§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 11 p.m. tonight to enable any Message from the Commons relating to the Railways Bill to be considered.
I should explain to the House that I have held discussions with the usual channels on how best to proceed in the light of events earlier this afternoon on the Railways Bill. It is my firm commitment that the House as a whole would best be served by considering any Commons Message later tonight, rather than waiting until tomorrow. I believe that the House as a whole would not wish for proceedings relating to the Bill to be deferred perhaps with consequent effect on the forthcoming business schedule both for tomorrow and (dare I say it?) for Friday.
I should make it plain that noble Lords opposite and I disagree about the course of action that I propose as is, of course, their prerogative. However, given the efforts that many noble Lords have made to be present at our proceedings today, I am sure that it would be in the best interests of the House to proceed as I have outlined.
§ Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 11 p.m. tonight.—(Lord Wakeham.)
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I beg to move as an amendment to the Motion moved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House to leave out "11 p.m. tonight" and insert "3 o'clock tomorrow afternoon". I am bound to say that I listened to what the Leader of the House said with surprise and outrage. What has happened to the Bill really is playing games with the House and with its 1135 procedures. The Government having got themselves into such a mess with the Bill, now propose to take, as I understand it, an almost unprecedented procedural step to force the House to sit at about midnight tonight so that they can ram through the legislation.
Moreover, as I understand it—although I would not say that it was a breach of an undertaking—what is proposed is certainly a breach of an understanding as to how the matter might be dealt with. I can only say to the Leader of the House that it is quite extraordinary that, in all the discussions that have taken place through the usual channels as to what might happen if votes this afternoon went the way that they did, the one possibility that was never mentioned was that the House would be brought back late tonight. On the contrary, what seemed to be accepted on all sides was that the House would today consider the Commons amendments, that the Bill would go back to the other place tonight and that it would return here at 3 o'clock tomorrow afternoon. I am bound to say that we would have gone along with that course of action.
I believe that it is an act of spleen on the part of the Government, who are so irate at having lost three votes this afternoon in relation to the Bill. It illustrates, yet again, the Government's arrogance and obduracy in relation to this piece of legislation. They have to have their own way, irrespective of the difficulties or embarrassment that that might cause to other Members of your Lordships' House. It is an unprecedented move on the part of the Government. I invite noble Lords to vote for my amendment to the Motion.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 11 p.m., to leave out "11 p.m. tonight" and insert "3 o'clock tomorrow afternoon".—(Lord Richard.)
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I wish to support very strongly the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. It is quite unreasonable to expect your Lordships' House to come back at 11 p.m. tonight. Many people have already left the House, quite unaware that any such procedure might take place. It is impossible to get in touch with them now because we do not know where they are. This is no way to treat the Opposition when we have just won three amendments. It would look to everyone as if the Government were taking advantage of the situation to push the legislation through at this time of night so that they can reverse the decision that was properly taken in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
Not only do we have tomorrow afternoon at 3 o'clock, but the Queen's Speech is not due to be given until 18th November. That means that we still have two full weeks. It is not as if the Queen's Speech was due to take place early next week. There is plenty of time to extend the length of the current Session in order to deal with the matter in a proper and fair way. I must say that I am amazed that someone like the noble Lord the Leader of the House, in whom we normally have the greatest confidence, should be party to such a procedure.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, your Lordships have heard a very grave statement from the 1136 noble Lord the Leader of the House. It goes to the very root of the standing of your Lordships' House in the constitution. Earlier today, three amendments were carried against the Government. I intervened, not on the merits of those amendments, but to submit to the House—as was obviously accepted—that your Lordships were fully entitled constitutionally to vote for the amendments and so it was.
Those amendments now go to another place. If they are accepted, I believe that I am right in saying that there is no need for them to return to this House. Therefore, the only inference is that either it is proposed to use a guillotine and Whipped majority in the other place to overturn your Lordships' decision, or at least to move wrecking amendments to those carried by your Lordships.
Earlier today, in accordance with his admirable conduct of the Bill, the noble Earl talked about the constitutional proprieties. It is difficult to think of anything more improper constitutionally than that which is now proposed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. In effect, it treats Parliament as a one-Chamber Parliament. What your Lordships say does not count at all, it will be overturned in the other place by, as I said, a Whipped majority and a guillotine majority. I humbly associate myself with the protests that have been made.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, I do not think that he has quite adequately or accurately stated the constitutional position. We have a simple issue at present: whether the Commons amendments—that is, if any are made to what we have sent to them; and they may not be made—should be considered tonight at 11 p.m., or whether they should be considered tomorrow afternoon.
Speaking for myself, I see no objection to the proposal to return at 11 o'clock tonight, for the following reason. It is a matter which we have discussed very extensively. It was discussed during the various stages of the Bill when it was before the House. Moreover, it was discussed extensively this afternoon. If we have to consider it again at 11 o'clock, it will not require a great deal of preparation on the part of any of those likely to wish to take part. It is something that we should be able to take in our stride.
As the noble and learned Lord so rightly said, we have a two-Chamber Parliament one Chamber is democratically elected, and the other has powers to ask the democratically elected Chamber and the Government to think again. We do exercise that power to a great extent. I have been told that we have amended government Bills something like 2,000 times in each of the Sessions of recent years. Moreover, they have accepted something like 95 per cent. of our amendments. There is a degree of co-operation between the two Houses and I would have thought that at this very late stage of this Session for us to try to get the matter disposed of at 11 o'clock tonight rather than putting it over until three o'clock tomorrow is perfectly reasonable and something which we should try not to object to doing.
1137 But may I just mention that if we put this over until three o'clock tomorrow it will, of course, delay the start—it might be quite a long delay in view of the attitude of some noble Lords—of the other business for tomorrow which I see from my Whip will consist of the consideration of Commons amendments to the European Economic Area Bill. That could take some time. Then there are two Northern Ireland orders to be discussed. In normal circumstances, those orders might not take long, but some noble Lords may wish to use the opportunity for making constructive suggestions as to the solving of the terrible problems in Northern Ireland. No, I think it is better that we should get this over and done with tonight. I would just add that if another place accepts the amendments which we have made today, then it will be over in about two seconds tonight.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am one of those who have on many occasions taken advantage of the procedures of this House in order to ensure that we have votes sometimes late at night. I have been accused of the most utter perfidy by my political opponents on those grounds. However, I would remind the House that when we occasionally have ambushes on Bills, we do so during votable business. We do so when the notice of the business to be conducted has already been properly notified to the House and it is well known that at any time any noble Lord could move an amendment and have noble Lords present to support an amendment. I suggest that the present situation is entirely different, and I ask your Lordships to consider whether it is proper for us to consider our personal convenience. Clearly, personal convenience in these matters must take a very low rank in our considerations.
The matter with which we must be concerned is that the House was summoned this afternoon to deal with our amendments to the Railways Bill. The House has dealt with those matters. It has never been suggested in the notice of business that this should be continued after further Commons consideration. What is being proposed to be imposed upon the House is an ambush of the worst kind—an ambush which does not appear in the business before the House. I suggest to your Lordships that that is a much more serious matter than any of the other considerations which we might have. It is obvious that noble Lords opposite on the Government Benches have been told what other Members of the House have not been told.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, why are they here? It is patently obvious that noble Lords on the Government Benches have been asked to stay behind to deal with this matter further.
§ Lord Clark of Kempston
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I wish to tell him in no uncertain terms and with sincerity that under no circumstances have I been told that I should stay later than a particular time. I have not been told to do that, and I do not think any of my noble friends on this side of the House have been asked to stay until nine o'clock, 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock or whatever.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I of course accept what the noble Lord says. However, it is a remarkable fact that noble Lords on the Government Benches appear to be here in very large numbers to hear the Motion being put that the House should adjourn during pleasure until 11 o'clock tonight. If ever I hear criticism of the actions of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I shall finish my sentence if I may. If ever I hear criticism of the actions of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition in procedural matters, I will remind those who make those criticisms of the outrageous suggestion that is now being put before the House by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House a simple question. Obviously, these Benches have no collective view each person speaks as an individual. However, each person has played a part in this issue. I recognise that we are not part of the usual channels but were there any discussions with our representative as regards this matter? I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will answer that question when he rises to speak.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, I should point out that at six o'clock—an hour and a quarter ago—a statement was made that the House was to adjourn for one hour and that it would reconvene at seven o'clock. Therefore we stayed here until seven o'clock to hear the Business Statement purely and simply on that basis.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, it seems to me this matter is not simply a constitutional matter but is a matter that is of great importance for this House. We are in a situation where the noble Lord the Leader of the House has—doubtless under pressure from another place—had to come before your Lordships' House to tell us we must meet at 11 o'clock tonight. As he said, this has been done without the agreement of the usual channels. That is a serious matter. If this House is to run properly, it has to be run by agreement. I would remind the noble Lord the Leader of the House that he has two duties one is to the Government, the Government party and to the Cabinet; and the other is to your Lordships' House. In discharging that second duty, it seems to me that it should be his duty, wherever possible, to carry the usual channels with him. I have to say that tonight that has not even been attempted. We were brought into a meeting and we were asked whether we would agree to come back at 11 o'clock. We said, no. That was the end of the argument. This is no way to treat your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lady Seear said, there is no need for this haste. It is foolish, it is madness and it is arrogant. We have plenty of time to deal with Commons. amendments if the Government so wish. The Government want to get this business through tonight regardless of what your Lordships think. This 1139 steamrollering of business through your Lordships' House is bad for Parliament as a whole but particularly for your Lordships.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I would say to the noble Lord that the reason so many of us on these Benches are present tonight is because noble Lords on this side of the House were determined to be here to see the Railways Bill through tonight. For my part, I am assembled not only on special summons but on the basis that we shall deal with the amendments and the amendments which come back from another place. The noble Lord said the business for today was limited to amendments to the Railways Bill. That is indeed what we shall return to discuss later tonight.
A further point has not yet been made—I agree wholeheartedly with what my noble friend Lord Renton said—as regards the purpose and the role of this House. To suggest, as the noble Lord opposite suggested, that this is a matter of personal convenience is unworthy of this House. If we cannot put personal convenience on one side to deal properly with a matter which has been widely debated and which we wish to see go through tonight for the reasons my noble friend on the Front Bench gave, it would be most unfortunate. I hope therefore that we shall accept the Motion of my noble friend and reject the amendment of the noble Lord on the Opposition Benches.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope he will address the following point. He said that he and his friends were here in such vast numbers because they wished to see the Railways Bill through tonight. Will he tell us when he first realised that there was a possibility of seeing the Railways Bill through tonight and who told him?
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I certainly would have been unwise to have predicted in advance of today's business the result of today's votes. The outcome that has arisen was clearly a possibility—that is, that the proceedings had to be returned to another place. That was part of the business of this House in dealing with the Railways Bill tonight.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, about voting on business of which we have notice has been the practice of this House for upwards of 300 years. While listening to the debate, I have been asking myself what precedents I can recall for this House voting on a major piece of business without notice. The only one that comes to mind is the Third Reading of the Bill for the attainder of the Earl of Strafford. The precedent is not a happy one. I hope that we shall not follow it.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I hope that some accommodation can be reached. It seems extraordinary that assumptions were made so generally on the Benches opposite that the business of the House had been concluded when the House had merely been adjourned in order for the future handling of business to be announced. The assumption is that the Leader of the House and the House itself are bound thereby to go 1140 rejoicing home and come back tomorrow as often as is necessary. As I understand it, the business of the House is not concluded until the House rises at the end of the day. It has not done so. Eleven o'clock is not very late by our standards. The noble Lord, who is in the position of one of the foolish virgins in this analogy, can certainly interrupt.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his great courtesy. As I understand it, this place runs on the basis not necessarily of agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, put it, but at least on the basis of proper consultation between the usual channels and some consideration of the position of the Cross Benchers. That has been dismissed on this occasion. Does the noble Lord believe that it is in the best interests of the House that the Government should throw overboard that common courtesy which is the hallmark of proceedings of this House?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I do not speak for the usual channels. The usual channels are made up of all the parties thereto. I speak as a Back-Bencher. I make the simple point that as a Back-Bencher I do not regard the business of the House as finished until the House rises at the end of that business. That it has not done, and to continue until the business is finished is perfectly normal.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I must add my protest against the statement made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. With great respect to him, I believe that what he said to the House is deplorable. The Government are showing contempt for your Lordships' House and contempt for their own.
This is an important Bill, and we have given it careful attention. I hope that the public outside will gain some understanding of what is happening at this time in the procedures of the House. They will see that there are occasions when procedure, programme and timetable compel the elected assembly and the associated assembly of the House of Lords to subordinate themselves to procedural considerations to the denial of proper time for discussion.
In this matter the Lords' amendments were dealt with by the other place under a guillotine. We are about to send amendments to the other place, and they will probably be returned under a closure motion. Then we shall be asked to pass the Commons' rejection of our amendments or face a parliamentary crisis. That is grossly unfair.
What is at stake here? There are two weeks before the State Opening on 18th November. There is no reason at all why two or three days more should not be devoted to the concluding stages of this Bill. Why must it be tonight, or even tomorrow? We could devote a few days next week to the matter. Why should we subordinate the procedures of the House to the demands of the Government's programme?
This is an insolent statement to make to your Lordships' House. After all the attention we have given to the matter we are told that we have had long enough and have gone over the ground before. What is 1141 Parliament for except to go over ground? We go over ground all the time. That is how democracy functions. That is how a better understanding can be reached.
Further time should be given for the other place in particular to consider what we have to say. In many respects what we have put to the other place is what public opinion is calling for. The Government will not face the fact that this is an unpopular Bill, in both Houses and in the country. They cannot see the need for further discussion and how the proposed changes, which are fundamental to an industry of great tradition and history, will make all the difference to the future of the rail ways.
If the Opposition have any strong feelings that would lead to a rebellion I say that they should move the adjournment of the House and that we should be ready to meet at greater convenience to dispose of the business. Why should we be at the say-so of the Government and the Benches opposite in discharging our functions in this House? Why can we not insist on having a will of our own? This is our own House. We are not put here to be door mats for the other place. I protest. I have been here 20 years and have not seen the equal of this situation in that time.
The public probably do not know from the short paragraphs in the press what the manoeuvrings of parties and procedures in the House amount to, but I believe that the rights of a democratic House are being flouted. It is no good Members of the Opposition wagging their heads. They have to face the fact that they have a duty to discharge, as we have. They will be failing in their duty if they knuckle under to what the Government have said to the House.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I spoke earlier about what I see as the constitutional position of individual Members of this House in regard to today's business. I should like to touch on what I see as the constitutional situation before us and to make a few other remarks.
First, it is within our constitution for the Government to ask the House to sit later this evening and consider further business. However, it is a discourtesy to individual Members of this House to suggest that further business will be conducted very late this evening without prior notice. If there were a dire national emergency it would be perfectly justifiable for the Government to adopt that point of view. Everyone would accept it. However, I suggest that we are not in a dire national emergency. If we are, perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House will explain what it is. I do not believe that we are in such a position.
Having said that, possibly it is reasonable for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to say that we need to consider what the other place says in response to the Message that we sent them earlier this afternoon. However, the implication of what he suggests is that not only will we listen to what the other place has to say but also that we will make a decision about it. That is the fundamental flaw in the Government's argument. I do not see this as a party point. I see it more in terms of respect for the position of individual Members of the House of Lords. We do not yet know what Message the other place will send back to us. If, without prior notice, 1142 we are expected at 11 o'clock tonight to make a decision on that Message that would be a grave discourtesy to individual Members of this House.
I plead with the Government to take on board what I heard on the television news at 6 o'clock this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was reported as saying that if the other place disagreed with our amendments he would not press the issue to further Divisions. From a personal point of view I disagree with that apparent decision of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I believe that we have a responsibility to consider what the other place has to say regarding the matter and to take a deliberative point of view. I do not believe that it is up to anyone to make a pre-judgment.
However, on the basis that this House will sit at 3 p.m. tomorrow, there will be time to take a deliberative decision on whatever the other place decides on the matter. It is important that we realise that on the Minutes of Proceedings available to Members of the House, we were advised that the House would sit tomorrow at 3 o'clock; and that the House would sit on Monday. Therefore there was forewarning to Members of this House that they could expect to sit both tomorrow and on Monday.
There is ample opportunity for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to give individual Members due notice of the business that is likely to be placed in front of them so that they can take a reasoned decision.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords., I shall speak more briefly than the previous speaker. I am disappointed to see such smart alec tactics employed by Members on the Benches opposite receiving such support.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, I do not apologise for making a short point because we have so many hours in which to do so. Having served another place for more than 30 years, I wish to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House this question. What will he do if the Commons has not reached a judgment by 11 o'clock?
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, it is no good referring to the guillotine. I have taken part in points of order in another place that have continued for three hours. The Commons might well repeat that procedure tonight. There will then be a guillotine. There is therefore a possibility that we shall not have received a Message by 11 o'clock. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House tell us what he will do in that eventuality?
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I suppose that the Government are perfectly entitled to do what they are doing. Indeed, it is the kind of House of Commons ploy that we are used to. But it is not in accordance with the traditions of this House to have something forced upon us, in particular when an assumed gentleman's agreement has been breached. That is the point that worries me. The usual channels apparently were given the impression that if the Lords disagreed with the Commons, the Commons would 1143 consider the amendments today, and that if the Commons disagreed with our amendments the matter would be brought before the House tomorrow.
It is perfectly in order for people to object to the House being kept until 11 o'clock. The Notices and Orders of the Day refers specifically to "a Message" from the House of Commons. Noble Lords were entitled to believe that all that would be considered today was the single Message after the House of Commons had considered any disagreement coming from your Lordships' House. We now suddenly find that the House is to sit at 11 o'clock or perhaps much later; it could sit throughout the night. Noble Lords are suddenly faced with such a situation without due notice and for no good reason so far as I can see. The noble Lord the Leader of the House omitted to give any reason why we should sit at 11 o'clock tonight, and perhaps thereafter for a long period. He did not say to the House, "For these reasons we believe it necessary." I hope that when the noble Lord responds on his Motion, he will give reasons why it is necessary for us to sit again later, and perhaps into tomorrow morning, when there is plenty of time available from 3 o'clock tomorrow.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, this is yet another case of a government who are supposed to be dedicated to democracy trampling over democracy. A Question was asked today on future legislation. The noble Lord the Leader of the House answered in the affirmative on the Government's commitment to democracy.
I took the trouble to find out what has happened to democracy under this Government. In the past 12 months between 3,000 and 4,000 statutory instruments have been used to push legislation through both Houses with no chance of reversal. So much for democracy.
However, I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House—he is an old friend; he was Chief Whip when I attended another place—that he knows as well as I do that although the Government can have all the power in another place, in this House they can function effectively only with the good will of the House through the usual channels. The noble Lord the Leader of the House has not made out a legitimate case as to why consultation through the usual channels has been ignored. The option of a reasonable period for discussion being available tomorrow having been withdrawn, and the Government having deliberately broken the arrangement through the usual channels, I remind the Leader of the House that on 18th November we commence a new legislative Session. There will be extremely controversial legislation, some of which will cross the party divides. Does he believe that Members on this side of the House, unnecessarily given a bloody nose by him today, will wish to accommodate the Government in the new Session? I must warn the noble Lord that if the Opposition decide to suspend the arrangement through the usual channels, it will become extremely difficult for the Government to function and to pass legislation.
I hope that the noble Lord will consider that point. If I have any influence in the next Session, I shall sabotage and slow down the Government's programme on every 1144 occasion that I can. I do not believe that the Government can expect otherwise after the appalling Act that they are pushing through tonight.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, with my noble friends Lord Carmichael, Lady Turner, and Lord Ewing, it has been my privilege to represent the Opposition in the conduct of the Bill. We have had sharp differences of opinion. However, at the end of the day, the courtesies of the House have prevailed. Indeed, that was reflected in the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, when we completed the Third Reading of the Bill. As I sought to suggest in my intervention to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this House is different from another place. Many of us have attended another place; it is more turbulent. But at the end of the day this House depends for its proper functioning upon the co-operation of noble Lords who are not necessarily on the Government Benches. Nor indeed can noble Lords on the Government Benches be taken for granted, as we have perceived over recent weeks.
Therefore, I am extraordinarily disappointed that the noble Lord the Leader of the House—he was a colleague of mine in another place; he has a high reputation—should have been prepared to risk that reputation on the instructions of his colleagues in government in another place. Clearly, that has been the situation. As has been said, the noble Lord the Leader of the House owes a duty to this House. That is the job of the Leader of this House, as it is the job of the Leader in another place. I believe that he has not fulfilled that duty.
It has been quite extraordinary. The Government have been asked, "Why the haste? Why have they had to push this Bill through when we are not meeting for the opening of the new Session until 18th November?" Why did they have to have a guillotine in another place when they could have completed the discussions there certainly by the beginning of next week? Why did we have to ensure that there was a completion of discussions here as rapidly as has been the case?
Of course, it is because the Government have been anxious throughout to truncate discussion. That has been the situation in another place and I believe that what happened there was scandalous. However, what has happened tonight is even more scandalous. We are not talking about delaying the Bill for days, weeks, or anything of that kind. We are thinking in terms of suggesting a perfectly practical proposition which is that it would have been appropriate to meet tomorrow.
What do the Government lose by that? The noble Lord the Leader of the House has not begun to explain his case. Perhaps he will in concluding. I ask him to deal specifically with those two points why the rush when we have got two weeks to go? Why not enable us to deal with this matter in a perfectly civilised way?
I am very disappointed in the noble Lord. I am disappointed that he has resorted to a shabby and discreditable tactic. He ought to be ashamed of himself. I do not blame the rest of the noble Lords on that Front Bench because they have no control over the situation. The determining factor is of course the Secretary of 1145 State in another place—the great magician, the man who has resorted to some pretty shabby tactics elsewhere. But that is another matter.
I do not think that the noble Lord can be insensitive to the views that have been reflected on this side of the House and from the Cross-Benches tonight. He risks a great deal. My noble friends Lord Stoddart and Lord Dean reflected upon the need for co-operation in the coming Session of Parliament. What right has the noble Lord to expect co-operation? What right have he and his colleagues to expect us to go along with everything they say? Yes, we go through the formalities of debate; but at the end of the day it is the arrogance of power which seems to have consumed them, and which will prevail.
One good thing about this—and I believe that ultimately it is a good thing—is that we hope that the public outside will have been able to reflect on what the Government have been doing in relation to this vastly unpopular Bill. They will have been able to see that the Government have been, if not abusing the processes of this House, at least treating Members with contempt. The public will have seen that that is how the Government characteristically behave these days. It does not redound to their advantage and I believe it will not redound to their advantage when the tests of public opinion come to be made.
The situation would be risible if it were not so serious. How is it that all these noble Lords—many quite elderly—are required to stay to all hours in order to justify a procedure which prevents them from coming back tomorrow afternoon to discuss matters? I do not mind; I shall be here later, and I shall be prepared to enjoin the discussion at considerable length, if necessary. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, knows that I can go on indefinitely.
The fact of the matter is that the Government ought not to behave in this way. I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to think again, not simply from the point of view of this House and future progress in relation to other business in the next Session. I ask him to think again because it is his honour that is also at stake.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, no one could regret it more than I when it is not possible to reach an agreement between the usual channels as to the best way to proceed. As most noble Lords know, I have spent most of my political life, in one form or another, working in the usual channels, hoping to find ways of proposing the dispatch of Business which are in the best interests of the House in which I previously had the honour to sit and, since I have been here, in your Lordships' House.
I have proposed a course of action tonight because, as I said before, it is my firm commitment that it is the best way to proceed. I believe that the House is best served by considering any Commons Messages later on tonight rather than waiting until tomorrow.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, it is more for the convenience of the House. I have proposed that and I fully recognise that noble Lords opposite have taken a 1146 different view. When the usual channels break down in this way and we are not able to reach an agreement, I have always known—and it has happened occasionally in the past, in my experience—that the recollections of what various people are supposed to have said on those occasions are not exactly the same. I am not prepared, either on this occasion or any future occasion, to discuss the details of those talks, except to say that my recollections of them are not quite the same as some indications that we have heard.
If your Lordships remember, what I said to the House shortly after 5.30 this evening, was that I proposed a Motion, having discussed it briefly with the Leader of the Opposition, that the House should adjourn during pleasure so that discussions could take place through the usual channels as to what was the best way to proceed. The implication in that discussion must have been at least that there was a possibility that the Government would come back to your Lordships' House at seven o'clock to suggest that we proceed with any Commons Message later this evening. There would be no point in adjourning during pleasure from shortly after half-past-five to seven o'clock if there were no possibility whatsoever that we should come back this same day to deal with the matter.
I fully recognise that noble Lords opposite think that I have reached the wrong decision. I have reached the decision which I believe is in the best interests of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, is correct in saying that I had no discussions with him. I am not quite sure what I would have said to him if I had said, "We were not able to reach any agreement". I am afraid that I may have misjudged him, but I assumed that he would not have found it convenient to have discussions. Certainly, in his remarks he did not indicate that he would find it convenient. I had to assume that that was what he felt.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House; but, with the greatest respect, he misunderstands the position. The Cross-Benches do not have a view, they are individuals. They have a convenor. One of the strengths of this House, I believe, is that it is not comprised of full-time politicians. Therefore, it is assumed that people have other things to do. I should have thought that it was a minimum courtesy—this is nothing whatever to do with me—it would at least have been courteous to have sought to establish whether any Members of the Cross-Benches had a view. They are not part of the usual channels, for perfectly understandable reasons, and should at least be given the opportunity, given that, as I understand it, this is not a resort for full-time professional politicians, to say whether they have a view. There was time to do that. I repeat that this has nothing to do with me, the Cross-Benches exist, they are a significant part of this House. I believe that they are one of the strengths of this House and I am, to say the least, surprised.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, of course I apologise to the noble Lord if we have omitted to have any discussions with him or with the convenor. There is perhaps a great distinction between this House and another place. In this House the Government do not 1147 merely put down the business tonight. They put a Motion before the House. There is a difference. The House decides.
As Leader of the House, I have to do my best to put before the House what I believe is in the best interests of the House. I considered the matter as best I could, and I came to the House at 7 o'clock with a proposition. If the House does not like my proposition, the House has the remedy in its own hands. I believe that I have given good reasons why I believe it right to proceed in the way that I have suggested. But I am not a dictator in these matters. The House ought to decide the matter, as is proper for it so to do.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, it is all very well for the Leader of the House to stand there saying that he thinks that the arrangement is in the best interests of the House. He does not tell us why he thinks that it is in the best interests of the House. I can clearly see why he thinks that it is in the best interests of the Government. But what on earth that has to do with the interests of this House in considering the matter at 11 o'clock or midnight tonight as opposed to tomorrow afternoon at three I have no idea.
I must also say to the Leader of the House—I say it as relatively gently as I can—that he really must spare us, pulling this trick on us as he is tonight, words of how sad he is that the usual channels did not function. The usual channels did not function because he did not try to make the usual channels function.
He says he will not reveal what happens in the usual channels. So be it. I merely remind him that he partly revealed the brief conversation that he and I had. He did not say to me at 6 o'clock (or whatever time it was) "By the way, we might want to do it tonight, you know". Not a word. Not a syllable. He springs it on us in a meeting at 6.45 p.m., and merely tells us: "That is what I am going to do". He has done it. No doubt he will be supported in the Lobbies by the mass of people behind him the payroll vote, the anonymous vote and all the other people who have turned up. They will no doubt vote for the Motion. But I tell the noble Lord that he is doing himself no good at all by proceeding in this way.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, the Question is that the consideration of any Message from the Commons relating to the Railways Bill should be taken at 3 p.m. tomorrow.
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 81.1148
|Division No. 5|
|Addington, L.||Attlee, E.|
|Addison, L.||Auckland, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Beaumont of Whitley, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Birk, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Blackstone, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Bonham-Carter, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Marsh, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Cross, V.||Monkswell, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Monson, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Nicol, B.|
|David, B.||Norrie, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Richard, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Russell, E.|
|Grey, E.||Seear, B.|
|Hamwee, B.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Howell, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Tordoff, L. [Teller]|
|Kinnoull, E.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Kissin, L.||Waverley, V.|
|Lawrence, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Lockwood, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Hothfield, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Howe, E.|
|Arran, E.||Huntly, M.|
|Astor, V.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Barber, L.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Kenilworth, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Lindsay, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Long, V.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Bruntislield, L.||[Lord Chancellor.]|
|Caithness, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Norfolk, D.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Oppenheim-Bames, B.|
|Clark of Kempston, L||Oxfuird, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Cranborne, V.||Parkinson, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Prentice, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Renton, L.|
|Denham, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Seccombe, B.|
|Dudley, E.||Selsdon, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Elton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Flather, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||[Teller.]|
|Gisborough, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Ullswater, V. [Teller]|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Henley, L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||[Lord Privy Seal.]|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, the Motion is obviously debatable and should be debated. It is said that we are adjourning during pleasure, but there is no pleasure 1149 available to us. We have to be provided with the nutriment with which to face the on-coming hours in the morning. Can the Leader of the House say what arrangements have been made for our comfort, or is that something else which has escaped the notice of the Government?
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, on that issue, we have a three-hour gap. There are quite a number of private enterprises in the form of restaurants and hotels available. I do not see why we should not give some encouragement to those private enterprises.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, the snack bar is open. because I have just been there.
§ On Question, original Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.3 to 11 p.m.]
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, after our debate earlier this evening I now approach the Dispatch Box again with some trepidation. The House having agreed to adjourn during pleasure, which at the time I understood would be the earliest possible moment for the House to consider any Message from the Commons relating to the Railways Bill, I now have to report to the House that the Message, like Godot, has not yet arrived. I can only apologise sincerely to the House. In the circumstances I must again place myself in your Lordships' hands. I anticipate that, following the earlier decision of the House and given the attendance of so many of your Lordships, it would be the wish of the House to proceed with the consideration of the Commons Message as soon as possible.
§ Lord Wakeham
My understanding is that the Message should arrive from the Commons shortly. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that the House should adjourn during pleasure until 11.30. However, if a Message does not arrive by 11.30 I would propose that the House adjourns for the night. Once again, I can only offer the House my sincere apologies.
§ Moved, That the House do adjourn during pleasure until 11.30 p.m.—(Lord Wakeham.)
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, is the Leader of the House really telling us that, despite all the protestations we had this evening at 7 o'clock that it had to be done tonight and that it was in the best interests of the House and everyone else that it should be done tonight, if the Message does not come in another half an hour then all those good reasons for doing it tonight will disappear and we shall do it tomorrow? Is that really what the Leader of the House is telling us?
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, what I said earlier is that I thought it would be for the convenience of the House to deal with it tonight. I thought that it was in the interests of the whole House. That is my responsibility and that is why I proposed it. I have given the House my 1150 opinion. However, if the noble Lord disagrees with my view I am very happy to have discussions through the usual channels—
§ Lord Wakeham
If he would like to give me in a private discussion any good reasons why we should go on past 11.30, of course I shall listen with great interest to what he has to say. My own view is that we should adjourn during pleasure until 11.30. If the Message has not arrived at that time, I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House to adjourn for the night.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the answer to my question is yes. In other words, the good reasons that were there at 7 o'clock disappear by 11.30 if the Message has not come. I am bound to say to the Leader of the House that this is making a mockery of the procedures of the House.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I have to say that this is becoming very low comedy indeed. If it is now possible for your Lordships' House to consider the Message tomorrow if within the next 27 minutes a Message does not arrive, then even if the Message does arrive it is possible for your Lordships' House to consider the Message tomorrow. I beg the noble Lord the Leader of the House to recognise that it is in the interests of the House as a whole and not merely of the Government to put this discussion back until after 3 o'clock tomorrow.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the noble Lord has no authority whatsoever to speak of the view of the House as a whole. He used that phrase. It may be his view but mine certainly is that it is very good sense to get this matter settled as soon as possible. There is a chance that it can be done by half-past eleven. Having waited as long as this, it is good sense that we accept the invitation of the Leader of the House, do the sensible thing and get the matter cleared up. The noble Lord should not bring the manners of another place to this House.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
He should not do that. He. is on record as saying that when we returned at 11 o'clock he would make us squirm and that we would be here for a long time. The noble Lord said that. That sort of language is not in keeping with this House. That kind of manoeuvre is not in keeping with the behaviour of this House. It may be in keeping with the behaviour of another place. We have shown patience until 11 o'clock and we can extend that patience until half-past eleven and then we can all go home happy.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, if the noble Lord believes that half-past eleven is the magic hour, why not half-past twelve, half-past one or half-past two? I wish to make just one point. When the Leader of the House referred to the usual channels. I must remind him that by what he has done tonight he has undermined the authenticity and the authority of the usual channels. By 1151 so doing he has done grave damage to this House and its conventions which he, above all people, as Leader of the House, is meant to protect.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that on the Order Paper for Monday, 8th November, there are provisionally four Starred Questions, and that thereafter the Order Paper is completely blank? In view of that, do both Front Benches agree that we should now adjourn?
§ Lord Wigoder
My Lords, is there any limit to the hours of undiluted pleasure which Members of your Lordships' House can enjoy in one evening?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The sitting was suspended from 11.7 to 11.30 p.m.]
§ Moved, That the House do now adjourn. - (Lord Wakeham.)
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for moving that Motion. It is a great pity that he did not do it at 7 o'clock when he should have done it, instead of which he subjected the House and, I think, a large part of the Palace of Westminster and certainly an interested public to the farce of watching the Government do a total U-turn. May I say to the Leader of the House what I think that one of his colleagues once said to another Member of Parliament? Perhaps at this stage he should go and lie down in a darkened room, keep on taking the pills and ponder on his future.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I join with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in astonishment that the noble Lord the Leader of the House should have led us into this position. I recognise that it is not his personal fault and that he has been driven to this by persons outside, but he should, as I said earlier, recognise that he 1152 has a role not only as a member of the Government but as the Leader of this House to look after our interests as well as the interests of the Government. It is very sad that we should be forced into this position tonight.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.