§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord BYERS rose to move, That this House declares that it cannot discharge its duties as a revising Chamber with efficiency and diligence if legislation is to be considered throughout the night or for more than ten hours in any one sitting day; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise that it is vitally important that this House should examine in detail legislation much of which has been denied discussion and scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons, and insists that the Parliamentary timetable be adjusted 277 accordingly. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the substantive Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. First, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that there is no intention whatsoever of indulging in frivolity or fun and games, and that all the procedures which, with his great Parliamentary experience, he knows must operate here have been gone through. Nobody could have been more forth-coming and helpful than the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip. The fact is that the overloading of the Parliamentary timetable does not start here, but at the other end of this building.
§ I move this Motion in the belief that it will attract support from those noble Lords who are regular attenders of the House and who have its reputation much at heart. I am concerned that under the present pressures we are in danger of not properly discharging our responsibilities. At this time of the Session in recent years the Government legislative programme or timetable produces a complete log jam. This is nothing new. But, despite the protests of previous years, the situation this Session is far worse than I have ever known it, and unless we try to check it, in my opinion it will go on getting worse year by year. The Government timetable now contains far more legislation than the House could properly digest. As I have said, this stems from another place and puts the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip here in an intolerable position. Either we have more time to sit so that these measures are dealt with properly, or the Government must reduce the Parliamentary load to enable us to deal sensibly with the remaining Business.
§ My Lords, let us recognise there is no magic in the date 17th November for the Opening of Parliament, although I must admit that I favour the Government dropping one or two of their measures rather than extending the Session. This House is a revising Chamber. One of its major tasks is to ensure that legislation containing incomprehensible or ambiguous provisions does not reach the Statute Book. This can only be done if Peers with knowledge of the subject are present, if there is adequate time for the study of the provisions of a Bill, and for the preparation of speeches. It also requires 278 Peers to be alert and not over-tired when scrutinising legislation. This is all the more important when much of the current legislation has been guillotined in another place.
§ In addition, this is a House which is not composed of full-time profess on all politicians. Many, if not most, of the noble Lords active here have other obligations outside the House in order to earn their living or to fulfil public duties. It is quite wrong that the House should be asked to sit on any day for much more than 10 hours continuously. More than this, to my mind, is not conducive to efficiency. It is not for the Government to dictate the length of the sittings. This is a matter to be regulated by the House itself. I believe there is deep unrest in all quarters of the House, not on rounds of personal convenience, not on grounds of health, but on grounds that we are not going to discharge our Parliamentary duties efficiently if we carry on as we are doing.
§ There is also a political consideration. To many of us it seems absurd that at a time when the pound is under the greatest pressure to which it has ever been subjected, and at a time when we have had to borrow from our creditors' interest to service the money they have been good enough to lend us, that we should spend Parliamentary time on such irrelevancies as further nationalisation and the restructuring of the dock labour system. The latter will increase our export and import costs. Some of us feel very strongly that this irrelevance is itself affecting our credibility abroad and that it is tie function of this House to say so and, if necessary, to delay this legislation, which we are perfectly entitled to do.
§ My Lords, I should like to emphasise that, contrary to some of the hysterical assertions from the other end of the building in recent days, it has always been contemplated that this House should have a delaying power. At the moment we are operating under the terms of the Parliament Act 1949, and that Act was brought into being by a Labour Government. Before I came to the Chamber, I looked up the Division on the Third Reading of that Bill. I was very interested to see that in the same Lobby voting on the Bill were "F. Byers" and "T. F. Peart". We both voted for the Parliament Act 279 1949 which contains the rules governing our delaying powers and other powers we have today. I well remember that Division.
§ We also had proposals for Lords reform in 1969. These were drafted by a sub-committee of which I was a member, and were agreed by all the Party representatives on that Committee. We specifically proposed that the Lords should be able to delay a Bill for six months from the date of the disagreement between the two Houses, and it was certainly envisaged that this power would be used. I know it was allied to a reformed House in which the Cross-Benches were expected to play a fairly decisive role, but the one thing we were all agreed on was that if this House had no power, we had no function. It is a matter for great regret that the efforts of Mr. Foot and Mr. Powell prevented this reform of the Lords from coming about. There are those in another place who would like to see not the reform, but the abolition of this House. To them I only say I do not believe that any British Government can dispense with the Second Chamber. Governments need it, and Governments use it.
§ My Lords, if we look back at the figures for some of the measures for last Session we find, for instance, on the Industry Bill that in this House the Government moved 95 Amendments in Committee, 32 Amendments on Report and 54 on Third Reading. I hope Mr. Eric Varley will note those figures. In the case of the Employment Protection Bill the Government moved 87 Amendments here on Third Reading. Whatever its composition and powers, I believe we need this Chamber in our constitutional system. We should not allow a situation in which we believe we are performing a useful public service to become a constitutional confrontation; it is totally unnecessary. We are working within the rules of the game. We need a sensible timetable which can be achieved, as I have said, either by dropping one or two measures, or extending the Session. If I were the Government, I would drop one or two measures in order to demonstrate to the world that we can at last get our priorities right and are not going on with irrelevancies.
§ The Government should recognise that the situation today is very dramatically 280 different from that which existed when the 1974 Manifestoes were drafted. Only last week the right honourable gentleman Mr. Healey said that further nationalisation can only increase the public sector borrowing requirement, and we cannot justify it. He is right. Therefore, why, in the light of that, are we going on, in one Bill, with these nationalisation measures for four major industries?
§ My Lords, there is another consideration, and an important one, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, drew attention only the other clay; that is, the intolerable burden our present arrangements put upon a very loyal and dedicated staff in this House. We are imposing on their willingness. I do not believe that any commercial or industrial concern would be allowed to subject their staff to such onerous duties and such very unsocial hours.
§ Since I tabled my Motion on Friday, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has put down an Amendment to it. It rather weakens my Motion, but it may be none the worse for that. It is more aristocratic in tone; there is a noblesse oblige about it, and I want to put the noble Lord out of his misery, because I am quite prepared to accept it and to recommend it to my noble friends. My sole purpose in this debate is to serve notice on the business managers in another place that we in this House have an important function to perform. We must be allowed to perform it, free from threats or intimidation. We must work within a properly revised timetable. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House declares that it cannot discharge its duties as a revising Chamber with efficiency and diligence if legislation is to be considered throughout the night or for more than ten hours in any one sitting day; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise that it is vitally important that this House should examine in detail legislation much of which has been denied discussion and scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons, and insists that the Parliamentary timetable be adjusted accordingly.—(Lord Byers.)
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord CARRINGTON rose to move, as Amendments to the above Motion,—
§ Line 1, leave out from ("House") to ("calls") in line 3;281
§ Line 6, leave out from ("Commons") to end of line 7 and insert ("regrets that Her Majesty's Government has failed to give effect to this principle and requests that adequate Parliamentary time be afforded for the discussion and scrutiny of legislation.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the two Amendments which stand in my name, if your Lordships will allow, because they both hang together. I move these Amendments not because I disagree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Byers; indeed, I agree with all of it. But your Lordships have been asked to work at a pressure which makes it impossible for the Bills before this House to be adequately discussed. There comes a time when, however much we may seek to do our jobs, the load upon us is too great. We have been asked to discuss and amend and pass through all their stages five major Bills, as well as dealing with such important measures as Felixstowe, in about six or seven weeks; and as well we have to consider Amendments to various other measures which have already been through this House and which will shortly be coming up from another place.
§ I really do not think it is possible to do that. I hope noble Lords opposite will acquit me of the charge of springing this news on them at the last moment. My noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn and I have made it abundantly plain ever since the summer that what the Government were asking us to do was quite impossible, and we have said it time and time and time again.
§ My Lords, there are really two separate issues, the question of whether there is enough time for the House to debate the Bills, and what steps we take to amend and alter them when we do debate them. So far as we are concerned today we need consider only the first question; though perhaps I might say in passing that it seems to me quite contrary, at any rate, to the unwritten conventions of our unwritten Constitution, that a Government which is a minority Government should seek to push through both Houses of Parliament legislation of such a controversial character, legislation to which, if the view of the country is known at all, it seems to be opposed. It would surely have been more sensible for a Government supported by only 38 per cent. of those who did vote 282 to concentrate on putting the economy right, and, Lord knows! there is enough to do there. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, the other night, no dispassionate observer and none of your Lordships opposite could stand up in your place and put your hand on your heart and conscientiously say chat in the very serious economic circumstances in which we are the nationalisation of aircraft and shipbuilding, the Dock Work Regulation Bill, or indeed the Education Bill, can have any positive effect other than to undermine confidence abroad. Nevertheless, we have been laced with this mass of legislation.
§ Perhaps I might mention just one other matter. We have also noticed—how could we not?—statements about confrontation made by various Ministers. They seem, if I may say so, both premature and a little hysterical. The House of Commons have not even discussed our Amendments to any of these Bills, so how can confrontation arise? And even the Prime Minister seems to hive moved into a world of fantasy. Liste ling to his remarks, repeated on the radio this morning, I was mildly surprised that he did not blame the run on the pound on the House of Lords, engineered, of course, by myself, who is well known to have been the leader of the conspiracy against the miners, helped this time by all the Liberal Party and all the Cross Benchers. Of such are fairy stories made. We shall not be deflected by this sort of stuff from doing our constitutional job.
§ There are those who say that, since the House of Lords is composed as it is, why bother? Just treat it as if it did not exist; if it says anything just ignore it, and make speeches about abolition and its "self-appointed task" and confrontation—things of that kind. Well, I suppose there has not been anybody o z any side of this House—and not always, I think, with the wholehearted approval of all your Lordships—who has more consistently advocated the reform of this House than I have. Indeed a great many of us, eight or nine years ago, voted for it, and, as the noble Lord, Lord flyers, said, but for Mr. Foot we would have had it.283
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I must say quite frankly that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, does not know what he is talking about when he blames Mr. Foot and Mr. Powell, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, does. I was in the other place at the time; I know exactly what happened. If there had been a reasonable scheme, a scheme which would have appealed to the majority of the Members of another place, it might have been agreed.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, the vast majority of your Lordships thought it was a reasonable scheme, and it passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons; Mr. Foot opposed it; so I cannot see why the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is getting so excited. He has already had one turn and he is going to have another turn later. Mr. Foot opposed it, and but for him and for Mr. Powell and a few others we should be reformed. Mr. Foot actually had a lot of Parliamentary fun, but I do not think he did anybody much of a service. So we are not reformed.
It so happens that because the Government have got themselves into a terrible and incompetent muddle over their programme, because they have gravely miscalculated the amount of time needed to get these Bills through the Commons, we are in the mess we are in. Even in the Commons these Bills have not been properly discussed; they have been guillotined. Large chunks of the Bills have never been discussed at all. Unless the second Chamber does something about it, these Bills will, without any Parliamentary examination, go on the Statute Book.
I must honestly say that I am astonished at those in another place and elsewhere who seem to think that there is something malign or improper or unconstitutional or anti-democratic about those of us who suggest that Bills which have not been properly examined in another place should be properly examined here and that proper time should be given to do it. It is a curious doctrine to suggest that the Government must get their own way regardless of what Parliament says, or what Parliament does not say because it has not been given the opportunity to say 284 it, to declare in effect that what the Government want they are going to have. My Lords, Parliament is still sovereign, and I can think of no precedent in my time in this House for the way in which we have been asked to treat these Bills.
The two most contentious Bills that I remember have been the Industrial Relations Bill and the London Government Bill. On the London Government Bill, which was introduced by a Conservative Government, two days were spent on Second Reading, 11 days on Committee spread over four weeks, in which there were 61 Divisions, most of them Divisions on the advice of noble Lords opposite. Four days were spent on Report, spread over two weeks, in which there were another 33 Divisions. The passage of the whole Bill through your Lordships' House took three months. On the Industrial Relations Bill 18 days were spent in Committee, spread over April, May and June; nine days were spent on Report, and the whole Bill took just under four months to go through your Lordships' House. The comparison between the time afforded then and now needs no under-lining. Surely noble Lords would not claim that the Bills we now have before us are of less importance, for if they are why are the Government so anxious to get them through? I must tell your Lordships that I think that the attitude of the Opposition and of the Liberal Party has been wholly reasonable. We have sat late every night. We have worked hard and we have worked long.
It may not be wholly realised by those outside this House exactly what a Committee stage and a Report stage entail. It is bad, but it is not so bad for the Government, because they, after all, have the whole of the Civil Service behind them, preparing briefs, devising Amendments or answers to Amendments, a most efficient and most substantial bureaucracy. We in the Opposition have nothing of the kind. We have to do these things ourselves. We write our own speeches; we devise our own Amendments; we learn our own facts. I think that even the Government have a difficulty, and I make no complaint about this because I realise their problems just as well as they do, particularly those of the Ministers who are answering for Departments in which they themselves do not serve. I remember once when I was First Lord of the 285 Admiralty having to pilot through this House the Shops and Offices Bill for which I was hardly well qualified, and it was very hard work. But the result has been—and I make no personal criticism in this—that some of the answers really have been inadequate. When those answers are inadequate it inevitably means that the Amendments will be put down again on the Report stage, and yet more time will he spent and be needed.
There is one other issue which I think we should consider, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned this, and that is the question of the staff of this House. The Reporters who have to take down the debates, the staff of the refreshment room, the Doorkeepers, and countless others are under very great strain. I would therefore say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that the right and proper thing to do is to allow more time for discussion. If it means that the Opening of Parliament has to be postponed, then so be it. But I, for one, cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, who has just arrived from another place—and we have welcomed him—to be the Leader of your Lordships' House, wishes to preside over a House which his Government refuse to allow to function properly.
I have moved my Amendment to Lord Byers's Motion as I said, not because I disagree with his purpose but largely because I prefer my own words. In this House we have very few rules and we do not bind ourselves, broadly speaking, with standing orders. I believe that to accept the first sentence of Lord Byers's Motion would be to take us on the road to having compulsory adjournments at certain hours and would put the House in the future in a straitjacket. Of course we should not sit more than ten hours, but there have always been occasions when the House has found it necessary to do so. They should be, and indeed apart from this spill-over have been, very infrequent. In my Amendment I seek to delete that part of the Motion and to ask your Lordships to agree with me that it is regrettable that the Government have failed to give effect to the principle that we should examine in detail legislation much of which has been denied discussion and scrutiny, and to ask that proper time be afforded to us. I beg to move.
§ Moved, as Amendments to the above Motion,—
§ Line 1, leave out from ""House") to ("calls") in line 3;
§ Line 6, leave out from ("Commons") to end of line 7 and insert ("regrets that Her Majesty's Government has failed to give effect to this principle and requests that adequate parliamentary time be afforded for the discussion and scrutiny of legislation.")—Lord Carrington.)
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, I am tempted to get involved in making a debating speech. May I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that while there are some parts of his speech with which I agree there are some with which I do not. He was rather wrong and hi: rd on the Commons in relation to the time they have spent on Bills which have come to this House. I have all the figures. They debated the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill in another place on the Floor of the House for 46 hours and 13 minutes, and in Standing Committee for 141 hours; the Health Services Bill, on the Floor of the House 23 hours and 46 minutes, and in Standing Committee 74 hours and 11 minutes; the Education Bill, on the Floor of the House 40 hours 7 minutes and in Standing Committee 30 hours.
I may say to the noble Lord, when he talks about a guillotine, that I remember that it was a Conservative Administration which quite recently guillotined one of the most important Bills this Parliament has discussed. I refer to the Bill which paved the way for our entry into the European Community. I believe it was a constitutional outrage to put a guillotine on a measure like that. So the guillotine has been used by several Governments. Indeed, the Liberal Party itself has not been clean—if I may use that word—in this regard. I see nothing wrong myself, as a former Leader of the House in having a time-table procedure which has been accepted by all Parties. Therefore I believe that that type of argument is not one that really can be taken quite seriously.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we must have proper discussion. Parliament is sovereign. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and 287 indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that I believed in a reformed House of Lords. I said this. Indeed, I was then partner to the discussions which went on with the major Parties at that time. I regret that we did not have it. It is true that certain individuals took a certain line of activity, distinguished Conservatives and distinguished members of my Party, for various reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said, they took a certain line and there was force in their arguments. I am only sorry that we did not have a reformed House.
So I say to the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, that I believe strongly in a Second Chamber. I should not wish to be in a Chamber if I thought it was not going to serve an important part in the working of our Constitution. I mean that sincerely, as I think noble Lords on both sides who know me well would agree. But I do not want to make it too personal. We are having major arguments. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was rather hard on the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have had arguments of that kind, but not on a procedure Motion of this type. I have heard them and I do not want to get involved in that type of argument. I know that hard things have been said today, and indeed a number of hard things have been said outside the House in the last few days as well. At this point in the Session there are bound to be hard words on both sides. Nevertheless, I shall not be deterred from beginning with the points on which I believe we can agree. That, I have always been told, is the way in which this House works. It is also the way in which I hope it will work in the future. We shall not make life any easier for ourselves by pouring fuel on the fire.
I can assure noble Lords opposite that I accept a great deal of what they have said. We have been working under considerable strain. A noble Lord said on my first day here, when I made a contribution, that I had jumped into the deep end, and it is a very deep lake that I have fallen into. We have been working under considerable strain; I accept that, and the noble Lord is right. We have been working late in the evening night after night and have been asked to make real personal sacrifices. Noble Lords opposite 288 will understand that the sacrifices are not confined to them.
I am glad that the noble Lord paid tribute to some of my colleagues, because he, too, as he said, had experience of this when he was once in Government. My noble friends behind me, and particularly the noble Lords on the Front Bench beside me, have also borne a heavy burden. I should like to pay a tribute to them for the unflagging way in which they have carried on through thick and thin, debating Bills which quite often are right outside their Departmental responsibility. It just happens that I am lucky: I am conducting an agricultural Bill, a subject which it used to be my responsibility to deal with. But it is difficult for them, and I think we all understand that. Again I pay tribute to the hard work of the staff—the Clerks, Hansard, the people who look after the refreshment departments, and I know it does impose a burden on them. I pay tribute to their work.
I think noble Lords on both sides have always borne in mind the House's constitutional duty to give thorough consideration to Bills, and especially Bills which have been guillotined in another place. I accept this. The noble Lord has in no way frustrated the House. He and his colleagues have been anxious to see that these Bills are adequately scrutinised. I know that on the Bill dealing with tied cottages we have had full debates and full scrutiny; and this is right. I cannot complain—I must be frank with those who may criticise unfairly—and I hope that this attitude will continue.
We have had long debates on many of these issues and it is right that we should. I hope, as I have said to my noble friends, that the House will go on giving full and detailed consideration to the measures that are before us. Of course, I do not agree with everything the House has decided. There are passionately held opinions on the Benches opposite and noble Lords are entitled to express their views vigorously and with passion and eloquence. And certainly it is right that we on these Benches must have this policial debate within the framework of the system which we treasure and defend. We are sure to differ about the significance of some of the Amendments which have been carried against the Government. For my part, I think that some of the Amendments 289 which are called revision could be described in a different way, and I will mention one in particular.
I find it rather ironical or amusing that on a major Bill dealing with the agricultural industry the first Amendment should he to exclude the dairy industry and then later to exclude forestry, a major section of the industry. If that is not what would call a wrecking Amendment, I do not know what is. I do not see, for example, how one can take a Bill on agricultural tied cottages and remove more than half the agricultural industry from its scope without questions being raised. I do not doubt the motive of noble Lords opposite; I believe that they want to change the Bill radically and improve it from their point of view. On the other hand, some other people may argue—I am not—that their motives are different.
I also find that the Opposition has developed an addiction to the Division Lobby. Noble Lords opposite have defeated the Government 169 times in the last two years. Taking the average of Conservative Administrations, we should normally need 28 years to run up a total like that. While I would not argue with the right of noble Lords opposite to carry out their constitutional duty, I think it should be for all of us, through consultation and co-operation, to find the best way to carry out that duty in the time available. We should be seeking to ease this burden on the House wherever we can, and I stress that. So let us find ways of carrying this burden of legislation as sensibly as we can.
Having said that, I must comment briefly on the Motion and the Amendment before the House. I already detect a feeling that one cannot and should not lay down hard and fast rules about how long the House should sit and I believe that there is broad agreement on that. We do not want to have any cut-off points like those in another place because of the opportunities for abuse and filibustering which they create. We do not have a Speaker or elaborate rules of order and I am sure that we do not want them. The other House is a different place. We are much more interested, I think, in ensuring that the House can discharge its duties as a revising Chamber efficiently and well.
290 A period of heavy legislation like this is, after all, not unknown. One need only go back to 1947, for example, during the nationalisation Bills of that period, to find the House sitting night after night until 11 p.m.; or to 1971, when the Conservatives were in power, to see the House sitting regularly after midnight. Probably Opposition Members expressed the same views then as have bee expressed by noble Lords today. In 1972 there was another period of Sittings regularly until late at night and one on a Friday when the House sat until after 6 p.m. Admittedly we must go rather further back to find a time when the Liberals were in Government; the old House of Lords in October 1909 was behaving just like it is now, sitting until midnight every night.
I know that statistics can prow, anything. My object is only to show that the strain we have undergone in recent weeks is not so exceptional as some noble Lords would have us believe. Although we should be looking for improvements in our procedure, I ask the House to consider what would he the effect of agreeing with the Liberal Motion. It would still be possible to sit until after one o'clock in the morning every day, and we should have trespassed against it only three times this Session. I assure noble Lords that, contrary to what has been suggested in certain quarters, we have no intention of regular all-night Sittings, which I at once agree would have a very harmful effect on the standard of our debate and the value of our revision. This has never been our intention and when noble Lords have consulted me on this point I think I have been able to satisfy them at once.
Much has been made of the suggestion that we should extend the Session. I should point out that we have already extended it; the opening is at least a fortnight later than is customary. Moreover, the conduct of business in this House depends basically on good and without good will business becomes very difficult under any timetable. I recognise, however, that there have been many representations about the programme, that these have been reinforced by noble Lords opposite, and that they may well be repeated. I can therefore assure the House that I do not ignore them, and in any discussions I have following this debate I shall keep the interests of the House firmly to the fore.
291 The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will not be surprised to hear that I cannot accept the main part of his Amendment because, contrary to what he argues, I think Her Majesty's Government have certainly not failed to provide adequate time for the discussion and scrutiny of legislation. The major Bills were given some of the fullest and longest discussion ever in the Commons and there has been no out-back of debate here. We have had detailed Committee stages and will no doubt have detailed Report stages as well. I agree that we should try to give adequate time for discussion, and I shall do so, but it is more important that we should be looking for ways to meet the spirit of the Motion and the Amendment than that we should increase the source of conflict between us. I believe that this debate will have served its purpose without a Division and I therefore hope that the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, will see fit to withdraw the Motion and the Amendment.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, the Motion with the Amendment proposed by my noble friend and Leader Lord Carrington, which I cordially support, is expressed in terms of moderation. I understand that last year the House warned the Government that it was unreasonable to swamp us with legislation in the last month or two of the Session and that we could not fulfil our role efficiently if it happened again. The Government, I understood, said that that would not recur, but in spite of that warning it has been incomparably worse this Session.
A number of intensely controversial Bills have been imposed upon us during not the last few months but the last few weeks of the Session, and most of those Bills, in the opinion of many noble Lords, have no relevance whatever to our pressing immediate economic problems. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, just said about the priorities with which we are faced; I thought that his remarks were not relevant to this debate but were relevant to the measures that are being imposed on us at the present time. Confronted with this situation, what have your Lordships done? We came back two weeks earlier, we have sat long hours and 292 our efforts have been concentrated on a careful examination and improvement in detail of the Bills before us. I have heard no filibustering when I have been in the Chamber.
What thanks do we receive from Ministers in the other place? Allegations in some quarters have been made that we have been guilty of the sacrilege of making any Amendments to Socialist measures passed by small majorities in the other place. There have even been threats that if we continue with these efforts we risk abolition. Do the Government not recognise that the main role of this House is a positive and inescapable duty to examine, amend and try to correct defects in the legislative measures which come up to us? So far from exceeding our powers by undertaking this function, we should, if we were to allow the complicated and in some cases hastily drafted legislation that has come before us to pass without criticism, be guilty of utterly failing in our constitutional duty. As a silent Back-Bencher, I should like to pay tribute to the very able noble Lords on the Opposition Front Benches for the way in which they have carried out their tasks during the very tiring past weeks with good temper and conscientious thoroughness. I gladly concede that Ministers, too, have played their part with courtesy, patience and consideration. They cannot have had an easy time either and they have my respectful sympathy. The time factor has made it an almost impossible joint task.
The noble Lord, Lord Peart, just now gave us a very bizarre statistic and perhaps a rather melancholy one. He said that the Government had been beaten 169 times in the past two years. I do not know where he unearthed that figure, but it is very interesting. I hasten to say that I am attributing no blame whatever to the usual channels. I am sure that they have done their very best to make things work.
In particular, I am convinced that excessive hours and all-night Sittings are a recipe for inefficient and ineffective work. I never remember, when I was in another place, any worthwhile discussion of intricate clauses taking place much after midnight. All-night Sittings are an invention of the devil, if that is a Parliamentary expression.
§ Lord LEE of NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount managed to keep me up all night on the Finance Bill on a number of occasions.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, if everybody had gone home, that Bill would have gone through like lightning! The treatment we have received this Session from the Government on our timetable is utterly unreasonable. I nearly permitted myself to say "outrageous", but in this House we choose our words with studied moderation and I am speaking today more in sorrow than in anger. It is our bounden duty to warn the Government, as the Motion and the Amendment do, that we cannot fulfil our constitutional functions if we are treated with such a lack of under-standing and consideration.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House is greatly liked and respected in all parts of the House. He will know, because he is a wise and percipient person, that if your Lordships are treated reasonably we are an easy lot to manage and are responsible, patient and responsive. As he is a former Minister of Agriculture, I had been going to make a comparison, but I will tell it to the noble Lord afterwards, for I am afraid that, if I do so now, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, will accuse me of flippancy. I do not want that. I trust that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will represent the reasonable but strongly held views held in many parts of the House to his right honourable friends with force and with that persuasiveness for which he is so rightly admired. In the long term, the answer to this problem can be expressed in two words, "less legislation".
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, in a speech of studied moderation, my noble friend the Leader of the House has appealed to the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, to withdraw both the Motion and the Amendments. I shall, in the language of the late lamented Herbert Asquith, wait and see. We have no authority in such matters; that authority is vested in the over-whelming, built-in Conservative majority in your Lordships' House. There have been criticisms of Her Majesty's Government, some subtly suggested, but the 294 whole point of both speeches that we have heard from the Opposition was to undermine Her Majesty's Government. Let there be no hesitation on the part of anybody on this side of the House in accepting that point of view.
I want to make one point clear beyond all possibility of doubt. Nothing that I have said in any debate in this House indicates that I seek its abolition. I doubt whether there is anything in our Constitution, written or unwritten, which vests authority in your Lordships' House. Indeed, no such claim was ever made except by the Conservative Party itself many years ago. This was when Arthur Balfour, the intellectual and scholarly Prime Minister in the early fart of the century, declared that—and it is on the record—whether the Conservative Party were in Government or Opposition, it was they who controlled the destinies of this country. That was said then, and there are many Conservative Members of this House who still believe that.
Anyhow, they have the authority. On no single occasion in the past few months when engaged in debate—that is what we call it, though it is confrontation, for there is no question of debate when we know that at the end of the discussion, the Opposition will win—have we been able to change the Opposition's mind. The same thing could happen this afternoon or evening, if the appeal that my noble friend Lord Peart has made to the other side fails, as that is likely—for what other purpose have they? A few years ago, they engaged in a policy of union bashing. That no longer applies. They are now seeking to flirt with the trade unions. The speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Carr, and others are an indication of what they would like to happen. Now it is not union bashing but Government bashing, and we had it this afternoon.
All the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is asking for—and it is not so very much—is the withdrawal of the obnoxious legislation that has been passed in another place. That would satisfy t le noble Lord, Lord Byers. In other words, he is quite prepared to accept the Government so long as they carry through legislation that suits the Liberal Party. That is what he said. The same applies to the Conservative Opposition. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that he would be quite 295 satisfied if the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill were withdrawn. He would prefer that to an extension which would enable discussions to proceed.
There are other items of legislation that are objectionable—repugnant even—to those on the other side. They have said so and still believe so, and, in spite of the moderation shown by my noble friend the Leader of the House, they will continue to say so. Nothing that was said by my noble friend will satisfy those on the other side.
Let me make it clear to Members of your Lordships' House that what I am asking for is what I mentioned in the course of a very short debate when the noble Lord, Lord Byers, moved his original Motion. That is if we are to resolve our problems, whatever they are—even our political problems—at any rate in the foreseeable future and, indeed, for some time longer if need be, it is essential to act together. I do not ask for a coalition because coalitions cannot be imposed suddenly upon the community, and certainly not on political Parties as they now are. But I ask for understanding.
Perhaps I may mention a speech which I made in your Lordships' House when Mr. Heath was Prime Minister. I remarked at a time when it was obvious that problems were in our path which seemed almost impossible of solution that he should have addressed himself to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Wilson as he then was, and to the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, and in conjunction with the CBI and the TUC he should have diagnosed the complaint which was affecting our country financially and economically and, having diagnosed it, should have sought a solution—not a coalition but an understanding which would have created confidence in the country. When there was a change of Government and Mr. Wilson found himself at the head of the State I appealed that he should approach Mr. Heath and the Leader of the Liberal Party and so on, as well as the TUC and the CBI, precisely in the language I used on a previous occasion, in order to bring about an understanding. I mention this, not to depart from my political philosophy—not at all. I have strong convictions, sincerely held, whatever others may think. I do 296 not see a possible solution of our problems without such understanding and the creation of confidence. There is no hope of creating confidence, either here or over-seas, unless it is understood that those in authority in this country, in the political arena, get together and talk things over with understanding, even if it means, for the time being, setting aside the political shibboleths that have been current for far too long.
I do not wish to prolong the debate and have only one or two further points to make. I do not believe that this debate will make the slightest difference. If my noble friend the Leader of the House thinks so, I must remind your Lordships that he is new to this place. I wish him well, although I have reasons for wishing otherwise sometimes. I have known him a long, long time. I will not go into details. I leave him, when he writes his autobiography, to refer to them. I will bear what he writes with my customary fortitude. But he is not the politician he is claimed to he—a subtle politician—if he believes that an appeal to the other side has the slightest effect; not at all!
I do not charge them with filibustering; indeed, if I may be permitted to say so, I admire some of the young elements on the Opposition Front Bench: the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and some of the others. There is also the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. I admire them: they are young, they are putting up a show, trying to teach their elders—and that is not very difficult, after all. I can understand their anger, straining at the leash because they hope for an Election and they hope to find themselves geographically placed otherwise than at present. I can understand them; I admire them; I listen to them. But no filibustering, no, not at all; just probing and probing, and indeed having postmortems and inquests at the very beginning, even before the corpse has arrived. I have watched this situation time and again, on innumerable occasions, until it became a bore and I had to leave the assembly. I could not stand it any longer.
They were moving Amendment after Amendment, and then withdrawing them, again and again. If they had indulged in a little thought, more investigation, 297 more scrutiny—that is what is being asked for this afternoon, more scrutiny—then they would not have moved the Amendments at all. At any rate it was their intention to withdraw them. Far more Amendments have been withdrawn than have been carried in your Lordships' House on any legislation under review. We know that. I am getting tired of being in an assembly—although there is nothing personal about this; there are people of remarkable intelligence in your Lordships' House, people for whom one has an affection after a time when one gets to know them; there is no malice at all in it—where one is on the losing side all the time. If only one could once be on the winning side!
Time and again it did not matter. It was said that we do not turn up, that we stay away. I, too, complain about that, although sometimes I do not stay here late at nights; unless you pay me overtime I have no intention of doing that. But there are too few of us here occasionally. Many have been pitchforked into this place, and having been pitchforked into it have pitchforked themselves out. We hardly see them at all—and even if we see them it does not matter very much. That is the position. What is said? We do not appear in sufficient numbers, said the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. How clever it was! What an observation to make. How clever! If only we appeared, he said—
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I never said anything of the kind.
§ Lord SHINWELL
Perhaps the noble Lord will say what he did say—or perhaps he will tell us some other time. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is very clever and very able; no doubt about that. But here I use the language of the famous Lord Salisbury about somebody for whom I had the highest respect, but I will not mention his name: it was said that he was "too clever by half". That is part of our political history. What is the use of coming here anyhow? We know that we are going to be defeated. I admire the activities of our Chief Whip. How hard she works, how industrious she is, and how charming she is at the same time! But does that make any difference? One comes here, one takes part in debates, 298 one argues, one is eloquent and one believes oneself to be right; but at the end of the debate the overwhelm is majority on the other side, who do not even listen to the debate, suddenly appear There are hordes of them. From whence they come I have not the slightest idea. I have not the least doubt that many of them are here today because they have been told to come.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords. does the noble Lord remember what he said on the Business Motion, about fun and games and frivolity?
§ Lord SHINWELL
Yes, my Lords, but I do not see the relevance of that now. It is not a question of fun and games. I am quite serious in what I say; I am very serious indeed. I am serious because I do not want anything to go wrong in your Lordships' House, except to reduce the numbers on the other side. Is there any thing wrong with that? Why even the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has suggested that—and, by the way, how many times has he said, truly said, as he said this afternoon, that he has sought to reform your Lordships' House and to make suggestions. Perhaps he might be a little more practical and some day produce a Motion which is rather more detailed; perhaps we might support him. But nothing short of reducing the number of hereditary Peers in the Howe on the Conservative side will make the slightest difference. It is an imbalance which cannot be sustained.
My Lords, I shall not proceed any further other than to say this. I do not believe that this debate has been of the slightest help—not at all. We will go on as usual; there will be a bashing of the Government, and the Government will proceed with their legislation. I know what they could do in another place. What they could do is this. Instead of legislation proceeding as it does—Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage, Third Reading and all the rest—they ought to submit legislation to Committees for them to consider and scrutinise in the first place. That is what they ought to do. If they proceeded along Committee lines they would save a lot of lime, and so should we. However, there it is. We shall just have to put up with what is happening, and say what we think is right. 299 That I have sought to do; and if anybody thinks there is malice in what was said he is mistaken. But I do understand what the other side are driving at, and object to it.
§ 4.11 p.m.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, if we were business executives and not a Legislature we should find ourselves subject to a directive from our colleagues not to attempt to conduct negotiations or enter into agreements while we were suffering from jet-lag, sleeplessness or general travel weariness. That is because boards of directors, who are not divided into a Government and an Opposition permanently finding fault with one another, are prepared to base their regulations upon common sense, and it is generally agreed that tired men do not conduct their business as efficiently as men who are fresh and have had a good night's sleep. Now, if you make an ill-advised business agreement you can usually buy your way out of it; everything has its price. But we here, as a Legislature, are engaged on very much more delicate business. Every time we make a law, either directly or indirectly we compel every one of Her Majesty's subjects, either to do something which left to their own devices they spontaneously would not, or not to do something which left to their own devices they spontaneously would. This is a very serious matter, and ought to be entered into in a very serious frame of mind.
It sometimes requires a double prick, as it were, to drive a point home, and the first time I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsharn, remind your Lordships' House that in the period he was reviewing we had put through 3,000 pages, I think it was, of new legislation and 10,000 pages of subordinate legislation, I did not react to it as sharply as I might. But when I heard him repeat it the other evening in his now famous lecture on television, the point struck home and I suddenly realised that your Lordships' Legislature is engaged on precisely the same task as Tristram Shandy when writing his autobiography; namely, that it took him longer to write out the events than the time in which they occurred, and so he was falling steadfastly behindhand. Your Lordships' 300 attempts to put on the Statute Book all the opinions which are ventilated as to what might be nice in an ideal world are taking longer than the rate at which the world is changing, calling for more and more legislation conceived in the same way. So we are suffering from an excess of legislation at a time when we ought to have our minds on other things. Here we are, living beyond our means on borrowed time and borrowed money, both of which are running out, and instead of putting our minds to what matters they are engaged in an entirely excessive amount of low-priority legislation which I am quite convinced in my own mind nobody wants.
My Lords, I speak from the Cross-Benches. All seven Benches were full at Question Time today—so full that they were full to overflowing and some of my noble friends were beginning to elbow supporters of the Government Party out into the gangways. But I hope that we shall expand our influence, which we maintain to the small hours of the morning. There has been a Cross-Bench presence up to as late an hour as you please to specify at any time when we were suffering from excessive legislation. This is not moved by Party passion, but by the desire to discharge our duties, in terms of the writs we have received, by coming here and listening—and they also serve who only sit and listen. I was here till three o'clock this morning. I was home by half-past three. By four o'clock I had found a double yellow line on which to park my car, and thereafter I set my alarm clock for eight o'clock so that I could move my car again before picking up a£6 fine, which I should not have been allowed to charge as an allowable expense for attending your Lordships' House. There followed a morning's work, and I am going to do my best in what remains of today.
To what purpose, my Lords? Here, if I may, I must address a word by way of reproof to the Government Party, some-what on the lines of Hamlet, who said to his mother,… look here, upon this picture, and on this …".Let me show them their portrait in my mirror. What does all this low-priority legislation do for us? In my view, it serves but one purpose: to paper over the cracks in the coalition that governs us. 301 I do not care whether you call the paper the Social Contract or the emperor's clothes, the cracks are there. In a sense I support both the Motions which are before your Lordships' House. If I had to choose between (as I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, called it) the aristocratic tone as enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and what I would call plain speech, which is the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I would back plain speech against aristocratic tone any day. But since the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is prepared to pull his punches and go along with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I will do the same and support the Motion and the Amendment which the noble Lord proposes.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, when he spoke, I think understood very much the feeling of the House. He nearly agreed with everything that my noble friend Lord Carrington said to him; he very nearly agreed with everything the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said to him. I think it is a great pleasure to know that we now have a Leader of your Lordships' House who is as sensitive to the wishes of your Lordships. All I hope is that he can translate those wishes to his colleagues in the Cabinet, and especially to the Prime Minister.
Clive, when accused of bribery, is reported to have replied,Gentlemen, I am astonished at my own moderation".I think that this remark could with all justification have been said by every single Liberal, every single Tory and most Cross-Bench Peers in your Lordships House. The legislation which is being hurled at us night after night is anathema to all of us on this side of the House, and it could be described thus: legislation to provide privileged fiefdoms for some of Her Majesty's Government's most influential supporters; legislation to abolish educational centres of excellence; legislation to deprive the Health Service of much needed funds and people of the freedom of choice; legislation to inflict on the agricultural industry disadvantages not applicable to other industries; legislation for the forced sale of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries to the State on terms 302 which are dubiously near, in come cases, to that of confiscation.
I do not think that the members of Her Majesty's Government in another place realise how much we dislike these measures. If they did, they would see how apt my quotation of Clive was. We have not wrecked any Public Bills; we have not threatened to stand form on any of our Amendments. As every noble Lord who has spoken so far has said, we have done our public duty—as has also been said, this public duty given to us by a Labour Government. Nor, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said, have we unnecessarily prolonged the discussions. We have not, as was done by the present Party in power when it was in Opposition, forced six or seven Divisions over one dinner hour on one night. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, mentioned "Division addiction"; I presume he is saying that it is catching.
All that my noble friends and I are asking is that Her Majesty's Government should respect the Constitution and not overload us with work, and when we work according to that Constitution not squeal, "Foul!" if they do not like what we are doing. They can always, after all, change it in another place and if they do not like that, they can go and ask the opinion of the people who are our lords an I masters. Above all, as a revising Chamber this is obviously necessary for both Parties in power. How long was spent on the Industrial Relations Act? How long was spent on the London Government Act? The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has told us. Much longer was spent on t hem than on Bills we are now discussing. Let us have a reformed Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, made the point so well for this. It must be a reformed Chamber which can carry Amendments against a Conservative Government when it is in power. The arguments then about Peers versus people would no lor ger carry weight because the composition could be justified.
But, my Lords, until that reform has happened I sincerely hope that your Lordships will do your duties to the best of your abilities, each and every one of us. Will not the Labour Party introduce a sensible reform? If the Labour Party will not do this, then will my noble friend Lord Carrington urge it even more 303 loudly and more prolongedly on his friends and our Party to make sure that we have a sensible, sound and wisely constituted revising Chamber.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, I find myself in almost complete agreement with much that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Measures which have been guillotined in another place and which come to this House should be looked at line by line and clause by clause. That is the fundamental duty of a second Chamber which regards its function as that of a revising Chamber. It should discharge that duty. My complaint against this House is that it does it with thoroughness only when there is a Labour Government.
I was very glad indeed that the Leader of the House mentioned the Common Market. That was a constitutional outrage and the price for it has not yet been paid. We have not yet paid the first instalment of it. What it meant was that when the Bill was guillotined in another place, forced through unamended, and was placed on the Statute Book, the people of this country missed the opportunity to learn what it was all about from the debates that should have taken place in another place and in this House. The full realisation of what the Common Market means has not yet penetrated the political thinking of the British people. My charge against the Conservative Party opposite is therefore the old one of, in one word, hypocrisy. Today they have said many things with which I agree, but when we judge what they say by what they do, there is a world of difference. That is the charge against them.
For my part I say to the Government something very simple. The Leader of the House, and indeed the Cabinet, should know what this place is about. They should not expect any different behaviour from that which has happened. When there is a great majority and the popular will is plain for all to see the Tory Party, as always, is either at your feet or at your throat. In the early stages it will be at your feet. Nothing is too much for you—"Yes, old boy"—all the collaboration in the world. But when the wind changes and the majorities are narrow, then off 304 comes the sheeps' clothing and you find out that the wolf has teeth.
If one wanted another example in addition to the Common Market, one could look at what happened last Friday, on a Private Members' Bill. The noble Lord on this side of the House "boxed" it a bit by giving the Tories opposite an excuse for doing what they did, for voting it down. But I thought that this was a judicially-minded Chamber, a Chamber which took full account of the legal processes. There was a Select Committee of the House which made a recommendation. That however made no difference, and because this smacked of something the Tory Party did not like—nationalisation, they said—so off with its head.
I have been a critic of the present Prime Minister; my attitude towards the Prime Minister may perhaps he likened to the attitude of my noble friend Lord Shinwell to the Leader of the House—we wish him well, but not too much if I may say so. But after listening to the Prime Minister's broadcast last night, let me say that he has my 100 per cent. support. And one needs support when times are not as good as they might be. Of course, the Government should recognise what is afoot and should behave accordingly: never threaten, never warn, just promise. The Government should extend the sittings; they should go all through the motions; they should give the Party opposite all the rope in the world, because that is the only way in which they will hang themselves. If necessary, they should introduce the Felixstowe Docks Bill as a Government measure and, if it is slung out, then use the Parliament Act to enforce it.
The Prime Minister was asked last night: "Who governs this country?" Somebody said, "The TUC." "No", he said, "We govern". Very well, let the Government govern, and govern in the face of the Opposition opposite. What does it mean? Nothing. On the day the House reassembled I—a minority of one—ventured to get to my feet just to put on the record what the economic crisis was all about. I pointed out the situation of the Rhine Army which is now costing not a penny less than£1,200 million a year. For practical purposes its military use is not worth tuppence. 305 An American general said it was "pathetic". Why did he say that? He said that because it is armed with atomic tactical weapons that have a range of 12 miles. They are obsolescent and under American control. It has always been so. If ever war comes then within two hours we are in the bag. Would noble Lords please note that since the end of the last war £58,000 million has been spent in defence; and if an American general says that is pathetic, I in my barrack room way would say, "You couldn't knock the skin off a rice pudding"—but that after£58,000 million has been spent.
The comparison is made with the reserves of Germany. That is what your noble policies have done for this poor benighted country. We won two wars. Noble Lords will perhaps remember the popular song "We Won the War". Whatever for? Look at the defeated. Germany and Japan have not done so badly. But look at us. The cause of our economic crisis is because the people of this country have never been brought face to face with the truth. It is not because we do not work too hard. The Prime Minister last night spelt out the Rhine Army, the reserve currency, and of course our Middle East policy. All those trips to Israel have to be paid for, and they are paid for by runs on sterling by those who now hate our guts. That is what we have done. It is within our control; but we shall not control it until we face up to it, and we have not faced up to it.
I will now venture another prophecy. Noble Lords have behaved as they have over the Common Market and over the Felixstowe Docks Bill. What they are doing—I probably will not live to see it but it will come—is to lay the foundation in Britain for the largest, strongest Communist Party in Europe. Let the economic crisis worsen because of the phoney policies here, and what results from them? A Conservative Government might fall through; but the bill comes to be paid, and then the scales drop from people's eyes just like that. Noble Lords will see what happens. As to their vaunted so-called power to come down here and vote down this Administration night after night, they will see what it is worth.
I congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House on his speech; he is a reasonable man. But he can be quite sure of 306 one thing. The Amendment put by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is going to be carried, and its effect is to regret the Government's action. Of course, if they do not put you into shackles, the reason is because they fear they might inherit the shackles too; and so they leave it. We should go back to the Prime Minister and say: "If that is the game they war t to play, play it. Go to the people of 'Wales and Scotland and say to them that they cannot have devolution, that you are very sorry but devolution will have to be put off because the Tory Party are having political fun and games." That is what politics is about. If they wart to play the games that they have played, let them play them—but make sure that they pay the bill.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I put one point to him. He said the reason why the Felixstowe Docks Bill was rejected by the House was because the Tory Party dislike nationalisation. Would the noble Lord not agree, on reflection, that something between 85 and 90 per cent. of the people of this country also dislike it?
§ Lord WIGG
It may well be; but I must say to the noble Lord that he really oughtto try to understand howademocracy works. Once a Government ale elected they are not expected to trim their sails to every wind that blows. They do what they believe to be right as long s control of the House of Commons is in their hands, and at the end of the day the electorate will take a decision But I do not happen to believe what the noble Lord said. Of course, as the situation is presented by the media—the impartial BBC and our impartial Press—what chance have the people of this country to under-stand objectively what it is all about?
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, the debate in which we are engaged is on a procedural Motion with constitutional overtones, so I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others in controversy about controversy, if I may put it that way. I will return to the noble Lord's point about the imbalance and constitution of this Home later. If we had listened to one speech this afternoon which is more outstanding than 307 any other, I believe it was that of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who in effect said: "What on earth does this House and Parliament look like, at the centre of a great economic storm, fiddling around with matters of second-rate importance?" I am, of course, paraphrasing, but that is very much what the noble Earl said.
We must surely consider first the standing of this House and of Parliament in the eyes of the people. If there is one feature of recent weeks which is less agreeable than any other, it is the decline of the normally co-operative atmosphere in this House. During the Felixstowe debate last Friday I was struck by some words used by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who, although he was accused at one point of "wriggling", at any rate included in his speech this useful passage that I am about to quote. He said he regretted that particular Bill had come before your Lordships for its Third Reading—in a particularly charged period politically when there has been a great deal of discussion against nationalisation and nationalisation proposals."—[Official Report, 22/10/76; col.1734.]He continued:It has partly resulted from the pressure of the overspill and the fact that we are all operating under time pressures which are not to the benefit of sober discussion and debate.I believe that statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, whose moderation we all respect and whose personality we all admire, will command the general assent of this House.
A rather similar point was made in the very moderate speech made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, when he said in effect that if, for example, in another place a cut-off point for debate is established, that immediately invites filibustering. I believe he was on to an absolutely right point and one which is relevant to our own proceedings here. For the difficulty that we are up against, and about which we are now protesting, is that so early a date has been fixed for the next Session. I grant that it is later than usual, but it is an early date against the background of the Business still before us. An early date has been fixed for the next Session, against which there is so heavy a backlog, which—and, my Lords, one must say this with honesty and modesty—amounts, or at least may be 308 thought to amount, to an attempt to bulldoze this House.
The "bulldozing" that many of us have felt—and as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has said, our debates in this House have been attended by Cross-Benchers throughout the night—does not apply simply to Members of these Benches or of the Liberal Benches but certainly also to the Cross-Benchers. The fact is that this sense of pressure has been, one might almost say, "blessed" by some words less temperate than might otherwise have been expected from respected members of the Cabinet such as the Prime Minister and Mr. Varley. I ignore the vituperations of some rather lesser Members with all their silly gibes about Rolls-Royces and things. But we have had words from the Prime Minister and another member of the Cabinet which reinforce the sense of pressure under which this House has been labouring. May I say—it is an old saying—that "threatened folk live long".
We are all aware of the limitations of both Parliament Acts. I personally do not complain about them. I am reminded of the words which were attributed to the late Lord Beveridge at a time when he was either still a senior civil servant or had just recently retired. He said that as a senior civil servant he had possessed considerable influence, and he added: "If you have influence, why do you need power?". This House has very considerable influence, and if it is the case—and one certainly understands it to be the case—that noble Lords opposite feel themselves in such a numerical minority that there is no point in coming anyway because they will lose the vote, the simple fact is that this House has very considerable influence in a whole number of ways. Perhaps the first of them is this: it is a place where ideas may be tossed out, and although they are invariably incomprehensible to the Front Bench of either Party they are well under-stood by civil servants. Since in the Civil Service No. 2 is always waiting for a good idea to bring in when he replaces No. 1, these ideas are mopped up by the Civil Service and are in fact seeds that are sown in very fertile ground. How often, indeed, have we not seen an idea launched in a debate here reappear perhaps within months as the genuine, spontaneous thought of the Government of the day?
309 Then there is the very considerable work that is done by Select Committees of this House, whose Reports are quoted in the other place. Indeed, they are sought after. We have even found that fundamental research, of which the other place is incapable, is among the burdens borne by this House. I see the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, sitting on the Cross-Benches now. The Select Committee over which he presides is a very good example. I hope it will not embarrass him—though I embarrass him often enough in his Committee—when I say that he has been invited to preside over a Select Committee doing what amounts to original research on the whole problem of commodity prices and their possible stabilisation. The suggestion conies from the late Prime Minister himself, Sir Harold Wilson. It has been laid upon this House, and a number of noble Lords from both Parties and from the Cross-Benches are taking part in that work. It is work which could not conceivably be done by another place.
There is a whole apparatus of Select Committees working in this House, which are busy as bees without sight of the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, who graces the Woolsack at this moment, presides with distinction and charm over no fewer than 80 Members of your Lord-ships' House, who work on the scrutiny of European legislation, and the Reports stemming from that Committee are not only quoted, cited and argued about in the European Parliament; they are cited in another place as well. It may well be, indeed, that the House of Lords has something to show Parliament as a whole, and perhaps even another place, about how business might be transacted. There is a system here of sifting and examining secondary legislation. Perhaps the Committees of both Houses, which are looking at the procedures and practices of Parliament, might consider, also, the possible sifting and scrutiny of delegated legislation at home by a like system.
But whether or not that be so, the manning of these Committees is an arduous task for any Member who spends time on them, and attempts to get through the amount of paper that has to be read, let alone understood, and who has to consider before each meeting when evidence is heard what questions can most shrewdly, 310 tactfully and usefully be put. There is very considerable work involved. It is difficult enough to man these Committees as they are, but under the burden of the contested and contentious legislation going through this House, keeping us up late at night, it is very difficult and very burdensome indeed. The noble Baroness, Lady White, who had been sitting in this House till a quarter-past three this morning, was again presiding with her familiar grace and deftness over one of these Select Committees only a few hours later—at eleven o'clock. Since many of us are either of pensionable age, or still earning our livings, or both—and most noble Lords in this House earn their livings and do not live in style on private incomes—these are very serious burdens.
On the matter of contentious legislation, so far as I am aware the Salisbury-Addison agreement has been upheld to the letter. Just to remind noble Lords who may not immediately recall what that amounted to, may I say that when the Labour Government came in will a vast majority in 1945 the Tory Opposition, though out-numbering the Government Benches considerably, came to an agreement to the effect that it would never destroy legislation coming from the other House that was based on the fulfilment of an Election pledge, and I do not believe we have ever voted down a Bill on Second Reading. If we have, then I stand to be corrected, but I am not aware of any single occasion.
But what happens when we pt down to the Committee stage is very often another story; and here may I say in parenthesis that what I am going; to say should be balanced by a compliment. The noble Lords who have manned the Government Front Bench nigh after night have done so with unfailing courtesy and good humour. Unfortunately, those noble Lords whom I have tormented are not sitting on the Front Bench at the moment, but I think they will accept it as sincere when I say that they have taken our sometimes rather playful arguments with very good humour, and they haw batted steadily and well. But, my goodness! they have stonewalled and when the Government of the day, despite all the support of the Civil Service machine behind them, stonewall so completely against serious Amendments, seriously argued by persons who have given up their 311 time to come here, sometimes at some cost, it makes a poor impression.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, spoke several times last week with great vigour, great eloquence and superb knowledge, on certain Amendments. He had had to work at his bank throughout the day; he came here and stayed up the whole night; he had to go back to his bank at eight o'clock that morning, and he was on his feet in this House two days later after only six hours' sleep in between. It was a sacrifice by him to come and make those serious speeches which were not properly answered, although they were worthy of very serious answers. When serious Amendments—if I may put this in the nicest possible way to the Government—which are argued cogently by persons who have practical knowledge and give up time to come and make their speeches, are not properly answered, a different situation obtains. This is where the strain under which we have been operating has begun to tell.
If the Government show no "give", if they agree only to give lip service to the revising function of this Chamber and do not admit that any revision is necessary, desirable or acceptable, then that is where the charge of hypocrisy will properly lie. When there is no "give", when we are exposed to the reading of Civil Service briefs that do not answer the Amendments one is reminded of the Scots Minister who came to be considered for a call to a particular parish, and the sermon taster in that parish commented: "He read his sermon. He did not read it very well, and it was not worth reading." Very often, that is how we are forced to react to some of the replies from the Government Front Bench, although, I say again, the noble Lords manning the Front Bench do so with grace, with kindness, with good humour and with tact. But their answers sometimes elicit a poor response, because they are such poor answers. Therefore, when we are up against a timetable which really amounts to a guillotine, if the answers are not satisfactory reason goes out of the window, brain gives way to brawn, argument gives way to numbers and the worst comes out of us all.
I said earlier that I would return to the frustration which the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and others expressed about the 312 absurdity of the numerical composition of this House. Personally, I always regret that the Party opposite has not created far more Life Peers to man those Benches, so that there could be some equality of numbers in this House. But I must also say that it is disappointing when noble Lords, who have made a name for themselves in industry, commerce, business or the City, are brought to this House, ennobled and immediately take their place on those Benches, and then we do not see them again. That is a disappointment, because the House should be enriched by their arguments; and very often their arguments would provide better replies to the Amendments put forward from this side than the briefs read out from the Front Bench.
All this talk about confrontation is really beside the point and need not be pursued. What we must get quite clear is that if this is accepted as a revising Chamber, then answers put forward to serious questions must be real answers. I think it was Samuel Butler who said:Learned nonsense has a deeper sound than easy sense and goes for more profound.The Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is reasonable. I think that the Amendment accepted by him and put down by my noble friend Lord Carrington is more reasonable still. I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the Party opposite and the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, who is now on the Front Bench and to whom we are indebted, and whose kindness and friendliness are such a pleasure to us all, will carry to the business managers of the other place the message which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, gave them. It is to serve notice on the business managers there that they must do better in future.
Now that Mr. Michael Foot is a gentleman of distinction in the Cabinet, and now that Mr. Enoch Powell has retired to the outer marches, perhaps the opportunity might come to return to the proposals for reform which were supported so well by my noble friend Lord Carrington. Our job is not to push a Party position; it is to make the House work, to make Parliament work, and to see it give a lead to the nation.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, it is a sad sign of our times that at the end of 313 October we have to indulge in a debate of this kind, particularly when the pound and currency in many parts of the world is in such a parlous position. Nevertheless, I believe that this debate is necessary and that on the whole it has been useful, and in the few minutes that are available to me I hope I can keep up the standard. Some will ask whether this has been a counter-productive debate. It has been pointed out that the composition of this Chamber means that, whatever happens, the inbuilt majority on this side will carry the day. This is true. I have spent 18 years in your Lordships' House and have been a fairly regular attender and participator. I have never been what one might call a Tory hack. In fact, I have rebelled against my Party on more than one occasion. My noble friend Lord Carrington mentioned the London Government Act. I carried then the only Amendment against my Party. If it happened now I should do the same again because I happen to believe that that was the right decision.
The real bone of contention is that in this Session we are dealing with more than one controversial Bill. It is quite true that during, our period of office there were the London Government and the Industrial Relations Acts. Both Bills were highly controversial and figures have been quoted as to how much time was spent on these measures in Committee, on Report and so on. Figures can be quoted on many occasions and in many circumstances, but the point is that, whereas in those Sessions there was one, or there were possibly two, highly controversial pieces of legislation, in this Session there are five, if not six.
At this hour I shall not seek to go into any detail whatever or say anything whatever about these Bills. My feeling is that we should discuss all of the Bills and that the Government should adhere to their programme. I do not believe that the Government should drop any of the Bills. I do not say that because I like the Bills. I do not; I object in various ways to all of them. However, I make this appeal to the Government. Although we have had a long Session I believe that it should be prolonged because, as has been pointed out, we are a revising Chamber. Revision can he a lengthy process and there is still much to be revised in these Bills.
314 I sincerely hope that when the noble Lord the Leader of the House, whom I have known for a number of years and for whom we all have such respect, reports back to his honourable and right honourable friends in the other place he will report back the views which have been expressed in this Chamber. I end with the hope that further time will be given during this Session for these maters to be properly, constructively and the heatedly debated.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, I think it is the wish of the House that we should come to a conclusion. It has been a very useful debate. I gather from what was said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that he has got the message and I hope he will find that it is possible to adjust the timetable to a more reasonable tempo. If the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, intends to press his Amendment to my Motion I shall be very happy to support it and to ask my colleagues to do the same.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, I am sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker. I feel sure that he would have been on my side, but then; we are. If I may say so, the Leader of the House made a very conciliatory speech. I think that both he and the noble Baroness the Chief Whip understand perfectly well the difficulties of the House. I hope that nothing I have said is in any way taken as being a personal reflect] on upon either of them because that was the last thing that I intended. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that he was there on in at the deep end. Well, so he was, Jut he is still swimming and he is still swimming very courteously. For that we on this side of the House are very grateful.
I think that the sense of the House is perfectly obvious. Nevertheless, the noble Lord the Leader of the House is enable to accept my Amendment to the Motion which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I understand the reason, for it is difficult to accept an Amendment which regrets his own actions. But the 315 fact remains that if we pass this Amendment it will make things a little easier for the Government in their dealings with another place, because at least they will be able to tell their colleagues there of the real feelings in this House about the timetable.
§ The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)
My Lords, the original Motion was in the terms set out on the Order Paper, since when Amendments have been moved:
§ In line 1, to leave out from ("House") to ("calls") in line 3;
§ In line 6, to leave out from ("Commons") to the end of line 7 and insert ("regrets that Her Majesty's Government has failed to give effect to this principle and requests that adequate parliamentary time be afforded for the discussion and scrutiny of legislation.").
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendments shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 160; Not-Contents, 71.317
|Airedale, L.||Foot, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Monson, L.|
|Amory, V.||Furness, V.||Morris, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gage, V.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Amulree, L.||Garner, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Arran, E.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.|
|Atholl, E.||Gladwyn, L.||Munster, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Glasgow, E.||Newall, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Gore-Booth, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Banks, L.||Gray, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Grey, E.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Birdwood, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Platt, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Halsbury, E.||Reading, M.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Hampton, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Hankey, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Brock, L.||Hanworth, V.||Rochdale, V.|
|Broughshane, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Byers, L.||Henley, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hereford, V.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Carrington, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Salisbury, Bp.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hunt, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sandys, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Jessel, L.||Savile, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Kemsley, V.||Seear, B.|
|Clwyd, L.||Kimberley, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Coleraine, L.||Kings Norton, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Simon, V.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lauderdale, E.||Spens, L.|
|Crawford and Balcarres, E.||Leathers, V.||Stamp, L.|
|Cross, V.||Lloyd, L.||Strang, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Long, V.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Luke, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L|
|de Clifford, L.||Lyell, L.||Swansea, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Macleod of Borve, B.||Tenby, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||McNair, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mancroft, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Marley, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vernon, L.|
|Elles, B.||Melville, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Merrivale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mersey, V.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Meston, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Erskine of Rerrick, L.||Middleton, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Molson, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Falmouth, V.||Monck, V.||Young, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Zuckerman, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Hale, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Arwyn, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Henderson, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Jacques, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Janner, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Birk, B.||Kirkhill, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Leatherland, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Slater, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Snow, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Burntwood, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Champion, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Stone, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lyons of Brighton, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||McCluskey, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Maelor, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Mais, L.||Wall, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Morris of Grasmere, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.||Walston, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Northfield, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Oram, L.||White, B.|
|Fulton, L.||Pannell, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Parry, L.||Willis, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Winterbottom, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Peddie, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendments agreed to accordingly.