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Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the Committee must have examined the matter of speaking in the gap in some detail to arrive at the figure of four minutes. I ask the Chairman of Committees this question: what was the average length of the speeches in the gap which they examined?
Lord Elton: My Lords, as a member of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee which asked the Procedure Committee to find a means of ensuring that Acts passed by Parliament shall be brought into effect, perhaps I may commend the first item in the report to your Lordships. It introduces a means by which your Lordships can see for yourselves the extent to which Ministers do or do not use the important powers delegated to them of bringing legislation into effect.
As regards the intervention of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I regard it as anything but a penalty to speak in the gap. That is when everyone is pouring back into the Chamber to hear the really important speeches from the Front Benches. It is perfectly possible to get one's name on the list by telephoning if one is not in the House and in person on the morning of the debate. It is a great privilege to speak in the gap and it should not be regarded as being as of right.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, as regards the recommendation that the speaker in the gap should be allowed four minutes, if people constantly take those four minutes, does not that in fact mean the end of the timed debate? If a speaker takes four minutes in a timed debate, that can only be at the expense of the winding-up speakers.
Lord Nathan: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as concerns the first part of the report, to which the Chairman of Committees referred. The report now under consideration states that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee recommended in its 1993-94 report,
The Procedure Committee report refers to certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which were not brought into force because the Government rejected certain central provisions of the Act after it had become law; and they were able to do that because of the commencement provisions. These prescribed that provisions of the Act should be brought into force, by order, without limit of time within which any order must be made. It is a striking instance but far from unique.
Such an open-ended provision is objectionable and should only be enacted exceptionally when the Government have satisfied the House that there are the most cogent reasons for doing so, for such Acts are permissive and not mandatory on government: they amount to optional legislation.
The recommendation of the Procedure Committee that an annual report should be laid before the House listing provisions neither repealed nor brought into force, though welcome, does not address the problem. I wonder therefore whether the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee should be invited to report on open-ended commencement provisions, giving its opinion as to whether exceptional circumstances exist to justify acceptance.
Commencement provisions appear at the very end of Bills. At Committee stages they often fall to be considered at a late hour and tend not to receive the consideration that they should. I recall moving an amendment to one such clause and, although I was able truthfully to say that I received support from all quarters of the House, I confess there was only one of your Lordships in each quarter!
I cannot refrain from referring to the very sad death of Lord Airedale, of which we learnt only the other day. It was he who annually at this time of the year referred to the Easter Act passed in the 1920s, which is still not in force. He would, I am sure, have supported my plea for action.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in querying the wisdom of limiting speeches in the gap to four minutes. I believe that that very much depends on the length of the gap, which can be quite long. Sometimes the gap is long enough to cause surprise and inconvenience to speakers in the following debate because the current debate ended so early.
In addition to the points made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, there is the point that a noble Lord may have been unsure whether he was able to attend a debate that morning so had not put down his name. He may then attend the whole debate and feel
Finally, when I joined your Lordships' House some six years ago, I got quite a lecture from the then Clerk of the Parliaments, Sir John Sainty, who felt that our debates were becoming rather stereotyped. He asked me to do what I could to encourage genuine and open debate. I would have thought that speeches in the gap fall within that category. It is that admonition which emboldens me to query the wisdom of limiting speeches in the gap to four minutes.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his remarks about speeches during the interval. I have had the honour of being a Member of your Lordships' House for 20 years but have not once spoken in the gap. Personally, I am not interested in the matter. But I can conceive of circumstances where a Member of your Lordships' House has something to contribute to a debate covering a field in which he or she has specialist knowledge, which fact he or she may not have been able to communicate to the usual office in time. I believe that to fix a time for these interventions is arbitrary. In my experience, the House has its own way of expressing disapproval of those who intervene without any justification and who, in many cases, may have come into the Chamber just prior to delivering their speeches. I suggest that the Procedure Committee takes this back again without imposing any time limit. The House can enforce its own disciplines, more particularly under the leadership of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, as a member of the Procedure Committee I should like to deal with speeches in the gap and the practice of noble Lords walking out of the Chamber after maiden speeches. If one has only just come into the House one has no business to speak in the gap. One should be there for the whole of the debate. It is amazing how much can be said in four minutes if one puts one's mind to it. A limit of four minutes will concentrate the mind.
I believe that the practice of walking out immediately after a maiden speaker has sat down is deplorable. It is right that Members should wait for the congratulations to the maiden speaker. But the committee was referring to the congratulations from the speaker following the maiden speaker, not any congratulations from other Peers later on. I am aware that other noble Lords have been asked not to congratulate the maiden speaker, but if in a time limited debate a subsequent speaker chooses to sacrifice some of his slender ration of time to congratulate an old friend perhaps we should not be too hard on him.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I speak as someone who has noted the wish of the House to limit the length of his speech. I hope that the House accepts that sometimes I can appreciate the feeling of the House. I shall deal with the first section of the report, admirably introduced by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. The Procedure Committee has found an
The cut-off date chosen for the first report is a little curious. The report will be for the edification not only of Members of your Lordships' House but will be available to Parliament as a whole and the country at large. It is suggested that the first report will be published early in 1997 and should include only those Acts passed up to December 1992. Effectively, there will be almost a five-year gap. Although it does not directly affect us, we should note that in the next year there will be a general election. It is only right that in a general election the people of this country make a judgment of the performance of the Government that has been in office in the previous Parliament.
If we put before the British people a report that gives information about Acts of Parliament passed up to 1992, they will have no information about principal Acts passed by this Parliament since the last general election. I am sure that that is not the intention of the Procedure Committee. I hope that the committee will reconsider the cut-off date in the interests not only of this House but of Parliament as a whole and the British people.
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