§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Procedure Committee's Third Report deals with a number of important questions. Although, strictly, we should deal with the two amendments in turn first, I hope that noble Lords will not feel constrained by their presence and will feel free to range over the report as a whole so that we can have just one debate.
On the matter of using the Queen's name to influence debate, the Procedure Committee considered a lengthy and learned memorandum by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, another by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Blake. The committee decided that the doctrine as stated in Erskine May is correct and should normally apply, but that it was undesirable to impose any absolute rule because circumstances had to be taken into account.
It has to be acknowledged that exceptional circumstances may arise in future. It is not inevitable; indeed it may well be unlikely; but they may do so. In the event of a situation recurring such as the Succession to the Crown Bill, the Procedure Committee thought that it would be desirable if discussions could be held through the usual channels to resolve the extent to which the doctrine in Erskine May should apply in those particular circumstances.
The committee believes that our procedure must retain some measure of flexibility to take account of exceptional circumstances, and for that reason did not recommend that the rule in Erskine May should be regarded as absolute. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, 878 has, however, indicated on the Order Paper that he wishes to debate the matter further, and your Lordships and I will be able to hear what he has to say.
The Procedure Committee was particularly concerned about the conduct of Starred Questions. I was asked to draw to your Lordships' attention the rules which should govern this procedure. Supplementary questions should ask for information, and not take the form of statements. They should be short. They should not be read. Noble Lords are also reminded that time is often wasted by two or more Peers refusing to give way to another Peer. If questions are short, and Peers give way more quickly, more opportunities will be available to put questions to Ministers, who are in turn invited by the noble Lord the Leader of the House to give shorter, sharper replies.
On carry-over of Bills, the significance of paragraph 2(f) in the report is that the new procedure which is recommended for the carry-over of Bills has no immediate practical consequences for your Lordships' House. Initially the only Bills which will be candidates for the new procedure will be Bills introduced into another place. At this stage in the development of the procedure for carry-over, no Bill which starts off in your Lordships' House and which is still here at the end of a Session will be carried over. It is clear from paragraph (e) that any Commons Bill which is carried over in that House will, when it reaches your Lordships' House, be treated in exactly the same way as any other Bill introduced into another place and brought to this House.
On the matter of hands in pockets and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, I would only say that the committee has been concerned that the traditional way in which the House behaves has in recent times been somewhat eroded. One reason may be that some noble Lords simply do not know, or have perhaps forgotten, some of the little courtesies which characterise the way in which we conduct our business and our debates.
§ Moved, That the Third Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 106) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
§ Following is the report referred to:
§ 1. USE OF QUEEN'S NAME TO INFLUENCE DEBATE
§ On 27th February, during the second reading debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill, Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Home Office Minister, informed the House that The Queen had no objections to the bill. Several Lords argued that this disclosure was contrary to the rule in Erskine May that the irregular use of The Queen's name to influence a decision of the House was unconstitutional and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament (p 382). On 2nd March the Leader of the House, after having consulted the clerks, advised the House that on a bill which was so fundamentally personal to The Queen it was only sensible for Her Majesty's views to be made known to the House. He also said that procedural rules should always be applied with commonsense and with due regard to all circumstances.
§ The Committee has considered the exchanges of 27th February and the Leader of the House's statement of 2nd March.
§ The Committee believes that Erskine May correctly states the rule, which should continue to be observed by the House. However, the Committee recognises that exceptional circumstances may arise, such as the Succession to the Crown Bill, which make it desirable to depart from the strict application of the rule. The Committee does not recommend that the rule should be regarded as absolute.879
§ 2. CARRY-OVER OF BILLS
§ On 19th November 1997 the Committee considered a proposal made by the Commons Modernisation Committee1, and endorsed by the House of Commons2, that it should be possible for Government hills to be "carried over" from one parliamentary session to the next in the same way as hybrid and private bills. The Committee accepted that there was a case for the carry-over of some Government bills in certain circumstances; and asked the Clerk of the Parliaments to prepare, with the Clerk of the House of Commons, a memorandum in which the practical details and any necessary safeguards would be examined. The Committee has now considered this memorandum.
§ The Committee recommends that the principle of carry-over should be endorsed by the House and that—
- (a) only Government bills should be eligible for carry-over;
- (b) carry-over should be restricted to bills which have not yet left the House in which they originated;
- (c) the eligibility of bills for carry-over should be settled by informal discussion through the usual channels;
- (d) bills should be carried over by ad hoc motions, at least initially;
- (e) a Commons bill carried over before it reaches the Lords should not be treated differently from other bills when it reaches the Lords;
- (f) no procedure should be agreed at this stage to carry over Lords bills still in the Lords when the session ends.
§ 3. QUOTATION FROM COMMONS SPEECHES IN THE CURRENT SESSION
§ The present rule is that it is undesirable (i.e. out of order) in the House of Lords to quote from a speech made in the House of Commons in the current session, unless it is the speech of a Minister in relation to Government policy. A similar rule applies in the House of Commons. The Commons Modernisation Committee has reported (Fourth Report, 1997–98, HC 600) that the rule seems to them to be neither logical nor necessary, and that it is difficult to enforce since by the time the facts have been established it is generally too late to prevent a breach of the rule. The Committee agrees with the analysis of the Modernisation Committee and recommends that the rule relating to Commons' speeches should be abolished in the House of Lords.
§ 4. STARRED QUESTIONS
The Committee is concerned about the conduct of Starred Questions and the number of occasions recently when the Leader of the House has had to intervene. The Committee reminds the House of the guidance in the Companion:
Starred Questions … are asked for information only, and not with a view to stating an opinion, making a speech or raising a debate." (p 84)
§ The Committee also wishes to stress the following points:
- —supplementary questions should not be read, and should be short; and ministerial replies as short as possible, consistent with answering the question;
- —Lords should give way to each other promptly;
- —shorter, sharper questions and answers will allow more Lords a chance to take part.
§ 5. CONDUCT IN THE CHAMBER
§ The Committee reminds the House that
- (a) it is undesirable to use first names in the Chamber;
- (b) Lords should not pass between the Woolsack (or the Chair) and any Lord who is speaking, but if they have to do so, they should bend down as they pass:
- (c) Lords should not speak with their hands in their pockets;
- (d) The correct way to refer to a Minister is "The noble Lord, the Minister"; it is not correct to refer to "The noble Minister";
- (e) the correct way to address the House is "My Lords", or, where appropriate, to use the expressions "Your Lordships" or "Your Lordships' House".
§ 1 First Report 1997–98: The Legislative Process (HC 190).
§ 2 On 13th November 1997.880
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: In moving my amendment to the report, I seek to give the House the opportunity to maintain fully an important constitutional convention which protects the independence of parliamentary proceedings from interference or undue influence from the Crown; and, no less important, protects the Queen from party politics. It was, I had thought, a convention well known to Members of both Houses. It has been enshrined in successive editions of Erskine May, our parliamentary bible, ever since the publication first appeared in 1844. Previously all governments have felt tightly bound by it.
Your Lordships can therefore imagine my astonishment when, on 27th February, during the Second Reading debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lord Archer, I heard the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on behalf of the Government, say:
Her Majesty had no objection to the Government's view that in determining the line of succession to the throne daughters and sons should be treated in the same way".—[Official Report, 27/2/98; col. 916.]
§ I should say at once that I attach no personal blame to the noble Lord, who, as he explained to me subsequently, was merely saying what he was told to say. Nor do I blame the Palace, who, we have been told, agreed the form of words to be used. Nor do I blame my noble friend Lord Archer, who tells me that he had no idea that the Government were going to reveal the Queen's view on the Bill. Nor do I blame the Clerks, who, the Lord Privy Seal has told us, produced the advice that he used on 2nd March as an ex post justification for what had happened the previous Friday afternoon. The Clerks had not been consulted before the event, more is the pity. They might have urged caution before endorsing so flagrant a breach of the convention.
§ I suspect and fear that the origins of what happened on 27th February lie in the spin doctors' Downing Street surgery, where the temptation to manipulate the monarchy to support the "Cool Britannia" image proved in this instance as irresistible as it was unwise.
In another place the matter would have been dealt with on the spot by Madam Speaker who, I suspect, would have ruled in favour of Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, where it is stated:
The irregular use of the Queen's name to influence a decision of the House is unconstitutional in principle and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament. Where the Crown has a distinct interest in a measure, there is an authorised mode of communicating Her Majesty's recommendation or consent, through one of her Ministers; but Her Majesty cannot be supposed to have a private opinion, apart from that of her responsible advisers: and any attempt to use her name in debate to influence the judgement of Parliament is immediately checked and censured".
§ We do not know, of course, what Madam Speaker would have said, but the Procedure Committee, to which I referred the matter for adjudication, was told by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that, as Speaker, he would have "jumped on" such an incident.
§ The Lord Privy Seal, in his own statement to the Procedure Committee, reaffirmed his justification for the incident. That did not totally surprise me; he is not someone who easily changes his mind. I hope he will not regard it as disrespectful—and I certainly do not intend to be acerbic—if I suggest that just occasionally I wonder whether there is not a touch of hubris in his attitude to the British constitution.
§ I am, of course, glad that the committee has endorsed the Erskine May rule. I do not object to the committee's conclusion that exceptional circumstances may arise which may make it desirable to depart from its strict interpretation. But in our parliamentary system, and indeed our legal system, rules are modified by precedent. I therefore strongly object to the reference to the Succession to the Crown Bill as an example of where the departure is justified. If the House were to accept these words, it would at once form a precedent—in my view, one which is both unnecessary and undesirable. I do not believe that the summing up of the Chairman of Committees, as reported in the minutes of the committee, justify the inclusion of the words to which I object.
§ Before I go any further in putting my case, I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Blake, who also gave evidence to the Procedure Committee and whose opinion in these matters is, I believe, deeply respected, to say that he much regrets that, due to a very temporary medical indisposition, he is unable to be here today to support my amendment.
§ In his statement of 2nd March the Lord Privy Seal recognised the importance of the issue but justified the use of the Queen's opinion on this occasion on three grounds: that on a matter which was so fundamentally personal to the Sovereign and her family, it would have been unhelpful to the House for the Government not to have made her view known; that the procedure must always be applied with common sense and due consideration for the circumstances; and that Her Majesty's views would soon have become apparent through other channels.
Before I specifically refute these reasons, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence to allow me to refer to the historical background to this issue. It is not surprising that the constitutional convention should have originated in the time of Charles I. It was then that the fundamental right of Parliament to be free from Crown interference was fought for and established. It would therefore seem specious to argue that there are earlier historical precedents which now justify what was done in February 1998. The wording of the doctrine as laid down in the current 22nd edition of Erskine May is identical to that of the first edition of 1844. However, the first edition makes it clear that the origin of the issue
dates to the remonstrance of the Lords and Commons to Charles I of December 1641, when it was declared:
That it is their ancient and undoubted right and privilege that your majesty ought not to take notice of any matter in agitation or debate in either of the houses of Parliament, but by their information or agreement; and that your majesty ought not to propound any condition, provision, or limitation, to any bill or act in debate or preparation in either house of Parliament, or to manifest or declare your consent or dissent, approbation or dislike of the same, before it be presented to your majesty in due course of Parliament".
Erskine May refers to the next occasion when the doctrine was spelled out as December 1783, when the Commons resolved:
That it is now necessary to declare, that to report any opinion or pretended opinion of his majesty, upon any bill or other proceeding depending in either house of Parliament, with a view to influence the votes of the members, is a high crime and misdemeanour, derogatory to the honour of the Crown, a breach of the fundamental privileges of Parliament, and subversive to the constitution of this country".
That resulted from George III's written message on Fox's India Bill.
Erskine May makes it clear that the doctrine should not exclude a statement by a Minister of the facts in which the Queen's name may be concerned. Even this has led to problems. Sir Robert Walpole, in 1729, and Sir Robert Peel, in 1843, were challenged for giving purely factual accounts of the Sovereign's position on issues. Peel was merely repeating what William IV had already said in a speech from the throne. Even then, Speaker Shaw-Lefevre thought it necessary to reaffirm the underlying position:
It was quite true that it would be highly out of order to use the name of the sovereign in that house so as to endeavour to influence its decision, or that of any of its members, upon any question under its consideration".
The next major battle started in 1909 and led to the Parliament Act 1911. The parliamentary proprieties were observed and Asquith took the greatest pains to avoid any action which might reveal the King's view. After the Liberal victory of February 1910, Asquith told the Commons:
it is the duty of statesmen and of responsible politicians as long as possible and as far as possible to keep the name of the Sovereign and the prerogatives of the Crown outside the domain of party politics".
In November, Edward VII having died, the Cabinet minuted George V,
Ministers are fully alive to the importance of keeping the name of the King out of the sphere of party and electoral controversy … it would be inadvisable in the interests of the state that any communication of the interests of the Crown should be made public unless and until the actual occasion should arise".
Only on 20th July 1911 was the King's agreement to create Peers privately notified to the Opposition leaders and to the House of Lords on 10th August, the last day of the final debate.
§ Thus parliamentary history underlines the seriousness with which both Houses have, for at least 150 years, treated the constitutional convention that the Sovereign's views should not be used in debate in a way which might be thought to influence Parliament and thus undermine its independence. The Speaker checks even the most minor infringements in the House of Commons.883
There seems to me to be neither authority nor precedent for arguing that, in the words of the Lord Privy Seal, in the case of,
a Bill which is so fundamentally personal to the sovereign and her family",
the convention should not apply. Indeed, a new phrase which is potentially even more pernicious was put the committee. It was said that the Queen's opinion was,
structural to the Archer bill".
§ After the justification given we are left with a situation in which it would seem to be open to any Peer to argue in debate on any matter before the House that one of the three criteria of the Lord Privy Seal applies and that the Queen's view on the merits of the matter could or should be revealed. That is clearly unsatisfactory, especially as it is anticipated that there could soon be further constitutional legislation under which hereditary Peers, including Royal Dukes, may lose their membership of the House of Lords.
§ While common sense and due consideration of the circumstances are good rules to apply to behaviour in and out of Parliament, they hardly justify on their own overturning an important constitutional convention. If the Queen's view on legislation can be given by a government Minister, is it open to the Opposition or Back-Benchers from any party to comment on or even refute that view? Indeed, is the right to put forward the Queen's view to be left solely to the government of the day?
§ Finally, as we all know, Erskine May applies to both Houses. If we were to endorse this totally new precedent as an exception to the convention, where would that leave another place? Surely in such matters symmetry between both Houses of Parliament is important. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will indicate that he is prepared to think again and therefore accept my amendment. If the House were to agree to the report unamended, I fear that it would result in a constitutional shambles. I beg to move.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, it may be of assistance to the House if I make one or two points at this stage. I am being accused of all sorts of things these days—conceit yesterday, hubris today. One thing of which I suppose I am guilty is not communicating with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, before he gave us the benefit of his extensive knowledge and historical research on this issue.
I do not intend to oppose the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The Procedure Committee had a thorough debate on the use of the Queen's name to influence debates and its conclusions are set out in paragraph 1 of the report. The committee concluded that the rules stated in Erskine May should continue to be observed by the House, but recognised that exceptional circumstances may arise under which it was desirable to depart from the strict application of the rule.
The committee suggested that the Succession to the Crown Bill—the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred—should be cited as a specific example of such an exception. It is that example that 884 the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is today seeking to delete. It is clear—at least, I thought it was—that there is a difference of opinion between the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the Procedure Committee on the question of whether the Succession to the Crown Bill does or does not properly form an exception of the kind which the Procedure Committee indicated might arise. However, the noble Lord's amendment does not undermine either of the fundamental principles set out in the Select Committee's report; namely, first, that there should be a rule and, secondly, that exceptions could arise.
Under those circumstances it would not be profitable for the House to spend a great deal of time debating the noble Lord's amendment today, nor would it be profitable for a Division to arise upon it. For those reasons I am prepared to accept the noble Lord's amendment without prejudice to the correctness or otherwise of the Procedure Committee's opinion on this specific case. I am sorry that I could not communicate with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in advance of his rising to speak to indicate that that was the procedure I intended to adopt.
Since I am on my feet, perhaps I may say a few words in relation to the second amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. It is not a matter upon which I have strong views. The Procedure Committee was persuaded, at the instigation of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—I am sorry to see that he is not in his place—to recommend that noble Lords should not speak with their hands in their pockets. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, is intending to delete that recommendation from the Procedure Committee's report on the grounds that it is possible to go too far in prescribing such minutiae of conduct for your Lordships.
As I said, I do not hold strong views one way or the other on the issue. I remind the House that the three Chief Whips and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers agreed last week to circulate a paper on conventions in this House which was distributed with all party Whips. The paper covered a number of aspects of behaviour of the House but did not cover the specific point raised in the Procedure Committee by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Given the existence of that paper and the guidance set out in the report before the House today, I hope that noble Lords will feel that they have been given a wide range of guidance on what perhaps may sometimes appear to be arcane points in relation to the way your Lordships' House behaves. Under those circumstances, I hope that the House will be able to decide this matter too without the necessity for a Division.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should mention that, alas, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is extremely ill in hospital.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I am very sorry to hear that. I hope that, had he been here, he would not have taken exception to anything that I said.
§ 3.30 p.m.
My Lords, the third report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House, as your Lordships will have observed, covers a number of matters. Some are of obvious importance, like the matter covered by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, and others are more trivial but which we as a House would be wise to take seriously.
I should therefore like to say, if the Leader of the House will allow me, how grateful I am for the early opportunity that he has given us to debate the report and for the guidance he gave us on a number of the matters it covers. The opportunity is one which we particularly appreciate, given the pressures an overloaded legislative programme puts on the time available on the Floor of this Chamber.
Of the five matters covered in the Select Committee report, I suspect that the one which concerns us most—and rightly so—is the use of the Queen's name to influence debates. I was grateful to the Leader of the House for what he said. However, I should like to come to this matter a little later in my brief intervention and to take the matters covered by the report in reverse order.
The last two matters to which the report refers may seem trivial, but we should be grateful to the Leader of the House for emphasising the importance he attaches to them.
Conduct—the way we behave and the way we observe the rules—is perhaps more important to us in this House than to another place. We all know that we regulate ourselves and that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has no power to keep order. This makes our rather elaborate courtesies a gavotte of real practical value. These are the rails which keep our wheels running on track. If we observe them we are less likely to be carried away by convictions, however passionately held.
I believe that the importance of these courtesies has increased over recent years rather than diminished. After all, the House is, by common consent, I believe, busier and fuller and more Members wish to intervene, particularly at Question Time, than six short years ago when I first joined your Lordships' House. That inevitably makes the conduct of our affairs more difficult and puts self-regulation under strain. Our rather elaborate courtesies seem to me, therefore, more of a very present help in trouble than perhaps they used to be, even a few years ago. So I believe that we would do well to heed the advice that the committee has tendered in the fifth item of its report. Certainly we on the Opposition Front Bench will do our best to encourage this side of the House to do so.
The advice of the Leader of the House seems to me to be wise and timely in the matter of Starred Questions. As Ministers, all of us have been presented with draft answers of inordinate length. Officials are perhaps understandably anxious to ensure that Ministers cover every aspect and sometimes forget that some answers are more effective for being kept in reserve for supplementary questions; and indeed that Ministers sometimes have to be trusted to be masters of their brief.
886 Equally, us questioners all too easily forget that, above all, brevity is the soul of wit at Question Time and that it can also stump a Minister completely. I remember all too vividly, when I was a Member of another place, Mr. Tam Dalyell asking a one word supplementary, "Why?". Needless to say, the Minister was beaten all ends up. Perhaps we should equally remember that we in this House are often at our most effective when we are not being too partisan. The words at page 84 of the Companion, therefore, and which are quoted with approval in the committee's report, seem to me to be particularly to the point.
On the question of quotation from speeches in the current Session in another place, I can add nothing to the paragraph in the report. This seems to me to be a sensible and practical change and I hope that the House will take the same view.
The question of the carry over of Bills is perhaps more contentious. A number of your Lordships have expressed concern this afternoon about this proposal, particularly since it seems to them to threaten the powers of delay of your Lordships' House under the Parliament Acts.
As a former government business manager, I can say that we, too, looked at the question of carry over when we were in government. We rapidly came to the conclusion that it would hinder the effective completion of a government's legislative programme rather than help it. The reason of course is that, above all, it removes one of the few restraints on great Secretaries of State to moderate their passion for legislation. I hope that I do not misinterpret him, but from the hints that the Leader of the House has let drop from time to time he shares that view, although he might not be able to say so quite as frankly in public as I do now that I am on this side of the House.
For that reason, too, I think Oppositions should welcome the idea of carry over. However, perhaps oppositions which expect to return to government should welcome the caution with which this Government are beginning to treat the idea.
As far as this proposal affects the powers of this House, I think it probably enhances them rather than the reverse. So long as only Government Bills are eligible; so long as the only Bills carried over are Bills that have not left their House of origin; so long as the Opposition Whips have an effective veto through the usual channels on which Bills are selected for carry over, it seems to me that your Lordships would, in theory at least, have an extra Session in which to delay the passage of a Bill before the Parliament Acts applied. As someone who would like to see this House use its powers more and who regards that as perhaps one of the greatest arguments for reform of your Lordships' House, I suspect we should welcome the committee's report as a small step, at least at the margins, towards achieving that aim.
This brings me—I hope briefly—to the most difficult matter which we have discussed this afternoon. It has been most elegantly resolved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I believe that we should be extremely grateful to him for his statesman-like 887 approach. It is a matter that aroused a good deal of well-justified anxiety in this place; an anxiety which I am bound to say I share to some extent. Therefore, I believe that the whole House should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for the role that he has played in bringing the matter to the Procedure Committee's attention and also for the distinguished contribution that he made both to the committee's proceedings and to our debate this afternoon.
It is a sensible practice of the House that on non-political matters we should follow the advice of the Leader of the House. It is something that the noble Lord did when our present roles were reversed and I was always extremely grateful to him for doing so, particularly when I was wrong. I certainly think that we were right to follow the advice of the Leader of the House in this instance and would not dream of questioning the advice which he offered us. Indeed, I accept it completely.
Nevertheless, I wonder whether the time has not come for us to change the practice of this House, as set out by the Leader of the House, as a result of the worry so well articulated by my noble friend.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his evidence to the committee, as I understood him, endeavoured to draw a distinction between the Monarch acting in her personal capacity and the Monarch acting, if I may put it this way, as the Monarch. He argued that in the former case it was right for the Monarch to make her views known in advance of Bills being discussed in your Lordships' House and in the latter, not.
As a matter of academic interest, I would be interested to know if there has ever been an example of the Monarch's private views being used in this way until this year.
However, I have in particular two practical worries about the noble Earl's argument. First, the demarcation line between the two categories seems extraordinarily difficult to define. After all, in the case that we are discussing, the succession to the Throne must, it is true, affect the Monarch personally. That is the advice which the Leader of the House gave us. But the question of who is to be our next Sovereign surely also affects the rest of us as well. A question that affects all of us is surely one that affects the Sovereign as Monarch as well as the Sovereign in her personal capacity. Secondly, the question of the Monarchy—and indeed the role of women—has moved steadily up the political agenda in recent years. This is a matter which is now part of the day-to-day warp and woof of political life. Seeking to involve the Monarch in the day-to-day warp and woof of political life seems to me to be something that perhaps we should try to avoid from now on.
For both these reasons, therefore, I think it would be wise if from now on we altered the procedure currently laid down quite rightly for us in the interpretation of Erskine May by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I endeavoured to make the same argument in discussions at the Procedure Committee. I understand that the committee had accepted that a new general rule, following the substance of the argument of my noble 888 friend Lord Marlesford, should be recommended to your Lordships' House and that in particular that rule should cover the matter of succession to the Throne.
If my memory serves me right—and it is not always a very reliable instrument—the committee also accepted that it would be impossible to anticipate every eventuality and that if the Government wished to ignore this new rule they should do so only by agreement with the usual channels in this House.
In the light of my recollection of the proceedings in the committee, I confess to being a little surprised by the words,such as the Crown Succession Bill",which appear in the third paragraph of the report. Certainly the minutes of the proceedings of the committee seem to me to convey a slightly different emphasis, although I confess that I was grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who, in his introduction to our exchanges this afternoon, seemed to me to perhaps set my recollection more closely in tune with his. For those reasons, I am delighted that, on reflection, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has decided not to oppose the view of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, as expressed in his amendment. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for that, as should be the whole House.
In expressing my gratitude for the way in which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has guided us on this matter, perhaps in finishing I may thank him for what I had hoped would be rather more definite guidance on the second amendment before the House. I refer to that standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. If your Lordships find yourselves in the same position as me with regard to the noble Lord's amendment, your Lordships will be on the horns of what seems to me to be an impossible dilemma. On the one hand, there is clearly no one more deeply versed in the procedure and practice of this House than the noble Lord. As a former Clerk of the Parliaments, his knowledge is well known to your Lordships and, in normal circumstances, I would not hesitate to urge your Lordships to accept his advice.
However, there is a difficulty. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House rightly pointed out, my noble friend Lord Ferrers disagrees with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I have always regarded my noble friend as the final arbiter of manners in this place. Perhaps I may echo the sentiments already expressed this afternoon and say that I feel particularly sad that my noble friend cannot be here today to argue his point. I hope that the whole House will allow me to convey its very best wishes to my noble friend for a speedy recovery.
Perhaps I may make one plea to the noble Lord the Leader of the House: can he offer those of us on this side of the House a little more definite guidance with regard to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson? It is something which I find myself quite incapable of resolving.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I should like to comment on the report of the Select Committee 889 as a whole and to leave it to my noble friend Lord Russell, if he so chooses, to pursue the remarks made by the noble Viscount in so far as the House may wish to spend a great deal more time on the question of the use of the Queen's name. I think that we all recognise the importance of these issues, but I hope that the House will not become too pompous about them or allow them to consume too much of your Lordships' time. Although they are important, my view, after a very thorough discussion in the committee, is that I hope that the House will accept the report as it stands.
In that respect, I find paragraph 1 of the report a fair recommendation of the conclusions reached. It represents the balance of the discussion and of the decision. I dissent from the view of the noble Viscount in so far as he feels that it might be expressed differently. I would not dissent if the advice of the Leader of the House were accepted and we deleted those words, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Having said that, I believe the report to be a fair minute of our discussions under the chairmanship of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees.
On the final subject of the report—conduct in the Chamber—and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, it is fair to say that we reached that item late in the afternoon after discussing other matters, and that such were the persuasive powers of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that none of us felt able to dispute what he was proposing. Therefore, given that I was silent on the matter at that time, I cannot now argue for any amendment to the report.
Nevertheless, returning to what I said at the beginning, I think that we can often be too pompous. If a noble Lord finds it more comfortable to speak in your Lordships' House with his hands in his pockets, I do not think that we should unreasonably object, any more than we should unreasonably object if a noble Lord turns up wearing trainers from time to time—
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
—as, indeed, at least one noble Lord occasionally does. We are a working Chamber of Parliament and we will be better respected outside the more we keep these matters in perspective.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, perhaps I may put in some very brief words. First, as other noble Lords will agree, I must record the fact that the noble Lord who has just sat down spoke with his hands in his pockets. I have no objection. Having heard what various noble Lords have said on this matter, I believe that perhaps it should be referred back to the Select Committee. The draft of the recommendation is incomplete. It states:Lords should not speak with their hands in their pockets".But which pockets? I suppose that it means "trouser pockets", but, like the noble Lord from the Liberal Democrat Benches, quite a number of noble Lords speak with their hands in their jacket pockets. Why should 890 they not do so? I think that we are too much governed by too many small, pettifogging recommendations of one sort or another. Quite honestly, that recommendation reminds me of school more than of anything else.
I have no idea whether Members of the House of Commons are allowed to speak with their hands in their pockets, but nervous Members of another place will quite often speak with their hands in their trouser pockets. That gives rise to the opportunity for others to disrupt that Member's train of thought by shouting, "Hands in pocket!" or something like that. I do not think that we want to follow that in this House.
One Peer whom I particularly admire, who is one of the wittiest among us and whose words I would never miss if I could possibly avoid it, spoke the other day with both hands in his trouser pockets—and he spoke most eloquently. I would regard it as a criminal act to interrupt his flow of speech by telling him to take his hands out of his pockets. It would be an insolent thing to do to a man of great distinction. I say no more on that, other than to ask that we do not say "yes" or "no" today, but send the matter back to the Select Committee and ask it to make its recommendation a little more precise.
Perhaps I may make one other point. I refer to the carry-over. I am very pleased that the Select Committee has made the recommendation that it has, following the House of Commons. For years, the Whips have unanimously vetoed any change in that regard. One small area of our legislative work is very important but hardly gains any recognition in the House. I refer to the work of the committee—its name escapes me—which is always chaired by a Law Lord—
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, thank you. I refer to the work of the Select Committee on Consolidation Bills. The programme of consolidation is artificially squeezed because every Bill that is introduced as a consolidation Bill or a statute law revision Bill must be completed within that Session. That wretched committee has to consider perhaps five or six Bills in the first part of a Session while in the second part of the Session, when it could consider another five or six Bills, it is not allowed to do so because those Bills cannot be carried over. I recommend that Bills which start in this House and which deal with consolidation or statute law revision should be allowed to be carried over. I believe that that most important recommendation would be well received by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor if he were present on the Woolsack.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I came prepared to speak in support of the amendment which has been called and, if the House was divided, to vote in favour of it. I am very glad that that now appears to be unnecessary. The noble Lord the Leader of the House has been very wise and generous to accept the amendment without a Division. It leaves the substances of the report of the Procedure Committee unimpaired 891 and saves the controversial matter of the Succession to the Crown Bill from going into a footnote of Erskine May by way of a precedent.
If this problem arose again it would be useful to apply two criteria. The first is whether the measure is controversial. Undoubtedly the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, was controversial. Fifty-six noble Lords took the quite unusual—to my knowledge, unprecedented—course of voting against the Motion of an Address to the Sovereign to allow the matter to be discussed in Parliament. In considering whether there should be an exception to the general rule, it will always be relevant to apply that criterion. Is the measure a matter of controversy?
As to the second criterion, it is useful to look at the mirror image of what is done. Would it have been acceptable if the Minister—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that he should not be thought to be in any way blameworthy in the matter—had said that Her Majesty had indicated that she disagreed with the Government's view? Obviously that would have been quite unacceptable and inconceivable, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put it in a letter to me when I took up the matter with him. That being so, I believe that the House has been very well advised to accept the report without the words that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has moved to expunge.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for accepting the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I direct your Lordships' attention to the suggestion relating to the carry-over of Bills. I was somewhat reassured by the comments of my noble friend Lord Cranborne but have some anxiety about where this proposal may lead. Admittedly, the proposal has safeguards. It is said that it should be applied to some government Bills in certain circumstances. It is also said that the eligibility of Bills for carry-over should be settled by informal discussions through the usual channels. While that is to some degree reassuring, the House is being asked to endorse the principle of carry-over. I find that worrying. This could easily be the thin edge of the wedge. One of the most powerful checks that Parliament has over any government is that, if the government are unable to persuade Parliament to accept a Bill by the end of the Session that Bill falls; it is dead. If the government wish to pursue the matter they must table a completely new Bill in the following Session.
It would be a dangerous move for Parliament to surrender that very important power. Reforms such as this—noble Lords have seen many over the years—invariably make life easier for the Government of the day and more difficult for Parliament to act as an effective check on the Executive. I hope that noble Lords can have an assurance on this matter. I address my remarks much more to the Leader of the House than to the Lord Chairman of Committees. I seek an 892 assurance that this new power will be used with great moderation and will not be extended in any circumstances to all government Bills.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I believe that after this lapse of time it would be an abuse of the time of the House to engage the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in discussion of his precedents from the reign of Charles I. However, I hope that it is not a waste of the time of the House to say that I am in full agreement not only with what is said in the report but also with the remarks of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal.
It has never been in issue that the rule in Erskine May stands. When the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, refers to the overturning of Erskine May I am not aware of any noble Lord in the House who believes that that should be done. The point at issue has always been simply whether that rule is capable of exception. To borrow a phrase used by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, there is no suggestion that the Queen's name should at any stage be drawn into the warp and woof of political debate. I believe that noble Lords would unite in deploring such a notion.
The noble Viscount said that I had endeavoured—I believe that was his word—to draw a distinction between the Queen's personal and public capacity. I shall not bore the noble Viscount with a list of the literature on that distinction, to which I am only one of the most recent contributors. He is undoubtedly right that it is a difficult distinction to apply. Good sense is always difficult, but that is no reason for giving up trying to have it. Finally, Erskine May is only 2,000 pages long. It is very dangerous to rest an argument solely on the silence of Erskine May.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, a number of my concerns have already been covered adequately by other noble Lords. One matter that concerns me that so far has not been touched upon relates to the third section of the report that deals with quotations from Commons speeches in the current Session. Those noble Lords who have glanced at the Companion will understand why that rule exists. If I may paraphrase the Companion, the rule is intended to ensure that debates in the House of Commons are not carried over into the House of Lords. It is important that there should be a distinct and separate debate in the House of Lords from the House of Commons, and vice versa. I hope that when the Companion and Erskine May come to be re-written the importance of the separation of debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons is assured, even though noble Lords will accept the common sense of allowing quotations from speeches in either House to be referred to. But if that should be seen as an opportunity for Members of this House effectively to carry on a completely separate debate in the House of Commons that should not be allowed.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in support of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to provide a little more information as to what is intended by sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 2. It is proposed that the eligibility of Bills for carry-over 893 should be settled by informal discussion through the usual channels. Read literally, it can mean either that the usual channels will decide whether or not a Bill has started in this House and remains in this House and is a government Bill, in which case it means that all government business can potentially be carried over, or that the Government will come to a conclusion with the usual channels as to which of those Bills are eligible for carry-over on this occasion. Those are two very different propositions, both of which can be read from this paper.
Given that the threat of the loss of a Bill at the end of the Session is a real one—as a former Minister I remember how real it was—I regard that as one of the rapidly diminishing means by which Parliament can maintain control of the Executive. Those of us who feel that the Executive is getting further and further out of the control of Parliament believe that we should retain these restraints. I am not speaking of any particular government; I am talking of a continuing process. I for one would be comforted if the noble Lord the Leader of the House would say that agreement would be reached between the usual channels as to the volume of business that might be done in carry-over rather than that the whole volume of available business might be carried over.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I share the disquiet of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the carrying over of Bills. Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House say, first, whether there is any precedent in peacetime—obviously things may be different in time of war or national emergency—for a government Bill, as opposed to a private or hybrid Bill, being carried over from one parliamentary Session to another?
Secondly, in its third report, published on 2nd March this year the Commons Select Committee states that the carry-over should not be a device by which the Government impose their will on the minority. Can we be assured—and here I echo the noble Lord, Lord Elton—that "agreement through the usual channels" means not only securing the agreement of the two main opposition parties, I suppose in both Houses, but also the agreement of the smaller parties and, ideally, Cross-Benchers through the medium of their Convenor bearing in mind that we on these Benches outnumber the Liberal Democrats and all other smaller parties in both Houses put together?
My Lords, I too feel obliged to follow up what is said in sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 2. The trouble, I think, is caused by the use of the word "settled". Settled normally means decided finally. If it be the fact that the usual channels—that means the Whips, coupled no doubt with the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and perhaps the leader of a minority party—were to decide these things (Front Benches only), they might place themselves in conflict with Back Bench opinion throughout the House. That is a serious proposition.
894 If the word "eligibility" is considered to modify the word "settled", a different conclusion might be reached. But it is the word "settled" that we need to be very careful about. I was rather disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, with whom I have worked in various ways in the past and for whom I have such great respect, decided not to move and press this amendment. I think it is one of great importance. It comes to this: that the responsibility and power for deciding this important matter will be granted to the Front Benches, and to them alone if we are not careful.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, I am much obliged. Can the Lord Chairman of Committees confirm my own impression that the effect of paragraph 2 of the Report on the Procedure of the House will be absolutely minimal? I take four examples.
First, if a Bill starts in this House and gets only as far as Third Reading when the parliamentary Session is about to end, the Bill cannot be carried over. It cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (f) the new procedure does not apply to a Lords Bill still in this House when the Session ends.
Secondly, suppose a Bill starts in the Commons, is passed in the Commons but gets only as far as Third Reading in this House when the Session is about to end. The Bill cannot be carried over. That is because under sub-paragraph (b) carry-over is restricted to Bills which have not yet left the House in which they originated.
Thirdly, suppose a Bill, which started in this House, has been passed by this House but is returned to us with Commons amendments. Again, the Bill cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (f) a Bill which starts in this House and is in this House when the Session ends cannot be carried over.
Fourthly, suppose a Bill, which started in the Commons, has passed through all stages in this House but is returned with Commons amendments. Again, the Bill cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (b) a Bill cannot be carried over which has left the House in which it originated. It follows that the carry-over of a Bill under paragraph 2 will be confined to extremely rare occasions.
In those circumstances it does not seem to me that the procedure is capable of being used in this House to deprive the Opposition of a power to disrupt Bills which are incomplete as the Session nears its end.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I know the Lord Privy Seal is becoming impatient but there are important matters here and I think that we have the right to discuss them.
I am very glad that the noble Lord has accepted my noble kinsman's amendment. I am sure he is right to do that. What in fact happened was, in my view, a mistake, for the reason my noble kinsman has said.
895 On the question of carry-over, I notice that noble Lords have been paying a great deal of attention to the sugar on the pill. But the pill itself is that a new principle is being established. The previous principle—and if it was not a principle it was certainly treated as one—that carry-over did not exist except in exceptional circumstances—is being discarded; and now the principle is being established, sugared though the pill is, that carry-over is possible.
During my 16 years in this House as a Back-Bencher I have observed the salutary effect in practice of Parliament having to resolve matters before the deadline. A government seldom wants, despite what the Lord Privy Seal has said, the embarrassment of a Bill falling and having to be reintroduced in the next Session. That is an embarrassment and governments shrink from that.
With or without the sugar—and, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, this measure could increase the power of this House—it is a very big change. I am sorry that it came to the House tucked between a big constitutional matter and matters of noble Lords' pockets. I do not think women's pockets are under consideration. I am sorry that such a big measure came in this way to the House. I feel that it should have been first discussed in a debate purely about that. But we have taken advantage of the discussion of the report and I am glad of that.
I hope that, in future, big changes which affect the practice of Parliament—not just of the House of Lords, but of the House of Commons—will not be discussed here simply as matters almost hidden in a report of the Procedure Committee.
It seems to me that, accept it though we must, we should take note that a big change is being made, albeit by this method.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, it seems to me that my noble friend Lord Dean needs support on this. This is a constitutional innovation. It is a constitutional innovation, however small the pill—I take the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman—in that it is a mini-Aspirin; it is not a block-buster or a Viagra. It is however a small pill and it is a start. It is extremely dangerous for such constitutional changes to be introduced by the back-door, which this almost is, with the check on it which states:the eligibility of bills for carry-over should be settled by informal discussion through the usual channels".What happens if the usual channels do not agree and the Government want the Bill carried over? I presume, because they have a precedent, that the Government will have their way. I am sorry. This is dangerous. We should not allow it. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not arrogant or conceited and is quite our favourite Leader of the Government Front Bench at the moment, please, because he is a good lad, to go away and think about it again, because he cannot but see the force of the arguments of my noble friend Lord Dean.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, someone should be on record as saying that they agree with paragraph 2, which 896 I do most strongly. I assume, first, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, is correct: the proposal does not apply to this House anyway. I am sorry that it does not, but that is by the way. As I read it, unless I have misunderstood it, the words:endorsed by the House of Commons",are merely a way of saying that they are proposing to do it. I agree with that also.
I assume that sub-paragraph (c) amounts essentially to a view that if they can agree, it will happen; if they cannot agree, in practice, it will not happen. We are discussing technical Bills of the type with which I had to deal on the Front Bench, of the most boring, tedious kind, which most noble Lords do not turn up to debate. On the whole, we get them through anyway. If, for example, the Trade Marks Bill had not got through in time, it would have been sensible with no constitutional—I regard as preposterous the suggestion that we are involved in the most fundamental constitution-making here—aspects, to have said, "We have got this far, but no further. Let us get it cleared off when we come back, without starting it again".
Someone, at least, should congratulate the Commons—if I dare use the words—on the slight possibility that they might modernise themselves. They usually set their face totally against modernisation in any form. I should have thought that that was a good thing. Speaking entirely for myself, I hope that one day your Lordships might also consider this and one or two other modernisations. If I may put it in the vernacular, it is no big deal.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, item 2—the carry-over of Bills—with great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was discussed in the Procedure Committee. It appeared in the report of the Procedure Committee, which we are now debating. It has not been sneaked into the House in any underhand manner. It is up to all noble Lords, as I am sure they are all aware, and noticeably aware, judging by how full the Chamber is, to debate all reports of the Procedure Committee. This has not been sneaked in in any manner. That is not to say that I do not have grave reservations about the carry-over of Bills. I think that I share the reservations of a number of noble Lords, because I have a nasty feeling that this could be the thin edge of a wedge.
I should turn to the question of Peers speaking with hands in their pockets. This is an example more than a reality. All of us in the Procedure Committee, and outside it, are concerned that the guidance given in the Companion to the Standing Orders should be read, understood and obeyed by Members on all sides of the House. That is what we are concerned about.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I support the points put by my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. My main intervention concerns item 5 of the report which relates to our conduct in the Chamber. There are two areas which do not appear to have been mentioned in the report which may be significant, about which I could perhaps ask the noble Lord the Chairman of 897 Committees while we are debating the matter. The first area is the method by which we address one another. I agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Cranborne, that courtesy in your Lordships' House leads to our self-regulating discipline. I may not be alone in noticing that there is a growing habit of referring to a noble Lord just as "Lord So and So" or "Lord Surname", without prefixing that address with "the noble Lord, Lord So and So" or "my noble friend". The use merely of the surname without the prefix "the noble Lord" or "my noble friend" diminishes our self-regulating discipline in the House. That was my first question.
The second may be a little more controversial. It is whether the noble Lord's committee has considered the dilemma of noble Lords appearing to slumber in the Chamber. We all know that noble Lords do not slumber in the Chamber. The lights are strong, some of us are hard of hearing and getting harder of hearing, and we put our heads back to the loud speakers to hear what is going on. It appears to me to be a sensible time to raise this issue, because the public is not generally aware of the enormous service which your Lordships' House gives to the nation. In view of the scrutiny which, one way or another, your Lordships' House is undergoing at the moment, I should have thought that that is an area which, if not on this occasion perhaps on the next occasion, the noble Lord's committee might care to look into, to the profit of us all.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I have listened with patience. I have the assurance of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that I am not behaving arrogantly. I am not full of hubris. My hands are not in my pockets. Perhaps I may now say something on the carry-over point.
Perhaps I may give the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Dean, wants. It is not the Government's intention, for one instant, that carry-over should apply to—if I may use the phrase—the bulk of the Government's programme. That is not the object of the exercise. The Leader of the House of Commons wrote to me indicating the sort of circumstances in which the Government might wish to carry over a Bill. The analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, seemed to me to be absolutely apposite, and frankly a strong argument in favour of the proposal.
Perhaps I may also make it clear that the proposal does not apply to this House. It does not apply to Bills which originate in this House. It applies only to Bills that originate in the Commons.
The circumstances that the Government have in mind are, first, a programme Bill which was announced in the Queen's speech, which is introduced late because of some external event, such as a court decision or prolonged consultation, which could only complete its passage in the Session of its introduction if it were rushed through. A second possibility would be a programme Bill which is on target to complete its passage shortly before the end of the Session but which is displaced by an urgent Bill introduced on another matter. Another example might be a programme Bill 898 which is introduced late in the Session but which is referred, after discussion through the usual channels, to a Special Standing Committee in the Commons, thereby delaying its arrival in the Lords.
In all those circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for the Government to consider the possibility of carrying over the Bill, provided that it was still down in the other place. One final possible case for carry-over might be of a government Bill which is intended to be introduced in the following Session, but which has been drafted in advance which is ready for introduction in the previous Session. Introducing it in the previous Session would allow for much fuller parliamentary consideration than if it were held over into the following Session.
I wish to make two further points. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that the matter had been sneaked in by the back door. With great respect to the noble Earl, the House has debated this previously on a Procedure Committee report. I have forgotten the exact date, but I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was concerned, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, pointed out. The House has had an opportunity on at least two occasions—on the Floor of the House and in Procedure Committee twice—to express a view.
Finally, it is perfectly clear that the eligibility for Bills to be carried over should be settled by informal discussion through the usual channels. If the usual channels cannot agree, prima facie there will be no carry-over. I should have thought that there were sufficient protections built into that procedure at least for this House to agree that the other House be allowed to conduct the experiment that it has proposed to the modernisation committee.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, in view of the discussions we have had, and the business to follow, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not refer to all those who have taken part in the debate. Indeed, most noble Lords spoke on the question of carry-over. Those matters have been dealt with in the remarks made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
I mention two points on paragraph 1 of the report regarding the use of the Queen's name. First, it is necessary to place this on the record. The Procedure Committee's debate on the matter was thorough and lengthy. I was grateful for the substantial contributions made to that debate by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the Chief Whips. From that alone your Lordships may feel satisfied about the weight of the discussion. Apart from the useful contributions from the Back-Benchers of the Procedure Committee, perhaps I may mention the helpful contribution by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. On behalf of your Lordships, perhaps I may express our best wishes to Lady Mackay of Clashfern for a speedy recovery from her accident in Scotland.
899 I refer to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. In the light of what has been said in your Lordships' House, and by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to accept the amendment to the Procedure Committee's report.
One point arising from the debate is whether or not Erskine May is binding, or applies in this House as it applies in another place. The committee was firmly of the clear view that Erskine May applies in this House just as in another place. It is not binding. While Erskine May is a powerful authority, it represents a statement of the decisions which your Lordships have made on procedural matters. If any amendment is to be made in your Lordships' procedures, no doubt this would be duly recorded in Erskine May in a subsequent edition. Noble Lords may agree that it would not be appropriate for the suggestion made in some quarters that an amendment to Erskine May be put forward by your Lordships' House to be followed. It is not within our power to do that. It is a commercial undertaking. It simply records what we have decided, and another place has decided. I am sure that any changes made by your Lordships will be recorded in future in precisely that manner.
I need say nothing on carry-over, because those matters have been dealt with by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. However, I should mention the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, on the question of hands in pockets. I am grateful for the indication the noble Lord has given that he does not propose to move the amendment. However, what has been said has been noted and will be taken into account. As noble Lords will know, there is nothing to stop matters being raised again in the Procedure Committee, if it is appropriate to do so.
I can answer the noble Lord on one point. I hesitate to do so because it concerns another place. Another place regards it as undesirable for honourable and right honourable Members to speak with their hands in their pockets. I well remember one occasion during the speakership of the late and very much loved Sir Harry Hylton-Foster. As noble Lords know, as in this House, remarks have to be made through the chair in another place. We are not allowed to address noble Lords as "you". Matters were becoming heated and the Scottish Member on the Labour side was driven to say at one stage, "Stand up straight, man. Take your hands out of your pockets", whereupon Sir Harry rose rather meekly from the chair and said, "But I didn't have my hands in my pockets". That is one salutary lesson that we in your Lordships' House might learn from another place.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and the contributions made on that matter will be taken into account. I hope that I have not left out any vital matters. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, will indicate what he will do about his amendment.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may thank him for his great courtesy in inviting me to attend the committee when the point of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was 900 discussed. I was not a member of the committee and I greatly appreciate the courtesy and welcome that the Chairman of Committees gave me.
One other matter arises from the initial remarks by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House. I gather that at some stage we shall have a statement on various matters under consideration. Will the carry-over issue be included in the document? It has been discussed adequately today. I prefer to refer to it as the product of a cabal. As a Lauderdale I regard the title Cabal with some respect. However, I treat the usual channels with some suspicion having been a rebel when I was in another place.
I have said enough. I wish again to thank the Chairman of Committees for his courtesy in inviting me to attend the committee.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, for his kind remarks. We were pleased to have him at the Procedure Committee debate. Indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, had also expressed considerable interest in these matters. We were delighted to offer her an invitation as well.
I confess that I was a member of the usual channels in another place; I hope that the noble Earl will forgive me for having been so. As regards the noble Earl's observations on that point, those are precisely the considerations which I feel sure the usual channels will take into account on the rare and highly unlikely occasion—if I may so predict—that they have to consider those matters.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported my amendment and the reason underlying it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for his gracious remarks. I immediately withdraw the word hubris. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.