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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to thank the Government Chief Whip for his confirmation that the Budget does not affect the business of this House and that its date need not concern us. We all appreciate that all the announcements on this matter are subject to the progress of business.

Your Lordships will have noted that the Whitsun Recess will now be a day shorter for your Lordships' House than for the Commons. The noble Lord referred to mid-July but declined to define it. Does he agree with me that, arithmetically, 17th July, when the Commons will rise, is after the middle of July? Monday 21st July is certainly after mid-July.

The time between 18th September and 14th October is apparently known in another place as the "conference recess". I fully understand that the September dates mean that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats will be able to go to their party conferences, but it would be very difficult if any dates that the noble Lord might announce in future were to discriminate against the Conservative Party conference.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, if the Budget is on 9th April, it strikes me that the subsequent four-day debate in another place will take place during the three-week campaign for elections to the Scottish Parliament. Although the economy is not devolved to that parliament, it is clearly impossible to separate the economy there from devolved matters, or from the person who happens to be the Chancellor, Mr Brown. Do the Government think the timing appropriate, and if so why?

Lord Roper: My Lords, we support what has been said about our gratitude to the noble Lord, especially for the fact that he has announced the September dates. Those mean that we on these Benches will be able to attend our party conference in September.

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However, it would be extremely helpful in terms of booking holidays in the summer if we could have that date—presumably 17th July, the same as the Commons—as soon as possible.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I shall deal first with the question from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about the Whitsun break. I was quite precise in my use of language when I made my Statement in November. I said that the Whitsun break might or might not include the Monday, depending on the progress of business. That is precisely how matters stand. I do not think that the noble Lord would expect me to be able to say any more than that.

So far as concerns the noble Lord's definition of mid-July, I was honest enough to say that mid-July was not a precise date. I was well aware of that. I have not fed information into a computer to discover when mid-July begins and concludes. I can only reaffirm that it is my clear intention to announce to the House as soon as I can, subject to the progress of business, when the Summer Recess will begin. The progress of business is very dependent on three or four of us working as we normally do.

I had not always detected tremendous enthusiasm for attendance at all party conferences to which the noble Lord referred. However, he will be aware that the date of return in October has varied from year to year. It has not always been possible to accommodate the needs of attendance at party conference. None the less, I shall give the date as soon as I can.

I was asked about the date of the Budget and its effect on campaigning, at whatever level. As the noble Lord reminded us, the date should not affect this House directly, because we do not have a Budget debate in the same way as in the Commons. In the normal way, a Budget debate and all that is associated with it is something to which all parties have equal opportunity to contribute. It will no doubt be debated in all parts of the United Kingdom, as it normally is. It should not directly affect campaigning in the way suggested.

I appreciate the welcome of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for my early announcement about a number of dates. I simply reiterate that as soon as I am able to give precise dates about any of the outstanding ones, I shall certainly report them directly to the House.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I do not want to detain the House, but I want to follow up the answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. Have the Government abandoned the convention held by successive governments that major announcements of policy are not made during the course of a parliamentary election campaign? The Budget is a major announcement of government policy, and it will take place during a parliamentary election campaign. Surely that is a serious matter. Is the Civil Service content to see that? In my day, the Permanent Secretary would have gone berserk at the

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notion that we would make major policy announcements during an election campaign in Scotland.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the process of government does not come to a complete standstill during election campaigns, as is well known, and the dates of the sitting or non-sitting of either House of Parliament are not directly affected. When the normal parliamentary processes continue, inevitably there will be discussion, announcements and Statements. I agree entirely that care is taken about the way in which the language of government statements is delivered, but the noble Lord is surely not suggesting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not have the normal freedom to determine the date on which it is appropriate to make his Budget Statement. It would certainly be an odd precedent if that were established.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, when deciding on which date the House rises in July, will the noble Lord bear in mind the words of his colleague the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House when successfully persuading the House to vote for the shape of the new parliamentary year? He said that there would be compensatory time off in July, so that the House was not required to sit extra days as a result of voting to return in September. That comment is on the record.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, what is clearly on the record is the resolution that the House passed last year. It states:

    "That it is the opinion of this House that, subject to the requirements of business, in 2003 the Summer Recess should begin not later than the middle of July and the House should sit for two weeks in September".—[Official Report, 25/11/02; col. 565.]

That is the resolution that binds me and everyone else. The language is quite precise.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, would the Minister not agree that St Swithin's Day, 15th July, has traditionally been considered the middle of July?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, even more importantly, 15th July is my wife's birthday.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

3.28 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Fowler set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Baroness Park of Monmouth to two-and-a-half hours.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Travel to European Union Institutions and National Parliaments

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

After representations from Peers from all parties, I have been in correspondence with the Senior Salaries Review Body. I have requested that it recommend a new allowance to enable Members of the House to claim reimbursement of travel and subsistence expenses for up to two return visits per year on parliamentary business to European institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg, and to the national parliaments of EU member states or EU candidate countries. The SSRB has agreed to my request. The new allowance is broadly in line with a similar allowance in the Commons.

If noble Lords agree to the resolution, from 1st April this year they will be able to claim reimbursement for European Union travel along the lines that I have outlined. It is very important that the scheme is properly run and administered. For that reason, it will be necessary for all Members of the House wishing to make use of the allowance to seek prior approval from the Clerk of the Parliaments. The House Committee is likely to consider the details of the implementation and administration of this allowance at its next meeting.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made as from 1st April 2003 for reimbursing Lords in respect of the cost of travelling on parliamentary duties between the United Kingdom and any European Union institution in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg or the national parliament of a European Union state or a candidate country and any additional expenses necessarily incurred in connection with such travel, subject to the following conditions—

(a) for any Lord, reimbursement is for not more than two visits in any year beginning with 1st April;

(b) the amount payable in respect of travel out of and into the United Kingdom is not more than the business class return fare between a station or airport serving London or the area of the Lord's main residence and a station or airport serving the city visited;

(c) subsistence for each visit is limited to two nights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office class A standard subsistence rate for the time being in operation;

(d) the Lord must submit in advance to the Clerk of the Parliaments a statement of the visit's purpose, location and duration and the persons or organisations to be met.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

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