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Lord Lipsey: My Lords, my point was that some people might indeed find out what the heat in the kitchen was and decide not to come to this House, although they would have valuable experience representing the rest of this country--and not London--to bring to us. That is exactly the problem.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I fully realise that, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for re-emphasising such an elementary principle. However, the fact is that if people say, "If we had realised that we would have to stay up that long we would have denied Parliament the benefit of our views", that is a pretty selfish attitude. However, we shall not go down that path.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that if there is government business on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it is very difficult for the Ministers concerned. There may be only a single Minister involved. When I was at the Home Office we had six Bills to get through, and one Minister might be in charge of two of them running concurrently. Therefore, if one is involved with Bills on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it is hard for the Minister and the civil servants. I cannot see that it is necessary at all.
I would add in parenthesis that I was surprised that my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip apparently said that he agreed with the proposal. I have great respect for my noble friend and for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I really think that between them they may have had a momentary lapse, because normally their senses are very comprehensive and lapses do not often occur. If my noble friend agrees that it is right to move the debate day from a Wednesday to a Thursday, I regard that as a considerable lapse of senses. I am sure that after hearing the debate my noble friend will realise the folly of his ways and alter his speech so that he does not indicate that the Opposition Front Bench is in agreement.
I really believe that we would be making a mistake if we accepted this change. It would alter the character of the House, and many people who at present attend on Wednesdays would not bother to attend on Thursdays.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I have listened very carefully to the arguments, many of which were rehearsed in the debate two years ago. Not very much has changed. I do not wish to denigrate for a moment the value of the current Wednesday debates. Someone said that they are a valuable part of our procedures, and they are. They are listened to with attention by people outside the House. But I wonder whether there
The idea that because Wednesday is the debate day the House is packed is a nonsense. I do not know why some noble Lords do not accept the fact that, although the Wednesday debates are very important, they are not the be-all and end-all of what the House is about. Of course major matters are debated and, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, pointed out, changes may have taken place as a result of those debates. As to the argument about Thursday and people going home, many Members of the House look upon Wednesday as a day when they can have a day off. They will arrive at 2.30 p.m., stay until perhaps 3.30 p.m., and then disappear because they have no reason to stay.
Perhaps I may now consider what the change would mean if we had a third legislative day on a Wednesday. It would mean three legislative days on the trot, but we would not be concerned with the same Bill. I would be astounded if the business managers allowed the same Bill to be dealt with on three successive days.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. When we were taking the Food Standards Bill through the House, the Committee stage was held in the Moses Room--which was not the best of places for it to be held--and we considered that same Bill for three days on the run. I can assure the noble Lord that doing the preparation, coping with the Bill and trying to table amendments was very hard work. It was a real problem. That happened less than two years ago. Not a lot of people came into the Moses Room to support the Bill. It was extremely difficult to do the Bill justice and ensure that the correct legislation was passed.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes my point. I am referring to the Floor of the House; not the Moses Room. I would be appalled if the business managers placed upon Members an obligation to be here to support their party's point of view on three successive days on the same Bill. The noble Baroness referred to the Moses Room. That is a practice which has grown up and which has been accepted by the House.
I reinforce the view that this is no big deal. People are elevating the issue to a matter of major principle. In my view, it is not. Over the past two or three years, changes have been introduced which, although not major matters, assumed an importance among Members opposite far beyond anything I ever dreamt of. Noble Lords will remember when the House debated the issue of changing the introduction procedure. That was seen as something awful; the procedure should not be altered. When the question was asked of how long the procedure had been in existence, we were told "1621". I do not mean twenty-one minutes past four. The existing procedure was agreed in 1621.
We then had the business of the Lord Chancellor's breeches. We were told that any change would shake the foundations of the nation. We had to brace ourselves, but we changed his breeches. Now the noble and learned Lord is able to dress otherwise.
I simply say to my colleagues that they are making a mountain of a molehill. I accept the point that the timing may not be of the best. The timescale is awkward, but there never will be a right time for those on the other side of the argument. This may not be the ideal time, but it is an opportunity for us to examine the issue.
When people argue that the proposal is for the convenience of the Government, I say to both parties opposite, "Oh ye of little faith". Do you not foresee the prospect that one day you, too, may form a government, and that any benefit which may accrue to the Government now may one day accrue to your good selves?
I believe that there may be some advantage to some Members who are currently inconvenienced. I live in Loughton in Essex. I am a four-day man. I dislike coming here on a Friday, but I am prepared to work and to do what is needed to keep the House going for four days in the week. I love to get away as soon as I can, but if my party asks me to stay later on a Thursday, I will. It may be that the change would be to my advantage; I might get home to Loughton a little earlier.
My noble friend Lord Peston made a valuable point. What is wrong with Members of the House thinking of their own convenience? The nature of the House and its procedures are changing. This is one small step. The proposal may or may not be accepted, but I shall certainly oppose the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, if he presses his amendment.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I consider myself a quintessential Back-Bencher. I have never sat on the Front Bench; I never will. When I came into this House, I was proud to be brought into it. In my day, when our party was in power, I sat through until one o'clock in the morning many a time; it had to be done. I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, if he thinks that people will not come because it will be inconvenient. The people we need in the House--and the people who, thank goodness, are normally appointed--are those who have something to say and something to offer. They are prepared to accept the heat of the kitchen in order to say it. I do not believe that we will lose good people simply because the hours are demanding from time to time.
I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said about Select Committees. They are unique and produce remarkable reports. It would be a disaster if, as a result of this arrangement, we found ourselves having the debates on Select Committee reports on a Friday with no one to listen to them.
Lord Henley: My Lords, as my name has been mentioned, it may be appropriate if I say a word or two from these Benches--or, rather, from this Front Bench, as I sense that not all my colleagues on the Benches behind me are in total agreement with what I shall have to say.
It may be convenient if the Government Chief Whip follows me and the House then comes to an agreement on this matter. It is a very important decision for this House--this is not a minor issue--and it is a decision for the House itself to take. For that reason, the Government Chief Whip, myself and others thought it right that the matter should go through the Procedure Committee and that the House should discuss it. I therefore do not think it is necessary for me to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for being in agreement with the Government Chief Whip on this occasion.
There are occasions when the Opposition Chief Whip, the Government Chief Whip and the Liberal Democrats' Chief Whip are in agreement--this is called "the usual channels"--and it is on that basis that the House operates. I understand that a great many Back-Benchers view with suspicion anything which seems to have the support of the two Front Benches. I can think of a number of Bills which, in the past, had the support of both Front Benches. They were universally wrong and bad. I shall not give examples at this stage.
As I said, I supported these propositions when they went before the Procedure Committee; I shall support them today. However, I should make it clear that on this side of the House--I trust the same is true on the Benches opposite and throughout the House--this is a matter for a free vote. It is a matter for the House itself to decide, not the Procedure Committee.
I would not want to recommend anything to my colleagues on the Benches behind me that would in any way diminish the standing of this House, nor would I recommend anything--and I speak as someone who has been in government and who is now in opposition--which would make it easier for the executive of the day to override this House and what the House wanted to do.
I suspect that in some areas the Government, regrettably, have some ambitions as regards procedure. They do not want a stronger House. We suspect that the Opposition want a weaker House--
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