HL Deb 26 May 1994 vol 555 cc856-9

11.28 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked the Leader of the House:

Why the House is sitting on Thursday 9th June, the day of polling in the European Elections, when the House of Commons is not sitting and many Peers will be wishing to vote and campaign in the constituencies in which they live.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, it has not been the practice in the past for the House to adjourn during either European or local elections. Peers are of course eligible for postal votes or indeed for proxy votes.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, is not that practice a relic of the time when the only nationwide popular elections were for another place, with which traditionally we have nothing to do? The whole position has now changed because other elections affect the whole country, elections in which it is perfectly proper for us to vote and campaign. That is particularly so since a high proportion of the effective politicians of this country are in your Lordships' House. If it is too late to do anything about it this time, will the usual channels look at this matter again before 1998?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, of course I will take that into consideration when I am holding this job at that particular time. The noble Lord is quite right. All elections are very important; whether they are local or European makes no difference. However, the House will recall that both Houses thought it quite proper to arrange business on the last local election day, 5th May. Also of course, both Houses sat on the previous European parliamentary election days in 1989 and 1984. But I take note of what the noble Lord said.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, perhaps the House will allow me, in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, to convey to him, on behalf of the whole House, our deep regret at the sad news that his brother, John, died this morning. John was a dear friend of ours and a good servant of the people. It struck me as appropriate that in the presence of his brother I should convey those sentiments.

Turning to the Question, will the Government Chief Whip accept from me that the arrangements were made in good faith and through the usual channels? But will he also accept that the reason why from time to time this House sits when the Commons does not sit is that the Government persist in producing Bills of inordinate length and complexity? That causes this House to sit, in this instance, for one week longer. Even as late as yesterday the Government, for their own political ends, being under pressure from certain quarters, have decided unilaterally not to have the House of Commons meet on the Monday when it was due to come back. Is it not time that government Ministers in both Houses grasped the nettle and produced what might be called Jopling-like proposals to make sure that the business of the Government which must be got through is got through in better circumstances to allow hardworking Peers at least to do their job and to do it comfortably?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that the whole House, including noble Lords on this side, would wish to join the noble Lord in his remarks about the sad news of the death of Lord John-Mackie.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that the business for that week was agreed through the usual channels, as it was. Arrangements for business in the other place are not a matter for me. I am sure that noble Lords would like a longer Recess. I have to confess, so would I. But were the Recess to be longer, then the consequences would be twofold. Either noble Lords would be asked to consider legislation in more haste, and perhaps less fully than I believe the House would wish; or your Lordships' well-earned summer holidays might be curtailed.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is it not a fact that in the later part of each Session noble Lords have far more legislation to consider than Members have in another place, and that we have to make our own arrangements in order to perform that duty adequately?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton. The Government's legislative programme is clearly something that the House is keen to discuss. Both my noble friend the Leader of the House and I are equally keen to ensure that sufficient time is available for noble Lords to examine government legislative programmes thoroughly. It is in that spirit that the arrangements for 9th June have been made.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that my noble friend and colleague on the Front Bench, Lord Graham, is quite correct? There is an extension of holidays in the other place. Is the Minister further aware that it is causing something of an embarrassment? The other House is now having so many weeks off that there are not enough weeks to accommodate the number of Supply Days there.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, again, that is a matter for another place and not for me. However, I believe that it would be wrong to curtail the very important discussions that we have on important Bills which pass through this House in order perhaps to prolong our Whitsun Recess.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, from these Benches I should also like to convey the sympathy of my colleagues to my noble friend, which we shall also do privately. I have no doubt that he will be grateful for the expressions of sympathy that have been offered throughout the House.

To return to the Question, as noble Lords will be aware, the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, is sitting with a small group of people at the moment on the subject of the sittings of the House, and will doubtless have taken on board what has been said. It is surely unsatisfactory that this week we have had two major Committee days on the Criminal Justice Bill, with the House sitting until midnight or half-past midnight, legislating for criminal matters late into the night, when full discussion cannot take place on such important issues. I blame nobody except ourselves. We have to find better ways of doing things. I hope that the committee of the noble: Lord, Lord Rippon, will come up with some ideas that will be of help.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in many respects. This House is a self-regulating Chamber. Sometimes we fail to apply the self-regulator, and the debates on particular Motions overrun. However, it is the arrangements through the usual channels which are important in order to make certain that the number of days that are set aside for the discussion of a particular Bill are appropriate to that Bill.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their expressions of sympathy on the death of my brother.

Perhaps I may raise a point with the Chief Whip. Why is the Scottish local government Bill being debated on a Thursday? I thought that it was an old convention that Scottish affairs were taken rather earlier in the week and not on a Thursday, when Scotsmen like to go home.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I sympathise with the noble Lord. I understand that he has particular difficulties on 9th June. But I have to say to the House that I think the House is now well used to sitting four days a week, and equally used to taking business without discrimination between days of the week for the convenience of the House as a whole. I believe that that applies to Scottish business, as it does to business relating to other important parts of the United Kingdom.

Lord Annan

My Lords, can the Minister recall any summer when there has not been a complaint from the Opposition Benches, whichever party occupies them, that the legislative programme has been too heavy and that the Bills are of such extreme complexity that the timetable is unreasonable? In my 29 years I have never heard anything other than that.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, it is perhaps an irony that this House, which does such an important revising job in regard to legislation, and considers itself quite rightly to have an influence on that legislation, somehow wants to curtail its own ability to review it.

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