HL Deb 19 February 1992 vol 535 cc1258-60

2.46 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret asked the Leader of the House:

Whether a Select Committee could consider the sitting times of the House so as to permit legislation to be considered earlier in the day.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that a Select Committee in another place has been looking into the sittings of the House of Commons. In addition, the report of our own Select Committee on the Committee Work of the House will be published shortly. Of course, it is within the power of this House to establish whatever committees it wishes—or indeed to change its sitting time without first setting up a committee—but it might be thought sensible to wait for each House to consider their respective reports before looking into my noble friend's suggestion.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Will the committee in question consider various matters? Is my noble friend aware that this unelected and largely unpaid House sits more hours and does more work than any other legislative chamber in the whole world other than another place? Does my noble friend agree that it helps the workings of the House if its voluntary element has a reasonable degree of knowledge of the business that is taking place? Does my noble friend further agree that there are many times when the programme is organised but, unfortunately, starts so late in the day that proper consideration cannot be given to it? The business is then deferred to another day, when it might be highly difficult and inconvenient for Members of your Lordships' House to attend.

Noble Lords


Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, perhaps I may draw my noble friend's attention to the Charities Bill, which we began to consider on a Thursday afternoon at 3.30 p.m. and which was designed to be finished in one day, but we then had to start it again at seven o'clock yesterday evening with no fewer than 105 amendments to consider. Does my noble friend agree that that is probably undesirable?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I think that all noble Lords will agree with me when I say that the House is richer for having among its Members noble Lords who do very important jobs in society. We might lose the benefit of their wisdom if we were to sit in the mornings. However, difficult decisions have to be made.

So far as the two committees are concerned, I referred to the committee that is chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe not because it is charged with the duty of considering the hours for which we sit in this Chamber, but because that committee is dealing with the committee structure. For that reason, it might be thought premature to set up a committee as was suggested by my noble friend. Of course, it is not for us to suggest what should be within the terms of reference of the committee that was set up in another place, which I understand is due to report on Friday this week.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is there not every possibility that when the report of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is published we shall be able to debate it in the House? Secondly, does the noble Lord agree that the reference of the Charities Bill to a Standing Committee, which sat in the morning, was on the whole a success?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said about the Committee stage of the Charities Bill. Clearly, it is worth us considering carefully—it was not really an experiment—that attempt to make greater use of the Committee proceedings of the House. We shall all await with interest the report of the committee in another place. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for the work that he has done.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that if the House were to start sitting in the mornings regularly on a daily basis there is a distinct danger that Parkinson's Law would come into play, with the volume of debate expanding to fill the extra time available?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the noble Lord has a good point, if I may say so. There is always the danger that if we were to sit earlier the House still would not rise that much earlier in the evening. However, we are a long way from that. All we are concerned with today is whether the matter should be studied at all in advance of the publication of the two reports to which I have referred. I suggest that it is far better for us to restrain ourselves for just a few days and then we may have an opportunity to debate the report of the committee that has sat under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. That—I say this in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—will be initially a matter for discussion through the usual channels.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am most grateful to him and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for the kindly remarks they made about the committee which I have the honour to chair? I agree with what my noble friend said about restraint at the moment. Perhaps I may inform my noble friend Lord Mountgarret that I believe that the report of the committee will be published on Thursday week. I recommend it as a suitable bed companion to any of your Lordships who suffer from insomnia.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for giving us that information. I believe that the Jopling Committee Report will be published the day after tomorrow. I am grateful to my noble friend for telling us when his report will be published.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, now that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is aware that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has finished his first task, should he book him now, before he goes away, to do the study for which the noble Viscount asked?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the thoroughness with which my noble friend has approached the task which he was set has condemned him to many more similar onerous duties.