HL Deb 22 December 1981 vol 426 cc398-400

11.28 a.m.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, before the House adjourns, may I ask the Deputy Leader whether he has any Statement to make about the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill earlier today?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Bill was of course taken through its stages, and if the noble Baroness thought that the Questions were put too quickly, or anything like that, that is a matter for the noble and learned Lord who sits upon the Woolsack, and perhaps it would be as well if my noble and learned friend were to make any comments upon that.

The Lord Chancellor

Well, my Lords, if I did put them too quickly, I am naturally very sad and apologise to the House. But I must make one or two observations to the House. There are, of course, occasions when discussion is not customary in the House and things are not taken to a Division. As long ago as the 1840s, in the judicial business, a noble Lord tried to speak and tried to take matters to a Division, when the judicial business of the House was taken, and Lord Lyndhurst did then exactly what I did on this occasion. That was 150 years ago.

The Consolidated Fund Bill is in exactly the same position. According to my understanding, privileges of the House of Commons are that we do not discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill and we do not take it to a Division. I believe that if we had taken it to a Division, there would have been a conflict between the two Houses.

As a matter of fact, when I put the Question the second time I did not even hear a voice raised as "Not-Content". There was a certain amount of confusion, but I had assumed that the House was following its normal process. On the first occasion when I heard that one voice was "Not-Content" I then proceeded to put the Question a second time. There was a certain amount of confusion the second time. What I should have done if I had heard the second voice I do not know, but I should have gone on putting the Question once more, I think, in any event; but in the circumstances which happened I did not hear it.

As a matter of fact, I think it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor or the occupant of the Woolsack, on occasions when voices are not raised and when the House does not take matters to a Division by convention—as on judicial sittings and as on the Consolidated Fund Bill—probably to have taken the opinion of the House on the matter. But my understanding of the duty of the occupant of the Woolsack is that, where matters are not taken to a Division by convention, the Question is put without discussion and without a Division. But in point of fact the second time I put it I thought the voice of protest had been stilled and that what I heard was a slight babble of confusion. If I acted therefore precipitately, I am naturally very sorry.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he would divide what he has just said between going to a Division and having a discussion, and let us know whether or not it would be in order to discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill without any question of a Division?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that is not a question for me; that is a question for the Leader of the House. What I was asked was why I declared the voices in the way I did at the time I did. The question of discussion has been commented on already by my noble friend the acting Leader of the House, and he said it was the custom of the House not to discuss. When I was Leader I certainly would have taken the same view; but that is not a matter for me, sitting where I do. What is a matter for me is the putting of the Question, and it was that matter about which the Chief Whip on the Opposition Front Bench asked and it was that which I sought to answer.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I may say so, I think we are in danger of getting into a discussion upon a Statement which was invited by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies. I think that if one may try to draw any conclusions from this matter it is that, when the normal customs and procedures of the House are altered or look like being changed ad hoc, it is precisely that which creates difficulties and creates confusions. If there has been any difficulty or confusion over this matter, I think the right course would be to refer it to the Procedure Committee to make quite sure that any problems of this nature do not arise again in the future. But that, if I may say so, is the reason why it is essential to adhere to the customs and procedures of the House, not in order to gag or prevent anyone from speaking but simply to avoid the type of confusion which may have occurred today.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, with great respect and some temerity, may I ask that when the Procedure Committee consider this question they will consider the point made by my noble friend; that is, that the question of discussion might reasonably be separated from the question of decision?

Lord Peart

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord opposite for what he suggests. We agree with this.

Lord Denham

My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the House, I think that I speak for all my noble friends on this side in saying that we would wish noble Lords opposite, wherever they may sit, a very restful Recess, a happy Christmas and a good New Year—and I think that we all should like to extend those wishes to all the staff everywhere in the House who serve us so well.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, we on these Benches would like to echo very warmly especially the last words that the noble Lord the Chief Whip has uttered. We owe such a lot to all the staff of the House and we all of us wish them a particularly restful and happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. We also wish noble Lords in all parts of the House a peaceful and a happy New Year.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, may we also extend our seasonal greetings and best wishes for the New Year to noble Lords in all parts of the House, without any political implications?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I should like to associate myself with everything that has been said in this last and most pleasant function of the House before Christmas.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, may I say, God bless you all!

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, the Cross-Benches would not want to be left out of this.