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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, no one wishes to inhibit debate for debate's sake and no one denies that this may be a suitable peg on which to hang a debate. However, we must bear in mind the timetable for debates, when the House rises and the receipt in this House of the Consolidated Fund Bill. The timing of that makes it impossible to do justice to the good management and order of the business.
Noble Lords who raised this matter say that the House has ultimate sovereignty over the Procedure Committee and that the House may take a decision. The best way that that can be implemented is by noble Lords who feel strongly about these matters tabling a divisible Motion on which the House might then be invited to vote. I doubt that some noble Lords would accept even that democratic decision because they have the democratic right to return to this matter time and time again. We
I have been a member of the Procedure Committee for a number of years and the matter has been aired thoroughly. The merits of the case are fairly clear and I am sure that the Chairman of Committees will repeat them. In practical terms, I do not believe that there is a case. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said that we were wrong to give up a day of our time in order to have an economic debate. That was a genuine opportunity taken by Labour Peers to use the Budget as a peg on which to hang a debate. I did not notice among the speakers many of those who agitate for more debates on the economy.
I sense that we have a small number of noble Lords who I respect deeply but who are not prepared to accept the democratic will of this House as expressed through their delegated committee members on the Procedure Committee. Just as somebody yesterday invited somebody else to take him to court, I invite those noble Lords who wish to press the matter to table a Motion on which the House can vote. That will mean that we shall have on the record the number of noble Lords in favour of that Motion. However, that may not resolve the matter. I suspect that even when an overwhelming number of noble Lords vote against that Motion, the matter will continue to be raised.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, one of the strengths of this House and the way that it does its business is that rules are not provided which determine what shall be discussed and who shall speak. We work on a basis of consensus across the House or around the House and on the basis that we all agree with its procedures.
I did not intend to speak in the debate because I felt that there were noble Lords who could argue the pros and cons of the proposals suggested by the Procedure Committee. But, unfortunately, I am driven to my feet by my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip who suggested that a divisible Motion is the way forward. I hope that the procedures of this House will not be determined by a majority but will be determined by a consensus, otherwise, I suspect that we may be going down a slippery slope of contention about the way that we do our business rather than considering the particular merits of the case.
I am not sure how we can go forward. A number of suggestions have been made in the debate so far. I hope that the different ways of going forward that have been suggested will be considered by the Procedure Committee as a means of trying to find some consensus on all sides of the House.
Lord Brightman: My Lords, perhaps I may make a brief comment on a completely different aspect of the Select Committee's report which arises in paragraph 1 at the bottom of page 1. It reads that the Jellicoe procedure,
It is quite often said that the Jellicoe procedure is not suitable for Bills of a controversial nature. In my opinion, that is not correct. While the Jellicoe procedure is obviously inappropriate for a Bill which is party political, or one that would be subject to a party Whip, I believe that a Bill should not be disqualified merely because it is controversial.
The Jellicoe procedure provides an admirable forum for the proper resolution of some controversial problems for the simple reason that evidence is taken and, therefore, voting takes place in the light of that evidence. I do not know whether the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees, would care to comment on that particular assessment of the value of the Jellicoe procedure.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, in view of the business that is to follow this afternoon, I had hoped not to take up too much of your Lordships' time. However, bearing in mind the debate that has taken place on the matter and which was raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I believe that I should spell out some of the considerations which have arisen.
First, perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, about the Consolidated Fund. I can bring them some comfort in that the Procedure Committee did indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said, consider in very great detail the arguments for and against debates on Consolidated Fund Bills.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, also asked why it was that no arguments were spelled out in the report of the Procedure Committee. I can help him in that respect in a moment, but, by way of preliminary, I should point out that it is not the custom for your Lordships' House to spell out in reports presented to it arguments in that kind of full way. However, as I have already indicated, they were very thoroughly considered.
Perhaps I may briefly take up one point before going through the other arguments that have been raised. It was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. In view of the fact that quite a number of noble Lords have taken part in the debate, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not refer to each of them by name. The noble Lord made a perfectly valid point; namely, that if a matter has been raised within a committee of your Lordships' House, and within the House itself, quite a number of times, then, perhaps, the simplest way to resolve the matter would be for those who are concerned to press such a matter still further. They should, perhaps, press it to a Division in your Lordships' House. Without advocating it in one way or another, I can confirm that that is a procedure which is fully open to your Lordships to take. Moreover, as was indicated this afternoon in another context, it is always for your Lordships to decide what the House will do.
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on the final sub-paragraph of the report, I should just like to stress that it does not say that your Lordships' House should not consider the matter; it advises your Lordships' House that it would be better, for the reasons indicated, if the matter were not raised in the Procedure Committee again. As I have already said, it is a matter for your Lordships' House to decide how it should work.
As regards the other arguments raised, I recognise the strength of the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. However, I believe that it would be neglectful of me not to convey to your Lordships the strength of feeling within the Procedure Committee on two previous occasions, not just a week or so ago.
I acknowledge, with support, the point made by my noble predecessor in this post, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill. I shall certainly have a look at the suggestion that the noble Lord made as regards correspondence. The question of a possible Division also arises in the light of what the noble Lord had to say.
I turn now to the arguments which the Procedure Committee considered, having done so on three occasions recently. The first was the timetable for such Bills--a point that was touched upon by one of your Lordships this afternoon; I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton--which is both fast moving and very difficult to predict. Therefore, the view that the Procedure Committee had before it and accepted was that debates would arise with very little warning and very little opportunity for noble Lords to prepare for them.
As regards another place--another point that has been raised this afternoon--under Standing Order 54(1), which is the one that applies, the other place is now prohibited from debating Consolidated Fund Bills. Even when they were debated prior to recent changes in supply procedure, it was, as noble Lords here who have been in another place will confirm, minor constituency matters which were the main elements of those debates.
So far as concerns Consolidated Fund Bills and their content, there is some misapprehension among a very small minority of noble Lords. They merely sanction the issue of money from the Consolidated Fund. They have no direct relevance either to the health or otherwise of the economy. Again--and this is another matter which was considered by your Lordships' Committee and also mentioned this afternoon--while the Companion of this House indicates that privilege is not an issue, the principle of comity exists between the two Houses on certain matters. I appreciate that, from time to time, we acknowledge differences. Indeed, if I may say so, I am among the first to say to your Lordships' House that the way we go on is a matter for ourselves and not for another place. However, as I said, on certain matters in particular there is the principle of comity between the two Houses. I submit to your Lordships
Then there is the question of when and how often the House should debate economic affairs. With respect, I submit that that is another matter. It is a matter for the business management of the House. The usual channels are always responsive to suggestions and always consider suggestions from your Lordships for debates on particular matters. It is a matter for business management and judgment as to how many and at what times of the year debates on general economic and financial affairs are required. If they are clearly required by a sizable number of your Lordships, and the usual channels are consulted and consider the matter, I have no doubt at all that, if a sufficient case were to be made out, there would be little difficulty in getting a debate on economic and financial affairs when your Lordships required it.
As regards the arguments which were before the Procedure Committee when it considered these matters, the House has followed the practice of not debating consolidated Bills for almost the whole of the present century. That has become a convention. Conventions are not unknown to your Lordships, nor indeed to our constitution. That is a firm convention. I am sorry to have taken up this amount of time in saying all this. I hope that what I have said indicates the strength of feeling within the Procedure Committee about these matters. The committee considered these matters thoroughly.
I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, put his case fully and fairly in his genial way to the Procedure Committee. However, I am bound to say that his suggestion found no favour whatever with the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee was unanimous in its decision. As I have said, we have taken up your Lordships' time this afternoon in discussing this matter. The Procedure Committee felt it had to say that sufficient time had been spent thoroughly considering this matter.
As regards the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, I would say by way of a preliminary remark that I am grateful to him for raising his interesting point in your Lordships' House. The House is also grateful to the noble and learned Lord for acting as chairman of three of your Lordships' committees. He has great experience of these matters.
The question of which specific Bills are suitable for the Jellicoe procedure--as the noble and learned Lord has described it, and as we have come to know it--is a matter for the usual channels and the House itself to consider rather than the Procedure Committee. However, I certainly appreciate the strength of the noble and learned Lord's observation on this matter, as I am sure do other noble Lords. Perhaps it is right to point out that it would possibly not be the best procedure for a wide-ranging Bill, bearing in mind the fact that there is limited time to take evidence. The noble and learned Lord raised the matter of controversial Bills with the Procedure Committee. I
Your Lordships will recall that about a year ago on 5th December last year in the first report of that Session from the Procedure Committee it was recommended, among other things, that further opportunities should be found for the use of special Public Bill Committee procedure, in particular for Law Commission Bills but also for other Bills introduced into either House. That recommendation was made as early as that date. I fully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that that is a procedure which should be adopted not exclusively for Law Commission Bills but for other Bills too. I hope that that observation has been of some help to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman.