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Lord Richard: My Lords, the Minister is getting ready for a debate in your Lordships' House tomorrow. Your Lordships have agreed that tomorrow there should be a debate on Iraq. She is dealing with the affairs of Iraq today, and tomorrow she will no doubt tell the House what must be said about the affairs of Iraq.
I regret that I missed the beginning of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I was in a meeting when someone suddenly burst in to tell me that the noble Lord had moved the adjournment of the House. I should have liked to be here to hear the whole of his speech, but I believe that I got the gist of it. I assume that it was much the same point as was made by other speakers on the other side.
It is said that somehow or other this debate is diminished by the fact that the person who is handling it for the Government is my noble friend Lord Whitty rather than "a Foreign Office Minister". With great respect to the Opposition, they cannot get away with that. Those who take that view can wrap it up in all kinds of constitutional terms and play parliamentary games as much as they like, but let us have no illusions about what is going on here. No attack is made on the competence of my noble friend, as I understand it. First, it is agreed that he knows his subject. Secondly, it is agreed that he can speak for the Government because he is a Member of the Government. Thirdly, my noble friend has dealt with Europe for a number of years. Fourthly, I remind the Opposition that it was pointed out to them at the beginning of this Government's life that my noble friend Lord Whitty would be speaking on European affairs in this House. I did not hear any objection to that at the time.
I am bound to consider the way in which the Opposition used their Whips when on this side of the House. They complain about my noble friend Lord Whitty, but I said very little about the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. I am very fond of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. She is a great lady. I have listened to her with enjoyment and respect. When she gets up she commands the attention of the House. Certainly everyone agrees with that. The idea that somehow that was all right but that this is wrong is not an argument that carries much weight.
The Prime Minister was not involved in the Bill in the other place. The Foreign Secretary opened it on Second Reading but took no part in Committee or on Third Reading. He did, however, move the guillotine Motion, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will accept that as the position.
I entirely agree that this is an important Bill. It is right that the "Minister" in the Foreign Office who deals with Europe in probably a more intimate way than any other of the Foreign Office Ministers--namely, my noble
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, surely the noble Lord will accept that he has misunderstood the matter. He has got it wrong. I speak for myself, but it is not a question, as I see it, of diminishing the debate; it is a question of the proprieties, government responsibility and the way in which the House should be treated. That is how I understand this.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I do not know how he can say that it does not concern my noble friend's capacity or confidence, when the whole attack from the other side is that he is not a person who is in a position to deal with the Bill. I am sorry, perhaps I am being dense this afternoon, but I do not understand it. The argument coming from the other side, as I understand it, is that somehow or another my noble friend is not the person who should be dealing with the Bill--although he is the person who should be dealing with the Bill because of his competence and his knowledge--because there is some constitutional objection to his doing so. There is no constitutional objection to his doing so.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will accept that the whole House has learnt to admire the skill and competence of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, during his so far brief period with us. I have confidence that the distinction that he has earned in your Lordships' House during his brief period will only be added to during the rest of his career here. It has been very much helped, as so often in your Lordships' House, by the feeling--if I may put it this way--of increasing affection in which the noble Lord is held. The noble Lord the Leader of the House is right when he sustains the proposition--a proposition with which we all agree--that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is an ornament to the Government Front Bench, and long may he remain so.
With the greatest respect to the Leader of the House, that is not the point to which my noble friends are addressing themselves. Perhaps I may take the noble Lord on a little trip down memory lane, because he was kind enough to refer to the precedent when he and I were sitting in different places before the last election--when our roles were reversed. At that time--I think the noble Lord will accept this, indeed he said so himself--as was usual in this House, as has indeed continued to be usual in your Lordships' House since 1st May, Government Whips and Opposition Front Bench Whips have played a prominent role in the
The point is rather different from that. The point is that we always took immense trouble to ensure that when there was a major piece of legislation in your Lordships' House, the Minister responsible in your Lordships' House, if there was one--I am the first to admit that, for instance, latterly before 1st May there was not a Minister responsible for agriculture in your Lordships' House, and therefore that responsibility did devolve on a Whip, and, if I may say so, the Whip concerned discharged his responsibilities competently--took the lead in taking that legislation through the House.
We deemed that that was constitutionally proper because your Lordships' House is, after all, a House of Parliament and as such is entitled to hold the Government to account. The most responsible individual practicable should therefore try to ensure that he or she is responsible for that particular piece of legislation. It is for that reason that I believe, if the noble Lord the Leader of the House looks through every example, certainly during my time as Leader of the House, he will find that when it was possible to produce a Minister responsible for a piece of legislation in the department concerned, the Minister responsible always took the lead during the course of the proceedings on that Bill.
We had hoped that it might be possible for this important piece of legislation to be no exception to the practice of the House which we indeed attempted-- I think successfully attempted--to observe in my time as Leader. I understand that my predecessors did very much the same.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Beloff intends to push his Motion to a Division. We have discussed this matter through the usual channels, and it would not be the intention of the Government Front Bench to support my noble friend were that to be the case.
Nevertheless, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will reflect carefully on what has been said. I say that with all the humility at my command. I do not want in any way to hector or to be difficult about this, but precedent in this House clearly shows that when there is a Minister in a department, that Minister takes important pieces of legislation through your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House has himself said to the House--and rightly so--and I supported him, that contrary to popular opinion Ministers in your Lordships' House are busy people. Their job is at least as onerous as the job of Ministers in another place. It is for that reason that we admire the noble Lord's efforts
Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House can review this matter, not now--we would of course not want the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to interrupt her preparation for the important debate tomorrow, in which my noble friend Lord Moynihan is also taking part--and as a courtesy to the House come back to the House on this, and perhaps the noble Baroness could favour us with her presence during at least some of the remaining stages of the Bill for reasons which have been made plain this afternoon from a number of sides of the House.
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