HL Deb 28 October 1976 vol 376 cc635-8

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall make a short Statement on Business. The House will wish to know that Her Majesty the Queen has agreed to open the next Session of Parliament not on Wednesday, 17th November but on Wednesday, 24th November. As this change has only just been made, I am sure that noble Lords will understand that I cannot today make a Statement about the detailed adjustments to the Parliamentary timetable that we shall now be able to make.


My Lords, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that there has been some movement on the Government's part, and I congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, on making their colleagues face reality. But, of course, I have no idea whether this is enough. None of us on this side of the House has any idea whether a further week will be enough for us to complete the enormous backlog of business that still remains for this House to discuss. Whether or not it is enough may very well depend upon the attitude of another place to many of our Amendments and what they decide to do about them. So though we shall of course continue to work as hard as we can, there can be no guarantee from this side of the House that we shall complete the business by the time when the noble Baroness has told us that Her Majesty has said she will open Parliament.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, for what they have been able to do, but I must tell them that, in our view, this is totally unrealistic. We cannot possibly, in one extra week, deal with these major measures and the rejection by the Commons of many of the Amendments that we have sent down to them. We have just seen an example of this. I can only say to the Government that I hope that they will think again. The alternative, as I outlined on Tuesday, would be to drop at least one and possibly two major measures. If the Government will not consider this, we must consider whether we cannot assist them by opposing at least one of them on Third Reading.


My Lords, I should never accuse the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, of churlishness. I may think him very forthright and he will not mind if I am forthright in return. Equally, I should never accuse the noble Lord, Lord Byers, of being an Oliver Twist. Nevertheless, I feel that both noble Lords are asking a great deal of the Government. I have always believed in the dedication of this House on all sides to its constitutional duties. Noble Lords will understand that the Government have an important programme of legislation and that it is our firm intention to complete it. I believe that, with good will and with the usual good sense and constitutional propriety of this House, we shall be able to manage, with the discussions through the usual channels, in our normal, sensible way.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she believes that the extension of a week would make a substantial difference? Although I would not suggest that the Government should withdraw their legislation, there are some of us on this side—and I do not speak only for myself—who have doubts about some features of the legislation that has come before us; for example, the matter of ship repairing associated with the proposal to take over the shipbuilding industry and also some features of the Dock Work Regulation Bill. It would seem to me that if the Government could be satisfied with the acceptance of the principle of nationalisation of shipbuilding per se and the substantial philosophy underlying the Dock Work Regulation Bill, we might get through the business expeditiously. We talk about a mixed economy, and in the context of a mixed economy it is possible to effect something in the nature of a compromise. That would help us, if not to solve the problem, at least to make an approach to a solution.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's question I believe, and any reasonable noble Lord must also believe, that a whole extra week will make a substantial difference in helping to finish our business. I am sure that my noble friend will not wish me to enter into a debate on the philosophy underlying the different Bills. I have never known any legislation not to raise doubts in the minds of noble Lords or indeed honourable gentlemen who are discussing it. After all that is what we are here for. Of course it raises doubts, but we are here to discuss, debate and to adjust; we are here to do it properly, and I am quite sure we shall.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness recall that until last night there had been quite a chance of an ugly little dispute between the two Houses on the subject of the Bail Bill but it was entirely avoided by the good will of her noble friends sitting on the Left and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Is that not a way in which the Government by discussion can get their business more easily by arrangement, and by give and take on both sides?


My Lords, I think the whole House always pays tribute to the charm and skill of the noble and learned Lord; if anybody can effect a compromise he can. We approach legislation in exactly the same spirit by reasonable compromises, my Lords, always.


My Lords, in the circumstances would the Government contemplate any curtailment of the winter recess?


My Lords, I am sure that would be a very unpopular suggestion and I am afraid I cannot answer it.