HL Deb 11 March 1976 vol 368 cc1413-60

3.34 p.m.

Lord SHEPHERD rose to move, That this House takes note of the proposal in the Queen's Speech for a major review of the practice and procedure of Parliament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name on the Order Paper. The House will recall that the Government gave an undertaking in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Session that they would initiate a major review of the practice and procedure of Parliament. My right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council arranged an Adjournment Debate in another place on the 2nd February, when Members of that House had an opportunity to make their views known. The object of my Motion today is to give a similar opportunity to Members of this House.

What the Government have in mind is that the review should be conducted by Select Committees in each House and that, like the European Scrutiny Committees, these should have power to hold joint meetings where such a course would be mutually advantageous. If the House agrees—and I hope it will—to establish a Select Committee parallel to that proposed for the other place, it will be for the Committee of this House to interpret its terms of reference as it sees fit. My purpose this afternoon is to make some suggestions as to the general direction which any such inquiry might take.

Before doing so, however, I want to make it quite clear, as my right honourable friend the Lord President did in another place, that the Government consider that two matters should fall outside the scope of this inquiry. First, it should not be concerned with the composition or powers of this House, or with the relations between the Houses. Secondly, Parliamentary electoral arrangements should be primarily a matter for a Speaker's Conference. Apart from those exceptions, the inquiry will have more than enough to consider, especially if it ranges beyond the details of the internal procedure of this House. As the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said in a procedure debate in 1972, we should "guard against becoming too introspective about these procedural matters ". We already have our Sessional Procedure Committee, which serves a very useful purpose in enabling us to examine and sort out all types of procedural difficulties quickly; and I think that here we have an advantage over the other place, whose Procedure Committee functions on a different principle.

The House will recall that, in addition to the routine work of the Procedure Committee, in 1971 there was a Working Group set up by the then Leader of the House, Lord Jellicoe. That Group, of which I was a member, and which was presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, examined the procedure of the House in depth, and to it I think we owe the outstandingly successful procedure innovation of the Short Debate. Viewing our procedure in the light of the work of the Procedure Committee and the Working Group, I think I can say without undue complacency that the House functions very well within its existing framework, except, perhaps, in abnormal times like June and July. I would suggest today that we should scrutinise that framework itself; that we should look beyond the traditional internal procedures of the House, and ask whether Parliament itself requires fundamental structural changes to enable it to perform more effectively in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Quite apart from any pressure for reform generated from within the two Houses, we must acknowledge that there are two external factors which make desirable a review of the kind proposed. On the one hand, Britain is now an established member of the European Community. On the other, we are faced with the need to make satisfactory devolutionary arrangements for Scotland and Wales and, perhaps, for other parts of the United Kingdom. The role of Parliament at Westminster must be reconsidered in the light of these developments. But we must also recognise that this reconsideration will be taking place at a time when the Government are straining every nerve to contain public expenditure, and reforms, as we all know, tend to prove costly.

I hope I may be forgiven for saying that I think that the country gets excellent value from the House of Lords. Its total annual cost is only £3.6 million a year. I would suggest that this compares very favourably with the suggested £20 million that is estimated as the cost of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. We must not forget, therefore, the question of cost. Some changes which we might like to adopt may have to be postponed, but we should consider any suggestions for implementation as and when circumstances permit. During my speech I will go over some ideas which might be considered by the Select Committee, but I would emphasise—and re-emphasise—that these suggestions are personal ones, and that there is no commitment either by the Government or by any of my noble friends who sit on the Front Bench. The object of the debate, however, is not to hear what I have to say, but rather to give noble Lords an opportunity of suggesting what they think this review might do. I shall be listening with interest to the contribution of all those who are taking part.

In opening the debate in the Commons, my right honourable friend the Lord President said that: the centre of much of the criticism of Parliamentary democracy lies in the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, between the Government and Parliament ". I should like to add, following the Renton and Lord Justice Scarman Reports, a third dimension: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts. It may be that the proposed committee will not wish to entertain that extra dimension, but we should not forget the role of the courts in our Constitution when we come to consider the practice and procedure of Parliament.

The Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation expressed views on this. They encouraged the use of statements of principle and broad general rules in legislation, and so raised questions about the extent to which Parliament is willing to trust the courts to interpret its intentions.

I do not for one moment believe that the Renton Committee put forward this proposal in order to make life easier for the Government and more difficult for the official Opposition or for Back Benchers generally, and this is certainly by no means what I have in mind; nor is it the view of the Government. But I do suggest that any proposal to save Parliament from the increasing burden of over-elaborate legislation should be looked at sympathetically in the course of this inquiry.

Another solution to the problem of over-elaborate primary legislation is more delegated or secondary legislation. I appreciate that this at once raises a number of difficult questions, not least whether delegated legislation should be subject to amendment. I would emphasise that I am not personally advocating either that Parliament should place more trust in the courts, or that it should agree to further delegated legislation. But I do suggest that this is the kind of large question which needs to be examined if Parliament, and in particular the Back Bencher, is to have time to look at policy in the pre-legislative stage instead of concentrating on the scrutiny of the small print after a Bill has been presented.

An important task which I would commend to the Committee is an examination of the lessons to be drawn from the experience of the European Communities Committee. I think that this has been one of our successes. The House owes a great debt of gratitude to the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and all those noble Lords who have devoted so much time to the work of the Committee and its Sub-Committees. I should like to repeat words which I have used in this House before, that the House works as well as it does because noble Lords, most of them extremely busy people, feel that it is worth while giving their time to come here "— and, I should add, without pay. It is quite remarkable that so many busy and distinguished Members of the House do most conscientiously undertake this extremely exacting work.

It would not be fair to single out any particular sub-committee, but noble Lords have only to look at their composition to see what a formidable array of talent and experience this House has deployed in the scrutiny of European legislation. I think that I ought to say in passing that we might show our gratitude to them in a positive way by making regular provision for the discussion of their excellent Reports— perhaps one Wednesday a month might be set aside for this purpose, as recommended by the Maybray-King Committee. I would suggest that our practice of having two short debates for Back-Benchers should be followed; so that, in addition to the Wednesday for balloted debates, we might have two short debates once a month on reports from the European Communities Committee and its Sub-Committees.

The experience of the European Communities Committee has, I think, two lessons to teach us. In the first place, it has brought us into contact with the process of Continental law-making which we should not be too proud or too insular to consider. I will be saying more about this later in my speech. Second, the Committees have shown us that our committee system is capable of useful development. Two years ago, I think that we should have been surprised that as many as 66 Members of the House would be actively involved in this way.

This leads me to wonder whether there is scope for the appointment of specialist committees in this House to cover the activities of certain Government Departments. This is an area where I think we should make strenuous efforts to co-operate with and to complement the other place. As I said in my speech on the Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill on 10th February: I see the contribution of the British Parliament, with these two Chambers, to our democratic society as one of co-operation and the sharing of knowledge and experience in a positive way to solve the critical problems that confront the nation. I applaud the increasing co-operation between the two Houses and I am convinced that we are only at the formative stage of that co-operation ".—[Official Report; col. 15.] My noble friend Lord Shinwell raised the possibility of a joint committee on defence in a Question in this House on 18th February, and I said then that this was a matter which could properly be considered by the proposed Committee. It was also suggested in the White Paper on House of Lords Reform in 1968 that the law and the arts were areas which might also be covered by specialist committees.

My Lords, one of the most intractable problems requiring consideration is the Government programme. Cynics have suggested that this inquiry is simply a cover to get yet more Government legislation through Parliament. That simply is not the case. My right honourable friend the Lord President and I are particularly anxious to alleviate the lot of Members of both Houses and to enable them to work more effectively. I, for one, should certainly like the Committee to examine the question whether it would be possible to devise a more satisfactory timetable for the Session. I feel that something must be done in particular to relieve the intolerable pressure that builds up every year in this House immediately before the Summer Recess and in the spill-over in the autumn. I am very conscious that some Members of both Houses had only a fortnight last Summer when they could have been on holiday with their children before the summer school holidays came to an end.

I know that the Parliamentary timetable was considered by a Committee in another place as recently as 1968 under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Northfield, and they proposed a most interesting solution—but nothing came of it. Clearly, this is a matter primarily for another place because, as my noble friend said: the pattern of the Session is determined to a considerable extent by the progress of financial business ". Even so, it is of prime importance to us in this House, and is one very good reason why I most strongly urge noble Lords to accept my proposal for an inquiry by this House to complement the one in another place. We must not let our interests go by default.

I am convinced that we should make more use of Committees off the Floor of the House for the consideration of Public Bills. The Renton Committee have recommended that there should be a Scottish Public Bill Committee in this House. In my opinion, more Bills which are of a complex and technical character should be considered in such Committees. In my view, the process of debate on the Floor of the House is unsuitable for matters of great detail, and what is needed particularly is the expertise of a limited number of Members, and the opportunity for Ministers to be in closer contact with their advisers than is possible here. I merely put this point forward to ensure one can achieve better legislation in these highly technical matters.

I referred earlier to the processes of Continental law-making. All of us who are familiar with them cannot help but notice the contrasts with our own procedures. In the case of the EEC, proposals arc thoroughly scrutinised before they are finally embodied in instruments. Under our traditional procedures, the texts of Bills are finalised before they are presented to Parliament. Of course, Amendments are possible. But, in the case of Government legislation, the Government have usually taken up a particular position and they find it difficult to be flexible without bringing their reputation for firmness and decisiveness into question.

The Government often take considerable pains to consult other bodies before introducting a Bill, but Parliament itself is rarely consulted at this stage. It is true that the Government often publish Green Papers on which they collect the views of Parliament by debate before policy hardens. Recent examples are the Green Papers on Devolution and Direct Elections. The Government certainly intend to continue this practice, but this may not be going far enough and serious attention might well be given to devising some form of preliminary procedure for domestic legislation similar to that found in Europe.

As to the other side of the coin, we might also look for ways of making Parliament aware of the views of interested parties who want to comment on aspects of business before the House. Members of both Houses are faced with an in creasing mass of information which they have to try to digest before they can expect to make meaningful decisions. We must make sure that they have the best available means of identifying, retrieving and classifying this material. As a step in this direction, an Information Office was established in the Parliament Office in this House some 18 months ago. A pilot scheme has now been initiated for the introduction of a computer-based information retrieval system for ready access to the growing volume of EEC secondary legislation, including the location of documents and information about the progress of legislative proposals.

As my right honourable friend the Lord President said in a debate in the other place when speaking of that place: If it were decided to adopt such a system permanently, it would be possible to extend it to various aspects of United Kingdom legislation and other forms of information ". (Official Report, Commons, 2/2/76, col. 972.) Perhaps I might also say that the Library Sub-Committee are now actively considering whether there are any improvements which could be made in the services which the Library provides to Members of the House in order to enable them to carry out their duties more effectively. The proposed Committee will, no doubt, bear these developments in mind during the course of their inquiry. Another area of activity which I expect to be raised in this debate is Private Bill procedure, but I see that the Chairman of Committees will be intervening today and so I leave it to him. I look forward to hearing what he has to say about this. It is a matter on which the whole House will listen with deep concern.

I should conclude by saying that I have only thrown out some ideas to start the debate going in this House; they are my own views. I am not committed to any solution but I have tried to indicate some of the questions which I hope this inquiry will try to answer. I will listen carefully to the opinions which are put forward this afternoon, and will of course be very happy to receive the suggestions of any noble Lord, whether expressed in the debate today or later. I will take them fully into account when considering the terms of reference and the composition of the Committee (which will in any case go to the Committee of Selection), provided that it is the desire of the House, as I hope it is, that it should be set up.

The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in a valuable chapter on the House of Lords in his recent book, said that in any well-tuned Parliamentary system there is a need and a place for a third element besides efficient Government and the operation of representative democracy. "This third element ", he said, "is the bringing to bear of informed or expert public opinion ". He went on to say that it is now one of the principal roles of the Lords to provide a forum in which public opinion can take shape and be made known. This proposed inquiry might well bear in mind the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and they may be able to find ways in which this House can more usefully serve the nation by making better use of the undoubted and various expertise of its Members. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the proposal in the Queen's speech for a major review of the practice and procedure of Parliament.—(Lord Shepherd.)

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House moves in a mysterious way. His whole speech seems to be devoted to proposing that a Committee should be set up, but he is asking your Lordships only to take note of the proposals in the gracious Speech. Had he asked your Lordships to agree to the setting up of a Committee, I do not think there would be anybody in the House who would have opposed it, I suppose that we would have supported it with varying degrees of conviction or scepticism, but certainly we would not have opposed it.

I am one of those who have become a little sceptical about the series of Committees which we have had over these many years regarding our future and our procedures. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that if there is to be a Committee in the House of Commons there should also be a Committee in the House of Lords, and that any matters that are raised which affect Parliament should be discussed by both Committees and not just by the House of Commons. Your Lordships still have an important role to play in our Constitution.

I imagine one of the reasons why the Government proposed in the gracious Speech the establishment of such a Committee was to try to allay the unease which has been increasingly felt about our Parliamentary system and affairs. I suspect that the Government will be mistaken if they suppose that a body which looks at the practice and procedure of Parliament will do much to soothe away those anxieties, because they stem from a much deeper source than worry about Parliamentary practice and procedure. There can be no doubt that the power of the Executive has grown very considerably in recent years at the expense of the power of Parliament and, in particular, at the expense of the power of the House of Commons.

My noble friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone has spoken on more than one occasion of an elected dictatorship and it seems, broadly speaking, true that once a Government are elected on a Manifesto which practically nobody has read, there is very little that the House of Commons or House of Lords can do to influence the Executive or alter the course of events. The Whip is a powerful and painful instrument, and most people have a keen sense of personal politicial survival. It seems to me that what is needed is not to make it easier for Government to pass legislation—and I was glad to hear what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said—but to make it much more difficult. Almost the only weapon which an Opposition has is time. The prospect that a Government Committee would make proposals to ease a Government's problems fills me with the gravest possible alarm. There is far too much legislation already. No body would be worse off—and most of us would be a great deal better off—if any Government's legislation and legislative programme were reduced by about 75 per cent. Indeed, I sometimes think that a Party which went to the country on the basis that for the next five years it would pass no Bills but would spend its days repealing a number of Bills already on the Statute Book, would sweep the country with a landslide majority. But if an Opposition is to have any meaning—and in our constitution it should—then it must have an effective way of being a check on the Executive. In these past years I do not think that has always been the case.

Never having been a Member of the other place, I would not be so impertinent as to comment on their procedures except to say, as an outsider in the presence of two ex-Speakers, that the House of Commons seem to be in much greater need of a Committee than we do.

Our procedures are flexible. We are capable of taking account of the unexpected. I doubt whether our procedures can really be very much altered, in that respect, for the better. There are, of course, matters which should be examined; for example, the amount of time which we spend on European secondary legislation and the scrutiny of Statutory Instruments. I am quite sure that the Committee, when it is set up, should look at this question of the "bunching "of business at the end of the Session, particularly in July. Incidentally, the noble Lord the Leader of the House might perhaps be prepared to tell your Lordships whether the under taking recently given that no major legislation will be introduced into the House of Commons after Easter still holds good. I hope it does because otherwise we shall be in serious trouble here again this summer.

During these last few years we in this House have had an unprecedented number of Life Peers. It seems to me that if the Prime Minister—whose 60th birth day it is today and we congratulate him—would like to make a resolution, it should be to the effect that for the next five years, if he is still in office, he makes no further Peers. If creations of Life Peers continue at the rate we have seen during the last 15 years, we shall very soon have to take it in turns to come into this House!

The very flexibility of our procedures for those who are used to a rather more rigid discipline in another place or who are perhaps totally unused to Parliamentary procedures, makes it possible to alter the whole character of this House and affect its very purpose, which is revisionary and representing a forum in which affairs can be discussed. The fact that we have no chairman and very few rules and that we are a very tolerant and not very Party political body can, when we reach the size and numbers that we have now, create problems which would have been unheard of a few years ago. I hope that none of your Lordships will think me discourteous, or think that I am seeking to do anything except help to improve the conduct of our Business, when I suggest that we should all understand that unless we act with a certain amount of restraint and forbearance we shall inevitably see this House changing into something much more like the House of Commons. I, for one, should greatly regret such a step, because it would alter the whole character of this House, whose whole purpose and powers are totally dissimilar from those of another place.

When I first came into this House—a great number of years ago now—the House really did keep order itself. Members of your Lordships' House, whether on the Front Bench or on the Back Bench, used to intervene on points of order when they thought it was necessary. Too often today it is left to the Leader of the House, who is put in the invidious position of having to check noble Lords while at the same time trying to get Government Business through in this House. The Leader of the House should not be a pseudo-Chairman. He is the Leader for the Government, and it is for the House itself to rebuke those who have gone out side its rules.

My Lords, I apologise for having wandered from the Motion before us. I think that I probably speak for all my noble friends behind me when I say that we have no objection whatever to the formation of a Committee. We do not think there is all that much wrong with the procedures of the House, but we believe that, if there is to be an alteration in the procedure of Parliament or of this House, we in this House should be consulted, as well as the House of Commons, and that the object of any such review should not be to make life easier for the Government but to make Parliament more effective in the interests of good government and Parliamentary democracy.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, inevitably I shall follow fairly closely the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I think this is inevitable for anybody who plays an intimate part in the work of this House. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, it is now five years since the Working Group—on which he and I both served under the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth—looked at some aspects of the working of this House. We reported accordingly, and I am happy to say that quite a number of our proposals were accepted as a result of the report which was made. Therefore, I am not totally convinced that we need to examine our procedures once again. But that is for the House to decide and, if it should so decide, the committee will have full support from these Benches.

If such an examination were to take place, I would suggest that it would be right to bear in mind the following points. First, we should never lose sight of the very real value of our second Chamber in the constitutional structure of this country, even in its unreformed state. Incidentally, I regret bitterly that that reform did not go through, for reasons which I need not go into, because I think the House would have been all the better for it. Nevertheless, even in its unreformed state it has a very important part to play, and despite the onslaughts which are made on it from time to time, I believe that it plays a vital part in revising and initiating legislation and producing informed discussion on major topics which it is almost impossible to have debated in the atmosphere of confrontation politics which exists in the other place at the present time.

I should also like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in saying that in any examination I hope we do nothing to restrict the flexibility with which this House is able to conduct its Business. For those of us who have come from another place, this is one of the most remarkable features of this Chamber. This flexibility is of value to the Government and to the other Parties; it is of value to outside interests, whose cause can be pleaded on the Floor of this House at any stage during the progress of a measure, and Bills can be much more easily amended here. All Amendments can be discussed, unlike in the other place, where they are subject to selection.

In addition to this flexibility of procedure, we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, our unique system of keeping order without the authority of a chairman or Speaker. I hope we shall continue, as a House, to keep our own order. But, my Lords, this means vigilance on the part of every Member to ensure that the wishes of the House as a whole are quickly recognised and quickly respected. Every time the Leader of the House has to get up and act as a referee, this represents a failure on behalf of this House as a whole to keep its own order. I hope that we shall all recognise this, and I believe that we must preserve this unique and flexible system whereby we can keep our own order, because I do not believe it occurs in any other Chamber in the world.

Thirdly, I would say that the overriding problem at the moment is one affecting both Houses and their relationship to one another. This is the allocation of Business between the Houses; but it is not just that—it is the sheer volume of legislation which we are foisting on to the public, Session by Session. In my view, we have reached saturation point. We have to get away from the idea that because a Party Committee puts a resolution through the Party Conference, it must be included in the Party Manifesto and automatically turned into legislation which has to be enacted in the first two or three years of a Parliament. This is absolute nonsense, and it is largely responsible for the weight and volume of legislation from which the public (and not just Parliament) is having to suffer. I do not know whether we could devise a Joint Committee system from both Houses for looking at the Queen's Speech early in each Session. It could cross-examine Ministers of Departments on the implication of the various measures, in terms of Parliamentary time, effort and draftsmanship, of impact on the public and overall cost. It may not be feasible, but I believe that some method must be found to reduce the volume of legislation, not just in the interests of Parliament but in the interests of the various bodies, including the outside professional bodies, who have to deal with changes in the law, quite often at very short notice.

If I may now, in conclusion, turn to the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I agree that if there is to be an examination of the procedure, it should not be over the composition or powers of this House or the relationship, in that sense, between the two Houses. I agree that it should not deal with electoral reform, but I would not accept that a Speaker's Conference is now the right vehicle for this; I believe it is too protracted a procedure. What is needed is agreement in principle by the parties concerned, followed by a Speaker's Conference to determine what is the most appropriate or most acceptable method of election to be adopted. I would endorse what the noble Lord said about the success of the European Communities Committee, and I certainly support the tribute which he paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and I think we are learning very valuable lessons from this experience.

This brings me to the reference made to reconsidering the role of Parliament at Westminster, in the light of devolution for Scotland and Wales. I am just a little worried that in this matter we may be going—I know it sounds uncharacteristic—a little too fast. My feeling is that at the moment we ought to let the devolutionary arrangements run them selves in for a short period before embarking on radical changes at Westminster, just as we are learning how to deal with Westminster as part of the Community. I think we are learning those lessons, many of which can be applied to devolution, and I should not like us to take an attitude on what should be Westminster's relationship to the devolutionary arrangements until we have seen some working of it in practice. However, as I say, if there is a demand for the kind of inquiry proposed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, then of course we shall give it our fullest support.

4.12 p.m.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on his prospective nomination as my success- sor, and to say that I hope he will not be too depressed by what I have to say this afternoon. I can assure him that the two events are entirely coincidental.

In view of my responsibility for the passage of Private Bills through this House, I cannot let this opportunity pass —the opportunity provided so conveniently by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—without drawing to your Lordships' attention the difficulties likely to confront Parliament in the near future in dealing with Private Bills promoted for general powers. By this, I mean Bills whose purpose is to amend the law relating to such things as public health, highways and road traffic —not throughout the country like Public Bills, but in the area of the local authority promoting the Bill.

There are at present a very large number of local Acts in force. It would not be an overstatement to say that probably about 10,000 are still in force to some extent in different parts of the country. As I shall explain to your Lordships later in my speech, if I may, in rather more detail, in the field of public legislation there has been a continuing process of revision which has kept the public Statute Book in good order, but no parallel procedure has been carried out in respect of Private Acts. The result is that the general state of local legislation is chaotic. There is much that needs repeal because it has been overtaken by the general law, has become spent or is no longer applicable in modern conditions.

The passing of the Local Government Act 1972, however, provides Parliament with a unique opportunity to solve this problem. The complete reorganisation of local authorities, and the new boundaries that have been drawn of their areas, have meant that the territorial application of the old Acts is out of date. To rationalise this state of confusion, the 1972 Act provided that all legislation for general powers should cease to have effect after 1984 in non-metropolitan counties, and after 1979 in the six metropolitan counties. The upshot is that if none of the new local authorities asked Parliament to re-enact any of the existing local general powers for their areas, there would after 1984, broadly speaking, be no Private Acts for general powers in force. This would clearly be entirely unacceptable to the new authorities, who will thus be obliged to promote Private Bills to re-enact, and thus, in effect, to save from prospective repeal, and if desirable to extend to the whole of their new area, essential powers which would otherwise cease by virtue of the Act of 1972.

The first Bill promoted by a new authority as a result of the Local Government Act 1972 was the County of South Glamorgan Bill, and I will only remind the House very briefly of the procedure on that Bill. The Bill as originally deposited contained 287 clauses, and to enable the House to carry out a thorough scrutiny of these clauses I moved a Motion that the Bill should be referred to a small Select Committee, consisting of myself and two other noble Lords. The Special Report from this Select Committee was debated on 9th December last year. The House agreed to an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, the effect of which was that the Bill was recommitted to another Select Committee. This Select Committee consisted of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and myself. It is just about to complete its consideration of the Bill, and I have every hope that this will be done next week. As a result of the decisions reached by these two Select Committees, about 110 clauses will have been allowed out of the original 287 in the Bill. The first Select Committee sat for 26 mornings, and the second Select Committee sat for 14 full days. This constitutes the longest running Committee stage on any private Bill in living memory.

This Bill, which was originally deposited as long ago as November 1974 —not last year, but the year before—has yet to be read a third time in your Lordships' House and will then have to be considered in another place. During the consideration of the Bill on Recommitment, a Government Bill, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, was introduced in another place. This Bill, which contained only some 37 clauses, goes some way to provide an alternative to the promotion by local authorities of general powers Bills. But it will be apparent from the number of clauses that there are a very large number of general powers which local authorities may consider they require, but which are not provided by the Government Bill. It is still open to all the other new authorities to promote Bills similar in scope to the Glamorgan Bill before, at the latest, 1984, and the number and length of such Bills is likely to be very great.

I must ask the indulgence of the House in raising this matter—no one is more conscious of the need for the indulgence of the House than I am—because I am fully aware that the topic of local legislation is one of minimal political interest. Yet, my Lords, we are, after all, legislators and therefore we have as much responsibility for private as for public legislation. Local Acts are Acts of Parliament no less than Public Acts, and they affect the lives of millions of people. If, as seems probable, each of the six metropolitan county councils, each of the 40 non-metropolitan county councils and each of the eight Welsh county councils promotes a Bill to re-enact a substantial amount of what will be repealed by the Local Government Act, the whole of England and Wales will, by the end of 1984, be subject not only to the general Statute Law but to the new local Statute Law.

Without taking into account district county councils—though one of these has, in fact, promoted a Bill in this Session—it can be seen that the House will be required to pass 54 local Bills for general powers between now and 1985; that is to say, at an average rate— though, of course, the figure will vary from year to year—of nearly eight Bills a year, assuming that no local authority will promote a Bill for this purpose in the Session 1983/84. As I have said, the only Bill of this kind that has so far come before the House is the County of South Glamorgan Bill. If 53 other county council Bills are of an average length corresponding to that of the South Glamorgan Bill, which, as I mentioned to your Lordships, had 287 clauses and 8 Schedules, which I did not mention, we may expect a total of 11,500clauses and 432 Schedules. Of course, I would expect that total to be substantially reduced—I may comfort the House by what I am about to add—or perhaps even halved by the Committees to which those Bills will be referred, as has been done by the Committees which sat on the South Glamorgan Bill. But, even so, there will emerge new Statute Law comprising some 5,000 or 6,000 Sections and 200 Schedules. I cannot believe that such an accretion to the Statute Book, or anything like it, is desirable.

In previous debates on local legislation I have tried to describe the inefficiency of the present system by which local authorities ask Parliament to alter the law county by county (or district by district) and so create a multiplicity of statutory provisions dealing with needs, real or not, common to them all, but with different effect and in different words in each area. A great deal of time is spent in Committees on these Bills in attempts, with varying success, to cure imperfections and mistakes in them, a process which, in general legislation, is performed at the drafting stage before the Bill is introduced.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees whether it is not a fact that in regard to the South Glamorgan Bill those concerned were advised by the Department of the Environment to take this action here? In fairness to them, I think it should he made clear that they did not do this off their own bat.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

No, my Lords, I have absolutely no complaint about the Promoters of the South Glamorgan Bill. In my view they have behaved in an entirely fair and reasonable way throughout.

I need not repeat the reasons for which I believe that local Act clauses are often defective, but it is important that the House should consider very carefully one other matter; namely, the effect of these local Acts on the Statute Book. Many of your Lordships will be aware that the public general statute law (I am speaking of the statute law of England and Wales, though what I am about to say applies equally to Scotland) is subject to constant revision. Two bodies are primarily responsible for this, the Statute Law Committee presided over by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and the Law Commission which was appointed by the noble and learned Lord.

The process is carried out in two ways. In the first place, each new Act is drafted so that it fits into the Statute Book and for this purpose care is taken, where necessary, to repeal or amend previous Acts. In the second place, there are frequent Consolidation Acts, and also statute law revision Acts whose purpose is to clear away what has been repealed by implication or is spent. The result of this process is that the whole series of general Acts from the Statute of Merton in 1235 to the National Coal Board (Finance) Act of 1976, which received the Royal Assent on 4th March, is a consistent body of law. I need hardly say that this could not have been achieved without the great skill and industry of the Parliamentary Counsel who draft Bills. But this process of revision and repeal has been applied only to the public general Statute Book, which has thus been reduced to order. The enormously greater local and private Statute Book has been subjected to virtually no revision at all. So it is no exaggeration to say that, taking private and public Acts together, the bulk of the statute law is unrevised, unindexed, and I suspect unascertainable. Most of this unrevised mass will be repealed by the Local Government Act 1972 and most of what is left is probably spent.

It is of the utmost importance that what I may—I hope not impolitely—refer to as the "rubbish "swept away by the Local Government Act be not replaced by a similar accretion of new local Acts. To this end it is now pro posed that private Acts shall be subjected to the same process of revision as is applied to the public general Act. But here we encounter a technical difficulty, which, if your Lordships will be extremely patient with me, I will do my best to explain.

If I may confine myself for a moment to public general Acts, a major cause of their obscurity derives from the amendment of one Act of Parliament by later ones. If I wish to find out the law about road traffic I shall waste my time by reading a copy of the Road Traffic Act 1960 because that Act has been amended again and again. The reader will get nowhere until he finds an edited text comprising the amendments. Until very recently such up-to-date publications have, with rare exceptions, paid no attention to amendment by private Act. But now they have begun to refer to amendment of general Acts by private Acts. The amendment, however, of public general Acts by local Acts creates prob- lems of substance and not merely of indexing. I think your Lordships will agree that the law throughout England and Wales should be uniform. There may be local circumstances that justify a departure from this principle but uniformity is generally desirable.

The technical difficulty that I have referred to is this. If a local Act amends a general Act it means as a rule that the general Act has a different effect in the area to which that local Act applies from its effects elsewhere. It does not stop there, because there will be other local Acts making amendments of the general Act often in a different sense and in different words. The result is that when, in the course of time, the general Act comes to be amended the Amendment has to fit the general Act not only in its original form but in the form that it has acquired in each local Act area. It requires no great stretch of imagination to observe that consolidation of Acts that have been subjected to this double process will either be impossible or will result in a consolidating Act of formidable complexity. What I am trying to say, I am afraid very inadequately, is that the process of revising and consolidating the general law, which makes it possible for lawyers at any rate to find their way about the Statute Book and to advise us laymen what are our legal rights and obligations—this process will become impossibly complicated unless we stop the drift to another paper mountain of local Acts.

I must also warn the House that the volume of local legislation is likely to be such as to choke the existing machinery by which the House passes private Bills. There will therefore be long delays in the passage of such Bills which may take two or even three Sessions before they pass into law. Even if it were possible in this House to deal with two major Bills simultaneously—something we have never tried to do before—there is likely to be a queue of private Bills waiting for consideration in Committee.

It is therefore vitally important, if we are to avoid ill-considered legislation and inordinate delay, that means other than the promotion of Private Bills be found to alter the general law where it is shown to be defective in meeting the legitimate needs of local authorities. This alternative is the regular passing of public general Bills, each such Bill averting a multiplicity of local Bills. I am painfully aware that neither this nor any other Government can commit themselves to find the time and resources to do this. But I ask the House to consider the implications for Parliament of this attitude of the Executive. It means that the House will not have the opportunity to pass a good general Act but is quite prepared to pass any number of bad local Acts for the same purpose. Your Lordships may think that that reflects little credit on Parliament as a legislative body. What I am suggesting is that both Houses of Parliament and the Government should now be seeking ways of reducing the bulk of private legislation and of devising more appropriate procedures to satisfy the legitimate needs of local authorities.

I do not of course know what will be the outcome of the debate this afternoon, but if it is that a Select Committee is set up to carry out the major review proposed, it will be for consideration whether or not the problems I have indicated should be referred to it. For my part, I see any attempt to solve this problem of private Bill procedure as an exercise in reviewing the legislative process of Parliament in a limited and technical field, and it may therefore not be appropriate to include it in a more general review. It is also a problem that concerns both Houses equally and not, of course, this House alone, whereas the proposed Select Committee, as I understood it, would be mainly concerned, although not exclusively, with the affairs of this House. Therefore, it might be preferable for me at this stage to approach the Chairman of Ways and Means in another place to discuss with him the best method for both Houses of dealing with this problem.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said this afternoon that there was more than enough to consider, I doubted that statement at the time, but having just listened to the last speech I have no doubt at all that really the whole of that speech will have to be considered, whatever Committee is set up. I have been a Member of this House since July 1974 and I have no doubt that people like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, think that because of my juvenility and service here I must bring a fresh mind to bear upon the subject; but not entirely. Colleagues of mine in the House of Commons knew that I was an assiduous speaker on this subject for 25 years. I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, will be called later, because he knows more about it than anyone else. There is now an ex-Speaker sitting on the Woolsack, and the ex-Deputy Speaker is sitting opposite me, so there will be no shortage of invigilators so far as I am concerned!

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, fell into the error into which all the old hands always fall, that is, the belief that after the Lord made him, he busted the mould and there were no other people like him. When I speak to people about Parliament, they always say that Parliament is not what it used to be. All masters of the English tongue since the time of Pepys have been saying the same thing; it does not matter who they are—Pepys or Dickens, who spent a long time in the Press Gallery and who called it the great dustheap of Westminster. "Ah ", the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would say, "but that is the other place ". I am sure he is wrong there.

When I was doing research for this speech, I found out what the Earl of Oxford and Asquith thought when he first came to this place. It may have been in the aftermath of his defeat at Paisley, but he said: I was occupied yesterday with my Budget speech in the House of Lords, with which I was fairly well satisfied. But it is an impossible audience. It is like speaking by torchlight to corpses in a charnel house ". That was 50 years ago. I understand the orderliness and the silence of the grave, but it was not only the disappointment at his Budget speech that made the noble Earl say that. He also said: I finished up with a free trade speech in the House of Lords, the worst audience in the world, with great politeness except when "Chuck it "Smith takes the floor, with no resilience or even response either from friends or foes. There is no debating, and I shall only go there when there is something I want reported. This speech of mine will hardly be reported, so that is not the reason for my speaking today.

My Lords, since I have been in this House, I have seen no enthusiasm for change at all; rather the reverse. There has been only one proposal for change since I have been here; that is, that of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, to alter the initiation ceremony from what I consider to be a rather medieval pantomime. It was hopelessly defeated. I looked around the Division Lobby, and saw all the Left-Wingers from the other place who voted here for no change. This bears out another consideration. I hope I will not be accused of giving away any State secrets, but I have been an advocate for many years that Parliament should be taken away from the Palace, and transferred on its own authority. I have done considerable research on this. When the Prime Minister gave me my folio he said, "You can nationalise the old place now, Charlie ", and I set about it straight away. Within six weeks, I had developed a whole scheme for the unified control of the Palace of Westminster. There was no difficulty at all then, but when I came to this House, it was another thing. I found out that they were not Socialists in this House, not Conservatives or Liberals, but another incarnation. Dick Crossman found that to his cost later on, when he tried to reform the House of Lords. What he did not realise was that although it was a first-class matter of interest to this House—I heard the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, on television at the time—it was fifth-rate stuff down that end, and it was talked out.

I came here and found out that whatever they call themselves before they come to this House, people would have died in the last ditch for the rights of the Lord Great Chamberlain. So my efforts largely failed. I can remember the Stokes Committee in 1964—Stokes of glorious memory on a great Select Committee—when we tried to make an arrangement by which the Peers' guest room should be shared with Members of the House of Commons' wives when they came here. It was defeated by the Labour Peers at the time, and I think the father of my noble friend Lord Shepherd was among them. This is the sort of thing that happened.

I hear complaints that when your Lordships have a late sitting at night, noble Lords are not served a meal in the Members' diningroom in the House of Commons. In view of all that has gone before, I say to your Lordships that you reap what you sow. The Left Wing of the Peers came down very heavily against altering the initiation ceremony. Of course, I understand this. People revere what they know and love. The behaviour of your Lordships here is the rationale of much experience over the years. Your Lordships have gradually settled in to a way of life that is agreeable to you. The difference between this House and the other place is really the cares of the constituency. I never knew the burden of 60,000 people 200 miles away until that burden was lifted from my shoulders; that makes all the difference. I do not know whether that is the reason for the latent hostility I often find between the two Chambers, but that is a fact.

Generally speaking, when I consider what happened last night in the other place, and other things like that, it is a fact that new Members of the House of Commons always believe that the world of thought started when they arrived here. They believe that they are the people on their way up, and that we are the people on our way out. I find that Members of the House of Lords, when I talk to them, think that this has all been done before and justice has no more mocking questions to ask mankind.

I come now to the nub of all the trouble; that is, time. The noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Shepherd, were right about this; but what are we to do about it? Everybody blethers about it. One can see the same complaints going on year after year. The other place used to rise at a sensible time in July and never came back until February. I do not think that has been done since 1923. But if you take any other modern State, it has its three-year plan, its five-year plan and even a 10-year plan; we have an annual Budget. We carry on our affairs in a way suitable to a pastoral society: springtime and harvest, the rotation of crops; get the boys away to gather in the harvest; that is the idea. A great industrial nation is circumstanced entirely by that consideration.

I know why they want to get away in July; I am not a friend of Bob Mellish for nothing. He wants to give them a deadline—you work them to death on the promise that, "You will not get away by the second week in August unless you do it this way ", and that is how he keeps on. What this House does is what the other place largely dictates. Although the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, likes to think he has done the Government a good turn, he has made a virtue of necessity. He can do nothing else, because he is the Leader of an Opposition; and the Opposition cannot let Government legislation go by default. Consequently, the noble Lord has to come back anyway.

My Lords, what shall we do to break the bottleneck? I will tell you the Pannell solution. Broadly speaking, it is that all legislation should not be required to be finished by the end of the Session; if we got to a position with a Second Reading or Third Reading by the end of July it could be taken up in the new Session. I think the condition of it being taken up in the new Session is that it would face another Second Reading in the Commons. This gives the Government a wonderful opportunity to drop legislation which they have found to be an albatross round their neck. All sorts of things are started, with too much legislation which can be conveniently forgotten. In 1970, I think the Labour Government had to drop 22 Bills, most important Bills, including the nationalisation of ports, because of a snap Election. I do not think that is a good thing either. I think there is too much legislation. I think the Government ought to be given second thoughts. It is all very well jibbing at the idea that something was in the Manifesto. Winston Churchill had something to say about that. He once said: "I do not believe that simply because you stick something in an Election document you should be bound to it for all time ". We consider this is a tryst with the people. We put something in the Manifesto as a witness, as the reason why something should be brought in.

I know it will be said about my solution that you will not get the people in the Lobbies. You will. We need longer to think about the things we do. I remember that as a Minister I read the equivalent of a paper-back a day in order to keep abreast of what was going on, unless I was going to be at the mercy of my civil servants, which far too many Ministers are. It is true that the Whips could not use the lash quite as much, but at any rate it would be a good idea to try that. I do not think your Lord ships ought to be bullied about this. I have heard the pledge given that nothing will be brought in after Easter. I heard the Prime Minister say it a few nights ago, and I hope that will be honoured.

No planning is possible on the basis of the yearly budget. We speak about rolling programmes, but to be successful they must be hauled up and examined by expenditure committees and subject to that sort of scrutiny, without believing that time is running out all the time. What happened to the Community Land Bill? When all is said and done—this is not a charge against the Opposition; it is a fact—how many Amendments were left? Hundreds of them, all just shot through on the last day or two. With the best will in the world they could not be understood. Members of Parliament can get down to a certain amount of reading but it has to be specialised reading. If you are to be well-read and have enough knowledge to make the Minister take notice or, more important, the people in the Civil Service box take notice, you have to have some specialisation.

I think the proposal that I have put up is worth examination. I can only say that after 25 years hard thinking I can think of no other. It still seems to me that—though this is outside the terms of reference of the Committee—after my experience on the Trade Union Bill, which almost invoked the Parliament Act, the delay is still too long. The fact that that has been voted on eight times in the Commons must lead to a great deal of frustration. We heard the repetitive speeches of Lord Goodman time and time again, and they did not add to the first occasion we heard him. I think that after the Commons have rejected Amendments for the second time it would be far better if we got on with other business.

Another association that I have had with this place is that I was a member of the Joint Select Committee, I think about 1962, which tried the Wedgwood Benn case. That let in the Life Peers, and I thought that was, generally speaking, in spite of what the noble Lord said, to the health of this place.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive my intervening. I hope he did not misunderstand me. I was not-criticising the creation of Life Peers; I was only criticising the quantity over the last 15 years.


My Lords, I hope there is no reflection on the quality. Quite frankly, when the noble Lord was speaking, I thought that he thought we were somehow lesser breeds without the law.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord is being his usual funny self and is not being serious when he says he thought I said that, because he has no reason to believe either that I said it or thought it.


My Lords, of course, I accept the noble Lord's withdrawal. If I am facetious, so is he on occasions. I can never take him entirely seriously. Of course, there is the burden of over-elaborate legislation, but let your Lordships take heart. I read the debate in the other place when the Lord President of the Council introduced this subject Every innovation that he brought up was greeted with cries of dissent from all over the House; they are determined against change, exactly as are your Lordships. There is one thing which we could do. I think we ought to have a common research service between the two Houses. I took a considerable part in setting up the Research Department in the other place, and it is a very good research department indeed. We are well serviced, I do not know by how many assistants, but it is not comparable to the service down there. I think we could easily have a common library service. Why should it be considered almost an impingement on the Royal Prerogative if we have any service shared with that common place? I think we could have common research services.

I do not think the Party which preached, if I may say so again to the noble Lord, that there would be no legislation would sweep the country. I can only tell him of my experience of eight General Elections; that is, that they always wanted more legislation. Sam Gompers, the famous American trade union leader, was asked, "What do trade unions want?". He said, "More and more and more". So do the electorate. It seems that they have an appetite for everything. Another thing I know from long association with the electorate, which is denied to your Lordships' House, is that there is no gratitude in public life except for favours to come. There is no question at all about that.

So I wish your Lordships' Committee well when they come to consider these matters. There are only a certain number of days in the week; there is only a certain amount of time to study. When all is said and done, your Lordships are not as young as you used to be. I find now, at my time of life, having outlived the allotted span of three score years and ten, and a few over, that any good work I have to do has to be done in the morning when I am fresh; I am not suitable enough for it in the evening. This is not a request that the Committee should necessarily meet in the morning, only that other hours should not be added. If I have appeared facetious, I must say that I have always recognised, as my colleagues would agree, and have said in the other place, that this place has a great capacity for public service; it is the greatest reservoir of past public service that we have in the country. I can honestly say that although I differ from people from time to time I find this place congenial and everyone most kind.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to speak briefly on one particular aspect of our practices and procedures as they relate to local legislation. In doing so, I should also like to give my strong support to what the Lord Chairman of Committees, Lord Listowel, said in his speech, which was full of most important facts and details which are of great importance to us in our work here, and to which we must pay great attention. As the noble Earl said, Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 imposed on all local authorities the requirement to review their existing local and private legislation and promote new Private Bills by 1984 or, in the case of the six metropolitan counties, by 1979, by which dates all their existing legislation would be repealed. One must be anxious that this timetable will fail, not because of any failure on the part of the local authorities but because our existing practices and procedures in Parliament will prove inadequate to cope with the timetable.

The first of these local Private Bills, the County of South Glamorgan Bill, has been subjected to three Select Committees, of which I have had the privilege to be a member of two. I have never been to South Glamorgan but, as a Scot, I am growing quite fond of that part of Wales and feel that I know it quite well. Much valuable spadework for this Bill has been done in the Select Committees, and this will, no doubt, be of great value to the remaining 53 local authorities when they promote their Private Bills. We cannot assume that the experience of South Glamorgan will necessarily cause these other 53 Bills to be produced in a very much shorter form. The 1972 Act encouraged new local authorities to review and prune their existing legislation before promoting their Bills, and the County of South Glamorgan have told us that the 287 clauses and 8 Schedules which are in their Bill represent only 3 per cent. of their existing legislation. Can we be sure that, when their turn comes to promote their Bills, the other authorities will be as prompt and keen to prune their legislation as drastically as that?

It is true that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will coincide with 25 clauses and 4 Schedules of the existing County of South Glamorgan Bill. This new Government Bill was produced during the sittings of the Second Select Committee and had a great effect on our deliberations. It is now having its Second Reading in another place. Assuming that this Bill becomes law in more or less the form in which it has been published, it will make these 25 clauses strong candidates for repeal, and presumably, this will also reduce the number of clauses in the other local authority Bills. But that is not a very large reduction.

Another matter is that those clauses in the County of South Glamorgan Bill which have been disallowed may well be promoted in the same, or similar, form by the other authorities, either because they think they have a better case or because they can make a stronger case, based on their own local needs. In any event, I think that the volume of work which these Private Bills will give during the next eight years—that is, by 1984—will be very great indeed.

Apart from the time spent on the County of South Glamorgan Bill on the Floor of your Lordships' House, I calculate that in formal sessions of Select Committees of this House the Bill has occupied so far 492 Peer hours, if I might coin a collective phrase; and this does not include informal meetings and homework. If the situation arises during the next eight years—and with our present procedure I am bound to say that I think it will—that your Lordships' House has to deal with two or even three of these Bills, I do not think the Chairman of Committees will have any difficulty in getting sufficient Peers to form two or three Select Committees sitting on separate local authority Bills at the same time. The shortcoming would be in the size of the Private Bill Office staff who support these Committees, both from the administrative point of view and also from the secretarial point of view. This support is absolutely essential to the work of these Select Committees, and I personally have been impressed by the great support that this small staff provides to ensure the smooth working of the Committee.

It is not only this small staff which would be overwhelmed if two or three local authority Bills were dealt with simultaneously, but also of course the shorthand writers and typing facilities would be hopelessly stretched. One wonders also whether the Departments would be able to provide sufficient representatives of the right calibre to attend the discussion in Select Committee of those clauses which were relevant to them if more than one Select Committee sat at any one time to consider local Private Bills for general powers. Presumably these Departments would prefer similar clauses from all local authorities to be dealt with by one Select Committee at the same time rather than taking a whole Bill from each local authority in turn. I think there is in fact considerable merit in this idea if only because it would provide a better opportunity to achieve uniformity of the various local Acts dealing with similar subjects.

I do not want to waste your Lordships' time describing this procedure in detail, but as I see it between now and 1984 we would require, at a fairly early and reasonable date, all local authorities to deposit their new local Bills by that date. If they were able to achieve a degree of uniformity in the drafting of their clauses which dealt with parallel subjects, it would undoubtedly help the work of Parliament. Then, on an arranged programme spread over, say, the next five years, your Lordships could appoint Select Committees to deal with the clauses by subject matter across the board and not with each Bill in turn. If any local authority had a requirement which did not coincide with the majority, then there would be nothing under this procedure to stop that individual local authority from having either a separate subparagraph or whatever it required. That would be a matter for the Select Committee. I am not making my proposal in an inflexible manner.

Time would be allowed before the 1984 date was reached for the remaining clauses in each Bill which had not been touched by these Select Committees to be dealt with Bill by Bill, which would not take very long, so that the Bills would then all go through Parliament fairly quickly in the last year or two before 1984. If this procedure is going to work, I realise that both Houses will need to adopt it. I also realise that the work of the Select Committees would have to be allowed to carry on over each Session, and even over each Parliament. But since, on the whole, these local Private Bills are of a non-political nature, I am sure that this problem could be overcome.

Finally, there is one other factor which I should like to mention which makes it essential for us to try and devise some better procedures for establishing this new range of local Acts of Parliament. The cost of promoting these local Bills is very heavy indeed on each of the local authorities. I have no way of accurately estimating what the cost has been to the County of South Glamorgan, but I should be surprised if they see much change from £200,000,and this, when one multiplies by 54 local authorities, or whatever becomes quite a sizeable total of public money. One must agree that one hopes that each of the future Private Bills will not have to be recommitted to a second Select Committee, which must have added to the cost. But, nevertheless, the cost for each local authority will be quite considerable. Therefore, I strongly urge that the Lord Chairman's proposals receive the most careful and immediate consideration, so that better procedures can be adopted to enable local authorities to carry out what Parliament has required them to do under the 1972 Act. We should do this not only to grasp this unique opportunity of tidying up local Statute Law but to make certain that it is not because of Parliamentary procedures that local authorities fail to achieve their legitimate needs within the timetable.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, it would be an impertinence for me, after less than two years' membership of this House, to comment on the procedure of the House. There are, however, a few points that are similar at both ends of the Parliamentary corridor and I will speak about those. The first is the Parliamentary timetable which the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Pannell, mentioned. As Lord Pannell said, it originated from the habit which the House had of starting its Session when the pheasant shooting had ended, and it took good care to see that the House had prorogued before the grouse shooting season had started. Later there was a concession and, as Parliamentary business got rather heavier, the Session was begun when the pheasant shooting began and it was arranged that the financial year should end exactly half way through.

This is a rather antiquated and out of date approach. It is also highly inconvenient. I suggest, therefore, that the time has come for a committee to look at the Parliamentary timetable. With our membership of the European Community, we will have the position where in the Community the financial year ends with the calendar year while our financial year ends on 31st March. I do not necessarily want to know which way it would go because I gather that the Community is finding certain difficulties over its budget and financial procedures and it may be found inconvenient to keep to the end of the calendar year. In my view, the great weakness of the Parliamentary timetable is that the peak of Parliamentary activity comes at a time when the weather is sultry, with thunderstorms, and is highly unsuitable for acrimonious debate.

As the Leader of the House said, the Select Committee on Procedure which was presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and of which I was a member, recommended that both Houses should adjourn or prorogue early in July. The only effect of that recommendation has been that the House has sat well into August, and thus I say that the time has come for a review of the procedure. Another factor of importance is that the school holidays are now coming earlier than they used to and this means, as the Leader of the House said, that Parliamentarians are deprived to a great extent of the opportunity of spending their holidays with their children. We must see whether this old system, which suited those who were thinking merely of the pheasant and grouse shooting, cannot be brought more up to date and in line with Parliamentary activity.

The second point, which arises from the first, is one which has worried me considerably; it is the distribution of Bills between the two Houses. Two Select Committees on Procedure in the other place, of which I was a member or chairman, advocated that there should be a better distribution of Bills between the two Houses. There are difficulties over this and there are certain constitutional shibboleths that prevent it. There is also, I am afraid, the innate vanity of Ministers who like to deliver their own legislative concepts in the full glare of publicity on the Government Front Bench in the House of Commons. These difficulties have to be overcome because the mal distribution of Bills between the two Houses brings the overload of work in this place in the month of July, and it means that in the early part of the Session this House is working at a much lower degree of intensity than later on.

What the solutionis I am not quite certain. Undoubtedly, the pre-legislative procedures of Green Papers and debates on White Papers give Ministers the opportunity to have their publicity early on, and after that, if there has been a debate on a Green Paper or White Paper, it is easier, I should have thought, for the Bill to originate in this House rather than in the Commons, and to divide up the consideration of it. But where one does not have any pre-legislative Paper or debate, one must find some procedural device to enable Ministers to have the publicity and, at the same time, to get the two Houses working on the legislation evenly throughout the year and at the same level of pressure.

I am not wedded to the solution put forward by Lord Pannell, of having "no slaughter of the innocents "because that would be highly inconvenient for Governments who, if they find certain of their Bills unpopular, can manage to cut their throats quietly at the end of October and nothing more is heard of them. With the Pannell solution we should find even more legislation; we should find a certain encouragement for Governments to introduce their measures in July on the excuse that, after all, they need not necessarily finish at the end of the Session. Clearly these matters require urgent consideration. In my view, most of the important ones require examination by a joint Select Committee rather than by two separate committees of the two Houses, because we now want a radical overhaul of the practice and procedure of Parliament, and that can really be done only by a Joint Select Committee.

It is a sobering thought that every measure that is passed goes through eight different stages, in five of which Amendments can be made, yet at the end the legislation is unintelligible to the average citizen and even to the courts. This means that something is wrong with the legislative process. I hope that whatever committees look at this matter they will look at a solution that has been advocated and has been called the "turn back stage "; at the end of the proceedings either House would look at the Bill, as amended, for its drafting and the arrangement of its clauses, and would try to make something better out of the mess left by the legislative process. There is a lot to be said for that, if it would not add unduly to the time taken by Parliament on legislation. We have a responsibility to see that the legislation we pass is intelligible, right and clear to the subject. I feel that here I am getting to the limit of my impertinence and therefore I will merely wish the committee good success and hope that there will be radical changes in Parliamentary procedure as a result of its recommendations.

5.10 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I did not want to speak, and I only do so—and I pray your Lordships' indulgence for it—because nobody else has said for me what I thought and hoped they would say. There seems to me to be one over-riding fault in your Lordships' House. It is not the fault of any Member or Members. It suits a Conservative Government to have a Conservative majority because they can get their legislation straight through. It suits a Labour Government to have a Conservative majority because if ever its legislation is amended they can go back to the other place and say, "Yah boo! It is a Peers v. People issue! '

A recent development has been the incredible complication of legislation. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that there are four Acts which could have done with amendment which would have been acceptable to another place on a non-partisan basis. In other words, if the Conservatives could have been persuaded in the case of the Industrial Relations Act or the National Health Service Re-organisation Act that some of the Labour Amendments were right, both those Acts would have been much better. That may possibly apply also to the Act reorganising local government. If that could have been done, it would have made it much easier for a Labour Government in the case of the Goodman Amendment and of some Amendments to the Community Land Act to have said that it was not simply a case of the Conservative Whip being applied or of the Conservative majority.

In what I am saying, I am not in any way trying to criticise my noble friend Lord Carrington for applying the power which he has. Of course not. This is just the result of a fault in the composition of your Lordships' House. It seems to me dotty—and your Lordships will forgive me for following the noble Lord. Lord Pannell, in being facetious—that a person should find himself in your Lord ships' House as a result of the fact that his forebear was Chancellor of the Exchequer around 1819, was Speaker of the House of Commons and was given promotion because he became drunk with George III and the Prince of Wales. It seems very odd that somebody like myself should have any influence, in however minor a way, over the affairs of this country.

My Lords, what I am trying to say is that if we get the composition of this House right, the powers and influence which it will have will be mach greater. Surely that is what we need now, because Government legislation from both sides is so complicated and the power of the Executive is—and I speak as a Whig—too great and must be checked. A back-up check could be provided by a balanced composition in your Lordships' House as a result of which neither side could shout "Foul! "or, alternatively, "We have the heavy battalions! ".

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I count it among the privileges which I have derived from being a Member of your Lordships' House that I have come to know the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. It seems that the many conversations which we have had in private have borne some fruit because he is the only speaker so far to have put his finger on what matters. What politics are about is not nice debating arrangements or getting a meal after time or whether one can use the Library facilities, important as those things are. Politics are about power. However, I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that if we get the composition right the power will follow. Of course it will not.

This House has existed from time immemorial to protect the rights and privileges of those who happen to drink with the Monarch or whose female forebears have slept with him. That is what it is about and they have hung on to it successfully for a very long time. They have done so because, in moments of crisis, they have had the wisdom to see that the game was up and they have made adjustments accordingly. Then one gets an arriviste like Lord Carrington speaking into the ear of Mr. Heath in 1974, as a result of which the Tories fought an Election which they should never have fought because they did so under conditions which made it impossible for them to win. That showed beyond measure that, so far as the Tory Party in its present form is concerned, the game is permanently up. However, I believe that the game is also permanently up for the Labour and Liberal Parties as well.

When I look at the future of politics in this country I recognise one simple fact: if politicians are to succeed they must—like those who back horses—choose the winner before it has won, because the bookmakers will not pay out after it has won. The future of politics in this country during the life, I believe, of anyone now living, and certainly of anyone in this House, is that never again will there be a majority for one single Party. We have moved into an area of political adjustment. That may be an unfortunate fact. We may come to long for the days when, after an Election, there would be a Prime Minister and an Administration in 10, Downing Street, whatever their political colour, who could carry on the function of Government, which is to govern. There will have to be a period of adjustment.

Whether or not I am right it is perfectly clear that the political Parties in their modern form have abdicated one of the vital functions of political Parties in a democracy—namely, their educative role. I well remember going to Mr. Morgan Phillips in 1945 with a number of Members of the House of Commons who had been associated with me before in the war in the organisation of adult education. I spoke to him about the necessity of carrying on the work which had been done during the war by ABCA and in the munition hostels and the like. He was quite blunt about it. He said, "There is no money, but if I had any money and I had to choose between spending it on political education or on organisers I should choose the organisers. "He chose the organisers and the Labour Party is in the state in which it now finds itself. It has eaten all the political seed corn.

So far as the Tories are concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, had the wisdom to see the need for political education in 1945. He set about the task and he learned the simple lesson that one cannot educate others until one educates oneself. He took the new generation which came into the House of Commons in 1945 and which sat on these Benches in this Chamber, and produced a degree of political competence which I envied although I thought their principles misguided.

That is what must happen. If not, it may well be that there will be no future for democratic Party politics as we know them in this country. It may be—and I, for one, dread it—that, as a result of the decision which a majority of your Lord ships endorsed to go into the Common Market, we shall be ruled by Directives from Brussels. Those are Directives which nobody, least of all Ministers, understand. We simply have to do what we are told in accordance with the line taken in Brussels. In that case, the House should organise itself into a series of committees, each considering the Directives coming from Brussels and at least to make sure that the papers are delivered on time and that the translations are correct.

If there is to be a virile democracy that really understands what things arc about, of course there must be a manifesto, of course there must be a programme, because one of the requirements fulfilled during a General Election, certainly so far as the Labour Party is concerned, is that one enters into an intensive period in which politics assume a priority. Peoples minds are open. They are willing to discuss matters, and to attend meetings. Perhaps they even read the newspapers, although they will not get much education of any kind from them, and, least of all from the broadcasting media, by which I mean television. This point highlights one of the great defects in our society at present. We live in a time of great change. The noble Lord, Lord Pannell, discussed the difficulties of introducing change into the thinking of Members of this House. There may be something in that. But there cannot be worthwhile change in a democratic society unless there is discussion. There must be discussion at all levels, if the will, the purpose, of the Government is to make itself felt.

If one was to say a word about the difficulties inside the trade union movement it would be that decisions, very often right and wise decisions, are taken aloft, yet penetrate only slowly. There is imperfect communication between the decisions taken aloft and the implementation and understanding of them on the factory floor. This, again, is a matter which is of vital concern to all of us who believe in a democratic society.

The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, is absolutely right when he talks about the programme that we have inherited from our forbears. But if that is to be put right we must deal with the problem fundamentally. For example, in a modern society what case is there for the anachronistic nonsense of the Chancellor emerging from No. 11 holding his dispatch box, then going down to the House of Commons and talking for three hours, delivering obiter dicta, in which the majority of the points should be dealt with Departmentally, or published in a White Paper? The whole nation is keyed up listening. They are wondering if there will be a ha'penny on tobacco or, perhaps, a penny off beer. How is it possible to run the affairs of a great nation, with its complicated industrial system, on the basis of squeaks from the nursery? All that belongs to the days of Gladstone, or, perhaps—to please the noble Lord, Lord Pannell—it is associated with what Asquith said in the earlier part of this century. But it has nothing whatever to do with the political and economic affairs of this country, which are intertwined.

My complaint against this place is very simple. First, I believe in the necessity of a second Chamber, in its revising role. Secondly, I believe also in its delaying role. But all my life I have fought against "Toryism ". I once said in another place about "Toryism "that I hated its guts. That is true. I always have and, I believe, always shall. I feel this way now. I hate everything that "Toryism "stands for, including its lack of courage. That is my complaint. It has given away an Empire and got nothing in return. There fore, I fight "Toryism ". When this House acts in such a way as it acted over the Common Market, not in the discharge of the traditions it has claimed for itself, but in putting a seal on what was convenient for a Tory Government, I am "agin "it.

In its present form we should slit its throat. I am here for one purpose only, to assist in the slitting of its throat; hygienically if possible, but in another way if it is not. I advocate—after all, it is in the natural tradition—that it is much better to commit suicide than to be murdered. Therefore, if this House gets rid of itself in its present form, that is to say, it gets rid of its permanent Tory majority, which exists only to protect its own interest, then my views on the subject will change. It requires courage to commit suicide, and I believe that the Tory Party is not famed for political courage. So I do not think there is much hope in that direction.

There are a number of things which this House could do. It could, for example, institute an efficient library service, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pannell. I say at once that I am not critical of the resources avail able. I pay tribute and acknowledge the debt which I owe personally to Mr. Dobson, Mr. Morgan and their colleagues. I also have the advantage of being an ex-Member of the House of Commons and so have the privilege of using the House of Commons facilities when they are available. I am very grateful for that. But I believe that in these days there should be an efficient library service. It need not be preferential, nor more than adequate, but rather the type of service which one could get by using the City of Westminster Library, for example. That type of service would not cost all that much. I once, perhaps foolishly, spent some time producing a paper which I then gave to the Chairman of the Library Committee, and, in accordance with the best Parliamentary tradition, nothing happened. But it is perfectly obvious that such a service is an essential requirement, even for the House in its present form.

I say to noble Lords that one should hasten slowly. Such advice may be regarded as an impertinence coming from me. This may sound a little odd, but I would be careful about wild experiments. That does not mean to say that there are not a number of things that could be done that would improve this House beyond all measure. First, the application of the Rules should be the same for all Members of the House regardless of whether they sit on the Government Front Bench or the Opposition Front Bench, regardless, indeed, of where they sit. This suggestion may cause the Leader of the House a slight upset or a rising of his blood pressure. But at present the Rules are not applied in this way. I listen to Statements and find that in contributions there is no pretence at all of an interrogative form being used. Rather, they take the form of speeches, particularly from the Liberal Benches. We have to go through this dreary business in which someone speaks on behalf of the Government, then, quite rightly, someone speaks for the Conservative Opposition. But then there must be a Liberal speaker, although they have nothing to say. Thank God there is not a Communist here, otherwise we should have to have a Communist joining in on such occasions, or perhaps, one day, a Member representing the Flat Earth Society! There could be innumerable people all wanting to get up and yet say nothing. I believe that the Rules of the House should be universally applied.

I come now to my second point, and this excites me as an ex-Member of the House of Commons. Noble Lords get up and actually read supplementary questions. This type of situation is bad enough with speeches. This is supposed to be a place of debate. I recall what I learned from my noble friend Lord Shinwell a long time ago when I was a Parliamentary Secretary. He said to me after my maiden speech that it was a place of debate, and added: "Don't let me ever hear you saying. ' I hope that the honourable Member will excuse me if I do not follow him ',"Of course one should follow him, there should be a continuity in debate. Questions are being debated. There are clashes of opinion, and this brings life into discussions.

We must remember that if our discussions are to be worth while they should not be confined to ourselves. This is not a private debating Chamber. It is a forum and it ought to be making its impact right across the nation. It can do that only if there is virility. It is not possible to have virility if a Member writes out a speech and then proceeds to mumble it. If noble Lords and noble Baronesses want to read their speeches, why not, in this bicentennial year, have the American system? The speeches can be handed into Hansard and printed, and so we can read them in the Record. But I say to these noble Lords and noble Baronesses: for God sake spare the rest of us from having to listen to these speeches! What I have been suggesting are simple measures, which I believe could he introduced. As I have said, we could improve the Library service.

Now I come to something else. In this place Ministers of the Crown are answering collectively. To my mind they should accept the discipline of not answering Questions for which they have no responsibility. In the other place the Table looks at Questions and will not accept them unless governmental responsibility is involved. For noble Lords to put down Questions for which Ministers have no responsibility is an abuse of the Order Paper. Ministers themselves do the cause of democracy no good, nor do they serve the Government or even the person who has put down the Question, because this is a sloppy, lazy way to behave. The Questions should be thought out, and they should be Questions for which the Government are responsible. Supplementary questions, too, should have to pass exactly the same test. It may well be said that I am moving towards a chairman. Yes, I am. I am moving towards a chair, and I am moving towards what any decent debating society will have. That is what your Lordships want: rules for debate; rules which have to be adhered to and which lead to orderly debate—orderly debate on the basis of the responsibility of Ministers to answer and the responsibility of the questioner. My Lords, these are not revolutionary proposals but they are essential if this place is to develop as a forum of the nation.

I would say only this in conclusion. What I know about Parliamentary procedure I learned as a Member of the House of Commons, starting off sitting on the other side of this Chamber. I did not learn it from Erskine May, although I always bought a copy; I learned it from a Conservative Member of the House of Commons, the late Lord Winterton. He loved the House of Commons, and I quickly realised it. Although many on our side of the House thought he was a bloody old fool, he loved the House of Commons and knew what it was all about and that was good enough for me. He was also, I may say, a great friend of my noble friend Lord Shinwell. They were referred to at the time as "Arsenic and Old Lace ". A Parliamentary secret which I have never yet discussed is: who was "Old Lace "and who was "Arsenic "? I leave that to your Lordships.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, much as I am tempted to follow my noble friend Lord Wigg, I do not want to detain your Lordships very long but I am going to refer to what the Lord Chairman of Committees said about Private Bill legislation. I think he is abso- lately right in saying that the time has arrived when this matter ought to be considered from its foundations. Private Bill legislation was originally intended to serve the purpose of providing a solution to one local problem, such as giving a local authority power to build a bridge and to acquire the land in order to build the approaches; it was not intended to be a means of altering the general law of this country. That is where the whole trouble has arisen; and I am sure it is right that the general law should not be altered piecemeal and in varying directions by a multiplicity of local Acts. It should be done by general legislation, which would apply equally to every local authority. Let the local authorities pro mote legislation for the limited purpose of acquiring powers for some special transitory purpose, and let it be part of that legislation that after a period—five or ten years—it should automatically lapse and not encumber the Statute Book any longer.

5.34 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only two or three minutes. I am going to resist the invitation extended by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, to follow him in this debate. I do not wish to follow him on weighing up the pros and cons of suicide or murder. I take a poor view of both. I am not sure, if I had the choice, that I would not rather be murdered than commit suicide, but that might be the subject for another debate. But if one attempted to follow all the points raised by the noble Lord. Lord Wigg, in any of his speeches I personally would feel like the medieval herald of whom it was said that he leapt on his horse and galloped off madly in all directions.

What I really want to say, my Lords, is how interested I was in the various thoughts that the noble Lord the Leader of the House put to us in his agreeable speech this afternoon. I agreed with him very much that, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, I think a good start has been made in studying the Directives and the other proposed forms of legislation in the EEC. Obviously, we have to go further, but I believe that your Lordships' House is well suited to the kind of study that should be made of these Directives, and other things, with a view to reporting to your Lordships those that seem most important and relevant and which your Lordships will wish to debate.

I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord said about a possible system whereby more preliminary consideration would be given to potential legislation. I realise all the difficulties of that, but I believe it would be useful if a system could be worked out, together with the other place, by which this became a growing practice. Personally, I think the growing practice in recent years of producing a Green Paper as a preliminary to a White Paper and then to subsequent legislation is good in itself, because I think the noble Lord will agree with me that very often the Government find themselves committed by a White Paper and find it a little more difficult to change their minds after a White Paper. That is where I think a Green Paper, or some other form of consideration, might be invaluable. I also believe 'that your Lordships' House has in its membership much expert experience which would be invaluable in such a preliminary process.

The third point I wanted to make is that I could not agree more with what my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about the volume of legislation. I think it is deplorable, the way successive Governments take a pride in boasting at the end of a Session about the number of Bills which they have succeeded in forcing through the processes of Parliament, with the result that far too many Bills are exuded from these processes ill-drafted, ill-considered and greatly to the confusion of the public at large. My Lords, if only we could get back to a practice which was followed during some parts of the last century. I remember reading of one of the Prime Ministers of the last century who said to his colleagues some time in July: "I have thought hard, and I cannot think of a single Bill that it would be advisable to put to Parliament during the next four or five months. I therefore suggest that the Parliamentary Recess this year, starting at the end of July, should be extended to at least January and, perhaps, on further consideration, until later in the spring ". I think that if we move back a little in that direction the legislation which would go through would be better, and would be far more under standable and acceptable to the public at large.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I will be brief. I think we have had a very useful debate. I shall look with very great care and attention at the various suggestions that have been made; and the Committee, when it is set up, will, I know, pay special regard to some of the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, and also my noble friend Lord Pannell. I would say only this to my noble friend Lord Wigg, that we in this House of course enjoy debate, and some of us who have never been in another place watch with a degree of admiration, and sometimes with a sense of despair, the debating styles brought from another place to your Lordships' House. One thing I am absolutely certain about is that if we did have the debating styles of another place as displayed to us this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Wigg and my noble friend Lord Pannell, a chairman of the House would be inevitable because it would not be possible to maintain the degree of decorum and restraint that we exercise and which makes it possible for us to conduct our business as we now do.

My own view—and I say this quite frankly to my noble friend Lord Wigg—is that the flexibility in this House is something that the other place would very much like to have. But I would say this in conclusion to my noble friend. I believe that Parliament is more than a theatre; it is a workshop. If I could be arrogant for a few moments on behalf of this House I would say, without any fear at all of correction, that the Scrutiny Committee that we have set up for the EEC—not only its method but the depth into which it goes into those matters—is not only a credit to this House but the envy of another place. It shows that Parliament is not solely that of the theatre or that of a sense of satisfaction in having scored a debating point off another. I know that there are some noble Lords who regret that the two Front Benches are not perpetually at each others' throats. I am delighted that during my two years as Leader the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, and I have not had a single row. That is not an invitation that we should start to do so next week. There have been occasions during my period of 22 years here when the temperature undoubtedly has been high; but it has been high only very briefly, for there is a recognition that if we allow temperatures to remain high, the procedures under which we work would quickly disappear.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, speaking of pheasants, partridges and other birds and their connection with the way in which this House and Parliament arrange their business. Then is one way in which we could relieve ourselves of a great deal of the pressure of June and July. We ourselves could do it without any Constitutional change at all. There is no reason why this House should sit concurrently with another place. We could meet at different times in the year. This House could rise for July and August and come back early in September, to take the load then. But these are matters which clearly could be considered by the Committees. I hope that they will not refrain from putting in interim Reports; because if they have some idea that will be helpful immediately, I think we should have it and implement it as quickly as possible.

I have a feeling that the debate represents the view of the House that the Committee should be established. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked why it was that the Motion was merely to "take note". I have already said that I have been in this House for 22 years. I have learned that it is often best to walk cautiously, and sometimes in circles, if what you want to achieve may prove a little too radical for this House. I think that my noble friend Lord Pannell touched on this in relation to the restaurant facilities and the reluctance of Labour Peers, I think it was that we felt we were going to be swamped by another place. Having lived for a few years now with some of my colleagues from another place—and they are not quite so bad as we may have thought them to be—if overtures were made perhaps we might have a different response.

I hope that the Committee will be set up; that we shall give careful consideration to its Chairman and membership and to the good relations that are already well established and developing between the two Houses; and that these two Committees (one appointed in the Com- mons and one appointed here) may be able to go into all the problems and seek ways and means of improving not only the lot of Members themselves but also the power of scrutiny and control over the Executive about which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington spoke. I hope that the promise I made (and I say it with expectation) as to legislation before Easter will be complied with. I think that is all I wish to say. I thank noble Lords for their contributions today, and when the Motion for setting up the Committee is put, I hope that it will be accepted by this House without further debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.