HL Deb 25 March 1999 vol 598 cc1422-5
Lord Carter

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. In doing so I hope that the House will find it helpful to know that the Speakers' List for the debate on the situation in Kosovo will remain open until 4 p.m. in the Government Whip's Office.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) is dispensed with so far as is necessary to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Gilbert to be taken after the Third Reading of the Health Bill. —(Lord Carter.)

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the House will know that on Monday and Tuesday of next week we are dealing with the Second Reading of the Bill to reform your Lordships' House. Before there is a howl of protest from noble Lords opposite, this is not a ploy to delay the passage of the Bill. The date of the first day in Committee has already been fixed.

Before coming into the Chamber I checked on the number of speakers. There are now about 180 Members of your Lordships' House who wish to play a part in the debate. Furthermore, it has been announced that there is to be a Statement on Monday afternoon on a report on the Berlin summit. There is every possibility and likelihood of there being further government Statements including one on Kosovo.

It is also my understanding that the House should rise at 11 o'clock on Monday because the House sits at 11 o'clock on Tuesday morning. There is a convention that allows the staff who serve this House to have a 12-hour break between the two Sittings. In view of that fact it is unlikely that we shall be able to listen to more than 60 or 70 speakers on Monday. That means that even though we are starting the debate at about 11.30 on Tuesday, there will be between 110 and 120 speakers to be heard on Tuesday. We could be sitting into the small hours of Wednesday morning. Every extra minute that Peers speak will add another two hours to the debate.

It has also been brought to my attention that there is a very small number of speakers for the balloted debates on Wednesday. I would like to test the Government Chief Whip's mind and offer him two alternatives; either we sit again on Wednesday morning for two or three hours in order to complete the Second Reading; or the Government find an alternative time for the balloted debates when we return after Easter and devote that time to finishing the Second Reading.

I do this in a spirit of helpfulness and it is a genuine inquiry. I have been approached by many Members on my side of the House who wonder why we must sit so late on Tuesday when we can sit on Wednesday. As the House will know, many noble Lords have cleared their diaries for next week in order to deal with this particular issue. I very much hope that the Government Chief Whip can be helpful.

Lord Carter

My Lords, we seem to be having our usual weekly debate on the timetable for the House of Lords reform Bill. The usual channels appear to be in full spate on this matter. I have not had any requests from my own side on this subject. I am a little puzzled why noble Lords opposite feel the need to raise this issue. Like all Chief Whips, I have been doing some sums. If noble Lords speaking from the Front Bench do so at a reasonable length, and even allowing for a Statement on Monday as regards the Berlin summit, we could still rise at a not unreasonable hour on each day if the Back-Bench speakers take on average no more than seven minutes each.

Noble Lords


Lord Carter

My Lords, that was the average time spent debating the House of Lords White Paper, and here we have a six-clause Bill. As regards Hansard it is a convention of the House, and no more than that. It has been informed that the House is likely to sit later than 11 o'clock on Monday night. We have sat into the early hours of the morning this week. It was after two o'clock and the House was able to sit again at half-past two the next day. It is a convention, but on this occasion the House will be sitting later than 11 o'clock on the first day of the Second Reading.

The two-day debate was announced at the earliest possible opportunity on the afternoon of the First Reading of the Bill. On that occasion it was also announced that the House would sit at 11 a. m. on Tuesday of next week. Thus noble Lords have known for nearly two weeks of the arrangements. A large number of noble Lords have put down their names to speak on the basis that the debate will take place on Monday and Tuesday and have planned their diaries accordingly. Many noble Lords have indicated a preference for one day over the other. Those who are compiling the Speakers' List are working to ensure that those preferences are met. Therefore, to change the arrangements now would be an inconvenience to many noble Lords who would find the day of their speech moved from Monday or Tuesday to Wednesday.

I find it a little ironic that noble Lords opposite are now asking for an additional day for this Bill in Holy Week. It seems like only yesterday that we were told by the Opposition Chief Whip and his noble friends that it was quite outrageous that a Bill of this kind should be taken at all during that week. Now they are arguing the exact opposite and that there should be more business in Holy Week rather than less.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if the noble Lords is suggesting that he is willing to delay the Second Reading until after Easter, I shall be quite happy to support him.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the noble Lord can do better than that! I am merely saying that we are being asked to find another day during Holy Week when we were told only last week that it was quite out of order to have this business during that week. Now, noble Lords opposite wish to increase the time spent on this Bill by 50 per cent. during Holy Week. To put the matter in the kindest light, I find these positions rather contradictory. In addition, an amendment has been tabled to the Motion for a Second Reading. I presume that noble Lords have planned their diaries to be here on Tuesday for what is likely to be a very important vote.

I know that we have sat late this week. That was due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances. I agree that we sat unreasonably late on Monday, but the House has risen at a progressively earlier hour each day this week and the Sittings have not been unduly burdensome. I emphasise that I have given this matter a good deal of thought and calculation. I repeat that if the House as a whole is moderate in the length of the speeches, I suggest that it will not be necessary to sit unreasonably late on Tuesday night.

On Question, Motion agreed to.