HL Deb 04 November 1976 vol 376 cc1442-5

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House when the subject of House of Lords reform was last under consideration in another place, and whether the general body of Peers were consulted about the details of the proposed reform on that occasion.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, House of Lords reform was last considered in a substantive form by another place in Session 1968–69. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which embodied proposals for reform, received a Second Reading on 3rd February 1969 and was considered for 11 days in Committee on the Floor of the House before being abandoned in April. The proposals in the Bill arose out of discussions at an Inter-Party Conference in which the Leaders of the three Parties in your Lordships' House took part. After a debate lasting three days in November 1968, this House gave general approval to the proposals for reform set out in a White Paper.


My Lords, in view of the debate on this subject not having been officially submitted to your Lordships' House for consideration, or at any rate no decision having been reached which could be regarded as satisfactory, will my noble friend arrange that an opportunity be provided officially, either by the Government or by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition who has views on this subject which he has occasionally expressed, so that we may have an adequate debate, having regard to the criticism levelled against your Lordships' House, even to the absurd suggestion that the House should be abolished?


My Lords, I note the sweet terms employed by my noble friend Lord Shinwell, but in the Question I was only asked to give the date of the last occasion on which this subject was discussed. I do not want to reminisce, but I actually took part in those negotiations. It may well be that on some future occasion we shall come back to that subject.


My Lords, does my noble friend understand that I consider that reply to be somewhat unsatisfactory? We cannot leave this matter in such a nebulous fashion. Can we not have a decision that in the near future an opportunity shall be afforded to Members of your Lordships' House to debate this subject, which raises a great many constitutional issues?


My Lords, I thought my noble friend was wanting me to be more specific. Certainly I will look into the question of a debate, and I think this would be a suitable subject for discussion through the usual channels.


My Lords, in view of the excellent broadcast by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, to which we listened this morning, may I ask Her Majesty's Government, if there is another Conference or Committee appointed to consider this subject, to make quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is a member of that Conference or Committee?


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, given good will on all sides of this House, there is a great deal that we can do ourselves to improve a very unsatisfactory situation? Will he therefore ask, either through the usual channels or in discussion with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, whether there could be agreement to get rid of the farcical situation we have so far as Divisions are concerned?


I think that is true, my Lords. I am only a new Member, but I recognise that the House behaves with dignity and the debating standards are high here and compare favourably with any other assembly that I know. I will leave it at that.


My Lords, will the noble Lord arrange for a transcript of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on the radio this morning to be placed in the Library of the House?


My Lords, I will ask he noble Lord whether he will do that.


My Lords, could the noble Lord ensure that in a reformed House, when Labour supporters did not like legislation which was perhaps inspired by the Marxist wing they would follow the tradition so evident in the last six weeks and stay away?


My Lords, on the actual issue of reform, when this subject was last debated there were views put forward by Conservative and by Labour members who were against it, and I am sorry to say they wrecked the Bill.


My Lords, I have been here two years and I have noted the absence of debate in this Chamber. All we usually have is a series of badly read essays in turgid monotones.


My Lords, I must say to my noble friend, who is a skilled Parliamentarian. that I do not think that is really true of this House.


My Lords, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House may well be engaged in any discussions that may take place, will he bear in mind the very high quality of the contributions made by the young hereditary Peers on both sides of this House?


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in point of fact my noble friend Lord Lee of Newton has already made some constructive proposals which have been published in the Guardian? I think this matter could quite reasonably be settled by this House among ourselves by an adjustment to Standing Orders and the inclusion of a new Standing Order. Then we need have no recriminations with another place, which we wish to avoid.


My Lords, I think we might look at that.