HL Deb 27 November 1985 vol 468 cc902-4

3.3 p.m.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, I beg to move that the Third Report from the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House of last Session be agreed to. In accordance with the wishes of the House, the recommendation of the Committee on ministerial Statements was considered and the Committee now recommends that there should be no distinction between those who speak from the Front Benches and those who speak from the Back Benches, but that in both cases comments or questions should be brief, and the Committee ask me to stress that this applies to both Back- and Front-Bench spokesmen.

Statements cause considerable inconvenience to those taking part in the main business of the day, especially when there is more than one Statement, and the Committee stresses that they should not be used for making debating points. If a debate is desired, then it should be arranged at a later date when all Members have had time to read and consider the Statement in detail.

The Committee also recommends that fewer Statements should be made and greater use should be made of the procedure for printing them in Hansard rather than repeating them orally.

The other matter which was referred back to the Committee on the form of Motions for Papers is still under consideration by the Committee, which will be reporting to your Lordships at a later date. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Third Report from the Select Committee of last Session be agreed to.—(Lord Aberdare.)

Following is the report referred to:

ORDERED TO REPORT:— On 3rd July 1985, the House referred back to the Procedure Committee item 1 (Form of Motion for Papers) and paragraph 2 of item 4 (Ministerial Statements) of the Second Report from the Committee for further consideration—(Official Report cols. 1186–98).


The Committee have reconsidered their recommendation contained in paragraph 2 of item 4 of the Second Report that only the spokesmen for the main political parties should enjoy the right both to make brief comments and to ask questions on Ministerial Statements and that other Members of the House should be entitled only to ask questions. This recommendation was criticised on 3rd July.

The Committee now recommend that the present procedure, reflected in the guidance given in the Companion page 73 should be endorsed, whereby all Members of the House may comment briefly on Ministerial Statements and that no distinction should be made between the rights of Front or Backbenchers. In so doing they stress that such exchanges should be brief and that it is the responsibility of all Members of the House (including Ministers and Frontbench spokesmen as well as Backbenchers) to ensure that any comments or questions are short and to the point.

Under the terms of Standing Order 33, Statements "should not be made the occasion for immediate debate". If this rule were adhered to, the interruptions to the other business of the House would be much reduced. If a debate is desired this can be arranged at a later date, by which time all Members of the House (and not only Frontbenchers) will have had the opportunity of reading and considering the Government Statement in detail.

They further recommend that the number of Ministerial Statements, which has increased, should be reduced and greater use made of the procedure for printing Statements in the Official Report without oral repetition.

2. FORM OF MOTION FOR PAPERS The Committee have given further careful consideration to their previous recommendation in the light of the criticisms expressed in the House on 3rd July. They will report further on this matter to the House at a later stage.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I apologise for having started my few remarks, but one of the penalties of extreme old age is deafness, as I am afraid some of your Lordships will find out later in their lives.

On the last occasion when this report came in front of your Lordships, my noble friend Lord Shackleton and I took objection and the Committee reconsidered the matter. I am glad to say that it has washed out the proposal which was made in the report. As your Lordships know, the proposal was that after Statements Front-Benchers should be privileged and allowed to make brief comment. All other Members who did not enjoy the charge of one of the parties were unable to make any comment. It seemed to me that we had introduced a new principle of controlled speech according to standing in the House, and we objected very much to it. Now everyone, be they Front-Benchers or Back-Benchers, will have equal rights to make brief comment.

The previous suggestion seemed to me to savour too much of sheep and goats, or, if you like, officers and other ranks, and I think it is generally unacceptable to the House—I hope so, anyway. Now all are equal and any noble Lord can make a comment on the Statement, provided that the comment is brief. The glorious quality of brevity is not always exercised but I propose to implement it now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.