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3.4 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I hope that the House will allow me to make a few comments on the speakers' list for this afternoon's debate. In the time-honoured traditions of your Lordships' House, and in view of the importance of the subject matter of the debate, no Motion to time limit this afternoon's debate has been moved. However, there are 37 names on the speakers' list. If Members of both Front Benches who open and wind up the debate follow the normal conventions for a five-hour debate, and if all noble Lords speaking from the Back Benches do so for no more than 10 minutes, the debate will last approximately six hours. I hope that all noble Lords will bear that in mind as the debate proceeds.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, before the Government Chief Whip sits down, perhaps I may be allowed to ask him a question which has a direct bearing on today's business. I understand that a very important Statement is being made in another place today by the Home Secretary. A request was received by the Government Chief Whip from my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich that the Statement should be repeated in your Lordships' House. The Government Chief Whip may tell me that I am wrong, but I have been told that the Official Opposition chose not to have the Statement made in this House, presumably because it did not wish to examine the Government on matters on which there has been at least a degree of harmony in

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the past. As a result of the absence of anxiety that the matter should be raised in this House there is to be no Statement.

I hope that the Government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House will reflect seriously on the implications of this matter. I believe that there are precedents for Statements being made at the request of these Benches, but even were that not the case, this Government have shown no undue respect for precedent when it is an impediment to moving forward with a radical momentum. If that is indeed the case, surely, whatever the precedents may be--I see that the Lord Privy Seal is seeking to examine them rapidly--I put it to the Government Chief Whip and to your Lordships that the Statement should be made in this House.

If the Government Chief Whip's view prevails it will not only be the Opposition Benches which are denied the opportunity of raising the matters, but also the Cross Benches. If the noble Lord is not immediately prepared to say that the Statement will be repeated here, will he be kind enough to take the matter away and come back to the House in an hour's time and then, I hope, indicate a willingness to do so? This is a very important question of principle. It is also an important issue of parliamentary scrutiny and open government.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his question. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is making a Statement today in another place on improving the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The usual soundings were taken this morning and it was decided that, although this is a matter of importance, the subject matter of your Lordships' debate this afternoon is also of great importance. I hope that the House will agree that it is in the interests of the whole House that we proceed expeditiously with this afternoon's business.

I am sure that noble Lords who wish to raise the subject of my right honourable friend's Statement will be able to do so by other means when the House returns after the summer Recess. It may be helpful to your Lordships if I point out that when the Procedure Committee of this House considered the repetition of Statements, it observed the arguments that were put to it and which persuaded the Committee that,

    "Statements repeated in the Lords are an unwelcome interruption of the main business of the day. They cause unforeseen delays in the daily timetable to the inconvenience of noble Lords".

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may say how distressed I am to hear that statement. This is an issue of vital importance in the penal history of this country, but we are not to have the Statement here. I am horrified.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I do not believe that the situation should be allowed to continue. I understand the arguments, but representations were clearly made. It is plain that there are Members of your Lordships' House who believe that this matter should be debated. What bothers me about the Chief Whip's statement is that his closing remarks imply that if at any time a Statement of

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importance made in another place is likely to interrupt the important business of this House that Statement may not be made. Indeed, all the business of your Lordships' House is important. If that principle is to be exercised by the Government, sometimes with the connivance of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, your Lordships will be denied the opportunity to examine the Government on very important issues of principle.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, seems to be making a bit of a meal of this. I am sure that the whole House is aware of the importance of the Statement that is to be made in another place. Indeed, the issue has exercised this House over very many years. However, I agree with the proposition put forward by the Government Chief Whip that today, a day set aside to deal with the White Papers on Scotland and on Wales, we should concentrate entirely on those matters. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to discuss the subject to which the Statement relates. Indeed, given the representations made this afternoon, the Government may well regard it as a matter of importance that when we return they should find time for a debate. As for this afternoon, I very much support the view taken by the Government and I hope that we shall be able to carry on with the debate.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: Your Lordships must put up with my persistence--

Noble Lords: No!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords--

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am on my feet--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is a man with a grievance. It might be just as well to let him get that grievance off his chest and then we can get on with the business of the House.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I appreciate the courtesy of those remarks of the Lord Privy Seal. I have no grievance except on behalf of this House and our parliamentary system. What I was going to say--this is a constructive response to the Opposition Chief Whip--is that, given the argument he put forward for not interrupting today's business, what is to prevent the Statement being made tomorrow?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I shall consider that suggestion through the usual channels.

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Lord Marsh: My Lords, in the light of that question from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, may those of us who are hoping to speak in the debate tomorrow ask whether the Liberal Democrat Party and the Labour Party, since they are now as one, could not deal with these domestic matters between themselves and in their own time?

Lord Carter: My Lords, in response to the suggestion that we are at one, all I can say is that you could have fooled me in the last five minutes. I agree entirely that this is a matter that should be discussed through the usual channels.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, may I say on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches--

Noble Lords: No!

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, may I say on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches very briefly that this is a matter which has engaged this House time and again and that among its Members this House has people who have a very deep knowledge of the penal system? That is why I share the view that there should be an early opportunity for this matter to be considered by the House.

British Nationality (St. Helena) Bill [H.L.]

3.12 p.m.

The Earl of Iveagh: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to provide for the acquisition of British citizenship by persons having connections with St. Helena. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (The Earl of Iveagh.)

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

Finance Bill

Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a money Bill; read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Finance Bill

Lord Richard: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Thursday 31st July to enable the Finance Bill to be taken through all its stages that day.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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House of Lords Offices: Select Committee Report

3.14 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.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 20).--(The Chairman Of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

    1. Sub-Committee membership

    Viscount Devonport was appointed to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee.

    2. House of Lords Annual Report and Accounts

    The Committee approved the Annual Report and Accounts for 1996-97.

    3. The Lord Chancellor's Residence

    The Committee were informed that the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee had approved the estimated cost of £650,000, outside the current Estimate, for a major refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's Residence.

    4. Mobile telephones and pagers

    The Committee agreed rules for the use of mobile telephones and pagers in the House of Lords as follows:

    1. Mobile telephones--

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