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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I always knew that we should have completed the expulsion of the hereditaries! Had the noble Earl, Lord Russell, not been in conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, what I said was nevertheless right. All the timings were agreed between the usual channels. If I am wrong I shall sit down and withdraw.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may repeat what I was saying to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. It was that the timing appeared much better until the Government fell apart in the Chamber last night.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government did not fall apart, unless engaging in rational, coherent discussion is falling apart. That may be so among those Benches where presently dwells the noble Earl. But I do not regard having an extensive discussion until, as has been said, 20 minutes past five in the morning as the Government falling apart. I have read Hansard. Many of your Lordships have commended my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lord Bach for the very great care and attention that they have given to the Bill. I have read the earlier copies of Hansard to which I was plainly referring. But since your Lordships and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, asked me the specific question, I am told, and verily believe, that in the Library there is a typed copy of Hansard containing all of yesterday's and this morning's proceedings. The noble Baroness says "ridiculous". I can only deal with one intervention at a time. I am dealing with the sotto voce intervention made opposite. Now I shall give way, as always, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I was anxious to discover what had happened to three amendments I tabled which were towards the end of the Marshalled List. I asked when the second part of Hansard would be available. I was told that that would not be until tomorrow, but that there was a copy in the Library. I went there and found the part where my amendments should have been discussed. Ten pages covering the amendments moved on my behalf were missing and the staff are busily trying to find them at the moment. So that which is in the Library is not complete and in my particular case can provide no comfort at all.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not know that the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, had not been recorded. From what he is saying, I take it that he was not here to move them. As
I return to the fundamental point, because it relates to a very important way in which we conduct our business. If agreements are made through the usual channels, it has been my unfailing experience that they are adhered to and honoured. If we are to do business in a different way, it will mean a very different House. If your Lordships want that it is a matter for them because we control our procedure. But as I understood what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was saying, he intended scrupulously to adhere to the business arrangement that had been arrived at. It does not surprise me at all to find that he sticks scrupulously to the agreement and honours the bargain. That has always been my experience of him and, I hope, his experience of our Chief Whip also.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves that point, could he explain to those of us who have never formed part of the usual channels, and are never likely to do so, whether the deliberations in the usual channels took account of the fact that the proceedings would not end until 5.20 a.m. this morning?
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord answers that question, perhaps I may ask him whether what was agreed between the usual channels foresaw what happened in the early hours of this morning. In answering that question, would he consider the helpful suggestion that I made, which was warmly supported by the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, that if the Report stage took place on Thursday immediately followed by Third Reading, which is not unexpected, then it seems to me that everyone would be satisfied and the Bill would have proper consideration, which it has no hope of having today?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In parenthesis, the noble Lord said that he was unlikely to become a member of the usual channels. It does not behove me to comment on that parenthetical observation, except to say that we are soul brothers because I have never been part of the usual channels either and have no expectation of such glory in this world.
The proposition I am putting is deep. We shall be able to run our business only if we run it in a way which we all know perfectly well. If we have such a system, there are bound to be occasions when one or other of us will be dissatisfied. That is inevitable.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord moves away from that point, would he not agree that the usual channels are our servants and that we are not the servants of the usual channels? Most of the time, it may suit us, for the proper conduct of this House, to go along with what the usual channels suggest. However, when they suggest something that is
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Indeed, I thought that I had twice said that we are the controllers of our own ways. But that as a proposition does not determine all. If we are not able to work with the usual channels in the way we all know, the business of the House will not--and I mean it literally--be manageable.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, feels aggrieved on this occasion. I sympathise with and understand that. No one who took part in discussions between the usual channels knew for certain that the sitting yesterday would have continued until 5.20 a.m. but let us not forget that that was partly in order to accommodate other matters in respect of Section 28 about which your Lordships also felt strongly. I do not believe, to coin a phrase, that the argument is answerable by anyone who cares for this House. Unless we stick to and honour our arrangements we shall not be able to run ourselves effectively, efficiently or at all.
Your Lordships will have had two opportunities to amend the Bill. This is not the first time the Standing Order has been dispensed with. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, gave certain examples but perhaps I may give another. In February this year, we took Committee, Report and Third Reading stages of the Northern Ireland Bill all in a single day. Whether your Lordships agreed with that decision or not, I am simply pointing out that this is not setting a precedent which will upset the whole of discovered civilisation as we know it. We did it on that occasion because we are masters of our own machinery and business.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I have privately made it known that those of us representing the Northern Ireland constituency areas would not feel greatly aggrieved if the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill were dropped from this part of the Session and brought back immediately after the Recess. It is not a delaying tactic but it seems to me that no benefit is to be gained from having a Second Reading and then a two-months Recess before dealing with the Committee stage.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I know the noble Lord well enough to recognise an offer which I feel unable to refuse. I am sure that his offer was put forward helpfully but it is not something which the Government can contemplate accepting.
I gave that precedent and am returning to the wider precedent for the last time. The usual channels are not infallible. They are the way in which we run our business. I submit to your Lordships that there has been a certain amount of truncation of business, which was agreed. It has been truncated partly because the Chief Whip on our Benches tried to accommodate every possible diverse view about the relative spectrum of importance to be given to different Bills. I do not believe that anyone could dispute that.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said and prima facie I agree with it. Why does the noble and learned Lord insist that this Bill has an importance which does not accord with anything said in the debate? It is important that we should discuss the issue fully on Thursday and we have the opportunity to do so. Why does the noble and learned Lord, who is a personal friend of mine, take the view that we cannot take the Bill on Thursday, as the noble Lord suggested?
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