HL Deb 19 January 1983 vol 437 cc1407-11

Lord Jenkins of Putney rose to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, having regard to their statement that the problems encountered as the result of the privatisation of refuse collection in Wandsworth have been exaggerated and that they are not aware of substantial allegations of bribery, they have noted that the Wandsworth Borough Council has urged the public in advertisements in the local papers to stop acceding to demands for payment and that traders who have obeyed this instruction have failed to get their rubbish collected and whether they will urge Wandsworth to abandon privatisation in the interests of public health and municipal integrity.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, asks his Question, I wish to rise on a point of order on the Question because I believe that the Question in its present form is in breach of our Standing Orders. I refer particularly to the Companion, page 82, and I quote from it as follows: It is considered undesirable to incorporate statements of opinion or the demonstration of a point of view in the text of Starred Questions". It is that second part of the sentence that I particularly refer to here. I felt as soon as I saw it that the Question was out of order. I caused a message to be sent to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, in the hope that he might redraft his Question and in the fairly confident belief that, had he done so, in his supplementary he could, with his abundant wit, probably have worked in most of this long narrative before your Lordships stopped him. Unfortunately, however, he decided to stick to it, and I suggest that the Question is so obviously out of order in terms of the Companion that the normal flexibility that we allow in these matters has been exceeded and he really should not ask the Question in this form.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords——

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, before the noble Baroness replies, may I make a further point upon the point of order? The Companion says "undesirable". Does "undesirable" mean "out of order"? I submit that it does not.

Lord Denham

Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I rise as the Leader of the House to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford that the Question which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, does breach the spirit of the Standing Order and the guidance in the Companion on pages 69 and 82. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will take note of what my noble friend has said. In fact, I understand that the Procedure Committee are to meet shortly and it might be convenient if they were specifically to consider what has been said in the House. Meanwhile, I should like to suggest to the House that we leave the procedural matter and that we should proceed with Question Time.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, further to that point of order, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for the guidance she has given, although I am not absolutely certain that without further thought I could agree with what she has said about my noble friend's Question. I believe that it would be appropriate for the Question to go to the Procedure Committee so that the principle involved can be studied. It may well be that there are other Questions on the Order Paper which are open to the same charge as has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.

The fact of the matter, as I understand it, is that my noble friend's Question has been on the Order Paper since the beginning of December. Therefore, I think that any charge made should have been made well before now. However, the noble Baroness has made a constructive suggestion and I hope the House will accede to it.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, may I say to my noble friend the Leader of the House—

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, before the noble Lord proceeds, will he permit me to say just one word? As my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, the Question has been on the Order Paper for some time. The preliminary part of it in fact consists of a quotation from a Written Answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. I would not dispute as to whether it is or is not in order, and I rather welcome the idea that the Question is going to be examined by the Procedure Committee so that the whole issue can be discussed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her suggestion, and in the meantime I beg leave to be allowed to proceed with the Question.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, on a further point of order, if the noble Lord is going to proceed with his Question I think the House should give a clearer indication as to how it feels about that before the matter goes to the Procedure Committee, because, however one reads the Question as a whole, it is an expression of opinion and, as the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite has said, one has seen this sort of thing developing and it is something which is not in the best interests of the House as a whole. Therefore, if the noble Lord is going to try to proceed with his Question, I believe that the House ought to give its view as to what ought to be taken into account; and I would move that the House do not accept the Question, as your Lordships are the only ones who can decide whether "undesirable" means "out of order". The Lobbies ought to give the message to the Procedure Committee, and if it can be arranged I should like to move that that be done.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he has or has not moved anything, because I have certain duties to perform which depend upon the answer?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I formally propose that this House decides that this Question be not heard.

Moved, That this Question be not heard.—(Lord Harmar-Nicholls.)

The Lord Chancellor

The Question is that leave be not given.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, on a point of order, is it not right that there are no points of order in your Lordships' House? Is it not clear that in recent months there has been a tendency for Questions on the Order Paper to exceed the bounds of what many of us would regard as Questions, in the sense of being applications to the Government for the release of information? Bearing in mind the observations that have been made in your Lordships' House today, is this suggestion by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the matter should be referred to the Procedure Committee not a happy compromise, and in the meantime should the noble Lord not ask his Question in the ordinary way, if I may say so, without prejudice? In the circumstances, would it not be a little undesirable to proceed with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls?

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is it not now well established that the ruling of the Leader of the House is accepted? May I urge the importance of maintaining that principle, particularly in view of the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is powerless to intervene?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, having raised the matter, perhaps I may add just this. I thank my noble friend the Leader for the helpful statement which she has made and, for myself, I am very happy for it to be referred to the Committee on Procedure, which happens to be meeting next week. It would be unfortunate, if I may say so, for us to divide on an issue like this. The fact is that in this noble House we are, each one of us, responsible for order and there is no machinery, as there is in the House of Commons, with which many of us are familiar, for deciding these matters in a more rational way.

So it would be very unfortunate to have a Motion on which we actually divided, with, naturally, strong feelings, perhaps even partisan feelings, arising on it, when what we are talking about is a simple point of procedure which at the end of the day matters to all of us: that our Order Paper should be kept in the best possible shape in the interests of the dignity and working of the House. Surely the Committee on Procedure is the best body to deal with that. Although I understand that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is still under an obligation to put this Motion to the House, I hope that before he does so my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls will feel that this should not be pressed to a Division, because it really would be better to settle it in an amicable way.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am in something of a predicament because when the noble Lord spoke on his Motion the gravamen of his case was that my noble friend's Question gave an opinion. But only yesterday we had what seemed to me to be a very harsh opinion in a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, when his wording demonstrated beyond all peradventure his opinion that he wanted the GLC to be abolished. What is the difference between the opinion expressed yesterday and the opinion which it would appear is causing all the trouble today?

Lord Derwent

My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, yet again an expert on every subject that comes before your Lordships? He has not been here very long to know what is the custom of the House.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, may I suggest, with the greatest possible respect, that we are making slightly heavy weather of this? If the Question were allowed to proceed, as at the moment I think it cannot, the first thing that would happen is that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, would ask leave to ask his Question. The leave of the House has to be unanimous. Therefore, for it to be withheld it is only necessary for one voice to say, "No". May I suggest that a possible procedure might be for my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls to ask leave to withdraw his Motion and then, when the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, asks his Question, to stand up and say, "No"?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, may I mention a difficulty for some of us who have not been here very long—myself, in particular? We will not know which way to vote on a Division until we have had the assistance of the Procedure Committee. One wishes lo vote intelligently and fairly, irrespective of party allegiance. Therefore, may I humbly suggest that we accept the view that this Motion is not put to a Division? It would cause people like myself considerable embarrassment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, in the absence of Standing Orders—

Several noble Lords


Baroness Young

My Lords, this is not the Committee stage of a Bill, if I may put it like that. I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls will feel able to withdraw his proposal. We have already taken up 10 minutes of the afternoon on a very busy day. I think I am representing the views of the House when I say that there is a concern about the Question. In order that this might be properly decided, I think that it should go to the Procedure Committee. It seems to me that that is the wish of the House. In order to put ourselves in order, I agree that we should now take the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and I hope that the suggested sequence of events might now take place. I ask my noble friend to consider that.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, in the absence of Standing Orders, and if it is the view of some of us that the self-discipline upon which the ruling of this House has previously been based is on the verge of breaking down, it may well be that the view of the House as a whole as to whether that tendency ought to be allowed to continue should be put to the test at the earliest opportunity. But, in view of the fact that my noble friend the Leader of the House has made a suggestion, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said it was the convention that we accept the ruling of the Leader of the House, I shall be happy to withdraw my Motion, in the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will also heed what was behind the ruling of the Leader of the House and not proceed with his Question. Attention has been drawn to it, and perhaps honour can be satisfied on all sides.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, is it your Lordships' pleasure that the Motion be withdrawn?

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to