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Lord Richard: My Lords, it may be of assistance to the House if I make one or two points at this stage. I am being accused of all sorts of things these days--conceit yesterday, hubris today. One thing of which I suppose I am guilty is not communicating with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, before he gave us the benefit of his extensive knowledge and historical research on this issue.
I do not intend to oppose the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The Procedure Committee had a thorough debate on the use of the Queen's name to influence debates and its conclusions are set out in paragraph 1 of the report. The committee concluded that the rules stated in Erskine May should continue to be observed by the House, but recognised that exceptional circumstances may arise under which it was desirable to depart from the strict application of the rule.
The committee suggested that the Succession to the Crown Bill--the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred--should be cited as a specific example of such an exception. It is that example that
Under those circumstances it would not be profitable for the House to spend a great deal of time debating the noble Lord's amendment today, nor would it be profitable for a Division to arise upon it. For those reasons I am prepared to accept the noble Lord's amendment without prejudice to the correctness or otherwise of the Procedure Committee's opinion on this specific case. I am sorry that I could not communicate with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in advance of his rising to speak to indicate that that was the procedure I intended to adopt.
Since I am on my feet, perhaps I may say a few words in relation to the second amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. It is not a matter upon which I have strong views. The Procedure Committee was persuaded, at the instigation of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers--I am sorry to see that he is not in his place--to recommend that noble Lords should not speak with their hands in their pockets. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, is intending to delete that recommendation from the Procedure Committee's report on the grounds that it is possible to go too far in prescribing such minutiae of conduct for your Lordships.
As I said, I do not hold strong views one way or the other on the issue. I remind the House that the three Chief Whips and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers agreed last week to circulate a paper on conventions in this House which was distributed with all party Whips. The paper covered a number of aspects of behaviour of the House but did not cover the specific point raised in the Procedure Committee by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Given the existence of that paper and the guidance set out in the report before the House today, I hope that noble Lords will feel that they have been given a wide range of guidance on what perhaps may sometimes appear to be arcane points in relation to the way your Lordships' House behaves. Under those circumstances, I hope that the House will be able to decide this matter too without the necessity for a Division.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the third report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House, as your Lordships will have observed, covers a number of matters. Some are of obvious importance, like the matter covered by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, and others are more trivial but which we as a House would be wise to take seriously.
I should therefore like to say, if the Leader of the House will allow me, how grateful I am for the early opportunity that he has given us to debate the report and for the guidance he gave us on a number of the matters it covers. The opportunity is one which we particularly appreciate, given the pressures an overloaded legislative programme puts on the time available on the Floor of this Chamber.
Of the five matters covered in the Select Committee report, I suspect that the one which concerns us most--and rightly so--is the use of the Queen's name to influence debates. I was grateful to the Leader of the House for what he said. However, I should like to come to this matter a little later in my brief intervention and to take the matters covered by the report in reverse order.
Conduct--the way we behave and the way we observe the rules--is perhaps more important to us in this House than to another place. We all know that we regulate ourselves and that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has no power to keep order. This makes our rather elaborate courtesies a gavotte of real practical value. These are the rails which keep our wheels running on track. If we observe them we are less likely to be carried away by convictions, however passionately held.
I believe that the importance of these courtesies has increased over recent years rather than diminished. After all, the House is, by common consent, I believe, busier and fuller and more Members wish to intervene, particularly at Question Time, than six short years ago when I first joined your Lordships' House. That inevitably makes the conduct of our affairs more difficult and puts self-regulation under strain. Our rather elaborate courtesies seem to me, therefore, more of a very present help in trouble than perhaps they used to be, even a few years ago. So I believe that we would do well to heed the advice that the committee has tendered in the fifth item of its report. Certainly we on the Opposition Front Bench will do our best to encourage this side of the House to do so.
The advice of the Leader of the House seems to me to be wise and timely in the matter of Starred Questions. As Ministers, all of us have been presented with draft answers of inordinate length. Officials are perhaps understandably anxious to ensure that Ministers cover every aspect and sometimes forget that some answers are more effective for being kept in reserve for supplementary questions; and indeed that Ministers sometimes have to be trusted to be masters of their brief.
Equally, us questioners all too easily forget that, above all, brevity is the soul of wit at Question Time and that it can also stump a Minister completely. I remember all too vividly, when I was a Member of another place, Mr. Tam Dalyell asking a one word supplementary, "Why?". Needless to say, the Minister was beaten all ends up. Perhaps we should equally remember that we in this House are often at our most effective when we are not being too partisan. The words at page 84 of the Companion, therefore, and which are quoted with approval in the committee's report, seem to me to be particularly to the point.
On the question of quotation from speeches in the current Session in another place, I can add nothing to the paragraph in the report. This seems to me to be a sensible and practical change and I hope that the House will take the same view.
The question of the carry over of Bills is perhaps more contentious. A number of your Lordships have expressed concern this afternoon about this proposal, particularly since it seems to them to threaten the powers of delay of your Lordships' House under the Parliament Acts.
As a former government business manager, I can say that we, too, looked at the question of carry over when we were in government. We rapidly came to the conclusion that it would hinder the effective completion of a government's legislative programme rather than help it. The reason of course is that, above all, it removes one of the few restraints on great Secretaries of State to moderate their passion for legislation. I hope that I do not misinterpret him, but from the hints that the Leader of the House has let drop from time to time he shares that view, although he might not be able to say so quite as frankly in public as I do now that I am on this side of the House.
For that reason, too, I think Oppositions should welcome the idea of carry over. However, perhaps oppositions which expect to return to government should welcome the caution with which this Government are beginning to treat the idea.
As far as this proposal affects the powers of this House, I think it probably enhances them rather than the reverse. So long as only Government Bills are eligible; so long as the only Bills carried over are Bills that have not left their House of origin; so long as the Opposition Whips have an effective veto through the usual channels on which Bills are selected for carry over, it seems to me that your Lordships would, in theory at least, have an extra Session in which to delay the passage of a Bill before the Parliament Acts applied. As someone who would like to see this House use its powers more and who regards that as perhaps one of the greatest arguments for reform of your Lordships' House, I suspect we should welcome the committee's report as a small step, at least at the margins, towards achieving that aim.
This brings me--I hope briefly--to the most difficult matter which we have discussed this afternoon. It has been most elegantly resolved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I believe that we should be extremely grateful to him for his statesman-like
It is a sensible practice of the House that on non-political matters we should follow the advice of the Leader of the House. It is something that the noble Lord did when our present roles were reversed and I was always extremely grateful to him for doing so, particularly when I was wrong. I certainly think that we were right to follow the advice of the Leader of the House in this instance and would not dream of questioning the advice which he offered us. Indeed, I accept it completely.
Nevertheless, I wonder whether the time has not come for us to change the practice of this House, as set out by the Leader of the House, as a result of the worry so well articulated by my noble friend.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his evidence to the committee, as I understood him, endeavoured to draw a distinction between the Monarch acting in her personal capacity and the Monarch acting, if I may put it this way, as the Monarch. He argued that in the former case it was right for the Monarch to make her views known in advance of Bills being discussed in your Lordships' House and in the latter, not.
However, I have in particular two practical worries about the noble Earl's argument. First, the demarcation line between the two categories seems extraordinarily difficult to define. After all, in the case that we are discussing, the succession to the Throne must, it is true, affect the Monarch personally. That is the advice which the Leader of the House gave us. But the question of who is to be our next Sovereign surely also affects the rest of us as well. A question that affects all of us is surely one that affects the Sovereign as Monarch as well as the Sovereign in her personal capacity. Secondly, the question of the Monarchy--and indeed the role of women--has moved steadily up the political agenda in recent years. This is a matter which is now part of the day-to-day warp and woof of political life. Seeking to involve the Monarch in the day-to-day warp and woof of political life seems to me to be something that perhaps we should try to avoid from now on.
For both these reasons, therefore, I think it would be wise if from now on we altered the procedure currently laid down quite rightly for us in the interpretation of Erskine May by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I endeavoured to make the same argument in discussions at the Procedure Committee. I understand that the committee had accepted that a new general rule, following the substance of the argument of my noble
If my memory serves me right--and it is not always a very reliable instrument--the committee also accepted that it would be impossible to anticipate every eventuality and that if the Government wished to ignore this new rule they should do so only by agreement with the usual channels in this House.
which appear in the third paragraph of the report. Certainly the minutes of the proceedings of the committee seem to me to convey a slightly different emphasis, although I confess that I was grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees who, in his introduction to our exchanges this afternoon, seemed to me to perhaps set my recollection more closely in tune with his. For those reasons, I am delighted that, on reflection, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has decided not to oppose the view of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, as expressed in his amendment. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for that, as should be the whole House.
In expressing my gratitude for the way in which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has guided us on this matter, perhaps in finishing I may thank him for what I had hoped would be rather more definite guidance on the second amendment before the House. I refer to that standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. If your Lordships find yourselves in the same position as me with regard to the noble Lord's amendment, your Lordships will be on the horns of what seems to me to be an impossible dilemma. On the one hand, there is clearly no one more deeply versed in the procedure and practice of this House than the noble Lord. As a former Clerk of the Parliaments, his knowledge is well known to your Lordships and, in normal circumstances, I would not hesitate to urge your Lordships to accept his advice.
However, there is a difficulty. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House rightly pointed out, my noble friend Lord Ferrers disagrees with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I have always regarded my noble friend as the final arbiter of manners in this place. Perhaps I may echo the sentiments already expressed this afternoon and say that I feel particularly sad that my noble friend cannot be here today to argue his point. I hope that the whole House will allow me to convey its very best wishes to my noble friend for a speedy recovery.
Perhaps I may make one plea to the noble Lord the Leader of the House: can he offer those of us on this side of the House a little more definite guidance with regard to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson? It is something which I find myself quite incapable of resolving.
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