HL Deb 04 November 1987 vol 489 cc988-1053

3.14 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw) rose to move, That this House takes note of the report by the group on the working of the House (HL Paper 9).

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, at the beginning of the last Session of Parliament I announced that I proposed to set up an informal group drawn from all sides of your Lordships' House to examine the working of the House and to suggest improvements in the conduct of business. This followed a particularly arduous Session in which many felt that the pressure of business had tested our procedures to the full. The group presented me with its report in the final days of the last Parliament.

The document the group has produced not only reviews thoroughly all our procedures but is a mine of statistical and other information which will be a lasting source of information to anyone with an interest in parliamentary affairs. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all in the group for their excellent work.

I understand that the convener of the group, my noble friend Lord Aberdare, proposes to say something in his speech, which follows mine, on the way in which the group set about its task and on its principal conclusions. At this stage of the debate I should like only to draw the House's attention to what, from my reading of the group's report and my knowledge both of this House and of another place. I consider to be the real question before the House not only this afternoon but every time it sits. It is this. Do we value our present ability to regulate our own affairs without a Speaker? Do we prefer not to go down the path of the 19th century House of Commons and so not resort to elaborate and inhibiting procedural rules? Can we, in other words, continue to enjoy that rare privilege of more or less unrestricted freedom of debate without exercising a collective determination to observe those few rules and conventions which we at present possess? Rarely is the House faced with a question so easy to answer in theory but so hard to live up to in practice.

Before I conclude I should like to indicate briefly how best I think we could proceed to take account of the report's findings. The debate this afternoon gives the House as a whole the opportunity of considering and commenting upon the recommendations contained in the report. When I have had an opportunity to consider what has been said in the debate I propose to lay the report before the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee will also have before it a paper from me, written in the light of this afternoon's debate, inviting it to consider what changes, if any, should be made to the procedural advice offered to Peers in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

The report of the Procedure Committee, embodying its recommendations, will then of course be laid before the House for approval in the usual way. This course of action follows exactly what was done in 1971 when a similar exercise was conducted. I am pleased and grateful that I have the support of the leaders of all parties in proposing that we follow the same course in connection with the present report. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report by the group on the working of the House (HL Paper 9)—(Viscount Whitelaw.)

3.20 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I know that all the members of the group that has been responsible for the report would like me to say straight away how very grateful we are to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for his kind words about us. Unfortunately one of our very valued members, the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn Davies, is unable to be here. She is in bed with a bad back and wishes to apologise to the House. I know that your Lordships will be very sorry that she is not here.

I was also glad to hear the noble Viscount refer to me as the convener of the group; I was indeed the convener and not the chairman. As your Lordships are accustomed to do, we conducted our affairs on the basis of self-regulation. We are all equally responsible for the report.

Let me pass on one or two of the words of thanks from the noble Viscount to others. First, let me thank our clerks, who served us extremely well. Many of our discussions ranged very widely; indeed, it was not unknown for us to change our minds between one meeting and another. They have very skilfully distilled the essence of our deliberations into the report. Most importantly, I thank all noble Lords who took the trouble to reply to our questionnaire. We received well over 200 replies. Most of them came from noble Lords who attend fairly frequently. However, all were of extreme interest. They were an immense help to us in compiling the report and most of our recommendations are based on the replies.

In general we are of the opinion that, despite the increased numbers in the House and the pressure of business, the House has not lost its traditional character. It has successfully adapted its procedures to meet changed circumstances. We do not think that external pressure should force us to make any fundamental change to our tried procedures. Our recommendations seek to continue the process of gradual change. We rejected early on any question of a Speaker with controlling powers. That suggestion found hardly any support among the vast majority of noble Lords replying to the questionnaire. We therefore re-emphasise the importance of self-regulation and the need for all Members of the House to be fully aware of the Standing Orders and of the normal practices in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

We concluded that in many cases where there had been an abuse of normal practice, it occurred because of ignorance. A major recommendation in the report is that the Brief Guide to the procedure and practice of the House should be revised. A first shot at revising it is included as an annex to the report.

We also suggest that there should be an annual report from the Procedure Committee to draw special attention to breaches of normal procedure. We hope that that report will act as a continuous survey of our working and may avoid the need from time to time for appointing a special body such as ours.

I am not in any danger this afternoon of seeing red figures on the digital clock. However, I hope to set a good example and I shall not speak for very long. The whole purpose of the debate, as the Leader of the House explained, is to listen to the views of your Lordships concerning the report. However, I should like to comment briefly on four important subjects in the report. They are Starred Questions, Statements, the stages of legislation and the length of speeches.

The first matter is that of Starred Questions. Opinion expressed in answer to our questionnaire was fairly evenly divided on the subject. Some noble Lords felt that Question Time was becoming somewhat unruly and that further regulation was required. Others felt that Question Time was one of the more lively interesting parts of the day's proceedings and that a certain amount of latitude was permissible. We are of the latter opinion. We see no need to change the present practice, which works reasonably well if the rules are adhered to. In particular, it provides a very good example of self-regulation at work. It is becoming quite normal to hear interruptions from the Back Benches on both sides of the House when someone asking a supplementary question fails to put it into interrogative form or is clearly making a statement rather than seeking information.

We suggest only that the Leader of the House or his deputy, hopefully with support from the Opposition Front Bench, should not hesitate to intervene when any one Question is unreasonably long. Discreet Back Bench protest, especially when it comes from all sides of the House, makes the task of interpreting the wishes of the House much easier.

In order to allow more Peers to initiate Questions, we suggest that no one noble Lord should have more than two Questions on the Order Paper at any one time, rather than the present number of three. On the other hand, we suggest that the present rule on supplementary questions—namely, that only one point should be covered in a supplementary question—should be slightly relaxed to allow not more than two points in any one supplementary question. That seems to us to be both more realistic and easier to enforce.

Turning to Statements and Private Notice Questions, they pose what is undoubtedly the most difficult problem of all and one on which opinion was most divided, particularly between the Front Benches and the Back Benches. There is general agreement that Statements—and I include in that category Answers to Private Notice Questions in another place, which are now repeated in the form of Statements—are a most irritating interruption in the main business of the day. However, there are those who consider that in many instances their political importance outweighs any inconvenience they may cause. The difficulty is that what one Peer may consider to be important does not necessarily appear so to another.

There is strong support for the view that ministerial Statements made in another place should not, save in very exceptional circumstances, be repeated orally in this House. Rather, they should be printed in Hansard. As your Lordships will be aware, that has already been done in some cases and particularly, for example, in the case of certain Statements on meetings of EC Ministers. Those who have put that view forward argue first that the Minister repeating the Statement in this House is in a very difficult position in answering supplementary questions, in that he cannot be expected to commit a senior Minister in another place on matters of policy or politics. Secondly, it is felt that such proceedings make no impact outside this Chamber. The television cameras are not permitted to cover repeated Statements and any press interest is naturally concentrated on the responsible Minister in another place. Thirdly, there is almost inevitably a tendency for repeated Statements to degenerate into mini-debates in total disregard of the rules of order.

Our recommendation is that ministerial Statements made in another place should rarely be repeated in this House and that supplementary questions on them should be limited to 20 minutes. That reflects the majority opinion of those replying to the questionnaire.

So far as Private Notice Questions are concerned, we recommend that there should be no change in the Leader's responsibility for deciding whether or not to accept a Private Notice Question originating in this House but that the system of repeating Answers to Private Notice Questions originating in another place in the form of a Statement should be discontinued.

With regard to legislation, we recognise the extremely important part played by this House in the legislative process. We are most anxious not to restrict the proper consideration of Bills in any way. For that reason, we feel unable to accept the suggestion that amendments at Report stage should he restricted to the same degree as they are at present on Third Reading.

We draw attention to the existing rules governing the Report stage and the Third Reading which tend to be ignored from time to time and we recommend that they should be strictly adhered to. We further recommend that concluding speeches at the final stage of a Bill, that is either at the Third Reading or on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, should be relevant to the Bill in its final form and should not be a further opportunity to regret what is not included in the Bill.

The length of speeches is the last matter I should like to deal with. This subject has caused concern to the House for a great many years. In 1576 Queen Elizabeth told Lord Keeper Bacon to stop speaking. In 1887 and 1890 Bills were introduced seeking to impose time limits—one hour for privy councillors and 15 minutes for the rest—and proposing that the Clerk ring a bell if these were exceeded. In 1965 the House agreed to the Motion of Lord Egremont that speeches should be shorter, and in 1972 we put in the digital clocks.

There is no doubt at all that most of your Lordships prefer short speeches—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Chairman of Committees

—particularly from others. There is no doubt also that our limited time debates have been a considerable success. There are those who advocate the wider use of time limits, but we prefer to continue with exhortation and an appeal to self-interest on the grounds that a long speech is almost invariably counter-productive. However, we have suggested somewhat more restricted guidelines of 20 minutes for those opening or winding up debates and 15 minutes for other speakers. We hope that the process of self-regulation will reinforce these guidelines and that discreet murmurings might draw the attention of the speaker if he exceeds them.

To reinforce this process we also suggest that the figures on the digital clocks should show in red after 15 minutes. Even though the speaker may pay no attention to the change of colour, others who are not so carried away by his oratory might bring it to his notice. May I say, my Lords, that my masculine adjective of course embraces the female although in my experience they offend much less frequently, if ever.

Finally, I noticed with great interest in The Times yesterday that several elderly Chinese revolutionaries have been transferred, to the Central Advisory Commission, a body of elder statesmen whose size and possibly influence will have been boosted by its new members". It seems that China, in her wisdom, is creating life Peers and a sort of House of Lords. I hope that the noble Viscount might consider having our report translated into Chinese for their benefit. I have said enough, and I leave it to your Lordships to make short speeches and to enjoy a good introspective debate.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the opening speeches of the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, have set an example which we must all follow as from today. I am bound to say that it is interesting that this debate follows the 1971 report when the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, was chairman. I had assumed that he chaired the inquiry that has led to this debate but it may be just because his name begins with an "A" that it appears first in the report. It is a very well written report. It is one with which I almost wholly agree.

It is interesting to make comparisons with the 1971 report. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, took part in the debate at that time. The chief difference is that only a dozen Peers spoke in that debate whereas today there are 27 speakers. I think your Lordships have done extraordinarily well to have kept our procedure most of the time in an orderly fashion.

The main point brought out and to which I have referred previously is the importance of the role of the Leader and of the Leader of the Opposition. I remember, when I was Leader of the House, that I could always rely on support. I recall Lord Swinton, when he saw me in trouble, getting up and saying, "We must listen to the noble Lord the Leader of the House and desist." I do not think he knew what the trouble was. The fact is that there is general support for order in the House, and that is absolutely crucial.

I say again that the Government place a very heavy burden both on their Lords in Waiting and junior Ministers who sometimes have to cope with a fractious situation without the authority of the Leader or the Chief Whip whose presence can smooth the proceedings.

This House runs largely on good manners rather than rules. It is important we should remember that. When I was first in the House I did not know Lord Salisbury. I was a member of the Labour Party and I thought he was probably a right-wing reactionary. But he was a man of such good manners and charm that he was an example to us all. I hope we will bear this in mind.

One of the differences between ourselves and the Commons is that we normally give way when a noble Lord wants to interrupt. Obviously if one is in the middle of a sentence one will not give way. Nor will one do so if the noble Lord has tried six times already to intervene. But the general custom is that we do give way in this House. That is an example of the importance of our good manners.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, listed a number of points and mentioned Question Time. Once again restraint is called for. I agree that we do not want significantly to alter our rules in that respect.

I turn now to the passage on Public Bill Committees. I was one of those who served on the Public Bill Committee on the Pilotage Bill. I thought, on balance, that it was a success. So, I believe, did other noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne. I would be sorry if we abandoned the attempt, although there is a good deal to be said for choosing a less controversial Bill. The Government failed to realise just how controversial it was going to be. If they had asked, they would have found out. There is a need to provide more time for a noble Lord to slip out of the Committee Room and to return for a vote. Therefore, I favour meeting in the morning. It imposes a real strain if we meet in the afternoon when other business is going on. It is a worthwhile activity and I hope that the Government will continue the experiment with a suitable Bill this Session.

I turn to the question of ad hoc committees on which there has been some discussion. I speak now as Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in succession to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. We take up a great deal of the time of the clerks; so do the European Committees. It would be useful to pick ad hoc subjects. We had a very good one a few years ago on trade and employment. I hope that some procedure can be devised with perhaps some of the chairmen of committees selecting a suitable subject rather than it being adopted as the result of a random move by one individual. I remember that the first of these committees was the child of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and very successful it was. The Leaders no doubt will consult on this, and I ask them to consider some procedure. I repeat the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that there should be more support for committees. I could have brought into the Chamber a cartload of paper on space, a subject on which I chair a sub-committee. We have one clerk and one adviser, who lives in Manchester. For half the time the clerk does not have a secretary. That is intolerable when we have to produce reports such as that on civil science under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, which the Government admit have influenced their decisions. We do not need a great deal of help. But something more, even if not up to the level of the Commons—at least an additional researcher who could do some of the reading and identify matters which have to be looked at—might be considered.

There is an enormous quantity of paper and nowhere to store it. Many Peers do not have an office; some have no desk. This presents a great problem. I believe that the Library could do more in this connection, but the Library itself is short of resources. I understand that a proposal it made for a third research member has been consistently turned down. If you compare what happens in the American Senate, where every senator has 30 assistants, where there is a library of Congress and an office of technology assessment, we really do treat ourselves very badly.

I mention one other example of modern organisation. It would be awfully nice and would speed up proceedings if the lifts could go a little faster. I timed a lift in another building this morning. It went up to the eleventh floor in 30 seconds. Here, it takes over two minutes or longer to go from the ground floor to the second floor, allowing time for the lift to arrive. That is material to the working of the House.

I hope there will be some consideration of extra support for committees. I need not go into the conclusions of the group about amendments on Third Reading. Indeed, the noble Lords have described procedure on the length of speeches. I remember on a previous occasion the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I believe, suggesting that we have ejector seats in the House of Lords, for those who speak for too long. I do not think we need go that far. I would however urge all noble Lords to read the report which is as good an introduction to the procedures and customs of this House as any I have seen. By and large, I am a conservative with regard to our procedures and I think the group have reached the right conclusion.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, this is an excellent report. I rise to give it the fullest support and to extend my compliments to those who contributed to it. One had only to read the list of names of those taking part to see that it would be an excellent report. I am glad to see that the group has resisted the temptation which all committees of this kind fall into when asked to look into procedures, of suggesting a great variety of changes. It has considered everything most carefully. The report gives a great deal of background information and reaches the conclusion that there should be no change in our fundamental procedures. We welcome that completely—a feeling, shared, I hope, by every one of your Lordships. It follows that if we accept that view, as I am sure we do, there arises no question of selection of amendments, which would be wholly inconsistent with such an attitude.

The group was asked to look at improvements in the conduct of business. That does not necessarily mean at all costs finding time-saving ideas—certainly not at the cost of the quality or our work or the usefulness of our function. I am therefore delighted that the group has recommended that the Report stage should not be further limited, as the noble Lord has just reminded us.

I daresay that those of your Lordships who, like myself, have had the experience of being responsible for the management of a number of Bills and dealing with opposition and proposed amendments to them will reach the conclusion I have formed—that the Committee stage is somewhat of a trawl. It is not an attempt to have precisely worded amendments accepted by the Government. It is an attempt to find out what is in the Government's mind and to discover those areas where Ministers might be willing to be a little flexible. It follows that you need full facility and full freedom at the Report stage to take advantage of everything that the Government and, indeed, all Members have said during the Committee stage so as to be able at that point to put down a precisely worded amendment and, if necessary, to press the Government on it.

There is one area where I am wholly in disagreement with the recommendations; that is, on paragraph 78, which recommends that Statements should be offered to opposition parties with the presumption that they will not be delivered orally but will be printed in Hansard. I oppose that on two simple grounds. First, it is a severe diminution of the rights of an opposition party in your Lordships' House and, secondly, it is clearly a limitation and a diminution of the rights of your Lordships' House. In this House, we work in a complementary fashion to the other place, but we nevertheless have the responsibility of looking at all Bills. We do not say that Bills we do not like or do not want to discuss in great depth will simply appear under their names in Hansard, or anything like that. We discuss everything on the basis that legislation has to go through both Houses—all legislation, with one obvious and minor exception.

I feel exactly the same with regard to Statements. There are Statements of a kind wholly within the realm of the other place and of practically no interest to this place relating to matters where we have, by consent, no major responsibility. Of course, such Statements do not need to be repeated. It is for the Opposition parties to be consulted but not on the basis that there is an understanding that only in the rarest cases will they ask for a Statement or a PNQ to be repeated.

Instead of the presumption that Statements are not to be delivered orally, I prefer no presumption at all—no presumption that they will be taken and no presumption that they will be refused. Each case should be decided by the usual channels on the merits of the issue that is being considered.

There are, however, three time-savers—one minor and two major—which I am pleased to see and which I support. The minor one concerns maiden speeches. I wholly share the view that it is not necessary, in terms of courtesy and welcome to the maiden speaker, to have more than one following speaker congratulating him or her. It is for that reason, not out of discourtesy nor because I have not looked at the list of speakers that I make no comment whatever on any speakers who are to follow. I take the view that the recommendation is a good one. By the time a maiden speaker has been congratulated for the fifth, sixth and seventh time, all attempts at sincerity are lost and the practice means nothing except a slight waste of time in your Lordships' House. Therefore, I hope that the recommendation will be followed.

I put one recommendation for saving time to the Leader of the House. We are in trouble every summer and that is followed every autumn by the Leader of the House saying: "I will arrange business so that this never happens again." He means it with the greatest sincerity but he is always wrong because we are always in trouble. This does not refer only to the present Leader of your Lordships' House: it has always been the case since I joined this House in 1970.

What suggestion can I make to overcome this difficulty? It is very simple. The Government in arranging their legislative programme should provide for a contingency allowance. The Government know what programme they can reasonably accommodate and appear to go for that, but it is always the case that the Government have to respond to some activity which requires new legislation which they did not anticipate at the start of the business year. That takes up additional time. The only way in which to deal with it is to provide an allowance—what I might call a contingency allowance—because that provides for what one cannot foresee.

Yesterday we were discussing the Autumn Statement and budgeted expenditure. In the statement this time there was the largest ever contingency allowance. That used not to be the case. I remember the difficulty I personally had as Chief Secretary in getting my colleagues to accept the necessity for a contingency allowance. It is now part of the normal procedure and under this Government it has increased and increased until we have a record figure now. I hope that the Government and the Leader of the House, who perhaps has a major responsibility in this matter, will give some thought to that suggestion.

As regards the Public Bill Committee, the figures show that no greater time was spent on the Committee stage than would have been spent had the Committee stage taken place in the Chamber. The Report stage was no longer than it would otherwise have been. The evidence of the report is that time was saved in the Chamber; perhaps two days. If you think that the Report stage went on a fraction longer than it might otherwise have done and the time saved was perhaps only one-and-a-half days, it was still a useful saving. The report concludes that this procedure should be used only when there is great pressure on the time of the Chamber.

That is an excellent conclusion. I can therefore see no reason why those who are more friendly disposed to this kind of procedure or less friendly disposed to it need not unite on that proposition. There is obviously no need to take business away from the Floor of the House when there is time available in the Chamber and it should be used only to relieve pressure on the time of the Chamber. I conclude as I started by thanking the Committee for a most excellent report.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive such an early intrusion into its counsels but mindful of the need to be non-controversial, and with my experience in another place in business management and the usual channels, the temptation presented by a debate on this report was irresistible. I was delighted when the noble Lords, Lord Denham and Lord Ponsonby, agreed to act as sponsors for my introduction into this place because I had what my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick assures me is a noble prial of Chief Whips. If anybody does not play brag then I apologise to their Lordships.

As I am speaking of Chief Whips perhaps I may say that I regret the untimely death of my great friend and former parliamentary colleague John Silkin, because in all probability he would have been a fount of great wisdom for this House.

I would not presume to comment in detail on the report except to say that I very much appreciated the depth of the study and the statistical detail which was contained in it. However, having been a Chief Whip in another place for some 10 years, I felt that I had some justification for speaking on the aspect of the usual channels. I believe it was the right honourable Enoch Powell who said that the whipping system is as necessary to Parliament as a sewerage system is to a modern city.

On entering another place in 1970 I was invited by my noble friend Lord Mellish to become a Junior Whip in opposition. The noble Lord taught me a most important lesson: the Government have to get their business. Whether the Government get their business easily or with great difficulty depends on a number of variables to which I need not refer here, but in the end, as long as they command a majority on the Floor of the House, they must get their business. I must confess that during the passage of the industrial relations legislation in the early 1970s I veered towards being an abolitionist of the House of Lords. In the other place I worked for two-thirds of my time in the usual channels. I saw how the system works and realised the importance of the House of Lords, how it is an infinitely subtle counterpart to the other place, both complementary and supplementary. I have now come to the same conclusion as a former Bristol colleague of mine, formerly the Member for Bristol, South-East and now the right honourable Member for Chesterfield. In a Fabian pamphlet written during the mid 1950s he came to the conclusion that a Labour Government actually need the House of Lords more than a Conservative Government.

The revising function of this Chamber is manifestly obvious and indeed helped me in the other place in Government during some difficult Report stages to resolve impasses by promising action at this end of the building and also to balance the load of legislation. I know that it may inconvenience noble Lords during the late spring and summer months but it is a very effective counter balance and enables the entire Government programme to be processed.

In addition to the report that is under discussion I read the report produced in 1971. In one respect I do not think that report was quite as diplomatic as the present one. I was surprised to find in Chapter V paragraph 29(b) the recommendation that: good speakers should be more evenly spaced throughout the Debate and a conscious effort should be made to strengthen the weak part of long Debates". I must confess that either that was wrong or things have improved greatly since my recent arrival because I have yet to hear in this Chamber anything other than what could be described as a good speech. The other point which I did not quite understand about this report and which I mention just in passing arises in paragraph 27. It refers to people being selected to speak: to whom the Whips have obligations". I must say that when I used to run things we used to try to get it the other way round.

Self-regulation is very much open to abuse. In the 1971 report there is a reference to abuse. It refers to abuse even by a tiny minority and mentions two Peers who had taken 25 places for Starred Questions. Those places ultimately had to be shared out when some were withdrawn. That is an abuse of the system. Abuse is also mentioned in the current document under discussion by your Lordships. Paragraph 45 states: Some members ask many more Questions than others, and a few usually have their full ration of three on the Order Paper". It continues, eight Lords asked over 30 per cent. of the total, and one Lord asked 37 Questions". Self-regulation depends on self-restraint and I would not presume to advise your Lordships on how to deal with it. Elaborate procedural structures do not protect. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, will recall the beginning of the Committee stage of the European Accession Bill when points of order ran on for something like 14 hours. When Members in the other place were a trifle recalcitrant—a slightly strong word perhaps, but it will do—I would say if some of them were abusing the system, "Don't you understand that if everybody behaved as you are doing the whole thing would collapse?"

That was for individuals, but there were one or two organised cases of abuse when during what has become known as the winter of discontent the Opposition organised—in fact admitted in the end concerting—several applications every day for emergency debates under Standing Order No. 9. I am glad to say that this was dealt with by the help of my noble friend Lord Molloy, who one day applied for an emergency debate on the abuse of the emergency debate procedure! With his assistance the Opposition chucked it.

I must not weary the House. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to serve my country and my party in Parliament. I hope to continue to do so. The whole system works on self-restraint and I could do no better than to summarise the way in which the committee concludes its report, that the rights of us all depend on everybody respecting other people's rights.

I thank noble Lords for their considerate hearing.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all of your Lordships when I say how much I have enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. He fascinated us with his account of certain aspects of his distinguished past career. Indeed, for one moment I thought that we were going to be favoured with some interesting revelations. The whole speech was delivered in a delightful way. I am sure that I speak again for all of your Lordships in saying that a noble Lord who has managed the Labour Party in another place for a great many years has nothing to fear from any problems in your Lordships' House. We look forward very much to hearing him speak to us frequently.

The report of what one might call the eminent persons' group takes the line that our procedure, subject to certain detailed changes, is pretty good and that the principle of self-regulation is pretty good but that its weakness is in respect of enforcement. I want to say a word about that.

If noble Lords are to maintain our rules and enforce them, as manifestly they are sometimes not enforced, particularly at Question Time, it is necessary that there should be on the Government Front Bench a member of the Government concerned to act on behalf of the Leader of the House. We all appreciate that the advantage in having the Deputy Prime Minister as Leader of the House carries with it the disadvantage that obviously his attendance must be limited by his other duties. I suggest that his deputy—and I suggest that he should have deputies—should be present throughout at any rate most debates in order to help to secure that the House enforces its own rules.

It is very difficult for the Minister in charge of a Bill or debate, who in the nature of things is trying to carry things on and achieve good will, also to assume the role of adviser on discipline. There is a separate function on behalf of the Leader of the House which it seems to me should be performed by some fairly senior Minister regularly on the Bench throughout our debates. With respect, I commend that suggestion to my noble friend the Leader of the House.

I find myself in complete agreement—an unusual experience for me—with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, in his comments on the business of Statements. It seems to me that Statements should be made to Parliament, not just to another place. If the House is to remain relevant to the problems of the day, it is entitled to demand, and should secure, the making of all major Statements by the Government to it. I know, because I have suffered from it, how tiresome it is when a debate in which one is interested, and when one is sitting there clutching one's speech, is interrupted by one Statement or two Statements. It is exasperating.

I wonder whether the eminent persons have considered the weakening in status and position of the House if, as the committee recommends, only very major and occasional Statements are repeated here. This would surely to some extent downgrade the position of the House. It would certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said, cause the Opposition some unnecessary disadvantage—I am not against that on principle—and is perhaps a point worth mentioning. We should also be giving the Government a certain disadvantage, because it is quite useful for them to hear in this House the reaction of noble Lords on both sides, particularly as your Lordships' House is packed increasingly with ex-Ministers who have some experience generally of the matters covered by Statements. I hope very much that we shall continue the present policy on Statements.

The alternative offered by the group is to have a report of the Statement in Hansard. I do not value that very highly. We do not receive Hansard until the next day. In any event, one can get such a report much better from Hansard of another place, which will include the interruptions and comments that were made when the Statement was given. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will hesitate very much before agreeing to the proposal to cut down on Statements. I quite agree that some Statements of a purely technical or minor nature can probably be dealt with in that way, as they have been in the past. However, as to the substantial change suggested by the committee, I for one am very much against it. as I hope your Lordships will be.

I have one comment on the reference in the report to time limited debates. I am not an enthusiast for these, for two reasons. One is that the more important and interesting the subject the greater the number of speakers who put down their names and the shorter the time per speech. Per contra, if one selects a thoroughly dull subject that interests no one, one has a large ration of time. That seems to be a reversal of what one should aim at doing.

It also has one great disadvantage. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred, quite rightly, to the proper policy in the House of giving way when one is challenged by another noble Lord. If, as happened the other day in a time limited short debate, one has only six minutes, one cannot possibly afford to give way to a noble Lord opposite because half one's time will be swallowed up in such an interruption. If one cannot give way, it is on the whole difficult to refer to previous speeches. It would be unfair to criticise the speech of another noble Lord and then fail to give way to him. There is therefore the risk of turning a so-called debate into something that ceases to be a debate but becomes an essay reading society in which each noble Lord produces a speech with complete disregard for what has been said before, to be followed by noble Lords doing precisely the same to the speeches of the preceding speakers.

The only other two points I wish to make are these. The first is on Starred Questions. The point is made—and it is a good one—that no noble Lord should have more than two Questions on the Order Paper at any one time. I support that. However, I wish that your Lordships would consider being much firmer on the rule against the reading of supplementary questions. If a noble Lord has written out his supplementary question—and we have all seen it happen—before he has even heard the Answer from the Minister it is an abuse of the practice of the House. I very much hope that whoever is in charge of the House when such an abuse occurs in future will be quite firm in dealing with it.

My remaining point concerns time. I am heretical about the dinner hour. In the House of Commons, many years before the time of any of us, there used to be what was called the "Speaker's chop". That was abolished. The other place sits through the dinner hour, although I have sometimes observed that those who organise its debates arrange for those Members of another place who are, shall we say, less exciting speakers to be called during that period. But it seems absurd, as has happened in the last few weeks, that we should rise a little after seven for an hour and then come back in order to continue for another hour-and-a-half making all noble Lords who are conscientiously attending go home much later than they need. I take the point about the strain on Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen but they all have supporters and seconders and they can—as they do in another place for many hours—perfectly well sustain the burden of debate for a fairly limited time. It seems a pity that we should all adjourn so much later simply because we keep this old-fashioned dinner hour.

The other point was rather driven home to me by our proceedings today. When we have introductions—and today we had two—surely it is possible, as has happened, for us to sit not at 2.30 but at two o'clock so that the main proceedings of the day do not start later than necessary. If I were not subject to the same feelings as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on keeping one's speech short, I would deploy a number of arguments. However, I hope that I have deployed enough to suggest that there is much to discuss which I hope the Procedure Committee will discuss and to which your Lordships' House will give most careful attention. There are few things so important to the efficient working of this House—a matter about which some of us care a great deal—than getting its procedure right. It is worth taking quite a lot of trouble to do so.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, this is the second time that I have had the honour to represent the Cross-Benches on the group dealing with the working of the House. The last debate was 16 years ago. As a group we felt that 16 years was rather a long time. We have therefore suggested that this should be looked at regularly, annually, not with the thought that one will get changes every year, but that perhaps every five years the Leader might say, "Now is a suitable time." We should not let quite such a long time pass as before.

I thought that it would be useful to check what happened in the debate on the report in 1971. Perhaps I may digress for a moment. I could not find the 1971 report at my home. Therefore at 6 o'clock last night I rang up the Printed Paper Office and asked, "Could you find this for me? I do not know the date but it was some time around July and if it were possible to get it for this morning that would be a great advantage to me." Believe it or not, my Lords, not only did the Printed Paper Office find the document but it was on my table with the post this morning. I therefore pay tribute to the Printed Paper Office and to the Post Office. It really is remarkable. On the whole our report is the responsibility of your Lordships. Your Lordships' answers to the questionnaire were, as last time, very full and very valuable. Noble Lords will find that we have mainly followed and adopted what they wanted.

I shall touch on only three issues. The first concerns who keeps order. As you all know there is no such thing in this House as a point of order. Your Lordships can say "Order, order" but noble Lords cannot appeal on rules as a point of order. It is very important to remember this because sometimes, in particular for those who have been in another place, the temptation is to think that they can exploit in just that way. I know that I, and I am sure all members of the group, rejoiced in having the idea of the equivalent of a Speaker almost unanimously turned down. But there is a corollary to that. We must know the rules. On the last occasion we suggested a brief guide. This time we thought that the brief guide should be revised with more emphasis on drawing attention to the rules and how noble Lords can help in keeping under control those who are transgressing customs. However, I should also say: do not let us overdo it, my Lords. There is a temptation with one or two speakers for us to intervene too easily. We must therefore be careful to keep the right balance.

My second point was on the abuse of Question Time. That takes two forms: there are too many supplementaries, or questions wide of the mark. I do not think that we put it clearly in our report but I know we felt that very often it is for the Ministers themselves to keep control. If somebody asks three or four supplementary questions all that Ministers have to do is answer only two. If a question is wide of the mark they merely say, "That is wide of the mark." I have noticed recently that that has become a more usual practice. I feel quite clear and confident that the whole House would support Ministers if they gave such answers to those questions which are outside the rules.

The third issue concerns how to avoid long speeches. Sixteen years ago we suggested the clock. The clock has been of some help but not altogether effective. I do not think we shall ever find the total solution but we have suggested, as noble Lords will know, the idea that after 15 minutes there should be a red light. We did not think that to have a bell ringing would be appropriate. We had a good deal of discussion on whether we should use a red light after 10 or 12 minutes but we came to the conclusion that 15 minutes was the right answer. I hope that noble Lords will support us in this matter and that we are now going into what I would call not the red light district but the red light era!

I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on the question of Statements. This is a very difficult and delicate matter. I can remember that 20 or 30 years ago there were very few Statements in this House and we were rather unhappy about that. Then the clock swung the other way. There are almost too many Statements in this House. We felt that that was really the case, so we represented that they should become much more rare. But perhaps we went too far; I do not know. Undoubtedly the House and the Procedure Committee will consider what has been said by both the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Boyd-Carpenter. There are many Statements that are not necessary for us to repeat, but there is the odd one more often than we think which should be allowed. That must be a matter of good sense and judgment.

As I believe I am the only other speaker from the group today, I should like to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said and confirm our great thanks to Mr. Wheeler-Booth and his assistants. Without their work and their study on all the statistics which they produced for us the report would not have been nearly as valuable as I hope it is and it would certainly have made duller reading.

Lastly I recall that the report, this time and the previous time, has been unanimous. There was no dissension on any point. That is perhaps a tribute to our wisdom, but it is certainly due to the good sense and humour of those with whom I worked and whom I count among my friends, perhaps before but certainly now.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the group for the report, which is quite excellent. Its substance is to recommend the existing constitution and, with a few marginal amendments, to reject the idea of a Speaker. I am sure that that is right.

A parliamentary debating chamber like ours, in which each noble Lord has an equal responsibility for keeping order, is not only unusual but is probably unique in the whole world. It must surely be the ultimate refinement of democratic working and therefore in my judgment it is an institution to be preserved at all costs. It is to me gratifying—and I think perhaps it may be a matter of universal gratification—that today this debate takes place against a background of all-party approval of the House of Lords as our second Chamber of Government: certainly once lost it could never be re-created by rational legislation. It is the product of our history and our temperament. Each noble Lord is an integral part of the House and of equal value and authority within it, and each has equal responsibility, as the Writ says, "to be personally present to treat and give his counsel to the Crown."

Hereditary Peers, whose forebears have worked and embellished these traditions, stand equally with life Peers. We all have equal rights to be heard and equal responsibilities to keep order for ourselves and for the House. This is the message which this report delivers and by its recommendations seeks to strengthen and to clarify.

In most parliamentary chambers order is maintained by a Speaker clothed with authority. In such chambers—and the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, will well know this—there is sometimes an advantage to be gained by stretching the rules of order to make a political point. Without disrespect to right honourable and honourable members in another place, I would say that such tactics are not unknown there. It is therefore understandable, especially for those of us who have come up from another place, to be tempted to take advantage of this freedom to advance our cause, even at the expense of breaching our rules of order. It takes time to understand that such action is not only a breach of the rules of order but also likely to be counter-productive because it will offend rather than influence the House.

Our system of order comes under strain particularly, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, at Question Time, either through unawareness by the noble Lord concerned or through over-enthusiasm which takes him out of order. Then he fails to respond to the murmurs of, "Order, order", from other noble Lords. As the offence continues, there is a tendency for a shouting match to develop, which is not conducive to the dignity of the House. If my noble friend the Leader is present he intervenes and the offender accepts his guidance, but it is not in the best interests of the House for the Leader always to be long stop for breaches of order. He is not in charge of the House, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said. We are all equally responsible and it is most unfortunate if the Leader gets into a magisterial role.

Each Peer has an equal responsibility for keeping order, so there is a role for individual Peers to call attention to the offender. I was glad to see that this point is commended in the report in paragraph 16(b), with the further refinement, which I think is very important—and I say this particularly to the Front Bench opposite—that some interventions can best be made by a Peer on the same side as the offender. This avoids any indication of partisanship in the intervention. I hope this may be accepted as part of our conventions.

In this connection I should like to pay a special tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments and his colleagues for accepting the duties since 1983 of advising Peers on the drafting of parliamentary Questions and Motions on the Order Paper. Acceptance of this advice has not always been easy. That our Order Paper is now free from parliamentary solecisms is a tribute to the wisdom and diplomacy of the Clerks.

The report makes further helpful recommendations with regard to the limit of Question Time, the length of speeches on debate and clocks turning red at 15 minutes to indicate stop—there is no suggestion of a system of endorsement, with perhaps suspension after three times, but perhaps that will come later!

I welcome the announcement of my noble friend the Leader to send the report, with the debate and his comments, to the Procedure Committee for detailed consideration with a view to amendment of the Companion. In particular I commend the Brief Guide, to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred, in Annex C of the report. Not all Peers are familiar with the 230 pages of the Companion but all might feel inclined to read this succinct summary for the benefit of themselves and the House. All Peers should be given a copy of it.

I conclude with the thought about the role of the House in the government of our country. This House has changed significantly in the 21 years since I arrived here. No doubt it will continue to change. In my judgment the three major factors for change have been undoubtedly, first, the television screen. This has shown the working of the House to the nation. Our people like what they have seen; they trust and respect it. It would now be politically impossible, in my judgment, either to ignore or to abolish the House of Lords.

Secondly, life Peers increase in number; in the working House, as it is defined in the report, they now exceed hereditary Peers by 217 to 163. This no doubt loses us something, but it strengthens the professional element in the House, which is another important factor. The third factor is the increased number of Cross-Bench and independent Peers. They now amount to 143, which is enough to win any vote, as my noble friend the Leader knows too well.

The tradition that the House of Lords avoids conflict with the Commons continues to be observed with meticulous care, but amendments of government Bills are permitted within this convention. At the end of the day this can and does have an important influence on Government legislation. In the past eight years of Conservative government this Government have been defeated 107 times. A number of those defeats have been reversed but a number of others have been accepted. This demonstrates that there is no automatic Conservative majority and that the collective voice of the Cross-Bench Peers can be decisive on one side or the other on any important issue.

It is evident that the influence of the House of Lords has grown in the overall government of our country, primarily as a moderating influence on government policy and as a stabilising factor for our country. This increased influence will continue in future governments of both parties. I believe it is seen as a benefit to our country. The strength and quality of this influence is as much a product of the form of debate in this House as it is of our political convictions and intellect. This underlines the wisdom of reviewing the working of this House and the value of the report that we have received.

4.31 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in paying tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments and all his staff and at the same time to all those who serve us here possibly under the auspices of Black Rod or in the Library. There was an aspect of the noble Lord's speech towards the end which I will not go into now. It raises difficult questions as to how far there is or is not a built-in majority here, but I shall not pursue that this afternoon.

The late Lord Salisbury—who, along with the late Lord Addison, did more than anyone to mould the House as we know it—once said in my hearing (he may have said it more than once) that this is a House of Parliament and not a club. But of course he did more than anyone to make sure that it was a club, possibly the best club in the world but certainly the most unsnobbish club in the world. I remember when I first came here that Lord Addison could collect barely a dozen Labour Peers. The way they were treated by Lord Salisbury made sure that this place would be at once a House of Parliament and a club in the best sense in both cases.

I do not know how noble Lords feel when they get elected or appointed to a club. They may, with the late Groucho Marx, say, "It can't be much of a club if they elect me", but that is a rather rare point of view. I suppose when most of us join a club of any kind we allow other people to manage it. We assume that it will be well run, and this has proved so in this noble place. Some people want to manage it themselves, and we applaud their efforts too, but for my part I belong to the category of people who are ready to accept things unless something is obviously wrong. When the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, invited suggestions I am afraid that I did not make any. I do not feel that he lost anything from my abstention. I think on the whole he has produced a satisfactory account of a satisfactory working arrangement.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was here for many years before I arrived, but I have been here 42 years and one has seen these great changes, some of them touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. Certainly the increase in Labour Peers has made a tremendous difference. When we were just a little handful we could be swept aside or ignored. The only reason we were not treated in that way was partly the wisdom of Lord Salisbury and also the calculation that the country would take a poor view of the House of Lords if we were.

At any rate that has been a big change, and there has been the increase in life Peers and independents. Whether the fact that people have been made life Peers has made much difference is arguable. I suppose people would say that many would not have accepted peerages if the peerages were going to be handed on to their children. That seems very doubtful. In the years after the war people were perfectly ready in my experience to accept peerages when they were going to be handed on.

I doubt whether many people would have refrained. We know that Sir Winston Churchill refrained, but he was a law unto himself. I understand that Robert Maxwell declined a peerage, but it is not clear in what circumstances he was offered one. My admired friend Sir Isaiah Berlin, I believe, has turned down a peerage, and so it is said did Mr. Jack Jones. Those are the only cases known to me, but I am not saying this is the main point concerning life peerages.

The most obvious result and benefit, I suppose, is that we should have far more Peers now, and we would soon be accumulating large numbers of Peers if it were not for the life peerage system, as it is today, the title dying with the Peer. That is the main factor with life peerages.

Then we have had the women. That was resisted for many years here. For 40 years after the House of Commons people were still fighting it. I remember one noble Lord fighting it to the death. The argument was that they would interrupt our slumbers or studies in the Library and would want to share the lavatory. There were all sorts of problems.

One of the most distinguished Peeresses to date told me that when she came into the House what struck her was that so many chairs in the Library were facing the wall. One wonders what is the point of that arrangement but it obviously was to allow people to sleep in peace. At any rate, that was one argument for keeping the House as it was.

One Peer in the House will not believe what I am about to say but I hope he will take my word for it. One of the leaders of that opposition was asked, when there were only four of them, what he made of these women Peers, who undoubtedly were doing so well. He just groaned, and said, "When I see that long neck bending over I wish I had my chopper and I would go chop, chop, chop". That is a true story. The antagonism to women is inconceivable looking back, and now we have 64 women, a much more powerful force in this House than women in the House of Commons. It is all to the good.

The House will be surprised to hear what I am saying now and may not take it very seriously, but even Roman Catholic Peers have improved their status. In doing some researches I looked up Vacher's for 1945. The House may or may not believe this but the Roman Catholic Peers were put in italics. In 1945 the Roman Catholic Peers were second-class citizens. I take it as second-class and not as a sort of superlative type of Peer. That has been altered since and they have gradually established themselves.

There have been these big changes, but nevertheless the question arises—and I believe that at least one distinguished Peer will argue against the report today, but almost everyone agrees—whether we want to be a self-governing body in a way which is unique in the world. I imagine that it would never have occurred to anybody to have invented this system unless we happened to have evolved it. It is an odd system. When I listened to the noble Viscount I had great sympathy for him. I have great admiration always but sympathy when he is getting a little restive and the House is getting a little restive at Question Time. I also, as they say in Latin, believe I have lived in Arcadia. It is much worse now for him. I will not say that the Members are more recalcitrant now, but there are far more people who want to go on talking.

The noble Viscount will be relieved to hear that this is no new problem. When the Earl of Chatham came here he did not get on too well in his second speech. He was supposed to have flouted the House. He and the Duke of Richmond were compelled to come to the House and promise that they would not carry the matter any further; in other words, that they would not fight a duel. If anyone thinks that unlikely in the 18th century, well, it was not as unlikely as all that. The Duke of Wellington fought one 60 years later with a Peer, but not as a result of something said in the House. That was how things were sorted out by the House.

Many years later I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, coping with Lord Stansgate. There came a moment when Lord Hailsham said, "If the noble Lord persists, I must point out that I have my remedy". Lord Stansgate said, "Well, if the noble and learned Lord has his remedy, he had better use it". Then the Motion was moved that the House no longer hear Lord Stansgate. I am bound to say he was very happy with the whole thing and bounced up again asking more questions soon afterwards.

At any rate there have been these problems over the years and the noble Viscount is handling them with great skill. But certainly our system, which is a peculiar one, depends on great sagacity on the part of the Leader, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Whips, and we are fortunate in those who are running our affairs today.

I applaud the conclusion. I think that the House should reflect on it from time to time. We should remember that it is unique and that it requires exceptional wisdom on the part of those who are running the House and great good will on the part of Members. We are Members of the House and the club. I suppose that when one joins a club one does not expect that all the members will love each other. However, they respect each other and in this House that mutual respect is the secret of our success.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I should like to take up the recollection of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, as regards the then noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, moving that Lord Stansgate be no longer heard. I remember that occasion well and Lord Stansgate was very downcast. He was a miserable man on this Bench below the gangway and deserted by his own Front Bench. That is not a sight that I should like to see again. I have never heard that Motion moved to good effect and I should like to regard it as the nuclear weapon which should be in reserve but never used.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord to say that I was also present on that occasion. It was my impression that Lord Stansgate was determined that the Motion should be moved against him.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, that may be so, but afterwards he was an extremely miserable and lonely old man. Of course he bounced back again but that is what one would have expected of him.

I am warmly in agreement with the whole tone and tenor of the report and with all its recommendations, with the possible exception of one. I have one or two glosses and I am afraid that will make my speech both short and dull.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, say that this House is the ultimate refinement of democratic working. I recalled at once the words of Lord Stonham, who used to describe this House as the most democratic chamber in the world. Lord Stonham came into the House not kicking and screaming but not as a great admirer. He was eventually one of its most devoted Members. "Democratic" is not a bad word to describe this House, paradoxical though it may seem, because its proceedings are governed by the Members of the House. I am sure that it was that feeling which informed both the Leader of the House and the group when the Leader asked it to undertake this task.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has quite properly lauded Lord Addison and Lord Salisbury, who were Leaders after the war. The House owes a great debt to all Leaders of the House and of the Opposition since that date. The noble Viscount who now leads the House is a notable continuation of that succession. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, agrees that the Leader of the House, though one of us, is primus inter pares; that is to say, he is a special person in a special position and for that matter so is the Leader of the Opposition.

There was one recent occasion on which I heard the Leader of the Opposition not exactly barracked but not welcomed when he rose to his feet. On that occasion I was rather ashamed. I believe that the respect due to the Leader of the Opposition is and should be profound in this House.

It is a matter of some pride that this House can operate substantially on the same basis as it has since 1621. The group puts this as "years ago", and indeed it is. It is as well to remember that in 1621 there was the first record of Standing Orders, but they are much older than that. This was, so to speak, a collection, if not a codification, of already existing Standing Orders. I believe that they existed for two or three centuries before 1621. It is therefore with pride that we should recall that the spirit of them is still operating.

They used to be styled Remembrances for Order and Decency to be kept in the Upper House of Parliament by the Lords. Those words are retained in the Standing Orders today. Now the Standing Orders are distanced not just by the Companion but also by the Brief Guide, so they are twice removed, so to speak. I hope that those splendid words, with their resonance of the authorised version, might be incorporated into the introduction to the Brief Guide. I feel that in the two words, "order- and "decency", the Standing Orders are encapsulated. It might be instructive and pleasant for us to be reminded of those words in the Brief Guide.

I doubt whether it is necessary for the Procedure Committee to report formally to the House once a year. It might be advantageous but it may tend to pillory noble Lords who have offended the House—either explicitly or, more likely, implicitly—and I doubt whether that is desirable.

As regards Commons Statements, I agree with what is stated in the report. I listened carefully to what the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said. I wonder whether the decision should not be made by the Opposition but through the usual channels and the test should be urgency. After all, that is the test for Private Notice Questions and it has worked very well over the past 40 years. I recommend the Procedure Committee to consider whether the urgency test should be the operative test for Statements as well as for Private Notice Questions.

I believe that there is a slight mistake in Recommendation (s). The group referred to the times allowed to the different categories of Peer. Unfortunately in the recommendation it refers to them as, "front benches and back benches". That must be a slip, because the relevant paragraph of the report refers to, "Lords opening or winding up debates", on the one hand, and to, "other speakers", on the other hand. There is a distinction between Lords opening or winding up debates and Front Benches, and they must not become confused as they have in the past. That is the only slip of any significance that I have noticed in the report and I thought that I should draw attention to it.

I reluctantly but firmly disagree with the recommendation of red lights coming on after 15 minutes on the clock. In this House we have two systems and the timing of speeches during short debates is a comparatively recent introduction. I believe that we should keep the two systems apart. We should have either timed speeches, as in two-and-a-half-hour and five-hour debates, or we should have untimed speeches. By all means let there be a clock but I do not think it is right that an important speech should be interrupted after 15 minutes when perhaps the speaker is about to come to his conclusion. Sometimes the House may want to hear a good speaker talking on an important matter about which he knows a great deal for longer than 15 minutes. I do not think that that is a good suggestion and I should not like to see it adopted.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was very fair when he pointed to the ill effects of timed speeches; that is to say, that they preclude debate. There is no question about that matter and the group did not address itself to the question that interruptions, although permissible and desirable in other respects, are more or less inadmissible in a short debate where there are a large number of speakers, and particularly when the debate is for only two-and-a-half hours.

I would say this to the noble Lord. One of the interesting statistics in this excellent document shows that in the debates which are time-limited to five hours very seldom have speakers used their full allocation of time. The debates are nearly all between four and five hours. They last perhaps four hours and fifteen or twenty minutes, but not the full five hours. So I should have thought to that extent the five hour experiment is rather a good one because it allows time for interruptions, whereas unfortunately interruptions do not seem to be possible in the general short debates of two-and-a-half hours.

Before I close, I should like to remark on one or two things which are not covered by the group's report. I wonder whether I may put in a plea for restraint in dividing the House. Divisions, after all, take time—and are they all so necessary? Certainly we used to get along quite well without them, or with many fewer than we have now.

Secondly, the rule relating to Starred Questions and nationalised industries or public corporations seems to me not very well observed now. I recall, certainly just before the summer recess, some questions on the Post Office, for instance. Really and truly there is an underlying rationale about questions not being allowed on those industries. It is that Ministers should not be answerable for day to day questions on nationalised industries and public boards.

Exactly the same thing seems to me to apply to privatised industries. They have after all, by Acts of Parliament, been hived off from the Government, and I do not think that questions on privatised industries should be asked in this House because they tend to put the Minister in the position of answering for day to day matters on those industries, and that cannot be desirable. I am the last person to want to put restricitons on the House; but this seems to me a case which the Procedure Committee might examine. It is, after all, a comparatively new phenomenon, and I hope that they will have a look at it.

Thirdly, regarding appellations, guidance is very clearly set out in the revised brief guide on page 46. They show a proper description of Members of this House. They do not apply to those who are not Members of this House. I have frequently heard reference to the "right honourable and learned Foreign Secretary". He is not learned in our terms because he is not a Member of this House. Equally, I seem to remember Mr. Leon Brittan was referred to as a "right honourable and learned Member in another place". It is simply not in accordance with our customs. Those are small points.

I should like to end by referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said about ad hoc Select Committees. I should like to see it made easier than it now is for a general matter to be sent to an ad hoc Committee. The House has produced some extremely valuable reports on general matters and should perhaps be encouraged to do so. I know that Select Committees are not popular with Ministers—least of all with civil servants—but now that there are in effect no Royal Commissions, and now that the CPRS no longer exists, the House of Lords is well placed to study those intractable problems which somehow must be solved, but there is no particular body to which to send them. In the relatively unpolitical atmosphere of the House, the Select Committee might be more profitably and more frequently used on general matters for the general good of the nation.

Finally, I know that I am not allowed to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, on his maiden speech, However, he paid this place an infinitely subtle compliment when he referred to the House as an infinitely subtle complement to another place. I am sure we all agree that one House of Commons is enough, and we do not want to ape their ways or duplicate their habits at all. The marvellous thing is that this House manages to recruit Members whose whole experience of parliamentary life, up to the time when they enter these walls, has been another place; and yet they subtly change and become converted and become famous Members of this House; and long may that remain!

4.55 p.m.

Lord Tranmire

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lords who formed the working group on the clarity and common sense of their recommendations. I pick out just two points, where I think the clarity is very important. First, one dealing with the revised guide, which is mentioned in paragraph 18 of the report. As one who served under successive Speakers and Chairmen of Ways and Means, for 45 years in the Commons, I found it very puzzling when I came here to try and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of self-regulation. But the longer I stay here, the more I am certain that it is a better procedure than that of the discipline of the Speaker. It will be a great help if the Procedure Committee are allowed to pursue this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, seems to think we can do it ourselves without their help. It would be a great thing, I think, if every Member each Session gets a revised copy of the guide. No doubt the guide can be continually revised. Moreover, all new Peers on introduction could be given a copy.

The other small point I want to raise is referred to in paragraph 31. That deals with the informal grouping of amendments. This is an arcane mystery at the present time. A few people in the know, know how amendments are grouped. It is not a determining factor, but it would be better if we could get the informal grouping on the Marshalled List. I appreciate that our normal arrangements would make that impossible in many cases. However, where a Committee stage is going to last longer than one day it would be possible for the Marshalled List to contain some information about informal groupings. It would be a help—particularly if the recommendations are adopted—if the desks in the Prince's Chamber and the Peers' Lobby had on them the lists of informal groupings. At the moment this is one of the weakest points in our procedure.

My main point is that I am a little disappointed that none of the recommendations made would have any great effect on the hours of sittings of the House. In the past 30 years the sittings of the House have increased from 484 hours in the Session 1955/56 to 1,160 in the latest year available, 1985/86. The chief reason for this is as follows. If you look at the work of this noble House, my Lords, you will find that the time spent on public Bill legislation has increased rapidly over the past 20 or 30 years. If it is likely to continue more self-regulatory rules will have to be made in order to avoid a total breakdown in our administrative system.

I was faced with that problem in the Commons during the 1970/71 Session of Parliament when I was chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure. That committee took a great deal of evidence and came to the conclusion, as indicated in its report, that the only way out of the difficulty was not to send all Bills to Standing Committees but to send non-controversial Bills to a Select Committee for examination, and in cases where a Bill was only slightly controversial or for the most part non-controversial, powers should be taken to divide the Bill and to send part of it to a Committee of the Whole House or a Standing Committee and part of it to a Select Committee.

In this House there is a Public Bill Committee which undertakes many of the procedures which my committee unanimously recommended should be adopted in the lower Chamber. Unfortunately the report containing those recommendations has never been implemented by the Commons. There was a good debate on it, which my noble friend the Leader of the House will remember. The case that something should be done was strongly supported by all Members of the Procedure Committee but nothing was done.

We in this House ought to be considering how we could introduce Select Committees to deal with all non-controversial Bills. On reading the report, I felt that too much reliance was placed on the test of the Pilotage Bill, because the argument is rather destroyed at paragraph 26, in which one reads that: the bill chosen was by no means uncontroversial". That was the whole object; namely, to extract the non-controversial Bills and have them discussed in, say, the Moses Room or somewhere convenient, so that the time of the House could then be used for other matters such as debates, which constitute one of our strongest functions, or for dealing with other legislation.

I have made the point. I hope that the test will be renewed on a Bill that is completely non-controversial. I hope also that the House will ensure that it has the power to send part of a Bill to a Public Bill Committee and part of it to a Committee of the Whole House. I am quite certain that we do not want to have Bills sent to Standing Committees of this House. As I saw it, Standing Committees were the weakest part of the procedure in the lower House. I do not want to see them here. I hope that we shall continue to have self-regulation and the rules. I think that it is far better that way and that we can rely on the Procedure Committee to endorse those recommendations.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I think that it would be a pity if this debate came and went without reference being made to some famous words of the late Lord Esher, although I think that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, paraphrased them. The late Lord Esher said that we should hesitate long before tinkering with an institution which we would never have had the intelligence to create for ourselves.

I have only a few points to make. To begin at the beginning, I wonder whether it is necessary for Hansard to print four times every day for ever the familiar words, "Lord So-and-So: I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper". I know that Hansard is meant to be more or less verbatim but many of the formal utterances are not printed. I very much doubt whether Hansard's report of the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill will contain over one hundred times the familiar words, spoken by the Deputy Chairman of Committees, Lord So-and-So: "Is it the Committee's wish that the amendment be withdrawn? The amendment is withdrawn". Would it not be enough for Hansard simply to print the words, "Lord So-and-So asked the following Question…"?

As to Starred Questions, the other day there was one which went something like this: "Having regard to the decision in Regina v. Smith, will departmental circular No. 167 be withdrawn?" It may be that most of those noble Lords who were present had read that case in the Law Reports held in the Library, and others may have had in their hand a copy of the offending circular from the Printed Paper Office, but I rather doubt it. I think that noble Lords would be grateful for some inkling in advance of what a Starred Question was all about.

As regards Statements, I should like to join the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as well as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in expressing unease about the proposals concerning ministerial Statements. For instance, when there is a Statement which it cannot be said is urgent or important in the general scheme of things but which may he of great public interest—say, a Statement about whether we should have horseracing on Sundays—the media can inform the people about the opinions expressed on all sides of the House of Commons. However, the people will say, "We are accustomed to watching the House of Lords on television and we should like to know what the House of Lords thinks about it. Why don't we hear any opinions expressed about this matter? Is the House of Lords being muzzled? Are their Lordships indulging in some tremendous exercise of self-denial? What is happening?"

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, used the word "downgrade" and asked whether we were in danger of downgrading ourselves. As the late Lord Byers used to put it: So long as the House of Lords continues to exist, nothing must ever be done to give the impression that this House is in any sense a second-class Chamber.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I should like to remind the noble Lord that Statements repeated in this House cannot be seen on television. That is part of our agreement on televising the House. His argument therefore does not apply.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, of course the noble Lord is absolutely right, as he is nearly every time, but the British people will not understand his point. They will not understand the refinements pertaining to a question having originated in one House rather than the other. The public will be mystified and surprised that on their television screens they do not see and hear what the House of Lords has to say about the matter which interests them deeply. I hope that that provides an answer.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am sorry but in fact when Statements are repeated in this House, as they frequently are at present, the television cameras have to switch off. That is the rule. The public may be mystified, but people would be just as mystified if the Statement were not given.

Lord Airedale

I think, my Lords, that I had better continue and come to the matter of noble Lords who have to leave early, before the end of a debate. On this subject I think that I have detected a disagreement between two parts of the report. Paragraph 64(c) says: Peers who leave early cannot expect to be answered by the Minister". With that I entirely and absolutely agree, but when we come to paragraph 114(u) it says this: That Peers who leave debates early should not be answered by the Minister". I think that is too stringent.

Sometimes there are very good reasons why a noble Lord has to leave early. He may be an expert in the subject matter of the debate; he may have raised a question which is fundamental to the debate and those who remain at the end will be eager to hear the answer to the point that has been raised. I believe that the Minister should be entirely free, either to deal with the matter if the noble Lords present wish him to do so or, otherwise, to write to the noble Lord who is no longer able to be present. I feel that the report is not very helpful in that minor regard.

Finally, I wish to mention this vexed question of congratulation of maiden speakers. In the Second Reading speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the Sunday Sports Bill (at col. 1139 of the Official Report for 15th July) the noble Lord begins: My Lords, I refuse to be the only person addressing your Lordships' House who does not congratulate our two maiden speakers". Quite so; but we must discipline ourselves in this regard. There is one matter which so far does not appear in the Brief Guide, and that is the custom which I think still obtains whereby the Minister answering the debate also congratulates the maiden speaker. If I am right, I think we may have a demonstration this evening that this custom is still maintained.

I should like to mention one other possibility. That is that sometimes a subsequent speaker may have a very special reason for congratulating a maiden speaker. He may be a lifelong friend; he may be a close relative. In those circumstances, I do not think he should feel inhibited by our rules of procedure from adding his congratulations, provided that he has a really special reason for so doing.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, indicated very clearly that what they were hoping for from this debate was to share minds so that they could make a decision as to what the next steps, flowing from it, would be. If it is that they are collecting voices, I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and claim that, in the interests of the House, to remove the chance of hearing ministerial Statements here would be a bad one. It would be a bad one from the point of view of the contributions that we can make upon matters arising out of them, and a bad one in affecting the status of the House in relation to it being part of Parliament.

I should also like to support the noble Lord's suggestion that we do not go too far down the road in restricting the length of speeches. It is perfectly true that in normal debate, in the normal way, 10 to 15 minutes is adequate—and perhaps more than adequate. There are, however, many occasions when matters of vital importance to the nation are under discussion, and we, fortunately, in this House have the advice of experts who, quite apart from their membership of this House, have a contribution to make which is quite invaluable. Therefore, to put them on those important occasions—and there are many—in a position where they would feel some embarrassment by giving us the full benefit of their knowledge and experience just because they may be infringing the rule as to the length of speeches, would be a bad thing. On those two issues I should like to add my voice to the—

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, would the noble Lord tell us how a Peer himself can decide if he is a great enough expert to speak for longer than the House allows?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I do not know; but we have views as to the value of speakers and the value of the contributions that they make. It may well be the attention we give to them when they are speaking would indicate to them that we are in no hurry for them to stop at 10 minutes, when they still have something worthwhile to say.

But in the report that the group has given—which has received congratulation from all sides—they have said virtually that rules and procedures do not need much amendment. Indeed, no fundamental alterations have been suggested by them. I am not surprised at that. Indeed, when the group was set up I could not see that there was any need for any great alteration to the rules and procedures and the general conventions which are accepted in this House; so the report seems to confirm that point of view.

However, having said that, we would not have set up the group, and it would not have been accepted, unless there was a feeling, some intuition, that something was wrong that could be remedied somewhere along the line. I do not think that the feeling that something ought to be done has anything to do with the rules and the procedures of the House, as laid down; but I think it has everything to do with the individual noble Lord who takes part.

I believe that there is a tendency to copy another place in a way which is undermining the real effectiveness of your Lordships' House. I believe that the improvements that could be made are improvements that we, as individual Members of this Chamber, can make for ourselves. For example, I do not think in the old days that everybody felt it necessary to repeat every good point that had already been made. There is no loss of face in withdrawing your name from the list of speakers because the points you think were worth making have already been made and are on the record. I do not think that at Committee stage, at Report stage and, even now, at Third Reading there is always the need to put down identical amendments.

The repetition of amendments all of which mean the same thing that take up time and interfere with the general smooth running of the House, could be remedied by a little self-restraint on the part of noble Lords. In order to face up to that, I approve very much of the suggestion of a brief resume of what the procedures are, being sent to the Members, particularly new entrants to your Lordships' Chamber, at the beginning of every year. I think that would minimise any inadvertent abuse. But what about the deliberate abuse? We have seen one or two indications that it is sometimes deliberate. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, "Discreet murmurings from the general membership of the House should bring people to order." We have had too many instances over recent months where we have had something rather noisier than discreet murmurings; but it does not seem to have had any effect at all on the noble Lord who has been thought—as shown by those murmurings—to be breaching the general standard that we expect. So discreet murmurings alone leave much to be desired.

It is upon that that I should like to make a suggestion which I do not suppose will find favour everywhere. Our parliamentary system today, whether we like it or not, whether it is local government, whether it is in the other place or whether it is in your Lordships' House, is based upon parties. Parties play their part. That is what we mean when we talk about the usual channels. The usual channels in this sense means the governing party, which happens to be Conservative, in consultation with the Labour Party, which is the official Opposition, the Liberals and the Alliance, all of which are part of the parliamentary system—

Lord Somers

My Lords, may I suggest that that is only a weakness?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I did not hear that. I shall read it in Hansard and write a letter. Fortunately there is not much deliberate abuse, but when it seems to appear I believe that the party system comes into it in trying to deal with it. Each of the parties in this House, as in the other one, has its separate meetings and decides its view on how it will approach certain matters. I believe that they ought to make themselves responsible for helping the Leader of the House if they think that anybody in their group is abusing the procedures in some way. That is a line which would be very useful. It would avoid the suggestion that the Leader of the House, whoever he is, is making his intervention only because of some party difference. If the strength of the party grouping can be brought in to help the discipline, I am certain it will help in the running of the House and will help the Leader of the House on those occasions.

Finally, I hope that we will continue the existence of the Select Committees such as the European Select Committee. During the five years that I was a Member of the European Parliament what impressed me more than anything else was the high regard of every country that constituted part of the European Community for the reports of the House of Lords Select Committee on European matters. It was very high indeed. During those five years there was no other country and no other source upon which the appreciation of all nations so centred as it did upon the reports from this House. So I hope we shall continue to maintain the high reputation which that Select Committee has in its impact on the minds of the rest of the European Community.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I think that self-regulation requires occasional, and perhaps increasingly more frequent, self-examination. Self-regulation may also mean more regimentation, more rule of thumb. I doubt indeed whether it is self-regulation. It is communal regulation, which can become irksome and can change the nature of an institution as the noble Lord who has just spoken suggested. I am not going to argue the case for an office of chairman or Speaker, though I think it is very difficult to envisage many institutions in this country or anywhere else at the present time that can be effective and efficient without some authority in the chair.

I do not think we should be too slavish about tradition, the grand inheritance and other things which are noble sentiments. We are part of the legislature of a country which is striving to hold its own and to advance in the modern world, and we have to judge everything against what is required of an assembly: what are we to do and how well are we doing it? I shall return to that, because I have a bee buzzing in my bonnet that I want to get rid of at the outset and that is paragraph 103, dinner hour business.

I am a great sufferer from this growing practice of having an adjournment for the dinner hour and slotting in secondary business, non-contentious business, to be transacted by those who forgo the benefit of the dinner hour. My union says that if the workers are to be given a dinner hour, all the workers should have the dinner hour at the same time. Moreover, I get caught in this web of contrivance to do something during the dinner hour, because I am usually interested in agricultural orders, covering the space allotted to the battery hen and rules on the feeding of pigs and the keeping of sheep. Agricultural orders seem to come on during the dinner hour. I resent having to transact the business of this House to the sound of knives and forks in an adjoining room. Why should we transact the business of the nation during a period when the bulk of your Lordships' House is in a state of concentrated gluttony in a room down the corridor?

This is not becoming to the work that we do in your Lordships' House. Let us have a dinner hour. I think it is a very welcome break, often in dull and tedious proceedings. But let us all have it at the same time and come back refreshed. That is the first point.

The second point that I feel deeply about is Question Time. I have long given up putting down Questions for oral answer because I cannot bear to wait three or four weeks before I get the information that I want. What sort of information do we seek that we are willing to wait three or four weeks to get it and then just get a few supplementary questions and a slot on the television programme? I do not think that is any satisfaction to any noble Lord who is taking his business seriously.

But I think we ought to know more of these great scorers in the Question Time match. Who are the eight Lords who managed to ask one-third of the total Questions in a Session? Who is the noble Lord who put down 37 Questions in one Session? Surely there is some accolade that we can bestow upon them. Can we not summon them to the Bar, commend them on their diligence and say that without them we should sink into apathy and complacency? Surely we cannot let such commendable application to the task and work of the House go unnoticed and unrewarded. I do not know who they are but I can make one or two pretty good guesses.

Also, could we not agree that the Table should be able to advise noble Lords about the suitability of some of the Questions that are put down? For example, any noble Lord who asks the Government what they are doing to maintain the peace of the world should be advised not to put down the Question, because he ought to get, but he will not get, a short answer to a damn silly question. But there are silly Questions on the Order Paper of global significance. I shall not go into them. I have a few here that I could quote, but we all know what they are.

No Minister is prepared in answer to a Question in this House—as Ministers used to be, if they are not now, in the House of Commons—to get up and say, "No, Sir", and sit down, or, "That is another question. That does not arise from the Question you are asking". The trouble is that the courtesies and the tolerances of this House are positively stifling. We ought to be a little more brusque with people who are going over the bounds of self-regulation.

But it is obvious that the big debate that is going to come in due course will be on Statements, and I strongly support the recommendation of the Committee on this, though I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his view. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that when Statements are repeated in this House we are required to go into private session. The television cameras must go off. The public must not hear over the air what we say. It is a kind of closed shop for a time. That quite apart from anything else is a bit of a reflection upon us. Why is that? The simple answer is that those Statements are not made to us at all. They are made to another House and they should stay in that House. They are repeated here as a matter of courtesy and convenience. We are not asked to begin a debate on a Statement that is made in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, made a valid point when he said that probably urgency should govern the repetition of a Statement in your Lordships' House. I would add to that matters which come clearly within the role of your Lordships' House. A number of matters that are subject to Statements in the House of Commons relate to the work that that House has to do.

I have now spoken for eight minutes. I hope that I may continue as I am trying very hard to finish my speech within 10 minutes. It will be quite painful but I shall try.

We might say that Statements should be repeated in this House not "rarely", as stated in paragraph 78 of the report, but only occasionally. "Rarely" is a very strong word to use in this connection. However, that is a matter for discussion. We shall obviously hear much more about it.

Finally, should we now give more attention to the role of your Lordships' House in the parliamentary system? I have been here for 13 years and I am rather unclear about the attitude of noble Lords as to the reasons why we are here and our role in the system. We are not just a rubber stamp for the other place. We are not a duplicate House of Commons. We have a distinctive role of our own. It is a little difficult to find that role having regard to the fact that we emerge from being battered over the years and from having our claws clipped and our wings torn out and submitted to other humiliations because Members in the other place thought that we had too much power and that we should put up with less.

But should we not be thinking now about removing some of the absurdities and anomalies about our role in the whole system? I regard our primary role as that of legislative revision. High on the list of our roles is the guardianship of the constitution, such as it is. Another important role is the protection and safeguarding of the liberties of the subject.

I do not begrudge any time that is necessary to give detailed consideration to a Bill similar to the Criminal Justice Bill. That is more our role than fiddling about with the greater benefits under the national insurance scheme. We can bankrupt the national insurance scheme but we are forbidden to talk about taxation. We deal with all kinds of things which are not our true role while matters concerning the liberties of the subject are inserted into Finance Bills, and therefore put outside the scope of our amendment. We allow the tax gatherer to bully the citizen behind our backs because the Parliament Act of 1911 excluded us from tampering with a Money Bill. Therefore the Government tack on to a money Bill all kinds of things about recovery which are vital questions concerning the liberty of the subject. That has taken me 11 minutes and now I shall sit down.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Taylor

My Lords, there have now been some 13 speeches, the lengths of which were 14 minutes for the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, then eight minutes, 10, 10, eight, nine, 15, eight, three, eight, nine and 12 minutes. Those speeches were just about the right length. They would not be at all improved by being any longer. It is much harder to make a good short speech than it is to make a long speech. Indeed most long speeches become extremely boring after a while no matter how expert and wonderful the speaker.

The person whose speeches I remember enjoying most was the late Lord Attlee who never spoke for more than 10 minutes in this House. His speeches were always succinct and to the point. A rule of 10 minutes per speech is a very good rule other than for the speeches of the opening and closing speakers. That is not an absolute rule but it is a very good one.

How are we to be told when we have reached our 10 minutes? A red light will not be all that useful as 10 per cent. of us are colour-blind. In fact we can land ourselves in trouble if we follow red lights when they are not red. The only certain signal which will penetrate to the speaker who is in full flow is an auditory signal. I do not suggest that we ring a dinner hell. However, I well remember when I was a young house officer at St. Thomas's that there used to be a single bell sound. It made a ting sound. My sound was ting-ting followed by ting-ting-ting—a sequence of two tings followed by three tings for a senior house physician. Just such a simple signal at the end of eight, nine and 10 minutes would be quite enough to slow us up and it would be a jolly sight more effective than lights. If a light turns red we cannot stop however much we may want to.

I wish to direct the attention of noble Lords to the excellent quality of the report we are discussing. It is a real beauty. It is as good as any scientific paper. I also draw noble Lords' attention to the typography, the paper on which the report is printed, its size and kind. If only all our Select Committees and other committees produced such reports they would do a great deal more good. The reports might cost a little more to produce but they would be read.

We produced a first-class report on occupational health services which got absolutely nowhere. But when we saw how it was printed it was not surprising. The report that we are discussing shows how the other report should have been printed. The report is also extremely good in the way that the tables are presented. I have only one slight criticism of the tables. They give percentages of time rather than hours of time. It would be a little better if they gave both but the arguments and the presentation in general are first class.

I personally favour five or six parliamentary Questions. I know how irritating they are sometimes to the Leader of the House. I have seen him become so irritated and kerfuffled because the time is being taken up and he knows that two frightful Statements are coming. I cannot blame him for that but it would be fun to have six Questions because they wake us up after lunch and we need waking up.

The other interesting matter is what happens when Questions are over. If the debate to follow is not very interesting there is a wonderful flight of the innocents from the Chamber. I do not know where they fly to but they all disappear very quickly.

I remember once when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, was Minister of Science. I asked him whether, as my supplementary question was rather long, I could with permission circulate it in the Official Report. He nearly blew his top and told me that only the Government were allowed to circulate anything the the Official Report.

It occurs to me that if noble Lords have points which they cannot fit into their short speeches it might be considered whether they could place a small note or an appendix in the Official Report to the effect that that was what they wanted to argue. I cannot guarantee that it would be worth reading but they may not insert it when they have considered the matter. I cannot see that that procedure would do a lot of harm.

My last question concerns the loom of youth. One of the glorious things about your Lordships' House is the part played by younger Peers. That depends on the hereditary system. I believe in that system. I think that it is right and proper that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren may be compelled to perform certain duties in the service of their country. I favour the choice for life Peers as to whether they should be hereditary or non-hereditary. It should be rather interesting to see how many of those who object to hereditary peerages accept them.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, I feel that I have a contribution to make to the debate in a technical sense of crossing one or two "t"s. First, let me deal with the problem of Friday and Monday sittings. Nowhere does the report draw attention to the difficulties of Peers who live at great distances. Monday is a most awkward day to get to work here for those who live 500 miles away. As I am now a widower, it does not affect me. But I think it is bad luck on wives, who sometimes find husbands leaving for a Monday sitting on Sunday night and not returning until the following Friday. I wonder whether it is worth considering giving more time to business on Fridays, despite what is said in paragraph 107. I should prefer to sit late on a Friday rather than come to the House on a Monday. There is also the problem of buying tickets, booking seats and reserving a room, which makes it advisable to be able to plan fairly far ahead.

One point which was not mentioned in the report and which has not been mentioned so far in the debate is the question of the cost of fares for wives who draw a place at the ceremony of the opening of Parliament. It is all very well if one lives in Eaton Square and the missus draws a place. But if one lives in Sutherland, shall we say, it is an enormous expense to bring a wife down without an allowance from the state. The other place provides very liberal allowances for wives. Perhaps that is worth considering in this House.

My next point concerns paragraph 112 and the names of Peers who are taking the Oath and the like. The Clerk has a clear voice and good diction; one hears him very well, as we heard him today. However, when many Peers take the Oath it is impossible to hear them even with the hearing aid. I wonder whether it would be technically possible to tinker with the microphone above the Box so that it can be made louder when a Peer is taking the Oath. It generally happens that there is a great deal of movement at the time when such Peers come forward. Perhaps the volume of the system could be improved. Otherwise, I do not know how we can persuade Peers to raise their voices.

My next point concerns paragraph 114, which deals with Questions for Written Answer. I believe that these are being abused. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned their drafting. I wonder whether those at the Table are satisfied that they have enough power to trim the Questions so that they are of importance or put forward to obtain information. That is the object of such Questions, rather than to allow someone to expound a political theory, as seems to be the case with some of the Questions for Written Answers.

I do not believe that the system of Unstarred Questions is working properly. We had an example last week when my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing rose to ask an Unstarred Question at a quarter-past eight o'clock, just as the cameramen were covering up their cameras. A very interesting and important debate followed. The previous debates of the day had also been important. However, that Unstarred Question was of urgent importance and it was not relayed by the cameras. Perhaps the question of availability of time for Back-Benchers who have the occasional Unstarred Question could be reconsidered. I say it in that way because it seems to me that many of the Questions for Written Answer arise from the frustration which some Back-Benchers feel over not being able to get a word in edgewise over some bee they have in their bonnet.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, who spoke earlier, mentioned the matter of a debate on the Motion, That the noble Lord be no longer heard. I believe I am right in saying that that matter is debatable. That is another complexity in this method of trimming which may be resorted to. It is worth consideration in dealing with the matters with which we are all concerned.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Sherfield

My Lords, since I have been associated with the Select Committees on the European Communities and on Science and Technology for a number of years, I rise briefly to make a comment on the group's recommendations in that area and to enlarge on what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said at the beginning of the debate.

The most significant point about those two Select Committees is that they are run on a shoestring. A single Clerk with a secretary is solely responsible for the organisation of an inquiry. He has some back-up in case of need from the Clerk of Committees, who, however, has multifarious other duties. The Committee Clerk also usually has help from one or more specialist advisers. However, their role is entirely advisory and they cannot be asked to undertake administrative tasks.

Moreover, the Committee Clerk is responsible for drafting the report. That involves not only the administrative task of handling large volumes of evidence but also that of mastering and absorbing them. Given the restrictions on manpower, the appointment of additional Clerks of the House clearly raises difficult issues. I suggest that the House might adopt a system already in force in another place of appointing specialist assistants to committees. These persons are normally postdoctoral university graduates who are employed for fixed contracts for a term of two years in the case of the other place, renewable for another two years, and provide specialist expertise and day-to-day assistance with the preparation of papers and the analysis of evidence.

In the case of the House of Lords where the Select Committee inquiries typically take from eight months to one year, a one-year contract to a postdoctoral researcher might prove attractive. I note that this suggestion has been referred to the staff sub-committee. I hope I can have an assurance that this referral is not equivalent to a decent burial.

What a Committee Clerk in this House really needs is someone who can research secondary sources and work on parts of the evidence, and who is also available to hold the fort if the Clerk falls sick or is otherwise temporarily put out of action. If the assistant can help with the writing of the report, that is a bonus.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned the Congress of the United States. The last time I was on the Hill, its Committee on Science and Technology had a staff of over 100, equivalent to about half, I think, of the entire staff of this House, including the legal staff. The United States' Committee can also call on the resources of the scientific service of the Library of Congress and of the Office of Technology Assessment. In this context the present request for one or two temporary junior assistants does not seem outrageous.

What I am suggesting for the Select Committee on Science and Technology would, I believe, be equally applicable to the European Communities Committee, although I personally no longer have a connection with that body. I certainly agree with the view that there can be no increase in the number of ad hoc Select Committees unless additional Clerks are available. One ad hoc committee at a time appears to be the most that can be contemplated.

Before I sit down I should like to welcome the Recommendations of the committee on Statements and on the timing of debates on Select Committee reports. I have suffered much from sitting late on many an occasion discussing reports which have been the work of many months with an attendance in single figures.

5.53 p.m.

Viscount Rochdale

My Lords, I have ventured to put my name down on the list of speakers even though it is an extremely long one. The reason is that having taken part in the work of your Lordships' House for over 40 years—I think I am only behind the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in that respect—I believe I have learned some lessons which may be of help to your Lordships in this debate.

I made my maiden speech in February 1946 in Her Majesty's Robing Room. Incidentally, I spoke then from the Cross-Benches. Since 1946 there have been an enormous number of changes but the really big difference which has been mentioned over and over again today, and which to my mind is most important, is the enormous increase in the workload of the House. I think one can illustrate that well by recalling that in those days we never sat more than Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, it was not a question of stopping for dinner—we hardly ever got to dinner. We stopped at about 8 o'clock. Those few comments indicate the extent to which the workload has inexorably increased. It is against that background that I look at this report.

Like every other noble Lord, I welcome this debate and congratulate those who have produced this really first-class report. It is excellent. We should congratulate both the Members of the Committee and the clerks not only on producing the report but on doing so in what has been a relatively short time. I also pay tribute to what my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said about the importance of statistics. I regard these as very important not only for our consideration at the moment but also for the future. Study of them will help us to see how trends are moving.

Our objective is quite simple. Given the present composition of the House and the nature and volume of the workload that has to be disposed of—a workload that, despite the sincere undertakings of every Government to see that it is reduced, has always increased▀×we should see that we make full use of the immense volume of experience and expertise available to us. Therefore our procedure must ensure that the work flows through smoothly, and with as little interruption as possible.

I believe it has largely been due to our present system of flexible self-regulation that the growing workload over all those years has been acceptable and taken on by the House. The report itself says in paragraph 113 that the House has been able to handle the intense strains-those are the report's words-of the last Session.

I like very much what the report says in paragraphs 12 to 16 about self-regulation. If there were any form of control by a Speaker, sooner or later that could only result in rigidity and the slowing down of the work. That does emphasise the importance of paragraph 115 in the report, which states: Our freedom of debate and system of self-regulation can only continue…if we as Members of the House are willing to regard our liberty as a trust". That brings me to the point of how we can preserve that. It raises the importance of the Brief Guide. I am sure it is important to new Peers and to those who have been in the House for some time. I often find that I have either forgotten or been unaware of some important point of custom or procedure. If we had this new Brief Guide I believe that would bring a great deal of good. I hope that it will be printed so it is easily readable.

I have only two points of detail to which I wish to refer. I can be particularly brief about the first because it is a point that practically every speaker in your Lordships' House has referred to today. That is the timing of Statements, which can be extraordinarily irritating for somebody who is about to speak in a debate and who then finds that the continuity and flow of the discussion stops because a Statement is going to be made.

I realise that there are two points of view about whether Statements should be made orally. When I read the report on this point I asked myself, "What exactly is the interpretation to be put on the `exceptional case' and what does it mean?" There, I feel we must be as flexible as possible. I believe that there are some Statements which could usefully be dropped, but that there are a great many more which it could be dangerous to lose.

My other point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, referred—the place on our Order Paper of reports from Select Committees. Very often they come at the end of the day, and the report suggests that Standing Order No. 38 should be adjusted to allow such reports to be taken early in the business of the House. Of course, the importance of these reports varies greatly. They involve a great deal of work by Peers, their advisers and also—the point I want to make-members of the public and organisations both here and abroad who come to give evidence. They take an enormous amount of trouble preparing written documents of evidence and they come to give evidence orally. If they see the result of their efforts put in a report which is eventually tucked away for debate at the end of the day, it must reduce the credibility and importance of those reports, which are, after all, your Lordships' reports.

I give one example of the importance which people from overseas sometimes place on coming here to give evidence. Four years ago I was chairman of one of the sub-committees dealing with policy towards competition in shipping. On this particular day we had witnesses from Hamburg, Germany and from Paris, France, and a very eminent shipowner from Norway. It so happened that this gentleman was on holiday in Miami but he thought it sufficiently important to break his holiday to come and give evidence to us and then return immediately to Miami. If foreigners accord that amount of weight to our work, then we should respond by giving it the same degree of importance and have these reports debated early in the day.

That is all I want to say. I welcome this report. I believe it is very timely and I think we should congratulate everyone who has played a part in producing it. I have enjoyed and learnt a lot from the speeches of the other noble Lords who have spoken.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity of participating in this debate. When I put my name down on the list yesterday to take part in the debate I realised that a lot of people with a wealth of experience and suggestions would be participating. I, too, congratulate the committee and the clerks because we are greatly indebted to the servants of the House for the work that they do. I have been here for eight years and realise how much we owe the people who serve us so well and who are so generous in giving their time and experience, especially to help new Members.

No one will stop me, as a Member of this House, from congratulating someone if I feel they are worthy of congratulations. I believe that it would be impertinent of anyone to suggest in any orders that a Peer should not congratulate another Peer on a maiden speech, whether or not it is custom. It is worthwhile recognising that point. I congratulate Members on both sides if they have a point to make. I most sincerely congratulate my noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe on his maiden speech.

I did not realise when I put my name down to speak that I would be 20th on the batting list. Of course, that means many of the points that I was going to make have already been made. Therefore, I am not going to repeat those. Often in debates of this nature, where a noble Lord has prepared a speech but is 25th, 20th or whatever on the list, regardless of how many times the point has been made, he will still repeat it. Much time could be saved if speakers would say, "All my points have been made and therefore I say no more". I look forward to what the Procedure Committee has to say when it has studied all the suggestions that have been made, and that I would have made had I been number two or three in the batting order this afternoon.

6.5 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am among those who are glad that the report did not suggest having a Speaker in your Lordships' House. That would be quite disastrous and alter the whole character of the place. It would encourage endless points of order, as it does in the other place. Therefore, I am glad that that was not proposed.

The report says that there is nothing wrong with the rules of the House, only the way in which we use them or abuse them. It is true that there are more people in the House than ever before and more working Peers. I am not so sure that I like the distinction or the insinuation but it is a fact that if one creates more Peers and they are told they have to work it is not surprising that the procedures get into a muddle. That does not mean to say that the rules are wrong. The whole glory of your Lordships' House is that we are masters of our own procedures. That should be so and it is up to us to protect and control them. I suggest that it is up to us not to be selfish.

The length of speeches is considered by everyone to be too long other than, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, one's own. I approve of the suggestion that the aim for the length of a speech should be 15 minutes; but that should be a target and not a limit because it would be wrong to have too much rigidity. It is better to have flexibility even if occasionally a noble Lord errs on the wrong side.

I remember a speech of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. It was not the speech that he made today, but one he made no fewer than 22 years ago. I remember every word of it. It was during a debate on the shortness of speeches. The noble Lord said, "As everything I intended to say has already been said I shall now resume my seat". It was a masterly speech.

It is not surprising that over the years we have tried to find ways of curtailing the length of speeches of noble Lords. I considered the idea of coloured lights that changed from green to red, was rather effective; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, as 10 per cent. of your Lordships are colour blind, it would not have any effect and it would be much better to have a little bell that went, "ping ping". I could not help but think that if 10 per cent. of your Lordships are colour blind, and 20 per cent. deaf, then how one curtails a deaf noble Lord in full flood by going, "ping ping" is hard to imagine! But at least we ought to give this suggestion a try.

When the noble Lord said that, it recalled to my mind a suggestion made by my noble friend the Chief Whip some years ago when he was in a less exalted position than he now is. He suggested that next to the digital clocks there ought to be a little instrument out of which a cuckoo would come at the appropriate time and make an appropriate noise. He also suggested that a specific sum should be deducted from your Lordships' expenses for any speeches that went over a specified time and that that would have a suitably curtailing effect. One would be indecorous, the other inappropriate and both would be undesirable but at least we have perpetually to try to find ways of curtailing speeches. The answer is that one has to be unselfish.

The real abuse of this House comes at Question Time. Supplementary questions are too long and frequently read. Ministerial Answers are frequently far too long and by being so not only do they extend Question Time but Ministers also expose themselves to replies and give time to other noble Lords to think up possible supplementaries.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he wished people could answer quite shortly. I remember an occasion when Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, who was sitting in the position just behind the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, got up to ask a Question. Lord Bowles was speaking from this Bench and gave the Answer, "No, my Lords". That succinct Answer was so unusual that the whole House roared with laughter. Lord Fraser got up and asked, "Why not?", and the House again roared with laughter. The point is that the Question and Answer were much more succinct and much more interesting.

While on the point about Questions and Answers, there was an occasion about three weeks ago when one noble Lord asked three supplementary questions in a row and read them all. The Minister answered more lengthily than was anticipated and the answers were read too. There is a requirement for both Questions and Answers to be short and not to be read.

One tends to think that it is up to the Leader of the House to control the House, but of course he cannot. It is up to the House to control the House. The Leader of the House, if I may say so with the greatest respect, should he backed up not only by Back-Benchers on both sides but also by Front-Benchers on the other side when he tries to suggest that we move on.

I had the curious experience of being catapulted from a lowly position into having to act as Leader of your Lordships' House when the late Lord Soames was Governor of Rhodesia. It was a tricky matter to decide when you should intervene. If you get up too early people complain that you are spoiling the sport. If you leave it too long people get fed up. I suggested on one occasion that it might be to the convenience of your Lordships if we moved on to the next Question. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, getting up and saying, "Why is it that the noble Earl should think that it is to the convenience of the House that we move on'? It is not to the convenience of the House at all. I want to ask another question". It is very difficult to get the balance right. The point is that it is not just up to the Leader of the House. It ought to be up to noble Lords on all sides of the House, Back-Benchers and Front-Benchers, to take the initiative and to back up the Leader when he speaks on behalf of the whole House.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am sorry that I have only just come in but I must raise this point. What do people mean when they say that it is up to everybody to intervene? Do they really visualise a state of affairs in which a Back-Bencher or a Front-Bencher pops up and says, "I think this man has gone on too long"? It would be chaos, in my opinion.

Earl Ferrers

Yes, my Lords, but you can always call "Order!", or you can say "Question" or "Speech"; and if the noble Lord goes on too long it is always possible to get up and ask the Leader of the House whether he does not think that the noble Lord opposite is abusing the procedures. So there are a variety of ways in which this can be done.

On the question of procedure, I think it is essential that we remember only to speak once on Report. The Report stage is not another Committee stage. That is frequently forgotten. It is also wrong to put down amendments for Report which have already been put down in another form or in a similar form at Committee stage. A short while ago an amendment was put down-there were not many people in the Chamber-and the noble Lord who put it down said, "I should have liked to divide the House but as there are not many noble Lords here this evening I shall not do so. However, I shall put down the amendment again on Report". That is an abuse of the procedures of the House. Likewise, the idea of Third Reading becoming another Committee or Report stage is obviously wrong.

On Statements I feel a great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It would be a pity if Statements were not repeated, and if they were to be only a rarity that would be a pity too. They are part of the political life of the country. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, Statements are made to Parliament and not to one House. This matter is under scrutiny not because of the Statements but because of the way we abuse Statements. If the Opposition Benches could curtail themselves to making a comment and asking a question for elucidation and Back-Benchers to asking a question for elucidation, Statements would be dealt with more quickly.

The report is highly useful. I do not think we should have a report every year and perpetually look at ourselves and wonder what is going on. That would make us too introspective and would waste time. But in the end it is up to us not to be selfish and to ensure that the rules, which after all have lasted many years, should continue because they are perfectly all right.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I intend to follow the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and confine my remarks to the workings of Select Committees. The report of the group notes: Many members of the House thought that the existing Select Committees … are working satisfactorily, and believed that they are well regarded outside the House". I cannot speak for the European Communities Committee but I have been involved with the Science and Technology Committee. It is known to me that its reports are well regarded. The most recent example is the report of the sub-committee on civil research and development chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, which has had considerable influence, especially on the Government. That is a remarkable achievement considering, as the noble Lord mentioned, the staffing that supports the work.

In the case of the Science and Technology Committee we operate under two constraints, which have the effect of reinforcing each other. The first, which is self-imposed, is that the topic should be examined and dealt with in not more than 12 months. The second is that the staff back-up is limited, as has been explained, to a Clerk and a technical adviser. I am sure that the 12-month timetable is absolutely right. Without it there would be a great danger of drift and of losing the impetus of the subject. However, it is a tight timetable, which with the staffing constraint gives us very little flexibility. One might add that one is talking about the quantity of staff rather than the quality. I would be the first to acknowledge how well served we are by our Clerks and by our technical advisers. Be that as it, may, we have little room for manoeuvre for the things that might go wrong or for the unexpected developments.

These twin constraints of timetable and staffing mean that the committees receive very little back-up. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, gave some examples and I shall give some too. Given the tight timetable, it would be particularly helpful in the early stages of our work when members need to be brought up to speed as fast as possible if we could have background papers on the subject we are investigating. It is also important at the later stages to have position papers and analyses of the issues as they have emerged from the evidence sessions so as to develop our thinking on the thrust and conclusions of our report.

I very much welcome the suggestion which the group endorsed that we should try out the idea of specialist assistance to the sub-committees. The objection will be made that this will mean more public expenditure. I have a suggestion on that point to which I shall come in a moment, but leaving that aside, goodness knows our demands are modest enough in all conscience and the remuneration of our often very distinguished technical advisers amounts to little more than an honorarium. I think we trespass rather considerably and indeed perhaps dangerously on their good will.

By any normal standards for inquiries such as these—I spend most of my life doing investigative inquiries of one kind or another—we operate with very little back-up and run on a knife edge. As a result, we are not as effective as we could be. This results at times in unreasonable burdens being placed on members of a committee and more particularly on its chairman. We end up having to do much too much devilling on our own, which for busy people is not a very efficient way of proceeding. All things considered, I think it is remarkable what we manage to do.

I come to my suggestion. If money is the objection to more staffing, perhaps we should explore the possibility of seeking the secondment or sponsorship of a special assistant from industry or commerce. This might be a young man in his late twenties or early thirties who would work for a committee for 12 months. In my experience it is frequently the case that at that stage in a person's career not only is he ready for a change but he can gain considerably from such a change, which is useful for his own development. For that matter, it is often useful for the company concerned to take a person out of his environment and give him a change for a few years. He comes back a rather more developed person. I think that we should explore and experiment with this idea. It would make a great difference to the effectiveness of a committee and at very little cost.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I congratulate the working group on the excellence of its report.

On looking through the membership of the group, I was pleased to note that so far as I could see not one of them in my time in the House had ever offended against the letter or the spirit of any of the Standing Orders. The members were therefore in a unique position to appreciate the defects of which some of us from time to time are guilty.

I support strongly the recommendations in regard to EC debates and the work of Select Committees, which were touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and other noble Lords.

In 1979 the House spent only 32 hours discussing the reports of Select Committees of the House. In 1986 again only 32 hours were spent on such discussions. In view of the importance of the subjects covered by the Select Committee on the European Communities, it is clear that we should pay much more attention to the committee reports and give them much more time for discussion in the House.

Many noble Lords have mentioned that the reports of the Select Committee on the European Communities are held in high regard throughout Europe. I am of the opinion, without wishing to express any particular preference, that they may be more highly regarded—perhaps for different reasons—than those of Select Committees of another place, although I do not wish to cast any aspersion on the nature and content of those reports.

Since the passing of the Single European Act in particular, what has been done and contemplated in Europe is of enormous importance to the United Kingdom. I respectfully suggest that, given our reputation already in this respect, thanks to Select Committees on the subject, we should give much greater prominence to their reports in regard not only to the time of day at which the debates are held but also to the number that come before the House for discussion.

That leads to the question of Statements. I am sorry to have to disagree—and it is rarely that I would so disagree on a non-party matter—with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on a House procedural question. The recommendations of the group seem to me to make sense. I have mentioned that in 1986 we spent 32 hours discussing important EC reports. I should mention also that in 1986 we spent 45 hours on Statements. On the basis of the statistics quoted in the group's report, allotting to each working day 7.18 hours, approximately six working days were spent on Statements in the House.

Other noble Lords may disagree with me, but I do not take it as an affront to your Lordships' House if a Statement made in another place is not repeated here provided that we have a way of knowing about it. By the nature of the construction of Parliament, there are many more Ministers in the other place▀×Ministers in the Cabinet, Ministers in charge of departments—than there are here. Where a department has a Minister in the other place, it is natural that the Statement and subsequent party exchanges should be made in the Chamber of the other place and answered by the department chief, who would be thoroughly familiar with the subject matter of the Statement.

The situation would be different if the Cabinet Minister were a Member of this House. A Statement by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, on a subject for which he has ministerial responsibilities clearly should be made here and should be the subject of comment here. I would expect any Statement made on behalf of the Government in this House by the noble Viscount who is Leader of the House and Deputy Prime Minister to be made here without questions upon it. In that way we could save a great deal of time. I do not think that it is an affront to this House if a Statement is not repeated here. Nor do I think that our dignity requires it. After all, we have other realms of dignity better perhaps than those in another place.

Question Time has been mentioned. I venture to suggest that we in this House, for all our defects, conduct ourselves at Question Time in a slightly more agreeable if less humorous manner than do Members of another place.

I have one final observation in support of the noble Lords, Lord Henderson of Brompton, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I agree that we ought not to start having coloured lights here. I think it is a little unnecessary for reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was good enough to mention in a different context.

When a speaker is addressing the House in controversial terms—controversy is not yet banned in the House of Lords—it is customary for him to attract interruption and, as is the custom in the other place, invariably one gives way. It can so happen that the speaker, if he becomes extremely controversial—Heaven forfend that he should—may he interrupted, quite properly, on two occasions. That would mean that some five minutes out of his 15 minutes is taken up. I do not think that it is necessary for the preservation of self-discipline to have these extra measures which have been mentioned in the report and which appear in the draft of the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders. Nor do I think it a good thing that Members of your Lordships' House may be licensed by the rules to say, "Too long, too long". We have other ways of making our feelings known without resorting to formal words which are in effect half legalised by their appearance in the Standing Orders. Those are the three suggestions I have to make.

My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has been here some six months longer than I have. He expressed some degree of doubt about the purposes and role of your Lordships' House. Of one thing I am certain, that one of the principal roles of your Lordships' House, in which I am very proud to participate, is that of being the second forum in the United Kingdom in which matters of public importance are discussed. We should never forget that role, in addition to that of a revising Chamber. We should all be very pleased to do our best to continue to maintain its reputation.

6.32 p.m.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, I begin with an apology and a compliment: the apology from myself and the compliment to the authors of the report. I apologise for taking part in this debate having regard to the short period for which I have been in this House. I would only plead in mitigation that I have perhaps some knowledge of parliamentary procedures having sat during 11 Parliaments in the other House and for six years in the European Parliament.

Although sincere, my compliment does not embrace a totality of endorsement of the conclusions of the group. Nevertheless, my congratulations to the group are unqualified with regard to the dedication that has gone into the making of this report and with regard to the industry, the skill and the clarity of its draftsmanship. It covers a very wide area. In the classic words of Mr. Wackford Squeers, but with considerably more accuracy, "Here's richness", and with so rich a diet there is imposed on those who take part in the debate difficult questions of selection of a theme.

I propose to confine my observations to questions 6 and 3, ministerial Statements and the Public Bill Committees, with which I shall deal very shortly, and the main question of self-regulation, with which, for reasons that will appear, I shall have to deal at a little more length although I trust not wearisomely so.

On ministerial Statements, I welcome the recommendation in paragraph 78 of the report. I respect the views of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter with his exceptional knowledge of procedure and I take his constitutional point. Nevertheless, the basic consideration here is the degree of disruption to which the present practice exposes the business of this House. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, nodding acquiescence to that proposition. There is a major difference between the timing of Statements here and in the other House. There they are timed to suit the convenience of business—normally between Questions and business-and therefore have no disruptive effect on the business of the House. As your Lordships know, here it is far otherwise. I therefore welcome the removal of this major factor in the disruption of the House. I only wish that the group had gone the whole hog and, having appreciated the logic of the position, had abolished the dinner hour as well.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Hear, hear!

Lord Broxbourne

I am very glad to hear that my noble friend endorses that suggestion. However, at paragraph 103 the report rejects that possibility. I can understand a certain reluctance. "The dinner hour", "Adjournment during pleasure", what agreeable Trollopean evocations those words bring out. One has visions of the Duke of Omnium being driven to his London mansion or his club to enjoy the delights of Victorian gastronomy. If noble Lords want an indication of what those delights were let them read the description in Disraeli's Reminiscences of the dinner which Lord Palmerston ate by himself. After the delights of Victorian gastronomy noble Lords then returned to the House, or not as the case might be.

On the Public Bill Committees I need say very little indeed. I was an advocate of this in the last Parliament before the experimental setting up of the committee for the Pilotage Bill. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, and I am grateful to him for mentioning me in this context. I welcome both the endorsement of a role for the Public Bill Committee and the procedural improvements suggested for further study by the Procedure Committee, notably the possibility of sittings in the mornings in order not to clash with the business of the House and better arrangements for Divisions.

I come to the main matter, self-regulation. Here we were asked to express a preference either for continuance of self-regulation or for a speakership with controlling powers. Paragraph 13 of the report states: The case for a Speaker with controlling powers received virtually no support and was argued by only one Peer"— I can visualise the corridors of Westminster buzzing with speculation as to the identity of this lone heretic. Who, they may have asked, was this Ishmaelite, this iconoclastic figure? Let there be a truce to surmise and speculation. I should not wish the finger of suspicion to be pointed at any innocent Peer. I make a clean breast of it. It was I, Broxbourne, who put forward this unacceptable proposition. The report continues, who believed it less surprising that the system was flawed than that it worked at all". Where the draftsman got the word "flawed" from we may hear when the reply is made to this debate. It certainly did not come into my representations.

It is of course permissible, and no doubt sensible, to improve on my prose, but to improve on Dr. Johnson is presumptuous indeed, and noble Lords will recognise the derivation of this expression: A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all". For the avoidance of doubt let me hasten to say that I do not for a moment endorse Dr. Johnson's view on women preaching. He would not say that today and indeed he would be in a great deal of trouble if he did. He certainly would not say it if, like your Lordships, he had the advantage of hearing in debate in this House the contributions of noble Baronesses with all their eloquence and elegance, their cogency and their charm.

But there is an underlying proposition which in Dr. Johnson's phrase would have a bottom of good sense and it is this. There are certain things and activities for which there is a natural and normal way of doing them. It does not mean that it is impossible to do them in any other way but it is unlikely that the other way will be as good. That proposition is reflected in the workings of this House.

In the workings of any parliamentary or deliberative assembly, the natural and normal way is for procedure to be regulated by a chairman or president (we call him a Speaker) who is able with the expert advice he receives—I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said as to the expertise of the advice here of the ever helpful Clerks at the Table—to interpret the rules and to ensure compliance therewith. That is the ordinary and accepted way of doing it the world over, and always has been.

Before this report was produced I ventured to suggest that a case study be made to show what the procedures were in other assemblies in Europe, in the Commonwealth and in the United States. Was it done? There is no evidence, no mention in the report, nothing in the voluminous appendices to the report, so we must assume that in fact it was not done.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to whose speech I listened with customary respect and attention, that our procedure is unique. I even go so far as to associate myself with his description of it as being "odd", though perhaps that is unnecessarily disrespectful. Unique I think it is. It does not follow that it is wrong, but it puts the onus on those who seek to justify it. What the report says is: The introduction of a Speakership with powers would encourage time-wasting points of order, worsen conduct, and curtail the ancient liberties of the House". Not a scintilla of evidence is adduced to support that amazing and unqualified proposition. The veriest tyro at the Bar would take a pronouncement like that as crying out for particularisation, interrogatories and all the salutary processes of cross-examination. Of course, those things it has not received.

I do not believe that those are the concomitants of speakership, neither the usual concomitants nor, still less, the inevitable or necessary concomitants. I have some knowledge of Speakers in another place. The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, once observed, when Mr. Speaker Thomas, that I had made more speeches proposing and seconding the election of Speakers than he had preached Methodist sermons. He was too nice and too modest to say, as was undoubtedly the fact, that the sermons were much better than the speeches. Nevertheless it has given me experience of speakership.

I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, in her place. I sat in the House of Commons originally under the distinguished speakership of her eminent father, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, and later under that of her eminent spouse, Harry Hylton-Foster. I do not recall that any of six Speakers were unable to regulate the proceedings in that House. without these catastrophic consequences ensuing. Of course the atmosphere was not quite like the atmosphere of this place. Some would say it was more lively and that that was not necessarily a bad thing, but at any rate they were able to keep order within the hounds of regulation.

Of course there are problems. The report acknowledges problems but does not attempt to analyse or assess the problems regarding the trichotomic position, if that is the right expression—I see my noble friend looking at me with all his great classical learning—of the Lord Chancellor. I ventured to suggest some possible solutions to this problem. These suggestions received no analysis and no attention in the report and so I leave it there. I shall not canvass them here, because the concept is rejected in the report, but I hope that they will be borne in mind for another day.

Meanwhile I concede that here I have lost the case: not a wholly unfamiliar experience for anybody who practised at the Bar as long as I did. What is unusual is to lose the case without right of appeal and without even the right of audience to make oral submissions as to the merits of the argument and to test the evidence for the other case. I can only console myself with the classic lines victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni. I got it right, I think. Do not let your Lordships think for a moment that I am identifying with Cato; I should not dream of being so presumptuous. I only recite the lines to show that minorities, even minorities of one, are not always or necessarily wrong.

I said a moment ago, "No appeal". There is one court of appeal and that is history. We shall await the judgment of history on this, which may well be that on this day we missed an opportunity to improve the procedures of the House. So let me conclude with this. Some of your Lordships may feel that I am unduly influenced by the practices and procedures of the other place. It could be so-that other House which I knew so long, loved so well and sought to serve a little. But I would not wish your Lordships to think that I do not know that there are cherished traditions and practices in this House which are well worthy of respect. For my part I would wish to observe any procedures and play any modest part I can in them whatever they may be. I am grateful, as a minority spokesman, for the kindness and attention with which your Lordships have been good enough to listen to me.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the eminent persons' report that we are debating has met with universal praise this afternoon, although I think probably few of its recommendations have been unanimously welcomed. The most difficult matter seems likely to be the treatment of repeated Statements, and I should not like to guess now as to which view is likely to prevail in the end, or if indeed a third one along the lines proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, might be feasible.

Like others, I think that the informal group are much to be congratulated on having produced a careful and wise report. The report finds in favour of various objectives, many of them old favourites—shorter speeches, less time on Starred Questions, fewer repeated Commons Statements—but these are not sought to be achieved by any means other than voluntary means.

The objective of shorter speeches is to be attempted by the clock, which is apparently to be turned like a traffic light from green to red, presumably by a clerk at the Table working from a set of tariffs—so many minutes for an opening or winding-up speaker, so many minutes for a Front-Bench speaker, and so many minutes for a Back-Bench speaker.

In this case the onus for self-restraint will be in the first place on the speaker who, it is hoped, will be shamed by the sight of the red clock into sitting down early, and secondly on his listeners who are assumed to be emboldened by the sight of the clock into reminding the speaker that he should sit down if he has not done so voluntarily.

In the case of Starred Questions, where the objective is to limit Question Time to 30 minutes at most, the onus is to be with the Leader of the House or his deputies, although, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said, the Leader of the House cannot do this without support from other quarters. In the case of the proposal for repeated Commons Statements the onus is placed on the Opposition parties, for Statements would continue to be offered to Opposition parties with the presumption, in the words of the report, that they would not be delivered orally but would be printed in Hansard. So self-regulation involves a contribution, as proposed, from all of us.

The report proposes an annual review of how procedure is getting along in this House, which in these changing times is a sensible provision. I do not think that the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, need apply. I also support the proposal to reduce the number of Starred Questions in the name of any single noble Lord from three to two in order to give more scope to those Peers who make less frequent use of this facility.

Increased politicisation has been commented on as a new and growing feature in this House.

In one peripheral respect the report attacks politicisation in its controversial proposal to remove the automatic repetition of Commons Statements. The answers to the questionnaire reveal a broad antipathy to repeated Statements. Why should this be so? The principal—although by no means the only—supporters of automatically repeated Statements seem to be Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. That seems to me to be natural. After all it is they who are given an opportunity for a free tilt at government at this time. But Back-Benchers, on the whole, do not either widely attend or widely participate in reported Statements.

I think that on the whole noble Lords—the silent, suffering majority, in the words of the report—have no great affection for topicality. If, by coincidence, a Starred Question turns out to be topical, noble Lords will wholeheartedly enter into the spirit of the occasion. But Statements are sprung at short notice. It seems to me that noble Lords usually prefer to plan their political activity. Statements also disrupt other business. My noble friend Lord Broxbourne has just shown vividly how they are much more of a disruption in this House than they are in the other place.

Like others here I was a Member of the European Parliament, which had, for someone coming from this House, an excessive, even overwhelming love of topicality. Not a day passed without a flood of applications for business to be rearranged in order that politcal battle could be engaged on some resolution impetuously introduced on some recent event, usually in some distant part of the world. Everyone was kept at a high and exhausting level of alertness. But Peers, the silent majority, I presume to observe, do not for the most part like to live every minute with their senses all keenly attuned to detect shifts and to sense opportunities in the political breeze.

They cultivate—they are encouraged to cultivate—a more reflective, well-pondered contribution to political life. Consequently my sympathies are with those who resent the interruption and postponement of the principal business to please what is often a vociferous but small minority. I would therefore support the proposals to turn the repeated Statements into the exception rather than the rule, and for them to be taken at the least disruptive moment.

However, a nettle which the informal group in their report did not grasp was the question of committees. The report repeats a complaint made by some noble Lords—echoed this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Henderson of Brompton—that there are too few ad hoc committees, and also the complaint that the present system displays a tendency towards too great a concentration on European affairs.

At the same time the report notes that the present permanent structure of our committees restricts the capacity of the House to set up ad hoc committees on subjects which deserve examination because neither the Members nor, more particularly, the staff are available. The report does not suggest any solution to this. In fact, it says very little on the subject.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, says that the European Communities Committee is run on a shoestring it is nevertheless the case that a considerable proportion of the resources of this House are devoted to servicing the permanent Select Committees. Leaving aside Members' time, I am informed that no less than one third of the staff of the administrative offices of this House are exclusively devoted to servicing the Select Committees.

That is fine if that is what the House as a whole wants, but is it what the House wants and should we not find out if it is still what the House wants? Without in any way wishing to cast any aspersions at all on the dedicated work of the assiduous Members and staff of those committees, or on the value of the work that they have done, nevertheless it is a common occurrence to find that Select Committee reports are being debated in this House in front of little more than the Members of the sub-committee concerned. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and my noble friend Lord Rochdale both complained about the fact that the House was not interested enough in the reports of their committees. It seems to me that that provides a prima facie case for a review of our existing permanent committee structure to see whether, in its entirety, it still corresponds to the demands of the changed circumstances so as to justify the resources required by it. If the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, is right, maybe we are trying to do too much already with too few resources.

In conclusion, the report serves most usefully to remind us of the remarkable freedoms which we have in this House. We have the freedom to introduce any Bill; propose any amendment; ask any question; make any speech. Those freedoms are available equally to each one of us. This liberal system is inevitably put at risk by the pressures arising from ever greater numbers of so-called working Peers, a greater volume of legislation and, consequently, ever greater politicisation. The system will be particularly tested by the strains of a legislative programme such as the present Session offers. The report puts it well when it states: Self-regulation imposes a responsibility on each individual Member to act in accordance not only with the rules but with the spirit and tradition underlining them". Ultimately, the whole delicate and intricate system can be maintained only by the willing participation of all parties; Government, Opposition and Back-Benchers. Surely the value of the report and the debate is that they probe for the common ground between the different parties. I have every confidence that sufficient common ground will be found to enable this House and its cherished procedures to survive unscathed and buffetings to which they are exposed today.

7.2 p.m.

The Marquess of Salisbury

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for their kind remarks about my father.

I hope that your Lordships will be delighted to hear that I shall be brief. I intervene on only one point. Most of the debate has concentrated on the need for self-restraint leading to efficient self-regulation. No doubt that is important but I suggest that it is only part of what needs to be done. The real problem is the growth of government legislation. When one reads the report, one sees that an increasingly greater percentage of time is spent considering government Bills. I suggest that we are nearing the point of becoming a revising Chamber and nothing more. That seems to me to be undesirable, because one of the major contributions provided by your Lordships' House is the admirable general debates by means of which we have played such a notable part in Parliament.

One asks oneself whether there is any possibility of improving the situation. The simple answer is to have less government legislation, but I suppose that that is unlikely. Indeed, the more government legislation there is the more it seems to increase. Perhaps there are two ways in which the Government could help without interfering with their programme. First, would it not be possible in a normal Session—the point does not apply during this Session—to have more Bills coming to this House at the beginning of the Session? That would reduce the pressure on your Lordships' time at the end of the summer period. Very often we have little business to transact in the autumn.

Secondly, it appears that a number of Bills which come before the House have not been well prepared. It seems to me to be due to pressure on the draftsmen, who are, no doubt, just as good now as they were in the past but who have had to produce more Bills than they can comfortably digest. This means that a considerable amount of your Lordships' time is spent in what could be said to be unnecessarily revising Bills which should have been properly thought out in the first place. We had a good example of that on Monday of this week when amendment after amendment was moved and the Government agreed to take them all away for further consideration. It was quite clear that matters had not been properly thought out.

I support the general report of the group. I hope that as the House—and particularly the Back-Bench Members—has been asked to exercise restraint, the Leader will be able to tell us that the Government will play their part in trying to make our business more acceptable.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I agree with everything which has been said by the noble Marquess. To some extent he has raised new issues in this debate, because we have spent much time discussing how we should approach our own responsibilities as Members of this House without considering the role of government. I propose to deal with that issue during the course of my remarks.

In opening the debate, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, reminded us why it was that a group of our colleagues had been asked to look at these issues. He said that last year we had had an arduous session. If I may say so, that is something of an English understatement. As we all remember, there were substantial complaints from all quarters of the House about the hours that we had been forced to endure in considering a number of measures from the House of Commons all of which arrived remarkably late.

During the 13 years for which I have been a Member of this House I have had the benefit of listening to four of five other rows with different Leaders of the House when exactly the same complaint has been made. Unhappily, despite that, we do not appear to have improved our procedures and our general approach to the consideration of legislation. For instance, I remember the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as Leader of the Opposition. complaining bitterly about the behaviour of the then Labour Government in sending to this House so much legislation so late. He said that the House would not put up with it any more. There were then no references to individual responsibilities of Members of this House. I was then a Minister and I agreed with everything he said.

First, I think that we should recognise, as did the noble Marquess, that, although we have our responsibilities as Members of this House, so have the Government. They also have a part to play in easing our burden in a House which is still essentially an institution of part-timers. So I shall divide my remarks into those two main categories.

Dealing first with our responsibilities as Members of this House, I agree with the committee and the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, that we should rely on self-regulation. I heard the speech of the lone dissentient, the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, but I am afraid that he did not persuade me that it would be sensible to move in his direction. I suspect that that is the overwhelming view of this House. I also believe that we should have shorter speeches. I am not sure about the red light. If I may put it as politely as possible, those who are some of our more insensitive colleagues in relation to the length of their speeches will not be deterred by a red light. Indeed, were we to invite the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards to strike up, I suspect that that would have just as little effect.

Next I am afraid that I disagree with the committee and agree with the noble Lords, Lord Boyd- Carpenter and Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and my noble friend Lord Diamond on the question of the repetition of Government Statements and Statements on Private Notice Questions asked in the House of Commons. I do not want to go over the arguments again as they have been set out clearly. I believe that it would diminish the role of this House were we to accept such a formula. I believe that it would also sharply diminish the rights of all opposition parties both now and in the future.

We can all become bored when a Statement interrupts business in which we are interested, but what about yesterday's two Statements? Which of those would have been delivered in this House if the formula of the committee had been adopted? Should we have had the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, repeating an extremely important Statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons or should we have had the extremely important statement on electricity prices with all its very substantial political and economic implications? I do not know the answer to that question and I suspect nobody else does either.

Next, I very much agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, and my noble friend Lord Diamond on the question of Public Bill Committees on government Bills. I think that they can save time, and I am not impressed by the argument that the experience of the Pilotage Bill proves anything at all. I think we should certainly repeat that experiment.

I must remind the House that during the lifetime of the Labour Government a Betting and Gaming Bill did in fact go through just such a Public Bill Committee. It had as Members a number of eminent experts on this area of social policy, including the then Bishop of London and the late Lord Wigg. I believe that the members of that Committee, the Government and, I suspect, the House itself gained from that experience.

Next, if I may be a conservative on this question, I am afraid that I am a strong supporter of the dinner hour. I believe that it is one of our more civilised practices and, as one of the veterans of the seven days of the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, the idea of going without dinner for seven evenings, though no doubt highly advantageous in other respects, does seem to me slightly unreasonable.

Now I will, if I may, turn to the position of the Government in this matter. First, again, I agree with my noble friend Lord Diamond that there is a great deal to be said, in terms of the management of Government business, for setting aside time on a contingency basis, so that Government legislation which has to be introduced speedily because of some substantial expression of public disquiet may be brought in without adding to an already overloaded programme. A good example of this is the Firearms Bill which is soon to be introduced in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary following the tragedy of Hungerford. But we can think of plenty of other examples of exactly the same thing arising in the past.

Secondly, I should like if I may to raise a rather more fundamental point. This is a matter which has already been touched upon by the noble Marquess who has just resumed his seat. There is simply far, far too much government legislation. That is true now, was true in the past when I was a Minister, and no doubt will be true in the future. Not only is there far too much of it, but some of the Bills introduced into already overloaded programmes are much too long in themselves.

As an example, I now should like to direct the attention of the House and the noble Viscount to the Bill to which we have so far devoted seven days—the Criminal Justice Bill. It contains 139 clauses; 11 schedules, and a substantial number of major new issues have been tabled in the form of Government amendments. This Bill in fact is five separate Bills. It is an extradition Bill; it is a criminal proceedings Bill; it is a penal affairs Bill; it is a criminal injuries compensation Bill and it is a juries Bill. We all, unhappily, know what happens when a department gets a place in a legislative programme. It shoves into the Bill in question every possible proposition that it can lay its hands on, many of which will have been waiting around for a very substantial period of time.

All I would say to the noble Viscount is that in terms of the responsibility he carries, as an important member of Cabinet Committees, I very much hope he will look into the possibility of repeating the experiments of the past when Leaders of the House of Commons have on occasion rationed departments to a specific number of clauses. This happened to me on a Home Office Bill when the Home Office was told it had 50 clauses and no more.

I repeat, I do not think it is reasonable to give us a Bill of 137 clauses, and then give us just 13 days between Committee stage and Report stage for the massive issues which are going to have to be considered by both Home Office officials and Ministers, and by Members of this House before we come to Report stage. I can of course understand the complaint expressed in civilised terms, if I may say so, by the Government Chief Whip last Thursday, when he said that we were making not quite so much progress on the Bill as he would have liked but I would only point out to him that, as I have said this evening, if we are going to have massive Bills of this kind, the Government must reconcile themselves to very lengthy Committee and Report stages. I repeat, too, that, if we are going to have Bills as long as this, we need more than 13 days between Committee stage and Report stage.

We have still had no answer from the Government on the question—which was raised through the usual channels—of a possible meeting concerning the issue of extradition. I brought up this matter with the noble Lord last Thursday evening, as he will recall, but silence still reigns. I hope this will now be looked at as a matter of urgency.

Finally, my Lords, there is one issue which was not dealt with in the terms of reference of this particular group of our colleagues but which I believe is worthy of serious consideration. It may well be that it could be sent on to another committee of Members of this House. We are having, as we all know, more and more legislation pushed in front of us. We are also having more and more representations made to us by outside organisations—a point which is dealt with in the report which we are now debating. We are having to have more and more meetings with interested bodies in this House. Yet the accommodation for Members of this House is still in scandalously short supply. All I do hope is—and I put this in the most delicate way—that we are going to have a look at a situation in which over 60 officials of a government department have offices in the Palace of Westminster which, in my opinion, should be made available to junior Ministers, whose accommodation is appallingly inadequate, and also to other Members of the House. I think that does deserve attention and I very much hope that the noble Viscount will look into it as early as possible.

With that, all I can say is that we should like to express again on behalf of the whole of the House our gratitude to all those who have been involved in the extremely important work of this committee. We thank them all for applying themselves with such energy to these matters and for having produced such an extremely readable report.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, both the noble Viscount and the Chairman of Committees in introducing this report emphasised that it did not suggest any fundamental change in our procedures but rather a gradual evolution of them. They re-emphasised the importance of self-regulation and that we should continue to enjoy the privilege of unrestricted debate. Indeed with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, there has been unanimous agreement with this point.

I should first of all like to add my congratulations to those which others have already given to the members of the working group and those who supported them for such a useful, interesting and fact-filled report. I think we are all very grateful to them for that.

The underlying point is that our procedures work well owing to the good sense and self-discipline of Members of the House. My own feeling is that there is no point in laying down in our procedures, or indeed in law in general, any matter which is so restrictive that it becomes unenforceable. Indeed, the working group admitted as much when it recognised that the suggestion made some two or three years ago that there should be only a single point in each supplementary question at Question Time was too restrictive and not enforceable. It therefore suggested that not more than two points should be contained in supplementary questions.

I shall not move on to the wider field entered by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which is a major matter for debate. Rather I shall address myself to some of the specific issues that have been raised in the debate today.

The topicality of Starred Questions is one point. That does not seem to me to be a major problem because it has always been possible for Peers who wish to ask a very topical Question to go to a colleague and ask, "Will you switch your non-topical Question with my topical Question so that I can get it on earlier and you can have a later date?". I have found fellow Peers always very helpful in such matters. Indeed very often it has been possible to have a topical Question put on the Order Paper in that way.

The working party put forward a suggestion that the number of Questions on the Order Paper from any one Peer at any one time should be reduced from three to two. That is obviously a possible way of dealing with the problem. Another way would be to restrict a Peer to a single Question on the Order Paper on any one day and to retain three Questions. There are in fact ways in which Questions of some topicality can be organised and we can ensure that topical matters can be debated.

Statements caused a considerable amount of debate. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was absolutely opposed to the recommendations in the report and rightly said that each issue ought to be decided on its merit. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, brought up a very interesting point about the two Statements that were made yesterday, which highlighted one of the problems. Your Lordships may have thought that the Chancellor's Autumn Statement was the most important of the two, but all the news coverage last night and today centred on the Statement about electricity prices.

When the Opposition are offered a Statement the difficulty is to know what is in it. One may be told that it is a Statement of no consequence at all. One then asks oneself why, if it is a Statement of no consequence at all, it is being made at all. I can recall some years back being told that a certain Statement was of no consequence and I agreed not to have it. It concerned the appointment of Mr. MacGregor as Chairman of British Steel at some fantastic salary, with an additional honorarium built in. The next day I had a red face. That is part of the difficulty about Statements.

Another point is that both the number of Statements made in the House of Commons and the number of PNQs have dramatically increased over the past five years. The total number rose from 86 in 1980–81 to 152 in 1985–86. Over that time the Statements that we had as a proportion of those figures changed very little. It would help us considerably if the Government made fewer Statements, because we would then not have quite so many in this House.

Length of speeches can be a problem. Noble Lords have been fairly good today; very few speakers have taken longer than 15 minutes and most have spoken for only 10 minutes. However, the length of speeches causes a problem and results in discourtesies inflicted on the House as a whole by Members leaving early. I have always thought that the five-hour debate, which was introduced a few years ago, is very useful because it enables speakers to know when it will finish.

The other week one or two noble Lords left before the end of a debate. I know that one of them did not apologise for leaving early. He looked at the number of speakers on the list and calculated that the debate would be over by about 8.30 p.m. In fact it went on until 10 o'clock but he could not offer an apology in his speech because he was unaware that it would last so long.

The length of speeches raises difficulties and I think that time-limited debates can be a useful procedure. If they were a regular feature of our Wednesday debates, I am sure that it would be to the benefit of the House as a whole. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will not agree with me on that point.

As regards maiden speakers, there is a situation which, although it has not occurred today, has happened twice recently to my certain knowledge. There is a tradition in this House that no Peer leaves the Chamber while a speaker is making his maiden speech. It is a very good tradition. On two occasions, one fairly recent and the other not so far distant, one of your Lordships has shouted, "Order, order" in the middle of a maiden speech. It was quite proper to do so, but the unfortunate maiden speaker did not know what he was doing wrong and was completely put off his stroke by looking round to see in what way he had offended. I hope that such things can be done a little more quietly in future.

As for congratulations offered to maiden speakers, to some extent I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. On the other hand, I must say that this is a matter that cannot be considered as absolute and I agree in that with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I have a very special reason for wanting to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cocks on his most excellent and enjoyable speech. He has been my colleague for many years and plays his part in organising the usual channels. I should like to record my congratulations to him on his maiden speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was the only Peer who asked why we do not sit early when, as today, there are two introductions into the House. I have been waging for some time a little campaign to urge that we should always sit regularly at 2.30 and not at an earlier time. Noble Lords work to a routine pattern of coming to the Chamber at 2.30 and if perchance the House should meet at 2.15, most of them will nonetheless turn up at half-past two. The result is that the first Peer to be introduced faces an almost empty House, since no one comes along until 2.30.

My noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies, who I very much regret cannot be here today, often complained that nobody read the Whip that she issued and therefore it was important to advise Members verbally. She is absolutely right. People do not read the Order Paper and so do not know that the House will sit at 2.15 rather than at 2.30; that is a good reason for sticking to the time of 2.30 p.m.

On the subject of Unstarred Questions and the timing of the second Unstarred Question to be not after 8 p.m., we ought to look again at that point. It seems slightly ludicrous to say that a second Unstarred Question cannot start after 8 p.m. but that a first can start at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

I am conscious that I have now been speaking for 11 minutes but there is one further very important matter that I should like to raise; namely, the role of the Leader of the House. Several noble Lords have referred to his very important and difficult task in determining the will of the House. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said—and I very much agree with him—the Leader is likely to be criticised equally if he comes in too soon or if he comes in too late. I think it is always better to be a trifle too late than a trifle too early. Certainly on those occasions when there has been a case of a noble Lord not self-disciplining himself, the Opposition will, as always, give full support to the Leader of the House in the exercise of his duties.

I should like to add personally that we all know we are very well served by the present Leader of the House in this matter. Again and again he has managed sensitively to judge the mood of the House and we have supported him.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, raised the problem of a substitute Leader. There is of course a well-known hierarchy as to who is the substitute Leader at any point of time during the day, depending on who is actually sitting on the Government Front Bench at that particular time. There have been problems which have arisen when a fairly new and junior Whip has suddenly been faced with an unexpected situation. I appreciate that it is not possible to cover every eventuality, but I think that it is important that there is an experienced Whip on the Bench at most times, particularly at times when there is likely to be some point of tension arising on the Floor of the House.

As many noble Lords have said, this is a useful report; and I think the debate has been useful too, if for nothing else than to make Peers very much aware of what the procedures of the House are. I think it is useful for this to happen from time to time.

7.32 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I think that I have listened to every speech in this debate with considerable interest, except for one: one that I think I would have admired the most had I not, for what perhaps might be described as good reasons, slipped out of the House for a moment, and that was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn. He said that as other people had made the points he was going to make, he was not going to say any more. How could I have asked for a better speech to have missed?

I am going I think to please the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, because I rather agree with him. I do not think I would feel right if I had not expressed my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. After all, I am also—although it is a long time ago and was in another place—yet another of the wicked Whips of both parties in both Houses. We are, because of the nature of our calling, very inclined to be a close community; but we have to be in order to stand against all those people who want to criticise us from time to time. If we were not, I do not think we would have survived so long as we have in both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, if I were not able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, I should feel very upset. So if I am going to break some rule that everybody is very keen to introduce, then I have started the right way to do it. However, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, made a most amusing and interesting speech and we shall obviously be delighted to hear a great deal more from him. No doubt we shall do so, not the least because he has been under a long period of silence in another place.

The first point I come to is the question of self-regulation and the duties of the Leader of your Lordships' House in the procedures that we have at the moment. It would be right if I started by saying that one must always, even if one has become convinced of a particular course—as indeed I have done about self-regulation—pay great attention to those who have not. Therefore, I listened with great care to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne who, having come from another place, like I have, has decided in a contrary way to me about the proposal. The fact that he is in the minority of one in this debate, and also in a minority of one in the reports that were sent to the group, does not mean that he should not express himself as forcefully as he has.

He said we would be judged by history. That is extremely nice, is it not? I do not know how I am going to be judged in history. I do not quite know what is going to happen to me when that judgment comes. I doubt whether I shall be able to observe it; know about it; or whether, indeed, I shall be able to do so in the company of the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne. Whether we shall be divided on proper reasons, I cannot tell. Nevertheless, perhaps we should continue, if we have the chance, to take the same views. I am extremely grateful to two of my predecessors in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the kind support that they have given to the procedures, and indeed to the way in which I try to exercise them at the present time.

I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for some very generous personal remarks which, whether they are justified or not, are all the more welcome. The great thing about kind remarks is that they are always much more welcome when they are not justified than perhaps when they are. In this case, I am extremely grateful to him.

I do take on board some of the criticisms. I should like to say a word about them, and a word about what I try to do in what I believe to be the service of your Lordships' House. I once expressed a view, when very new to the job, saying that I thought something. I always remember—and I am sure he will not mind my repeating it—the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, saying to me, "You were quite right, but if only you had said: 'That is what the House wants' and not 'I' wanted it". He said then I would have commanded much greater support and assent. Ever since then whenever I feel like saying "I", I can always see the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and I know I must not do it, and I will not; if I do, it will be totally by mistake.

There is, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, with his experience of the time when he occupied this role, a very difficult balance to be achieved. The House as a whole should recognise—as I know my predecessors do—that one of the problems which I believe are created, and certainly have to be faced, by the Leader of the House is as follows. When does he intervene? If he intervenes too soon, then he will become regarded as too quick. I noticed in another context, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that he observed my impatience sometimes during Question Time. The great thing that all my friends have known for many years is that I have never been able to disguise my feelings for one single second; my feelings are seen all over my face at all times. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has seen them, so have a great many other people over the years. I have to agree that sometimes I do feel irritated at the length of time that Question Time is taking I feel irritated at all sorts of things from time to time; but that is true of that.

However, what I do feel is this. If I, as Leader of your Lordships' House, get it wrong, I hope I would be understood if I said I would far sooner—as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said—get it wrong by being late than get it wrong by being early. If I am early in trying to change or stop something, the danger is that I will be thought to be early by the Opposition Front Bench. I rely on their support, and am extremely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Ponsonby, for all the support that they have always given me—and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and the other parties as well.

It means that I have to earn that support, because if I act too soon they will support me but they will rightly come to me afterwards—and I would expect them to do so—and say, "Don't expect us to go along with you always if you do it as quickly as that, and cut off the wrong person at the wrong time". Nothing is more disastrous than cutting off the wrong person at the wrong time—the person who has something to say and who ought to be allowed to say it. It is awfully easy to do it and to get it wrong. That may be a slightly cowardly way of going about it—I do not think that "cowardly" is quite the right word—but I think, on balance, it is safety that I should like, because if I am to serve the House I have to take as many people as possible along with me when I make that intervention. I think that my predecessors would agree with me.

I now turn to a short reference to the group's recommendation about the Brief Guide. On the whole, this seems to me to be very much supported. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, my noble friend Lord Nugent, the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, and the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, all said that they thought it would be very valuable and with their considerable experience of your Lordships' House I believe that that is a strong recommendation for it. I am extremely grateful to the group for that proposal. We shall certainly seek to carry it forward.

I turn now to legislation. The group's proposals on your Lordships' legislative work are modest and I hope that they will be useful. However, first I must meet the charges or rather the points made by my noble friend Lord Salisbury and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. They are not strictly relevant to the group's report and therefore I must not spend too long on them. But they are relevant to the work of your Lordships' House and they are relevant to my work as the Leader of your Lordships' House and I think I owe an answer to some of those points.

First, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, about the contingency arrangement, the truth is that every government—and this has certainly been so for all the time that I have been trying to wrestle with this problem in government—always have a contingency for legislation written in at the start. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, as an ex-Chief Secretary, will know that all Chief Secretaries have always written in a contingency reserve and somehow before very long the contingency reserve is eaten up. That is true of the contingency reserve on legislation.

Why has it been eaten up in this Session? I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, answered the point out of his own mouth. The firearms legislation is a classic case. There is a tremendous demand from everyone that there must be firearms legislation at the earliest possible moment—why are the Government dragging their feet? I must say to those who say that they cannot ride both horses. They can try, because a lot of people like riding two horses at once. But they must not be allowed to do it, because if the argument is that you must do it at once, you can be quite certain that the Bill that is then produced will not be properly prepared and thought out and will have to be substantially amended when it comes to Parliament. So the truth is that getting the balance right in legislation is extremely difficult and I wish it was easy to have a contingency and keep it.

I now come to the Criminal Justice Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has referred. He said that much has been added to it. Yes, my Lords. As I understand it, some of the provisions that are already included are not particularly liked by some of your Lordships, but many of those that have been added are liked by your Lordships; for instance, the legislation on knives which your Lordships regard as valuable and important and many of the other measures that have come into that Bill.

It is interesting that when I was Home Secretary five or six years ago there was another Criminal Justice Bill. So if the Home Office are stuffing things into this Criminal Justice Bill, they have a great precedent for doing so, because they did it five or six years ago, though not as much because I tried to stop it then, as my right honourable friend the present Home Secretary is trying not to do more now. But as the noble Lord will know very well, once you have a Criminal Justice Bill there are so many things that so many people genuinely want to put into it. That is the problem with a Criminal Justice Bill. These are all excuses, I know, for a failure to control the Government's legislative programme. I plead guilty to that.

There is another reason that I should like to put forward. It is true that when there is a large majority in another place, inevitably the mood of a government is, "Why can we not do more legislation?" It is much easier to do the legislation in another place if you have a large majority on a Standing Committee upstairs. It is quite easy to get a Bill through a Standing Committee. I have, in my time, tried to take Bills through a Standing Committee with a majority of one, but when you have a majority of five or six it is very easy and you do not worry.

If there is the possibility of a guillotine, anyway, after a period of time—and, rightly or wrongly, the other place has made the whole procedure of guillotines very much easier than it was previously; it has done so quite deliberately and it was agreed, I think, on all sides—that means that it is easier to get a Bill through. If I consistently say that it is far too big a programme to get a Bill through, I have to convince people always on the basis of the work of your Lordships' House, and there comes a moment when it is a difficult argument to produce.

Those are some of the things that happen. In the same way, it happens that there are many more representations made, inevitably, from outside, because there is more pressure. Hope always springs eternal, as I know, and the hope is that it may be possible to defeat the Government in the House of Lords, when it will manifestly not be possible to do so in another place. So all these factors have led to more pressure on our legislative time.

I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Salisbury that this year the argument about starting Bills here, which has often been relevant in the past, is not relevant. We are taking the Criminal Justice Bill now. We are already starting four Bills, some of them pretty major, in your Lordships' House—a very rare occurrence. I wish I could believe, looking at the Government's legislative programme, that that will necessarily mean that it will be easier in June and July next year. I would be a very rash man, knowing the composition of some of the Bills that are coming from another place, to make any such assertion. But at least it will not be because we did not have major Bills at the beginning of the session.

I do not think that I shall enter into the question of the dinner hour. When I came to this House I thought it was an odd procedure, but I never dared suggest to the Chief Whip that it was an odd procedure. So I just decided it was one of those things I must accept as something that always happens in the House of Lords and until today I have never thought about it, one way or the other. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and my noble friend Lord Broxbourne want to abolish it; the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, does not want to take other business in the middle of it and, on the whole, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, wants to abolish it, too.

Noble Lords


Viscount Whitelaw

He wants to keep it? I am sorry, I clearly got that quite wrong. I do not know the answer to this point and I leave it very happily in the hands of the two Chief Whips. But I have to say to your Lordships that if the Government could not put other business into the dinner hour it would clog up the legislation still further. So if there is to be a dinner hour, I think it is necessary to have some other business inserted in that place. That is how it happens. I have learned to be a good boy and believe that is right.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, raised the question of the Pilotage Bill; we ought to have a non-controversial Bill and the Pilotage Bill was too controversial. He is probably right, but there is a problem about a non-controversial Bill. A non-controversial Bill is that very Bill which never takes any time, anyway, when it is on the Floor of the House. So, by definition, it certainly does not save any time if you send it up to a Standing Committee. That is the problem, I am afraid, and I do not think there is very much of a way around it—

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, may I interrupt? Perhaps I should say a "mildly controversial Bill".

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I heard the Chief Whip make a point which I shall repeat—I am not sure that it was a very good one. It was that we thought that the Pilotage Bill was a mildly controversial one.

Lord Shackleton

You were wrong.

Viscount Whitelaw

That is why it was not a good point! On Questions and debates, obviously, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, we must try to keep Question Time brisk, varied and topical. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, raised the very important question of our treatment of privatised industries at Question Time. Perhaps I could study that further and ask the Procedure Committee to look into it. I take the point about the duty of Ministers not to answer more than two questions and to keep their remarks brief, as in particular my noble friend Lord Ferrers and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said. I know that is right. That is a very understandable fault on the part of Ministers. I constantly stress to them that it is very understandable. They feel that they should give information because this House, unlike another place, wants to get information. The other place never wanted information at Question Time; but this House does want information. Consequently Ministers feel that they should give information. I notice from time to time, if Ministers do not give sufficient information, that noble Lords get up and ask why a Minister has not answered a second point. They say that they wish to have a perfectly good answer to a simple question, and that it has not been given.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that I long for the day when I can find a Question to which I may be able to give an answer of, "No, sir". If I can find such a Question, I shall take it away from whichever Minister it concerns in order to answer it in those terms and to see what happens when I have done that. The Minister concerned may not like it, but we could try it. It is a good principle.

We want to try to make Answers as quick as we can, and we shall certainly do that; but I ask noble Lords to understand that Ministers in giving information are seeking to serve the House. It is difficult to tell them what they must do because then noble Lords complain that Ministers never give any information. We must try to achieve a balance in this matter.

As regards debates, we have the problem of the red light. The Clock was installed in 1971. The best thing to say about the red light at this moment is that it clearly is a matter which needs some further consideration. It should be given that through the usual channels. I should like to discuss that matter with the Leaders of the other parties before I put a paper forward to the Procedure Committee. It is one of those issues with which it is probably wise to proceed somewhat slowly in view of certain differences of opinion that may arise. The Clock seems to be a success; I am very worried about it at the moment. But I am not sure about the red light. I should have got on very badly with the red light.

I have a long list of noble Lords who have spoken regarding the matter of Statements. Those noble Lords who were for the findings of the report were: the noble Earl, Lord Perth, the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Henderson of Brompton, Lord Bruce of Donington, Lord Broxbourne and the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale. Those against it were the noble Lords, Lord Diamond, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Airedale, Lord Ferrier, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and Lord Harris of Greenwich. The position on that matter is pretty divided. I believe again that it is right to proceed cautiously and slowly. Some of the problems that could be faced when dealing with this were mentioned. We must face those problems together and see if we can come forward with some reasonably acceptable proposal.

Lastly, I come to the important comments about Select Committees which were made by the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton, Lord Sherfield, Lord Chorley, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and, on a slightly different point, by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. The argument was put forward that Select Committees operate on a shoestring. There was also a point made about having more ad hoc Select Committees. I should like to consider both those problems and see what we can produce. I wish to assure the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the question of specialist assistance has not yet been referred to the Staff Sub-committee but that it certainly will be.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, made an interesting point about secondment. Again, I shall consider that and see whether I can help. Despite some of the strictures made about Select Committees, I have always been told so much about the valuable work that they do and I think that they are an important part of our procedures. We must ensure that they are given the chance to work properly. I certainly take the point that their findings should be debated at a proper time.

Although I have taken a rather long time, I hope that I have done my best to do justice to a very important debate. I have tried to give your Lordships the answers to as many questions as I can. I hope that I have achieved that. I very much welcome the working group's report, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and to all the members of the group. I welcome the helpful and constructive remarks that have been made this afternoon.

I shall now proceed as I promised at the start of the debate. We shall have the discussions. We shall have the paper presented to the Procedure Committee and then we shall see what the House makes of it all. I commend the report to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.