HL Deb 19 April 2000 vol 612 cc708-12

3.9 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.

Moved, That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 55).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to: 1. Revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders: appointment of sub-committee The Committee appointed Lord Carter, Viscount Colville of Culross, Viscount Falkland and Lord Skelmersdale as the members of the sub-committee on revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders. 2. The Queen's Speech The Committee agreed that the Lord Chancellor should no longer read out The Queen's Speech at the beginning of the resumed sitting after the State Opening of Parliament, but that instead the Speech should be printed in Hansard. 3. Procedure on consideration of Commons amendments The Committee agreed a simplification of the procedure for considering Commons Amendments or Reasons. In future the Lord in charge of the bill should always move the initial motion (which is usually to agree with the Commons); and any motion to disagree should be tabled and moved as an amendment to the motion of the Lord in charge.' This would deal with all eventualities according to a standard procedure, similar to that with which the House is familiar for amendments to amendments at other stages of bills. It would apply to motions to disagree with Commons amendments, to insist on Lords amendments, and to make amendments in lieu or consequential amendments. It should replace the present complication of having different procedures for different circumstances, which sometimes leads to confusion. 4. Sub judice The Committee agreed to a new sub judice resolution as follows: "Matters sub judice That, subject to the discretion of the Leader of the House, and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:

  1. 1. Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.
    1. (a)(i) Criminal proceedings are active when a charge has been made or a summons to appear has been issued, or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted.
    2. (ii) Criminal proceedings cease to be active when they are concluded by verdict and sentence or discontinuance, or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review.
  2. (b)(i)Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.
  3. (ii) Any application made in or for the purposes of any civil proceedings shall be treated as a distinct proceeding.
  4. (c) Appellate proceedings, whether criminal or civil, are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.
  5. But where a ministerial decision is in question, or in the opinion of the Leader of the House a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made in motions, debates or questions.
  6. 2. Specific matters which the House has expressly referred to any judicial body for decision and report shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question, from the time when the Resolution of the House is passed, until the report is laid before the House.
  7. 3. For the purposes of this Resolution—
    1. (a) Matters before Coroners Courts or Fatal Accident Inquiries shall be treated as matters within paragraph 1 (a);
    2. (b) 'Question' includes a supplementary question.
The resolution was recommended by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege because it is desirable that each House should be in the same position to debate a sub judice matter when the circumstances warrant it. The resolution adds to the discretion already exercised by the Leader of the House to allow discussion of matters which are sub judice in cases of ministerial decisions and issues of national importance. In being asked to exercise that discretion the Leader must be given at least 24 hours' notice; and the exercise of the Leader's discretion may not be challenged in the House. These conditions should also apply to the wider discretion which the Committee now recommends should be conferred on the Leader.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I should like to thank the Procedure Committee for its work in producing the report. Would it not be an encouragement to the committee, and would it not also lead to increased participation in this House, if, on the day when the report was to be considered, it was on display in the Printed Paper Office among other papers for the day's business?

On the question of the revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders, when is it anticipated that that will be finished? I greatly appreciate and welcome the paragraphs in the report relating to the procedure on consideration of Commons amendments.

Finally, the committee agreed a new sub judice resolution. The Chairman of Committees will appreciate that there are a handful of Members of this House who are not legally qualified. Therefore, will he please explain how the new sub judice resolution differs from the old one?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, the matter is being looked into by Officers of the House and others. I will report the outcome to the noble Lord in due course.

So far as concerns revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders, I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly when the work will be completed. It will be further considered as soon as possible by the Procedure Committee after the proposed sub-committee has dealt with the matter in detail.

On the noble Lord's third point on the sub judice rule, I think it best to quote from the minutes of the Procedure Committee, which expand slightly on the report before the House. The minutes state that, first, it should be made clear that the sub judice rule is not absolute: in another place it may be waived at the discretion of the Chair; in your Lordships' House there is no general power of waiver, but in certain circumstances a limited power of waiver has been given to the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House may exercise that limited power of waiver to permit discussion of matters relating to any ministerial decision and matters concerning issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essentials of life.

The whole matter was considered thoroughly by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, made up of Members of both Houses. It was the Committee's view that the key to the successful operation of the sub judice rule in another place has been the sensitive use by the Speaker of her discretionary powers to allow discussion of matters sub judice. In that respect, another place has been rather freer than this House has been as regards the exercise of discretion. It is proposed, if the Motion is agreed to and if a subsequent resolution along those lines is also passed by this House, that the rule will be somewhat expanded. It will bring procedure in this House more or less in line with that in another place. I say "more or less", because there is one part that does not apply to this House. In another place Members are allowed to table Motions for leave to bring in a Bill. There is no such Motion in this House and there never has been. That is a slight difference which, for the sake of completeness, ought to be mentioned. If the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, wishes to have any further information on the matter, I shall be glad to try to help outside the Chamber.

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may take this opportunity to mention one other matter. The report contains a proposal relating to the gracious Speech. I was displeased to see a report in The Times on 14th April—and I apologise to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who does not know that 1 am mentioning this—claiming that, Lord Irvine of Lairg has managed to junk more then 500 years of parliamentary tradition. The Lord Chancellor has wriggled out of the laborious duty of repeating the Queen's Speech at the Opening of Parliament". If your Lordships will forgive me for using a somewhat crude phrase, that is a load of rubbish. I have had occasion to complain previously that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been credited with moves and proposals in this House which should have been credited to others, notably to committees of this House.

In the first place, the proposal did not come from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It came first in advice to the Procedure Committee from the Clerk of the Parliaments. The matter was then considered by the Procedure Committee in a paper which was presented to the Procedure Committee and which the committee accepted and which is now before the House. So it is completely wrong for The Times to complain. In the past, I have found The Times indispensable. I very much hope that it will be more accurate in the future and that I shall not have to dispense with reading it, as I find it on the whole quite valuable.

Perhaps I should also reveal that this is not the first time that the Clerk of the Parliaments has failed to be credited with a proposal over the past several weeks. So perhaps I may enlighten the media outside with a further fact. The House will recall that, not very long ago, your Lordships approved a proposal concerning an entitlement to sit on the steps of the Throne for, in future, the eldest child of a Peer. That was duly considered by the Offices Committee and by this House, and was agreed. It was a proposal to include daughters as well as sons. So it is only right that credit should be given where it is due. Let us live in hope. When I was in broadcasting journalism many years ago, we tended to pride ourselves on accuracy. It is not now as it was in my day!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees agree that it was not the Clerk of the Parliaments who gave the advice that the Lord Chancellor should do away with his breeches and buckled shoes?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am interested to hear that remark. If it was not the Clerk of the Parliaments, the noble Earl has not enlightened us as to who it was. I said that it was the Clerk of the Parliaments who tendered this suggestion to the Offices Committee. After the committee had approved it, your Lordships embraced it.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the Clerk of the Parliaments that he was able to persuade the Procedure Committee to do away with the altogether boring reading of the Queen's Speech, which most people had already heard or read. It was a chore that all Members of the House had to put up with. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in expressing gratitude that this is now to be done away with.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I believe that the point just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, speaks for itself. Most, if not all, noble Lords will be aware that, following the presentation of these reports, there is a debate rather than a question and answer session. Therefore, it is the duty of the Member of your Lordships' House who moves the Motion to make an all-embracing wind-up speech at the end of the debate.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I should like to return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. Does the noble Lord agree that the House would be assisted if, when a new version of a complicated rule such as sub judice was published in a report, the particular changes were notified and made clear; otherwise, very few people would be able to recite the old rule from memory?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, there is not a resolution before your Lordships' House. The terms of a proposed resolution are included in the report of the Procedure Committee. After the combined Easter and May Day Bank Holiday Recess the resolution, which is to be moved by the Leader of the House, will be placed before your Lordships for consideration. As to the distinctions, I shall look into the matter. If any additional help is available before the resolution is moved it will be provided. But I am sure that the resolution itself will be clear, as I hope it is from the terms of the report.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can clarify one matter to which he referred earlier. The Leader of the House is given a discretion. Is it only a positive discretion or is it also a negative one; in other words, can the Leader of the House stop debate on a matter which is covered by the general clause—I do not refer to the detailed provision—or can she only allow discussion, as it were, which would otherwise not be appropriate?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, on the whole the discretion is negative, in that the Leader of the House would normally advise your Lordships that the matter was sub judice and therefore it should not be referred to. I make that qualification at the outset of my response to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, because if on an appropriate occasion the Leader of the House advises waiver in one or other of the circumstances intimated in the proposed resolution, that may be seen as a proposal to deal with the matter in a positive way.

On Question, Motion agreed to.