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Business of the House: Debates this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Lord Howe of Aberavon and the Lord Skidelsky set down for today shall each be limited to two-and-a-half hours.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should perhaps say something in explanation.

On Item 1, the committee recommends that the Government should be invited to lay before the House an annual report listing all the Acts which have not been repealed or brought into force, giving reasons for any delay in each case; and that the first report should be laid early in 1997 and should be limited to Acts enacted before 31st December 1992. For future years, the committee favours an annual published report; but, as the committee's report indicates, it will be for consideration whether the information accessible from the Statute Law Database, which we understand will come on line in the course of 1997, will meet the need. The committee considered this matter at the request of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and hopes the House will find it useful to be able to monitor the extent to which legislation has not been brought into force.

On Item 2, the committee recommends that speeches by Lords whose names are not on the speakers' list and who therefore speak in the gap before the winding-up speeches should be limited to four minutes. As noble Lords will see, the committee recommends an appropriate amendment to the guidance contained in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

On Items 4, 5 and 6, the committee draws attention to three well-established conventions which have not always been followed recently. These are, first, the expectation that a Lord who takes part in a debate should attend the greater part of that debate, including the opening speeches and particularly the winding-up speeches; next, the convention that Lords should not leave the Chamber until a maiden speaker has been congratulated by the next following speaker; and then the custom that no Lord may pass between the Woolsack and any Lord who is speaking, nor between the Woolsack and the Table. I invite the House to take note again of these conventions, and the committee hopes that they will be observed fully.

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Moved, That the Third Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 50) be agreed to.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


    1. BRINGING ACTS OF PARLIAMENT INTO FORCE


    The Committee has considered the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee "that the House seeks a mechanism to ensure that Acts passed by Parliament are brought into operation" (12th Report, Session 1993-94, HL Paper 90, paragraph 38).


    The recommendation was made in the light of instances, such as the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 relating to criminal injuries compensation which were not brought into force.


    Such instances can only arise because of the commencement provisions of the Act concerned, giving Ministers power to bring the Act, or parts of it, into operation. No recommendation by this Committee could override such provisions. It must be for the House in each case to decide whether commencement provisions in a bill are acceptable. In some cases it might be appropriate for a bill to lay down that the Act will come into force on a stated date if not brought into force earlier by means of a commencement order or orders. In others, it could be provided that the provisions of an Act would cease to have effect on a stated date if not previously brought into force.


    While no formula is likely to be suitable in all cases, the Committee considers that it would be useful for the House to be able to monitor the extent to which legislation has not been brought into force. The Committee recommends, therefore, that the Government should lay before the House (perhaps as a Command paper) an annual report listing all the Acts and provisions within Acts which had been neither repealed nor brought into force, giving reasons for the delay in each case. Initially, such a report might be limited to Acts which had been enacted before a certain date.


    The Committee understands that the Statute Law Database, a version of the statute book on computer, is expected to come on line in the course of 1997 and that the Database, to which Lords and members of the public will have access, may facilitate the preparation of such a list. The Committee recommends that the Government should be invited to lay the first report early in 1997 whether or not the Database is by then available and that the report should be limited to Acts enacted before 31st December 1992. So far as future years are concerned, the Committee favours an annual published report laid before Parliament. It will be for consideration, however, whether the information accessible from the Database will meet the need.


    2. SPEAKING IN THE GAP


    The Committee has considered whether a time-limit should be imposed on speeches made by Lords whose names are not on speakers' lists and who rise to speak before the winding-up speeches. The Committee concludes that such speeches should be limited to four minutes and that the guidance in the Companion to Standing Orders should be amended to read "Any such speaker is expected to be brief (not longer than four minutes)."


    3. APPLICATION OF ROTATION RULE TO THE LIAISON COMMITTEE


    The Committee recommends that the rotation rule, which is applied to most select committees of the House in order to secure a regular turnover of membership, should be applied to the Liaison Committee so as to require the retirement of one member per session.


    4. ATTENDANCE AT DEBATES


    The Committee again draws attention to the guidance in the Companion (at page 67):


    "A Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following his own, and for the winding-up speeches."


    Lords who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end should normally remove their names from the list.

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    5. MAIDEN SPEECHES


    The Committee reminds the House that since maiden speakers are normally congratulated by the following speaker only, it is desirable that Lords should not leave the Chamber during such congratulations.


    6. PASSING BETWEEN THE LORD SPEAKING AND THE WOOLSACK


    The Committee reminds the House of the custom (set out in the Companion at page 64) that "No Lord may pass between the Woolsack (or the chair) and any Lord who is speaking, nor between the Woolsack and the Table".

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, it is proposed that speeches in the gap should be restricted to four minutes but I have not seen in the report or anywhere else any particular argument in favour of that. A speech may be made in the gap because the noble Lord concerned was away the previous day and was not able to give notice; it may be on a matter of great importance and delicacy; it may be on quite a trivial matter. But we have not been told by the Procedure Committee which of these arguments caused it to put forward what is undoubtedly a penalisation of the noble Lord who speaks at that time. He will be anyhow penalised by coming in at the end of the debate after all the speeches other than the winding-up speeches. Why he should be penalised in advance, without any indication as to what are the grounds for penalisation, I do not know, and the Procedure Committee has not been good enough to tell us.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to a matter that is not in the report but was before the Procedure Committee. I understand that the committee did not report on it because it considered that it was more a matter for government business than of procedure.

It is a matter of the very greatest importance because it affects your Lordships' legislative role and indeed your role in the constitution. The matter that was raised was the inconvenience--the undesirability--of taking controversial and important business in the supper adjournment. I drew three cases to the attention of the committee. One concerned a matter which had been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who said that it had been raised by him on a number of other occasions.

The first example in my recollection occurred in July 1978 when no fewer than eight items were listed for the supper adjournment. Several of those items were of great importance. Two of them were Northern Ireland appropriation measures which were liable to take the whole of the time and, in fact, left only seven minutes for the remaining four or five items. One of those remaining items was the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order which in effect extended to Northern Ireland the provisions of the Divorce Reform Act 1969. I need not remind your Lordships, in view of the recent discussions on the Family Law Bill, how intensely controversial that was. Needless to say, it ran over the seven minutes, to the great inconvenience of those who were waiting for the main business, which was not concluded until nearly one o'clock in the morning.

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The second occasion was in 1989 when the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to the impropriety of taking the business that was then listed for the supper adjournment and said he had protested on many occasions against that practice. That protest seems to have been effective because the practice was not revived until very recently--until in fact last summer--when a deplorable incident took place on the Criminal Appeal Bill. My noble and learned friend Lord Ackner had moved an amendment to provide for mandatory sentences for murder to be assimilated into the practice of discretionary life sentences, thus making them much more open to the public. That amendment was supported by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, by his predecessor my noble and learned friend Lord Lane and by the former Chief Justice of Northern Ireland my noble and learned friend Lord Lowry, so its importance could hardly be exaggerated. The amendment was opposed by the Home Office Minister, although it was supported by the Opposition parties. All parties, though not of course the Cross-Bench Peers, had sent out Whips. It was very controversial as well as important. It was carried by a substantial majority in your Lordships' House--and that only happens when a great number of government supporters either vote against the Government or abstain, which is what happened on that occasion.

Evidently that was by no means congenial to the Government and arrangements were made to reverse your Lordships' decision in a whipped vote in the other place. That came on a Friday and indeed the majority in the other place naturally overturned your Lordships' decision. That fell for discussion on the following Monday only and on that occasion the business was listed in the supper adjournment. The Government had sent out a Whip, but of course none of the other parties had had time, even if they had had the inclination, to whip their supporters. With the result foregone, your Lordships' decision was reversed.

It is clear from that--is it not?--that your Lordships were effectively denied your proper legislative role. Your Lordships were given no real opportunity of adhering to your former decision nor even to adapt the misleading cliche of asking the other place to think again because it had only considered the matter once. It is because of the constitutional importance that I venture to bring this matter before your Lordships.

The Chairman of Committees, with his usual courtesy and helpfulness, notified me of what had happened because I could not attend the Procedure Committee meeting. I gather that the committee was generally sympathetic to the case put forward in the memorandum. There were three reasons why it declined to act. First, it was difficult to define what was important and controversial. There might be borderline cases, but in none of those I have mentioned would there have been the smallest difficulty in saying that the issues were important and controversial.

The second reason was that it is sometimes necessary or desirable to take important and controversial business in the supper adjournment. That was allowed for. I venture to suggest that the rule should apply only in ordinary circumstances, so that in exceptional

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circumstances such business can be taken in the adjournment after discussion with all concerned. The third was the real reason; namely, that it was considered more a matter of business management than procedure. I imagine that your Lordships will be quite content if the matter is taken care of under the aegis of business management so that in future noble Lords will not be frustrated in performing their constitutional role.


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