HL Deb 08 February 1995 vol 561 cc218-21
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

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

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 22).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


The Committee has appointed a Sub-Committee "to consider the practice of the House in relation to financial and other interests of members, and in particular the case for a register of interests, and to make recommendations".


The Committee decided in 1988 "to give annual consideration, at the beginning of each session, to the proceedings of the House in the previous session and, where appropriate, to make a report on procedural difficulties which may have arisen" (First Report, Session 1987–88). The Committee has accordingly reviewed proceedings during Session 1993–94. As it is the Committee's practice to consider, as they arise, any matters warranting consideration by the Committee, the review has not brought to light any further matters meriting a report to the House. The Committee has accordingly concluded that the annual review should be discontinued.


The Committee has considered a proposal that the time within which Questions for Written Answer should normally receive a reply should be a week, instead of a fortnight as at present. The Committee considers that the present time limit is reasonable, and recommends no change.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, as regards the matter of Written Questions of course I accept the collective wisdom of the Procedure Committee, but I wonder if your Lordships in general are content to be treated as second-class citizens. Your Lordships are receiving Answers to Written Questions within two weeks, whereas in the other place it is within one week. I cannot believe that your Lordships are any less important than those Members down the corridor. Yet, when I put the case to your Lordships' committee, it decided that in its view there was no call to shorten the period to bring it into line.

I am content to leave the matter there; but if any of your Lordships feels that there is some merit in what I have said, it would certainly assist if they were to communicate their views to the Chairman of Committees.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, when we debated on 10th January the first report of the Procedure Committee, I drew attention to the paragraph in which the committee recommended that normally only the next speaker should congratulate a maiden speaker. I suggested that the custom had arisen whereby the Minister replying to a debate was just as likely to congratulate the maiden speaker as was the speaker who followed the maiden speaker. The committee was good enough to refer again to this matter in its latest meeting. I quote from the minutes of that meeting: The committee agreed that it was acceptable, at the Minister's discretion, for congratulations to be offered by the Minister replying to a debate". The Companion to the Standing Orders is being revised. I understand that the new Companion will shortly go to the printer. I fear that if such words are not added to the bald statement that, only the next speaker should normally congratulate the maiden speaker", the pleasant habit that the Minister who replies to the debate adds his congratulations will tend to fall into disuse. That would be rather a pity and a disadvantage. I hope that at this late hour it might be avoided.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, perhaps I may interject a comment from the Front Bench on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. If one is winding up from the Front Bench, it is rather difficult not to congratulate one of your colleagues who has just made a maiden speech.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have spoken on this matter. Let me turn first to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg. It would not be right for me to be tempted into making comparisons between your Lordships' House and another place. It is for your Lordships to take decisions concerning their own procedures and their own matters. That is in fact precisely what happened when your Lordships decided to accept the last two reports of the Procedure Committee.

Having been good enough to attend the meeting of the Procedure Committee, the noble Lord will be aware that his proposal on this matter did not find favour with any member of the committee. The committee felt that it was better to retain the present practice, which has operated for many years. However, the noble Lord secured a signal victory on the previous occasion, when his proposal to the Procedure Committee that there should be better provision—indeed provision—for answering Questions for Written Answer during Recesses was accepted and in due course was accepted by your Lordships' House. I hope that the House will allow me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, for having brought that matter before us and for having secured that improvement in our procedures. I am sorry to have to disappoint him on the other point.

I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for having notified me beforehand that he proposed to raise the matter to which he drew attention. The Procedure Committee, as indeed did your Lordships' House when it came to debate the Procedure Committee's report on 10th January, found attractive the idea of congratulations to maiden speakers by Ministers. But it is fair to say, in summarising the discussion within the Procedure Committee, that the committee felt it better to adhere to the clear practice that it should normally be the noble Lord speaking immediately after the maiden speaker who should be left to give the congratulations of the House to the maiden speaker.

I think I am right in suggesting that it certainly would not be looked at askance if a Minister decided that he would add his congratulations. But the principal point in the mind of the Procedure Committee was that it would be wrong to make an exception to the general rule, because inevitably that would invite further exceptions to it.

I have partly covered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, in what I said about ministerial replies. These are matters which, as the rule stands, breach the rule. But your Lordships tend to turn something of a blind eye to a breach of that kind, if I may say so. I hesitate to enlarge that any further, but I should be very surprised indeed if noble Lords were not to turn a blind eye should the Front Benches feel disposed on occasion to do something similar. I do not think that I can take the matter further than that. In saying that, certainly I should not dream of giving a definitive reply on behalf of the Procedure Committee itself.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I must apologise for intervening at this point. With the permission of the House, it might be useful if I raised a point now which, perhaps I may say, I thought other noble Lords might have mentioned. I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees whether he will elaborate a little on the way in which the sub-committee on the declaration and registration of Members' interests proposes to work.

A circular has already been sent round asking interested Members of this House to submit written evidence to the committee. One Member of the House has made statements that have been widely reported in the media. I gather that they were made not in a submission to the sub-committee but to the Nolan Committee. Does the sub-committee have any plans to hear oral evidence from witnesses? Does it intend to ask Members of your Lordships' House, members of the public or people who might have evidence, to give oral evidence and effectively to have hearings on the subject?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, that is a matter for the sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. Your Lordships will be aware that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his sub-committee invited submissions by 10th February. I understand that the sub-committee proposes to meet on 15th February. It may be helpful if I refer to one aspect of the remit of the sub-committee; namely, to make recommendations on the practice of the House rather than to pronounce on particular allegations of breaches of the present practice. As I said at the outset, it is a matter for the sub-committee and I would not wish to venture further.

On Question, Motion agreed to.