HC Deb 21 July 1986 vol 102 cc15-6
24. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Lord Privy Seal what information he has as to which Parliaments in the EEC have morning sittings; and if he will make a statement.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I understand that the following EC countries have arrangements for morning parliamentary sittings, either on a regular or an occasional basis: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain.

Mr. Bruinvels

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Recognising that I am not the greatest supporter of the European Assembly, may I suggest that our House should consider sitting, at least occasionally, in the morning, in addition to the regular Friday morning sittings. It costs far too much to run the House of Commons. We are sitting far too late into the night, although, happily, not as much as in the past.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's observation overlooks the fact that many hon. Members recall the period when the House sat in the morning on an experimental basis. That experiment has never led to an informed demand for its renewal.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the Leader of the House recollect that one of the problems with the late Dick Crossman's ill-starred attempts to bring in morning sittings lay with the Law Officers? Is there not a general problem with the accountability of the Law Officers? Should there not be an opportunity for the Attorney-General to explain why he gave immunity to Miss Colette Bowe, when on 30 January he told us that he was first informed of the involvement of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) on 22 January?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is ingenious but wide of the original question.

Mr. Biffen

I stayed here till the closing minutes on Friday to hear the hon. Gentleman. I now realise with what sadness I missed his contribution. I am glad to take note of it now. It would be quite inappropriate for me to follow the hon. Gentleman in that question, except to say that he seems to have had much more difficulty than the late Dick Crossman did with the Law Officers.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties that the House would face with morning sittings is that Governments do not always have a large majority and that, if a Government's majority were much smaller, Government Members would be required to start all the House's Committees? In addition, Scottish Members would be required to start all the Scottish Committees and the Scottish Grand Committee. Therefore, most of the time, they would be excluded from attending the morning sittings.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. When the Crossman experiment took place, it was recognised that because Ministers would often be doing work within the Ministry, no votes could take place during morning sittings. Therefore, they were all left over to the evening, when some quite esoteric subjects suddenly found that they had the most extraordinary turn-out because of their proximity to a three-line Whip. I refer to the future of the Oswestry market, which was under consideration. [Interruption.] That happens to be true, and it is for any historian to judge. Once the practices of this House are disturbed, we cannot suppose that automatically we have an improved position as a consequence.

Mr. Williams

Does the Leader of the House not find it more than slightly surprising that the request for morning sittings has come from, of all people, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Brunivels), who, after all, was eager to bounce to his feet claiming the discredit for having sank the morning sitting that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) should have had on a Friday?

Mr. Biffen

I would find it surprising if the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had not torpedoed himself last Friday.

Mr. Wallace

Many hon. Members feel that there is insufficient time for debating private Member's motions and Bills. Will the Leader of the House consider having an experiment, even one morning a week, and if hon. Members did not turn up to debate their own material, the experiment could be abandoned?

Mr. Biffen

The House should be careful before engaging the whole bureaucracy of morning sittings to meet such a narrow point as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

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