HL Deb 26 July 1990 vol 521 cc1621-2

11.35 a.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, perhaps I may begin again. I wish briefly to raise one point on business of which I have informed the Leader of the House. I do so before we disperse after this long, hot July but without wishing to take too portentously the last rows of summer which have always been a certain feature of this stage in our parliamentary year.

Last Tuesday in winding up the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, rebuked my noble friend Lord Russell and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for not acting in keeping with the traditions of the House or within the spirit of the way in which we conduct our business. Those were quite strong words. I do not think that they were either called for or accurate. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, immediately called attention to the precedent of the Duncan Sandys Motion in December 1977. The precedent was almost exact. The Government were not denied that order but they were asked to do something as well as the order.

However, on Tuesday I had not had the pleasure of seeing the Division List on that occasion which I found extremely instructive reading. Those voting for the Motion in alphabetical order—I make only a few selections—begin with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who is very fond of lecturing us on constitutional matters. They continue with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, who was Conservative Chief Whip at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who

Although one should never expect sons slavishly to follow father—in particular when there is a change of parties—nonetheless perhaps the final irony was that the Teller for the Motion was the late Lord Henley, father of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. There are many other precedents, both from the 1970s, when one Party was in Government, and from the 1980s when another Party was in Government.

I believe that there is a tendency when Opposition parties act in a perfectly legitimate way but an inconvenient one, for Government business managers to lecture us more in sorrow than in anger as though we were boys caught smoking behind the chapel and behaving in a way which rather let the school down. I am bound to say that I believe these rebukes were not entirely called for. But it would in any case be wise before making them to make sure that the headmaster, the staff and all the prefects have themselves not merely been having a few puffs but a positive orgy in the same place.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for warning me that he wished to raise this matter today. I should like first to say quite straight to the noble Lord that the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was indeed not against the rules of your Lordships' House and that the Motion was precedented.

However, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that on that evening it was by no means clear what the effect of the Motion would have been. The noble Lord, quite rightly, and skilfully, gave one precedent which he spelt out. However, worded as the Motion was that evening, I asked myself as that Motion was being debated whether, if it had been passed by your Lordships' House, noble Lords would then have risen to say that it would not have been right to take the regulations.

I simply say that if that had occurred we could then have found ourselves in a position where the perfectly honourable procedural device which the noble Earl on the Liberal Benches had adopted might not have had the effect that the noble Earl had wished.

We were therefore in some relatively uncharted waters. I am sure therefore that your Lordships will readily understand why my noble friend Lord Henley from the Government Front Bench questioned whether the House should be seeking to pass a parallel Motion of censure on the Government while intending to accept the orders which were before the House.

Perhaps I may conclude by making one suggestion. These are rather difficult procedural matters to talk about on the Floor of your Lordships' House. I should like to express the hope that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will have taken notice of these proceedings so that he may see fit to make some comment in his annual review of the workings of the House.