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Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he explain to me how the House can express itself on the two propositions which he has put? If the majority of us feel that the matter should go back to the committee, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, how can we set about doing that? If we support the amendment on the Order Paper, what would be the procedure for getting the second alternative accepted rather than the one which my noble friend appears to favour?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I know that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees is waiting to reply. I say to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicolls that I hope that this is a matter which does not come to a vote because I suspect that matters of this kind are much better resolved by consensus and agreement. Therefore, I suggest that it is open to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, to decide whether or not to withdraw his amendment. If he wishes to withdraw it, that would imply that your Lordships as a whole would follow the inclination both of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and of myself. However, if the noble Lord does not wish to withdraw the amendment, I would be reluctant to push the matter to a vote.
I suggest to your Lordships that if there is sufficient feeling in your Lordships' House, the second alternative open to us is the one that we can follow. It would be extremely unfortunate if we divided on this matter. A decision is much better arrived at by consensus. If we need to take a little time, so much the better.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, why cannot we do both? We can ask the committee to consider looking at it and to adopt the measure temporarily as it is. That seems to me to satisfy everybody's inclinations.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this significant debate this afternoon. As your Lordships appreciate, it would be normal courtesy for me to refer by name to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, but I hope that they will forgive me if I do not do so because there have been a large number of speakers. I shall of course mention those noble Lords who have raised matters outside this particular issue.
In the few, brief references in this debate on the sub judice rule, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for his kind remarks at the outset of his speech, and also for having notified me before he tabled his amendment that he was proposing to raise this matter in some way in the House.
It has become evident in the course of this afternoon's debate that there is a point which has not been specifically mentioned but which I believe I should mention. I hope that I am not disclosing a secret which I should not disclose. The discussions in the Procedure Committee were very lengthy. It sat on three occasions considering the sub judice rule. Therefore, that is an indication in itself that the committee was taking the matter very seriously indeed. It considered all the points which have been raised by your Lordships this afternoon. Over quite a period of time the committee has been very conscious both of the difficulties and of the benefits of introducing a change to the rule.
A point which has not been raised is one which I believe I should mention; namely, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House accepted with some diffidence the role which was proposed in the recommendation from the Procedure Committee. It is not something which was overwhelmingly and instantly accepted with acclamation and great enthusiasm. But having been considered over a period of time, and for all the reasons which have been outlined this afternoon by the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in particularthe noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, referred to it as wellit has been accepted that that was really the only practicable solution which was open to the committee to recommend to your Lordships.
The only other points which I wish to mention are these: as has been stated in the debate this afternoon and in the report which is before your Lordships, that the decision of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House would be based on advice. It is perfectly true to sayit has not been spelt out in so many wordsthat those who have been suggested as the providers of that advice to the Leader are the very ones who, for example, were mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdalethat is to say, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the counsel to the Chairman of Committees in the principal place. In these circumstances, the Leader would need independent legal advice. The others who have been mentioned are the noble and learned Lords the Lords of Appeal and the Lord Chancellor.
I enter a note of reservation on that point. We have to be conscious, as the Procedure Committee itself was conscious it could not be otherwise with two noble and learned Lords sitting on that committee; namely, the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and Lord Mustillthat that consultation would have to be carried out with some delicacy because noble and learned Lords may well find themselves sitting on the very cases which have come under consideration under the sub judice rule. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary at that level generally would find a practical way of dealing with the situation, but we have to be conscious of it. That is why I mentioned that the principal, and initial at least, source of advice would be the Clerk of the Parliaments and the counsel to the Chairman of Committees.
I do not want to prolong matters, but there is one other point which I should like to mention in this connection. It was the clear wish of the Procedure Committee that there should be greater freedom in this Houseand that cannot be over-emphasised in my
I underline that by saying that the important feature of the new procedure proposed to your Lordships is that the Leader, in coming to a decision on one of these matters, can only relax the prohibition in debate; he cannot impose it. It is important for us to bear that in mind because it is a relaxation. It is an extension of the powers of the House to consider these matters.
In the light of all that your Lordships have said, I say this to the noble and learned Lord, Lord MonkswellI am so sorry, my Lords, I should have said, "the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell". I shall have to try very rapidly to retrieve my awkward situation by saying that he presented his case so eloquently that perhaps your Lordships might feel that an accolade of that kind is not inappropriate in his case. If the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, feels able to withdraw his amendment, I shall now give a firm undertaking to the House that after the limited period of experience of these matters, I shall invite the Procedure Committee to review the situation to see whether it is working or working as properly as we would wish.
In giving that very firm undertaking, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, not to tie me down to a specific period because it may be that for the remainder of this Session we might have no sub judice matter to consider at all. In that case, there would be no point and it would be a time-wasting matter. If I may leave the matter in that way and not attempt to tie your Lordships down to a specific time, and say that within a reasonable period of experience, which might well be a Session and a half or even six months, that might best suit your Lordships' convenience.
So as not to have to intervene later, perhaps I may deal with the various other points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, dealt with new editions of the Companion and the Brief Guide. Before we rose for the Christmas Recess on 16th December, we had a report from the Procedure Committee and accepted amendments to the Companion. The new edition is in train. I well understand the points he made. They can be taken into account, and, if necessary, an appropriate addition can be made at a later stage.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for a second as he is on that subject. On maiden speakers, it has been drawn to my attention and to the attention of many other noble Lords that when maiden speakers are speaking people walk in as well as out. Could that point be inserted in the Brief Guide?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. As the House has taken a decision on the new edition of the Companion, it is open to me only to invite those concerned to make alterations on the basis of editorial discretion. That is something to which your Lordships have given approval in the past and which, I understand,
On another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, happily, Commissioners are not a matter for me. He also raised the subject of interests. I have no doubt that when the committee comes to consider Members' interests it will bear that in mind. Perhaps I may quote one sentence without prolonging matters unduly. The terms of reference of the sub-committee on this matter which is to be appointed state:
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, asked about the one-and-a-half hour rule. I can assure him that that is a point with which the Procedure Committee grappled. It must be admitted that there is a difficulty. I invite him to accept that the best way forward is to see how it works. Most of the proposals are suggested experiments. Nothing is immutable. Nothing is cast in stone and cannot be altered. If necessary, the Procedure Committee will get to grips again with that matter.
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