me for one moment. I would say that he has missed the point completely. I do not want to be represented by him or by any other Back-Bencher.


My Lords, I have a very easy return to that, but I am not going to make it because the noble and learned Viscount is a great controversialist, and a formidable one, and not always the most courteous.




My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord on a point of fact? Of course, the Leader, the Deputy Leader, the Chief Whip and one other member of the Front Bench of the Labour Party are at the moment elected every year.


Then, my Lords, in addition it would be possible to elect a representative to this Committee.

The point really is this. Although I understand the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, that we should introduce and carry out here in this House the same customs as they have in another place, the reason why so much of the business of private Members in another place is conducted and regulated by ballot is simply the strong competition between the Parties and also between individuals to obtain scarce Parliamentary time. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, this does not apply in this House. There is a second reason why we are quite different from the other place. It is because we have an increasing number of noble Lords who come to this House without belonging to any of the three Parties in this House but are representatives of the Cross-Benches.

We who belong to Parties talk of the facilities that are available to us to have access to the Leaders of our Parties through the usual channels, and that is perfectly true. The noble Baroness, Lady White, has said that, by bringing pressure, and charm no doubt, upon her end of the usual channels, so to speak, she can get, or could in due course get, the time she required for any Motion that she felt was important and was supported, no doubt, by other members of her Party. But the same is not true of a large number of Cross-Bench Peers. One of the problems which I, at any rate, have always thought was the main problem your Lordships' House had to face was how we could make it easier for them to take a more active part in the work of this House. It is not easy—and I know this to be true—for someone who has had no Parliamentary or House of Commons experience, who does not belong to any organised Party organisation within this House, is not identified with any political point of view, to come into this Chamber and make the contribution which his experience and abilities render quite possible and which would be of great value to your Lordships in the conduct of our business.

I have been asked by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, what were the criteria that would be used by the Committee. There is one factor in another place which has some advantage, and that is that Members there are able to associate themselves with Motions. Consideration is given to the amount of support that is given to any particular Motion as a result of the number of names that have been added to those of the original movers to show support. I have often wanted in this House to be able to identify myself with a Motion on the Order Paper. I should have thought that, so far as Cross-Benchers are concerned, as they look through the Motions they will note some that they would particularly wish to see debated. They have no "usual channels"—except the services which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strang, gives in the representations he may make—to make certain that those Motions are considered by the House at an early date. If there was a member of their own body, of the Cross-Bench Peers, who would, in my submission, rightly be made the Chairman of this small Committee, then automatically they would not only have somebody to represent them there but have somebody of influence to whom they could go and who they would realise—


Will the noble Lord forgive me?


I have already given way once to the noble Viscount.


Give way!


I was only going to ask the noble Lord this question. He is making a speech as if he were speaking for the Cross-Benchers. I wonder what authority he has for doing that. I am a Cross-Bencher and I sit with other Cross-Benchers. I do not want anyone to represent me, and I am sure that many of my colleagues who sit on these Benches feel the same way. If I want to make any representations to the usual channels I have no difficulty at all in doing it myself. The noble Lord's argument seems to suggest that the Cross-Benchers should constitute a third Party in this House; and I would think that very deplorable.


My noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne is, quite rightly, sitting on the Cross-Benches because of the high Judicial position which he holds. But he has been for a long time, and is, associated with the Conservative Party—we know that perfectly well—and he has ready access to the usual channels, which is perfectly understandable. I am not speaking for him; I am speaking to the best of my ability only for myself, because no Peer in this House has a right to speak for anybody except for himself. In speaking for myself in this matter, I am merely giving views as they appear to me, as an observer of your Lordships' House over the last ten years, as something which is of importance and of value to this House in the conduct of its business. It is not insignificant that it is the noble Earl, Lord Perth, a Cross-Bencher, who is moving this particular Amendment.

If I may turn to my original argument before I was interrupted, the ability to be able to associate oneself with a Motion, and therefore have the fact that there is support for a Motion taken into consideration by a Committee, would enable the House, through the Committee, to give proper weight to the wishes of individuals. It would also enable many who do not want to take an active part in the debate to feel that at any rate they have had an opportunity of so influencing the procedure of the House and the order of business of the House that tile subjects which they thought should be aired and debated have been aired and debated as a result to some degree—perhaps only fractional—of their own efforts. I think this is very important.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, this is a very small matter. I am sorry to find the noble Lord, who in a previous Parliament was a great reformer of your Lordships' House—at any rate an aspirant reformer— now on the side of preserving the status quo. I had hoped that we should have his support for this small change. I also hope, quite seriously, that your Lordships will not allow arguments which I do not believe are of value, such as have been put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, to influence you to prevent something which is an experiment so far as Whitsun only, and which after that we can judge again. I hope that you will be willing to try something that is new; something that is not simply a reproduction of the procedures of the House of Commons, and something which will, I think, bring at any rate some advantage to a number of very important Members of your Lordships' House on the Cross-Benches.


I beg your Lordships' pardon for intervening. I do not wish to stop anybody who wishes to speak from doing so, but I think it right to draw attention to the fact that we have some rather important other business to deal with to-day, and that we have taken up a good deal of time on what, although a very important matter, is not of earth-shaking importance. It is only an experiment. I would hope that your Lordships might feel able fairly shortly to come to a decision.

My noble friend the Leader of the House, who unfortunately cannot be here to-day, told me that, so far as he was concerned, he was quite prepared to operate any system on which your Lordships might decide. And I hope that perhaps your Lordships will so decide fairly soon.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I promise to be very brief indeed. I speak only to say that I think the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to some support from one of the very great number of members of the Procedure Committee who agreed with him. I believe I am right in saying that no other member of the Procedure Committee has spoken in this debate. As is fairly well known, I do not agree in politics with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Nevertheless, I think his argument is right. What astonishes me are some of the accusations brought against him. My noble friend Lord Alport said that he was standing for the status quo; everybody else has complained that the ballot is an innovation. We cannot have it both ways and we had better try to make up our minds which we mean. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked. "Why not have an innovation?" Well, whichever view we adopt this afternoon it will be an innovation: the Committee of Four is an innovation and the ballot is an innovation, and the question is which is the better innovation. Another correction I feel bound to make is to my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, who seemed to think that the usual channels would have something to do with this. The usual channels will be consulted on the selection of the four Back-Benchers, but it will be for the four Back-Benchers to select the subject of the debate. My noble friend only has to read the Motion on the Order Paper to see that that is true.

What I think we have to consider (I speak as a Back-Bencher and one who has always been a Back-Bencher in this House), is the position of a noble Lord who has on the Order Paper a Motion which he wishes to be debated. He believes in the importance of his subject and he wants to bring it before the House. At this point may I say how confusing it may be to bring in the experience of the House of Commons in using the ballot, either for selecting those who are going to move Motions or those who are going to introduce legislation. The ballot that we are proposing couples the Peer with his Motion, so that, whichever method we adopt, we are selecting both. Let us consider the point of view of the man who wants to have his Motion debated. At the present moment, without any of these new proposals, he can go to the Leader of the House, who we always know is accessible whichever Party is in power, or he can go to the Whip of his Party. Heaven knows to whom he goes if he is a Cross-Bencher, because the whole essence of the Cross-Benchers is that there is nobody to represent them. To have a representative Cross-Bencher is a contradiction in terms, as those who have any sense of logic will realise. To turn to these four selected Back-Benchers, my noble friend Lord Alport asked why they should not be representative. They may think they are representative but they have no claim whatsoever to represent any other Back-Bencher.

What comfort is it to a man who wants to have his Motion debated to know that it has been turned down, not by the usual channels, but by a body of four who have no claim whatsoever to represent him? I agree entirely with my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, and, if I may say so, the most cogent argument of the man with the greatest experience, the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, seems to be overwhelming.


May I beg your Lordships to consider what is on the Order Paper? There is upon the Order Paper a proposal by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, to leave out the last paragraph of the Report of the Committee on Procedure. That was the part of the Report which recommended that a decision upon the selection of these topics for debate should be made by ballot. There is in addition a totally independent Motion that a certain procedure of selection of these topics shall be adopted, but it does not follow that if the first Motion is agreed to the second one should be, or that the Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady White should be agreed to either. If the first Motion is carried and this paragraph is not accepted by the Committee, the position, as I understand it, will simply be that the arrangement of the Order Paper will continue to be as it is at present; namely, that in effect it is arranged by the usual channels. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly happy with that.

I do not want to have a matter of this kind decided by the great goddess, chance. It may be a very fine thing in football pools or premium bonds or matters of that kind, in which in fact there is no other possible method; but this is not a case in which there is no other possible method. It may be a good thing in deciding which side shall go in to bat first, or something of that kind, because it saves somebody the responsibility and the invidiousness of having to make the decision. A great many people would like to be relieved of that responsibility, but I do not want to relieve the usual channels of it. In my opinion experience has proved over many years that when people are put into that position of trust, in which the whole House confides their trust in them, they behave responsibly, sensibly and acceptably. I want to leave the matter like that. Therefore I am quite prepared to leave out this paragraph but I am not prepared to vote for anything else.


I should like to say a few words before we take the vote. There is a curious view that the usual channels and the Whips are most satisfactory but that any Committee of Back-Benchers would be quite irresponsible. I believe this to be quite untrue; but if it were true then the sooner the Back-Benchers gain some experience and responsibility in managing the House the better. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has said, it would be extremely valuable experience for them. I believe there are two objections to the course which the Committee have recommended. The first is the one put by the noble Baroness, Lady White, which cuts out one of the main purposes of the mini-debate; namely, that there may be a subject of real urgency. If we have a ballot that is right out; and, with respect to my noble friend Lord Balfour, I must tell him that I really could not follow at all his argument on that point.

The other point, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said, is that we are selecting not only the Peer but also the subject. That is completely inflexible, and if for any reason something were to happen the day before, such as a change of policy, so far as I can see there is no means of changing the subject for debate. It is for those reasons that I think the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Perth is very much better for providing for what I think is important—a balanced subject for debate. I am afraid I do not much care if a few Peers are disappointed. That is a minor matter compared with having a proper subject for debate in this House.


May I also now support the Deputy Leader of the House? I think I have reached the stage where I do not really mind what is decided. Without being too partial, may I say that this is one of the reasons why I would stick to the Report of the Procedure Committee?


Would it be in order for me to say one or two words before my Amendment is put? In the first place, I want to assure the Committee that in what I have suggested there is no thought of disrespect for the usual channels—indeed the opposite. Although

Alport, L. Garner, L. Loudoun, C.
Amory, V. Garnsworthy, L. Lyell, L.
Ardwick, L. Gore-Booth, L. Lytton, E.
Balogh, L. Hankey, L. Macleod of Borve, Bs.
Beswick, L. Hanworth, V. Morrison, L.
Birdwood, L. Hood, V. Moyle, L.
Burgh, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Perth, E. [Teller.]
Effingham, E. Lauderdale, E. Redesdale, L.
Faringdon, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Roberthall, L.

a comma may be wrong in the interpretation which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has put on my words. I am not suggesting that the usual channels should choose the Select Committee. I am suggesting—and it appears quite clearly in the Report of the Procedure Committee—that the four members chosen should decide, after consultation with the usual channels. So please let it be understood that I am in favour of working with the usual channels and that there is no disrespect to them.

My second point is this: the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said that I had mixed my criteria, as though I had funkcd it or found it too difficult. That is not the case. My criteria are quite straightforward; they arc very much the same as would be employed by the usual channels: that is to say, common sense, fairness and, above all, their duty to the House, their duty to your Lordships. And do let us remember that those people who are chosen by the Leader on the sort of method outlined by Lord Alport would only have their role to play for one year. That is my suggestion. At the end of the year their term is over and some new ones come into play. Lastly, we heard the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, making some suggestion on how the ballot could be changed. That is exactly the reason why one should use the method I have suggested. So I hope your Lordships will not only give serious attention to this matter but indeed go into the Lobby in favour of what I have suggested—that is, to insert the words, "except the last paragraph thereof."

5.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-Contents, 104.

St. Just. L. Somers, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Segal, L. Stamp, L. White, Bs.
Selkirk, E. [Teller.] Trevelyan, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Shinwell, L. Waldegrave, E. Wynne-Jones, L.
Younger of Leekie, V.

The Question is that the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House be agreed to.

House resumed; Report received.

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