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Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I should like to support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and my noble friend Lord Monkswell because all that is being asked for is further consideration. I very much hope that the Chairman of Committees will feel able to say that that is appropriate and that my noble friend Lord Monkswell will withdraw his amendment. Anything to do with procedure really ought to go through by general consent because it is the framework within which our deliberations are conducted.
I understand that the Procedure Committee has established a sub-committee to consider the question of Peers' interests. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will explain to the House the sub-committee's remit. The sub-committee could well suggest one or two changes. They would have to be sent out as addenda to the newly printed editions of the Brief Guide and the Companion. For the sake of a few months' delay we are really losing nothing.
When the question of interests is being considered, I would like to draw attention to two points. One concerns the position of EC Commissioners. In this House we are privileged to have former Commissioners in our midst. To peasants like myself, representative of the great unwashed, to be led by the hand through the labyrinths of the EC by those Commissioners is a great privilege. However, I would ask whether our Pharisee Commissioners should not declare an interest if they are in receipt of a pension from the EC. In the interests of pruning the budget, they may well eschew the pension, in which case I congratulate them. But otherwise I believe that there is a specific interest there.
The other point is important because I do not believe that anyone has realised the situation which has evolved. During the debate on 2nd November on the Liaison Committee report I drew attention to a portion of the report which stated:
I said that I suspected that that proposal had come from a pressure group. After the debate I wrote to the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal asking for the origin of the proposal. I was told that it was put forward by four Peers, one Conservative, one Labour, one Liberal Democrat and a Cross-Bencher. That leads us on, does it not, to the phrase which is so helpful,
But all those four Peers were barristers. It seems to me that where substantial changes in the law are being made which will generate a great deal of work in the courts, that factor is just as much an interest as any other interests which are declared in your Lordships' House. I hope therefore that the Committee will consider that aspect.
It is not an academic matter because in the Sunday Telegraph I noted a report headed, "£150m bill for NHS blunders". The article refers to a memo from the Department of Health to the Treasury revealing that damages for medical negligence will cost the National Health Service £150 million this year. Officials predict that claims will rise by more than 20 per cent. annually. That does not mean that the medical services are becoming more negligent by 20 per cent. every year. It means that the legal profession is touting for business to try to encourage people to take cases. I am sure that noble Lords have seen advertisements in newspapers asking people whether they would not be eligible for claims. The article states:
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if I am not interveningor am I?perhaps I may briefly oppose this Motion, albeit that I happen to be a member of the Bar. Having raised the subject on a previous occasion in your Lordships' House, and having been present at the rather unfortunate affair which arose at which my noble friend Lord FerrersI see that he is in his place was present when the question of sub judice arose, I wish to say shortly that it seems to me that the proposed proviso affords a relevant, reasonable and wholly satisfactory resolution of the problem on the basis of 24 hours' notice in which to seek advice and entertain discussion. It surely could not be intended that no one could, so to speak, query the advice or the decision of the Leader of the House; but, by and large, surely as proposed it is a sensible resolution on the face of it. I oppose the amendment.
There was a real problem last summer. The more one went into it, the more acute the problem was. On the one hand, it could be argued that nothing must be done to disturb the judiciary in their work. On the other hand, the moment that the judiciary had decided on an issue, a couple of ladies were going to be extradited to America and at that time it seemedmercifully it has not turned out that waythat they would be in prison for a year before trial. That was the difficult situation.
I quite agree that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, handled the matter with dexterity, as was expected of him. I have no doubt that the present Leader of the House would have handled it in the same fashion. But I would not say that the result was perfect. I therefore feel that it is only right that we should have another look at the issue.
However, I cannot agree that it would be right for the Leader of the House to be put on the same footing as the Speaker of the House of Commons. It would be totally unlike anything that has happened in this House before. I remember the days when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was Leader of the House. Lord Stansgate kept chivying him with what seemed to him tiresome questions. The noble and learned Lord finally became irate and said, "The noble Lord knows that I have my remedy". Lord Stansgate, enjoying the situation, replied, "If the noble and learned Lord has his remedy, he had better use it". The noble and learned Lord also enjoying it, said, "I will use it", and he moved that the noble Lord be no longer heard. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, would be the last to suggest that on that occasion he should have been able to move Lord Stansgate out of order.
The proposal is the thin edge of the wedge. I very much hope that anyone who has love for the House and its traditions will agree to the matter being handed back to the committee for further consideration.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I understand both points of view. I understand that the House of Lords should not be in any different position from the House of Commons in matters relating to the sub judice rule. On the other hand, I also understand the arguments of the mover of the amendment and those who have spoken in favour of it. Once again, the proposal would hand over power from the elected body to someone who is, after all, in one way a bureaucrat. We must always be careful about that.
The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees made two points. The first was that any decision of the Leader of the House would be taken after advice. Presumably that would be advice from the Clerks. Secondly, he said
There are two other points I wish to make since the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees did not deal with them. First, as regards Unstarred Questions, a time limit is suggested for speeches. It is also proposed that Unstarred Questions which will take longer than one-and-a-half hours should not be put down. However, we shall not know how many speakers wish to speak perhaps until the very day before the debate and that will raise some difficulty. The final question I wish to ask is: why is it felt necessary to remove Starred Questions from the agenda when we sit on Fridays?
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