My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Chief Whip a question on business? Many noble Lords will have seen on the tape and heard on the one o'clock news that the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced a virtual freeze on council house building. He has given most important directions to local authorities which are of vital interest to Parliament, and particularly to your Lordships' House when we are in the middle of a local government Bill.We had previously secured from the noble Lord the Chief Whip an assurance that anything which merited a Statement in Parliament would be given in this House whether or not another place were sitting. Is he aware that we feel most strongly that important directions such as these—so apposite to our discussions—should have been made here? Does he agree that the Secretary of State for the Environment has once again treated Parliament with disrespect?
My Lords, may I endorse exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, has said? This is a matter of some constitutional importance. Not only is there a relevant Bill going through this House, but when one House is sitting, Parliament is sitting, and the purpose of a Statement is that it should enable the Opposition in particular to question Ministers and the Government on the content of that Statement. I hope that we can make this protest in terms which will enable us to say that it will never be repeated in this form.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, have said. Of course I agree in principle and in general with almost all of what they have said. I must of course say that I have not had time yet to look into this particular case. I can assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that the Government have intended no discourtesy whatsoever to this House and that Ministers are well aware that, where appropriate, Government announcements should be made on the Floor of this House.My initial reaction—and I must tell the House that I have had very little time in which to confirm this—is that a circular of this kind issued by the Secretary of State would not normally be accompanied by a Statement to Parliament. I shall of course look into this matter further and when I have done so I shall consult with the usual channels as to whether a further Statement to the House at a convenient moment later this afternoon would be desirable.
My Lords, we would not propose to discuss the merits of this now provided that the noble Lord gives us an assurance that he will give us his reactions today to what has taken place. Perhaps I had better add that I hope he is aware that he will have to have a jolly good case, because we do not think this ought to be done in a circular, or, if it is done in a circular, only after Parliament has been informed.
My Lords, would we be right to conclude that the Chief Whip himself had no notice of this?
My Lords, Chief Whips are omniscient, as is well known, but I shall certainly take note of what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have said further. I am not trying to escape from coming to the House later. I was just leaving the option that, if the noble Baroness and noble Lord find on consideration when I have made my further inquiries that we need not trouble the House further, we need not do so, but I do not want to escape doing so if it is necessary to do so.
My Lords, the noble Lord will not escape.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is not necessary to carry loyalty to the point of self-destruction?
My Lords, as regards parliamentary business, I am not sure that that is true.