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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that statement. We have had great diligence in the usual channels in the last few days

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in arriving at the business. Like him, I regret and deplore the proposal that we need to sit on Friday 18th July, after a long succession of successive Friday sittings. The cause is the volume and complexity of the Government's legislative programme, which has been compounded by important additions to it, such as fluoride to the Water Bill.

On the question of the recess, I regret that the noble Lord is proposing to sit from 6th October. I draw attention to the fact that contrary to what was published last summer, this means that we will be sitting during the Conservative Party conference. I suggest that, if this kind of thing should be necessary in future years, the other parties should take on some of the problems that this causes. We should therefore, in successive years in turn, sit during the Labour Party conference and the Liberal Democrat Party conference.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am glad to see that there is a wide measure of agreement to that suggestion on the Labour Benches. Finally, I say to noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that the recess starting on 18th September is called, in some parts of this House, the conference recess. What does the Chief Whip call it?

Lord Roper: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that statement. A great deal of work has been done in the last few days to ensure that we do not stray into the following week, which I am sure would not have been popular in any part of the House. I am grateful to the Government for finding ways in which we have been able to avoid that.

It would be convenient in the future if the Attendants' Office did not send out a note about recess mail arrangements until the dates for the recesses are finally known. This has caused a great deal of confusion in all parts of the House in the last few days. We must make sure that this does not occur in the future.

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said about Friday sittings. We need to have a better strategy, looking at the parliamentary year as a whole, so that we can have a more even spread of Friday sittings through the year, rather than having bunching during this period.

Finally, I heard what was said about the great regret on the Official Opposition Benches about the recall on 6th October. On these Benches, we are glad that time will be available for us to attend the Liberal Democrat conference, and we are not prepared to see any change in those arrangements in the future.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am grateful to my colleagues—conspirators—in the usual channels, for some of the comments that they have made. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, referred to the complexity of the Government's legislative programme. I want to

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put on record, for the benefit of the House, the size of this year's legislative programme compared to one or two other years.

So far this year, 34 government Bills have been introduced. I can compare that to, for example, the Session 1980–81—which, if my memory serves me, was not one when my party was in power—when some 57 Bills were introduced. Also, in 1981–82, some 46 Bills were introduced and in 1984–85, some 54 Bills were introduced. Some complaints therefore should perhaps have been addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, during that period. I was not here at the time, so I am not sure whether there were complaints. Therefore, this is not an unusual legislative programme.

I have sympathy with the points that both the noble Lords, Lord Roper and Lord Cope of Berkeley, made about Friday sittings. A great deal of the work that we do on Fridays, as the House knows, consists of Private Members' legislation. I, for one, having been a Private Member for a long time, attach importance to that. I would love to find better ways of managing the business, and all suggestions will be gratefully received. However, we need to bear that in mind when we complain about Friday sittings.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, referred to the proposal that the House should sit during the Conservative Party conference. I know that Members opposite are anxious to get away at that time. I point out again that when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was in charge, during the Session 1989–90 the House sat during the Conservative Party conference; in 1985–86 the House sat during the Conservative Party conference; in 1980–81 the House sat during the Conservative Party conference; and in 1979–80 the House sat during the Conservative Party conference. Those dates were under a Conservative government. So it is not an uncommon decision to be made. Whether complaints were made in the House, I do not know because I was not here.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, asked me how I describe the period that he calls the "conference recess" between the September sitting and the sitting at the beginning of October. I do not know what to call the recess, but, as far as I am concerned, any recess has the characteristic of being a blessed relief. That fortnight is no different from any other period.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for acknowledging that it is difficult to manage this programme. I hope that the House appreciates that we do work hard, in as much agreement as we can, but it is surely far better to sit on that Friday than to sit in the following week.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that 6th October is also Yom Kippur? For the many Jewish Members of this House, it is quite impossible to attend, whether one is pious or not. I ask him to think again about that date.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I say to my noble friend that this is not by any means the first time that the House has sat at that time of year. I recognise that almost any date can have particular difficulties. I do not in any way

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dismiss his point. All that we in the usual channels can do is to try and please most of the people most of the time. Whether we succeed or not is for the House to judge.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the number of government Bills per Session is not the only relevant criterion for measuring government business? In this Session, the Government have produced an absurdly large number of very long Bills, including, for example, the Criminal Justice Bill, which is already 374 pages long and has 307 clauses and 32 schedules; moreover, the clauses and schedules may be added to. That is not the only Bill that has an excessive amount of detail. Will the Government persuade Ministers, civil servants and parliamentary counsel in the next Session of Parliament to be more in favour of statements of principle rather than masses of detail?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that, yes, there are long and complex Bills but this is not the first government who have introduced long and complex Bills. He mentioned the Criminal Justice Bill; I remind him that the public outside this House are waiting for Parliament to enact that Bill and the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, which is not quite so long or complicated, because they contain many aspects that respond to the public's requests and demands. That is particularly the case with the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. I know that we should not be too partisan in this place but there have been two general elections and on each occasion the government were returned by a massive majority. The Government have a right to have their legislation considered in this House. I agree that legislation gets rather complex and I very much agree that the shorter and sharper the Bill, the better. However, I repeat that this is not the first time that governments have introduced complex pieces of legislation.

Lord Carter: My Lords, my noble friend gave some interesting figures but can he tell us the year in which a government had the House sitting until 11th August? Why they did not sit on 12th August, I cannot imagine. I believe that the same government required us to sit in September, unusually, because the programme was out of control.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, my noble friend did not give me notice of that question so I do not happen to have the answer to hand. However, I am absolutely confident that, because he asked the question, the answer to both will be that that occurred under a Conservative government.

Lord Carter: Yes.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that as this debate continues, it only confirms what we on

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these Benches have known right from the beginning: that both parties make an incredible mess of the programme in the run up to every recess?

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I can only assure the House that there is one person who would dearly like to move smoothly towards an early recess more than anyone else, and that is me.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is the problem not the size of the Government's majority but that the other place is no longer doing its job properly and that it is sending huge volumes of legislation up here that has not been looked at? The Government's so-called modernisation programme is resulting in the House of Commons, which contains full-time paid Members, sitting fewer hours, while this House, with part-time Members, is expected to do more and more to make up for the job that they are not doing?

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