HL Deb 08 July 1996 vol 574 cc5-6

2.47 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked the Chairman of Committees:

Why Starred Questions are not permitted at Sittings of the House on Fridays.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, on 10th January 1995 the House agreed to a recommendation of the Procedure Committee that no Starred Questions should be taken on Fridays. That recommendation was in line with a recommendation of the Group on Sittings of the House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is not the real reason that Ministers do not wish to be cajoled into returning here on a Friday in order to answer Questions? Will he assure the House that Ministers are willing to turn up on Friday to answer Questions put by noble Lords?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, as I have had occasion to say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on a previous occasion, it is not my duty to defend either Ministers or aspiring Ministers, but I have no doubt whatsoever that our present Ministers will do whatever the House requires of them as regards the proceedings of this House. To go back to the original part of the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, it is not the case that this proposal was intended to have that effect for either Ministers, aspiring Ministers or indeed Front-Benchers in any other part of the House. It was part of a package of proposals which were put forward by the Group on Sittings of the House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, aimed at saving the time of your Lordships' House, especially late at night, so that we could rise at a more civilised hour.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is not the real reason behind the real reason not that Ministers are unwilling to appear before the House but that their civil servants wish to send them off on visits around the country to keep them out of mischief?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if I am not answerable for Ministers, I am even less answerable for their civil servants. As I have also had occasion to suggest to your Lordships before, I feel that not only Ministers but other Front Bench Members of your Lordships' House have other duties to the nation than appearing here. They have a duty to get round the country, and indeed abroad, to further the interests of the nation.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can it possibly be the case that certain noble Lords who like to ask a lot of Questions would wish to ask many more?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that may well be the case. However, if that were so there would be many more Answers too.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, under the present arrangements the House is able to put down some 15 or 16 Questions a week. Those Questions are usually to the point and are answered with a remarkable degree of clarity which is not always available in another place. Is it not in the interests of the House that on a sitting day Members can ask specific Questions, in particular in regard to EEC matters which occupy a large amount of reading time of all Members of your Lordships' House? On balance it might be advantageous, if only for clarity, to have Questions on Friday as well.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, on a previous occasion before an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I was rash enough to note that he had not intervened on that Question on a European matter. He has now intervened even without my provocation.

The noble Lord raises a serious point. There is great substance in what he says about the tabling and answering of Questions. However, Friday Sittings are a different matter. After a great deal of consideration by the Group on the Sittings of the House, the proposal was specifically recommended as a means of saving additional time. Coupled with that recommendation was the group's expectation that the House would not sit beyond 2.30 in the afternoon on those additional Fridays. That would leave only three and half hours. If we were to have Starred Questions on a Friday as well it would diminish by half an hour the sitting time for a normal Friday Sitting.

The aim is to save time and to enable your Lordships to rise earlier. I suggest that we would not wish to prejudice that time saving.

Lord Desai

My Lords, following the point made by my noble friend Lord Bruce, would it not be a good idea to have EEC Questions only on a Friday? Then one would have no Friday Sittings!

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, tempts me. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, said on a previous occasion, I am apt to resist temptation sometimes.