HL Deb 15 June 1972 vol 331 cc1125-9

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair]

Schedule 3 [Computation of rebates and allowances]:

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 96B: Page 126, line 43, leave out ("the duty") and insert ("within the discretion").

The noble Lord said: Having had some amusement for half an hour we must now come to more serious matters. With the permission of the Committee, I should like when dealing with this Amendment to speak on Amendments Nos. 96C and 96D. Before I do so, may I say one or two words of a general nature and perhaps make a proposal to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and to the Deputy or acting Chief Whip, Lord Denham? We are confronted with a very contentious Bill. It affects a large number of people, most of whom are least able to afford these added burdens. It is also a Bill of very considerable complexity. It is clearly the duty of the Opposition to debate it and to question Ministers on it, not devoting their attention solely to the general principles, but looking at the details and, if necessary, going through the legislation line by line.

I have heard criticism about the number of Amendments to the Bill. I was reminded earlier to-day by my noble friend Lord Henderson that during the period of the first Labour Government after the War there were over 500 Amendments put down to the Town and Country Planning Bill. It is difficult in your Lordships' House when we have Bills of this nature and when we have no Ministers with direct departmental responsibility. In this case we have the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.

One of the difficulties of the Opposition so far in this Committee is that we have had to pursue Ministers in debate and by question. I have always taken the view that if it appears to us that Ministers know but, for various reasons, do not wish to answer, then it is our task to pursue the matter. If they do not know and they clearly should know, then I think no Opposition should resist the opportunity to chase the Minister. However, from our side—and I think the Committee would generally accept it—if a Minister does not know the answer to what is clearly a difficult question, then we are always ready to accept the undertaking of the Minister that he will write to the Member concerned. I think we have a duty to press the Ministers on this Bill; and, if I may, I again add my congratulations to my noble friends Lord Diamond and Lord Garnsworthy.

However, we have business difficulties. It is now mid-June, and there is still a number of major Bills in another place. I do not know when we are going to receive them. We always have a difficult time at this time of the year, but I should have thought that to-day we are faced with a situation infinitely worse than any of us can well remember. I acquit the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Lord, Lord Denham; it is not their direct responsibility. But the Government must accept the final criticism that your Lordships' House will be presented with some major Bills which it is going to be very difficult properly to examine in the time that is available. So far as this Bill is concerned. I think many of our difficulties could have been avoided if, at the outset, the Government had been a little more generous in the time made available to us for the consideration of this Bill.

I should like to make a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, as to the future progress of the Bill. As I understand it, it is the intention to sit till 10 o'clock to-night. That is certainly satisfactory from our point of view. If I may make a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—and I apologise to the Liberal Party; I have not had an opportunity to discuss these proposals, but if they have any comments perhaps they would make them afterwards—I should like to suggest that on Monday and Thursday, the two days the Government have allocated for Committee, it should be agreed that your Lordships sit until 10 or 11 o'clock, depending on the rate of progress and where we are on the Marshalled List of Amendments. I had it in mind to propose to the Government that on Monday the 26th, which they have set aside, we should seek to pace ourselves and really break the back of the Bill, so that on the Tuesday—and I believe the Government may be generous in this matter—with perhaps a three-hour period, we might then be able to complete the Bill. But I understand through the usual channels that, in order to meet my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, the Government wish to take the Criminal Justice Bill on Monday. Therefore, may I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that on Monday we should sit for three hours after taking the Criminal Justice Bill, then move on to the Housing Finance Bill, and get up about 11 o'clock, hoping that we could get about three hours' work in there. If the Liberal Party are willing to cooperate and the Government are reasonably forthcoming, we on this side of the Committee feel that we should seek to complete the Committee stage at some time on Tuesday the 27th. We may have to go a little bit late, into the early hours of the morning, but we would seek to do our best. I am making that suggestion to the Government, and if they are willing to respond I am certain the Committee would be indebted to them. Every Member would then know what is the business programme for the completion of this Bill.


I should like to respond to the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and to thank him for his assistance in this matter. He himself knows only too well what the difficulties are in arranging business, because of his experience when he was doing it himself; and we are anxious to be as reasonable as we possibly can. I would certainly confirm that we propose to sit until 10 o'clock to-night, and until 10 or 11 o'clock next Monday and Thursday. I can also confirm that the original arrangement was that we sat on Monday the 26th on this Bill, and possibly for a further three hours on the Tuesday. I also realise from what he has told me that there are difficulties about the Monday for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and I should like, if I may, to look at this through the usual channels to see whether we can somehow, by switching Monday and Tuesday, still accommodate what he wants to accomplish. But other than that, I hope that we can now go steadily and swiftly ahead with this Bill.


I am sorry that I had no notice of this proposal, but I wonder whether I may make an appeal to the official Opposition. One of the basic problems here, as I understand it, is that a number of Amendments are being tabled which have in fact been dealt with fairly fully in another place. It seems to me that there is a very grave responsibility on the Opposition not to bring forward Amendments which have been dealt with in the other place. To bring forward Amendments which have not been dealt with because of the guillotine is a different matter, but this House is a revising House, and it is a review body. It is a body which ought to provide original thought and original debates. I think the responsibility here lies very heavily on the official Opposition.


If I may say so, it is a great pity that we did not give notice to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, because he almost invariably gets these things wrong. There has in fact been a degree of sensible discussion on these matters. Certainly there have been a number of such Amendments. I congratulate at least some of the Liberals on their excellent attendance and contribution during our recent sittings on this particular matter. We are always in difficulties. A great deal depends on how the Government handle their business, but I cannot accept that this House should not pursue matters simply because they have already been dealt with, because one of the achievements of this House—and I know this happened time and again when we were in government—is in carrying Amendments so that the Commons may think again on a point; and frequently they have in fact accepted them. This was indeed a fundamental aspect of the review. I fully accept that there are grave limitations on the resources of this House, and we certainly would not wish to dwell unduly long on anything, but it is inevitable that on occasions, depending on reactions from Ministers, we should sometimes take longer than at other times we should. But we have seen this, and I hope that we have arrived at a sensible arrangement—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his support in these matters. We shall do the best we can. I am sure that we can arrange these matters sensibly here, and I hope we shall continue to do so.


While of course agreeing with my noble friend Lord Byers that we should concentrate on matters that were not adequately dealt with in another place—there are surely enough of those to keep us occupied for as long as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has suggested—Lord Shepherd has appealed to us for co-operation. I should therefore like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that we raised this matter during the course of the proceedings on Tuesday evening, when I said that we should like to be consulted in advance of these arrangements being decided. As I understand it, further proposals are now being put forward which I am hearing for the first time this afternoon. So the noble Lord, I am sorry to say, has not kept the undertaking which he gave me in the middle of Tuesday evening. Naturally, we want to do everything we possibly can to co-operate; and I think the noble Lord will agree that, although we may have made a large number of contributions, as is our right, on the Amendments brought forward on Tuesday evening, these were all very brief, and we tried our best to expedite proceedings. We shall continue to do that, but we should like to be brought into the consultations before these things are finally decided.


Perhaps I may now continue to explain the reasons why Amendments 96B, 96C, and 96D—


May I suggest to the noble Lord that it would make for a tidier debate if we had the Statement first? I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

House resumed.