HL Deb 19 July 1976 vol 373 cc512-7

2.54 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

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

Moved, That, as proposed in the Fifth Report from the Committee of Selection, the Lords following be named of the Select Committee to consider the Practice and Procedure of the House and to make recommendations for the more effective performance of its functions:

That the Committee have leave to adjourn from place to place and to report from time to time;

That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee from time to time he printed and, if the Committee think fit, delivered out;

That the Committee have power to appoint Sub-Committees and to refer to such Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee;

That the Committee, or any Sub-Committee appointed by them, have leave to confer and to meet concurrently with any Committee of the Commons on Procedure or any Sub-Committee of that Committee together with any such persons as that Committee or any Sub-Committee of that Committee may select to attend for the purpose of deliberating and of examining witnesses, and have leave to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman for any such meeting;

That the Committee have power to appoint Specialist Advisers.

That the Committee do meet at half-past Four o'clock on Wednesday next.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, before this proposition is accepted by the House I have a few questions to ask for the purpose of clarification. First, would the Chairman of Committees accept a proposition to insert the word "composition" in line 3 before the word "Practice"? That insertion, if acceptable, would he even more important than seeking to reform the procedure and practice of the House. Is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that the composition of the House being what it is—I speak for myself but I should not be at all surprised if I speak for other noble Lords—the practice and procedure of the House is quite satisfactory? At any rate, we manage to survive with it and I see no reason for interfering with it and certainly not for emasculating it.

Secondly, would it not be desirable to refer to this very important Committee the fact that there are almost 1,000 Members of your Lordships' House and that probably 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. never attend any of our deliberations and have no intention of doing so, and that the activities of the House are probably confined to 200 to 300 Members, and even of that number only a minority are intensely interested in our deliberations?

Is he aware that some Members hardly ever appear and that there are some Members who are known to their colleagues to appear simply for the purpose of making speeches on subjects in which they happen to be interested, at the end of which they vanish and never interfere any more in our proceedings? Would it not be desirable in those circumstances to refer the subject of composition as well as the subject of procedure and practice to this Committee for consideration? Thirdly, is my noble friend aware that while I have no clear ideas on the subject of composition—about the hereditary position or the Life Member position—I think that the question of selecting Members for your Lordships' House is a matter of fundamental importance and one which surely should be considered by this Committee?

Fourthly, I notice that one of the functions of this Committee is to "adjourn from place to place". I am not quite sure what that means. If they are going to change their geographical position, there must be some reason for that. If there is to be a change from the precincts of your Lordships' House to some place with amenities which are much more suitable than those available to Members of this House, so be it. If there is one thing lacking here it is suitable amenities; ours are nothing like those enjoyed by the common people at the other end of the corridor. I hope that that remark does not raise a question of privilege in regard to those common people; they will probably get other language later on, should that be necessary. It seems to me that we should know what the phrase "adjourn from place to place" means. Does it mean, for example, that in order to ascertain the views of the Members of the United States Senate, or of Congressmen or perhaps of Deputies in Paris or the Bundestag in Bonn, these Members of your Lordships' House will repair to those places to ascertain their views, as if their views are really necessary? And what will all this cost? There is the rub.

In these days when we are always talking about the need for financial stringency—for example, cutting expenditure, something which is almost the motto of the Opposition; they are always saying, "cut expenditure"—I hope to get support for my proposition from noble Lords opposite that we should inquire into the purposes of this Committee. We want to know how far they will travel and how they will travel. For example, will they use Concorde? These are important questions. We ought to know before we decide to accept the proposition. A great deal depends on the answer that I receive whether proceed further, but, for the moment, I am content to ask the questions.


My Lords, can the Minister consider whether some Members of this House talk too much?


My Lords, that is certainly an important question and we may also ask why some Members never talk at all.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, I suspect that I should rise, if only to intervene between my noble friend and noble Lords opposite, some of whom speak occasionally and some often. My noble friend Lord Shinwell asked whether there was anything sinister about the provision that the Committee could meet from place to place. If my noble friend will read the entire Motion, he will see that the Committee or any Sub-Committee, … have leave to confer and to meet concurrently with any Committee of the Commons on Procedure or any Sub-Committee of that Committee … Those words were required in order that the Committee or any Sub-Committee could meet with another place in another place.

In regard to composition, my noble friend asked me that question some days ago and I replied to him that the question of composition and the relationship of this House with another place in a constitutional form had deliberately been omitted from the Motion that is before another place. I explained to your Lordships that we should therefore be equally restrained and should merely look at the question of practice and procedure to see ways and means by which the two Houses together can act to improve the quality of the examination of legislation, whether it be for central Government or, for that matter, for the European Economic Community, which we shall be discussing today. That is the purpose of the Committee and I hope that my noble friend will allow the Motion to be agreed to without dissent.


My Lords, my question is less complicated than that of my noble friend. It is similar to a question which I put two or three years ago when the composition of another Committee was announced. I see that the Committee is to have 16 members. Fifteen are men and one is a woman. Surely, fifteen to one is out of all proportion to what we ought to expect. There are noble Baronesses in this House who are very able and who take an active part in its proceedings. I suggest that some slight modification might be carried out in connection with the composition of the Committee.


My Lords, I should not like matters of this sort to be decided on the basis of sex or age. If my noble friend has any criticism, it should be directed to the appropriate Committee of your Lordships' House, the Committee of Selection. It is for that Committee to decide who should be members, not for the Chairman of Committees, nor for me as Leader of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.