HL Deb 18 July 1990 vol 521 cc863-6

3.15 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended until the end of the Session.—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House will be disturbed by the Motion moved by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal. It is of course true that his Motion is in order but, nevertheless, it is unusual, and it is due to the Government's insistence on overloading the legislative programme.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we have reached the position where, day by day, the Committee stage of a variety of heavy, controversial Bills, is taken without regard not merely for noble Lords responsible for the Bill on the government side but for those on these Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Cross-Benches. It lays a heavy burden upon noble Lords. It cannot be repeated too often—it is not a matter to be taken lightly—that noble Lords are overworked due to the Government's insistence on overloading the legislative programme and, if I may say so, the incompetent way in which they deal with the legislation.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I therefore make a protest. The words of the Motion are: That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended until the end of the Session". We do not yet know when the end of the Session will be. It would be more appropriate and more courteous to the House if the noble Lord's Motion read that, "(No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended until the Recess". That would at least give the House time to consider the implications of the Motion.

I shall say no more at this stage because I have spoken on this issue at this time of the year for the past four or five years. I again register my protest about the way in which legislation is being dealt with by the Government. The country is beginning to realise that as well. The country realises that there is far too much legislation—more legislation than can be digested by the courts, dealt with by the draftsmen and properly explained by noble Lords opposite. Having registered my protest, I give notice that I shall raise the matter again if necessary.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also express our regret at the fact that the Government have decided to suspend the Standing Order. It is not merely a matter of overloading Members of the House with work, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said; it also means that it is impossible for the House to do its job properly.

If there is a reason to bring up a matter a third time before Third Reading, as is often the case, if two stages are taken on the same day adequate preparation cannot be made and we are therefore unable to carry out the proper revising job that we are here to do. It is once again evidence of the way in which the Government increasingly steamroller both Houses of Parliament.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, perhaps I may say in defence of my noble friends on the Front Bench that I remember my noble friend Lord Denham making the same speech as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, at a time when some of his friends were on the Treasury Bench. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has always made it because she has always been on the Liberal Benches. It is a complaint made by all Oppositions at all times. Governments put on "po-faces" and say that they are terribly sorry, they have pushed business slightly. The Opposition make strong arguments about it being a constitutional outrage and I suspect that if the hereditary principle continues, my son, grandson and great-grandson will hear the same story. There is nothing new about it, so let us not get upheaved, let us allow the Government to get their business through.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the point made by the noble Earl is not valid. This Government were elected on the basis that they would put through Parliament much less legislation and bring forward considerably fewer Bills. The point raised by my noble friend from the Front Bench, supported by the noble Baroness, is valid.

Because of the weight of government business we have to take important Bills and hold important discussions on a Friday. For example, as I understand it, we shall have a discussion on the economy this Friday now that we have received the Finance Bill. It is my view that discussions of that kind on important Bills ought not to be on a Friday when many Members of the House cannot be present. I therefore hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will take that fact on board as well as the points raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is quite right; he has raised this point on several occasions. However, the fact that it has been repeated several times does not necessarily give it a strong base. I suggest that the House ought to carry out a little self-discipline on this issue.

It is perfectly true that the hours we keep are unreasonable compared with what they used to be. It is perfectly true that we spend many more hours than we need in order to carry out our job properly. However it is also true that in the 16 years during which I have been in your Lordships' House there has been a grave deterioration in debates, with noble Lords repeating the same point again and again. That is what takes up time and necessitates extra hours. I was used to that in another place because one knows perfectly well that people there wish to impress their constituents. If a good point is made, they repeat it in the hope that the local paper will report it as their idea in the first place. We do not have that. There is no need for us to take that into consideration.

I have always had the understanding about the Second Chamber that once a point has been made it is known that it will be recorded and is on the record to be dealt with. There is no need to do what we have done in the past year and the year before that—repeat the same point over and over again.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I take seriously the point raised by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, as well as other noble Lords. Before I reply, perhaps I may make one point. It is right to remember at the end of a long summer that this House operates by agreement. In that regard we must be unique among legislative chambers around the world. As Leader of the House, therefore, I am the first to recognise that the House relies on the way in which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip and his Front Bench represent the constitutional position of the Opposition in seeing that the House is able to run smoothly.

In that context I wish to give two replies. The first concerns the bona fides of my moving this Motion. The brief I have in front of me—if the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will forgive me saying so—is contrary to his accusation that although in order this is unusual. It says that at this time of year it is usual for us to take the step of suspending Standing Order 44 in order to take more than one stage of a Bill in one day. In case noble Lords opposite think that I am trying to put a cloak over what I am doing, I make it clear that the two Bills which I, as Leader of the House, have in mind are the Finance Bill and the Consolidated Fund Bill. We normally move this Motion because of those two Bills at this time of the year.

In addition, while on this occasion I move the Motion to take effect until the end of the Session, I give a personal undertaking to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that no Bill will be put down for more than one stage on any one day without agreement through the usual channels.

There has been a general feeling during this exchange by all noble Lords that nonetheless the House is being worked too hard. I am delighted that the House has put on record how very hard it works. Once again representing the House as a whole, I believe that to be absolutely true. However, I gently say to your Lordships that this year we intend to rise on Thursday 26th July. I like to think that that is reasonable and I hope that we shall now move towards rising on that date.

On Question, Motion agreed to.