HL Deb 13 November 1989 vol 512 cc1085-8

3.2 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I announce that consideration of the Commons amendments to the Companies Bill will be adjourned at about 7 p.m. for about an hour and that during this adjournment the Third Reading of the Trade Union Act 1984 (Amendment) Bill will be taken.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I hope that the House will bear with me if I say a brief word about the arrangements for next week's debate on the Address. My noble friends on this side of the House take the view that this House should have more time for this important debate. After all, this is the debate which sets the scene for the Session. It gives noble Lords on all sides the chance to comment on the Gracious Speech and its varied contents; namely, foreign affairs, defence and the whole range of domestic policies.

We on this side of the House believe that the three days allocated in the past are totally inadequate at this time; inadequate to enable noble Lords on all sides of the House to cover all the relevant subjects. We find that we have to telescope a number of departmental subjects into one day's debate. That is not an efficient or satisfactory way to do business. It also makes for an untidy discussion. We have of course made representations to the noble Lord and the Government Chief Whip in previous years, but so far without success.

The other place debates the same document and allows itself six days, which is double what is proposed for this House. I do not argue that we should go to that length. I suggest that we should extend the debate by one day; namely, Monday week, to enable us to cover the ground more thoroughly. I hope that this suggestion will not be regarded as unreasonable, because it is the Government themselves who have made the request inevitable by increasing the legislative workload year by year. I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will concede the justice of this case.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I wish to add the voice of noble Lords on these Benches to the plea made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to us that the middle day is very crowded. Also, now that the subject of the environment has been added to the debate on the economy on the third day, that day too has become seriously overcrowded. Surely a full day should be available for discussion of the economy and related subjects. All the departmental briefs apart from foreign affairs and defence have been crowded on to the middle day, which seems an excessive amount of work to get through in one day.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition says. As always, the noble Lord has made the reasons for his intervention absolutely clear. The House has also heard what the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has said from the Liberal Front Bench. My first reaction is that this is a matter affecting the whole House and therefore we should consider it through the usual channels. I give an undertaking to the House that I shall convene a quick meeting, using what we call the Leaders' and Whips' machinery, in order to look at the question.

I wish to make one point only. I know that administrative convenience is never a good argument, but the present arrangements have been agreed through the usual channels. Quite a number of your Lordships have the dates in their diaries. I shall not conceal from your Lordships that noble Lords have been telephoning and asking on what day they should speak as they wish to speak on a particular subject. I believe that the question and other matters should be considered by an all-party meeting. As I have said, I undertake to convene such a meeting quickly with a view to making a Business Statement to the House the day after tomorrow.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, when my noble friend comes to that meeting, will he bear in mind the good point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff; namely, that if there are four days, the subjects can be divided far more logically and clearly than if they are compressed into three days?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I shall certainly bear that point in mind. I shall not conceal from your Lordships that that was the one point on which I was not wholly clear. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is normally clarity itself. He said that the middle day was unduly congested, which does not include, as the plans stand, the environment. He then implied that the subject of the environment merited a day on its own. Perhaps that is a matter that we can discuss in the meeting that I intend to convene.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I admit to being one of the principal grumblers about this matter. It is quite humiliating that the Opposition should have to make an application to have use of the time of the House. I believe that sometimes we have a stronger claim than appears to be conceded. When I speak to more experienced Members about this kind of situation, they say, "Oh, but we never do". That is the trouble with this House —we never do. I am suggesting that for a change we do.

I ask noble Lords to consider that, while the other place is continuing the debate on the Address on the Friday and the Monday, we shall be away. Our debate is interrupted and the rhythm, the momentum and the spirit of it all disappear between Thursday evening and Tuesday. That is a long time to be absent from a topic which is really a continuous whole.

We shall be considering the trend of the Government's policies. This Queen's Speech may be the last of this Parliament but it is more likely to be the next to last. In the present political situation we can be excused for wanting to know a little more closely where the Government believe they are going. This is the time to do that. If what we read in the newspapers is true, there are some troublesome matters coming forward. We are not in for a very pleasant new Session —at least, not at the beginning. It is quite obvious that a number of us are going to have a spoilt Christmas because some people wish to intrude an unpleasant subject upon the House before then. It is not going to be good going.

As regards this side of the House, we want to hear the noise of a foot being put down occasionally concerning our wants. We are part of the House and of the institution. I suggest that, when an earnest plea is made by the Leader of the Opposition, supported for once by vocal observations from the Back Benches, then more favourable consideration should be given to the matter.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, perhaps this should be my last response as I have offered a meeting with all parties. It is a matter which affects the House. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, made the point that we intend not to sit on the Friday following the State Opening and not, as things stand at the moment, on the following Monday, when another place will be sitting. While I am agog to hear what the noble Lord will say on the debate on the humble Address, I am not sure that other noble Lords would necessarily, even for the noble Lord, want to come to the House on the Friday of that week.

A serious point should be made. One characteristic distinguishes your Lordships' House from another place. Whereas we work just as hard throughout the year as another place, there is a period between the time of the State Opening and Christmas when we have just a little more time to be able to find moments to debate matters of general interest. That is one of the reasons, although it is only one, why in the past there has not been pressure for an extra day on the debate on the humble Address. Nonetheless, the point has been put to me from all sides of the House. I am ready to convene an all-party meeting and I have offered to come back to make a Business Statement on Wednesday.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, perhaps I may make one point from this side of the House. The longer the debate, the better the opportunity for those of us who are usually critical to declare our unwavering support for the Government.