§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In presenting the report from the Procedure Committee, I should say 136 a few words about items 2 and 3 before dealing with item 1, which is the subject of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.
Item 2 clarifies the guidance on Statements in the Companion to Standing Orders and will, I am sure, be welcomed by those who take part in Statements. Item 3 tidies up the procedure at the beginning of a Session when a number of Motions relating to the setting up of committees are taken. Those who remembered those Motions last month will recall that the Leader of the House had to move procedural Motions. As a result, she was questioned about the composition, not me. I did not complain about being able to shelter behind the Leader, but I believe that it is an untidy way to do business. The proposed change would rectify that.
The main item before your Lordships is item 1 of the committee's report. At our meeting, we had a joint paper from the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Henley, proposing to move the general debate day from Wednesday to Thursday on an experimental basis. Wednesdays would then be used for government business.
It was also proposed that general debates on important issues could take place on a small number of Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays during the Session. These changes would be made on an experimental basis until the end of the Session, when the committee and the House would be able to decide whether the experiment had proved successful.
The debate in the committee showed a wide range of opinions. The principal arguments for such a change were that it would give all Members of the House the flexibility of two consecutive non-government days to organise their commitments outside the House. That would be particularly helpful to those Peers whose outside interests and homes were well away from London as such Peers might be able to get away on Wednesday nights or first thing on Thursday mornings if they wished. They would therefore have two clear days to do whatever they wished to do outside the House.
The principal arguments against the change were: that general debates were an important part of the role of the House; that to move them to Thursday might diminish the number of Peers who wished to take part; that there would be reduced attendance, and hence the importance of those debates would be diminished; and there was a danger that the House would follow the other place in what is increasingly seen as a three-day week.
Rather than come to a decision on the matter in the Procedure Committee, it was decided that this issue should be considered by the House as a whole. The only way that the Procedure Committee could do that was to make a recommendation for change and thus report it to the House. If it had decided not to make any change there would have been no report and your Lordships would have been unable to express a view. Therefore, there is no recommendation to make this change but your Lordships should make the decision; in other words, it is a kind of collective passing the buck. I beg to move.
137 Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 16).—(The Chairman of Committees.)
§ Following is the report referred to:
§ 1. The general debate day
§ The Committee considered a proposal to move the general debate day from Wednesday to Thursday for an experimental period from February 2001 to the end of the present parliamentary session, There would also be, subject to agreement in the usual channels, general debates on important issues on a few Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
§ Certain members of the Committee were opposed to the proposal. They reported opposition among backbenchers they had consulted.
§ The Committee noted that there was opposition to the proposal, but decided that it was proper that the House itself should debate and decide the issue. If the Committee rejected the proposal, there would be no report from the Committee for the House to debate. For this reason, the Committee recommends the proposal to the House so that the House may decide.
§ 2. Ministerial statements
§ In March 1999 the Committee recommended that "while there will be exceptions, the time for the two Opposition front benches and the reply to them should be limited to 20 minutes, as for the back benches." It is difficult in practice to define the exceptions, and the reference to exceptions has been omitted from the Companion to the Standing Orders. On some recent occasions, when long statements have led to long contributions from the Opposition front bench spokesmen, the rule has led to ministers cutting short their answers to the spokesmen, in order to comply with the 20 minute limit. The Committee approves the practice of the House that statements should not be made the occasion for immediate debate. However, the Committee recommends that ministers should not cut short their replies, even if this means going beyond the 20 minute limit.
§ 3. En bloc appointment of sessional select committees
§ The Committee recommends that the Chairman of Committees should, at the beginning of a new session, be entitled to move en bloc the motions appointing select committees, deputy chairmen and any other bodies nominated by the Committee of Selection, without the need for a Business of the House motion. There should instead be an italic notice on the Order Paper of the day informing the House that the Chairman of Committees will, unless any Lord objects, move the motions of appointment en bloc.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank rose to move, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committee's Motion, at end insert "except for item 1".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as is clear from the Order Paper, and made doubly clear by the Chairman of Committees, my amendment relates only to paragraph 1 of the report of the Procedure Committee which deals with the general debate day. I have tabled my amendment for two reasons: first, to draw attention to a proposal of major consequence, which might have been overlooked by the House given the bland item on the Order Paper, following normal precedent; secondly, to enable the House to take a view of an important matter without prejudicing the remaining paragraphs of the report. So often in this House we have a report from the committee, part of which noble Lords want to contest. That often involves a difficult debate and a muddled outcome. I hope that my amendment enables the matter to be made plain and decided upon accordingly.138
§ The Procedure Committee met on 19th December on the eve of the Christmas Recess and its report was revealed for the first time in the Minute on the morning of Wednesday last, which is less than a week ago. Following precedent, there was no signpost to indicate the importance or character of any of the items to be debated today. That I became aware of it when I did I owe to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I simply draw attention to how easily these things may slip by. Following precedent, the fact that we might have such a debate today was not indicated in the weekly schedule of forthcoming business.
§ This is too important an issue to be passed by the House through half-closed eyes. We should be particularly alert when both the Government and Opposition Chief Whips agree any course of action. Admirable though the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Henley, are, there is always a whiff of sulphur about any suggestion made when they get together. I would have preferred this amendment not to stand in my name because it may confuse noble Lords into believing that it is a peculiarly Liberal Democrat initiative. That is not so. Members on my Benches will have as much freedom as, I believe, all noble Lords to vote whichever way they prefer entirely on the merits of the issue. This should be treated today as a cross-party issue.
§ A very similar Motion to switch Wednesdays and Thursdays was debated less than two years ago on 22nd March 1999. On that occasion the outcome was decisive: 87 Members voted for change and 224 voted against. I say in parenthesis, in case the issue arises, that on that occasion the Motion for change was not defeated by the hereditary Peers. Among those life Peers present and voting there was a clear majority against change. However, I accept the decision of the Procedure Committee to place the issue before the House today. Nearly 80 of those who voted in 1999 have left the House and over 80 new colleagues have joined us. It is right that the House should look at the matter again, and for my part I have no complaint on that account.
§ I also acknowledge that, on the face of it, there are substantial arguments on either side. On 22nd March 1999 the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was eloquent for change, as he often is. There was also a fair but forceful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. One particular phrase in his speech that I recall is "proportionate inconvenience", by which he meant that it was necessary to balance the inconvenience caused to Members who lived far from London against the inconvenience to those who lived in or near London if a change took place.
§ I recognise the argument of inconvenience and balance. I also understand the problems faced by colleagues who live in Scotland, or a hundred miles or more from Westminster, if there are late Thursday sittings. Although I am not in that category, many of my colleagues on these Benches live a distance from the House. Were that the issue I would have concluded that the balance of proportionate inconvenience favoured a change. But the crux of the matter before your Lordships' House is, on the one hand, the 139 convenience of individual Members and, on the other, the future of this House itself. I respectfully suggest to noble Lords that that is the issue to be debated today.
§ Since the debate on 22nd March 1992 most of our hereditary colleagues have gone. Following election, 92 stayed from choice and there were about 10 others. They have opted to serve in your Lordships' House. In addition, some 80 new Members have joined us. They have opted to serve in this House not under duress and aware of the demands that it will make on their time and the level of inconvenience that they will be caused. With the greatest respect, personal convenience and an easier working week should not be in the forefront of our minds at any time in this House.
§ I am aware of the particular problem of Back-Benchers on the government side. To be Back-Benchers on the government side, whether in your Lordships' House or elsewhere, is the worst of all fates. One has the rather thankless task of attending day after day with very little to do except support the Government when asked. But that is a price that all of us have paid from time to time in order to sustain our government in power. On behalf of these Benches, that would be a small price to pay for such an opportunity. I shed no tears for those government Back-Benchers who find it a hardship to support the Government and would rather retire earlier to the country, their homes or other jobs outside.
§ What does the change mean if it occurs? It means that the House will begin to move, perhaps imperceptibly at first, towards a three-day week. Members are quite open about it; they want to be here on Monday afternoon and away on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. The Chairman of Committees put the point very fairly: Members want to have fewer days when their parliamentary attendance is expected. Therefore, if we make the switch there will be poorer attendance on Thursdays for both general debates and Questions, and, although I do not have time to develop the point, the timetable for legislation will be cramped. That will not happen overnight. It will not happen during a short experiment. But ultimately there will be a diminution in the role of this House and thus in the effectiveness of Parliament. This decision should not be taken lightly, hence the amendment I have laid before the House. I hope that it will not be taken at all. I beg to move.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committee's Motion, at end insert "except for item 1".—(Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.)
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I rise in support of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. I have always taken it as a rule that one never changes the procedures in this House until one gets genuine cross-party agreement so to do. My worry is that Wednesdays have always been the prerogative of private Members of this House, a day when they have their debates. They have always been in total charge of Wednesdays. This Motion will alter that. Many very important Wednesday debates have taken place that have led to major legislation and reform, some of which your Lordships would not 140 necessarily agree with. To put a Wednesday debate on to a Thursday in order that voting is more easily done on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday would belittle the general debate in this House and prove an absolute disaster.
There is another issue. By having a general debate on a Wednesday, the government of the day—whichever colour—can only have two Committee days running, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. The idea of having three consecutive days on a major Bill when the Opposition parties and indeed, more importantly, the Back-Benchers do not have the back-up that Her Majesty's Government have, is intolerable. I hope that the Government do not press this issue. If they do, it will not be a proper test at all. We are almost at the start of February with the possibility—I say no more than that—of an early general election. If there is an early election, the certainty is that Private Members' days will be the first casualties in order to get the government business through. Therefore, can we not put this on one side and bring the matter back after the election, whenever that is? It is a terribly important issue.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, we should not ignore what has happened in another place. As a result of a change in the time for Prime Minister's Questions, I am told that there has been a great change in attendance in the House of Commons. People tend to be absent on Thursday and Friday. There are repeated allegations that the other place has become a part-time House. I am afraid that could happen here. That is why I support the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and my noble friend Lord Denham.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, one cannot be long in this House before realising that there are two sides to every question. I had no intention of speaking today, but having heard three successive speeches on one side I felt that I should make a few quiet observations. First, it is a rather poor view to hold of Members of the House that they would not bother to stay around for a debate on a subject in which they had a keen interest if it was held on Thursday instead of Wednesday. That seems to me completely false. The debating days will be just as good. There will not be other people hanging around simply waiting for Thursday. It is the participation in those important debates that matters, not the number of people who are around the precincts of the House.
Secondly, with regard to Thursday night, it is not really about whether or not one is away on Thursday. It is that the present procedure involves many Members of the House staying, not until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock, which might be tolerable, but until 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock or midnight by which time their trains may have left. That is not good for this House. It is particularly bad. If we are frank, we are rather London-oriented, and we could do with keeping up the numbers of people attending the House from outside London.
141 There has been a reference to Back-Benchers. But noble Lords on the Opposition Benches may all be Government Back-Benchers one day, may they not? If, when one agrees to come into this House one is agreeing that one will be forced to stay until midnight, or 1 or 2 o'clock on a Friday morning after one's train has gone, one may think twice about coming here. We shall become a more London-centred organisation.
This is a brief experiment. I should be surprised if Wednesday debates die during the experiment. I believe they will flourish. If I am wrong, we can go back with the greatest of ease. Unless we try the experiment, how will we ever know if it could be successful? I have been in this House long enough to know how often it supports the argument that nothing must change, nothing must be experimented with—the doctrine of unripe time. I believe that the time is ripe to try what is proposed for the brief period until the election. If it goes wrong I shall be the first to support returning to our present arrangements.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, meant what he said when he suggested that he would be perfectly content if, effectively, the only people in this Chamber on what would become Thursday debates were to be those taking part in them rather than listening. Having spent time in both Houses, it seems to me that one of the more agreeable and sensible habits of your Lordships is to listen to arguments before voting.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, I did not say those who were taking part in the debate; I said those who were interested in the debate. Many people will of course stay and listen to the debate.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has perhaps a rather more sanguine view of human nature than I. Perhaps in the Economist they are so high-minded that temptations do not arise in the same way as they do for other Members of your Lordships' House. Of course we know how high-minded Members are in another place, but we know, as my noble friend pointed out, that in spite of their good intentions and their high-mindedness the changes which he described there have resulted in effectively a part-time House.
This Chamber was a part-time House for many years, indeed many centuries. In the opinion of many conservative—with a small "c"—Members of your Lordships' House, it was all the better for it. However, I suggest to your Lordships that in one important respect the nature of Parliament has changed. There has been an increasing avalanche of ill-prepared legislation which makes it virtually impossible for this House to be a part-time House any more. If the price of proper legislation is eternal vigilance, the eternal vigilance must be here rather than in another place, because another place is the creature of the executive. Therefore, anything that aids the Government's clear intention to make this House into a legislative "sausage machine"—to use the phrase of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—is one that we should question.
142 The point made by my noble friend Lord Denham is the key one here if we are to judge this issue by the correct standard, which is our effectiveness as a Chamber. It is very difficult if we are—in the best sense—an amateur House to have to consider three days in Committee on the trot. That will make the passage of legislation easier and more rapid. In view of the standard of legislation, I am not sure that I am in favour of that under governments of either complexion.
§ Lord Hughes of Woodside
My Lords, I am a comparatively new Member of this House and perhaps my memory is not as good as it might be. But is it the case that every Wednesday for the whole of the Session will be reserved for Private Members; is it the case that after Easter or at around mid-Whitsun there will be a four-day government week anyway?
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, I see that the noble Lord is very sensible. As an experienced politician he never asks questions to which he does not know the answer. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that traditionally in this House in order to fulfil the imperative that the Queen's Government must be carried on and that the Government should get their business, Wednesdays are handed over to the Government. That does not mean to say that because traditionally this House has done it towards the end of term, it should extend that habit to the beginning of term as well.
I have a final point. It is not a party political point because I believe it was true of the government of which I was a member as much as it is true today. We would be unwise, as proper parliamentarians, ever to trust a government. Governments are by their nature amoral. As such, the only way that they can be kept up to the mark is by parliamentary scrutiny and control of legislation in your Lordships' House. Like my noble friend Lord Denham, I suggest that this proposal would be a small and significant step towards increasing the control by the Government of the passage of legislation through your Lordships' House. In that respect it would be thoroughly undesirable.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount would have said precisely that about his own government when he was sitting on this side of the House.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, the noble Lord has been a Cabinet Minister. He knows of the constraints. I hope that he will take it from me that I said so many times in private.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount did so in private. I understand that perfectly well.
I was rather surprised at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. I was pleased to hear him say that he was not speaking for the Liberal Democrat Party. If he had been, I would have been even more surprised 143 by his remarks. We are talking about a small experiment. I should have thought that if anyone is in favour of a small experiment, it would have been someone in favour of some kind of radical change. Apparently, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is not in favour of such change.
I find the grounds for the opposition to this proposal very interesting. For many of your Lordships, now as before, this House remains a part-time House. I understand that perfectly well. There are many of your Lordships who rightly and understandably need to earn some money outside. We do not receive a salary here. I declare an interest—I earn a bit myself! The policy of the House should not be decided by those Members who wish to be part-time Members; I think it was said in the other context, the other way. The plain fact is that our policy on sitting times should be decided by those who wish to attend. As has been said, those who want to attend a major debate on a Wednesday will do so on a Thursday.
I do not understand why, if we decided to make the switch to the Thursday, we could not have Committee stages on that day. Another place takes Committee stages upstairs. Why can we not do something like that here? I have always been very surprised that the Committee stages of all Bills have to be on the Floor of the House as well as Report and Third Reading.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to the fact that on Thursdays and Fridays the other place is empty. If one looks at a television screen, one sees that it is empty all the time— on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. To suggest that this House should switch, as an experiment, from now until probably the beginning of April when Parliament will be dissolved for an election—
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I did not say it was going to happen; I said "probably". I have no idea when the election is going to be. All I know is that I am not standing; neither am I voting, for that matter. Peers and lunatics do not have a vote at general elections.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, if Parliament is to be dissolved on 1st April, surely what will happen, as has happened at every dissolution in my memory, is that the Government will know in advance when they will call an election and the Private Members' days will stop. Therefore, the experiment which starts on 1st February is very unlikely to last more than a month—five weeks at the most, four weeks possibly. There will have been four "Wednesday" debates. That is not a long enough period in which to conduct an experiment.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, in that case, we can have another experiment when we return. Why not? No one 144 is suggesting anything more than an experiment at the moment. We are not being asked to do this permanently.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, it is being suggested that we continue the experiment until the end of this Parliament. If we are to do so, that will need another report from the Procedure Committee and another Motion to be passed by this House.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, what is wrong with that? Why should we not have debates? I love debating with the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I disagree with him most of the time. The plain fact is that we are now talking about an experiment and nothing more. It is astonishing to say that we should not have even the thought of a radical change—and how radical? Would not those who wish to speak in a debate on a Wednesday stay for it on a Thursday? It is astonishing that any one can suggest that such a change of such a modest nature should now be stopped because a few Members might find it difficult. I hope that we shall persist and switch debate days from Wednesdays to Thursdays.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, because I am drawn to my feet by his final remark that this experiment should not be denied the House on the whim that it is inconvenient for a few people. Convenience is the argument of those who want the experiment. Those who do not want the experiment are voluntarily submitting themselves to an inconvenience just as great as those who do want the experiment if it does not take place. The argument is that we are trying under difficult circumstances, as Parliament sees its power visibly leaching away from it year after year, to maintain a Chamber which can be effective in the scrutiny of legislation. And—because there is time to earn money elsewhere, as I do in order to maintain myself in the manner to which I have become accustomed; indeed, as many of us wish to do—we wish to be able both to scrutinise legislation and to earn a living.
We come to the question of the effect of the proposal on the Committee work of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, suggests that the work should be done outside this Chamber. He asked why that could not be done. I shall tell him why. This House is unique in that every Member has an equal voice in every sort of business. The Government are exposed to the expertise of every sort that is in the possession of this House. If one divided this House and had it functioning in two different ways in areas which are both important, one would diminish that element of scrutiny. At present, such off-the-Floor scrutiny is done—from my point of view, reluctantly—in the Moses Room, but in such a way that nothing controversial can be agreed there. That is an essential part of the functioning of this House. Therefore, that is not a reason for having the experiment. It is a reason against it.
145 The next reason against the experiment also relates to Committee work and has been voiced already by two or three speakers. I refer to the danger that the result will be a succession of consecutive days in Committee. Most of your Lordships have experienced this in opposition and have had to cope with the flood of work. The noble Lord the Chief Whip shakes his head, but most noble Lords have experienced this in opposition. If they are on the Government side, and if they are lucky and are trusted by the Government to say only what the Government want, they are fed the material with which to make their speeches.
Those noble Lords who do not have that privilege have to get the information for themselves and devise their speeches for themselves. They have to read the Marshalled List for themselves, see how every amendment fits in, guess at what the motive of an amendment is and guess at what the consequences will be. For two days in sequence, that is difficult. If there is a third clay, noble Lords will put down amendments on the first day; and not only will one have to cope with the second day's debate but one will have to prepare for the third day's debate as well. Unlike a great many noble Lords, I have had that experience as a Minister. It is hell for the Minister. I say that and I hope that it is read by the Chief Whip's colleagues. It is a difficult thing to do and it is exceedingly hard work for the civil servants who brief Ministers. They often have to work into the weekend as a result. All of that adds to the tendency towards thoroughly badly prepared legislation and increases the importance of effective scrutiny. That will not happen if this proposal is introduced.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I begin by apologising to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for having anticipated the end of his remarks. I am not sure that I want to be characterised as a Labour Back-Bencher with very little to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, suggested might be the case as regards some of us here; and I am not against an experiment. But I am very doubtful whether this is the right way for the House to go.
I have not been a Member of the House for very long but I have gained a little experience. One of the great dangers we face is that we have not learnt the lesson of the past few years. Your Lordships' House has far too little time in which to complete its work. When I say "work", I do not just mean delivering the Government's business; I also mean all the other work which the House of Lords must do for it to be an effective revising Chamber. I therefore worry about that.
There are currently no fewer than nine Select Committee reports waiting to be debated. I do not know when time will be found for them. If we are to have this experiment, one of the results I fear, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, is that attendance will inevitably tail off during the latter part of the week. Many noble Lords have referred to what might happen on a Thursday. God forbid what might 146 happen if we were to debate a European Union Select Committee report on a Friday. It is pointless to have such reports debated only by those who prepared the reports. The reports are far too important for that to happen.
While I am not against an experiment—I believe that in the end experiments can and very often do throw up the right answer—I have grave doubts about the suggestion. I do not want to see a House that gives the appearance of being only a three-day-a-week House. That is not right for a revising Chamber. Our responsibilities are far too heavy to go down that route. I therefore issue a strong word of caution on this proposal.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, rather on the same grounds as those put forward by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. The Government find, as all governments find, Parliament an inconvenience. But that is the function of Parliament. If it were not an inconvenience, it would be nothing. We have already seen introduced measures to reduce that inconvenience. My noble friend Lord Waddington referred to Prime Minister's Questions. There is another much more relevant example. It is again a limited experiment down the corridor. From the beginning of this Session, on an experimental basis, without all-party agreement, it has been decided that all votes, other than those on legislation, which would otherwise happen after 10 o'clock at night should be held as deferred Divisions after 3.30 p.m. on the Wednesday.
That is the antithesis of the role and functions of the House of Commons. Indeed, I wonder why, while they are about it, the Government did not seek to change the rules so that at the beginning of a Parliament each Labour MP could cast a proxy in favour of the Government Chief Whip to enable all votes to be cast on the Government's behalf. After all, such a measure could be claimed to be rooted in the Labour tradition of the trade union block vote, which was so convenient for so many years at Labour Party conferences. Actually, I think that it would be rather unwise because the time may come when the Labour Party is in opposition—just as it may come when the Liberal Democrats are in government! But I get the feeling that the Government would like their Chief Whip, in the Commons at any rate, to behave like a ring-master in a circus. They certainly seem to have reduced the Commons from being a lion to a pussy cat. But your Lordships' House is not a pussy cat and it must from time to time roar and bite. We have to be extremely vigilant when we see all these so-called convenience measures.
It is not long ago since I took some part in blocking a proposal from the Procedure Committee that any Written Answer in Hansard of more than two pages should not be printed at all. Luckily, with support from all sides of the House, we saw that one off. I 147 strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and I shall happily vote for his amendment if he calls a Division.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, speaking as an hereditary Peer, I have always felt it my duty to be here and to be of such service as I can. Speaking as an elected Cross-Bench hereditary Peer, to that duty is added the honour and the gratitude which I owe to my fellow Cross-Bench Peers. As a Peer who lives in Scotland, I would certainly find it very convenient to have a three-day week. But I am alive, and because I am alive I am aware that things change all the time. I am not against change as such, but in this case I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I do not think that just a short time before a general election—everyone seems to have a different idea as to when it will be—is the right time to make a drastic change. We should think about it and perhaps try later.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I intervene as a Labour Back-Bencher with very little to do. That is one of the reasons that I am sitting here listening to this preposterous debate. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Barnett. The most preposterous part of the debate is the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, whom I have known and admired for an enormous number of years, should have adopted this extraordinarily reactionary position. Before the debate I wondered who would make the most reactionary speech. I am looking around at several noble Lords. They spent 18 years in power unable even remotely to reform this House in any way and they are still at it. I am really sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has got himself mixed up with such people.
On the actual subject of the debate, I am astonished to learn that the future of the House depends on whether we have sixth-form debates on a Wednesday or a Thursday. What an astonishing view! I take part in those debates. I am taking part in one tomorrow—the debate of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am looking forward to it very much. But the notion that these debates are portentous and have major effects on the nation is staggering. I have spoken many times in such debates. I did not think that anyone was listening. I do not accept the idea that such debates affect something "out there". I would probably have spoken more carefully if I had realised that anyone was listening.
What puzzles me even more is this. What is wrong with the personal convenience of your Lordships? What is wrong with an easier working week? When did it suddenly become a crime or a sin? And what is wrong with having fewer days? Many of us who have been here for many years would have put our hands up for fewer days at all times.
148 I find the arguments almost impossible to follow. As my noble friend Lord Barnett said, we are a part-time House—all of us, even those of us who are retired
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. I shall be very brief.
Could the noble Lord address his mind to the fundamental argument about the Back-Bench day, the Wednesday, which we share with the Cross Benches, on which none of the Back-Benchers on this side of the House has been consulted, so that it is only today that we can express our opinion?
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord is expressing his opinion, but he does not realise how cynical I am. If the Back-Bench day had been a Thursday, my view is that all the noble Lords opposite would be arguing for a Wednesday, if that were being put forward. What they do not like is any change whatsoever. They automatically say "No". That is what the Procedure Committee does. This is our first attempt to try to do something sensible.
I have two other remarks. If the House is unable to find time—and I think even my noble friend Lord Grenfell was worried about how much we are able to do other things—why not abolish the Wednesday debates altogether? That would give us much more time, but no one is suggesting that and I do not think it would stand up at all.
My last remark is on the suggestion, which takes me back to my role as a Back-Bencher, of the legislative sausage machine. The present Government, despite their massive majority and their great victory in the country, have not attempted to obtain, and still have no intention of doing so, a majority in this House. We on this side have operated throughout this Parliament in a considerable minority compared with noble Lords opposite. Anybody who has sat here these years and can describe what has been going on as a legislative sausage machine cannot possibly have any experience of this place. I remember when we had a legislative sausage machine; it was all the time I sat on the Front Bench. We could not win a single vote without an ambush. We all found the idea of ambushes most distasteful, but it was the only way. If there is a legislative sausage machine, it is certainly not something that this side has ever put forward or in my judgment ever will put forward.
I look forward to the speech of my noble friend in reply, but I think that we should divide and test the opinion of the House on this matter.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I feel sorry for the poor, unfortunate noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for being subjected to such castigation by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who said that he could not understand why on earth the noble Lord should do this, that he is always against change and so on.
Oddly enough, the Government seem to want to change everything, whether it is good or bad, other than the parliamentary draftsman. I once put down an 149 amendment suggesting that "a" should be replaced by "an" and all hell was let loose. I was told, "You can't possibly do that. This has been done for centuries and it must continue to be done in that way". Therefore, the idea that the Government are in favour of change goes only a certain distance.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for saying that it was the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who pointed this matter out to him. I am also grateful to the noble Lord because he pointed it out to me. When one sees the report from the Procedure Committee it all looks perfectly harmless, until one begins to read it. I had the privilege of being a member of the Procedure Committee, and I remember this great argument. On the whole, those who did not want the change tended to outweigh those who did, and then the report indicated nothing. It was decided that the committee should report the fact that there was a division of opinion and that therefore the matter should be considered by the House as a whole.
Musical bumps operate in all these matters, and I was shoved off the Procedure Committee. I was quite happy about that, but I did not know what happened thereafter, except that by chance I met the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She will not think that I am giving away any government secrets when I report that she happened to say to me in the Prince's Chamber, "Well we managed all right in the Procedure Committee without you". I thought that that was charming; I was not certain whether it was a compliment or the reverse. It was only later that I discovered that the committee had decided to try to get the matter through your Lordships so that we should make the change.
I do not think, in a nice avant-garde way, that we should make this change. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, "It's only a small change; it's just a little experiment". Well, the housemaid with her baby said that it was only a small baby, and tried to get away with it like that. The noble Lord says that it is only for an experimental period, but the 70 mph speed limit became permanent; it was never simply an experiment.
The point is that if the Wednesday debate, the general debate, is moved to a Thursday an awful lot of people who are not interested in hospitals in the South East, for instance, will not come on Thursday, and there will be a dead House. If there is Government business on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the Wednesday business is usually well attended. One of the privileges of this House is that people listen as well as speak. But if one is made a life Peer and is told, "You're a working Peer", how does one work? The answer is that it is by making speeches, and when one makes a speech one prolongs the debate for everyone else. That can be quite disagreeable. Therefore, I think that it would be bad to change the day from Wednesday to Thursday, because it would mean that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday would all be occupied with government business, and those who are not interested in Thursday would buzz off.
150 The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, says, "That's quite a good thing, because some of us live a long way from here and we didn't realise that we would have to stay here till Friday". All I can say about that is that he should find out the temperature in the kitchen before he enters it. If he does not like the prospect, he ought not to come here. To suggest that if one comes here one should then curtail the hours of debate for reasons of one's own convenience is a bad thing.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, my point was that some people might indeed find out what the heat in the kitchen was and decide not to come to this House, although they would have valuable experience representing the rest of this country—and not London—to bring to us. That is exactly the problem.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I fully realise that, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for re-emphasising such an elementary principle. However, the fact is that if people say, "If we had realised that we would have to stay up that long we would have denied Parliament the benefit of our views", that is a pretty selfish attitude. However, we shall not go down that path.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that if there is government business on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it is very difficult for the Ministers concerned. There may be only a single Minister involved. When I was at the Home Office we had six Bills to get through, and one Minister might be in charge of two of them running concurrently. Therefore, if one is involved with Bills on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it is hard for the Minister and the civil servants. I cannot see that it is necessary at all.
I would add in parenthesis that I was surprised that my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip apparently said that he agreed with the proposal. I have great respect for my noble friend and for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I really think that between them they may have had a momentary lapse, because normally their senses are very comprehensive and lapses do not often occur. If my noble friend agrees that it is right to move the debate day from a Wednesday to a Thursday, I regard that as a considerable lapse of senses. I am sure that after hearing the debate my noble friend will realise the folly of his ways and alter his speech so that he does not indicate that the Opposition Front Bench is in agreement.
I really believe that we would be making a mistake if we accepted this change. It would alter the character of the House, and many people who at present attend on Wednesdays would not bother to attend on Thursdays.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I have listened very carefully to the arguments, many of which were rehearsed in the debate two years ago. Not very much has changed. I do not wish to denigrate for a moment the value of the current Wednesday debates. Someone said that they are a valuable part of our procedures, and they are. They are listened to with attention by people outside the House. But I wonder whether there 151 are many who share my experience of waiting Wednesday after Wednesday at five o'clock, six o'clock or seven o'clock for an eight o'clock cut-off to a five-hour debate, and finding that the only people in the Chamber are those who have spoken, are waiting to speak, or are waiting for the wind-ups.
The idea that because Wednesday is the debate day the House is packed is a nonsense. I do not know why some noble Lords do not accept the fact that, although the Wednesday debates are very important, they are not the be-all and end-all of what the House is about. Of course major matters are debated and, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, pointed out, changes may have taken place as a result of those debates. As to the argument about Thursday and people going home, many Members of the House look upon Wednesday as a day when they can have a day off. They will arrive at 2.30 p.m., stay until perhaps 3.30 p.m., and then disappear because they have no reason to stay.
Perhaps I may now consider what the change would mean if we had a third legislative day on a Wednesday. It would mean three legislative days on the trot, but we would not be concerned with the same Bill. I would be astounded if the business managers allowed the same Bill to be dealt with on three successive days.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. When we were taking the Food Standards Bill through the House, the Committee stage was held in the Moses Room—which was not the best of places for it to be held—and we considered that same Bill for three days on the run. I can assure the noble Lord that doing the preparation, coping with the Bill and trying to table amendments was very hard work. It was a real problem. That happened less than two years ago. Not a lot of people came into the Moses Room to support the Bill. It was extremely difficult to do the Bill justice and ensure that the correct legislation was passed.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes my point. I am referring to the Floor of the House; not the Moses Room. I would be appalled if the business managers placed upon Members an obligation to be here to support their party's point of view on three successive days on the same Bill. The noble Baroness referred to the Moses Room. That is a practice which has grown up and which has been accepted by the House.
I reinforce the view that this is no big deal. People are elevating the issue to a matter of major principle. In my view, it is not. Over the past two or three years, changes have been introduced which, although not major matters, assumed an importance among Members opposite far beyond anything I ever dreamt of. Noble Lords will remember when the House debated the issue of changing the introduction procedure. That was seen as something awful; the procedure should not be altered. When the question was asked of how long the procedure had been in existence, we were told "1621". I do not mean twenty-one minutes past four. The existing procedure was agreed in 1621.
152 We then had the business of the Lord Chancellor's breeches. We were told that any change would shake the foundations of the nation. We had to brace ourselves, but we changed his breeches. Now the noble and learned Lord is able to dress otherwise.
I simply say to my colleagues that they are making a mountain of a molehill. I accept the point that the timing may not be of the best. The timescale is awkward, but there never will be a right time for those on the other side of the argument. This may not be the ideal time, but it is an opportunity for us to examine the issue.
When people argue that the proposal is for the convenience of the Government, I say to both parties opposite, "Oh ye of little faith". Do you not foresee the prospect that one day you, too, may form a government, and that any benefit which may accrue to the Government now may one day accrue to your good selves?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, that is something that we have very much in mind. We do not trust them any more than we trust the Government.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the noble Lord should remember his silences on that point when he was a government Minister. It is funny how things change when one crosses the Chamber.
I believe that there may be some advantage to some Members who are currently inconvenienced. I live in Loughton in Essex. I am a four-day man. I dislike coming here on a Friday, but I am prepared to work and to do what is needed to keep the House going for four days in the week. I love to get away as soon as I can, but if my party asks me to stay later on a Thursday, I will. It may be that the change would be to my advantage; I might get home to Loughton a little earlier.
My noble friend Lord Peston made a valuable point. What is wrong with Members of the House thinking of their own convenience? The nature of the House and its procedures are changing. This is one small step. The proposal may or may not be accepted, but I shall certainly oppose the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, if he presses his amendment.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I consider myself a quintessential Back-Bencher. I have never sat on the Front Bench; I never will. When I came into this House, I was proud to be brought into it. In my day, when our party was in power, I sat through until one o'clock in the morning many a time; it had to be done. I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, if he thinks that people will not come because it will be inconvenient. The people we need in the House—and the people who, thank goodness, are normally appointed—are those who have something to say and something to offer. They are prepared to accept the heat of the kitchen in order to say it. I do not believe that we will lose good people simply because the hours are demanding from time to time.
153 I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said about Select Committees. They are unique and produce remarkable reports. It would be a disaster if, as a result of this arrangement, we found ourselves having the debates on Select Committee reports on a Friday with no one to listen to them.
Like it or not, the most important thing is that we are all here because it is a privilege and an honour. It is something that is worth doing and worth suffering a bit for. That is all I have to say.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, as my name has been mentioned, it may be appropriate if I say a word or two from these Benches—or, rather, from this Front Bench, as I sense that not all my colleagues on the Benches behind me are in total agreement with what I shall have to say.
It may be convenient if the Government Chief Whip follows me and the House then comes to an agreement on this matter. It is a very important decision for this House—this is not a minor issue—and it is a decision for the House itself to take. For that reason, the Government Chief Whip, myself and others thought it right that the matter should go through the Procedure Committee and that the House should discuss it. I therefore do not think it is necessary for me to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for being in agreement with the Government Chief Whip on this occasion.
There are occasions when the Opposition Chief Whip, the Government Chief Whip and the Liberal Democrats' Chief Whip are in agreement—this is called "the usual channels"—and it is on that basis that the House operates. I understand that a great many Back-Benchers view with suspicion anything which seems to have the support of the two Front Benches. I can think of a number of Bills which, in the past, had the support of both Front Benches. They were universally wrong and bad. I shall not give examples at this stage.
As I said, I supported these propositions when they went before the Procedure Committee; I shall support them today. However, I should make it clear that on this side of the House—I trust the same is true on the Benches opposite and throughout the House—this is a matter for a free vote. It is a matter for the House itself to decide, not the Procedure Committee.
I would not want to recommend anything to my colleagues on the Benches behind me that would in any way diminish the standing of this House, nor would I recommend anything—and I speak as someone who has been in government and who is now in opposition—which would make it easier for the executive of the day to override this House and what the House wanted to do.
I suspect that in some areas the Government, regrettably, have some ambitions as regards procedure. They do not want a stronger House. We suspect that the Opposition want a weaker House—
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, even Homer nods! We suspect that the Government want a weaker House.
154 We shall resist any changes put forward by the Government that are designed to weaken the House. We shall resist, for example, any suggestion that there should be checks on our right to vote in Committee, and any restrictions beyond those that are presently in place on what we can do at Third Reading. We should certainly recoil from suggestions, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, that we should have deferred votes as happens in another place which separate decision-making from the debate itself. Certainly, with reference to an article in today's Guardian, we should resist any attempt by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to suggest that the House should sit from nine to five Monday to Friday. We should certainly resist any suggestion—I refer to an article in The Times on 18th January—that ageing Peers should be bought off! The article did not specify at what age they should be bought off, or how much they are likely to get. That will no doubt be a matter for discussion. I do not know whether it will go before the Procedure Committee in due course.
Equally, we should not resist any reasonable—I stress the word "reasonable"—cause for change that did not advantage the Government. That is why we have agreed to matters as varied as a change in the dress of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, or even the movements of the noble and learned Lord, who is now allowed to sit not only on the Woolsack but also on occasions on the Front Bench at the Report stage of various Bills.
We have not resisted the use of the Moses Room for legislation. During this Session, we have already agreed with the Government Chief Whip that it should be used for two important and major Bills: the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, and, I understand, the Common and Leasehold Reform Bill.
We believe that, on occasions, changes should be made and experiments should take place. I do not believe that this proposed experiment is part of any sinister plot by the Government to make life easier for them or to erode the powers of the House. I do not believe that such a change would assist the Government that much.
I understand that many colleagues believe that this change will disadvantage the House by detracting from the Wednesday debates—moving them to the Thursday, reducing attendance on those days, and reducing the attention that is given to them. I am not sure that that would be the effect. We have seen, for example, that moving Prime Minister's Question Time to Wednesdays—it used to take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays—takes away from the coverage that we receive for debates that take place in this House on Wednesdays. It may be that moving our debates to Thursdays would increase that coverage. However brief such an experiment might be—we might hear from the Government Chief Whip as to how long the experiment might last, because he may be able to assist us as to when the election might take place—it is certainly worth having.
155 I am grateful for the statement by the Government in the Procedure Committee that, as part of this experiment, they will give time for more general debates on major topics on Tuesdays, and possibly occasionally on Mondays or Wednesdays. That would be a matter for the House to decide. However, I should like a categorical assurance and undertaking from the Government that that will be the case. I should like an assurance also that, if this experiment is to take place, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays there will be no occasion, either in this Chamber or in the Moses Room, when the Government insist on the same Bill being taken on all three days.
A further point was taken up by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. He referred to an occasion when he was Home Office Minister and the Home Office introduced six Bills; and I understand that last year the Home Office had something like nine Bills. If, for example, the Home Office has that number of Bills every year, we do not want to see Home Office Bills scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It might be easy for the government spokesmen, with all the support behind them, but it is certainly not easy for those on the Back Benches and the Opposition Benches who take an interest in these matters. Therefore, I hope that we can have an assurance from the Government on both those matters.
I return to what I said at the beginning of my remarks. This is an important matter. It is one to which all Members of this House should give serious thought. It is not a minor change, but it is merely an experiment. I hope that all will recognise that it is a matter for the House. I hope that any pressure that has come from the Whips—certainly there has been none on this side of the House—will be resisted by all the independent Back-Benchers on all sides of the House.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he be kind enough to clarify one point? I understood him to say that the Wednesday debates would take place on the Thursday, but did he say that there might also be other debates on Mondays and Tuesdays? If so, what is the point of the change? A great deal of the time that would have been used for Committee stages would have gone.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the reason I have asked for a proper undertaking from the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip is that there will be a general change from Wednesdays to Thursdays, but on other occasions during the year the Government will allow debates, particularly on Select Committee reports—something that this House does very well—or on White Papers, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; that is, on days that are generally thought to be left for government business.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his 156 support. I assure your Lordships that, so far as our Benches are concerned, this is a free vote. It is a House matter.
Perhaps I may deal with a point made by a number of noble Lords which, frankly, completely baffles me. I refer to the suggestion that this will somehow change the timetable of legislation. There will be three days a week for legislation from Queen's Speech until June; then there will be four days a week. The three days will be Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, if the House accepts the change; and there will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as is the case now. So there is no change in the number of days that will be available for legislation. One day will change: the Wednesday debate will take place on Thursday, and we shall have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for legislation. The number of days in the Session available for legislation will remain exactly the same.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, because the days for government business will be consecutive, the noble Lord will be faced with the awful temptation, when he needs to get an item of business through in a particular week, to give it three days rather than two in Committee.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I said in the Procedure Committee that I should not seek to have three consecutive days on legislation. I would point out that not once during the course of this Parliament has that happened. I have been responsible for three over-spills, in 1998, 1999 and 2000, when the House dealt with legislation for four days a week. Not once in that period were there three days on the same Bill. I take the point of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, regarding the Food Standards Bill being taken in the Moses Room. It was a special case agreed with the Opposition. Frankly, it was a part of the Weatherill arrangement to get the Food Standards Bill through in the over-spill. It is as simple as that.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Surely one of the problems is that if the Government have a great weight of legislation to get through, obviously there is greater pressure to get more of the business through—if not in this Chamber, in the Moses Room. That never happened before. I raise the example because it was less than two years ago that that Bill went through.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, on occasions there have been three consecutive days of debate on Bills in the Moses Room; but the procedure is different, the day is shorter and the weight is less. I give an absolute undertaking that there will be no attempt to arrange three consecutive days on a particular piece of legislation in the Chamber. The number of Bills means that there is no need to have three consecutive days on the same Bill. I certainly take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, about the load on Ministers.
I am always frank with the House. This move is of no particular benefit to the government of the day, Labour or Conservative. It is not to their advantage. It 157 would actually make the management of business slightly harder. I am prepared to live with that if it is for the convenience of the House and the Back-Benchers.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that all governments are amoral. I suppose that, as a member of the Cecil family, he is better qualified to make that observation than the rest of us!
I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, is just wrong in regard to what may happen when the House is prorogued. As I understand it, the Prime Minister goes to the Palace and asks the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament, an announcement is made, and there are a few days left—just a week or so, which I believe is called a "wash up" period—in which there is a tidying up of the legislation when we might lose one such day. If, hypothetically, an election takes place perhaps on 3rd May—and I have no more knowledge than anybody else about whether that will happen—this experiment would last for eight or nine Wednesdays. That is a reasonable number of days in which to experiment until the end of this Session. The matter will have to come back to the House to be renewed. If it does not work, the House will quickly make its views known. Only one day would be lost in the event of an election being called. In fact, as Chief Whip, I am planning a full Session lasting until October.
With regard to the point about three consecutive days being spent on a Bill, I was on the Front Bench for over 10 years in opposition and have now been in government for over four years. While I was the spokesman on agriculture and on health and social security, I cannot remember a single occasion on which I was ever required to spend three days together on the same Bill.
An important point was made by my noble friend Lord Grenfell. I am pleased to repeat the undertaking that I gave in the Procedure Committee that I would occasionally attempt to find a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday for general debate. We always used to do that. It was not possible in the last Session. I can tell the House that we are already looking for such a day in February.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, made an extraordinary point about deferred Divisions in the House of Commons. That has nothing to do with this debate. I think that the chance of that being agreed to by this House is very slim. However, I have some good news for the noble Lord. He referred to the business of proxies. I can tell him that the ancient habit of proxies it was decided should not be revived in the House of Lords on 13th March 1868—yet another experiment. Of course, in the timescale of some of your Lordships, it is perhaps a little too early to say!
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, the noble Lord had no idea that I was going to make the point about proxies.
158 I wonder whether it is significant that the noble Lord has been looking up the history of proxies and the possibility of using them.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am not sure whether it came in the form of a table. I was handed the Standing Orders, of which I was not aware, relating to the revival of proxies.
I know that your Lordships feel strongly about the proposal. It is quite a small and simple change. It is not the apocalyptic change that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, suggested. I believe that we should try the experiment for perhaps eight or nine Wednesdays to see how it goes. If noble Lords feel that the debates are important, they will be here on Thursdays just as they are on Wednesdays. If noble Lords are concerned about an empty House, I suggest that they come in at about 7 o'clock on a Wednesday evening when there is not a very attractive subject for debate and see how many Peers are here to listen. It is the quality of the subject that attracts your Lordships to speak in debates, and I am sure that that will happen on Thursdays.
The measure is intended for the convenience of the House. The House will tell us whether this is what it wants. I support it. The only way to find out for sure is to put it to the vote. I suggest that we do so, without further ado.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord's speech. He has not said what are the advantages of the change or the purpose of it. Will he explain that?
§ Lord Carter
The advantage to my colleagues on these Benches is that it would be more convenient for Back-Benchers—not for the Government—to have the three days, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, for legislation. If noble Lords are not interested in debates on Wednesdays, they do not attend, but they have to be available until Thursday in case legislation is to be dealt with on that day. There are Members of this House who live some way from London. I believe that they would find it more convenient to have that change.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, this raises a question which has already been put twice from the Government Back Benches. What is wrong with Back-Benchers and Members of the House of Lords looking after their own interests? My Lords, everything is wrong. What we should be looking at are the interests of this House and the prestige and position of this House as a revising Chamber. There is already a great deal of ignorance about the way in which this House works, assisted by some rubbish recently in the press about the performance of Cross-Benchers. Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to make the point that there is everything wrong about doing something in this House for the convenience of its Members and 159 everything wrong about anything that militates against the proper function of this House as a revising Chamber.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I fail to understand that. If this change is accepted, noble Lords will be engaged here for three days a week on legislation, for one day a week if they are interested in the subjects of the debates, and on Fridays if the House is sitting, which is unlikely to happen for some time yet. There will be no change to the present position, but it would be convenient for Members living in the North. They will still be doing the same amount of work. They will still be here on Thursdays if they wish to speak in debates. I believe that it is a more convenient arrangement of the week. It is as simple as that.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, we have had an excellent debate and views have been very fairly expressed on both sides of this important argument. I now find myself almost grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Henley, for giving us this opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, as always, gave a very reasonable explanation of why the matter is before the House. In summary, it seems to me that the case is a very simple one. We can adopt a course which would, I accept, result in greater convenience for many Members of the House. Alternatively, we can prevent any possibility of the influence of this Chamber and of Parliament itself being eroded through having a less active and well attended Chamber than has been the case. My Lords, I take the view that my amendment will enable the House to maintain its influence within our parliamentary system and its influence upon government. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill)
My Lords, the original Question was that the First Report from the Procedure Committee be agreed to, since when an amendment has been moved at the end to insert the words "except for item 1". The Question is that this amendment be agreed to.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment to the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 130; Not-Contents, 128.161
|Division No. 1|
|Ackner, L.||Biffen, L.|
|Addington, L.||Boardman, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Bowness, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Bradshaw, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Bramall, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Baker of Dorking, L.||Brightman, L.|
|Barker, B.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Molyneaux of Killead, L.|
|Chadlington, L.||Monson, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||Montrose, D.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Moore of Wolvercote, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Noakes, B.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Coe, L.||Northover, B.|
|Courtown, E.||Norton of Louth, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Cranborne, V.||Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.|
|Cuckney, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Patten, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Elles, B.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Elton, L.||Plumb, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Prior, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Reay, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Flowers, L.||Rees, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Renton, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Roper, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Russell, E.|
|Hamwee, B.||Sandberg, L.|
|Harris of Richmond, B.||Scott of Needham Market, B.|
|Haslam, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Hogg, B.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Strange, B.|
|Howe of Aberavon, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Howell of Guildford, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Tebbit, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller]|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Tope, L.|
|Jopling, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lang of Monkton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Waddington, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Walmsley, B.|
|Lucas, L.||Walton of Detchant, L.|
|Luke, L.||Watson of Richmond, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Maddock, B.||Winston, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Young, B.|
|Acton, L.||Carter, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Clarke of Hampstead, L.|
|Alli, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Amos, B.||Cope of Berkeley, L.|
|Andrews, B.||Crawley, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||David, B.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Davies of Coity, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Davies of Oldham, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Dixon, L.|
|Bernstein of Craigweil, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Dubs, L. [Teller]|
|Blease, L.||Evans of Parkside, L.|
|Bragg, L.||Evans of Temple Guiting, L.|
|Brett, L.||Evans of Watford, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Falconer of Thoroton, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Burns, L.||Faulkner of Worcester, L.|
|Filkin, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Flather, B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Fyfe of Fairfield, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Gale, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Gibson of Market Rasen, B.||Orme, L.|
|Gilbert, L.||Parekh, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Paul, L.|
|Goldsmith, L.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Peston, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Grabiner, L.||Puttnam, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller]||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Rea, L.|
|Greengross, B.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Hanham, B.||Richard, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Rix, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Henley, L.||Roll of Ipsden, L.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Sawyer, L.|
|Howells of St. Davids, B.||Serota, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Shore of Stepney, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Shutt of Greetland, L.|
|Hunt of Wirral, L.||Simon, V.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)||Smith of Leigh, L.|
|Janner of Braunstone, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)||Stone of Blackheath, L.|
|Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|King of West Bromwich, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Lipsey, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Lockwood, B.||Thornton, B.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Tomlinson, L.|
|Longford, E.||Turnberg, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Uddin, B.|
|MacKenzie of Culkein, L.||Wakefield, Bp.|
|Mallalieu, B.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Warwick of Undercliffe, B.|
|Marsh, L.||Waverley, V.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Whitaker, B.|
|Massey of Darwen, B.||Wilcox, B.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Mitchell, L.||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and the amendment to the Motion agreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Motion as amended, agreed to.