HL Deb 23 October 1967 vol 285 cc1347-53

3.9 p.m.

THE EARL OF LONGFORD rose to move, That Standing Order No. 43 (Amendments on Third Reading) be dispensed with for the purpose of allowing amendments to be moved without notice on the Third Reading of the Abortion (No. 2) Bill. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise with a little diffidence to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Long ago I learned to recognise that Standing Orders accepted by Parliament had good reasons for their existence and I should be the first to argue that we should not lightly set aside any of our Standing Orders, unless there were some very exceptional circumstance. This Motion is submitted on the basis that there is an exceptional position in regard to the Abortion Bill and we therefore venture to suggest to the House that some exceptional step is necessary.

It has been suggested that on one or more of the Amendments to be discussed on the Report stage some new possibility of agreement might conceivably emerge and, as things are, if Standing Order No. 43 is not suspended, agreement could not be expressed in a new Amendment. Ideally, I concede, the Third Reading should not be taken until after a suitable interval; and from that point of view, even to-morrow would be better than later to-day. But one must also recognise that if another place is to be given an opportunity on Wednesday to consider Lords Amendments, and also to put forward Amendments in lieu, then we must complete our procedures to-day. My understanding (I hope I am not wrong) is that this Motion is acceptable to most of those most prominently concerned on both sides of this controversy, and I hope, indeed, to all of them. Therefore, with diffidence, but with confidence that it is the best proposal that I can put before your Lordships, I bring it forward this afternoon. I beg to move.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 43 (Amendments on Third Reading) be dispensed with for the purpose of allowing amendments to be moved without notice on the Third Reading of the Abortion (No. 2) Bill.—(The Earl of Longford.)


My Lords, I am sorry, but I do not think that your Lordships should give assent to this Motion. If you do so, it will be, I think, without precedent. It may well be, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House has said, that the differing parties on any particular Bill may come to some sort of agreement on a new Amendment which might be moved on Third Reading. But the fact that that is so will not make a Bill a good Bill. Even with the best will in the world when parties are agreed, you often find—and it has been the case time after time in your Lordships' House—that Amendments which have been moved in Committee with the assent of the whole House have at a later stage been found defective and have once more had to be amended.

It is, I think, without precedent in your Lordships' House that this Standing Order should be suspended in this way. If the Bill is so important that Her Majesty's Government think it right to invade your Lordships' procedure in this way, then I submit that the Government should have given the proper time to the Bill when they adopted it as their own and seen to it. It seems to me that if your Lordships were to assent to this proposal you might do more harm to your position in matters of legislation than any number of Parliament Bills can do, because you will be opening the door for ill-advised and hastily conceived Amendments at the very last stage, when it is too late to alter them. I certainly feel that your Lordships should not assent to this Motion without a Division. It is a fundamentally important Motion, and your Lordships should consider it most carefully.


My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Saltoun that this is an important measure and worthy of the most careful consideration. It raises very big issues of social importance affecting large numbers of people in the country; indeed, I should think it is the most important private Bill that we have had to consider for many, many years. This Bill came to this House at a very late stage. We have not delayed in our consideration of it. Unfortunately, it does not look as if we shall begin our consideration of the Report stage to-day until a pretty late hour. That, I think, is regrettable for a measure of such importance. Because of the pressure of time, it has been found necessary to put down a Third Reading to follow immediately upon the Report stage.

I, for one, welcome this Motion put down and moved by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, because unless this Motion were tabled, it would mean that your Lordships would be depriving yourselves of the opportunity of making any Amendment, however small, on Third Reading. I do not think that we should lightly give up our rights to make Amendments on Third Reading. One cannot table an Amendment for Third Reading until the Report stage is con- cluded; and, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House, has indicated, it may well be that, in the course of our discussions on Report as to whether a particular word shall be inserted in a certain place, someone will suggest another word instead which will meet with more approval from the House. I think it would be most unfortunate if, in those circumstances, it was not possible to move an Amendment on Third Reading to give effect to the wishes of the House.

It may be that this course is without precedent, but I do not think that this argument suffices to justify this House's depriving itself of the right to make amendments on Third Reading when that right can be secured by the acceptance of this Motion. There is only one thing that I would ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and it is this. One does not know—it is impossible to say—whether it will be desired to put down one or more Amendments on Third Reading, but I think it would facilitate the business of this House if there could be a short interval between the conclusion of the Report stage and the Third Reading for consideration of that question, and for the handing in of Manuscript Amendments. I cannot help thinking that this would facilitate the task of the Table; and it might also lead to a reduction in the number of Amendments that would be tabled. I hope that the noble Earl will consider that suggestion favourably, and I hope, also, that the House will support the Motion he has moved.


My Lords, I rise from these Benches briefly to support the Motion which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has moved. While I share the views of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, I think what is proposed is the best we can do in the circumstances.


My Lords, I think that I should say something. I do not particularly support the Motion moved by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, though I will not vote against it. I share some of the misgivings of my noble friend Lord Saltoun. This issue really arises because the Government insisted on treating this House with what I think is grave discourtesy. We were made to carry through the Prices and Incomes Bill in pretty well one day, when it had been in another place for several months; and this Bill, the Abortion Bill, has also been in another place for a long time. Now your Lordships are asked to get it through in a short space of time in order that it can go back to another place, and get the Royal Assent or not get the Royal Assent before Prorogation.

This may be the best that we can do—and, indeed, I think it would have been necessary, if any different arrangement had been agreed, to sit on into August, and there would have been great difficulties with another place and with the staff of the House with regard to that. But I should like to put it on record that I do not think this is the way that this House should be treated. I do not think it right that we should be asked to sit very late and complete two stages of a Bill of this importance in one day, and I hope that, if your Lordships agree with the Motion, you will see that it does not happen on another occasion.


My Lords, I hope that the Government will not regard this as a precedent. Speaking as an old Leader of the House, I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is right in saying that there has never been a case of this type of Motion before. I think there probably has been. But, of course, our rules, broadly speaking, have always been—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Marquess? I said that there had been, but it was negatived.


Our rules, broadly speaking, have always been that the Second Reading was devoted to the principles underlying the

Bill, the Committee and Report stages were devoted to Amendments to the Bill, and the Third Reading was for the House to consider the Bill, as amended. If you introduce on Third Reading further Amendments there is no proper opportunity for the House to consider them, as there should be. I think that is a very dangerous precedent. It may be necessary this time, but I hope the noble Earl the Leader of the House will be able to give us an assurance that it will not be done again, and especially, if I may say so, not just to facilitate Government business, but just the passage of a Private Member's Bill.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, whose attitude to our business commands special respect here, should be so critical. I would only say to him and one or two other noble Lords, particularly Lord Carrington, that this, of course, is not some sly manœuvre by the Government, who are completely neutral on this Bill. As the noble Lord who, for the time being, is Leader of the House, all I am concerned with is to try to provide a procedure acceptable to the House. In spite of one or two hard words which have fallen from noble Lords, I hope that this procedure will be considered the best in the circumstances. I agree entirely with those who say this should not happen again. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will withdraw his opposition and that the House will accept this Motion.

3.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 108; Not-Contents, 6.

Aberdare, L. Brockway, L. Craigmyle, L.
Addison, V. Buckinghamshire, E. Cranbrook, E.
Ailwyn, L. Buckton, L. Crook, L.
Amherst, E. Burden, L. Darwen, L.
Amulree, L. Burton of Coventry, Bs. Dilhorne, V.
Arwyn, L. Byers, L. Dinevor, L.
Ashbourne, L. Canterbury, L. Abp. Drumalbyn, L.
Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Carnock, L. Dundee, E.
Auckland, L. Champion, L. Durham, L. Bp.
Barrington, V. Citrine, L. Exeter, L. Bp.
Beswick, L. Cohen, L. Falmouth, V.
Boothby, L. Colgrain, L. Faringdon, L.
Bowles, L. [Teller.] Cork and Orrery, E. Fisher, L.
Bristol, L. Bp. Coutanche, L. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)
Brock, L. Craigavon, V. Gifford, L.
Glasgow, E. Molson, L. Shackleton, L.
Grantchester, L. Monson, L. Sherfield, L.
Gridley, L. Moyle, L. Silkin, L.
Haddington, E. Moyne, L. Silsoe, L.
Hall, V. Noel-Buxton, L. Soper, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Norwich, V. Sorensen, L.
Henley, L. Pargiter, L. Soulbury, V.
Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.] Phillips, Bs. Stocks, Bs.
Hughes, L. Piercy, L. Stonham, L.
Hurcomb, L. Popplewell, L. Strang, L.
Ironside, L. Raglan, L. Strathcarron, L.
Jellicoe, E. Redesdale, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Jessel, L. Rosslyn, E. Tangley, L.
Kennet, L. Rowley, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Kindersley, L. Sainsbury, L. Truro, L. Bp.
Latham, L. St. Aldwyn, E. Vernon, L.
Leatherland, L. St. Davids, V. Wade, L.
Listowel, E. Segal, L. Waverley, V.
Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Selkirk, E. Wells-Pestell, L.
MacAndrew, L. Sempill, Ly. Winterbottom, L.
Mitchison, L. Serota, Bs. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Portal of Hungerford, V.
Ferrier, L. Horsbrugh, Bs. Saltoun, L. [Teller.]

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.