HL Deb 16 June 1977 vol 384 cc290-2

3.8 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether, when the programme of the House permits, as perhaps it does currently, he will have consideration given to the desirability of rather more two-day debates when the importance of the subject and the probable number of speakers justify such a course.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

Yes, my Lords, I shall be glad to give consideration to this. I might, however, add that the circumstances in which two-day debates are possible as well as desirable do not occur very frequently.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that helpful reply and recognising the problem to which he has referred, may I ask the noble Lord whether he recalls that over the past month or so we have had several important debates—notably, one on religious education, for which over 30 noble Lords put down their names to speak—and that there were in those debates many excellent speeches made very late in the evening to a very thin attendance? That seems to be rather a pity from the point of view of the House and perhaps a discourtesy to the distinguished orators involved.


My Lords, I understand that. That was why I replied in the way that I did. I said that I would consider this suggestion. On the other hand, I recognise also that it might be helpful if noble Lords and Ministers made shorter speeches.


My Lords, on this question of two-day debates, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House consider having a selection through the usual channels to get a reasonably balanced debate on either side of the House because, too often, we hear a whole series of monologues on the same theme?


My Lords, I think it would be wrong for the Government to select speakers in that way. We must allow Members to put down their names of their own volition.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that my noble friend's point is particularly apt, in that many sincere requests, sometimes coming from the lips of the noble Lord himself, for speakers who take part to stay at least to the end of the debate, are very often disappointed? It probably would be to the convenience of the House—as well as making the debates more profitable—if it were possible to split these important debates with a large number of speakers into two days. Will he bear that in mind when considering this matter?


My Lords, I shall do so, but, contrary to the general impression, I think that there is very little slack in the programme at the moment. This is because we have a record number of Private Member's Bills this Session. There are no fewer than 21 in the House at the moment. Our noble colleagues are working very hard.


My Lords, while not wishing to disagree with my noble friend behind me, may I ask whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House would bear in mind that on some occasions having a two-day debate instead of a one-day debate will merely mean that the speeches will be longer, because it will be a temptation to speak at length? Will he also recall that not a long time ago we had a debate on defence in which there were 20 speakers and we finished by 7 o'clock.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. That is why I made reference to noble Lords exercising self-discipline. Generally speaking, we can get through one-day debates with 30 speakers if Members co-operate well.


My Lords, in considering this matter, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House keep in mind that two-day debates on these important subjects may exclude consideration of other equally important debates for which there is now no day named? This practice would prohibit these particular subjects from coming forward for the consideration of the House.


My Lords, my reply to that point is that I shall bear it in mind.