HL Deb 25 October 1972 vol 335 cc2162-218

3.32 p.m.

LORD ALPORT rose to move, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government, having regard to the experience of several years past, to ensure that, in its programme for the forthcoming Session, an appropriate number of Bills is introduced into this House, and calls upon the representatives of both major Parties so to arrange matters that the House of Lords is not compelled to assume responsibility for duties proper to the House of Commons by attempting to deal, by methods and in an atmosphere uncongenial to it, with undigested masses of legislation and that this House is of opinion that its proper constitutional role cannot be carried out unless the Government and the Parties are successful in their efforts to accomplish these tasks.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, to draw attention to the relevance to this Motion of the two Motions which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has just moved, because, frankly, I was not alert enough to see it.

Your Lordships will remember that it was the custom of the late Lord Silkin, usually at the end of July, to protest against the failure of successive Governments, of both Parties, to order the business of Parliament in such a manner as to prevent your Lordships' House from having to face an avalanche of legislation during the last weeks of each Parliamentary Session. I do not pretend to be able to support my case with the wealth of experience or the distinguished record of service to this House which gave to the late Lord Silkin's views a very special authority. Nevertheless, I think I should be right in saying that if he were with us this afternoon he would be happy to use his eloquence in support of this Motion.

I must make it clear at the start that this Motion is in no way critical of my noble friend the Leader of the House or, for that matter, of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is intended to put on record and to emphasise the fact that if your Lordships are to carry out responsibly and constructively your constitutional duties in the legislative field, certain conditions are essential. In the original Motion that I put down on the Order Paper some time ago (which I have since withdrawn) I referred to the House of Lords as a revising Chamber. That has been its traditional and, many would think, its proper role. However, I do not think it is as true to-day as it has been on occasions over periods in the past because, owing to the political confrontation which occurred in the House of Commons Curing the last Session and in the Session which is now ending, your Lordships' House has been prevented, in the case of one major Bill, from being a revising Chamber, and in the case of another major Bill has been cast in the role of the principal legislative Chamber of Parliament.

The Local Government Bill is fresh in your Lordships' minds. It was a long Bill. When it 'went back to another place it went, I believe, with 600 Amendments. During the Committee stage, the Report stage and Third Reading, there were almost a thousand Amendments on the Marshalled Lists: to be precise, if my counting is correct, 987. Of these, at the Report stage alone there were 467 Amendments, of which 380 were Government Amendments. I submit, my Lords, that this is not your Lordships' House acting as a revising Chamber: this is the House of Lords operating as the major legislative Chamber of Parliament. It is my submission that the Local Government Bill should have started in this House, and not in another place—


Hear, hear!


—because it is here that the vast experience of local government in Britain which your Lordships possess could have been used to put the Bill into proper shape for detailed use in another place at a later stage. I would go further and say this: that because of the particular position of your Lordships' House the Government could have accepted Amendments here and could have made concessions to local views without losing political face, as might have been the case in the other place.

The same applies to the Criminal Justice Bill. I think it would be fair to claim that this House has far greater resource of legal experience and authority than another place. If the Criminal Justice Bill had been introduced into this House a great deal of time and energy in another place would have been saved. I think it probable that a much better Bill would have reached the Statute Book. After all, this House has the advantage of the membership of the most experienced and distinguished legal personalities of the day—not only those who are at present members of the Judiciary, such as the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, but also the most able lawyers of an older generation, such as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Gardiner and Lord Stow Hill, and of the younger generation. such as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I submit that it would have been in the interests of Parliament, of the country and also of another place that the House of Lords should have had the first opportunity of considering the Criminal Justice Bill.

During this Session there have been two other Bills of major importance: the European Communities Bill and the Housing Finance Bill. In the case of the former Bill, I submit that the other place prevented your Lordships' House from acting as a revising Chamber. I must emphasise that I know—I must use those words, "I know"—that had the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, been in charge of Government business in the circumstances in which my noble friend Lord Jellicoe found himself, he too would have resisted any attempt of this House to amend this Bill. I must say that, in my view, in the light of the situation in another place, my noble friend was entirely justified in the decision that was taken to resist Amendments. But if the European Communities Bill had been introduced into this House it could have been amended in certain respects without political repercussions, either in Parliament or in the country at large. It would have gone to the other place with the advantage of having been improved by second thoughts on behalf of the Government and also as a result of the advice of many Peers on the Cross-Benches and on both sides of this House, all of whom are well qualified to give such advice. Of course I realise that, in practice, in no circumstances could this Bill have been introduced here because of the political overtones with which it was surrounded.

The same applies to the Housing Finance Bill. Both that and the European Communities Bill were essentially political Bills, and it was right that they should be introduced into the political Chamber of Parliament and that the political struggle—I might almost say the physical struggle—should be carried out there. I recollect, and I have no doubt that many of your Lordships will also recollect, that in 1951 the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, made reference in public to the importance of harrying the Labour Government out of power. It took a great deal of effort by the noble Lord and by leading members of the Opposition to explain away that statement at the time. Nevertheless, it is legitimate that in the House of Commons the Opposition should seek by physical pressures, by trying to sap their morale, to drive the Government from power. Long debates, late nights, a sustained filibuster, a mountain of Amendments, procedural tricks—all these may be perfectly legitimate, and indeed are in the House of Commons; but they are not, I submit, appropriate to your Lordships' House.

Yet in some cases—I have no doubt that I am as guilty as anybody else—the habits of a lifetime, the sense of Party loyalty, the natural combativeness of individuals, the urge to do something effective in accordance with personal judgment, the fact that many of us are essentially political beings, have imported into the debates, both in this Session on the debates on the European Communities Bill and the Housing Finance Bill, and on other legislation in the past, factors which I submit are not appropriate to the character and responsibility of a Second Chamber. To some extent one feels that the Opposition Front Bench might perhaps have controlled the situation better; but I do not attribute blame very seriously because, thank God ! no Front Bench is entirely in control of the independent Members who normally support it; nor do I believe that it should be held responsible for circumscribing the eloquence and dedication of certain noble Lords during debates.

But I think it is right that, at the end of a long and contentious Session, we should emphasise to all concerned that if we, who frankly can enjoy our privileges without any compulsion to shoulder our responsibilities are to play our constitutional role with integrity and efficiency, certain constraints must exist in respect of the Government, the House of Commons and also our own membership with regard to the timing of Parliamentary legislation and the handling of various Bills which are debated in your Lordships' House.

I realise that the House of Commons has become and will presumably increasingly continue to be an arena in which the legislative processes are exploited for political interest of the Parties, or minorities within the Parties. It has been so in the past, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so in the future. Your Lordships will I am sure recollect that the Irish Party was the most successful in this in days gone by, and as a result of their activities during the latter part of the last century the guillotine was invented to prevent the legislative programme of the Government from being frustrated by a determined Opposition. The same problems are arising now. It means that the responsibility for ensuring that Bills reach the Statute Book clearly and accurately drafted, that small interests affected by them have their views aired (and that is most important, I submit, in a democratic community) that each Bill achieves what the public interest requires—all that responsibility will fall increasingly on the shoulders of this House.

If your Lordships are to carry out these greatly augmented responsibilities properly, two things are necessary. First, we must have adequate time in which to do our work. Secondly, we must ensure that we do it by methods and in an atmosphere calculated to enable us to do it effectively. The first means that the Government must make certain that there is a proper balance between the amount of legislation introduced into the two Houses respectively, and that both Parties must ensure that major Bills introduced into the House of Commons reach us in time for us to give them proper consideration. The second means that we must resist in this House any tendency to exploit the procedures here in a manner similar to that which has happened and is happening in the House of Commons. We must not allow this House to be turned into just another and very secondary arena of the Party struggle for political power.

In the end it was the able leadership of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and the noble Lord. Lord Shackleton, and the strong sense of Parliamentary proprietry which carried this House successfully through a very considerable test. I have one point to add in relation to that: a very heavy burden of intellectual work and physical work of attendance at your Lordships' House falls on the two Front Benches. I am quite certain that neither had the relaxation from their duties over the past three months to which they were entitled, and which would have been in the interests of the procedures of this House that they should have had. I am sure that I am not alone in being able to envisage however—under perhaps different leaderships and in different circumstances—a time when the successful overcoming of a test such as we have been able to achieve during this Session will not happen. As a result we should have to face the possibility of having to resort to the selection of Amendments which would seriously curtail the rights, freedom and independence of Members of your Lordships' House. We might have to resort to taking Committee stages of important Bills upstairs and, in desperation, we might find it necessary to introduce some form of guillotine procedure. In those circumstances, it is my firm belief that, even for an alternative form of Second Chamber, if that were to happen the value of the Second Chamber to the British Parliamentary system would be greatly diminished. I would go so far as to say that the whole edifice of Parliamentary democracy in Britain would be seriously undermined.

I have in the past troubled your Lordships with Motions dealing with the form of procedure. Some of these matters which we have discussed on previous occasions have been accepted. On some I freely confess that I think I was wrong and I have now changed my mind. On the general question of reform, which was frustrated by a combination of circumstances which I can only describe as "sinister"—or in fairness I might add dexter as well—I am sure that your Lordships are as determined as we were a year or two years ago. But this is not our problem. Our problem is to ensure that with our present composition and powers we are able to carry out our constitutional duty efficiently and in the public interest, and to perform our role as the willing legislative workhorse of the British Parliamentary system. This means flexibility and conciliation on the part of Her Majesty's Ministers in this House. It means action by the Government to ensure a balanced legislative programme in each Parliamentary Session. It means restraint and the traditional procedural good sense of all Members of this House; it means the continuance, despite outside political pressures, of the strong sense of personal independence which your Lordships enjoy.

My Lords, this Motion is simply intended to emphasise all this to the Government, to the House of Commons and to the country at large, and in consequence I hope that it will receive your Lordships' support. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government, having regard to the experience of several years past, to ensure that, in its programme for the forthcoming Session, an appropriate number of Bills is introduced into this House, and calls upon the representatives of both major Parties so to arrange matters that the House of Lords is not compelled to assume responsibility for duties proper to the House of Commons by attempting to deal, by methods and in an atmosphere uncongenial to it, with undigested masses of legislation; and that this House is of opinion that its proper constitutional role cannot be carried out unless the Government and the Parties are successful in their efforts to accomplish these tasks—(Lord Alport.)

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alport, I must first of all make an explanation and also an apology. When the noble Lord put down his Motion on the Order Paper I was very interested in it. I was disappointed to find that my noble friends Lord Shackleton and Lord Beswick had decided that they would make speeches on this Motion. I think they suspected that my general conciliatory attitude to your Lordships' House, and the Government in particular, and my friendship and experience with the noble Earl, the Government Chief Whip, would have some inhibiting factor. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Beswick is away ill and not able to be in his place; therefore at very short notice I have been asked to speak. Unfortunately at 4.30 this afternoon I have an appointment with a most attractive nurse at St. Thomas's hospital. My only regret is that her attractiveness will not in any way compensate for the unpleasantness of the treatment. Therefore if I depart before the debate is completed, and do not return, I hope that I shall have not only the sympathy but also the understanding of your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Alport, drew attention to the fact that he has spoken on procedure on quite a number of occasions. If my memory is right, he rarely commands the wide support of the House, particularly of those noble Lords who sit on his side, but we all very much admire him because he gives great thought to the problems of this House; he seeks ways and means of improving it, and, although I would not entirely agree with some parts of his speech, I do not think there is any doubt at all that the House will be with him in support of the Motion he has moved and which is now before us. I hope that the House will accept it; and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the Chief Whip will regard this as a message not just to them but to the Prime Minister of the day and future Prime Ministers and the Lord President of the day and future Lord Presidents. Lord Alport himself referred to what used to be said by my noble friend Lord Silkin. This is a matter that comes up quite frequently, but I think we should all agree that the circumstances this year are infinitely worse than on any other previous occasion.

I was looking at the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in 1967, when I had fortunately just ceased from being Chief Whip, when a large number of Amendments was brought up from the House of Commons right at the end of the Session. On that occasion they had been notified to your Lordships' House on the Monday and were being taken on the Thursday. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, no doubt with the full growling support of noble Lords opposite, referred to this as the supreme contempt of Parliament. Let us take this occasion. We had the Criminal Justice Bill yesterday. We dealt with important Amendments that had been taken in the House of Commons on Friday. There was no notification of them whatsoever to any noble Lord, either through the Press or through any other medium. The Amendments were taken at 6 o'clock last evening. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said that if he had had an opportunity to vote he would have voted against them, but of course the House would not have provided such an opportunity because it would have created certain problems at this stage. Then there was the Local Government Bill. We were taking it up to Thursday of last week. The House of Commons was confronted with some 650 Amendments. Members of Parliament did not see them until last Monday and they were taking the Bill that day. This is, I suggest, the supreme contempt of Parliament. But it is, I concede, something which previous Governments and previous Parliaments have done and condoned.

I believe we have got away with it in the past because your Lordships' House will always accept it. I am certain the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, has had the same experience as I had. When I raised the matter with the Lord President and the Legislative Committee of the Cabinet and said, "This is really impossible. You are asking too much", I was told, "Don't worry. You have always got it away in the past. You'll have no difficulty at all. Be nice to them. Smile."


It works miracles.


It works miracles, my Lords, as my noble friend says. But this means that, unless the House says, "Enough is enough", this situation will continue despite the passing of this Motion. So I hope that the noble Earl will take it from me that it is the spirit of your Lordships' House that we have now had enough and we do not intend to be treated in this matter in the same way again. We recognise that there may need to be exceptions when emergency legislation has to be dealt with—that is fully understandable—but we think that Governments now should so order their business that both Houses of Parliament have an adequate opportunity of considering the legislation before them.

The Motion falls into two parts. First it refers to the Leaders of the political Parties. Quite clearly, from what Lord Alport said, he had in mind the Leaders in the House of Commons. Of course, there is a good deal of consultation already. It would be wrong to think of the major political Parties as in continual political uproar. There is, as I say, a good deal of consultation, a good deal of "give and take", but sooner or later a political issue arises and in Opposition (I think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, himself approves of this) there are tactics of delay which are perfectly justifiable. Therefore it is difficult to expect a Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons to give up the one sanction that is in his hands.

So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, perhaps there is even more consultation and agreement on business. In fact, unless there was I do not think your Lordships' House could work. But the noble Lord kept on referring to the Housing Finance Bill and he appeared to disapprove of what the Opposition did in dealing with it. There was a prolonged Committee stage and a fairly short Report stage. The noble Lord was saying that the Opposition should not retain the only sanction which the Labour Opposition has of putting pressure on the Government. I well remember sitting on the Benches opposite taking controversial legislation. I remember having responsibility for the Transport Bill. It was not liked by noble Lords opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was leading for them. He never needed to have a long, protracted Committee stage to put pressure upon the Labour Government. He could submit each day three or four Amendments—not too many so as to create a difficulty between the two Houses, but three or four—which would give satisfaction to his own colleagues and the House, to another place and in the country. All he needed to do was to say to his noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn or the noble Lord, Lord Denham, "May I have 100 'boys and girls' in the House between half-past three in the afternoon and half-past eight in the evening. We can get the four Amendments passed. The Labour Party can do nothing about it." That is what happens to-day. Yet the noble Lord is asking the Labour Opposition to give up the one sanction it has; the one element of pressure which it can place upon the Conservative Government.

May I say to Lord Alport, with regard to the Housing Finance Bill, that the Committee stage could have been shorter if the Government had been a little more willing in the time they were prepared to give for Committee: there is no doubt at all about it. But I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that the number of substantial Amendments we got on Report were a consequence of what we did on Committee and the realisation by the Government that, unless they were prepared to make concessions where a strong case had been made, they could be faced with the same protracted debate both on Report and on Third Reading. I regard that as a legitimate use of one's debating power and skill in furthering the interests not just of one Party but of what one thinks are our national interests. So I believe that what has been suggested is wrong and is not the way to deal with the matter. Nor do I believe that this is the basic problem that confronts your Lordships' House. As to the time that was taken on the Housing Finance Bill, if we had taken less the Government would have been embarrassed because they had no business to put in its place: the other business was stuck in the House of Commons.

I suggest that one point the Government will have to bear in mind is this—and I hope they will overcome it in terms of getting legislation into this House. It is no good saying, "We will have five or ten Bills." What really counts is the quality of the Bills. I do not think there is any disagreement on that point. We have to overcome the Minister's natural desire to introduce his own legislation in the House of Commons, and I think this is going to be a real problem, one that will demand a very strong Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council to ensure that Bills that ought to be introduced in this House are taken here, irrespective of the wishes of the Minister of the Department concerned.

Secondly, I have no doubt at all that Lord Presidents of Council will need to be much more savage with Ministers in the drafting of legislation. One of the problems, I think, is that legislation enters either the House of Commons or the House of Lords far too late in the Session because, for various reasons, the legislation has not been properly drafted. But even if that problem is dealt with I do not think we shall be over the basic difficulty, and I suspect that the only way in which this can be overcome is if the Government one day will change the financial year so that the Finance Bill can be taken at a different period of the year. We all know that the House of Commons is geared to the Finance Bill, and one of the problems that I think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, does not quite appreciate is that even if we have legislation introduced in this House we shall need to have it very early in the Session. We shall probably have to make great haste with it because it will be needed in the House of Commons before the proceedings on the Finance Bill are started. So the matter is not quite so simple that it is enough to say that the Government must get more legislation introduced in this House. It is not only a question of striking the right balance in the quality of the legislation. It is, too, for the House of Commons to look at some of its rules and regulations, particularly in the timing of the Finance Bill. But these are matters which are clearly for the House of Commons.

One thing must be said here. It is all right for a Conservative Government, with its large majority in this House, but if a Labour Government were to introduce major legislation here there would have to be a firm understanding that your Lordships' House would not throw out that Bill at Second Reading or at Third Reading. There would have to be an understanding that if a Government were to introduce major legislation first into your Lordships' House they could not deny the House of Commons the opportunity of considering it. Therefore, if I may say so, this would need a major change in outlook by noble Lords opposite.

My Lords, I have dealt with the problem as I see it and, frankly, there is only one suggestion that I can make. It seems to me that the basic problem arises from the fact that at present legislation must die at the end of each Session. I have no doubt at all that this is a wise provision, it would clearly not be right that legislation should be going through Parliament over many months, perhaps stretching into years. This would be all wrong. But, equally, I think it wrong that legislation—important legislation—can enter Parliament in May, and still be expected to be passed by the end of July or in October, when similar legislation could or should have been introduced in the previous November but was not.

I wonder therefore whether it would be possible for Parliament to adopt a system, which in some respects would be rather like a guillotine, under which there would be a certain period in which legislation should be passed by Parliament, so that irrespective of when it was introduced into Parliament it would have its passage and would not die with the commencement of a new Session. How long such a period should be I would not like to hazard a guess. One might have a degree of flexibility according to the number of clauses or the number of pages in the Bill; or it might be a question which could be agreed by the major political Parties in the House of Commons apportioning the proper time in both Houses. I myself do not see any other way, unless there are these changes in the House of Commons, of avoiding the present very unsatisfactory situation in which your Lordships' House is called upon to take major legislation at the end of the Session when it is quite unable to handle it, and also to send legislation back to the House of Commons, for consideration, under proper conditions, of what your Lordships' House may have decided to be right and proper in advising them through Amendments.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has rendered a notable service to your Lordships' House in moving this Motion, but I am firmly of the view that by itself it is likely to have no more effect than the 13-odd speeches that were made by the late Lord Silkin. In my view, there is only one solution, and that is for your Lordships' House to say, "Enough is enough; we will not do it." There was an occasion when your Lordships' House did such a thing. It was one of the most salutary occasions, and I am sorry that the present Government apparently do not remember it. Perhaps they should be reminded of the occasion when the late Lord Mills rose from the Benches opposite to introduce the Report stage of the Pipelines Bill and said to your Lordships' House, "I am very sorry, but during the last nine days between Committee and Report it has not been possible for the Government to draft the Amendments that they had agreed they would make at the Report stage." On that occasion the late Lord Silkin rose up in genuine wrath and made yet another of his speeches. On this occasion, however, he was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who said that what the Government were doing was utterly contemptible. The matter was taken to a Division. The only people who voted for the Government on that occasion were the Front Bench themselves; the rest of us went into the other Division Lobby. We all went home; and we took the Report stage 10 days later, with the Amendments that Lord Mills had agreed to produce. That was a salutary lesson which I think has now been forgotten, and I hope the Government will take this as a genuine warning that your Lordships' House wishes to perform a real function, both for Parliament and for the country. It requires the time and the conditions for doing that duty, and if the Government will not find it in the case of a particular piece of legislation, then your Lordships' House will say, "You will have to bring it back another day." My Lords, I support the Motion.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, withdraws from the Chamber I am sure it would be right that I should express the hope of every one of us here present that the treatment he is going to receive at half-past four will not only be efficacious but equally agreeable in the circumstances.

I should like to express my personal gratitude, as I am sure many of your Lordships will, to my noble friend Lord Alport for introducing this Motion and the debate this afternoon. Not only do I agree with almost everything that he has said but I think it is extremely timely, and I am a little more hopeful than the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that perhaps as a result of this debate action in the counter-direction which is so much needed may come up over the horizon and may be taken before very long.

I am far from being an expert on constitutional or Parliamentary procedure. In fact, during the 15 years I was in another place I spent the whole time in a state of continuous confusion and perplexity. As only a 12 year old Member of this House, I am proud of the House to which I now have the honour to belong, of its composition, traditions and functions in general and the way in which it sets out to carry out those functions. A decade or more ago one heard that this Chamber was in danger of dying on its feet. To-day it flourishes, and in my view is not unpopular with the nation at large. Our level of attendance is generally satisfactory and we hold responsible, constructive and well-informed debates. I do not know whether in Iolanthe Gilbert would revise his description of our role—that we do nothing in particular. In my view that may require revision because we do our work very well. There are, however, a few improvements which could perhaps be made hare and there.

One reason why this House is working as well as it does at present is that noble Lords, most of them extremely busy people, feel that it is worth while giving their time to come here. I might in passing—I hope that does not sound in any way derogatory—pay tribute to the wisdom and patience with which our deliberations are guided by the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and the usual channels. I have enormous respect for the usual channels. Conducted through them our business is borne forward with inevitability and quiet tranquility, like the tranquil murmur of a gentle stream. No noisy and tempestuous sounds are inaudible to us; on occasions the most we hear is a sort of gentle gurgle. Where these arguments take place I have never known. I hope that when I arrive in the next world I shall find a beneficent agency of the kind that has been established here.

We have been highly tried in the past two Sessions. We have had important, contentious, lengthy and complicated Bills thrust upon us, as noble Lords have said, too late in the Session to do justice to them. If, as I believe, revision and amendment is an important part of our work, then we have not been given a fair chance to carry out that task well. I hope that we shall make it clear to those who are responsible for the Parliamentary programme that unless we receive Bills in time to do them justice we cannot tackle them at all that Session. I am not saying that we should down tools without warning; I suppose that some sort of cooling-off period would be required before drastic action were taken. A question which arose when I was discussing this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, was the idea that many of these difficulties would disappear if Public Bills could be carried over from one Parliamentary Session to another. I hasten to say that I have not thought that one out. There may be appalling objections to the idea and if the Whips were present I think I may have seen them turn pale at the mere suggestion of this possibility.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that if more Bills could be started in this House, that would unquestionably relieve the pressure in the second half of the Session. This obviously refers to those Bills which have no overriding issue of Party political importance, and there are many Bills of that kind. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to that pathetic notion Ministers have so often in the other place that the Bill which they intend to introduce will be popular. They often receive a shock later. They are sometimes under the delusion of wanting the honour of introducing a Bill, later wishing that someone else had had that particular role.

I would say with the greatest respect to both Front Benches that if they want this House to continue to feel a sense of responsibility, as I am sure they do, they must ensure that we have the opportunity to exercise those responsible functions well. I am certain that both Front Benches want that and will do everything they possibly can to see that we can proceed in that way. This House must never be regarded by anyone as a rubber-stamping agency. I am not shooting at Ministers of either Party in this House when I say that, because invariably we are treated with the greatest courtesy and patience. Senior Ministers in another place must get accustomed to the inconvenience of having their proposals amended here and they must not feel too hurt or surprised when that happens. I am not referring backwardly, as it were, to the European Communities Bill, because for reasons I gave on Third Reading I did not feel that the kind of Amendments which were moved would have been appropriate to the objects of that Bill: but I suppose that we are likely in future to be confronted with many long and complicated Bills like the Local Government Bill, with which we have just dealt. In that sort of case Ministers must be prepared for not only trivial or tiny improving Amendments but for quite substantial Amendments to be introduced into this House, passed in some cases and sent back to the other place, though I do not believe that we should go so far as passing Amendments which would wreck the object of the Bill itself.

I wish to comment on our discussions of Bills at various stages in this House. I feel sure that some procedure will have to be adopted for controlling our discussions during the various stages. "Regulating" may perhaps be a better word than "controlling" in this context. No one who participated in the passage of the Local Government Bill or the Industrial Relations Bill can have failed to recognise the complications that can arise as a result of the rather loose conventional procedure which in fact permits a great deal of repetition. Committee stage discussions are repeated on Report, and are even in danger of overflowing into the Third Reading debate. In my humble opinion it is too easy on Report to table Amendments which in some cases can be identical to those which have been debated and negatived in Committee. One illustration of this, to which reference has been made, was the Local Government Bill. There are cases where the flexibility of our arrangements has perhaps been a little exploited. That occurred when the Government tabled 11 pages of Amendments. They may have been issued on the Friday, but they did not reach us until the Monday and they had to be debated on the Tuesday. Those Amendments could not be described as essential to the Bill, though I accept that in the view of the Government they were desirable.

We certainly must agree to some tightening up of our procedure if we are to use the limited time at our disposal to the best advantage. Therefore, I have two suggestions only to make, and both fall into the same category. The first involves action outside our own control, and the other action within our own control. They are really to warn the powers-that-be that we must be more reasonably treated if we are to give of our best in the future—and by the "powers-that-be", again I am not referring to one Government or another, but to Governments generally in the future. The other suggestion is that our own procedure must be tightened up, even at the price of discarding some of our very agreeable conventional freedoms. I am convinced that this Chamber has an essential and invaluable part to play in our Parliamentary constitution. We must not make ourselves just a pale and far less powerful replica of the other place. We are a different Chamber, different in composition and quite different in role, and the desire of all of us is perfectly single-minded; namely, that our arrangements should be such as to enable us to play that role as effectively as possible.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a pleasure to participate in a debate with or even just to listen to a speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. The wisdom and the advice which he brings to the House, sprinkled with that quiet wit, is always a great delight to us. There are parts of his speech with which I agree wholeheartedly and other parts with which I agree not quite so much. I have some doubts about the final part with regard to interference with the procedure of this House. I am not one of those who feel that we should get nearer and nearer to the House of Commons in procedure. The looseness of our procedure perhaps has some advantages.

I am one of those who are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for once more bringing the question of the procedure of the House before us. He has shown, time and time again, his regard for these matters, and has demonstrated an interest in procedure in Parliament as a whole in a way which is rather higher than the average, if I may say so. It may well be that I am on my feet now, speaking on his Motion, which I appreciate, because we are both coloured with our experience in the House as Deputy Speakers of the House and Deputy Chairmen of Committees. It may well be that it comes home to those of us who have the privilege of occupying those positions that during the life of a Session there are periods when greater pressure is brought upon is. That probably came to light more than ever in these last two months, when the Lord Chairman of Committees in particular had to make special appeals to those who occupy these positions. It may well be that that feeling, that experience, both by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and by myself, colour what we have to say and the views that we want to express.

I begin by saying that I have a full realisation of the limited position that this House occupies in the whole of the mechanics of Parliament. Rightly, we have our limitations. In effect, we are representing nobody. Therefore we have no right whatever to the powers of Members in another place. They are representatives—not delegates, but representatives—of large numbers of people and they have the viewpoint of those people to express. Perhaps it is advantageous that we have nobody looking over our shoulders and from time to time we can speak very independently indeed, which of course we do. It is right, therefore, that there should be some limitation.

It has been suggested constantly that this is one of the greatest forums in the country. We might take pride and be immodest and agree with that suggestion. Lord Alport himself has remarked this afternoon on what a marvellous cross-section of people occupy these Benches, with their experience and their knowledge of every given subject. My Lords, I remember very well indeed when I sat opposite, very early in my life in this House, deciding to speak on a Criminal Justice Bill, or something of that sort, relying on my 30 years of experience as a magistrate and thinking that I knew all about it. I had got into full flood when my eyes dropped over there and I saw four or five Lords of Appeal and past Judges. I bit my nails and wondered what I was doing on my feet. But there it is; this is the cross-section, this is the knowledge, this is the experience of this House; therefore it has a right to claim that it is certainly one of the greatest forums in the world.

But again, it has been suggested that we are a revising, an amending, Chamber and I am not satisfied with those two functions. I want us to go further than that and I believe we could assist the total Parliamentary procedure very much more than we do at the present time. At the same time we could avoid what I regard as the almost indecent rush that we have had at the end of this Session, of legislation and matters that we could not discuss as fully as they deserved. In passing, may I say to the Government that one of the questions that has bothered me about the procedure of the House during these last few weeks is why on earth the Session could not have run on to the end of the year. The Queen could have opened Parliament early in January just as well as early in November, and instead of that indecent haste to get certain legislation on the Statute Book in the last few weeks we could have gone through it in a more leisurely fashion. It would have been to the benefit and to the credit of Parliament if we had considered those two great pieces of legislation, the E.E.C. Bill and the Local Government Bill, with more time and with greater care. I do not see anything sacrosanct in the Session's winding up in October and commencing again in November. I suppose that next Tuesday we shall learn what the Government's programme is for the next Session. Does the fact that we have to finish this Session now indicate that we have a very full programme indeed for the Session which is coming, so that we could not possibly have deferred some of the considerations?

But let us look a little more closely at what has been happening. I have done a bit of research and that is why I am more in favour of the opening words of Lord Alport's Motion than of the remainder. I would have had a full stop at the end of the first sentence, or thereabouts, on the question of having more Bills started in this House. In the 1969–70 Session, 12 Bills started in this House against 30 in the Commons. In 1970–71, 13 started in this House against 53 in the House of Commons. In 1971–72, the present Session, 14 Bills started in this House against 36 Bills in the other place. That does not sound too bad. It looks as if there is a reasonable number. However, without saying anything derogatory about the kind of Bill that has started here, may I remind your Lordships what those 13 or 14 were: Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions); Companies (Floating Charges) (Scotland); Administration of Justice (Scotland); Childrens Bill—a very tiny Bill indeed, an Amending Bill; Field Monuments; the Island of Rockall (a little more important perhaps); Museums and Galleries; Maintenance Orders Enforcement; National Health (Scotland); Sierra Leone Independence; Town and Country (Amendment)—this was not a very big Bill, indeed, it was quite small; Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles)—that aroused some interest in your Lordships' House; and then (because I can never remember the right name) the Ceylon Republic Bill. That is the type of Bill that was offered to this House, and I do not think it is very complimentary to us that it was just that list that the Government thought fit to put before us for the purpose of starting the legislation.

May I go a little more into the figures, but first say that if more important Bills had started in this House early this Session we should have saved a great deal of trouble in the back end. This Session we have had 218 hours in Committee on the Floor of the House; 187 of those hours have been between Whit-sun and this week—a very big proportion, and it shows that we could have done much more useful work earlier in the Session instead of being compelled to have it at the back end. This House has sat longer between August and October than in any year in living memory. It is safe to say that if we had had, say, ten more Bills starting in your Lordships' House, we could have had a number of them completed before Whitsun, and it would have been a great advantage to. Parliament as a whole. There has been some sort of tradition—Lord Alport referred to it—that Bills that have a legal aspect should start in this House.

Therefore it was a great surprise to me, and almost a disappointment, to find that the Criminal Justice Bill started in the House of Commons and we got it back from them.

I do not want to speak for too long. We are discussing a very important matter. I think it is something we can reasonably ask the Government seriously to consider. So far as I am concerned—and I think I am with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in this, and in fact my noble friend Lord Amory—our plea in the main is that we should stagger the work of this House while assisting in the dual programme of the two Houses. Therefore, as I say, I am asking for close consideration on the part of the Government so far as this Motion is concerned, and it would appear that there is a great deal of sympathy in your Lordships' House for this point of view. I finish by saying that it is not generally realised outside Parliament that both hereditary Peers and Life Peers alike just want to serve the nation.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support wholeheartedly the Motion introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I shall speak shortly but sharply; no smiles, to use Lord Shepherd's phrase, especially for Her Majesty's Government. It is of course the prime function of the House of Lords to act as a revising Chamber, though personally for me it has far more important duties. I think of its powers of initiation. But under the present Government your Lordships' House has been treated with the courtesies normally reserved for the wastepaper basket. We are not a wastepaper basket. We are—and Her Majesty's Government would do well to remember this—the Upper House of Parliament, a legislative body, not an assembly of senior civil servants who, after the Ministerial communiqué, are left to iron out the details, to sweep up the bits and pieces. To change the metaphor, we are not Hoovers to be switched on and off; and we are—or at any rate I am—tired of the Government's treating us as a place which, because of its inbuilt Tory majority, can safely be taken for granted. Who do they think we are?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? I know the noble Earl very well, and when he asks, "Who do they think we are?", my reply is that I know who he is and who the House is. I feel that the tone of his remarks ill becomes the spirit of this debate, and I should have thought it would be very evident, if he had heard my statements on the workings of this House, that it is very far from my intention as Leader of the House that this House should be treated as a rubber stamp: And this is rather the burden of his remarks, as I detect it, from the tone in which he has started.


My Lords, I accept the noble Earl's rebuke, and if he wishes to suggest to your Lordships that I be no longer heard I shall be glad to have your Lordships' ruling. May I continue?

Take the Industrial Relations Act, on which I propose to concentrate. I personally was sick and tired of coming to the Lords time and time again after a day's work only to find myself on Clause 31, paragraph 7, subsection (2) of the Industrial Relations Bill. During that Bill's passage through this House more time was devoted to it on the Floor of the House than on any other Bill since the war, and probably since the beginning of the century. It was in our House for 75 days, and its consideration occupied 236 Peer-hours. In the Commons, it ocupied 180 Commons hours. But they, of course, had more important things to get on with. In this place there were 138 Divisions of which—surprise, surprise—all 138 were won by the Government. At the Committee stage, 182 Amendments were accepted; 157 from the Government, 12 from the Opposition. On Report, 169 were accepted: 137 from the Government, 28 from the Opposition. Here I should like to take off my hat to Her Majesty's Opposition, especially the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, whose passing we all regret. They fought and argued point after point, as was their duty, and they successfully introduced 40 Amendments. They fought what was for them a good fight and I, for one, respect them for their endeavours, although on principle I must confess that I am in favour of the Act.

My Lords, I am proud to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I am proud to have the power to be able to suggest to Parliament that some things need to be changed. I am not here to be a stooge, any Government's stooge. In this past Session—I say this with great respect to the noble Earl, who I know, will again rebuke me—the Government have used this House to force through legislation which, badly and loosely conceived, has brought the law into disrespect. With their bulldozing tactics the Government have also turned this House, if I may say so, into a cypher. My Lords, we are no cypher; we are no dump heap, no midden. Let the Government, if they so wish, destroy us altogether, or, if it is not convenient to destroy us, let them at least treat us with the courtesy to which we are entitled.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am one of those who is grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Alport, for having put this Motion on the Order Paper. His speech contained, as some other noble Lords' speeches have contained, a catalogue of the measures which have caused us so much trouble, and I do not propose to add to that catalogue. But like my noble friend Lord Amory, I regard the Motion as timely, giving to the House as it does an opportunity to discuss this very important problem at the tag-end of a Session during which the pressure of business has been quite unreasonably onerous. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was correct when he said that there has never been a Session like it before.

Some blame has been laid upon the Government and their planning has been criticised. But "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley". For there is another side to the medal, which was touched upon by my noble friend Lord Alport, when one recalls that the Opposition have not only opposed but, in many respects, have endeavoured to frustrate the passage of a number of measures. That the ferocity of this obstruction—"the tactics of delay", as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, described it—should have been underestimated may indeed have been a miscalculation and contributed to the lateness of the presentation of business to this House. However, the fact is that we have been involved in a quiet political revolution, and one can comprehend the dismay among those who have seen the established form of some of their treasured beliefs torn assunder. But other factors, such as the measures arising out of the troubles of Northern Ireland, have contributed to the logjam in a way that could not have been foreseen. Be that as it may, I go all the way with my noble friend Lord Alport in the second part of his Motion. This underlines the declaration of intent made from the Despatch Box some time ago by my noble friend the Leader of the House.

The problem calls for urgent and painstaking examination—I am sure that that is appreciated—because it has a bearing on the functions of this Chamber, as a number of noble Lords have explained. This House should not be compelled to face the sort of procedures such as those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as having taken place over, I think it was, the Housing Finance Bill. I agree with the noble Lord in his suggestion as to one way in which this situation might be avoided—namely, that Government legislation should not die with the Session—and also with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, when he inquired why the Session could not have been extended. Of course I know that my noble friend the Leader of the House will tell us that careful consideration is being given to all these matters, and I am confident that the Opposition here will be more than willing to co-operate, especially because of the average age of noble Lords opposite arising from the inevitable high percentage to Life Peers among their numbers.

In calling, as the Motion does, upon the representatives of both major Parties so to arrange matters that this House, is not compelled to assume responsibility for duties proper to the House of Commons …". I am inevitably led to some thoughts on the composition of the House, but of course we are not discussing that. However, it is aposite to appreciate that the effects of the Life Peerage Act 1958 and the Peerage Act 1963 have now established the pattern with which we are concerned.

In thinking over the various aspects of the noble Lord's Motion, it has occurred to me that the following sample might have a bearing on the general consideration of the subject. It is 14 years, almost to the day, since I took my seat with the first group of Life Peers: ten Barons and four Baronesses. Five have died; one is abroad doing a stint in Newfoundland; two take little part in the business of the House for one good reason or another. Of the remaining six, three sat in the House of Commons, and these, together with my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, can be said to have been conditioned by their previous experience of the rigours of the other place. But even they must have felt the strain of what we have been through—despite our devotion to Parliament. So much for my sample.

We all want to make this House work, and work well, but when my noble friend Lord Alport said that many of us are essentially political animals—I think those were his words—it is fair to say that many of us are not, as the noble Lord, Lord Royle, implied. It also worries me that the pressures—the long debates and late nights—of the last year or so may have driven some more recent Life Peers, particularly those still bearing heavy responsibilities in industrial, academic or other onerous affairs, to eschew taking much part in our proceedings (a part which might have been very valuable), except as "Lobby fodder". Further, if these pressures were to continue, they may well impair the willingness of suitable candidates—unless they be from the House of Commons—to undertake the unenforcible obligation presented by an invitation to accept a Life Peerage. For all these reasons, it is imperative that something be done to ease these pressures.

I have already said that we are not discussing the composition of the House, though I confess that yesterday I re-read some of the speeches made in 1957 and 1958 in the debates in this Chamber on the Life Peerages Act. Incidentally, I noticed that the noble Earl the Leader of the House took the Oath on the first day of the debate on Second Reading. There were several references in these speeches to the need to see how, with the passage of time, the Act would work. Of course the Peerage Act 1963, as I have already said, was a natural corollary, although it increased the number of hereditary peerages—in my view not a bad thing!

Finally, I am not prepared to go all the way with the first part of my noble friend's Motion that, an appropriate number of Bills is introduced into this House …". Now that the revolution which we have been going through has taken shape, I believe that we should express the hope that the Government will strive to reduce the overall volume of legislation which they present to Parliament. We shall know next Tuesday from the gracious Speech what we may expect next Session. Whatever is proposed, let the limit of the Bills originating in this House be set not by number but by confining such to Bills, if any, which are appropriate. In conclusion, I doubt a little the wisdom of some of my noble friend's suggestions as to the type of Bills that should originate in this House. Technical Bills, yes. But these, if they are to be introduced in this House, could well be taken upstairs. With these remarks, my Lords, in general terms I support my noble friend's Motion.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I have had the pleasure of following the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, a number of times, and it is a pleasure this afternoon to be able to agree with most of what he said. I do not want to be in any way Party political; I think that the atmosphere which we have created is worth while. But I want to make an apology to the House. If noble Lords see me disappear as soon as I have made my speech, it will not be meant as any discourtesy to the House. The reason is that I had the privilege of leading a delegation, with the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, to the South Pacific and I am due at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association where the Prime Minister of Tonga and Samoa is present. Being a Matai in Samoa myself, I thought I ought to pay him the courtesy of trying to get there. But I promise that I shall be back for the winding-up speeches. I regret very much having to leave, but I am between two fires. I will also try to be brief.

I listened with interest to the wise and instructive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. It is not my desire to summarise it, because that would be pompous and unnecessary, since other noble Lords are able to make a précis as well as I can, if not better. But I want to draw attention to the outstanding fact that by putting down his Motion at this period in the Parliamentary year the noble Lord has once again given great service to the Houses of Parliament. I will leave it at that, instead of going into an analysis in depth of that speech. But I want to make a few points of my own.

I am young blood in this House but, probably like most Life Peers, I have spent over 45 years in practical politics, and I make no apology for that. I have also seen businessmen and tycoons of industry who often like to make malevolent remarks about statesmen and politicians. But I assure your Lordships, having sat at boardroom tables and watched tycoons discussing their business after a few double whiskies and good luncheons, that the average Minister (and I myself had the privilege of being a Minister) and politician looking after his constituency normally does more work in two hours than a business tycoon does in a whole day. It is time we got rid of this canard that politicians and statesmen, of whatever Party, are there just for the fun of the game and not for service. The Press gets a malevolent pleasure out of drawing cartoons about the apparent laziness of people in various parts of the House None of this helps to build up the Constitution of this country, which has grown out of a thousand years of trial and error, and the Fourth Estate, by actions like this, is not helping to build up the democratic system which we have developed so pragmatically but so efficiently. The gulf between Parliament and people (this is my impression, speaking as somebody who gets around) is widening, and the gulf will get wider because of the way this House has been treated.

Being a Celt, I sometimes incline to feel in depth and the House may think that I say what I have to say with a little ferocious ruddiness. But that does not mean that I do not respect the institution in which I have the privilege to speak. But through this trial of television, and through these instantaneous potted reports, the public no longer seem able to stand the reports of the old-fashioned Parliamentary reporter. Because of these potted reports, the wrong impression of Parliament is often given. I shall not abuse the privilege of this House by mentioning some of the so-called intellectual journalists, because that would be unfair. But I could mention some who get great pleasure from making caricatures in writing of certain politicians, of all Parties. Those of us who have been in politics for a long time meet these people who ooze intellectuality but have no wisdom whatsoever so far as the country is concerned. The Times, in particular, has a bunch of boys who have that particular mis-talent in journalism.

The tendency is for intellectuals to say that things are above politics. It has been said (it has occasionally been said in this House, by speakers on both sides when somebody has been feeling rather pompous): "Let us take education out of politics"; or "Let us take agriculture out of politics"—perhaps I ought not to say of whom I am speaking; or, "Let us take defence out of politics", or "Let us take nationalised industries out of politics". If that happens, there will be nothing at all left in politics. As has been said, if we are not careful we in this House shall be treated as a wastepaper basket and left with inconsequential matters; we shall be pushed and cast aside. After my short period in this House, I deprecate that the majesty (I use the word deliberately, and mean it) and ability of this House is not given an opportunity to serve the country in the way it could, because of the hotchpotch of rapid legislation that is grinding through this House. We are not using the talent that exists in this House and that has sometimes kept me rooted to my seat in a debate about a subject of which I know nothing, because what has been said has been simple and explanatory, worth while and worth listening to. Speed is not efficiency, and there is no need for this rush. The effort to keep to timetables is getting out of control, and it is damaging the British Parliamentary system.

I will not repeat the remarks that have been made about the Industrial Relations Bill or about the Local Government Bill—and I have heard all of the speeches so far, except when I had to pop out for a moment to telephone. But what is happening is unhealthy. What is also very unhealthy, and I will mention it only en passant, is the unhealthy growth of legislation by reference. I was on the Statutory Instruments Committee for about 13 years and I used to enjoy the and business of tracing references to other legislation. One of the tricks of speedy legislation is to have delegated legislation, but it is unhealthy and is something which this House should point out, should try to simplify and should deprecate.

What has been happening all tends to create a sense of frustration, a cold remoteness and a strangeness in the minds of men and women who feel lost in the speed and materialism of our modern ultra-acquisitive society. They feel that they are in a miasma of legislation and in a political network which it is impossible to break through—and the Ombudsman has done nothing to help. One of the places where philosophical and other speeches can be made, without the bitter political edge which we sometimes introduce, is this House; but it is not getting the opportunity to have them because we are being used wrongly.

Never in living memory has the Parliamentary machine been pushed so near to breaking point. May I say that it is not only what it does to the country that I am concerned with; it is what it does to the servants of the House. That is why, paying a tribute to the Leader of the House, I was delighted that when we finished the other day, after the past terrific Session, the Government and the Leader of the House took the initiative in giving the party downstairs to the servants of the House. It may have been a new precedent, but it was done because on both sides of the House, over and above Party politics, we realised that the machine had been pressed almost to breaking point. I hope that never again shall we see that happen. If this House because of the demand for speediness, loses the value of its experience in debate, then it will increase the subservience of Parliament to the Executive. I sincerely believe that to be true.

I will not repeat the remarks of my noble friend Lord Shepherd, but we should not have Bills thrust upon us at the end of May, and at periods like that, because we thereby lose the will to exert the power of Parliament over the Executive, since time is not on our side. I had a period of working right in the centre of the corridors of power, at No. 10, and for a short while as a junior Minister in the Ministry of Pensions, and I regret that the scope and depth of Ministers' powers are increasing. I am not concerned about whether they are increasing because of the personal dynamism of the Minister, or because the Minister may be weak—it varies—and has behind him very powerful, well-informed and (let us make no fun of civil servants) able men and women in the Civil Service. But their power is increasing, and Parliament is losing control—and here the Fourth Estate is not helping us.

Secondly, there is the complexity of much of the legislation of to-day. It has become so technical that more time is needed to consider it. To-day, we have the untrodden paths of the relationship between Parliament and the European Economic Community. I will not go into the various arguments, pro or contra, as to the relationship between the European Economic Community and the House of Lords, but there is going to be a mass of work on that to protect, constructively, many of the old freedoms we have built up—we can do it, I believe. I propose to cut out the next part of my speech because of the time factor. Finally, I would say that, because Parliamentary power has been and is being eroded, I think that we in this Chamber, without claiming to be geniuses, should take note of the noble Lord's Motion to-day, and that all of us, as servants of the people, whether we are hereditary Peers or Life Peers, or whether we are ex-Members of the House of Commons or what-not, should at least support the general feeling behind it.

It is a long cry to Palmerston's days and the Balfourian Parliament, but I thought I should look up how this old place used to work—and this is my final quote. I have spoken now for about 12 minutes, and I am sorry. The Balfourian Parliament1900–1905 says: There is a vulgar notion, for which Mr. Chamberlain is not altogether irresponsible, that the House of Lords is a hive of political drones who toil not neither do they spin". That cannot be said of us these last few months, my Lords. It is assumed that noble Lords appear in twos and threes at four o'clock in the afternoon to watch with insatiable admiration the spectacle of the Lord Chancellor, accompanied by his Purse Bearer, escorted by Black Rod, pace the floor on his stately march to the Woolsack. As soon as he is seated their Lordships (always following the mistaken authority cited) begin to think of going home. This is the Fourth Estate writing about them. If any two or more of their number are so ill bred as to raise debate on public questions—just as if they were mere commoners—noble Lords fix their eyes on that part of the Chamber where the clock ought to be and insist upon the affair closing in convenient time for dinner. I wish we could do that these days, my Lords. Nobody knows what it is to get the eye of a noble Lord fixed upon him. I know how some noble Lords opposite can do that trick beautifully.

My quotation goes on: Let those who have permitted themselves to be ensnared by this malevolent fable consider what happened to-day. Thrice in the space of five hours the Lord High Chancellor took his seat on the Woolsack and the House of Lords was in session. Nor was it a barren session. At eleven o'clock in the morning, the Bishop of Peterborough having said prayers. Earl Waldegrave and Lord Lawrence, representing in their persons the Hereditary Chamber, passed the Appropriation Bill, a measure involving expenditure of many millions. This was not done in the niggardly fashion peculiar to the House of Commons,"— oh, no!— where intervals, sometimes of many days, intervene between the various stages of this important measure. Lord Lawrence and Lord Waldegrave, having taken the matter in hand, saw it right through. They read the Bill a first time; they read the Bill a second time; they skipped Committee and, with slightly flushed faces, but with unfaltering voice, they read the Bill a third time. Then the Lord High Chancellor declared it passed ', and the sitting, like Mr. John Dillon, was suspended". This took place at eleven o'clock, and the day's work was done. And we work more rapidly than that!

All I am saying, my Lords—and I have finished with that jocular account—is that those of us who are new here are very proud to be here, and are glad that this Motion has been moved to-day. I hope that those with greater experience than myself in this House will see that the privileges, rights and duties of this House are maintained for the benefit of the country and for the benefit of our people.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I make one thing clear? I hope I am right in saying that he did not imply in his opening remarks that, in my reference to "political animals", I was in any way scornful of such. Far from that being the case, I am indeed jealous of them, and marvel at their toughness and their adaptability. The point I was trying to make was that I believe that in this House there is a place for the nonpolitical animal (I believe my noble friend used the phrase "political beings", so I will say for the non-political being"), and that the fact that one is a non-political being does not mean in any way that one does not respect the functions of Parliament or that one wavers in one's devotion to the place in it of your Lordships' House.


Of course.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I am supposed at this moment to be in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's room, but, having had the pleasure last Friday of meeting the Prime Ministers of Tonga and Western Samoa. I felt it my duty to come here to-day and speak on this vital Motion which my noble friend Lord Alport has moved. It is, of course, a Motion which may well have practical difficulties of implementation, root and branch, because I join with those who regret the fact that the Bill to enact at least some kind of reform of this Chamber was sunk without trace in the other place before it was even discussed in your Lordships' House. This does not mean to say that I agreed chapter and verse with every provision in the Bill—far from it—but I equally believe that in that Bill there were at least certain provisions which, had they been able to be in force to-day, might conceivably have relieved us of some of the problems which we face at the present time.

My Lords, whatever the merits or otherwise of this Motion, I think it is the quality of Parliament that is uppermost in our minds at the present time. I think, too, that the increasing interest which the country as a whole has in your Lordships' House is an important matter. For my own part, I get more and more requests from rotary clubs (and I have many rotarian friends, as many of your Lordships probably have) and from schools to visit this Chamber to listen to what takes place here, and for me to go to talk to schools about the work done by your Lordships' House. This is in no way meant to denigrate the other place which I think does a job second to none in the world parliaments, whatever shortcomings there may be in that Chamber or any other Chamber.

Much has been said in this House and elsewhere about more legislation beginning here. I think it is necessary for more substantive legislation to commence here. Over the years I think that both major political Parties have made advances on this front. It is no use "crying over split milk" and dwelling too much on what legislation should have started here in this Session or in previous Sessions. This Session is now in its twilight; the last Session has passed into history. It is of the future we must think. What is particularly important is legislation dealing with matters of criminal justice and the social services which your Lordships are uniquely able to initiate here. We have tremendous expertise, particularly in the field of social services. I mention this because I happen to have a particular interest in this field myself. Certain legislation on the social services has started in this House, but by no means enough; and I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House when he comes to reply will take special note of this subject, for it has been mooted that very important legislation dealing with the social services is imminent and I would hope that this House will be the place where it can start.

A good deal, too, has been said about this House being a revising Chamber. I believe that it has an important function as a revising Chamber; but one might say that it is no use calling itself a revising Chamber if it has nothing to revise. In other words, one might argue that legislation should start in another place so that it can come here for revision. It is no part of the function of this House to put unreasonable pressure on the House of Commons.

I should like to pay my own tribute to the Leaders of both major political Parties of this House for the way in which they have conducted this Session. Dissatisfaction can be expressed at the long hours that we, and, of course, the staff, have had to spend here; but I do not think the fault in the last analysis remains with the Party managers in this House. I believe that the vital factor is the amount of legislation which goes through Parliament during each Session. Certainly in the past two or three Sessions we have had an abnormal surfeit of legislation. Legislation to take Britain into the European Economic Community, two major housing subsidy Bills, and a very important Criminal Justice Bill is an enormous amount to digest in one Session. Against that, there is the argument that we live in a democratic society and there is always a great deal of legislation, sought after by local authorities and many other bodies, all of which must go through Parliament. And if it goes through Parliament it must have adequate discussion. So I believe that the Government of the day have already a major difficulty in trying, on the one hand, to reconcile themselves to trying to cut down the amount of legislation per Session and, on the other hand, in trying to satisfy the many interested bodies who wish to promote legislation in Parliament. Far be it from me as one who has not been a Member of another place to say how this can be done; but I think it is a matter of great importance.

We have in this House this unique body—and I make no apology for repeating this—of Life Peers and hereditary Peers who are representative of all walks of life and all professions; but because of the long hours that this House has had to function, those of us who are also in a profession have our own unique difficulties. I think this is one of the problems that this House has to face. Of course, there is no compulsion for any noble Lord to attend debates here; but if one is a Member of this House one does have certain moral obligations to take part, at least from time to time, in the proceedings. I think any future thought given as a result of the noble Lord's Motion must be along these lines. I think there has been dissatisfaction throughout the nation that the legislation dealing with the Common Market did not reach this House until the middle of July. But I do not think that this reflects on this House, and one can argue that it does not necessarily reflect on the other place because this is legislation of a uniquely important kind. It is legislation which cannot, as I understand it (and I am not a lawyer) be repealed. What I do view with concern is a repetition of a Session like the present one, in which three or four Bills of a major nature have not, in the eyes of the nation, received as much consideration as they should have done. But I do not think this is necessarily the fault of Parliament.

I turn to the matter of Private Members' Bills. Private Members' Bills constitute a subject on their own. A great deal of Private Member legislation may be well meaning but is impracticable from an enactment point of view. But I would hope that in future Sessions more time can be found for Private Members' legislation. I believe that in this Session there have been Private Members' Bills which should have been taken over by the Government; but that is another matter. But there are a number of Private Members' Bills of much importance which have been gravely threatened through lack of Government time. I think this is one very important aspect of this Motion which should be considered. My noble friend has done the House a service at the twilight of this Session by bringing forward this Motion. Having served for 12 reasonably active years in this House, I am very glad to have been able to take part in the debate. I hope that many of the valuable points that have been raised are put into action, so as to keep this House as important in the public eye as it is now.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for not having put down my name on the list of speakers. When I saw the list of those who were to speak I thought it highly unlikely that anything would remain for me to say, but there are one or two points which I wish to make. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I feel grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for having raised this question to-day, because I do not think that there can be many of us who have lived through the Session which is ending tomorrow without realising that something needs to be done. I only hope that such a Session will not occur again, not only for our own sakes but also for the sake of the staff, who are always so faithful and helpful to us, whatever the stress of the circumstances may be.

I entirely agreed with the noble Lord when he said that more Bills should start in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, raised the difficulty about Ministers probably wanting to promote their own Bills in their own House. It seems to me that that difficulty could be got over if we were to have a reasonable share of senior Ministers in your Lordships' House. There is, after all, a precedent for that. At the moment we have the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who is the Secretary of State for Defence; and not so many years ago we had a noble Earl who was referred to by the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough (and he was not given, I may say, to making complimentary remarks about members of the Conservative Party) as "the finest Foreign Secretary we have ever had". That was the noble Earl, Lord Home, as he was then. So we have precedents and I cannot see why it should not continue.

There is one other small point that I should like to raise. When I sat on the Benches opposite I used to resent remarks made from time to time about what was called the "built-in" Conservative majority, but, looking at it now from perhaps a more balanced viewpoint, I can see that it is a fact. During the long Committee and Report stages in the last few months many Amendments were carried by pure weight of numbers, chiefly because of the votes of noble Lords who flooded in from the Library, and who had not heard one word of the arguments. I wonder whether that situation could be controlled by some system of limiting voting to those who are regular attenders, or, shall we say, who put in not less than one-third of the possible attendances. I think that would be a practical proposition. It would not prevent anyone from speaking but it would limit the voting, which is the factor that carries the day. That is a controversial point; and not being, like the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, a political animal, I would not begin to claim that it is practicable, but I think it worthy of consideration. I sincerely hope that something will come out of to-night's debate.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and the noble Lord, Lord Royle. Owing to the fact that I was having a grandson christened I was not able to be present during the whole of the debate and there were some notable speeches which I did not hear. I gather that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, incurred the displeasure of the House. I am not sure from which Bench he was speaking—oh, I see that he was speak-in from the Liberal Benches—


My Lords, If I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, may I say that I do not think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, incurred the displeasure of the House; he incurred my severe displeasure.


My Lords, he meant to.


I am sure, my Lords, that it was representative of the noble Earl's sterling individuality, with which we are all familiar. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who I know had a very important engagement which I heartily support, was unable to contribute, because to some extent we were going over ground which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I went over in those long forgotten days when we discussed the reform of the House of Lords. I should like to make a few references to that at the end of my speech.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alport, not only on raising this matter but also on the moderate and constructive way in which he did it. So much of the ground regarding the problems that confront us has been covered that I need not talk very much about the past Session. I think we are all agreed that this last Session was a real shambles. When I was Leader of the House and a member of the Government I used to think that no Government could mismanage their time-table as successfully as we did; but I underrated the capacity of the noble Earl's friends. I have never known a Session like this, and it says a great deal for the good manners and restraint of noble Lords that we have survived and, in certain areas, have done a good job. In other areas we have done a very bad job. There is no doubt that the Local Government Bill was a complete lottery. Lymington was won because it came on at six o'clock; Somerset was lost because it came on at ten o'clock. I think this reflects no credit on Parliament. There is no criticism of any individual in what I am saying; the situation is inherent in a system which is demonstrably creaking. Let me admit that it has creaked in the past. It has creaked in lots of respects and in a number of ways. But on occasions Parliament has sought to improve its procedures and to do rather better. The statistics of the last Session are there to be seen—the noble Earl has them—and the extent to which main legislation reached us at a very late time in the year is remarkable. The result was that we did not do the job that we should have done.

I should like to take up again one point which was made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd about the very courteous remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, regarding how far, in circumstances of this sort, the Opposition "over-does it". The noble Lord, Lord Alport, properly made clear that if legislation reaches us when for various reasons it has not been properly debated, or when sections of it have not been properly debated, the Opposition has, in a sense, to replace the Commons. That has always been true to some extent in the past—for example, there was the Gas Bill. Noble Lords who were Members of another place in the 1945–50 Parliament will remember the proceedings in Committee on the Gas Bill and the number of Amendments which were not properly discussed. But, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd made clear, one pressure the Opposition can put on a Government (and I was interested in the remarks of Lord Somers) is to press very hard and make the House work very hard. It may well be that sometimes we overdid it.

I want to make clear that we were deliberately not intending to filibuster. It was striking the extent to which noble Lords on the Government Front Bench acknowledged this and co-operated, and recognised that we did a good job. This is a process more familiar in the Commons than it is here; but it is the only weapon. It was quite striking that on the Bills on which we did this—and the noble Earl will agree that we never broke a tacit understanding as to when we were going to finish with legislation; we co-operated because the only way this House can work is by co-operation—we did get results, in a way that we did not get them on the E.E.C. Bill, for reasons which we all understand, where we did not move anything like the number of Amendments. There is a real dilemma here. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and others pointing to the danger of turning us into a second House of Commons: and I absolutely agree. If we become a second House of Commons, we shall become a very secondary House of Commons. On the other hand, what we did produced some results.

At this point I should like to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and to noble Lords opposite. If I were writing this as an end of term report I would say that their performance has not been as good as at other times, and even patchy. But by and large they have done their utmost for us and for the House of Lords. I would particularly say to the noble Earl that I think he has done a very good job as Leader of the House. The reason why I am saying this is not only that I believe it to be true, but because I want to strengthen his hand when it comes to arguing with his colleagues. My noble friend Lord Shepherd spelt out the problem that we all have in Government. You go to the Lord President—and Lord Presidents change: the Government have had several—and he starts off very willing and appreciative: everybody is willing to be complimentary about the House of Lords, but they are not willing to do anything to help us when it comes to the point. When we look at the evidence that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I gave to the Select Committee on Procedure, we were quizzed on the Bills that we ought to have. It is very difficult to answer that question. Somehow or other Ministers, or somebody, manage to grab them to fit the Commons' timetable.

The purpose of Lord Alport's Motion is to see that we do better in the future. I hope that he succeeds, but I am not too optimistic. However, if he succeeds, then this is really rather a breakthrough for your Lordships, because the figures for last Session (I will not take up the time of the House by quoting them; they are there, and maybe we should publish them in Hansard) are quite striking. It was quite ridiculous. We did two-thirds of our work in the last three months, and the rest of the time we did not have enough. This is really the fault of the Government—and when I say "the Government", I mean any Government.

People are apt to say that there are not enough Parliamentary draftsmen. One of the factors is the timetable in developing legislation. I do not think I am giving any Cabinet secrets away when I draw attention to the fact that there are certain Parliamentary legislation committees which roughly decide on legislative programmes, and there is great competition between Departments—the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, will recall this—as to what Bills they can get in: some are essential, some are desirable and some go to the bottom of the list every Session. Then the resources of Parliamentary draftsmen, if they have not already been mobilised, are put to work. At that point Departments have to issue instructions, and Ministers have to make up their minds. Ministers do not always make up their minds in time, and the result is that Bill after Bill arrives late in either House. I should like to make one concrete suggestion to the noble Earl, who has the special responsibility in the field of machinery of Government; namely, that there should be some overhaul of the timetable in relation to the legislation for the new Session, and what should go into the Queen's speech, so that Bills arrive in time. I hope that we are going to have some splendid Bills starting here in the new Session, but I am prepared to bet that some of them are later than noble Lords want. This is one of the difficulties that we get into.

I should like to deal with another point. The Second Report of the Commons Procedure Committee in the last Session, which heard evidence, suggested that Members and officials of both Houses should review the form, drafting and amendment of legislation, and the practice in the preparation of legislation for presentation to Parliament. I believe that this could be of great value, as was shown by the Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, on delegated legislation. I wonder what has happened to that Report. I confess that I had forgotten all about it. Perhaps the noble Earl has not forgotten it, in which case I congratulate him. Or perhaps we have both been reminded of it from the same worthwhile source. This is something that should be done, and this links to the work that will have to be done with regard to European legislation, the E.E.C. and so on. I should like to urge specifically that that recommendation should be examined, and if nothing has happened, it should be brought forward.

My Lords, we have had some interesting speeches. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I entered this House, as he said, at the same time. My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek made a characteristically brilliant and attractive speech. I know no one who has retained his individuality more, while at the same time assimilating it to what is acceptable to the House of Lords. He made a number of effective remarks. I should like to suggest, therefore, that the noble Earl should go through the various points that have been brought up in this debate. Points of significance were made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, the noble Lord, Lord Royle, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and others: and I believe the noble Viscount made some kind remarks, for which I am grateful. These points should not be just brushed aside. We so often have debates in which good points are made and then they are forgotten. I should like to suggest that we should seek to progress some of the matters that have been raised in this debate.

Another point made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd to which I think we should pay careful attention is that if important Bills are to start in this House, not necessarily of the main controversial kind (we had one such horrid controversial little Bill, the Museum Charges Bill, and it was a miracle that it was not thrown out by this House), then the House must accept some sort of self-denying ordinance: they must be prepared to accept—and this is not derogating from our role—that they must not, any more than generally speaking we do on Bills introduced in another place, reject on Second Reading or Third Reading. Whereas we retain absolutely our rights to make Amendments and get the Commons to look at them, we must remember that the Parliament Act—inadequate in many ways, and futile as it has now become, it is none the less an important kind of atom bomb in the background—does not bite on legislation introduced in this House. If we are to have main legislation, and knowing how the Conservative Peers at certain moments get the bit between their teeth and just vote the Government down several times in a day, we also have to accept that ultimately the will of the Commons must prevail.

I could make heavy criticism of the procedures in another place and I would like, before concluding, to set this debate in the context of the problems that confront modern Parliaments and Governments, because I seriously believe that we have, as yet, failed to take the measure of the responsibilities that Parliament is going to have to fulfil and for which it has yet to create institutions or amend procedures. We have taken on, for a start, the responsibility—we do not know for how Iona—for Northern Ireland legislation. We had virtually two large Acts of Parliament which we passed in half an hour to-day because we were not competent to deal with them. There is little doubt that we cannot go on doing this sort of thing. This is a travesty. This is Government by decree—almost exactly the sort of thing that we object to in other countries which we regard as less democratic than ourselves, even when they have the forms of democracy. Here again we are waiting on another place to make up their minds how they are going to deal with these things.

Then we shall undoubtedly have to face the fact—I do not want to reopen the arguments on this topic—that we are going into the Community. There will be important proposals. I am not one of those who happen to think that Parliament is going to find the totality of its legislation significantly reduced by our entry. I hardly think that the number of Bills that we have passed in this last Session would have been affected, whether or not we were in the Community. There will be important developments and it will be vital, if the Government are to honour their obligations, that Parliament sets up proper machinery for scrutinising proposals. We debated this subject and I do not want to go into it all again; but these are problems that Parliament will have to face and we have not yet thought out the machinery for doing so.

Furthermore, the complexity of Government is growing so greatly that I do not believe that those noble Lords who think the flow of legislation ought to be reduced are going to have their hopes realised. This Government have legislated to a degree that was entirely contrary to everything they ever said when we were in office. We have had an absolute flood, a great deal of it based on doctrine. I hope some of it will be reversed in the future, but I do not think there will be a great reduction of legislation in future. We may have an easier Session to come but, in total, Parliament is not going to succeed in its job of controlling and scrutinising the Executive unless we are able to give a great deal more thought to how we should operate.

This brings me back to the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the noble Lord, Lord Byers and I, and many other Members of the House, when, we were involved in considering the reform of this Chamber. That subject is not now before us, but it is a fact that your Lordships' House could have played, and perhaps in the future may play, that essential role which we foresaw in the White Paper. Any noble Lords who wish to look at that will see set out quite clearly what I believe the role of the House of Lords ought to be—the provision of a forum for the full debate of issues of public concern, the sort of issues of public concern that in another place they very rarely have time for. Ira addition, there is the revision and indeed the initiation of some public legislation, and in particular the consideration of subordinate legislation. Here we are failing in this regard. We are beginning to tackle subordinate legislation. The Brooke Committee is a first, and very valuable, step in this direction. It may well be that the Commission on the Constitution will come up with proposals—and I hope they do—which will succeed in devolving some of the work done within Government, because this springs not just from Parliament but from the way our system of government has developed. I am not sure whether the Liberal Party have committed themselves to regional Parliaments, but I whether or not we are in favour of regional Parliaments, some form of regional devolution is going to be a necessity, if only to enable Parliament to carry out the functions that I believe it is not doing properly.

My Lords, we do admire Parliamentary institutions, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Davies that there is a lot of snide criticism which in fact is damaging to democratic institutions, and that some of it is very unjustified. But certainly during the last Session we have "got by" by the skin of our teeth and by a degree of sensible good manners and co-operation in your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, it was a Session in regard to which we should feel some shame—I do not mean necessarily in the sense of a feeling of great guilt—that we have not done the sort of thing that we ought to have done. I blame the Government in these matters—an inexperienced Government, full of enthusiasm. We have had the wisdom of the noble Earl, bloodied after two years of handling the Opposition, who, on the whole, I believe have behaved pretty well in all this period. But I do not think that we should ever confront another Session such as the one we have had. If the noble Earl is able to get that across to his colleagues, and if, above all, he can get his colleagues and the machine to fulfil the somewhat pious undertakings that successive Governments and Leaders in another place have given to the unfortunate Leader of the House of Lords, then I think this debate will be worth while and we shall erect a memorial to the noble Earl who, for the first time, actually persuaded a Government to think sensibly about their Parliamentary timetable.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Alport for giving us the chance of debating this subject to-day. I should like straight away to congratulate him on two things: first, on the fact that he has on this occasion devised one of the shortest Motions which I have ever seen standing in his name on the Order Paper; and, secondly, I should like—and I say this without my tongue in my cheek—to congratulate him on the very great sympathy and support which his Motion has attracted from all quarters of your Lordships' House.

I do not wish to run over all the points which have been made in this debate, but I can assure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that I will be paying more than "ear service to what has been said. It will be my intention and that of my colleagues to go through the suggestions which have been made, and to go through them very carefully indeed. If only for that reason, I think this debate has in fact been well worth while. Other noble Lords have said this, but I do not mind repeating it: I think it is fitting that we should be taking a last lingering look at how we run our affairs at the end of what has been, by any standard, an exceptionally trying and taxing Session. I am only too conscious of the pressure to which, certainly in recent months, this House has been subjected. We have sat on more days this Session than we have ever done before in a previous Session of normal length.

I will not bore your Lordships with statistics, but by the time we arrive to-morrow at the end of our Session I think we shall have had 141 Sittings in this House, compared with an average in a Session of normal length of something like 110, which has been about par for the course in the past decade or so. Not only have we sat for a good many more days than is customary, we have also had an unprecedented session—and I hope it will remain unprecedented—during September. It is a very favourable reflection on the House and on your Lordships' assiduity that the average attendance in your Lordships' House during that exceptional September session was over 240. That compares with 250 for the rest of this Parliamentary Session; it is a remarkable statistic.

That said, I feel it important that we should not over-gild the lily on our labours here. I know that they have been Herculean; I know that only Hercules himself could have sustained them. But we should keep a sense of proportion here. The Parliament Office tells me that we have had, on average, a Sitting of 54 hours this Session. That is far too much, but it is not a great deal above par for the course, and is considerably less than par for the course in the last Session which was the unprecedentedly high average of 6½ hours per Sitting. Although we have had nearly 30 late Sittings this Session—all of which I rue—this compares with 38 in the last Session, and 31 in the Session of 1967–68 under a different dispensation.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I did not give these statistics because I knew how easy it was to angle them. The reason the length of Sittings dropped was that, due to the timetabling, we had no business in the first half of the year. This is the reality, and in fairness the noble Earl should have pointed this out. We are talking in terms of what is meant to be a normal Session.


My Lords, I accept that. All I was suggesting was that we had had an appallingly hard time: but we are all very much alive and kicking—not least the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who demonstrated very well how much kick there is on the Liberal Benches. My irate noble friend Lord Arran!

I was going to say, when the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition interrupted me, that when all is said and done most of us would agree that the pressure under which we have been working these past two years in this House, part-time and unpaid but not totally amateur legislators, has been altogether too heavy. I am prepared to take my fair share of the blame, but wherever the fault for this lies I should like to take this opportunity—and this is no mere formal expression of appreciation—to express my thanks for the way in which your Lordships on all Benches have helped me during the past two heavy Sessions in what at times has been a not altogether easy task for a fledgling in your Lordships' House. I am very grateful indeed for the manners and moderation which noble Lords in all quarters of the House have demonstrated. I should like once again to say how grateful we all are to the staff of the House for all that they have done to underpin our efforts. I am glad to say that we found a tangible way of expressing a little mite of our appreciation last week. Having got that off my chest, I should like to say straight away that I in general find nothing to disagree with in the terms of my noble friend's Motion. Even if I am prepared to quibble with a little of this or that, he disarmed me completely, as he almost invariably does, by both the matter of his speech and the manner in which he moved it.

The Government are only too well aware of the difficulties with which this House has been faced. I can assure your Lordships that I and my colleagues will do our best to ensure that we are not in future faced with the really appalling congestion of business with which we have had to deal this Session. I use the word "appalling" advisedly. In saying this, I am well aware that I am putting myself as a hostage to fortune and that the proof of the pudding will be, and must be, in the eating. I trust that when July 1973 rolls along I shall not find the particular words which I have just uttered too indigestible!

I agree with my noble friend that in recent years too few major Bills have been introduced into this House. There are often more than sufficient reasons why Bills must start in the Commons. I fully admit that in the past some Bills which might have started in this House have been introduced in the Commons. I am not going in for names and pack drill on this occasion; but this is a common feeling in your Lordships' House, and I happen to share it. I put this view forward, as did the noble Lords, Lord Byers. Lord Shackleton and the Chairman of Committees, when we gave evidence to the Commons Procedure Committee last year. It is natural and is accepted that Bills with a very high Party political content should be introduced in the Commons. I think we all agree with that. There are also the human factors involved: the factor which noble Lords have already adduced, the psychological factor that some senior Ministers may have a certain desire to see their own Bills introduced in the House in which they sit. This is generally another place, as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, pointed out.

As I put it to the Commons Procedure Committee, it is perhaps natural for the Minister to want to see his own "baby" learn to walk. There is a certain pride of parentage, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who has just been christening his grandson, will be the first to understand. But sometimes, as my noble friend pointed out, that particular pride tends to be a little misplaced. This is a factor which we should take into account and is one which we should not allow our colleagues—and here I am speaking as a Minister—to exaggerate unduly. There are also the financial considerations. Here there are prospects of some real but modest improvements from the point of view of this House. Until last August, when the Commons amended their Standing Orders on financial privilege, a number of Bills which were perfectly suitable for introduction in this House, save for very technical considerations of financial privilege, had, perforce, to be introduced in the Commons. In a written memorandum which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and I submitted to the Commons Select Committee on Procedure, we instanced three or four Bills which, but for Commons financial privilege, could very well have been introduced in this House. I am happy to say that the Commons Procedure Committee fully accepted our evidence in this area. They recommended to another place that their financial privilege should be much reduced and the Commons agreed to this on August 8.

I am not without hope that we shall now see more Bills—even Bills with some financial implications which under the old dispensation could not start with us—start in this House. Over a period of time this. in a modest way, will help to redress the balance. I fully admit that this is only a little bit of the battle which has to be fought on behalf of this House, since many of the Bills which have delayed us over the past few months were Bills which would in any event have had to start in the Commons, save possibly (and I give my noble friend this) the Criminal Justice Bill.

As so many Leaders of your Lordships' House before me have said, it is my intention that we should have a fair share of the legislative cake at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session. I can again tell your Lordships that I will continue to emphasise the need for this fairer balance in the legislative programme with all my colleagues. I have been reinforced—and I gladly acknowledge this—in this respect by what has been said across the Floor of the House in this particular discussion. It is desirable because it has become apparent to all of us in recent weeks and months that it is bad, not only for this House but for Parliament, that legislation should be passed (to use my noble friend's expression) in an uncongenial atmosphere in your Lordships' House. What the noble Lord, Lord Royle, said about the load which has come on us in Committee since Whitsun is demonstrated by the figures mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.

It would be wrong for me, having said that (and I do not intend to speak for long), to conclude without commenting briefly on some of the specific suggestions incorporated in my noble friend's Motion. As I have said, I certainly hope that an appropriate number of Bills will be introduced into this House next Session. But that begs the question, "What is an appropriate number?" One could conceive of a situation in which the House would receive a considerable number of fairly large Bills early in a Session and this would compel us to sit both on four days a week and rather late in the evening in order to cope with them. But I well remember that in the past many of your Lordships have said they would prefer not to sit four days a week before Christmas. Also, my noble friend the Chief Whip has been known to be criticised for asking the House to sit beyond eight o'clock on. a Committee stage of a Bill early in the year. All I would suggest here is that we cannot have it both ways. If we get legislation we must deal with it in a reasonably expeditious fashion, otherwise my colleagues in the Commons will have reason to believe that a Bill sent to the Lords in June or July will proceed faster than if it is sent up to us in November or December and we deal with it in an unduly leisurely way. It is of course a question of preserving a balance here; but these are considerations that we must bear in mind. If we are going to will the end, we must will the means.

There are further difficulties, and some of them have already been referred to in this discussion. There is the difficulty that Governments, of all political complexions. try as they may, find that the preparation of legislation is often jerky and liable to interruptions. However perfect the management of business (both Lord Shepherd and Lord Shackleton referred to this; and since I have mentioned Lord Shepherd I should like to wish him well in his visit to his pretty nurse which I understand is now under way), there is the difficulty that, for one reason or another, Bills which should be ready to be laid before Parliament when Ministers go rejoicing on their holidays in July, August or September, as the case may be, assuming they are going to be in apple-pie order, sometimes, in an extraordinary way, comes October or November, somehow have not reached the starting post. This situation is familiar to any noble Lord, on these Benches or those opposite, who has been a Minister.

There are two matters we have to tackle here. There is of course the perennial problem of the shortage of those rarest of rare birds, the Parliamentary draftsmen. This is an area we should all be looking at. Then there is the question of Ministers and Governments of the day giving the necessary instructions in due time, and this again—


My Lords—


My Lords, may I just finish this point? I will then of course give way to the noble Lord. This is an area which the noble Lord. Lord Shackleton, invited me, with certain responsibilities which I have inherited from him in the area of the structure of Government, to look at; and I can assure him that this happens to be engaging my attention at this particular moment.


My Lords, the noble Earl has now really answered me. I was going to say that it is not a question of all of us looking at this; it is a question of the noble Earl personally looking at it.


Well, my Lords, it is a question of quite a few people looking at it. But I assure Lord Shackleton that the Leader of the House is personally looking at this particular problem at the present time. However, my Lords, these are the difficulties. We all know them. No Government, from my knowledge, since the war has tackled them satisfactorily. It is self-evident that up to now we have not; and I will not mislead your Lordships in saying that we shall tackle them satisfactorily in the future. All I can say is that we are having a very hard look at this particular area because it is one which, from the point of view of effective Parliamentary management as a whole, and in order to enable Parliament effectively to operate, must be put a great deal righter than it is at the present time.

One point in my noble friend's Motion about which I am not entirely clear is that the House of Lords should not be compelled to assume responsibility for duties proper to the House of Commons". This House has a good reputation as a revising Chamber. So far as the Local Government Bill and, I think, the Criminal Justice Bill (I am glad my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross is here), two of the major Bills before us this Session, and so far as the Industrial Relations Bill last Session, are concerned, this House has executed its revising function, I believe, in a very thorough way indeed. We have examined these Bills in depth and made a number of important Amendments to all of them. On the Local Government Bill, which was before us only recently, we passed, to my certain recollection—and indeed to celebrate the return of my noble friend the Chief Whip to duty—against the Government's advice, three important Amendments. Whatever the noble Earl, Lord Arran, may say, I would merely point out to your Lordships that, far from this House being a wastepaper basket, in fact the Government have advised another place to accept all three of those Amendments made by your Lordships' House. I do not really believe therefore that this House has tried to assume, or has been asked to assume, responsibilities proper to another place.

Although I would not wish to go back on anything I said earlier about the need for more Bills to be introduced into your Lordships' House, it is surely a fact that if Bills of a political or over-controversial nature were introduced first in this House, we should then be assuming precisely that role which my noble friend is asking us to avoid. There is a problem here, and it is that, although this is not the invariable rule, it very often happens that with a Bill introduced in another place we are bound to be faced here with a large number of Amendments. It may be that more Amendments may be made in the First Chamber; but it is often the fact, in the very nature of things, that more Amendments are made here. But, of course, again we must calculate for that in preparing our legislative programme.

My Lords, I said at the outset that I thought that all noble Lords, or almost all, would find my noble friend's Motion in general acceptable. I certainly do; and not least, as I have said, because of the way in which he moved it. I feel this above all because I believe that it represents a common desire in your Lordships' House for this House to retain, in changing circumstances, its essential characteristics. I yield to no one in my respect for Parliament as a whole and for another place in particular, although, unlike many Members of your Lordships' House, I have not had the honour of sitting in another place. I also recognise, even in the short decade and a half or so in which I have been an active Member of your Lordships' House, the great changes that have come about in our Chamber, in its composition, and indeed in many of its workings; and we shall doubtless continue to see further changes. Whether or not we shall see fundamental reform, and if so, when, I would not hazard a guess. But one thing I do know is that it would be fatal to the House as we know it, or as I think all of us would wish to see it, if at any time it were to become just a mirror image of another place or, in the phrase used by my noble friend Lord Amory, a "pale replica" of another place. I am quite certain that if we were to allow this to happen it would become a very bad mirror of another place. I am quite certain that if this were to happen this House would lose almost all of its essential character. I shall not seek to define that character at this moment. I think we all know the characteristic: a certain informality; a certain courtesy in manner and in debate, however deep our political differences may be a certain latitude in our procedures giving us, above all, the greatest possible freedom in debate and in discussion.

Those, my Lords, are some of the characteristics of this House which we must all seek to preserve in whatever way we can. Perhaps we can do a good deal—more perhaps than successive Governments have done in the past—by a better ordering of Government legislative business, striking a better balance between the legislative programmes in the two Houses. We have dwelt on this a good deal this evening and I, for one, am pledged to do whatever I can do in that respect. Perhaps we can do something by keeping a careful watch on our procedures. I hope that I have shown a willingness to do so, not least by asking four noble Lords some Hale time ago—the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, my noble friend Lord Aberdare and the noble Earl. Lord Perth—to suggest ways and means in which we might improve the ordering of our business. I think we have already made certain improvements, but perhaps there are further improvements that we should make. I noted carefully what my noble friend Lord Amory said about the tightening of our procedures. At the same time, I feel that we should be a little on our guard against becoming too introspective about these procedural matters. Unless we are a little careful, I believe that we may lose sight of the wood if we try to shin up too many procedural trees.

Above all, it is my belief that in the future, as in the past, the ability of this House to retain the character and the quality which has marked it hitherto depends in the last analysis upon the tolerance that we show towards each other and the self-restraint that we exercise in our discussions. Perhaps both that tolerance and that self-restraint have been unduly taxed during these last two Sessions, but I have noted, I hone carefully, what noble Lords have said.

In conclusion, my Lords, may I say that I think that, by and large, we all agree that this is a pleasant place in which to work. It is certainly a very pleasant place, on almost all occasions, to have the honour of leading. But I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that we are not here just for the fun of the thing: we are here to serve; and my duty, as I conceive it, is to do what I can to help to create, or, where necessary, help to preserve, the conditions under which we can the more effectively discharge that obligation to serve. I am sure that this debate has been of help to us all, and certainly of help to me in that respect, and I am grateful to my noble friend for having introduced it.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, the procedure of your Lordships' House allows me to speak a second time, not to sum up the debate or to reply to it but primarily to be able to thank those of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate. I hope that those who have listened to it will feel, as I have done, that it has been a valuable debate, if only because it has given an opportunity to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to make a contribution of great importance to this House on the way in which we can conduct our business in the future.

I have found the speeches not only engaging and interesting but, in some cases, eccentric. I hoped for one moment that there was to be an unexpected result of the speech made by my noble friend Lord Amory; namely, to restore the political allegiance of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to this Party when he came over to join me on these Benches. I was in the process of composing a short message of welcome on the return of the prodigal to this fold when, alas! he disappeared again and went back to where he has been sitting in recent years.

I should like to make just two points, one of them being a comment on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I entirely agree with him that to some extent the pressure which an Opposition—and particularly an Opposition which is usually in the minority—can exercise on a Government is an important weapon in its armoury; but my own feeling is that that could be much less necessary in a House of this sort, where the Government are able to undertake alterations to the Bill as presented to Parliament, to accept Amendments, sometimes of a political nature, without losing any political face, and in fact probably to the advantage of the Bill when it reaches the Statute Book.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Royle, I sometimes sit in the chair normally occupied by the Lord Chairman of Committees for the Committee stage, and I expect that he and others, such as the noble Lord. Lord Ferrier, send up prayers every now and then to Ministers to accept Amendments which do not in fact make much difference to the Bill, some of which make considerable improvements to the Bill and which in fact will give great satisfaction to noble Lords on this side of the House and particularly to the Opposition, whose object is to try to make some contribution to the legislation which is going through the House. I know what happens. Junior Ministers are sometimes instructed to resist Amendments; they do so and they create irritation on the part of the Opposition and, being human, the members of the Opposition sometimes react by continuing the debate longer than is necessary and time is wasted all the way round. While I recognise the importance to the Opposition of the weapon of the pressure which can be exercised in debate, to some extent I think this should be reciprocated on the Government's side by being more flexible and perhaps more conciliatory in dealing with some of the Opposition Amendments which, to any normal person, in some cases would involve no great difference to the Bill when it reaches the Statute Book, and in other cases would be a definite improvement.

The other point that I wished to refer to was one made by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. What I meant by including the phrase "proper to the House of Commons" in this Motion was that I think it wrong that during this last Session, and indeed in so many Sessions, some of the most important legislation going through the House of Commons and affecting eventually the lives of people of every class and every part of this country, should be subject to the guillotine. It means that a large part of such legislation during the Parliamentary processes goes through only one amending stage, the Committee stage, or perhaps the Report stage as well, in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that as far as possible, no matter who is in power at any time, there should be an increasing attempt by both Parties in the House of Commons to avoid the guillotine procedure, and not to create a situation as a result of the exercise of political pressures within the House of Commons which makes the guillotine procedure necessary. That was the reason for that point, and I believe it to be valid.

I will not keep your Lordships any longer at this hour. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for accepting the Motion and for the support it has received in all parts of the House. I hope that noble Lords will feel that this has been an appropriate moment to consider this matter, in the hope that when my noble friend goes to the Legislative Committee, the Cabinet or wherever else these matters are discussed, he will go armed with the support of your Lordships to ensure that this House has the best possible conditions in which to carry out its duties as a Chamber of Parliament during the next Session.

On Question, Motion agreed to.