§ ORDERED TO REPORT:
§ 1.SITTINGS OF THE HOUSE
§ The Leader of the House laid before the Committee the report of the Group appointed by him to "consider the practices and procedures of the House in so far as they affect sittings of the House". The Committee took note with approval of his intention to arrange for the report to be printed and published with a view to the holding of a debate in the spillover period after the summer recess after which the Committee will consider the report in detail together with the views of the House expressed on it in the debate.
§ The Committee has considered a report on the experimental Special Standing Committee on the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [H.L.].
§ In its First Report, Session 1992–93, the Committee endorsed the view of the Government that two or three Bills might be considered in this way, with the Committee thereafter assessing the results of the experiment. The Committee will accordingly make a full report when one or two more Bills have been dealt with in this way. At this stage the Committee makes the following observations and recommendations:
- (1) The procedure has already proved a valuable addition to the scrutiny function of the House.
- (2) The relevant Department should be invited to produce with each Bill a summary of consultation undertaken, with an indication of representations received and changes made.
- (3) The twenty-eight day period within which the Committee may take evidence should in future run from the date on which the Committee is appointed instead of from the Second Reading of the Bill and should be extended in the case of any adjournment of the House for more than three days.
- (4) Although the consideration of evidence has to be completed within the twenty-eight day period, the Committee need feel under no obligation to hasten the subsequent proceedings in the Public Bill Committee.
- (5) The formal Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee should continue to be published as an appendix to the Minutes of Proceedings of the House.
- (6) The name "Special Standing Committee" is misleading because such a Committee is in no way a Standing Committee. In future the term "Special Public Bill Committee" should be used.
§ 3.UNSTARRED QUESTIONS IN DINNER BREAKS
§ In its Third Report, Session 1992–93, the Committee recommended that, on an experimental basis, Lords should be able to table Unstarred Questions to be asked during the one hour's dinner break.
§ This procedure has now been used on twelve occasions (excluding one instance when the main business was in the event concluded before the planned dinner break). The Committee believes that it has been worthwhile in creating an additional opportunity for Unstarred Questions to be asked, and recommends that the procedure be made permanent. As in relation to the experimental procedure, the Committee recommends a time limit of one hour, with 10 minutes set aside for the questioner, and 12 for the Government response.
§ 4. TOPICAL QUESTIONS
§ In its Fourth Report, Session 1992–93, the Committee recommended that, for an experimental period, the fourth Starred Question each Thursday should be a Topical Question, chosen by 339 ballot on the previous Tuesday. The Committee has now reconsidered the matter in the light of experience so far and recommends that the procedure should be made permanent.
§ 5.PUBLIC PETITIONS
§ The Committee has considered the procedure governing the presentation of public petitions. In the House of Commons such petitions are referred to the relevant Government Department. In this House no action is taken after the petition has been presented to the House.
§ The Committee recommends no change to the present procedure; it is open to the Lord presenting a petition to send a copy to the relevant Department where appropriate.
§ 6.THE SUB JUDICE RULE
§ The Committee has considered whether the rule limiting reference to matters sub judice should be modified in view of the fact that the House has agreed that the practice should be similar in both Houses but has never adopted an amendment to the rule agreed to by the House of Commons in 1972.
§ The Committee has concluded that some revision of the rule is called for and will consider the matter further at its next meeting.
§ 3.45 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I wish to pass one or two observations on the report which was published on 23rd May, in particular on paragraph 4, headed:References to the European Parliament".I see from it that:The Committee has considered whether there should be any restriction on references in the House to the European Parliament".I am mildly curious as to why the committee should have considered that at all since, so far as I am aware— subject to checking the records of the House—the only person in your Lordships' House who has made any reference in detail to procedures in the European Parliament has been myself. Therefore, I must assume that someone somewhere is getting nervous about the matter. I am grateful for that because any attention paid to the proceedings of the European Parliament is tremendously welcome to me. I welcome the extra publicity that has been given to the matter by the committee.
I am a little curious about the reasons that the committee arrived at the conclusion in paragraph 4 that:It appears that no other Parliament has any such restriction, nor does the European Parliament have any restriction on references to other Parliaments. The Committee has accordingly concluded that it would be inappropriate".The noble Lord himself said that in the absence of any such measures in other parliaments the committee decided not to take any action. Are we to assume from that that, were other parliaments in the European Community to adopt some restrictions on references in their parliaments to the proceedings of the European Parliament, the Government would then reconsider the matter? I sincerely hope that I may receive the reply that the whole matter will be considered on its merits.
I am glad about that conclusion in view of the observations of the Prime Minister on the relevance and status of the European Parliament. If I may say so, it was expressed in almost more explosive terms than those in which I myself ventured to address the House. The Prime Minister does not consider it to be a 340 parliament at all comparable with our own Parliament. I sincerely hope that that view will continue to prevail and that, notwithstanding any provocation that I myself may give to your Lordships by unflattering references to the proceedings of the European Parliament, the matter will not be raised again.
Partly as a result of that, I now pass to Early Day Motions. I am a little puzzled by the reasons that are given for not following the procedure of the Commons in the matter. The first and predominant point is that Her Majesty's Stationery Office has notified us that the costs of the procedure in the other place have been £2¼ million. I am a little dubious, if I may say so as a professional accountant, about the way in which Her Majesty's Stationery Office arrived at those extraordinary estimates at the request of the Government. Personally speaking, taking a look, as I do from time to time, at the printed proceedings of the other place, including Early Day Motions, I query whether this small amount of printing every day on the limited number of Order Papers that are available for circulation will amount to that sum. I therefore invite your Lordships to disregard that consideration as one which should take precedence over the convenience of Parliament as a whole.
My next point is on the remark that:As the Committee stated in its First Report, Session 1985–86, 'the unwritten convention of the House has long been that the wording of such motions should be, so far as possible, short and couched in terms avoiding provocative or tendentious phraseology'".My experience in trying to get Motions on the Order Paper in this place has regrettably been that unless the motion is completely bromide it does not stand a hope in hell of getting on the Order Paper, let alone being provocative or tendentious. I do not think that the House should pass this by lightly. Why should not a Member of your Lordships' House who believes quite sincerely in what he says put down a Motion which is controversial but not necessarily provocative or tendentious? Those words have been interpreted, if I may say so, by the officials of the House —for whom I have the utmost personal regard—as that Motions must not be controversial. I think that that ought to be reconsidered by this Select Committee of your Lordships' House, or if not that committee by the House as a whole.
The report continues:Secondly, members of the House of Commons have the responsibility of representing their constituents, and Early Day Motions provide a means of raising constituency issues. Members of this House have no similar responsibility".Of course, no one would expect any Member of your Lordships' House—notable people as noble Lords are— to put Motions on the Order Paper congratulating Manchester United on its victory over whatever team it happens to have been playing the previous night. Such matters have appeared on the Order Paper in another place. In other words, the very absence—
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am sorry but the noble Lord is misinformed. The match was a draw: two all.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, that is a perfect illustration of the point I was seeking, however inadequately, to make.
One does not expect any Member of this House to put down a Notice of Motion which is frivolous or represents a constituency interest—as is correctly stated in the report, we have no constituencies.
However, I think it would be permissible for the House to allow a serious Motion to be put down by any Member of this House covering a matter of policy or substance and of course excluding the vast number that would otherwise be presented in relation to constituency matters. We ought to take another look at this question before we come to any final decision. The Order Paper might occasionally be enlivened by the appearance of, let us say, perhaps 10 Notices of Motion on serious matters of a controversial nature, not of a bromide nature, to take not; of some issue or other.
Finally, perhaps I may use this occasion to bring a further matter to the attention of the House. There is apparently a rule, confirmed by the Companion to the Standing Orders, which mentions the practice of rotating members of various sub-committees or Select Committees, particularly in my case the European Select Committee. Apparently, according to the Companion to the Standing Orders, that means a rotation every three years. I should like to know when that received the official sanction of this House because in the Standing Orders themselves, as distinct from the Companion, there is no reference to that rotation.
I am well aware that many Members may perhaps grow jaded or become uninterested and bored in respect of the proceedings of the committees to which they belong. But there are quite a number of members of all shapes and sizes, ages and sexes, who do take a very great interest in the committees upon which they serve and whose continued presence there would very much add to the effectiveness of those committees rather than their being shoved off after a period of three years.
Therefore, the first question that I have to ask the chairman is: where is that stipulation incorporated in the Standing Orders themselves as distinct from the Companion? If it is not in the Standing Orders, what validity has it? And secondly, are they really so stuck on this that they are not prepared to be flexible and take the maximum amount of advantage of the skills in various fields which are the characteristic of practically every Member of this House?
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Lord Chairman will reply to the very pertinent points which have just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I want to express some unhappiness about these two reports of the Procedure Committee because they do not seem to touch on the really important issues that affect the proceedings of this House. One of those is of course whether we should resume sittings on Fridays as a regular practice, thereby diminishing the need for very late sittings on other days 342 of the week. The second is the problem of what length of speeches should be permitted in a time-limited debate when a subject is chosen which is of great interest and which therefore attracts a very large number of speakers.
I appreciate that certainly we shall have an opportunity of discussing the second point on 2nd November, when, as I understand it, we shall debate the extremely interesting report submitted by my noble friend Lord Rippon of Hexham and his colleagues. However, it seems to me unfortunate that the Procedure Committee in both its second and third reports should pass these subjects by entirely without comment. If I may say so with respect, it does suggest that the Procedure Committee is not wholly geared up in its understanding of the needs of this House. I am left, I am afraid, with the uneasy suspicion that it is probably more geared up in regard to the needs of the usual channels and of making things easy for the management of the House. That may be an unworthy suspicion but the way that the committee has conducted itself over these reports certainly gives some grounds for holding it.
As a result of the Committee's failure to deal particularly with the two major issues to which I have just referred, there are only a number of quite small matters on which it has reported on which I wish to comment. First, why abolish the right to put in a statutory instrument on a Saturday? It is a right that has been exercised for a considerable number of years, and there may well be occasions, particularly perhaps towards the end of a Session at a time like the present, when it may be very convenient. Why abolish it? There is no reason or argument given for doing so.
Then the committee is a little unsteady over the suggestion that there should be a 60-day period of notice in respect of these instruments. I am sure that in all cases the maximum should be 60 days. One might have expected the Procedure Committee to have recommended that firmly.
I should also like to ask my noble friend for an interpretation: when there is a period of 60 days permitted for the tabling of these instruments, do those 60 days count in respect of days during the Recess or do they apply only when Parliament is sitting? That is important. There are some occasions, particularly during the long Recess in the summer, when the House is up for 60 days. Therefore theoretically, if non-sitting days are to be included, one such order could be tabled at a time when there was no opportunity of taking any action at all in respect of it. I am sure that there is a clear answer to this but it is not set out in any of the documents that I have seen. I would therefore be particularly grateful if my noble friend would deal with that point.
The main issues will arise from the debate on 2nd November. I hope that my noble friend the Lord Chairman will indicate that the Government will approach that debate with an open mind. Some of us feel extremely strongly about both the provision for a Friday sitting and a provision for securing that, if important subjects are selected for a time-limited debate, there should be at least 10 minutes of time during which individual speakers would be able to address the House. 343 I do not, of course, ask my noble friend to accept either of those proposals in advance. But I do ask for an indication that the Government will listen to the arguments, will read the very considerably skilful drafting of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, and will be prepared to give it very serious consideration; and that they will also give serious consideration to the views that noble Lords will express in the debate on 2nd November.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I promise the House faithfully that my contribution will be short, non-critical and only inquisitive. It arises on the last item of the Third Report which is headed "The Sub Judice Rule". It is only a short paragraph. Perhaps I may be permitted to read it out.
The Committee has considered whether the rule limiting reference to matters sub judice should be modified, in view of the fact that the House has agreed that the practice should be similar in both Houses but has never adopted an amendment to the rule agreed to by the House of Commons in 1972.The Committee has concluded that some revision of the rule is called for, and will consider the matter further at its next meeting".
The reason why I am inquisitive is that that decision may give an opportunity, if the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will be good enough to afford it to us, of knowing the thinking of the committee before it makes its decision and possibly making some comment at this session of the House. Is there any reason at all that the committee so far has considered why the rule should not be precisely the same in both Houses? Where is the difference of opinion?
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for the admirable way in which he presented both reports. I do not intend to go into the detail of what will be a very interesting debate on the Rippon Report the week after next. Although I wish to give a broad welcome to the reports of the Select Committee, there are a number of items with which I must take issue and on which I should like to say a few more words.
First, I must mention the continual pressure that seems to be exerted by the behind-the-scenes negotiators to try to take business off the Floor of the House. I am sure that the country, as well as the House itself, feels that one of the great strengths of this Chamber is that it debates issues on the Floor of the House where every Member has the opportunity to contribute.
Another subject raised by the report is one which I am sure your Lordships will accept I cannot agree with; namely, the reports as they relate to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill and the changes to procedures that are recommended. I feel that it would be wrong for those of us who take a principled objection to the changes envisaged by the Bill to agree to procedural changes in the way in which this House deals with matters.
I should like to touch particularly on the reference to Early Day Motions. I take a slightly different view from that of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. It may 344 be quite useful to have controversial topics to debate, but I am not sure that that is a path I wish to go down further. One of the difficulties in this House is to know the strength of feeling about a subject that may be a matter for future debate and how many noble Lords from all sides of the House would wish to contribute to such a debate. I wonder whether the Select Committee could have another look at this matter, not with a view to setting up a procedure which would be the same or similar to that in the other place, but to putting in place a procedure which would be distinctive and reflect the character of this House.
I am mindful in particular of the different facets of this Chamber. The three major political parties are represented and there is a large body of Cross-Benchers. There is a high degree of expertise on all sides. For example, perhaps the No Day Named Motions could have names attached to them of Peers who wish to indicate their desire to speak on that particular subject. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of this House to devise a procedure which is not expensive, is simple to operate and yet provides Members of the House and— dare I say it—the usual channels, with information as to those Peers who would indicate their desire to speak on a particular subject. I hope that the committee could take another look at that aspect of our affairs and maybe come back with a report in the future.
Let me make one other point. The practice that seems to be evolving of debates on a particular subject that the Procedure Committee is minded to consider is very useful. I hope that the debate on the Rippon Report will be instructive for the committee in its further deliberations of its work.
My very last point is to note that the committee has done a very good job, given the difficult fist that it has been handed by the Government. When we discuss the procedures of this House, it is important that we should arrive at a consensus which can be shared right across the Chamber and not a view which may be in the interests of one part of the House or another.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I should like to ask whether, under the sub judice rule, the revision being considered—what it is I am not sure—is in any way concerned with the difficulties, the very real difficulties as noble Lords will remember, that arose when my noble friend Lord Ferrers, answering for the Home Office, seemed to get into a somewhat awkward position. I am trying to use totally neutral language. Is this revision related to that matter? I do not want to take up time and seek only information.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, perhaps I may correct what may be a misapprehension arising from something said by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The effect of taking a matter off the Floor of the House and referring it to a committee is not to debar Members of the House from speaking. At a Public Bill Committee or a Special Public Bill Committee, every one of your Lordships is entitled to address that committee.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I want to come to the support of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, in part at least. I do not share his obsession 345 with Europe and the European Parliament, interesting though it is. I always listen to him with intense care when he speaks on those matters. I want to agree with him about the Early Day Motion. The Early Day Motion, as it exists in another place, is a means of demonstrating a body of opinion.
My noble friend was quite right when he said that he did not wish it to be an opinion about a trivial matter. If we adopt such a procedure, as I hope we shall, that procedure would have to be of such an order that it obviated triviality. We do not want the kind of thing that happens elsewhere at its worst; we want something which happens elsewhere at its best.
My noble friend Lord Monkswell came somewhat near the answer when he spoke of the No Day Named Motion, or whatever it is called. But the weakness of that is that it is merely the opinion of one Member of this House. As yet, there is no way of assessing whether that opinion or concern, as it may be, has any other adherents or supporters. There must be some way in which we can combine the procedure of the No Day Named Motion, which we already have, and the Early Day Motion of another place, provided that triviality is excluded.
In conclusion, I strongly welcome the comments on the timing of speeches mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He is absolutely right. It is surely correct that we must have timed debates; but it is surely incorrect that our timed debates are of such an order that we are obliged to speak for five, six or seven minutes only. That must be wrong. We must find a way of curbing our exuberance, but at the same time permitting a sufficient length of time for appropriate ideas to be properly presented to this House.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I wanted to speak almost entirely on what is common ground between this Motion, in so far as it relates to the deregulation procedure, and the next Motion which stands in my name. But before I do that, perhaps I can say one or two words about the Public Bill Committee procedure. Many of us feel anxiety lest it be used as an opportunity to load still more legislation on your Lordships' House involving Parliament generally. Otherwise my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman is right; any Member of your Lordships' House can address a Public Bill Committee. Nevertheless, that opportunity is taken extremely rarely.
With regard to the deregulation procedure, the first thing to say is that we are deeply in debt to the Procedure Committee. It is not the first time by any means that your Lordships have been profoundly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I suspect that it will not be the last.
The background to both debates is the advance of bureaucracy that we have seen in recent years. I refer only to one or two high spots. Perhaps the most extreme example was on the Statutory Sick Pay Bill when it was introduced into the other place. The Bill reduced the repayment to employers of the statutory sick pay from 100 per cent. to 80 per cent. But it then went on to say that the Minister could, by regulation, alter that figure 346 of 80 per cent. What is more, that was subject only to the negative resolution procedure. That meant that by a Henry VIII provision the charge of, in effect, a tax on the individual citizen, and as a result of mat the charge on public funds, could be altered by a Henry VIII provision by negative resolution. In the other place the Government accepted that there should be affirmative resolution but they fought strenuously for the Henry VIII provision and it only disappeared on a Division which was carried against the Government in your Lordships' House.
That did not stand alone. There was persistently an attempt to downgrade parliamentary scrutiny by taking matters by negative resolution that should have been taken by affirmative resolution and, indeed, taking matters by subordinate legislation that should have been taken by primary legislation. So firm were your Lordships that when the Jellicoe Committee came to consider the recommendations it recommended the Scrutiny Committee, which we now have and which has been such an extraordinary success. But it was significant that of all the recommendations of the Jellicoe Committee, that was the one about which the Government expressed a reservation. We must be grateful to the Procedure Committee for having brushed aside that reservation and to the Committee of Selection for the choice it made of the Scrutiny Committee, which has been an acknowledged success.
There are two dangers in the procedure recommended in relation to deregulation. The first is that it is extremely "cumbersome"—the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, then Leader of the House, in a letter to me about the matter which I surmise the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has seen. It is indeed cumbersome. There are two reasons for that.
One feels that behind the deregulation Bill there was a ministerial compromise—(he President of the Board of Trade, one suspects, wanting to move wholesale by Henry VIII provision and the Leader of the House saying that there was no chance of your Lordships agreeing to that. When one has a ministerial compromise it always tends to produce an odd result. One Minister holds that anybody shall be allowed to scratch his ears if they itch; another Minister is firmly opposed to any such practice. A Cabinet committee is then set up under the chairmanship of the Lord Privy Seal and it comes up with the compromise that right ears may be scratched provided the left hand is used.
I fear that the cumbersome proposal is partly due to that sort of background, but it is also due to something else. It was expressly designed to protect the so-called convention that your Lordships should not vote on subordinate legislation. That was said in your Lordships' House expressly by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in relation to the deregulation Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, repeated it expressly to me in the letter to which I referred.
The Government have changed their mind on that convention. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, indicated that the Government will accept the next resolution. But it is far too late to go back and ask the Procedure Committee to review the situation in the light of that change of policy. After all, the procedure was 347 thought to be workable by the other extremely brilliant members of the sub-committee of the Procedure Committee and that was endorsed by the Procedure Committee itself. From what we have seen of the Scrutiny Committee I have little doubt, speaking for myself, that it will make a workable job of it.
When the deregulation Bill was introduced it was admitted that it was an extraordinary constitutional innovation. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, roundly denounced it as a constitutional outrage. But the majority of your Lordships thought that the only way to obtain the necessary deregulation in substance—the removal of unnecessary burdens on industry and commerce—was to follow, so far as the Bill went, the Henry VIII procedure.
However, the desire was expressed that there should be three safeguards. The first, unfortunately, has gone by the way. That was the three-year term. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, introduced an amendment in Committee which the Government appeared to be looking at sympathetically but which, unfortunately, was dismissed at the Report stage. That has gone. The second safeguard was that there should be an alternative scrutiny of the procedures under the deregulation Bill. That we have got, that we are considering and that we welcome. The third safeguard was that your Lordships should have finally the power to reject any subordinate legislation submitted for your consideration. That has now, I understand, been conceded and is the subject of the next Resolution.
I conclude as I began by saying how indebted we are to the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees for the way he has introduced these reports and for the work of his committee and to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and his sub-committee.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Finsberg
My Lords, what a fascinating hors-d'oeuvre ready for the entrèe that is to follow. I should like to say a few words about Early Day Motions, a subject introduced to this discussion by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. Early Day Motions in the days when he was in another place were somewhat different. When I came to the other place in 1970 there were a very limited number of Early Day Motions. They grew like paper clips until the other place had to bring in a change so as to provide that after a certain time the Early Day Motion was not printed day after day. That produced some kind of improvement.
As for saying that Early Day Motions represented the views of those people who signed them, I fear that that was not the case. One could wander around the tea room in the other place, put a piece of paper in front of a colleague and he would sign it without reading it— rather like the petitions one sees in the streets of our country for and against abortion or licensing. People will sign something put in front of their faces. It does not matter what it is.
348 I would caution very strongly against any kind of introduction of an Early Day Motion procedure in your Lordships' House. The Procedure Committee has got it absolutely right and I think that the less we have to do with the idea the better.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I had hoped to speak for only one minute flat but in the light of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said I may have to take two or three minutes.
My first point concerns topical Questions. I see that the committee recommends that the procedure should be made permanent. I am not at all sure that that decision should be taken at this stage. I have noticed that on a number of Thursdays we have been reduced to only three Questions. Because we have been reduced to only three Questions people who may have wished to table a standard Question, if I may so call it, have been denied that opportunity. Today noble Lords will have noticed that there were only three Questions on the Order Paper. I do hope that we have a little more experience before a final decision is made and the procedure is made permanent.
I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that I had the honour to be a member of the sub-committee which recommended the provisions that should be applied to the deregulation Bill. I am extremely glad that the Procedure Committee was able to accept our recommendations. But I have to tell the noble and learned Lord that our recommendations in no way undermine the right of any Member of this House to vote against an order. I have to tell him that I and other members of the sub-committee were absolutely clear in our minds that, although we were making a recommendation that instead of amending an order the House might wish to make a comment on the order for the Government to consider, in no way did any member of that committee accept that that would be taking away the right of Members of this House to vote against an order. I hope that that has made the matter absolutely clear to him and to your Lordships and perhaps I may tell the House that I would never agree to such a procedure.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, as a member of the committee perhaps I may intervene. I do so not to take over the job of the Lord Chairman who has to reply to the debate but to make only two or three points.
I have come to the conclusion that Early Day Motions would not fit in very easily with the procedures of the House. I listened to what my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington had to say about paragraph 3. I read it as he was talking. I listened to my noble friend and read it again. I have to say that my reading of paragraph 3 is somewhat different from my noble friend's reading of paragraph 3. As I understand it, paragraph 3 is saying that because Motions in this House are generally expressed in wide terms people can say virtually anything they like. In the House of Commons the opportunities for saying anything you like on the Floor of the House are much more limited and therefore the 349 opportunities to express your views if you are a Member of this House are correspondingly greater. That is how I read it. If I am wrong, perhaps the Lord Chairman can tell me. But that is one of the arguments against the Early Day Motion.
Again on the Early Day Motion argument, the point that impressed me most of all was the cost of £2,290,000. If we were talking about tuppence-ha'penny and Members of this House having an opportunity to express a view cheaply, so be it. But to engage in massive expenditure of that kind merely to allow expressions of view to be gathered, which is quite often the effect of an Early Day Motion, would not be justified. On the other hand, I listened to what my noble friend Lord Monkswell had to say and his suggestion about no day named Motions is well worth considering. If Members of this House could put their names to a no day named Motion in order to express an opinion on that Motion that would perhaps achieve some of the objectives of having an Early Day Motion procedure but without having some of the greater difficulties attached to it. So I hope that the Procedure Committee will consider that.
I thought it was a little ungracious of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington to castigate the committee for doing something of which he obviously clearly approved; namely, that there should be no restriction on the way in which people in this House refer to the European Parliament. I noticed that this issue was coming up before the Procedure Committee. I was not quite sure why it came up—presumably because someone wanted to raise it. But I should have thought that the result would be something of which he and the House as a whole would certainly approve. I hope that the fact that he approves of something the Procedure Committee has done will not prove a massive argument on his part for wishing to vote against it.
The main issue before us this afternoon is what we should do about deregulation orders. I wish to make two general points and one specific one. If the Bill goes through there has to be some kind of procedure for dealing with what the Government wish to try to achieve. The issue for the House this afternoon is whether the procedure set out in this report is, broadly speaking, sensible. I had a good look at it and came to the conclusion that the House needs a mechanism for dealing with the deregulation Bill. It also seemed to me that this procedure is, on the whole, as reasonable as one can get.
However, I have one point of detail. At page 6(viii) the report states:The Committee has power under Standing Order 64 to take evidence; it should be expected—although not instructed —to offer the Government a chance to give evidence before making an adverse report".I am not suggesting that the converse should apply totally; namely, that the Opposition should be expected to appear whenever the committee makes a positive report. But if there is a major issue being discussed in front of the committee in which the Government are going to be given an opportunity to make representations as to the kind of report which the committee produces, there should be some way or other 350 in which the views of the Opposition can also be fed into the committee at the same time otherwise one gets a certain imbalance. That is not an argument against the whole structure but it is a point which I hope the committee will take on board and on which the Lord Chairman can perhaps smile favourably this afternoon.
§ 4.30 p.m.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, a very interesting and unexpected debate has developed during the course of the afternoon although why I use the word "unexpected", having had some; experience of your Lordships' House, I do not know.
The two reports before us today contain a number of interesting recommendations. On the whole, I commend them most warmly to your Lordships. I believe too that it would be remiss of me if I did not say how grateful I feel, and I am sure the House also feels, to the Lord Chairman of Committees, to the Chairman of the committee and the Chairman and members of the sub-committee for what I believe the House, on the whole seems to feel is a thoroughly helpful and constructive report.
With your Lordships' permission, in the main I should like to confine my remarks to the procedures for the scrutiny of deregulation orders since these represent a very substantial change in our procedures and have rightly been the subject of intense scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament.
I was astonished at the profession of surprise expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who suggested that some nameless civil servants and Government business managers might be nervous of what he said. That does not in the least surprise me in view of the noble Lord's remarks. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Finsberg on the subject of Early Day Motions in another place struck a very powerful answering chord with me. I endorse most warmly the warning that he gave on that front.
Returning to the question of deregulation and so forth, the Government recognise that the deregulation order-making power would allow a very exceptional type of secondary legislation for which special parliamentary scrutiny arrangements would be wholly appropriate. We welcome the prompt and thorough report of the Procedure Committee and we believe that the procedures that it proposes are appropriate under the circumstances.
That has enabled us to hold this debate in advance of the Third Reading of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill next week. It is clearly sensible that your Lordships should have a clear idea of how the scrutiny procedures would operate before finishing consideration of the Bill itself.
During the various debates in this House on the deregulation order-making power, the Government have explained the need for the deregulation power and the significant safeguards we built in for the use of that power. The provisions in the Bill itself provide a statutory framework within which each House will put in place the procedures it thinks appropriate for scrutinising the proposals under this power.
351 I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that I believe the whole House agrees that the Government have listened to the committee with very great care. As evidence of that we have accepted without reservation all the recommendations of your Lordships' Procedure Committee. Indeed, it is our intention that deregulation orders should, where necessary, be subject to rigorous and thorough scrutiny. We have accepted the Procedure Committee's view that a 60-day period is appropriate and we have amended the Bill accordingly. I draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter to Clause 4(3) of the Bill in which it is provided that in reckoning the period at 60 days no account shall be taken of any time in which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.
The Procedure Committee recommended that the House should refer proposals for deregulation orders to a Sessional Select Committee; in the first instance, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. That committee would have all the usual powers of a Select Committee including the power to co-opt members, set up sub-committees and to appoint specialist advisers. We fully accept that recommendation. We believe it is entirely appropriate that there should be an opportunity for proposals to be scrutinised in detail where necessary. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee clearly commands the confidence and respect of this House. I for one see no reason why it should not take on the job. I understand that the committee is happy to increase its workload in this way and I believe that the House should be extremely grateful to it for that.
The committee would be able to scrutinise the proposal line by line if it so chooses. If it wished, it could examine witnesses and those witnesses need not be confined to those who have already been consulted. It can call for evidence from the appropriate department and consider any other representations that are made. I can assure the House that the Government will co-operate in every way with the committee and in particular will regulate the flow of proposals coming forward at any time to ensure that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee is not overwhelmed. In the light of the first batch of proposals which may be coming forward, that is perhaps an undertaking which your Lordships will appreciate.
The Procedure Committee has recommended that it should develop close co-operation with the corresponding Commons committee, using the power to meet concurrently as they feel to be appropriate. The Government agree that that will avoid duplication and will help to ensure that in most cases evidence is taken once only.
Once the inquiry has been completed the committee would then report its findings to the House, making whatever recommendations it considers appropriate. I was interested to see that the Procedure Committee stressed that, if it wished, this House could at that stage have the opportunity to debate the committee's report and let its views be known to the Government. We are very happy to agree to that suggestion although in practice I suspect that your Lordships' House would 352 wish in most cases to await the Minister's consideration of the committee's report. I reiterate to your Lordships that the Government will consider the committee's views with the utmost seriousness in deciding whether to proceed with the draft order and, if so, whether to revise it in any way.
The Procedure Committee recommended that the committee should then consider the draft order again and report on it to the House before any Motion to approve the order would be moved. Again, the Government concur that it would be appropriate to give the committee a further opportunity to consider the order in its final form.
To make that easier we amended the Bill in another place to require that when the Minister lays the final draft order he must also lay a statement setting out any changes made. For economy of effort the committee would also take on the functions of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in respect of the draft order itself.
Finally, the Procedure Committee recommended that it should be open to any noble Lord to table a Motion in respect of the report of the committee on the draft order. Such a Motion would be amendable and would be debated immediately before the Motion to approve the draft order. I can assure your Lordships unequivocally that if, on that Motion, the House resolved that the draft order as laid should not be approved, the Motion to approve the order would not be moved. The Government would reconsider and either lay a revised draft, bring forward the proposal as primary legislation instead or withdraw the proposed altogether.
In conclusion, I feel confident that the framework in the Bill, underpinning the unique scrutiny arrangements proposed by your Lordships' Procedure Committee, addresses pretty thoroughly the exceptional nature of the deregulation order-making power and, indeed, that it ensures that it will be used in an appropriate and effective manner. We have accepted the committee's recommendations without reservation and stand ready to co-operate in making the necessary changes to Standing Orders to reflect those special arrangements. I hope that the Government's views on this extremely important matter will be of some help to the House in coming to its conclusions on the committee's reports.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I am grateful to all Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in this debate and in particular — naturally—to the Lord Privy Seal who has answered every question which has been put to him on the matter of deregulation. That relieves me of the burden of so doing. I am also extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition who has done part of my-job for me.
Perhaps I may take the individual points that were raised by noble Lords during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, was concerned about the reference to Members of the European Parliament and wondered why the committee had felt that it was necessary to deal with that matter. I cannot honestly 353 remember who brought that matter before the committee, but the point was one that should be discussed; namely, that we have rules and conventions about how we treat Members of another place and it was felt that in the circumstances which now prevail it was right to consider whether we should have any rules about how to treat Members of the European Parliament. In the light of what has already been said in the report, I do not think that I need to go further into that. It seemed to us that, as nobody else minds what we say about them and they do not have to care what they say about us, we should let matters rest.
On Early Day Motions, I was deeply grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and to the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, who felt that the committee had got it right. The matter was given a great deal of consideration, but had only one supporter in the committee and he was speaking slightly half-heartedly, I think, on behalf of someone who is not a member of the committee. We came to the conclusion without any difficulty at all that Early Day Motions would serve no useful purpose. It really came down to asking ourselves, "Where would they get us?", and, "Where do they get Members of another place?". That is why we took the decision that we did, and I hope that the House will be prepared to endorse; it.
The rotation rule was the third point raised by the noble Lord. He is quite correct that it is not in the Standing Orders as such, but it is in the Companion and it is in the Companion as a result of decisions of the Procedure Committee dating from the 1970s. It is constantly reviewed. Occasionally it causes unhappiness to Peers who have a specific knowledge and who feel that it is a pity for the committee on which they serve to lose the benefit of that knowledge. Nevertheless, it has to be right to allow new blood an opportunity to serve on those committees. Obviously, that applies only to certain committees about which there is great enthusiasm. Other committees, such as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, do not necessarily have a queue forming to do what is nowadays an extremely arduous job given that the number of statutory instruments grows like Topsy. Those are the three points which the noble Lord raised and I hope that he is satisfied with what I have been able to tell him.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, properly recognised that his main point is a subject that would be better debated on 2nd November. Therefore, I hope that he will excuse me for not making any comment on that aspect now. There will be an opportunity on 2nd November for a full discussion on the subject of the Sittings of the House. It would be wrong for me to try to pre-empt that discussion now. On his other points—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, before my noble friend leaves that point, I asked whether he would give an assurance that the Government would listen to the debate on 2nd November with an open mind as to what decision should finally be taken.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I feel quite certain of that, given that the Lord Privy Seal has 354 just muttered "Yes" in my ear, but it is not for me to commit the Government on the line that they will take. However, I believe that the noble Lord can rest assured that it will be all right.
The noble Lord was disappointed that the report contains no reference to the length of speeches or the timing of debates. Again, those matters will come up on 2nd November. Not every meeting of the Procedure Committee goes over the ground which has been covered so frequently at previous meetings. If that were to be the case, the meetings would go on for day after day. I know that the noble Lord feels deeply about the length of debates and the curtailment of debate, but: again that is a matter for 2nd November rattier than now.
The noble Lord was unhappy about the abolition of the laying of statutory instruments on a Saturday. As one has not been so laid for many years now, it seems rather unkind, if not extravagant, to induce an official to come in here to sit and do nothing on a Saturday when statutory instruments cannot be so laid in another place. As no useful purpose would be served, it seems unkind to compel an official of the House to do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is distressed—as we all are —that we have not yet made a great deal of progress on the sub-judice rule. One of the problems— the main one, I believe—is that this House has no Speaker. Another place has a Speaker who can exercise his or her discretion as to whether a matter can be raised. This issue has now taken up quite a lot of time in the Procedure Committee and we are greatly indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mustill, who has taken it upon himself to try to devise a formula which would meet that different situation. I think that the noble Lord will recognise that there is a difference because of the different way in which we do things. The noble and learned Lord has put forward a preliminary' report but has asked for further time. He wishes to have consultations with other Law Lords on the matter. Apparently, the matter has been under discussion for over 20 years, so it is not a new issue. We sincerely hope that we shall move a little more briskly than that and reach a conclusion. However, those are the explanations for the delay that has come about.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, for having dealt for me with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. As one would expect, the noble and learned Lord was right.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, was preoccupied with Early Day Motions and I hope that he will be satisfied with what has been said. We see the point, but we do not think that it is a good idea.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I would not expect the attitude of Members of this House towards something like an Early Day Motion to be quite the same as that of a Member in another place.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, it might well be very different indeed. It may well be that there is an opportunity which should be taken and that Peers' names could be added to a No Day Named Motion. I now give an assurance that I shall invite the Procedure Committee to consider that route. Of course, I cannot say whether the Committee will look favourably on it.
355 However, that might be a move in a direction which would appeal to the noble Lord. In my opinion, the original proposal is a non-runner.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, returning to the question of Early Day Motions, is the House to understand that the noble Lord endorsed as being applicable to this House the view that was put forward by his noble friend that Members in the Commons sign papers merely if they are shoved before them? Perhaps I may clarify the point by saying that I was assuming that all Members of your Lordships' House would diligently examine anything before signing it and would not behave as the noble Lord alleges that Members of the House of Commons behave.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, I have no experience of another place. I must also remind him that, although I have the highest possible regard for him, the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, does not qualify in our terms as my noble friend because, if the noble Lord recollects, I am a Cross-Bencher, so I cannot speak for either side.
I move on to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The Special Public Bill Committee point is exercising him. I believe that he is content with the way that things are going, but we shall take note of his observations.
The deregulation matters have already been dealt with extremely well by the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal. Therefore I need not respond to that point. I should like to endorse what he said about the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, whose work I believe is admired in every corner of the House. It has been a remarkable success, and we are deeply grateful that the committee has indicated its willingness to take on the additional burden which is now being put upon it.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, was the situation to which I referred on sub judice the problem that arose when my noble friend Lord Ferrers was answering for the Home Office? Was that point considered by the Procedure Committee?
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, that point has been considered by the committee. The whole matter is still in the melting pot. It is one of immense complexity. As a lawyer, the noble Lord will be aware of the difficulties that we face. Every endeavour is being made, especially by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mustill, as I have said, and I am sure that a conclusion will be reached as quickly as possible.
I repeat my gratitude to everyone who has taken part in the debate. I hope that I have answered the questions that have been put to me.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
No, my Lords, the noble Lord has not. He has not answered the one that I asked about the Thursday point.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I ask forgiveness of the noble Lord. He is right. I drew attention in my opening remarks to the fact that today is Thursday and we have only three Questions down.
356 The explanation for that probably is that we have been back from a very long Summer Recess for only 10 days and people have not had the urge to put down a Question because something has cropped up that has caused that to happen. On most occasions they have been put down. If the procedure is made permanent it will not be the end of the world because it can be changed by the House at any time if it so wishes. It has worked most of the time. There have been a few occasions—I concede that there have been a few—but they have been very few. As people get to know of the procedure, it will be found to be of help to the House. I hope that the noble Lord agrees.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.