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Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Chairman of Committees for his reply. Is he aware that I raised the possibility of a questionnaire on this subject in Starred Questions in July? The response to that questionnaire from 368 Peers showed a clear majority of almost 55 per cent in favour of starting at 11 a.m. with Starred Questions and going through to 7 p.m. The response was available on 10th October, so why has it taken so long and apparently two meetings of the Procedure Committee to produce a Motion to implement the change? Is the Chairman of Committees satisfied that the report of the Procedure Committee properly reflects the wishes of the clear majority who support the change? He will remember that there was a clear understanding at the time that working straight through meant that the new arrangements for Thursdays would reflect the procedure that we have on Thursdays before a Recess.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I well remember the noble Lord, Lord Carter, raising the issue. That is one of the reasons why the Procedure Committee agreed to send out the questionnaire. As the noble Lord says, the result was extremely clear cut. Indeed, the Procedure Committee reported that, since there was a,
The difficulty arose over whether there should be a dinner break type lunch break during the later stages of a Billin Committee, on Report or at Third Reading, but not on Second Reading or some other debatefor about an hour at 1.30 until 2.30 p.m. Unfortunately, the Procedure Committee was not able to come to any conclusion. That is why the report, which we will debate next Wednesday, gives the House the opportunity to decide the issue.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, given the clear result of the questionnaire to which my noble friend Lord Carter referred, is the Chairman of Committees aware that some of us have taken very careful note that referendumswhich are the flavour of the month, especially on the Benches oppositeare apparently a fine thing when the Procedure Committee likes the
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, it would be unwise for me to enter into an argument on a referendum on either the euro or, indeed, the constitution, which was extensively debated yesterday afternoon. The Procedure Committee came to a clear conclusion on the wish of the House to start with Questions at 11 o'clock on Thursdays and work through. As I said earlier, the argument was whether there should be a break for lunch in which other business would be taken, but only during the latter stages of a Bill. Otherwise, Front-Bench spokesmen and others involved in the Bill would have to sit from 11.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. continuously. The House will have the opportunity to make its decision on this issue next Wednesday.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees confirm whether one reason for the break in the past was for party group meetings to be held at that time? Is that still a consideration? Is it not a fact that those involved in party group meetings are rather reluctant to change because parliamentary business would not be ready by Wednesday afternoon when many Peers would find it more convenient to have their party meetings?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, very early on in this process, the original suggestion for a questionnaire that I put forward mentioned party meetings. I was then given a very firm steer from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarnethe Chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers, who I am sorry to see is not in his placethat the arrangements for party meetings were entirely a matter for them and nothing to do with me whatsoever.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I carefully noted what was said about the problem for Front-Benchers and others of taking part in a debate in Committee or on Report and not having time for a break. However, will they not balance that possible inconvenience? I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit or ingenuity of Front-Benchers and others to find time to slip out for refreshments for a short period between 12 noon and 2.30 p.m. when refreshments are available. The House would gain from having an hour and a half to complete or proceed with its business. I very much hope that those who would like things always to remain as they are will reflect that there are times when we should be prepared to try out new measures.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the Procedure Committee agrees with the noble Lord. Its firm recommendation is that we should change things. Hopefully, this will be the last Thursday under the present arrangements. We have sat at 11 o'clock until half-past one. We then had an enormous break in the middle of a Second Reading debate. We are now
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees has explained the dilemma very carefully, but can he explain why there is this "orrible ole" in the middle of business on a Thursday that is proposed by the report?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there is no hole proposed by the report. The House would continue to do business from the time it sits at 11 o'clock until the time that it rises. The question is whether there should be other business, such as dinner break businessexcept that it would be called lunch break businesson Thursdays, as there is on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we commend the initiatives and the debates that they have stimulated among Israelis and Palestinians and, more widely, in the international community. However, we remain of the view that the road map is still the right route to a comprehensive settlement in the region. At the heart of that settlement, there would be a two-state solutionIsrael secure within its borders and a viable contiguous state of Palestine.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she consider that, within the road map process, there is now scope for some secret but official diplomacy on the outstanding issues? Will Her Majesty's Government also encourage the European Union to offer incentives for negotiation and penalties for not negotiating? Finally, will the Government
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government believe that those initiatives add value to the road map process because they set out the steps needed to move towards a comprehensive settlement. They expand on the road map's vision and complement what is in the road map. The noble Lord asked whether they offer scope for what he described as secret negotiations. There is scope anyway for negotiations, some of which will be more publicly articulated and some perhaps less so.
The noble Lord also asked about the position of the European Union and the United States. Both the European Union and the United States have given the kind of response that I articulated in my initial response; that is, they commend the efforts here and they think that this opens up some opportunities for further discussion. But I am unsure that, at this stage, any of us want to go quite as far as the sticks and carrots approach suggested by the noble Lord.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the agreement of Secretary of State Powell to meet the leaders of this unofficial initiative marks the recognition by the American Government that this is a useful way of reviving an almost deceased road map? Does she also recognise that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that between February and November 2004 the US presidential election campaign means that the US can do nothing as regards the Middle East? Therefore, we have a very short window of time in which to seize this opportunity.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the final point made by the noble Lord; namely, that, by definition, during an American election campaign, nothing will happen. That is a matter for the United States politicians involved to decide. I would point out to the noble Lord that perhaps there are different constraints in this election to previous elections: we can discuss how the mechanics of that would work.
I welcome the fact that Secretary of State Powell has said that he will meet those who have put forward this very useful approach. Of course, the question refers to two different papers that have been put forward. It is not only the Geneva Accord but also the Ayalon-Nusseiba agreement that is of interest.
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