HL Deb 02 November 1995 vol 566 cc1503-6

3.29 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I hope that this is the right time to rise since I wish to raise a question on Business. To explain myself, at the end of a particularly unpleasant programme on Channel 4 last evening on Lords' declaration of interests and the Griffiths Report, it was stated that this House would be considering the orders to implement Griffiths on Monday next. First, I should like to know whether Channel 4 had some prior knowledge of next week's Business not available to your Lordships or whether it was simply idle speculation on the part of the programme makers.

If it has been decided that we should deal with the orders next week, I sincerely hope that the usual channels will reconsider the decision. I believe that to take the orders next week would be a serious abuse of the procedures of this House. If we took the matter early next Session, that would be acceptable. In saying that, I have to tell the House that I am not against the Griffiths recommendations, but I believe that this House should not be stampeded into making a decision next week on such a vital change to our procedures, when a decision made early next Session would be just as effective and would not cause resentment. After all, if we take the orders next Monday, or even next Tuesday, people will hardly have had the opportunity to read in proper detail the debate of only yesterday.

Furthermore, if Members wished to move amendments, they would certainly not be able to move considered amendments, or move them in time for other noble Lords to consider them and their reactions to them. I sincerely hope, therefore, in the interests of good order and good procedure in this House, that if Channel 4 has got it right—and I sincerely hope that it has not—the matter will be reconsidered.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, I believe the situation to be as I tried to explain it and the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees tried to explain it in yesterday's debate. I assure the noble Lord that the purpose of yesterday's debate was to take the mind of the House. I was pleased, and I hope the House will agree with my diagnosis, to find that the overwhelming consensus in the House was to accept the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. I also felt that there was an overwhelming consensus that the report should lead to the bringing forward of the appropriate resolutions as soon as possible.

I also gave a clear undertaking that I would consult, not only with my opposite numbers on the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, but with the Convenor and any other individual Members of this House who wanted to express an opinion. I said that in the light of those discussions the usual channels would come to a judgment about what appeared to be the wish of this House as to when the resolutions should be introduced.

I have been involved in one or two other matters this morning; therefore I must confess to the House that I have not yet had an opportunity to consult even my opposite numbers as soon as I should have wished. I hope that there will be an opportunity to do so in very short order. We shall then come to a judgment. Equally, the strong expression of opinion that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will weigh very heavily with us and we shall try to give it the consideration that it deserves.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear that what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House just heard from my noble friend was a personal expression of opinion and in no way represents the view on this side of the House.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, with permission, I have to say to the noble Lord that I received a number of expressions of opinion from Members of the party opposite in agreement with the noble Lord's view. However, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has another view, and it is for everybody concerned to try to come to a judgment as soon as possible.

Lord Richard

My Lords, of course the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has an individual view, not only on this matter but on certain other topics that come before the House with great regularity. As always, I am obliged to listen to the views of the noble Lord. I listen to them carefully, and pay due attention when he expresses them. However, I am bound to say to him that, so far as we are concerned, in the debate that took place yesterday there was an overwhelming majority among those who spoke—I understand that it was 22:2—for approval of the report. There was a clear feeling that we should "get on with it", the report having been approved.

I do not understand my noble friend's statement that he needs time to study the language of the proposed Motions. They are in the last report of the Procedure Committee, which was an annex to the one that we debated yesterday. Nor, with great respect to my noble friend do I think that he, with his vast parliamentary experience, will need a great deal of time to assimilate the effect of the debate. It was not one in which there was such disparity of view that extensive study is necessary. I make it perfectly clear that I hope that this matter will be dealt with soon. I had understood that it would be dealt with on Monday. If that is still the view of that part of the usual channels, then it is a view that this part of the usual channels certainly supports.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that certain adjustments have to be made in the light of the discussion yesterday, some of them proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths? These have to be reflected in the form of orders, which in due course I hope to support. But surely it takes a little time to assimilate these. Can my noble friend the Leader of the House give the assurance that due consideration will be given to what I believe are four areas of adjustment?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can only add that if it proves that the House as a whole, in spite of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, would like to proceed along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggests, it would be subject to advice from the learned Clerks that any appropriate adjustments to the proposed resolutions could be made satisfactorily and in time. I do not think any of us would subscribe to the view that resolutions of this House, whether they concern legislation or any other matter, are improved by undue hurry. Equally, if we are ready, there is no reason to take longer over it than we need.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. We hope that the matter will be dealt with as soon as possible.

I gave notice to the Government that I wished to ask what would happen to the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, on which, as noble Lords know, a great deal of time was spent in this House. Great interest was shown in the legislation, which is a matter of great concern. We understand that it is not to be proceeded with in the House of Commons. What will be the future of this very important Bill?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the expression of opinion that the noble Baroness gave in the first part of her contribution.

So far as the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill is concerned, perhaps I may take the opportunity to express the appreciation of the Government for the amount of time and trouble that was taken over this extremely important Bill—I agree with the noble Baroness—during the course of its consideration in this place using the special procedures. I venture to suggest that the special procedures, in this case as in many others, proved to be of the greatest possible success. The level of technical debate, in so far as I am qualified to judge these matters, which is not very far, was extremely impressive. It is a great tribute to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that the amount of pitch-rolling, if I may put it that way, that he undertook was crowned with such success at least in this place.

Speaking for the Government, we are very clear that this Bill addresses a subject that needs addressing, and urgently. It was inserted in the timetable on the clear understanding that my noble and learned friend had built a consensus about the terms of the legislation. It was therefore planned as a piece of uncontentious legislation. There have been many accusations, and justified ones, about the role of the press in our national life. I have to say that the ill-informed attentions of a national newspaper about this Bill has—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Name it.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am perfectly willing to name the newspaper if the noble Lord wants me to. It is the Daily Mail. Those attentions have alerted Members of the other place into expressing reservations about the Bill.

My noble and learned friend is therefore faced with a situation whereby, because of the procedures we decided in perfect good faith to adopt in this House, the Bill will now run out of time in this Session. I express the view of Her Majesty's Government that this is a very great pity. My noble and learned friend will now be faced with the task—which I am perfectly confident that he is more than capable of fulfilling—of rebuilding a consensus and finding the best way of reintroducing this Bill as soon as possible so that we can address what is clearly an urgent problem.