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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that the Government should be invited to lay before the House an annual report listing all the Acts which have not been repealed or brought into force, giving reasons for any delay in each case; and that the first report should be laid early in 1997 and should be limited to Acts enacted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.
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.
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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