HL Deb 27 October 1981 vol 424 cc917-31

4.1 p.m.

Debate continued on amendment to the Motion that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Lord Morris

My Lords, those noble Lords who listened with care to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington and Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, I humbly suggest must come to the conclusion that there is very great merit in the substance of their case. However, in my view, that substance is solely one of procedure in your Lordships' House or, rather, of the interrelated procedures of the two Houses of Parlia- ment. I believe that in arguing as they did they placed themselves on two prongs of Morton's fork—for they raised this question, which I would ask my noble friend to answer if possible. The question is: Does he believe that the tabling of this amendment has in any way helped your Lordships' House in the consideration of the Commons amendments by delaying further such consideration? It is for this reason I believe that the tabling of this amendment in this form at this particular time smacks of a certain technical trickery that has not helped their cause, which is of course a change in the interrelated procedures of the two Houses of Parliament. I believe that there are other ways and means in which that cause could be furthered if they feel as passionately as they apparently do.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, will necessarily welcome the fact that I am springing to his defence. Nevertheless, it is only right to say that I do not think that in this matter the noble Lord is guilty of trickery, even of technical trickery. It seems to me he has done no more than put down a Motion which is rather reminiscent, in the form of words used, of the very weighty complaints made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when speaking as Leader of the Opposition when he delivered, in my view, a wholly well-merited rebuke to the then Labour Government for producing shoals of amendments at the last stage of the parliamentary year, and not giving this House the opportunity of debating them. I am bound to say that I sat then on the Government Front Bench and thought that the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, were wholly justifiable.

I say that because, that being so, I would have assumed the present Government would have gone to considerable lengths to avoid doing exactly what they complained the Labour Government had been doing. Unhappily, they are doing precisely the same thing, which is to give us no adequate time to discuss major amendments to the laws of England—to produce 240 amendments, accepting at once that some are of a technical character and no doubt will be agreed very largely on the nod, and giving this House only four days to consider them. Certainly my noble friends and I will vote with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, as an indication of our view that this is an unreasonable way to treat this House.

All I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is that I listened with fascination, as I think we all did, to his views on the attitude of the Labour Party to the House of Lords. If I may say so to him, I think that their view is a little more robust than would appear from the way he expressed their view. As I understand it, the one thing on which the Labour Party agree is the immediate abolition of the House of Lords, and I think it is an indication of the new unity of the Labour Party that everyone apparently agrees with the proposition. Speaking for myself and, I think, for the overwhelming majority of other people in this country, who take the view that it is highly necessary in order to safeguard the basic liberties of the people of this country that there should be a second chamber, in view of that, I think it is even more essential to ensure that the second chamber, in whatever form it exists, is treated with a great deal more respect than has been the position today.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, this amendment tabled by my noble friend to the original Motion is of very great importance. Indeed, for a Government which is devoted to free enterprise and privatisation and market forces, I would have thought company law is a matter of some seriousness. I was interested that the speech of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington appeared to be treated with some amusement by the Government Front Bench. I would have thought that is unfortunate, but it does perhaps characterise the situation with which we are faced. Every big Companies Bill is a re-examination of the mechanism by which business is carried on and a re-examination of the relationships of society with the enormous privileges of limited liability and incorporation which companies enjoy—far bigger privileges than any other organisations in the land. That is a matter which has to be considered by everybody. It is not just a technical matter and workers are beginning, as dole queues increase, to take a greater interest in this matter. I will come to that a little later.

The method of company law reform has changed since 1908. We used to have a committee or a commission, then a revising Bill and then consolidation legislation. In 1918, 1929, 1948, 1967 and 1976, it began to run into the ground. Now we have a new method. It is a method prompted by the EEC directives which, for good or ill, the Government are obliged to carry out. There are many European Economic Community directives on the harmonisation of company law; so most Sessions we shall have a Companies Bill.

You can do two things with a directive; you can just take it and put it on the statute book as best you can—because often it is very difficult to do it—or you can take it as an opportunity, a launching pad, for company law reform of a wider kind. In 1978 the previous Administration chose the wider course on a systematic basis. In 1979 the present Administration chose the narrower course, and then they changed their mind. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as you know what you are doing. But when they changed their mind they just put bits and pieces here and there, now and then, into the Companies Bill in 1979, and that Bill became the Act of 1980. Of course, in this Bill we are considering there are dozens of amendments to the 1980 Act, and there are now dozens of amendments to the amendments to the 1980 Act—new amendments put in on Report in another place. There are most important amendments to the 1980 Act which have never been discussed properly at all. That is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Morris, perhaps ignored, because the notice has not been adequate for the business community, the trade unions or the Houses of Parliament, where it is relevant. The notice has not been adequate of the steps which the Government wish to take.

There is an amendment to the clause dealing with what the side note calls "international bonds". Every time this Government introduce a clause with a short side note you can guarantee that it is very difficult to understand. Nobody really understands the section in the 1980 Act on international bonds—and who will understand the amendment to it which was introduced on Report on 19th October in another place, eight days ago, with precious little notice at all, I do not know! Indeed, the right honourable gentleman the Minister of State showed a fine sense of irony in introducing it—he hardly did more—when he said this on 19th October: I hope the House will accept the clause, particularly since no substantial criticism has been levelled at its substance". Of course no substantial criticism has been levelled at it. Everyone has been doing what my noble friend and I have both been doing for the last few nights—sitting up trying to put together a paste-and-scissors version to try to understand what on earth is being done.

When one comes to look at the substance, as we can now begin to do, I immediately say with regard to my own amendments that I shall not withdraw them all, perhaps because they will cause the Government to put on the record an explanation—and this is another cause of complaint, because some of these amendments were simply put in and never explained at all at various stages of this Bill. My amendments, I now think, having had the chance to glance at them this afternoon, are not very adequate. I should like another chance to have another go, but of course that will not be possible.

If noble Lords will look at Amendment No. 169 on the Commons amendments sheet, they will find that the 1980 Act is being amended so that arrangements with directors in regard to assets which the directors may take from the company, and substantial arrangements of that kind, are being altered in a most fundamental way. That was introduced on Report on 20th October, at column 243 of the Official Report, and there was no explanation, no debate—nothing. By Amendment No. 170, the policy of the 1980 Act is reversed. At least, this was introduced on 7th July in Committee, but there has been no clear explanation. Amendment No. 194 was introduced on Report on 20th October, one week ago, and it amends the first schedule to allow companies to keep secret matters which, up to now, one would have thought it was pretty obvious they should disclose, such as the previous year's result on certain matters.

There are dozens of these clauses which have never been properly debated. This Bill left this House with 79 clauses on 131 pages and comes back with 106 clauses on 165 pages, and some noble Lords—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Morris—may feel that that is what happens in the run of the mill knock-about of parliamentary life. But it is not at all like that. The existing clauses have been changed in a fundamental way and dozens of amendments have been made at a very late stage. One might have thought that the Government would have learned something from what they had to do to the 1980 Act in this Bill, but they have not. We all know that this Government are not for learning!

There are dozens of ways in which company law cries out for rationalisation, which could have been done and which—I say this in all frankness to the Ministers who are to speak—could still be done. There is no reason why this Government could not take back a shambles of a Bill and introduce it in the next Session, after two months' consultation, find the parliamentary time which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, seems to think he could not possibly find and put it through quite quickly before Christmas, if they did it systematically.

Noble Lords who were present during the debates on the Bill on company law will know that I have had a special interest in the section which prohibits a company from giving financial assistance for the purchase of its own shares. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, with whom I was in communication and who regrets that he cannot attend your Lordships' House because he is unwell, also joined with me on 30th April to show to the Government that—which they then accepted—their proposed replacement for the section prohibiting such assistance, which since the Green Committee of 1929 has been accepted as being an improper use of company funds, was quite inadequate.

The Government took their version away and came back to another place on 30th June with a totally new version—not just a new set of words, but a new philosophy. They then took that away from Committee in another place and came back on Report on 20th October on one of the most fundamental issues of company law of our time, in terms of financial fiddlers as well as in terms of the innocent who suffer. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I joined forces about that, because the section was unkind to the innocent and too kind to the guilty. The noble Earl was more interested in the first and I was more interested in the second. He has won, because this clause is so kind that both the innocent and the guilty need have no fear whatsoever, however much fiddling of this kind goes on.

If noble Lords are going to jump through the hoop in the kind of way which is suggested by three different clauses, with three different philosophies, the last on 20th October, and are not going to issue a bleat, what do they think they are doing here? My noble friend Lord Bruce is quite right. If this House lets this go through with a few discussions on amendments dreamed up by my noble friend and myself at 2.30 in the morning which, no doubt, will be criticised for their drafting, if the Government have such effrontery, then perhaps we shall go through the charade of a pantomime, of which my right honourable friend Mr. Stanley Clinton-Davis complained in another place, and he was right. It is a pantomime.

May I give one other instance to the House, because it is important to give concrete instances? We are not just talking about matters of terminology, amendment or interpretation. The Government appear to be prepared to put on to the statute book a clause which they themselves have said is a matter of doubt and uncertainty. Let me explain in a few sentences what I mean. The Government are enacting legislation on concert parties. They produced draft clauses on concert parties on 28th May and they asked for comments on 15th June. Everyone with any knowledge of the subject agreed with the new journal The Company Lawyer, which is rapidly acquiring some authority, when it wrote on that suggestion: The Government has tabled 21 new clauses to the Companies Bill at committee stage in the House of Commons after the Department of Trade, in a hastily assembled consultative document, allowed a mere 18 days for comment by any interested parties". That is a comment that one can find in many other pages of the journal during this year, where the period for consultaton is said to be absurd.

I wish to make it clear, because this may be misrepresented, that I do not wish to attack those who carry out the difficult work of the Department of Trade. I say that this comes from the Government, because the Government do not know what they want to do and, when the Government decide what they want to do, they are so devious in these matters that it is very difficult for their advisers to know how to do it.

This clause was Clause J in the consultative document, and what did the consultative document say about Clause J? It said that there was uncertainty whether the clause, would include all beneficial interests, such as an interest under a trust of income from shares". That is quite an important point. It went on: If there is such a doubt, the Department is uncertain whether such arrangements are likely to be a source of difficulty in practice". That is an important matter for consultaton.

But between 28th May and today, we have had no change in the clause. Your Lordships are asked to approve it as it stands, and we have not had any explanation from Government spokesmen about whether the difficulty has disappeared, whether there is still uncertainty or what it all means. So that on their own documents they are asking this House to enact what today they may care to explain. But if they do not, this House should take another look.

I am told that it was asked through the usual channels whether this House would sit until after 8.30 p.m. on this Bill. But it would take until half past 8th November to discuss properly the kind of amendments which are put in the 246 which are listed. I ask the Government whether or not they intend to consider accepting any amendment in these proceedings. Unless they say "yes", your Lordships may as well pack up and go home after voting for this amendment, and having the courage to show the Government what should be shown to them.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, although I shall not support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, which seems to me to be a pointless exercise, and although I shall not follow the example of the noble Lord who has just sat down and make several speeches which were, perhaps, more relevant to the amendments when we come to them, I think it is right that there should be, at any rate, one voice from this side of the House on the procedure which Her Majesty's Government have seen fit to adopt in respect of these amendments.

The substance of what is happening this afternoon is that your Lordships are being asked to rubber-stamp 246 amendments which were made in another place. That makes something of a mockery, does it not, of the revising function of this House? I must express my regret that it is a Conservative Government which seeks to do this to this House and, I am afraid, to set yet another precedent which another Government of another colour may well exploit in the future. It is a very great pity that we should be conducting this important discussion in this way.

As I said, I see no point in tagging on to the Motion some words which may ease the feelings of some noble Lords who feel as they do, and as I do, about this, but which do not at all affect the procedure. But I think one can ask of my noble friends on the Front Bench two things which, with very great respect, I put to them. First, I think that they owe this House an apology for the procedure and I hope that they will be prepared to express it. Secondly, I hope that they will be prepared to express in even stronger terms the views which many of us feel, and which I suspect my noble friends on the Front Bench also feel, about the conduct of business by the business managers in another place which has produced this situation. If there is anything said this afternoon which can strengthen their hands, I hope it will have that effect.

We have had occasion more than once during this Session to find this House badly treated—not by our own Leaders and Chief Whip, who, if I may say so without impertinence, have always tried to serve this House to the full, but by the business managers in another place. This is certainly the worst example. Although I appreciate that decorum and tact will prevent my noble friend from indicating in a few moments from now what it is he proposes to say to his right honourable friends in another place, I hope he will let just a bit of his feelings and the expressions he has in mind to peep through.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me a very brief intervention. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has in fact said everything that I would have wished to say to your Lordships, save this: that this is a serious procedural defect. It is a serious and substantial defect in the machinery of law-making in a bicameral system of government. Whether it happens, as it does here, by accident of our friends or, as it might in other circumstances, by design of our enemies, it denigrates the system of bicameral government. Finally, may I say that I would have supported this amendment wholeheartedly but for the inclusion of the last few words which for me to adopt would imply a degree of hubris which I am not prepared to indulge in.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I venture to support what has been said from this side of the House and, indeed, the other side in condemnation of the shoddy way in which this House has been treated by the business managers in another place, upon whom I quite agree the responsibility must certainly rest. It is no fault of the Chief Whip, who has the unpleasant task once more of having to hold the baby, or the buck, or whatever the appropriate object might be. Here is a situation where we are asked to consider a series of amendments —246 of them—which saw the light of day last Friday, containing 43 new clauses. This is an astonishing reversal of the revisionary role of the House of Lords. Apparently that role has gone over to another place. The Government had the responsibility of bringing forward the Bill. We had been promised this Bill. Sometime early last year I think we were promised that we should have something of this kind. We had a short interim Companies Bill because effect had to be given to the conventions of the Communities. But here we are faced with this grotesque situation in which the revising function has been taken over by another place and has been done extremely badly. If I may say so, they have not got the facilities. Least of all have they the know-how that this House has in matters of this kind.

My noble friends have identified in detail some of the matters of complaint. So has the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. The latter and my noble friend, who is a great expert in this field of company law, identified not only the incomprehensibility of many of the amendments but their sheer unsuitability. I think the word "diabolical" was an adjective which was used by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who, admittedly, occasionally is given to exaggeration but apparently not on this occasion.

We can blame the Devil for an awful lot of things but the responsibility here is more clearly establishable without calling in the assistance of theology for the purpose. The responsibility is plain. I think that to have put down and, I hope, to carry this resolution will be of value, if only to teach another place that they just cannot treat us like this. The warning words of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington were that they are conjuring up and supporting those who have said all along, "Well, we can do without the House of Lords". If they treat the House of Lords in this contemptible way, they are breeding dangerous things for the future of this House.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, may I say that on this occasion it was not I who conjured up the Devil but his noble friend sitting alongside him.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I apologise for having visited the Devil upon the noble Lord below the gangway. I do not think my noble friend would wish to disclaim responsibility in another place for what he has temporarily inadvertently passed to the Devil himself.

Lord Denham

My Lords, until this debate started your Lordships might have been surprised that it should be I who am intervening on behalf of Her Majesty's Government during consideration of what is by common consent a complicated and highly technical Bill. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Lyell will of course be dealing with the amendments themselves when we eventually get to them.

This amendment to the Motion, That the Commons amendments be now considered, is concerned, as your Lordships will have seen by now, not so much with the details of the legislation as with parliamentary handling and management of business. For that I myself must take full responsibility. We in this House must, I think, be very careful. Some noble Lords have probably sailed a little close to the wind regarding the rules of comity between the two Houses, in that it is agreed that we do not criticise the timetables and procedures of another place. I say this in parenthesis. Speaking for Her Majesty's Govern- ment, it is my responsibility, together with my noble friend the Leader of the House, to decide how business is managed in this House, and mine alone.

Let me say at the outset that I have considerable sympathy with those who would have liked more time between the final stages of this Bill when it was in another place and further consideration in your Lordships' House: more particularly between the arrival and circulation of the amendments and their discussion this afternoon. It cannot be denied that a number of provisions, some of them technical but others of no little significance, were added to this Bill in another place only last week. I say this openly and categorically. I can assure the House that I and my colleagues would not wish to belittle the practical difficulties under which your Lordships have to work on this occasion.

However, as I shall seek to show, the picture is not perhaps quite so cut and dried or indeed so bleak as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and other noble Lords have suggested. I am not going to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, when I use one of the arguments that I think he suggested that I might: that the bulk of the significant changes in another place, including the new clauses on disclosure of interest in shares, have been in the public domain since early July. The Bill was reprinted in another place as amended by Standing Committee on 9th July, and some 150 of the 246 amendments made by another place were already reflected in this print of the Bill. In addition, the great bulk of the amendments made on Report in another place were available in print well in advance of last week. Most of them were tabled by 8th October. I think we have already heard from what the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, said, that he, for one, seems to have done quite a large amount of research on what was happening while it was happening in another place. Of course I accept that nothing can fully compensate for the properly printed and marshalled list of amendments, but there was certainly nothing to stop Members of this House from reflecting upon and seeking advice on a good number of the issues in the period since July.

Of the 256 amendments, 153 are consequential. Of the remaining 103 amendments, I am advised that 50 are technical, drafting or minor and, of the remaining 53 amendments which are substantive, about 20 are in response to pressure either from this House or from outside bodies. I say this just to put the matter a little more in perspective, in that there are not, as your Lordships will appreciate, 246 substantive points.

Many of the changes are technical, and technical amendments, particularly in the second House—which on the present occasion happened to be another place—are inevitable in a complex Bill such as this. While on this point I really must say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, that he surely realises that some Bills start in your Lordships' House, some Bills start in another place and, on the occasions when Bills start in this House, another place is to a certain extent, as with regard to this particular Bill, the revising Chamber. So I do not think that there is anything new or anything incongruous in what he suggested on this.

My Lords, I am bound to say that both these and many of the more significant changes reflect concern expressed in this House earlier this year. I would remind your Lordships of the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, at the Second Reading of the Bill in your Lordships' House. He said: The Bill is notable for the absence of clauses on matters on which legislation is needed". It was in response to your Lordships that we agreed to deal with disclosure. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on Second Reading urging us not to "duck" this issue but to have the courage to come forward with proposals. Well, we have had that courage and our proposals represent one-third of the volume of the amendments before us today. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, pressed us to take account of proposals made by a working group of the CBI, the Law Society and the accountancy bodies on Section 56 of the1948 Act. We did, and hence another batch of the amendments. We were pressed hard to strengthen Part II of the Bill. My Lords, we have. Of course it is always possible to blame any Government for lack of time, but I had hoped to hear at least a word of congratulation for our prodigious efforts to meet points raised here, in another place, and by the main professional bodies.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? Let me say at the outset that I am quite sure the Government, in meeting some of these points, have done extremely well and I am sure we shall all be delighted about that. But that is not the point. The point is, why have over 200 amendments, albeit some of them are of a technical character, been produced 48 hours before the end of this parliamentary Session? That is the issue.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I shall be coming to that point later and I am afraid in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said, I shall be quoting precedents for this.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

But the noble Lord complained of the time. That is the point.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I shall come to that point later. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, mentioned at one point in his speech—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has commented on this—that some of the amendments were "diabolical". I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, seems to disassociate himself from that remark; or whether he is merely modestly disallowing the originality of it, I am not quite sure.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was disassociating himself from being given the paternity of the adjective which in fact belonged to my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, otherwise I think he agreed with it.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord would wish to disassociate himself from paternity because in this case it seems to me to be rather a doubtful child. I am advised that the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies has been consulted all the way along by Her Majesty's Govern- ment I am advised that the Law Society have been consulted all along by Her Majesty's Government, and I am advised that both these bodies indicated that there were no matters on which they would make representations at this stage.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he inform the House of the date of the last occasion on which the representatives of the CCAB met his officers from his department?

Lord Denham

No, my Lords, I am afraid I will not because I do not happen to have the information to hand; but I will certainly find out that information and let the noble Lord know.

The business managers of successive Administrations in this House have suffered from congestion of business and, quite rightly in my opinion, they have not got a guillotine procedure, they have not got a Committee off the Floor of the House, they have not got the selection of amendments by the Speaker or some other body equivalent in this House, and they have not got the closure in order to control this business. This means that on occasion log-jams do occur. The quite exceptional log-jam of the two Sessions 1974–1975 and 1975–1976, for instance, led to the House laying down recommended minimum intervals between stages —minimum intervals, incidentally, which in this Session we have had no small success in endeavouring to maintain.

Lord Oram

My Lords, in those instances was it not the case that the Bills then being dealt with were controversial as between the parties, whereas in this case everyone seems to agree that this is a technical Bill?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I do not see that that necessarily makes the thing better or worse. We now have minimum intervals between the stages. We do not in fact have any laid-down procedure as to a minimum interval between receiving amendments back from another place and discussing them.

But, my Lords, noble Lords opposite, when they are accusing us of behaving badly over this, really cannot say that we must totally forget everything that they did in the past. With particular regard to Commons amendments, in 1975 the House began consideration of 300 amendments to the Children Bill only three days after their arrival from the Commons. In 1977 no fewer than 252 Commons amendments to the Patents Bill were agreed to by this House less than two days after their arrival. My Lords, I will repeat those last figures: 250 amendments to the Patents Bill—and as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, will agree, patent law is not noted for being the simplest branch of English law—received from the Commons and agreed to by your Lordships' House during the last Government of the party of which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is a Member, within two days. I have no record as to whether the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, was present on that occasion.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, for the sake of accuracy, will the noble Lord say whether those two days were inclusive of Saturday and Sunday, or were they just two working days?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I understand they were just two straight calendar days, if you can have calendar days. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, says that had he been present he would have objected to such treatment. I must tell the noble Lord this, that speaking as he has been doing this afternoon—and I feel your Lordships will be very glad of this point—from the Opposition Dispatch Box, he has committed the party of which he is a member never again, when they are in power again, to inflict anything like such a task as on that occasion, indeed as on this occasion, on this House. Perhaps the House will appreciate this commitment. I hope the House will never have cause to remember it.

My Lords, these examples cannot undo what has been done in the present case; nor do they make the programme any more acceptable to the House. But they do point out that this is a perennial problem and one on which the present Government's record, thanks partly, it is true, to the minimum intervals I have referred to, is no worse, and I would say a good deal better, than that of the previous Administration. As the House will know, I readily agreed to look at the week's business after the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, first raised his complaint last Thursday. As a result this House may wish to continue consideration of the amendments tomorrow. I can give the House an assurance that I have taken note of what has been said from all parts of the House and I will specifically raise the points with my colleagues in another place. I will do all that I can to ensure that the House is not faced with a repetition of this difficulty at the end of next Session, or indeed at any time in the parliamentary year. But having said that, I really do question whether taking into consideration all the circumstances, both past and present, an amendment in the terms such as those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is justified in the best traditions of the House or indeed in the best interests of the House, and I would ask your Lordships to reject it.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I am most grateful for the intervention of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and I am particularly grateful for the support that appears to have come from all sides. I was particularly grateful for the brief summary of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who said quite correctly—he encapsulated the whole procedure—that it was being demanded of the House that it rubber-stamped the position as it came to your Lordships' House from the Commons. This is a perfectly accurate summary of the situation in which the House finds itself.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, seemed to think that there was some deep party motive or plot behind my putting down this amendment. It was indeed the result of a good deal of personal exasperation that a situation could have arisen where it was quite impossible within the time limits defined to do justice to the Bill, for ourselves as an Opposition or for the House as a whole to be able to perform its functions properly. This is the sole reason for putting down this amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, agreed eventually that it was all a question of time. That did not, of course, prevent him from enlarging on a whole series of other matters not in any way connected with the amendment itself. He expressed some regret that the Government are not being congratulated on responding to so many suggestions that came from your Lordships' House and from the Opposition. I would have thought that was more appropriate to the later stages, when one is considering the amendments in detail. But I will give the noble Lord the congratulations in advance. We congratulate the Government and we appreciate the fact that the Government have responded to the views expressed in your Lordships' House and to some of the views expressed by the Opposition in another place.

But still that is quite immaterial to the amendment on the Order Paper, which deals purely with the question of time. I take into account the observations which the noble Lord has made concerning the undesirability of casting any adverse reflection on the other place as another place. I entirely share that view and I trust that nothing I have said today will be interpreted in that sense. But it would have been quite easy for the Government so to have arranged the affairs of another place as to tack another couple of days onto its Session, which terminated at the end of July, in order to take the Report stage of this particular Bill. There would still have been 10 days before the arrival of the Glorious Twelfth; two days would not have been an undue affliction upon Members of another place. Your Lordships will recall that we ourselves in this House came back a fortnight before our colleagues in another place. That period was really all that was necessary.

My Lords, I have only one thing more to say, apart from thanking noble Lords who have taken part, and that is with regard to the position of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies. I trust the noble Lord was not seeking to infer that the CCAB were in agreement with the content and the form of the 43 new clauses that have been brought before your Lordships, because I think that would be unfair. It would be just as unfair as it would be if I were to say to your Lordships that they are in dissent with the 43 clauses. I think they ought to be absolved from that responsibility.

Lord Denham

My Lords, if I may intervene, I was making this point in regard to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, was saying that some professional body outside had said that all these amendments were diabolical. He has not named the professional body, but I do not think the particular professional body we are discussing can have said that.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I am grateful to be allowed to clear up the position about the word "diabolical". I did not say—and the record will show this—that a professional body said that. What I did say was that I had been in conversation with a member of one of the bodies to whom these matters had been referred, that I had received a telephone call late yesterday in response to my urgent request, saying that he had been through them as carefully as he could over the weekend and that in his view some of them were diabolical. I should like to clear up that point.

My Lords, the amendment, as I have indicated, does not prevent discussion of the Bill, and therefore does not prevent this House from going through the remaining constitutional processes which have been described so succinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as a rubber stamp. But it does seek to express a view, it does seek to deplore a position, it does seek to express regret. I do not see that any Member of this House who believes in the correct performance of the functions of this House can resist it. I commend the amendment to your Lordships' support.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)

My Lords, the original Question was, That the Commons amendments be now considered, since when an amendment has been moved in the terms set out on the Order Paper. The Question, therefore, I have to put to the House is, That this amendment be agreed to?

4.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 119.

Ailesbury, M. Kilmarnock, L.
Airedale, L. Kirkhill, L.
Ampthill, L. Leatherland, L.
Ardwick, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Aylestone, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bacon, B. Mais, L.
Banks, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Beswick, L. Molloy, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Northfield, L.
Blease, L. Ogmore, L.
Blyton, L. Oram, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Pargiter, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Peart, L.
Byers, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Collison, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Roberthall, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Rochester, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Denington, B. Scanlon, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Segal, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Shinwell, L.
Foot, L. Simon, V.
Gaitskell, B. Somers, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Glenamara, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Stone, L.
Gregson, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hale, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hankey, L. Underhill, L.
Hanworth, V. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. White, B.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wigoder, L.
Jacques, L. Willis, L.
Jeger, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Kennet, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Aldington, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Auckland, L. Ilchester, E
Avon, E. Inglewood, L.
Balerno, L. Kilmany, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Kitchener, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lane Fox, B.
Bellwin, L. Long, V.
Beloff, L. Lyell, L.
Belstead, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Bessborough, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Caccia, L. Malmesbury, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mancroft, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Margadale, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Marley, L.
Cockfield, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Coleraine, L. Melville, V.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Mersey, V.
Milverton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Craigavon, V. Morris, L.
Craigmyle, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Craigton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cranbrook, E. Northchurch, B.
Crathorne, L. Nunburnholme L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orkney, E.
Daventry, V. Orr Ewing, L.
Davidson, V. Oxfuird, V.
de Clifford, L. Pender L.
De Freyne, L. Portland, D.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L.
Derwent, L. Reigate, L.
Digby, L. Rochdale, V.
Drumalbyn, L. Romney, E.
Dundonald, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Ebbisham, L. Saint Brides, L.
Eccles, V. St. Davids, V.
Ellenborough, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Elton, L. Sandford, L.
Faithfull, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Ferrers, E. Seebohm, L.
Fortescue, E. Sempill, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L Sharples, B.
Gainford, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Spens, L.
Garner, L. Stamp, L.
Gisborough, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Glenkinglas, L. Strathspey, L.
Grantchester, L. Swansea, L.
Greenway, L. Swinfen, L.
Gridley, L. Terrington, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hailsham of St. Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hawke, L Vivian, L.
Hayter, L Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Henley, L. Westbury, L.
Hill-Norton, L. Windlesham, L.
Hives, L. Yarborough, E.
Home of the Hirsel, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

4.58 p.m.