|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: One of the arguments advanced for sitting on Thursday mornings and rising by 7 o'clock on Thursday is that it would enable people who live a long way awayin Scotland, perhapsto get home that night. As one who lives in Scotland, I must say that the latest that I could go would be 6 o'clock. Even then, I would not get home until after 11 o'clock.
Those of us who live a long way away generally go early on a Thursday, if we are not involved in the business. If we are involved in, say, an important Committee stage on a Thursday, we stay the night and go home on Friday. There comes a point at which the business of the House must take precedence over individual convenience. There is no reason, other than not being able to collect one's expenses, why one should not go home on Thursday morning, if one is not involved in Thursday's business.
Lord Peston: The comments made in this debate are very important because they bring out the difference between some of us in this Chamber. There is no obligation to be a Member of this House. Nowadays, when hereditary Peers do not stay on automatically, there is absolutely no obligation whatever. It is a duty and a privilege to be a Member of this House; and it does involve a commitment. It is my judgment that that commitment must take precedence over non-executive directorships, and all the other ways in which some noble Lords earn a living. They have a choice to make: is their choice in life to give the commitment to this House, or, alternatively to say, "I'm going to earn this and that. When I can come in, I shall do so, but I want this House to organise itself so that it is convenient for me". That is the difference between us.
Noble Lords opposite should not shake their heads. Those of us who chair committees occasionally say that we should like to have our meeting on a particular day because, for example, that may be the only day that the witness can attend. Sometimes on those occasions someone will raise his hand and say that he has a meeting, and so on. When I am chairman of a committee, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I say "That's too bad. That is when the meeting is because your Lordships' House requires our committee to meet and to hear this evidence". This is a fundamental difference between us. I believe that noble Lords should make up their minds.
The issue is not whether this is a full-time or a part-time commitment. The issue is: what is your priority? In the case of a number of us, this Chamber, together with its legislative scrutiny, is a priority and we build everything else around it. More to the point is the fact that what we are doing now is constructing this House for the future. Our successors will certainly go that way and expect that from us.
This House is constantly boasting about the expertise of its Members. But many times I have looked around the Chamber and wondered where all those experts are who often do not seem to have bothered to turn up, even though it is their subject under debate. I am glad that these amendments have been tabled. They distinguish between us. I believe them to be extraordinarily moderate. As noble Lords know, I would meet every morning of the week. Some of us operate very much better in the mornings than in the afternoons
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: Is not the noble Lord arguing that he wants to sit in the mornings because it would suit him? Surely it is important to consider whether the general membership of this Chamber is able to attend in the morning. The noble Lord is making a totally personalised statement.
Lord Peston: I must continue because I had not quite finished my contribution. I take it that that was an interruption rather than a speech. No, I am not speaking in those terms. It is true to say that I operate better in the mornings. I tire during the afternoons; indeed, at this time of night, I do not find it at all convenient to try to get my mind around difficult matters. So, in that sense, it is personal.
I regard it as a general principle that in serious enterprisesI regard this House as a serious enterprisethe normal working day is just that. It is about time that this Chamber recognised the fact that that is what people in this country do. Moreover, it is what most people in this country expect us to do. They would regard it as preposterous
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I understand what the noble Lord is saying. I always listen to what he says with great respect. However, the part of his argument that I cannot follow is why he has said that this is not a question of a part-time or full-time commitment. The noble Lord is simply saying that he thinks that the business of this House should take priority over anything else. But that is not the basis upon which most people are invited to join this House. People are invited to do so on the basis that it is not paid; that it is not full time; and that people have outside commitments. The noble Lord may believe that they should not earn, but they do earn.
People are not invited to come here and thereby jeopardise, and put aside, everything else in their lives. I do not understand how the noble Lord can say that this is not a question of full-time or part-time attendance. He is saying that it ought to be full time.
Lord Peston: The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, may well have been asked a different question from the one that I was asked when I joined the House. I was asked whether I would devote my efforts to the business of this Chamber. I spent 10 years on the Opposition Benches receiving no extra pay while working in the interests of this House. I tried to fit it in with my other commitments, but I gradually retired because I could not do it any other way. I took on more and more work in this Chamber.
As I have said, the question I was asked was, "What is your commitment?". I was given a peerage on the assumption that I would be fully committed. It turns out that other noble Lords do not appear to have made that promise, or perhaps they were not asked to do so. However, I have to tell noble Lords that I was asked.
Baroness Blatch: As one of the class of 1987I speak as a "kept" woman and thus do not have the difficulty of needing to earn a livingwe were all told what to expect when we entered this House. However, we took on the commitment on the basis of the hours that prevailed at the time. The proposition before the Committee is to move towards morning sittings. That is wholly new.
The noble Lord is being self-indulgent, not only on his own behalf but on behalf of many of his noble friends and, indeed, on behalf of some of my noble friends on this side of the Committee. We are not paid expenses as a substitute for a salary. People of working age have to make a living. So far it has been possible quite successfully to combine making a living by using the mornings to do so, and then fulfilling the commitment as a working Peer in this House.
Lord Denham: Before the noble Lord rises to respondhe is taking rather more than his fair share of time, if I may say soI wish to say this. His argument that this House should come first works in two ways. He is saying that we should not be selfish and expect to have the mornings off; we are saying that he should be not selfish and expect to go home early on a Thursday afternoon. His argument works both ways.
The point here is that the mornings are not central. Those noble Lords who have experience of these matters often discover that many jobs are undertaken in the afternoon. A meeting is not held only at ten o'clock on a Tuesday morning; it may be called at almost any time. Indeed, people work at any time, including whole days.
While I do not wish to prolong the debate, we must bear in mind the fact that many noble Lords who come to the House have work that is not even based in London. We should not assume that all jobs can be done during the odd morning in London.
My argument is twofold. First, the central question is that of commitment: which should come first? Secondly, the assumption ought to be that a noble Lord should make himself available during normal working hours. I say that with a view to the future. If a noble Lord finds that unacceptable, then the time has come for him to reconsider his position.
I regard the views of my noble and learned friend as very moderate. All he is asking is that the House should meet for a brief period on a Thursday morning. Having said that, I do not understand the proposition for a lunch break; it would take up good working time. No doubt a subtle argument will be advanced with regard to the lunch break, but it is one that has passed me by. We must start to behave in a rational, working way.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page