HL Deb 17 July 1995 vol 566 cc11-4
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

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

Moved, That, if the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill is brought from the Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday next to enable the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether the Government propose to drop the ban that they have so far imposed on the debating of this important Bill, on which the House could contribute so much?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I say to my noble friend with, I hope, no risk of impertinence to him, that I would be deeply disappointed if this year had proved an exception and he did not rise to make the point which he has just made. I believe he knows the answer that I feel constrained to give him. The Companion is clear about what is the present convention of the House. Indeed, I believe I am right in saying that the Companion also quotes precedent in that the last time a Consolidated Fund Bill was discussed substantively was in 1907, four years before the 1911 Act.

My noble friend will also know that the matter has been referred to the Procedure Committee. I wonder whether he will be content for us to wait until that committee has deliberated on it before raising the issue again.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I am sorry not to have given my noble friend the Leader of the House notice of the question that I propose to ask. However, as he has been a Member of another place, the point will be familiar to him. As we now appear to be following the procedure in another place—willingly or unwillingly, and with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale dissenting—under which the Consolidated Fund Bill is taken on the nod, should we not follow the other part of the procedure in another place? Under it, the Leader of the House would rise and propose the adjournment of the House. That would then enable my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and anyone else so moved to debate any matter which took their fancy or convenience.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, one part of me is extremely tempted by my noble friend's suggestion. The whole House is used to listening to both my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, with keen interest and attention. It would be most agreeable if we were to create a new procedure which would enable us to listen further to both noble Lords.

However, I have to reiterate to my noble friend that however desirable the course of action which he proposes, there are two reasons why we should not accede to his request, at least before the Procedure Committee has had a chance to examine the situation. The first is that I am increasingly convinced that the procedures in your Lordships' House are often admirably suited to the way a second House of Parliament works. With the greatest respect to another place, we should only imitate it with some diffidence.

The second reason is that we are not known to be a revolutionary House as yet. If we were to accede to my noble friend's request, we would be overturning a habit which has lasted almost as long as a lifetime and returning to matters as they stood before 1907. I am not entirely against such an idea, as your Lordships will be aware. However, it would go against all precedent and certainly against the wishes of the late Lord Lloyd George.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, would it be possible for the noble Viscount to give further consideration to the sensible proposals that have emanated from his noble friend Lord Cockfield? Will he bear in mind that the procedures of the House are flexible? Is he aware that, for example, should the noble Lord seek to move the adjournment of the House before this Parliament ends in order to move that the report on the Barings Bank disaster be discussed, he would receive the approval of the whole House?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the Procedure Committee has been asked to look at the matter and I am sure that, as always, it will do as the House has requested. As regards the Barings Bank situation we await almost hourly the publication of the results of the inquiry. It will be interesting to see whether the prediction of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, turns out to be true.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In answering it, my noble friend gave the impression—with the utmost courtesy—that he had heard the suggestion before. I put to him that repetition, very often necessary, does nothing to weaken a good argument. Had it not been for repetition, a warlike operation would still be going on around the city of Jericho!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, as always, the House is indebted to my noble friend. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has as yet circled the walls seven times or more than seven times. I should be the last to suggest that a good argument is necessarily undermined by repetition.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, your Lordships' House has unexampled knowledge and experience to give counsel on financial and economic matters. There are three Consolidated Fund Bills a year generally and they give an opportunity for your Lordships to tender such counsel. When it has been suggested that they be used for that purpose, the suggestions have been brushed aside on the grounds that there are other opportunities. That may be roughly true on No. 1 and No. 3 Bills. No. 1 coincides roughly with the Budget Statement, the Finance Bill; No. 3 coincides roughly with the debate on the Queen's Speech. However, No. 2 is in quite a different category, and it is the one which we are discussing.

If we do not use the opportunity of the summer Bill to discuss financial matters, there is no such discussion between the spring and the late autumn when the Queen's Speech is debated. What is asked for is that the recommendation in the Companion should be altered to bring it into line with what is done in any case with the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bills, which are used for precisely the purpose we have been advocating.

I know that the matter is before the Procedure Committee. I also know that the discussion has been postponed and it is now too late to remedy that. However, noble Lords are entitled to ask that the point should be seriously considered in the light of the arguments that have been put forward and that something more than the objections which have so far been raised should be considered.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am conscious that I am perhaps not following the established procedures of your Lordships' House by treating this discussion as an additional Question Time. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. I thought that I had looked round sufficiently to see whether anyone else wished to speak. However, with your Lordships' permission, I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, that, of course, we have a number of opportunities for noble Lords to display their expertise in economic and financial matters and to give their counsel in matters appertaining to the economy. Nevertheless, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to wait for the opportunity, when it arises, for the Procedure Committee to examine the matter and make a report in due course to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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