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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the people who suffer from influenza tend to be those who are older. In fact, when we look at the deaths each year from influenza, it is mostly people who are suffering from

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other chronic conditions; for example, bronchitis, asthma, and so on. Therefore, the question about school children is really not relevant.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister use the occasion to emphasise once again the necessity for older people to have anti-flu vaccinations as quickly as they can?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Indeed, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to general practitioners in June, and again in September last year, reminding them of the need to encourage their patients to come forward for vaccination.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am sure that she is—that the Australians believe that they are on the verge of making a very great contribution towards producing a vaccine that will prevent influenza? Can we not encourage the rest of the Commonwealth, and other nations, to join us in supporting the Australians in what might well be a very great invention for all mankind?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we have vaccines for influenza every year; indeed, we have had them over many years. The difficulty is that the virus changes year on year. Therefore, we have to grow a different vaccine every year according to the anticipated strains that will be current during that year. I should like to take the opportunity to say that UK scientists are actually the world leaders in advising the World Health Organisation on identifying those strains. As a nation, we should be very proud of that fact.

Blasphemy (Abolition) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to abolish the offence of blasphemy and certain other common law offences; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Avebury.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

3.2 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.

The first report from the Procedure Committee covers four matters. First, the committee has given further consideration to the report of the Group on Sittings of the House in the light of the views expressed in the debate on 2nd November. The committee has made the eight recommendations set out in the report. The underlying aim of this package of recommendations—most of which are experimental—is to enable the House to rise earlier, which I imagine that all your Lordships will welcome.

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Secondly, the committee has recommended a relaxation in the sub judice rule to bring the position in this House more closely into line with the position in another place. At present the sub judice rule prevents reference in the House to any case before a court. In another place there is an exception in relation to civil cases for certain matters involving ministerial decisions or issues of national importance. This exception is at the discretion of the Speaker who must be satisfied that there is no real and substantial danger of prejudice to the proceedings.

In the absence of a direct counterpart in this House to the Speaker in another place, the committee recommends that a similar discretion should be exercised by the Leader of the House, whose decision would be made on advice and after consultation. This arrangement is novel in so far as it gives the Leader a role going beyond advising the House. But the committee—

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, is the noble Lord the Leader of the House aware that this is completely unconstitutional to give the Leader of the House a position he has never occupied before? I think it would be quite pernicious.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if matters of that kind were to be dealt with following the moving of this Motion when I feel sure that in your Lordships' customary way your Lordships will take into account any matters which are raised by any noble Lord. Perhaps I should start the last sentence again so that I do not lose your Lordships. I am sure I am never in any danger of doing that, but I might lose myself in the process.

This arrangement is novel in so far as it gives the Leader a role going beyond advising the House, but the committee agreed that the House should have the benefit of the less restrictive rule which applies already in another place and felt that this was the best way of achieving this aim. Thirdly, the committee has approved a new edition of the Brief Guide to the Procedure and Practice of the House. In doing so, the committee decided to clarify three customs of the House which are not always adhered to.

First, maiden speakers should normally be congratulated by the following speaker only. It is desirable that noble Lords should not leave the Chamber during those congratulations. Secondly, noble Lords taking part in debates are expected to attend as much of it as possible, including the end of the debate. Noble Lords who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end should normally remove their names from the list of speakers.

Thirdly, the time for Back-Bench questions and comments on Statements is now limited to 20 minutes and the committee considers that the same limit should also apply to Front Bench speakers. Finally, the committee has considered the practice in relation to Questions for Written Answer which have not been answered when the House adjourns for a Recess. At present such Questions remain unanswered until the House resumes. The committee recommends that in future answers should normally be sent to the noble

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Lord concerned within a fortnight, and then printed in Hansard for the next Sitting day, with a reference to the date on which they were answered.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 9).—(The Chairman of Committees.)


    Following is the report referred to:


    ORDERED TO REPORT:


    1. SITTINGS OF THE HOUSE


    The Committee has given further consideration to the Report (HL Paper 83, Session 1993-94) of the Group on Sittings of the House, in the light of the views expressed in debate on 2 November.


    The Committee recommends:


    (1) That further opportunities should be found for the use of Special Public Bill Committee procedure, in particular for Law Commission bills but also for other bills introduced into either House.


    (2) That, as an experiment, a suitable bill should be considered by an informal committee along the lines described in paragraphs 8 to 17 of the Report.


    (3) That, as an experiment, a suitable bill should be committed to a committee of the whole House off the floor of the House, as proposed in paragraphs 18 to 23 of the Report. There should be no divisions in the committee.


    (4) That no action be taken on the suggestion, discussed in paragraphs 24 and 25 of the Report, that some public bills might be carried over from one session to the next.


    (5) That there should be a time limit of 1½ hours for all unstarred questions, other than those taken in dinner breaks (which are already limited to one hour). Time limits on speeches should be applied in the usual way, allowing at least 10 minutes for the Lord asking the question and 12 minutes for the Minister's reply, for both 1-hour and 1½-hour unstarred questions. It follows that unstarred questions should be asked only on matters where a limited number of Lords are likely to wish to speak.


    (6) That the House should sit on Fridays when the pressure of business requires and when there is a realistic expectation that a Friday sitting will enable the House to rise earlier on other days that week.


    (7) That no starred questions should be taken on Fridays.


    (8) That whenever possible business should be arranged so as to avoid the need for the House to sit beyond an agreed time, say 10 p.m. The Committee recognises that a significant improvement in the hours of sitting of the House can come only with general support throughout the House, and by agreement through the usual channels, and not by any decision of the Committee.


    2. THE SUB JUDICE RULE


    The Committee has given further consideration to the rule governing reference to cases sub judice. While the House agreed in 1963 that the practice should be similar in both Houses of Parliament, the practice has in fact been different since 1972 when the Commons gave the Speaker discretion to allow reference to matters sub judice which "relate to a Ministerial decision which cannot be challenged in Court except on grounds of misdirection or bad faith, or concern issues of national importance such as the national economy, public order or the essentials of life".


    The Committee recommends that a somewhat similar relaxation of the rule should be adopted in this House, and that the discretion whether a matter may be raised should be vested in the Leader of the House whose decision would be made on advice and after consultation. In contrast to the practice in relation to Private Notice Questions, where the Leader's preliminary decision may be challenged in the House, the Committee recommends that the

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    Leader's decision should not be subject to challenge as otherwise inappropriate cases might be raised on the floor of the House under the guise of a challenge to the Leader's ruling.


    The reference in the Commons' rule to ministerial decisions "which cannot be challenged in Court except on grounds of misdirection or bad faith" is no longer appropriate in view of the development of judicial review since the Commons' rule was adopted, and the Committee recommends that those words be omitted from the rule in this House.


    The Committee accordingly recommends that the following proviso should be added to the paragraph in the Companion (page 52) dealing with cases before civil courts:


    "This is subject to the proviso that, where a ministerial decision is in question, or a case concerns issues of national importance such as the national economy, public order or the essentials of life, reference may be made at the discretion of the Leader of the House, who must be satisfied that there is no real and substantial danger of prejudice to the proceedings. The Leader of the House should be given at least 24 hours' notice of any proposal to refer to a matter which is sub judice. It is undesirable that the exercise of his discretion should be challenged in the House."


    3. BRIEF GUIDE TO THE PROCEDURE AND PRACTICE OF THE HOUSE


    The Committee has considered and approved a draft new edition of the Brief Guide to the Procedure and Practice of the House of Lords, which will be made available at the same time as the new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders.


    The Committee noted certain customs of the House which at present are too often not adhered to and which are to be clarified in the new Brief Guide. They are as follows:


    (1) Maiden Speeches


    Maiden speakers should normally be congratulated by the following speaker only whose congratulations are on behalf of the whole House. It is accordingly desirable that Lords should not leave the Chamber during such congratulations.


    (2) Attendance at debates


    Lords taking part in a debate are expected to attend as much of it as possible, in particular the opening speeches, the speeches immediately before and after their own, and the winding-up speeches "below the gap". Lords who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end should normally remove their names from the list of speakers.


    (3) Statements


    The period for back-bench questions and comments on statements is now limited to 20 minutes. While there is no formal limit on front-bench speakers, the Committee considers that they too should seek to be brief and that the time for front-bench questions and comments and the Minister's reply should not normally be longer than the period for back-benchers.


    4. QUESTIONS FOR WRITTEN ANSWER: ANSWERS DURING RECESSES


    At present a question for written answer which has not been answered when the House adjourns for a recess remains unanswered until the House resumes. The Committee recommends that in future answers should normally be sent to the Lord concerned within a fortnight, even when the House is not sitting. Answers would, as at present, be printed in the Official Report for the next sitting day, with a reference to the date on which they were answered.


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