HL Deb 16 July 1974 vol 353 cc1109-14

Message from the Commons: That they request that your Lordships will be pleased to return to them the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill because Clause No. 27 and Schedule No. 1 to the said Bill are incorrect.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons request be agreed to. I hope that your Lordships' House will accept the request we have received from another place. Like most, if not all, Members of your Lordships' House, I am particularly jealous of our rights as a Second Chamber, but Parliamentary government in this country depends essentially upon the good relations between the two Houses. I believe that if the Commons send a Message as they have just done, there must be a reasonable belief that they have reasons of substance for making their request.

Earlier on, my noble friend Lord Wigg referred to precedents. In recent years there have been two. I do not think that I need to draw the attention of the House specifically to the Administration of Justice Bill 1970, but the precedent which is perhaps clearest is that created by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—who I am very pleased to see opposite—on the Local Government Bill 1972. On that occasion, the Commons asked us to return the Bill because it was defective. Listening to the Commons Message—and I must frankly say that it was new to me, and that I was unaware of its contents until it was read—it appeared very close to, if not identical with, the precedent of 1972. Therefore, precedents are there, and I think that we can rest assured that we are not breaking new ground if we accept the request of another place.

My Lords, I think that I will leave it there. If there is a debate, I should seek the leave of the House to reply; but I ask the House to recognise that good relations between the two Houses are essential for the continuation of Parliamentary government and I hope that nothing will be said to-day that will in any way endanger those relations. My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons request be agreed to.

Moved, That the Commons request be agreed to.—(Lord Shepherd.)

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, the House is grateful for what the noble Lord has said and for guiding us in this novel situation. We have now received a Message from the Commons requesting the return of this Bill so that one clause and one Schedule which are incorrect can be rectified. I suggest to your Lordships that the way in which another place chooses to rectify any Part of the Bill which is incorrect is a matter for them and not a matter for us. Your Lordships' House has now completed the Second Reading debate of this Bill and we are asked whether we will send the Bill back to another place. I would advise your Lordships in the same way as the Leader of the House has done; that we should accede to that request.

Had it come earlier in the debate I would have been less sure in my response. The Leader of the House intervened in the course of the debate to help the House with a Business Statement. If it had been suggested by another place that we should have terminated our Second Reading debate then and there in order to send it back for their convenience, I think your Lordships would have wanted to consider seriously whether we should have complied. But the way in which the Leader of the House and the usual channels in both Houses have co-operated has meant that we have been able to continue with our Second Reading debate in the normal way, and we now have this Question before us.

We have heard what the Leader of the House said to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, on the previous Motion, that he hopes the timetable can be maintained and that, if the Bill is sent back to the Commons, we hope to have it back here in the course of this week—perhaps tomorrow, but very shortly—and the Committee stage could be held as planned on Monday and Tuesday. I am sure that what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said about the relations between the two Houses is something which should be in our minds. It seems to me that it is these underlying factors that are so much more important in our procedure than what is contained in the Companion to Standing Orders. One of the fundamental principles is that the relationships which have been built up between the two Houses, not without a great deal of argument and conflict over the years, should be kept in a state of equilibrium.

Our procedure is exceptionally flexible, as we know. It is based on common sense and depends on what is regarded as being in the interests of the House and, indeed, in the interests of Parliament as a whole. It seems to me from what we have heard from the Leader of the House that there will be no inconvenience to your Lordships in this rather unusual procedure. It therefore seems to me that we should co-operate with what he has asked, and with what the Commons has asked us to do, and we should accept this Message and accordingly return the Bill to another place.


My Lords, from these Benches I rise to say that we, too, agree that this is obviously the sensible thing to do, and that we should accede to the request of the Commons.


My Lords, regarding the issue of the relations between the two Houses, I cut my Parliamentary teeth in another place on Erskine May and I entirely accept that it would be out of order, both in another place and in this House, to allude to the debate which has taken place in another place. Therefore, it seems to me that the actual reasons for the Message cannot be discussed here. The Message which has been conveyed to us from another place by the learned Clerk is in accordance with the precedent established on August 1, 1972. I was handicapped when I first heard what the Leader of the House had to say, because I too had not had an opportunity of refreshing my memory as to the contents of Erskine May or of looking at the Companion. But both of them tally on this point, and I had the opportunity of looking at what happened on August 1, 1972, which I gather was then referred to as "Aberdare pie".

But be that as it may, the only doubt which surged through my mind was whether the precedent established on that occasion, which was concerned with a misprint, was strong enough to carry over to what is happening in this instance. When I looked at Erskine May and the Companion, I realised that the actual occasion on which the Message is sent is not the business of this House. It is sufficient that the Message came from another place, and in order to establish good relations it ought to be accepted without question. That point of view I entirely accept.

I would, however, put it to the Leader of the House that the point I made earlier when he moved the adjournment of the House has some validity. If, in fact, there is extensive alteration to the Bill it may be that some noble Lords who might have wished to speak on the Second Reading of this Bill but did not do so, will want to do so when the Bill comes back in its revised form. Should that be the case, I hope very much that by consultation through the usual channels with the Opposition the opportunity will be provided. It seems to me that that could be done without much dislocation of our procedure. If the Committee stage is to be taken on Monday, it could be preceded by a short period for continuation of the debate, if any Members of this House wish to put their names down.

There is only one other point that I should like to make. When at an earlier stage I raised the issue without having done any homework, I referred to the independence of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, who I regret is not here, thought I was flattering him. I would never in my life have been guilty of such a misjudgment, though I have known him for a long time. I have always held that there should be a Second Chamber, because I have a profound distrust of any man, whether he sits on either a Front Bench or a Back Bench of this House or another place, who says one thing and does something else.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, have both said that this place exists for two main reasons; first, as a revising Chamber, and, secondly, as a delaying Chamber. I have always regarded this House as a class instrument and I still do. It will follow the book as long as it suits. On July 25, 1972, there was a classic example of when the delaying powers of this House should have been exercised, not necessarily for a very long time, but to give time to consult the British people. But that opportunity was not taken, because it did not suit the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party. They voted together in the same Lobby on July 26, and I hold the view—and for the rest of my life I shall continue to argue it—that a legislative instrument that behaves as the Conservative Party behaved on that occasion should have its head chopped off, and I hope to be around when that happens.


My Lords, just before the noble Lord replies perhaps he would confirm these two points, the only points which seem to me to be of importance. The first point is that this House is not bound by precedent as is another place. I I could develop that for historical reasons, but it is important that we should remember that we are masters of our procedure and we are not bound by precedent. The second point is that no power on earth except the House itself could stop anybody from speaking tomorrow, or whenever the debate is resumed, whatever anyone might say as to its desirability, unless the Motion was moved that the noble Lord be no longer heard. One is very seldom tempted to do that, although there have been moments recently when I have been tempted.


My Lords, I am very grateful for what has been said. In reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, on the Motion that the noble Lord be no longer heard, perhaps I might say that I have heard it moved only once in your Lordships' House. It was done by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, when he was Leader of the House, and if I may say so, he did it with complete and utter justification. The noble Lord concerned, who then sat on the Front Bench opposite, certainly went deliberately about the matter in order that the Motion should be put. But fortunately your Lordships' House does not require that Motion more than once in ten or fifteen years.

I am grateful for what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I think we should respond to the request of the House of Commons and I believe that that is the mood of your Lordships' House. In regard to what my noble friend Lord Wigg has said, clearly, having spoken on this Motion, he is now free to speak to-morrow when I hope the Bill will be returned. There may be some procedural difficulty—if the Bill is so changed—for other noble Lords who have already spoken and, therefore, under our Standing Orders have exercised their only right to speak. But as the noble and learned Lord himself has said, we are master of our own House. We have our Rules and we nearly always keep to our Rules. If we do depart from them then I think it is for the benefit of the House, but very quickly we are reminded that we have broken the Rules and we come back to order. Clearly, however, if we have difficulties to-morrow, I have no doubt at all that the ingenuity that has already been displayed this afternoon in regard to this matter will be available to us and we shall be able to deal with the situation.

My Lords, this is not an automatic response to another place. They have sent a Message to us, and in the interests of good relations between the Houses we should accept it. But let us be quite clear that this House is master of its own House. This Bill is before us, it belongs to us at this present moment, but in the interests of good relations, as I mentioned before, we should now accede to the request of another place.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and Bill returned to the Commons accordingly.