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Lord Roper: My Lords, I also thank the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for having given us this information. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I am grateful that we shall have a very early debate in order to remove any doubt about our September sitting.
I stress that although the noble Lord the Chief Whip referred to our recess dates matching those of the House of Commons, the pattern of business between the two Houses is not the same. We tend to have a lighter programme of business at the beginning of the Session and a heavier one at the end, whereas with the Commons it is the other way round. I hope that that will also be taken into account as regards some mild variations in the programme. For example, I believe some consider that 5th January is rather early to return after Christmas.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, the pattern of business as between the two Houses is well known and recognised. All governments try to balance it as far as they are able, knowing that we have a heavier programme later in the Session whereas the Commons have a heavier programme at the beginning of the Session. I do not want to sound too Stalinist about this; I am not saying that there should be precise dates governing the two Houses. However, in my view a bicameral system works better when the two Houses sit broadly at the same time and it has great advantages obviously when one is trying to resolve difficulties at the end of a Session.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to the July sitting. As I said, that is a matter for the House. It will be for the House to decide whether that is the right way of doing it and what the appropriate date should be. The noble Lord has once again said that I have repeatedly breached the 10 o'clock rule. Believe me, I should love not to breach the 10 o'clock rule. I reject
The noble Lord mentioned a bargain as regards Grand Committees. I do not think that it is quite right to talk about a bargain as between Grand Committees and a 10 o'clock finish. Inevitably in the first year of the introduction of the new procedures it is a case of, "suck it and see". We need to see how it works out. No one could be absolutely precise about the extent to which a 10 o'clock finish would impact on the speed of progress of legislation. The truth is that it has slowed that progress rather more than some of us might have anticipated. That is a matter for the House.
It is my fervent belief that committees are the appropriate forum to consider the Committee stage of a Bill. They enable far more time to be given to a Bill with far more effective and detailed consideration. That is a debate for another day, however.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the dates have been given to us well in advance. We all welcome that but we also know that, if the progress of business is not such, they may be jeopardised to some extent. We know that the 10 o'clock rule is being broken. I was one of those here a week last Tuesday until five o'clock in the morning, and I do not care to do that very much. We all have a responsibility to conduct our business in the most rational way possible. I ask my noble friend, in conjunction with the usual channels, to consider very seriously putting many more Bills into Grand Committee.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. Like him, I do not like sitting late at night. However, there is a myth abroad that, somehow or other, sitting late at night and indeterminate rising times and recess dates provide for more effective scrutiny of legislation. I do not think that at all. Legislation is best scrutinised in sensible hours, and that is to the advantage of both the Government and the Opposition.
Lord Renton: My Lords, given what the noble Lord has just said will he bear in mind that, if we are to sit sensible hours on not too many days of each year, we must be sure that the legislation is not too lengthy or detailed? I shall give him an example of what should be avoided but which we have before us this Session. We had to spend 11 days on the Criminal Justice Bill. When it reached us, it consisted of 374 pages. In Committee, the Government added nearly 30 more, and it looks as though they are adding another 20 pages on Report. Legislation should be carefully considered and prepared before it is submitted to either House of Parliament. The
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am obviously strongly in favour of legislation being brought to this or the other place in as complete a form as possible. However, changes are frequently made during the passage of legislation through the House. The Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill is yet another classic example. I sat through many of its sittings. Not being a lawyer, I will not pretend to have understood every single line of it, but frequently there was precisely the kind of exchange throughout the Chamber that would have been made more effectively in Grand Committee. Certainly, the numbers present at many of the debates suggest that they could have been properly accommodated in Grand Committee. The House needs to consider those options.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, when the noble Lord in future makes comparisons between the amount of legislation that we consider nowadays and that which we considered in the past, would he think it more suitable to do it by clauses, pages or tonnes rather than by number of Bills? If he counts the Criminal Justice Bill as one Bill, we could really do with one Bill per Session. If he did a weight, page or clause comparison, I suspect that the figures would be less helpful to him than those that he gave a moment ago.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I did not have the pleasure of taking part in the House of Lords reform Bill, but I understand that it was a six-clause Bill. The relationship between clauses and time is not always precise.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us whether there is a real move to put more and more Bills in Grand Committee? People who have taken part in sittings in Grand Committee should be consulted. Having taken part in them, there is no question that we feelI feel, anywaythat the problem is that we go through the whole Bill in Grand Committee, but when it comes back to the Floor of the House on Report the debate is full of Second Reading speeches and everything is gone through again. Grand Committee is not actually the best way of dealing with the legislation.
Very often, people who happen to come to this place when a Bill is being dealt with on the Floor of the House suddenly realise that they have something to add to the discussion, whereas they would not normally think about going upstairs or into the Moses Room for a Grand Committee. By putting too many Bills into Grand Committee, we are probably not scrutinising them as adequately or perfectly as we did previously.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with great respect, one cannot construct the procedures of half of the legislature of one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world on the basis of whether someone happens to pop in and is interested in the debate, or may pop out again if he is not. It is the duty of people who are here to take note of what is being debated on a particular daya duty
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, does my noble friend realise that, extraordinary though it is that I should agree with the noble Baroness, I totally agree with her? I recommend that he sits through the entire sittings of some Grand Committees and sees how, by sending Bills there more and more, the executive are digging their own grave. In the end, Grand Committees make Third Reading the really effective debate.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, it does not surprise me at all that my noble friend agrees with the Opposition because, on quite a number of occasions, he has been joining them in the Lobbies. The debates about where the Committee stage of Bills should be held will go on at some length, no doubt. However, what is unarguable and undebatable is that a Committee stage held in a committee certainly has far more capacity in terms of time, as my noble friend knows well enough, than the Floor of the House where time is precious.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept the functional point that there might be greater enthusiasm for Grand Committee if there were, by comparison with the Chamber, better physical facilities for taking paper into them? In the Chamber, there is considerable flexibility in being able to have one's papers beside one.