§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This meeting of the committee was wholly devoted to agreeing an up-to-date edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders and a revised edition of the Brief Guide to procedure and practice, which your Lordships will recall was suggested in 1987 by the group on the working of the House. For the most part, that was a rather complicated editorial task. It resulted in a simple revision of those two documents to incorporate the current Rules of Procedure. There are 10 matters which, though of small import are nevertheless important, that are listed in the report under the headings (a) to (j). They are all self-explanatory. I shall say no more about them unless your Lordships wish me to. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
§ Following is the report:
§ ORDERED TO REPORT:—
1. REVISION OF THE COMPANION
The Committee have considered and approved a new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
In the course of preparing the new edition a number of minor points have been identified which the Committee draw to the attention of the House as they represent small procedural changes or the clarification of previous practice hitherto without written authority. These points are as follows:
(a) Taking the Oath
The Group on the Working of the House which reported in 1987 (HL Paper 9 of 1987–88) recommended (para. 112) "that Peers should be asked to take the Oath in a clear and audible manner", to aid the identification of new Peers. The Group had in mind occasions when a new hereditary Peer takes his seat without formal introduction. The Committee endorse this recommendation and recommend that it should be noted in the new edition of the Companion. It presupposes that Lords will extend to a new Peer the courtesy of listening quietly while the Oath is taken.
(b)Reference to strangers
The Companion (page 40) currently discourages reference "to persons in the Gallery". The Committee believe that reference to strangers in other parts of the Chamber is equally undesirable, and recommend that the new edition of the Companion should record this.
The custom of the House has long been that the gratuitous use of foreign languages in debate has been considered undesirable, but this is not stated in the Companion. The Committee recommend that guidance on this matter should be included in the new edition of the Companion, as follows:
It is undesirable to use a foreign language in debate, except where the matter in question demands it.
The production of exhibits in debate has long been considered undesirable. Only members close enough are able to see, and the reader of the Official Report is at a loss. To use an exhibit may also be emotive and may lead to disorderly proceedings as objects are passed round the Chamber. It is proposed to give guidance on this matter in the new edition of the Companion, as follows:
Exhibits should not be taken into the Chamber or produced in debate, whether to illustrate a speech or for any other purpose.
(e) Questions on Church of England matters
The 1984 Companion includes in the list of inadmissible questions those "relating to Church of England matters". This does not correspond with the intentions of the Committee when they considered and reported on the matter on 15th February 1977. The Committee plainly intended to refer only to questions on matters within the responsibility of the Church of England. The rule as currently expressed would catch questions on Church of England matters within the responsibility of the Government. The Committee recommend that the revised Companion should reflect the original intention of the Committee.
(f) Daily number of Questions for Written Answer
The practice of the House has been that Lords do not table more than six Questions for Written Answer per day. This convention helps to ensure prompt attention for those questions which are tabled, and appears to cause no inconvenience. The Committee recommend that this convention should be recorded in the Companion.
(g) Public Bills rejected by a Select Committee
Past practice has varied as regards the treatment of such a Bill in the list of Bills in Progress at the back of the Minutes of Proceedings. The Committee recommend endorsement of the practice followed on the Hare Coursing Bill (1976) and the Foreign Boycotts Bill (1978), whereby a Bill rejected by a Select Committee would be listed as "Reported from the Select Committee that the Bill should not proceed". This would indicate that the Bill is still theoretically "in progress", but that to allow it to proceed further would be to disregard the recommendation of the Select Committee.
§ (h) Withdrawing a Bill
(i) On the motion for a stage
According to the 1984 Companion (page 101) a Lord who withdraws the motion for a stage of a Bill is presumed not to have withdrawn the Bill unless he notifies the Clerks. Since in most such cases the Bill will not in fact be proceeded with, the Committee recommend the reversal of this presumption.
(ii) Between stages
According to existing practice, a Bill may be withdrawn between stages without notice by unanimous leave of the House. This the Committee consider an unsatisfactory procedure. The principal objection is that, in considering whether leave should be granted, the House is required to make a substantive decision without notice. Bills once introduced are in the possession of the House, and not in the sole ownership of their sponsor; yet members of the House who have taken part in earlier proceedings on the Bill are given no warning to be present. Furthermore, it would be discourteous for the Lord in charge of the Bill not to give his reasons for wishing to withdraw the Bill, so he must make at least a short explanatory speech. Yet, since there is no motion before the House, there can be no debate on the subject. There is, therefore, no orderly opportunity for other members to inquire further into the matter and no proper means for the Lord in charge of the Bill to reply.
At present, the only alternative to accepting the Lord's request for leave to withdraw the Bill is to refuse him leave. In that event, he may put down a motion to withdraw the Bill which can then be debated and decided in the usual way. While this second step does provide the conditions necessary to enable the House to come to a considered decision, the present procedure requires two steps in order to achieve that position. The Committee recommend that this protracted procedure be improved by eliminating the first step: withdrawal of a Bill should in future only be done with notice, on a motion "That the Bill be withdrawn" which may be debated and, if necessary, decided on division.
(i) Short Debates
The current Companion gives no guidance to Lords who wish to intervene in a Short Debate but who do not appear on the list of speakers. The Committee recommend that Lords whose names do not appear on the List of Speakers may intervene before the final wind-up speeches if time allows, but in so doing must have regard to the time constraints on the debate.
(j) V.C.s and G.Cs
The Committee recommend that Lords who are the holders of the Victoria Cross or the George Cross should be described on the Floor of the House as 'noble and gallant', as are Admirals of the Fleet, Field Marshals and Marshals of the Royal Air Force.
2. REVISED EDITION OF THE BRIEF GUIDE
The Committee have considered and approved, with amendments, a new edition of the Brief Guide to the Procedure and Practice of the House of Lords, as revised by the Group on the Working of the House in 1987, publication of which has been delayed, so as to allow revision of the two procedural guides to proceed together to prevent discrepancies.
My Lords, I note that one of the changes considered to the Companion to the Standing Orders touches upon the important question of the use of foreign language in debate. It reads:It is undesirable to use a foreign language in debate except where the matter in question demands it".Are Welsh and Latin considered to be foreign languages for that purpose? Another important matter is that the committee recommended that Members of the House who are holders of the Victoria Cross or the George Cross should be properly referred to as noble and gallant. In order to ensure that neither I nor anyone else commits a solecism, could we have a list in the Library of those noble Lords who are currently holders of the VC or the GC?
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, on the first point about foreign languages, I am sure that Latin is a foreign language. Welsh is in a rather more delicate position and has a special standing. As your Lordships probably know, it is permissible to take the Oath in Welsh. On the other hand, it would be rather difficult if one of your Lordships were to address the House in Welsh. It would be difficult for most of your Lordships to understand and almost impossible for Hansard to get it down. The convention has always been, therefore, that we address the House in English. However, the proposal says:except where the matter in question demands it".That allows some latitude for the use of quotations or special words.
In answer to the other question put to me by the noble Lord about VCs and GCs, I shall see what I can do to find a list of those of your gallant Lordships who are holders of either the VC or the GC.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for what he said about the Welsh language. Is he aware that Welsh is one of the two languages of southern Britain and is the older of the two and that it also has a special status under the Welsh Language Act 1966, which I had the privilege of piloting through the other place and which is looked after in this House by my noble and learned friend?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.