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Business Of The House: Amendments

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1998

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3 p.m.

My Lords, I rise following the exchanges that took place in the House last night during which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, questioned my right as Leader of the House to offer advice to Peers about whether or not amendments should be moved. The noble Lord rightly indicated that it is for the House to decide whether an amendment is within the scope of a Bill.

I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that when the Clerks in the Public Bill Office offer advice to a noble Lord that an amendment falls outside the normal rules of your Lordships' House and the noble Lord nevertheless insists, as is his right, on that amendment staying on the Order Paper against that advice, the Clerk of the Parliaments draws the correspondence to the attention of the Leader of the House. There is nothing new about that. It has happened for a very long time. The Leader of the House often discusses the advice of the Clerks with the noble Lord concerned. In the interests of self-regulation and good order in the House, it is normal for the Leader to have such discussions. I should add that conveying the advice of the Clerks to noble Lords is a duty which the Leader of the House is expected to perform. He does not act on his own initiative. He acts as the vehicle for conveying the advice and discussing it with the Peers in question. If necessary, he can convey that advice to the House on the Floor of the House.

I am moved to reply today to the question asked in the House yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for two reasons. First, the advice to which the noble Lord referred was not, as was suggested then, about the relevance of amendments, but about the rule in your Lordships' House that an issue which has been fully debated or decided at an earlier stage should not be reopened by amendment at Third Reading. Secondly, I am sure that the House will expect me to put the record straight in explaining, as I have, why I acted in that way.

The House might like to know that after correspondence with the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Renton, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Henley, yesterday referred, I decided that it would not be necessary for me to intervene on the Floor of the House when the noble Lords moved their amendments yesterday. Perhaps I may add—I thank him for it—that I have today received a personal letter from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, offering me his apologies.

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his courtesy in laying to rest the misunderstanding that occurred last night. The occasion of his doing so enables me to re-emphasise the importance that this side of the House attaches to the rule which the Leader enunciated this afternoon, which is that we rely on the Leader for guidance in matters governing the control of business and the proper observance of our procedures in this House. I should like once again to take this opportunity to emphasise how grateful we are to the noble Lord for the way in which he carries out those duties and our complete acceptance of the ruling that he has given us this afternoon.

My Lords, having been personally involved in one of the decisions which the Leader of the House had to take yesterday, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to him for his decision with regard to my amendment, which enabled a 40-minute debate to take place on a matter affecting 700 years of our history. It was a debate in which noble Lords who hold views on both sides of the argument were able to express those views fully for the first time. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the decision that he took.

My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his clear exposition of the position and his clarification of the points involved. It seems to us that there was no serious breach of procedure or serious quarrel among your Lordships. What happened seems largely to have been an offshoot of the groupings system. Normally in such a case, the amendment would have been withdrawn, but in this case there was some difficulty in detaching it from the grouping. That problem arises from time to time. We are most grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for making the position clear.

My Lords, since my name has been mentioned, perhaps I may say that I am fully satisfied with the statement made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.