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Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord the Lord Chairman can give the House an indication of the Government's intentions in regard to paragraph 1. If so, how and when will the Government indicate whether or not they agree with this recommendation?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I should like to turn first to the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and other noble Lords. Arguments were not put forward in the report because it is not customary to do so. For the convenience of the House, the committee seeks to keep those reports as brief as possible. This is a matter which is not unfamiliar to your Lordships. For long there has been guidance on this matter in the Companion to the Standing Orders. I quote briefly from the bottom of page 65, where reference is made to speeches made at that time:
The Procedure Committee decided to give additional guidance to your Lordships. Some discussion took place about the amount of time that should be suggested to your Lordships as a reasonable limit. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, asked about the average. Statistics were presented to the committee by the Clerk. The average worked out at between three and four minutes. That was of assistance in recommending to your Lordships that the maximum should be four minutes. The Procedure Committee very much hoped that noble Lords who chose to speak in the gap would not necessarily go up to the limit of four minutes but might take a shorter period. There were a number of exceptions in the length of speeches in the gap. In one particular case the length of speech was 14 minutes. However, there had been a dispute as to whether or not the speaker concerned had made an effort to give notice that she wished to take part in the debate.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention all those who have spoken on this report. I trust that what I have said will give an indication. As always, in procedural matters we feel our way when new proposals are put forward. The matter is always in the hands of your Lordships. This is your Lordships' House and it is your Lordships' committee. It is always possible to consider matters if evidence emerges that changes need to be made at any time. That was the firm recommendation of the committee.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, as several noble Lords have indicated that a rigid limit of four minutes is inappropriate, will the Procedure Committee give further consideration to this matter at its next or future meetings? If the average is four minutes, there may be a very important matter that may take eight or 10 minutes, which may be offset by matters that may take a minute and a half or two minutes, and so four minutes will probably be excessive. Can we be told that the Procedure Committee will have another look at it?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, no. My remarks were not intended to convey that impression. It is a firm recommendation by the Procedure Committee to your Lordships on the basis of the thorough discussion that we had. If your Lordships agree the Motion today, your Lordships will be adopting that recommendation, among the other recommendations before you. Of course, at a subsequent time, if evidence emerged--as I was seeking to say just now--that changes were desirable, then the matter can always be returned to by your Lordships in the familiar way.
Perhaps I may now turn to the matter raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am grateful to him for having mentioned beforehand that he proposed to intervene in this discussion. It is true that that matter, although considered in thorough detail by the Procedure Committee, is not in the report. There is a simple reason for that: it is customary, as your Lordships will, I hope, be aware, not to report things upon which the Procedure Committee, or indeed other committees, do not make recommendations, and to leave things as they are. Were we to embark upon a change in that custom, your Lordships would find that we would have an endless series of proposals of a negative character only ending up in a report with a series of negative recommendations which would probably not be too helpful to your Lordships. As I said on another matter just now, it is sought to keep reports to a minimum size, if possible.
There is also a distinction to be drawn between this matter and, for example, the Consolidated Fund Bill which was reported upon in a recent report by the Procedure Committee. That was the subject of discussion on a number of occasions within the Chamber itself.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, so, in fact, were the three instances to which I referred. Evidently, in addition, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, had raised the matter on a number of other occasions.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, had the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, waited for a moment or two, he would have found that I was going on to deal with those matters. The distinction which I was seeking to draw was that the matter had been raised a number of times on the Floor of the House. It had also been referred recently three times to the Procedure Committee. On that particular matter, the Procedure Committee in one of its recent reports made a positive recommendation, which was that it felt that the matter had been aired sufficiently. It recommended to your Lordships--and your Lordships accepted the recommendation when you accepted the report--that the matter should not be raised again. There is a distinction. That is why that matter is not reported upon in the report itself.
As I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, will know from what I had an opportunity to say to him before the debate, his case was presented thoroughly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. We had the benefit of a detailed memorandum from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the advocacy of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Perhaps I may say as an aside that this is the first time that I, as a mere silk, have had the opportunity to congratulate a judge, and a senior judge at that, on his advocacy. I hope that he will not consider it presumptuous or impertinent of me to have done so. After all, one of the blessings of this place is that we do not just have the benefit of the judicial participation of our--if I may call them this--noble and learned friends; we have the benefit of their advocacy on legislative matters. It is partly as a result of their supreme advocacy that they have reached the pinnacle of the judicial system.
I say all that merely to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that his proposals were considered thoroughly. Although it is true to say that his worries were carefully listened to and discussed by the Procedure Committee, where there was some sympathy for the points he was making, the Procedure Committee was in no doubt whatsoever that it was in fact a matter for the business management of the House. Perhaps I may add to that that the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, so ably--if I may say so--put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was taken and well understood. I feel sure that it will be dealt with sensitively. I do not believe that there is any cause for qualms upon that score.
Perhaps I may turn now to item one which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. I shall deal first with the short point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. The Government will of course be studying the report and will be making their views known about it at some point in the future. I would just say this, because I believe that it is important to have some flavour of the discussions which took place in your Lordships' Select Committee: it was on the initiative of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, supported most constructively by the other leaders in your Lordships' House and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, who suggested about a year ago
On the substantive matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, I would say that that is a significant step forward. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for what he said on behalf of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I know of course that the proposal made in the report of the Procedure Committee does not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, would have wished, although I understand--I am grateful for this--that he supports the measures even though he feels that they should go rather further.
As with other matters--I believe that this is a significant step--we are again feeling our way. It would be possible to look at this after it has been in operation for a short period to see whether there is any other way in which we might improve it. We will also have the benefit of the Government's clear advice on these matters and no doubt an opportunity to reconsider them then. I suggest that we try this scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned 1992. We did have some discussion about the date. There is nothing inviolate about a particular date. I do not believe that there will be any point in the Procedure Committee returning to that matter at a very early date, because it has just had an opportunity to discuss the matter thoroughly. However, we can keep that in mind. The question of a time limit has not escaped attention, but the substantive point which the Procedure Committee had in mind was its concern about Acts that were seemingly passed a long time ago and have not been enforced as opposed to more recent Acts, some of which, for obvious reasons, should be allowed a little time.
The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, made a specific suggestion. I hope that he will forgive me if I say, first, that it is not within my power to commit the Procedure Committee to anything, still less your Lordships. I certainly should not wish to trespass in the province of the chairman and members of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. However, it is clearly within the right of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and any noble Lord to seek guidance from that committee, as it would be in this case, to see whether it would be prepared to consider the matter. Perhaps the best way forward might be to leave the matter in that way to be followed up as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, chooses.
I turn to commencement provisions in principle, which are matters fundamentally for your Lordships when legislation is going forward. If a battle is to be fought on whether commencement provisions are needed or are adequate, it must be fought when the Bill is going through your Lordships' House. That is when your Lordships' minds need to be settled on the matter, whatever else is done. If we can further improve the
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