Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that the remarks of my noble friend and those of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, will be of comfort not only to the family of the late Lord Gillmore but also to his many colleagues in the Foreign Office who are very, very sad at his passing.

In the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we are committed to having people who are representative of Britain's diverse society and to developing the potential and maximising the talents of all FCO staff through our policies covering recruitment, career progression, training and different kinds of harassment.

We aim to double at least the number of women in the senior management structure by the year 2003. In the 1998 recruitment campaign, we succeeded in attracting very high levels of young people from ethnic minorities to join the FCO. We started from a very low base and we aim to build on our successes. We aim to do that not only through recruitment but also through holding open days and having individual shadowing not only of FCO officials but also of Ministers. The shadowing that we have done with young people from ethnic minorities may be something--who knows?--which people in other parts of the House may wish to take up as a genuine commitment to ensuring that young people feel that they have a role to play in that respect.

My noble friend asked me some particular questions about numbers at different levels in the Foreign Office. I have many figures here, but I can tell my noble friend that unfortunately, at the highest levels, at present we have fewer than 1 per cent. of people from ethnic minorities. As I say, we are trying to improve that and we shall continue to do so. However, it must be done through fair and open competition.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a grave danger in the kind of talk that we heard

22 Mar 1999 : Column 959

from the noble Lord, Lord Janner? As a member of an ethnic minority which had to wait over 200 years before an ambassador came from its ranks, I ask the Minister to say that in no circumstances will the characteristics of our representation abroad be determined by anything but the merit of the individual? Will she confirm also that quota systems, whether ethnic or gender based, are wholly alien to the best traditions of the British Diplomatic Service?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I give the noble Lord that assurance. All appointments, whether on recruitment or through promotion, must be made on the basis of merit. A number of questions about opening up Foreign Office recruitment at different levels are being examined. There are a number of different and important issues. We are determined to ensure that people are aware that whatever their background, as long as they have the ability, they may be able to find a career in the Foreign Office. But everybody must know that such a career will take place only on the basis of merit and that such recruitment will take place only on the basis of fair and open competition.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the Minister accept that when I was a Minister in the Foreign Office many years ago, I visited most of the principal diplomatic posts in the world? Is she aware that I found there ambassadors and heads of mission of the highest intellectual and diplomatic ability? Will she confirm that that situation is still the case all these years later? Will she confirm also that intellectual and diplomatic ability will remain the main criteria for selection to those important posts?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is more fortunate than I. Sadly, I have not visited most of the posts abroad. I am afraid that your Lordships keep me much too busy in this House to enable me to do so. Nevertheless, I can certainly say to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that I have been extremely impressed in those whom I have met by their intellectual calibre, wealth of experience and commitment to the job. It is a job where a good deal of flexibility is needed. After all, governments come and governments go, but the Diplomatic Service is the service on which we base so much of our international effort. I agree with the noble Lord that appointment is and should continue to be based on merit.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she wishes diplomatic appointments to be on merit only--and she is quite right. She said also that in the next 10 years she wishes to see the number of females double. Are the two objectives not contradictory?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, what a brave man the noble Earl is. No, I do not believe that for a single moment. I said that that is our target. It is not a quota. It is a target to ensure that young women believe that they can have a career in the Diplomatic Service in the same way as young men. Therefore, we

22 Mar 1999 : Column 960

have raised the target for recruitment from 30 per cent. to 50 per cent. I am sure that all noble Lords who have daughters who wish to become diplomats will be extremely pleased to hear that.

Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not inconsistent to have a system based upon merit which also reflects entirely the make-up of our society?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree with that. I believe also that in trying to convey that message, it is extremely important to ensure that young people, whatever their background, know that there is a possibility of joining the Foreign Office. For that reason, my right honourable friend and, indeed, the whole ministerial team in the Foreign Office have been so committed to trying to open it up. We have put advertisements in the ethnic minority press and we have had open days which have been extremely successful. For that reason, we were successful in last year's recruitment competition in attracting not only a record number of applications from young people from ethnic minorities but in attracting also a record number of successful candidates in the competitions that we held.


Lord Carter: My Lords, after the conclusion of the debate on the report of the Procedure Committee my noble friend Lady Blackstone will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on education: excellence in cities.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

3.7 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

As your Lordships will see, the Procedure Committee report has two main items. The first consists of comments and recommendations of the Procedure Committee on the report of the working group appointed by the Leader of the House on conduct in the Chamber.

The committee is extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and her five colleagues. Indeed, I am sure the whole House will be grateful for the thorough and speedy way in which the working group carried out its task. Your Lordships will have noted that the Procedure Committee did not feel able to endorse all the working group's recommendations, but that in no way detracts from the valuable work it has done.

The House may find it helpful if I emphasise that this afternoon we are debating the Procedure Committee's report and not the report of the working group. The House is being asked to endorse the comments and

22 Mar 1999 : Column 961

recommendations of the Procedure Committee on the report of the working group and not the report of the working group itself.

I do not propose to go through all the recommendations for change proposed by the Procedure Committee in the light of the working group's report. The changes are set out in the Procedure Committee's report. I shall try to deal with any questions your Lordships may have. However, I remind your Lordships of the importance of the courtesies of the House. Those govern the way in which noble Lords have traditionally behaved towards each other and are usefully set out in the working group's report.

I mention in particular the need to observe our courtesies on business immediately after Starred Questions. The Procedure Committee is concerned about the noise made when noble Lords leave the Chamber after Starred Questions and the difficulty caused for the noble Lord dealing with the next business. That difficulty is especially acute for a noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench because departing noble Lords often pass directly in front of him. It is very much hoped that the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, and of the group of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, aimed at maintaining the good order and dignity of our proceedings, will be taken to heart.

The second main item in the report of the Procedure Committee is the proposal of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that, as an experiment beginning immediately after the Easter Recess, the general debate day should be moved from Wednesday to Thursday. The experiment would last until such time as government business fills the debate day, probably mid-June.

The experiment might require certain consequential changes, such as starting business on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and on Thursdays at 2.30 p.m. The House will understand that there was strong opposition to the proposal in the Procedure Committee. The committee was divided on the merits of the proposal and, in the end, did not feel able to make any recommendation to the House. There was a strong feeling that the House should decide the matter without any proposal from the committee. That is the purpose of the amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. There is also the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

In the circumstances, I do not believe I would be helping the House if I were to try to summarise the arguments for and against the proposal. It is better that I leave that to other noble Lords once the noble Baroness has spoken to her amendment.

There is also the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. Again, I leave it to the House to decide. So far as the mechanics are concerned, it is perfectly possible to provide whatever is necessary. Strictly speaking, if the noble Lord moves his amendment, debate will take place on it. However, I hope that noble Lords will feel free to range over any of the matters in the report and so avoid the need for

22 Mar 1999 : Column 962

several debates. After the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has spoken, no doubt your Lordships will wish to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 33) be agreed to.-- (The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


    At its last meeting the Procedure Committee agreed to a recommendation by the Leader of the House that a Working Group should be established "to consider how the procedures of the House can be improved within the existing framework of self-regulation; and to make proposals for ensuring that Lords are better informed of procedure so that self-regulation can work". 1 The Committee has considered the Group's report 2 and recommends the House to accept the following proposals for change in the House's present procedures:

    Starred Questions

    A second topical question each week should be created by reserving the fourth question on Wednesdays, for tabling no earlier than the previous Monday. The second topical question should be subject to the same rules as the existing topical question, in particular the rule that no Lord may ask more than two topical questions in one session. 3

    Lords should be limited to one Starred Question (instead of the present two) on the order paper at any one time, unless they are successful in the ballot for topical questions.

    The Committee endorses the following additional guidance recommended by the Working Group:

    (a) Ministers' answers should be shorter. Their initial answer should not generally exceed 75 words. Supplementary questions and answers should also be shorter and confined to not more than two points.

    (b) The problem of how supplementary questions should circulate around the different parts of the House cannot be resolved by a rigid rule. The Government side should not expect to have every alternate supplementary. In giving guidance, the Leader should be mindful of the interests of all backbenchers, including the Liberal Democrats and the Crossbenchers.

    (c) If two or more Lords rise at once, they should be more ready to give way immediately, rather than provoke a shouting-match, which is undignified and wastes time. If the Leader rises, other Lords should sit down at once.

    The Committee reminds the House that the Lord who tabled the question has no automatic right to ask a final supplementary question. 4

    Business immediately after Starred Questions

    The Committee is concerned at how much noise is created when Lords leave the Chamber after Starred Questions. Lords should do so silently; those remaining in the Chamber should avoid conversations at this point. It is in order for the Lord moving the next business to pause for a short period until the House is quiet again. The Clerk should not start the clock until he begins to speak.

    Drafting of amendments

    In appropriate cases amendments should take the form: Page x, line y, leave out paragraph (b), and not: Page x, leave out lines 1 to 3.

    Grouping of amendments

    For an experimental period until the summer recess, government departments should produce draft groupings of amendments for consultation by 2.30 p.m. on the working day before debate (rather than at lunchtime on the day, as at present). To enable departments to do this, marshalled lists of amendments should be published on the working day before the debate (rather than on the day of debate, as is normal at present). Lords should be encouraged to facilitate this by tabling amendments no later than 5 p.m. two days before the

22 Mar 1999 : Column 963

    debate, whenever possible. Amendments handed in later than this will be published in a revised marshalled list or in a supplementary list. The experiment should be confined to committee stage.

    Tabling of amendments

    Outside recesses, the deadline for handing in amendments for printing the next day should be 5 p.m. (4 p.m. on Fridays) instead of 6.30 p.m. (5.30 p.m. for a marshalled list, 4 p.m. on Fridays) as at present. During recesses the deadlines will remain unchanged (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

    Repeat amendments

    An amendment identical (or of identical effect) to one pushed to a vote by the mover and defeated in committee should not be retabled for report stage. The amendment should be changed more than cosmetically if it is to be retabled. However, it would not be desirable to restrict the reopening at report stage of an issue debated and voted on in committee.

    An amendment agreed to on division in committee should not be reversed at report stage except with the unanimous agreement of the House.


    The time for divisions should be extended from six to eight minutes; the time for appointing Tellers would in consequence be extended from three to four minutes.

    "Bill do now pass"

    The motion "That this bill do now pass" should be moved formally and should not normally be debated. Ministers should if necessary respond to points raised on the motion by other Lords. The motion should not be an occasion for thanking those involved in the passage of the bill.


    The Committee does not accept that the number of statements repeated in this House is unreasonable. They are important policy announcements. While there will be exceptions, the time for the two Opposition front benches and the reply to them should be limited to 20 minutes, as for the backbenches. 5 Backbenchers too should exercise restraint, restricting themselves to brief comments and questions rather than speeches, so as to allow more Lords to intervene within the 20 minutes available.

    The time when a statement is to be taken (for example, "after amendment 20" or "after the first debate"), once agreed between the whips, should be put on the annunciator. A Lord who was not present to hear a statement should not speak on it. The practice of noting unrepeated statements on the cover of Hansard should be revived.


    The Committee endorses the following reminders of the courtesies of the House:

    (a) Lords should bow to the Cloth of Estate on entering the Chamber, though not on leaving. 6 Lords should also bow when the Mace passes.

    (b) A Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following his own, and for the winding-up speeches. Ministers cannot be expected to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the Minister's closing speech. A Lord who becomes aware in advance that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the list of speakers.

    (c) Reading of speeches is alien to the custom of the House. In practice, some speakers may wish to have "extended notes" from which to speak, but it is not in the interests of good debate that they should follow them too closely.

    (d) Lords should never address one another in debate as "you".

    (e) Lords should refer to "the noble Lord, the Minister", or simply "the Minister", but not "the noble Minister".

    (f) The Lord who follows a maiden speaker (and only that Lord) should congratulate him on behalf of the whole House. Other Lords should not leave the Chamber while this takes place.

22 Mar 1999 : Column 964

    (g) Lords should not pass between the Lord who is speaking and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair. 7

    (h) Lords should not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair. This does not apply when the Lord Chancellor is speaking as a Minister from beside the Woolsack.

    (i) Lords should not bring books or newspapers into the Chamber, except for reference in debate. 8

    The Committee reminds the House that private conversations in the Chamber are not desirable.


    The Committee agreed that the Working Group's proposals for training (paragraphs 71-78) should be considered further. The Clerk of the Parliaments informed the Committee that he proposed to begin a revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders for issue by the beginning of the next session.

    The Committee expressed its gratitude to Lady Hilton of Eggardon and the members of the Working Group for their work on procedure in the Chamber.


    The Committee considered a proposal from the Government Chief Whip that, as an experiment from the return of the House after the Easter recess, the general debate day should be moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays. The experiment would last until such time as government business filled the debate day, probably mid-June 1999. The Committee noted that there was strong opposition to the proposal. If such a change were to be made on an experimental basis, the Committee recommends that the House should meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and 2.30 p.m. on Thursdays. 9 However, in the absence of agreement on the Chief Whip's proposal, the Committee makes no recommendation on the proposal or on sitting times. The issue should be left to the House to decide.

    1 4th Report (1997-98), HL Paper 144. 2 The report is printed as HL Paper (1998-99) 34. 3 See Companion to the Standing Orders, p 86. 4 Companion, p 85. 5 As recommended in the Procedure Committee's first report 1994-95, agreed to by the House on 10 January 1995. 6 Standing order 17(2). 7 Standing Order 17(1). 8 Companion, p 64. 9 The committee was led to understand that this would be because party meetings would be held on Wednesdays.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris rose to move, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committees' Motion, at end insert ("save that, in paragraph 1 ("Report of the Group on Procedure in the Chamber"), on page 4, in the sub-paragraph headed "Divisions", leave out ("in consequence be extended from three to four minutes") and insert ("remain at three minutes")").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proximate cause for the amendment standing in my name lies in the alarm I felt recently when I encountered a noble Lord whose age can best be described as "mature" and whose build invites the label of "sturdy" who was exhibiting a remarkable turn of speed at imminent peril to his cardiovascular system and who nearly ran me down in the precincts of the Palace in his determination not to miss a Division. His assiduity put me upon reflection. I recalled that the Hilton group had recommended that Division time be extended from six to eight minutes which pleased many noble Lords because it made things easier for those getting in from workplaces outside the

22 Mar 1999 : Column 965

Palace or from distant spots within it and because of the weight of numbers now taking part in at least some Divisions.

The group also recommended an extension of the time allowed for the appointment of tellers from three minutes to four. This was accepted by the Select Committee with one subtle change, the phrase,

    "in consequence be extended from three to four minutes".
I submit that the cases are not parallel. The Clerks, acting as tellers, are, as I have observed them--and there are only four at any given time--young persons, fit, agile, nimble, and very quick off the mark. They can go far in three minutes. In 10 years in your Lordships' House I have never found them absent from their posts or breathless from exertion.

Noble Lords, on the other hand, tend to be less lissom, to move more slowly, stumble a bit and occasionally get in each other's way. They need all the time they can get to reach the Lobbies and process through them; often there is quite a considerable crush. The phrase, "in consequence", implies the unquestioned assumption that the two periods in a Division must be of equal length. I submit that that assumption is unsupported by any evidence and has no basis in fact. It has all the virtues of symmetry but no other virtues.

I have been given to understand that Division time is measured by the action of what is described as "an hourglass" which runs for three minutes and must then be inverted to measure the second period of time. I do not wish to be pedantic but an hourglass, by definition, measures an hour and a three-minute glass is more accurately described as an egg-timer. An egg-timer is a useful and often artistically pleasing example of the glassmaker's art. But it has one manifest drawback. It can only measure its allotted span of three minutes and then has to be turned over. It is excellent for its purpose, producing a boiled egg. However, given that a new hourglass or egg-timer would be required if the period were extended to four minutes plus four--a sort of hard-boiled egg-timer--this cannot be an argument against three-plus-five. In any case, technology has developed and new and exciting possibilities have been opened up by the invention of the stop-watch. It is an accurate, flexible and readily available machine, very much fitted for its purpose and now quite cheap in price.

The purpose of the proposed amendment on page 4, line 25, of the report is to allow a little extra time for noble Lords to reach the Division Lobbies and pass through them in comfort and in a settled frame of mind. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committees' Motion, at end insert ("save that, in paragraph 1 ("Report of the Group on Procedure in the Chamber"), on page 4, in the sub-paragraph headed "Divisions", leave out ("in consequence be extended from three to four minutes") and insert ("remain at three minutes")").--(Lord Morris of Castle Morris.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page