HL Deb 17 July 1997 vol 581 cc1084-5

3.31 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening in the normal course of business. However, I should like to record our gratitude to the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for telling us recently about the date for the beginning of the current Summer Recess. Perhaps I may ask the Lord Privy Seal whether we might not be favoured with a further piece of information as soon as possible, as the end of term is approaching. The piece of information that I believe the House would like to hear is whether the government business managers could give us some indication of the date of our return.

As your Lordships know, this House proceeds by agreement. I hope that the government business managers will agree that the relations between the usual channels since the election have been both constructive and—I hope that they feel as I do—agreeable. In particular, we have ensured, and will continue to ensure, that we deliver Bills within the agreed timetable.

Further, I wonder whether the government business managers will also agree that our ability to help with the smooth running of business depends on more than just good will and mutual esteem, important though those two qualities are. In particular, I hope that they will further agree that it also depends on a legislative programme which is not overloaded and which preserves a balance of substantial Bills beginning in this House as well as in another place. Therefore, I wonder whether the Lord Privy Seal will accept that, on this side of the House, we look forward to the business managers in this House being able to persuade their government colleagues of the importance of that balance.

I have to say in particular that the House would not take kindly to being asked to sit on into August this time next year, or indeed to indulge in a long spill-over period, simply because of the Government's failure to plan business adequately. I am sure that this marker is otiose, but I trust that your Lordships would welcome a reassurance from the Lord Privy Seal on the point, so that we are perfectly clear as to the basis of any negotiations which may take place in the coming 12 months.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

My Lords, one of the interesting aspects about the usual channels, as I always understood them, is the fact that they flow not only in this Chamber but also down the Corridor and back again. Moreover, I always understood the usual channels to be deep and, on the- whole, fairly impenetrable. I am not prepared to see the usual channels being discussed across the Dispatch Boxes of this House without any notice whatever being given to the Government. If the noble Viscount has legitimate points to raise—and he clearly has—naturally, in their usual spirit of conciliation, the Government will do their best to deal with them.

However, with the greatest respect to the noble Viscount, for him to get up and, so to speak, fire a shotgun in a scatter way at the usual channels who were sitting here very peacefully and quietly in total ignorance of the fact that they were about to be aimed at, is, if I may say so, a little strong. As regards keeping the House sitting until August next year, I am reliably informed that the noble Viscount's noble friend Lord Denham once kept the House sitting until August 12th—a date which, no doubt, is of much more importance to that side of the House than it is to my noble friends on this side. I shall do my very best to ensure that this House will have recessed by August 12th next year, so that pursuits which are no doubt keenly followed can be pursued.

So far as concerns the remainder of the noble Viscount's remarks, I should point out that there will be a number of Bills starting in this House. We shall announce those Bills in due course which will be starting their passage in this House. I have great hopes that the Bills which will start in this Chamber will be sufficiently important so that this House will be pleased that they do so. However, I do not intend to start wrangling about the issue again.

As to when the House goes into Recess, we shall be in a position to announce that date shortly. However, I do not believe that I can do so today. I am sorry, I meant to refer to the date when the House returns after the Recess; of course, I appreciate that we all know when we are going down. Indeed, I hope to be in a position shortly to announce when the House comes back in October. Finally, I can only say to the noble Viscount that I hope this is not the way in which the usual channels will be expected to work in the future.