HL Deb 10 November 1999 vol 606 cc1433-8
Lord Carter

My Lords, we are still awaiting news from the other place regarding the progress of this Bill. Therefore, the best thing I can suggest at the moment is that we adjourn during pleasure until ten o'clock, at which time we shall review the situation.

I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 10 p.m.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 10 p.m.—(Lord Carter.)

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may offer a degree of support to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. Obviously we accept that the House must adjourn until ten o'clock. However, if we do have to come back and do so at a late hour to deal with the remnants of the House of Lords Bill, I hope that it will not be at what I think the noble Lord, in private, referred to as "an unseemly hour". This is something that must be done at a proper hour. Indeed, if it is not done at a proper hour, the proceedings may possibly have to be adjourned until tomorrow.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.1 p.m. to 10 p.m.]

Lord Carter

My Lords, I have been in touch with the other place. It is not making the progress that we thought it might make. There is still a possibility that we shall receive the Bill tonight. I suggest that we adjourn during pleasure until eleven o'clock, and at eleven o'clock we shall make a decision. I shall not adjourn the House again. I shall reach a decision in conjunction with the usual channels that we shall either discuss the Bill tonight or adjourn until three o'clock tomorrow, as was agreed originally. If we adjourn until three o'clock tomorrow and we deal with the Bill then, we shall prorogue tomorrow and not on Friday.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that this is a highly undignified way to end this Session, and particularly with this Bill. It is being discussed in another place. I am informed by the Clerks that it will take over an hour for the Bill to come as amended from another place to this House. That will take us beyond eleven o'clock. Why do we have to prolong the agony now for another hour? Would it not be better, much more dignified and more helpful to the House and to all those who are present for the last time for the Chief Whip to adjourn the House now for the night and for us to start again at three o'clock tomorrow?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, before the Chief Whip rises to speak, I wish to support every word that has been spoken by my noble friend. This is an important constitutional Bill. I think that many people would think it quite improper if at a late hour we were to embark on some important amendments. At the present time Members in another place are discussing what I consider to be one of the most important amendments to this Bill; namely, whether a commission should be established to ensure that propriety is observed in the appointment of new Members of this House.

The idea that we should wait until they reach a conclusion on that matter in order to decide whether or not we should sit seems to me quite preposterous. I should have thought that there was scope for quite extensive debate. I should have thought that by now the Government should have learnt some sense and should have realised how improper it is that they are not prepared to accept a proposition which embodies their own proposal which states no more than that there should be a commission to ensure that in future Cross-Bench Peers are appointed in proportion to their present numbers in the House.

The idea that we should be required to come back here an hour or two from now and then debate for an hour or two a proposition which is so self-evidently right seems to me absolutely extraordinary. I agree entirely with the words of my noble friend. For goodness' sake, let us have a little dignity even at this late stage. There has been precious little of it recently on the other side of the House. I think quite honestly that we have had enough. The noble Lord opposite ought now to draw stumps.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, it is of course a difficult time of night and one can understand that people are concerned about the matter, but lest my noble friend should think that there is only one point of view in the House, I say, speaking for myself, that I would be quite happy to stay and finish the business tonight, whatever the hour.

Lord Henley

My Lords, following that remark and following the remarks of my noble friends I ought to say the following. Obviously there have been discussions between myself and the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. Can I have an assurance from the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that if it looks as if the debate will start much after eleven o'clock, it would not—as I think I put it earlier—be seemly that we should continue to debate these matters? Therefore, it would be far better, if we were to begin the debate after eleven o'clock—we have to remember that another place is taking some time over these matters—that the matter should be discussed tomorrow rather than today. Therefore, I hope that the Government Chief Whip will give some assurance that if we have not received the Bill by the time we are talking about, he will say very firmly at eleven o'clock, "That is it. We will sit down and leave this until tomorrow".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, those of us who were here at the time will remember an occasion when the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, came to the House on a similar occasion at eight o'clock, adjourned proceedings until ten o'clock and then adjourned until 10.30 p.m. while waiting for business to be received from the other place. I accept that the issue today is different—but no more important—from the issue then, which was the privatisation of the railways. For some of us, that was of equal importance to the issues that are before both Houses tonight. So let us not confuse them.

Of course, this is an important matter. But if my noble friend should come back with the news that there is a prospect that the Bill will be received here in reasonable time, I, for one, am prepared to stay. The management of business during the next two days will clearly be affected by the decision taken.

I trust the Government Chief Whip to give the House his best judgment. I watched the proceedings in the other place. It is quite clear that the issues are important and that there may be a delay. Very fairly, the Opposition Chief Whip said that he is party to the announcement made by the Government Chief Whip. He also made it clear that at eleven o'clock the Government Chief Whip will need some very solid evidence as to why we should continue.

Do not let us—as did the noble Lord, Lord Waddington— bring in the issues and the arguments. We are not concerned with those matters now; we are concerned with procedure. When the noble Lord talks in terms of gracelessness and lack of dignity and points only to this side of the House, he also should look around himself.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, the Bill that the noble Lord was talking about was not a constitutional Bill. This is a constitutional Bill, which is slightly different. I agree with my noble friend on my Front Bench that this matter should be considered at a reasonable time.

Lord Carter

My Lords, as your Lordships can imagine, I have been in discussions all around the House this evening. I believe that the sense of the House is that if we can deal with the Bill tonight, we should do so. For once, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has slightly lost the sense of the House; I believe that it would like to deal with the Bill tonight. It is still only ten o'clock. I think that we voted on the Question that the Bill do now pass at half-past eleven last week.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is entirely correct; we should not be discussing the issue of the appointments commission before the other place has taken a decision. It is voting on that matter now and we will receive that decision. There is no problem over that point. I have said already that we shall review the situation. I am in continual touch with the Whips in the other place. They are doing their best on all sides—with limited success in some cases. I shall review the situation with the Whips of both parties and the Whips of the Liberal Democrats in the other place before eleven o'clock. I have said that at eleven o'clock I shall give the House the decision through the usual channels. If we can receive the Bill at a reasonable time after eleven o'clock, we shall deal with it tonight; if we cannot, we will come back and deal with it at three o'clock tomorrow.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Government Chief Whip as to what he means by "a reasonable time". As he knows, he and I have had certain discussions about these matters. We feel that because this is a major constitutional Bill we should not sit too late. Bearing in mind that should the other place finish at this moment, it would take some time before the Bill arrived at this House and that some time would then need to be allowed for tabling amendments, can the Government Chief Whip make it categorically clear that unless we get the Bill by, at the absolute latest, 11.30 p.m., we will not debate it tonight?

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, the noble Lord is being a little harsh on the Chief Whip when he seeks an assurance at this moment in time. The assurance we must ask of the Chief Whip is that he will use his best judgment at the time. I suggest that we return at eleven o'clock, as has been proposed.

Lord Carter

My Lords, for once I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Shepherd. He said that I had been harshly dealt with, but I am used to that. We will review the position through the usual channels at some time before eleven o'clock. At that hour I shall announce the decision of the usual channels. I certainly do not wish to enter into a debate on the hour of the clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 10.10 to 11 p.m.]

Lord Carter

My Lords, it seems unlikely that we shall receive the Bill tonight at a time which would enable us to debate it properly. Therefore, I think that we should adjourn the House, return at three o'clock tomorrow for public business, conclude the business on the Bill and prorogue tomorrow, not on Friday. If we meet at three o'clock, there will have to be Questions. We shall then deal with the Bill in good order and, it is to be hoped, deliver it and then prorogue. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Lord Carter.)

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the Government Chief Whip for those remarks and I thank him for agreeing to the points that were put to him outside the Chamber by the usual channels. I thank him for agreeing that these matters should be dealt with in a seemly manner, as I always said was appropriate. I hope that there can be further discussions concerning when we should deal with these matters. We will meet at three o'clock and we give our commitment that we shall try to ensure that the business can be dealt with in an appropriate manner tomorrow afternoon.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to the Government Chief Whip for his Motion. Earlier this evening there was mention of the Railways Bill. I took the trouble to look it up because I took the Bill through the House and it also happened to be my birthday on the day we had the same discussion as we are having now. I recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the Opposition. Referring to my noble friend Lord Wakeham, who moved a similar Motion, the noble Lord said that, he subjected the House and, I think, a large part of the Palace of Westminster and certainly an interested public to the farce of watching the Government do a total U-turn. May I say to the Leader of the House what I think that one of his colleagues once said to another Member of Parliament? Perhaps at this stage he should go and lie down in a darkened room, keep on taking the pills and ponder on his future".—[Official Report, 3/11/93; col. 1151.]

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, what the Government Chief Whip has proposed is reasonable and it is probably unavoidable. We have had discussions outside the Chamber and I think that the House should accept what he has recommended.

On Question, Motion agreed to.