HL Deb 24 July 2002 vol 638 cc479-508

9.22 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 11: Page 6, line 18; leave out "to consider a bill should sit on any one day" and insert "should be appointed at any one time, and no Grand Committee should be appointed until any previous Grand Committee has reported.

The noble Lord said: I rise to move this amendment, which stands also in the names of my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun.

During an earlier discussion this afternoon I mentioned the inevitable call upon resources. I was then referring particularly to financial resources. However, as more than one noble Lord said at that time, it is not just financial resources that we have to consider. If we have more than one Grand Committee sitting on a particular day, it seems to me that we shall overload the resources of your Lordships' House in quite an unacceptable way.

First, we shall need Clerks, Doorkeepers, and security officials. But, no less importantly—perhaps even more so—there will be inconvenience for noble Lords who might take an interest in more than one Grand Committee when both are sitting on the same day; and, indeed, the House may also be sitting.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I know that the noble Lord will accept that I intervene here merely to be helpful. The point he has just raised is dealt with in paragraph 16 on page 6 of the report, where it says: We recommend however that only one Grand Committee to consider a bill should sit on any one day". I hope that that helps to clarify the situation.

Lord Trefgarne

I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord. My amendment as set out seeks to ensure that one Grand Committee should complete its work before the next one commences. That is the purpose of the amendment that I have tabled. I apologise if I did not explain that as clearly as I should have done in my remarks.

It is important that one Grand Committee should finish its business before another starts up for the reasons I have already explained. It is more a question of deploying Clerks and officials behind the scenes. Indeed, noble Lords often become involved in work behind the scenes as well as on the Floor of the House or in the Grand Committee itself. It is for that reason that I have tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Nicol)

If Amendment No. 11 is agreed to, I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 12.

Lord Elton

Amendment No. 12 tabled in my name is grouped with this amendment. I should make it clear that I support entirely my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in his amendment, which would have the effect of limiting the volume of legislation with which this House can deal. Furthermore, it would limit the number of occasions on which noble Lords would be required to become involved in several Bills during the same week.

My amendment would serve as an alternative to that tabled by my noble friend should his fail, although I support his amendment in preference to my own.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The amendments, if carried, would produce a more restrictive and draconian circumstance than we have at the moment. If we so wish, we can commit a number of Bills to Grand Committee. However, I should remind noble Lords of what I read out in order to assist in this matter. I refer to paragraph 16, in which the recommendation is quite specific, stating that not more than one Grand Committee should sit on any particular day.

We have had perfectly acceptable arrangements recently when a Grand Committee sat on the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill and at the same general time, although not on the same days, the Adoption and Children Bill was taken in Grand Committee.

There is no problem here. Recommendation 16 makes it perfectly plain. The amendments would impose a limitation on what can be done already.

Lord Elton

While what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has said is perfectly true, at present we could hold four Grand Committees, one on Monday, one on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and another on Thursday. We should not be able to do that. That is why I have tabled my amendment.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I am not at all sure whether Grand Committees are in any case a good idea. Generally they lead to a much more lengthy Report stage. I have been serving on the Grand Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill, but I think that a great many amendments will be tabled on Report for the simple reason that, in Grand Committee, it is not possible to call a Division.

The same point applied to certain Bills in the last Parliament. Legislation taken in Grand Committee off the Floor of the House then generated very much longer Report stages. Given that, I question the value of Grand Committees. It would be preferable to return to taking all business on the Floor of the House.

Lord Trefgarne

I have a certain sympathy with the position taken by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, but it is not the point that I wish to argue. My argument turns on the fact that the House needs to deploy considerable resources in support of Grand Committees. It would be better if we held only one Grand Committee at a time for the reasons underlined and supported by my noble friend Lord Elton, whose amendment we are also discussing and to which my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has also put his name. It is a question of the resources of the House and not only of individual Peers on particular days.

It would be better if we did not create a situation where, as my noble friend Lord Elton suggested, we might have one Grand Committee on a Tuesday, another on a Wednesday, a third one on a Thursday, and perhaps even a fourth one on the Monday. As has been pointed out, that has happened rarely, if ever, in the past and it seems wrong that we should make provision for it. I have therefore brought forward Amendment No. 11. However, I do not wish to delay the Committee unreasonably. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 12: Page 6, line 18, leave out "on any one day" and insert "in any one week

The noble Lord said: I should be obliged if the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House would express an opinion as to the likelihood of having more than two Grand Committees in one week.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Extremely unlikely.

Lord Elton

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that answer. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is not in his place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 13: Page 6, line 19, at end insert "No Grand Committee should sit unless the House is also sitting.

The noble Lord said: The amendment covers a slightly different point. It is as much a probing amendment as a practical one. I am not clear what the position is if a Grand Committee sits when the House is not also sitting, particularly in regard to the provision of doorkeepers and other staff. I am also not clear about the more constitutional provisions. For example, do Prayers have to be read if the Grand Committee is sitting on its own? Is it necessary for a right reverend Prelate to be in attendance to say Prayers? Is it necessary for the Mace to be with the Grand Committee if the House is not sitting? Is it open to noble Lords to attend the Grand Committee—even if they are not members of it—when the House is not sitting and to collect their expenses?

Precious few answers were given to these considerations during the deliberations of the Procedure Committee. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will be a little more forthcoming today. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Amendment No. 23 has been grouped with this amendment. I do not entirely understand why because it does not cover quite the same point that I wish to address.

So far as concerns the amendment of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, I am afraid that the horse has already bolted. Paragraph 9.28 of the Companion states: A committee can sit at any time during a recess, but no committee may sit during prorogation or dissolution". I am sure that that is what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House was about to say.

My Amendment No. 23 seeks to replace paragraph 28 of the report. For the reasons given in paragraph 29, this matter needs a little further thought. I do not object in principle to a Grand Committee sitting in September—or at any other time when the House is not sitting—but, as noble Lords who have been in the building during the Summer Recess will know, in September the place looks like a builder's yard. There are carpets up all over the place, wires hanging out of ceilings and pipes dripping or certainly not connected. It looks like a building site.

The effect of sitting in September would either restrict the Grand Committee to a tiny part of the building which is otherwise not being built over, or it would be totally impracticable because of the length of time that builders need when working on the Parliamentary Estate. So my suggestion is that the Clerk of the Parliaments should consider not only the points that the Procedure Committee has already suggested—he should consider paragraph 29 before paragraph 28 becomes operable—but also the other point about the House being a builder's yard.

There is yet another reason. It will be just a little more difficult to find noble Lords to chair such Grand Committees during a period when the House is not otherwise sitting. I see the Chairman of Committees nodding at me. We have had private discussions on this matter and on the problems of finding a suitable number of Deputy Chairmen and Deputy Speakers at moments during periods when the House is currently sitting, especially when a Grand Committee is sitting at the same time. That, too, is a valid point.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, which have reinforced the proposal in Amendment No. 21 in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, which we shall debate shortly.

My question to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is this. If a Grand Committee sits when the main House is not sitting, will it have all the rights and privileges of a Grand Committee that takes place when the House is sitting; or are there rules and regulations that would make it difficult for that Grand Committee to operate in the most effective manner, and in the manner in which it could have operated had the House been sitting?

Lord Elton

A further point needs to be addressed. What distinguishes a Grand Committee from Select Committees is that it is a Committee of the Whole House meeting outside the Chamber. Therefore, it draws on the expertise of the whole House. But if the House knows that it is not sitting in September, most Members will have made arrangements to be elsewhere at that time. If it is then announced towards the end of July that a Grand Committee will be meeting in September, the resources of the rest of the House in terms of personnel will not be available to the committee. So it will be a bit of a lame duck. For a Grand Committee to sit in what is normally a holiday period when the House as a whole is not sitting and normally does not sit is a thoroughly bad idea.

Lord Mancroft

The point I want to make is not necessarily restricted to this amendment but relates generally to the concept of Grand Committees. The report suggests that we also set up two other Select Committees.

The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House remarked earlier on the lack of volunteers to sit on committees. We have talked about resources and we shall refer to the subject again later. One of the resources which in my view will be stretched—and particularly by the use of Grand Committees—is the number of Peers who will be able to sit on the committees: Grand Committees, pre-legislative scrutiny committees, two more Select Committees and Committees on the Floor of the House, some sitting at the same time. Undoubtedly we are stretched today in terms of manning our committees and, as we have heard, to chair our committees. We shall be further stretched by putting in two additional committees.

There is a further factor. Historically—there is no reason why it should not change—this House has sat as a House, in this Chamber, to do most of its work. That is quite unusual in legislatures. The United States Senate, for example, spends more time on committee work than on the floor of the chamber. That is not to say that either of those is better or worse than the other. But there is no doubt that, if we are to have more Grand Committees, more Select Committees and more pre-legislative scrutiny committees, there will be less emphasis on the work that is done in this Chamber.

Therefore, the mood, the tone and the way in which this House operates will change. That is not a reason not to do it; perhaps it is a very good direction in which we should go in future. However, there is no doubt that this report does not consider that, and there is no doubt that your Lordships should consider it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Some of the troubles that your Lordships have expressed are specifically dealt with in the last sentence of paragraph 28 of the Procedure Committee report, which I shall not read as your Lordships will have it before you.

The answer to the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is yes. The answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is that the Director of Parliamentary Works and Services is well aware that both Houses are at least considering altering the parliamentary timetable. He knows about the possibility of proceedings in September and will, of course, make the necessary arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked a number of questions. Staff will be here as necessary. Do we need Prayers? No. Do we need the Mace? No. He says, "Members of the Grand Committee". By definition, as he himself said a moment or two ago, every Member of this House is entitled to attend as a Member of the Grand Committee, and accordingly can claim expenses.

Lord Trefgarne

Can the noble and learned Lord say whether the Sittings of the Grand Committee, if it sits when the House is not sitting, count in the 40 days' praying time allowed in respect of statutory instruments?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

That is the point set out in paragraph 29 of the report.

Lord Elton

The noble and learned Lord referred to the last sentence of paragraph 28, which says: it is essential that the Government business managers give reasonable notice when Grand Committees will be meeting in September". I rise merely to say that I made an inquiry the other day about the possibility of renting a smallish house in Cornwall this summer. Nine months ahead, all of the smallish houses—and there were a large number of them—at the disposal of the agency to which I spoke had already been hooked. "Reasonable notice" when one is arranging family holidays can be 13 months.

Lord Crickhowell

I have one question which arises from the comments of the Leader of the House. He referred to the need for the managers of the maintenance work and so on to be told in advance and given adequate notice. In the Procedure Committee, we were told—as he will recall; I referred to this earlier—that if the House were to sit in September, at least six months' notice would have to be given so that the contractual arrangements for maintenance could be altered. Will that apply also to the Sittings of Grand Committees? Will it be necessary to give six months' notice so that the contractual arrangements for maintenance can be altered?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

It is not possible to give a categoric answer to that question because it would depend on the particular room being used by the particular Grand Committee. However, I remind your Lordships that what was said in the Procedure Committee was that the intention is to proceed with law reform Bills, for which type of legislation there is not an overwhelming appetite. I would not expect any Grand Committee room to be filled to overflowing.

Lord Carter

It may help the Committee to know that, in all the building and maintenance arrangements, there is a proviso, I believe, that the contractors must be prepared to clear the House within two days to allow the recall of Parliament.

Lord Trefgarne

I am obliged to all noble Lords for those contributions. I do not think that I need to pursue this matter, although I might have been tempted to do so in other circumstances. I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord for his replies. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 14: Page 6, line 46, at end insert- except those bills originating in the House of Commons in which one or more clauses have not been considered in committee in that House. Preventing divisions on amendments to such clauses in committee removes a necessary means of establishing and refining the views of this House on matters of substance, and leads to extended debate on Report stage. The debate on Report is conducted under rules of procedure unsuited to the search for an accommodation of conflicting views which should precede the resort to a division. In practice the result is numerous and sometimes tortuous exchanges 'before the minister sits down'. If the result is misunderstanding, divisions may be called unnecessarily; if in doubt, they may be further deterred for consultation, adding to the number of divisions on third reading. Accordingly, we recommend that when a bill that has been sent to this House by the House of Commons has been considered by a Grand Committee, any clauses that have not been discussed in a committee of the Commons should be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House of this House."

The noble Lord said: I hope that we can attend briefly to this matter, particularly because of the frequency with which clauses that have not been discussed at all in the House of Commons are put before your Lordships. My intention is clearly set out in the preamble of the amendment itself. Following the Leader of the House, I shall assume that your Lordships have it before you and have read it.

That is the reason for seeking to recommit clauses in a Bill which has been through the Grand Committee to a Committee of the Whole House when that Committee reports. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

This amendment seeks to amend paragraph 20 of the report. I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for having taken on board at least part of the point that I made in the debate in May. However, I am not sure that the paragraph does full justice to the point that I sought to make.

I referred to the practice of dividing the Finance Bill in the House of Commons as that was where the process in another place started. Others who took part in the debate in May recollected with great clarity the long arguments that were held before the sensible arrangement was reached that a Bill could be committed—mostly in the other place to a Standing Committee—because opposition parties could be invited to suggest particular clauses that might be debated on the Floor of the House.

The point that I made in May was that that was not now in another place confined to Finance Bills. Without wanting to repeat what I said then, I remind the Committee that other Bills have been split with the Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House and then the remaining clauses to a Standing Committee. The examples I gave were: the Criminal Justice Bill, 1989–90; the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, 1989–90; the Sunday Trading Bill, 1993–94; the Family Law Bill, 1995–96 and the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 1996–97.

The procedure of splitting a Bill in another place is by no means confined to Finance Bills. Indeed, there may well be Bills with one or two controversial clauses which could be voted upon if those clauses were taken on the Floor of the House in a Committee of the Whole House. That would get round the endless business at prolonged Report stages of going back over the same ground that has been covered in a Grand Committee with the inevitable remark, "Before the Minister sits down, will he deal with the following"? We are all familiar with such remarks which are great time wasters. I put that proposal before the House in May as a serious suggestion that might ease the process of sending more Bills to Grand Committee.

As I understand the report, there is no procedural reason why a Motion to commit a Bill should not do, as Lord Jenkin has proposed". If that could be confirmed, it would be helpful. We may be able to identify a suitable Bill in the next Session of Parliament. I might move an amendment to the committal Motion. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to give us words of comfort on the matter.

Lord Higgins

I support Amendment No. 14 moved by my noble friend Lord Elton. I support the views expressed by my noble friend who has just spoken.

I did not intend to speak in this debate. I am perhaps a little prejudiced in some ways after 33 years in another place and having chaired the Procedure Committee there on a number of occasions and been chairman for well over a decade of the Liaison Committee which co-ordinates the Select Committees. However, I am somewhat puzzled—perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House can help me—by the way in which we are proceeding. For example, I am not clear why it is that we have before us only the extracts from the minutes of the proceedings of the committee rather than the whole proceedings. I am not clear why, as I would normally expect, the evidence was not printed with the report or at least made available to the House. There clearly was some evidence, as one of the amendments refers to the memorandum by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth.

I am also not clear what some of the amendments made are. I leave on one side the fact that in one Division it was said that there were Contents 2, Not-Contents 21, when the list of Not-Contents was 22; whether it was 21 or 22 I do not know. At all events, it is not clear at the end of the annex where it says that, Paragraph 6 was further amended and agreed to", what the amendments were—we have no idea.

That brings me to my main point: it is resolved that the report as amended be the report of the committee. What we are doing today is amending the report of that committee, but the committee has already agreed what the report is. I would have expected today that a Motion would have been tabled to agree with the report or to disagree with some parts of it and that amendments would be moved to agree or disagree with it. Surely it is common sense that we cannot amend the report of the committee which, in the clearest possible terms, has been decided on as the committee's report? We are not the committee; we are the whole House. I hope that the Minister can help me on that issue.

Having said that, I support strongly the amendment in the light of the experience a few days ago on the Tax Credits Bill. It arrived from another place in an appalling state. It had been programmed all the way through, and understandably in those circumstances, as the Opposition know that they cannot deal with all the detail in the time allocated, they make general points.

Particularly worryingly, the Bill arrived in this House in such a state that a huge number of amendments had to be tabled by the Government the night before we were due to go into Grand Committee. We had to delay the Grand Committee because they were tabled so late. It was clear not only that the other place had not looked at the Bill in detail, but also that the Minister herself did not understand it, and, as became apparent in the proceedings in this House, did not understand that it was completely unworkable in the way it came to this House from another place.

We then sat in Grand Committee. For the reasons set out in my noble friend's amendment, the procedures in Grand Committee are highly unsatisfactory. The Opposition cannot move amendments and vote on them, but if a government amendment is moved, unless one objects to it, it goes into the Bill. The effect is that unless one objects all the way through to a series of amendments—which effectively aborts the whole procedure in Grand Committee—then, if one wants to return to those points on Report, one has to table an amendment to reverse what went through on the nod in Grand Committee. That is a totally unsatisfactory situation.

If some clauses in a Bill are controversial, then, for the reasons set out by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, we should divide the Bill so that the controversial clauses are taken on the Floor of the House. They should not be taken in Grand Committee upstairs, where the situation is completely wrong. In responding to the debate, I hope that the Leader of the House will accept these overwhelming arguments and agree to my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My name is attached to Amendment No. 14 in support of my noble friend Lord Elton. Unlike my noble friend Lord Higgins, who has made a qualitative speech, mine will be essentially quantitative. It was as a consequence of a speech of mine on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill that my noble friend Lord Elton took an interest in the subject. I have established a self-denying ordinance that I would allude only once during the Committee stage of any Bill to the fact that we were dealing with clauses that had not been debated in the House of Commons.

The issue arose originally on the Education Bill, when it was a matter of some importance. A number of inter-related clauses had gone undebated, so we had no report of the Government's view of the connections between them. Before we broke this evening to consider Commons amendments to the Education Bill, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal said that he had marked up the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill with the initials "ND" against clauses. I inferred that stood for "not debated". There were certainly a number of such clauses in that Bill as well.

I have not done an exhaustive trawl of all the Bills that we have considered lately because it is self-evident under the programme Motions that the Government have in the Commons that great chunks of Bills will arrive in front of us undebated.

The case that I used as my bisque on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill was that at the end of the proceedings, when the Commons had run out of time under the programme Motion, there were 27 clauses still waiting to be debated. None of those clauses was debated in the Commons before the Bill came to us. Of those, eight had government amendments tabled to them, so there was clearly something to say about them. There were another 10 to which no amendments had been tabled, so one might make a reasonable assumption that they were not controversial. However, there were a further nine government new clauses that had been prepared in Committee in the Commons—which lasted for only 10 sittings—one of which was amended on Report, but not debated at that stage. We found ourselves discussing an important clause in Committee—I acknowledge that we were in Committee and not in Grand Committee, but the principle still applies—that had gone wholly undebated in the Commons and took a long time in this House. Had we been in Grand Committee, we would not have been discussing it in the way we did on the Floor of the House. There has been an alliance between the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and me to get the issue addressed. If such clauses are taken in Grand Committee, only when they arrive on Report will there be an opportunity in this House to vote on them.

As the preamble or prolegomenon to our recommendation states, that is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with a controversial issue.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I apologise to the Committee for not being in my place when the amendment was moved, for not readily excusable reasons. I support it because it is relevant to the Motion that I have to move tomorrow after Question Time.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is yes, I confirm the observation to which he referred in paragraph 20. The answers to the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, are: the complete minutes are available in the Library; neither the working group nor the Procedure Committee took formal evidence of the sort that is normally printed with reports; the procedure that we have adopted today—I do not know whether the noble Lord was in his place at the time—is the result of a helpful suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which I was happy to adopt and commend to the House, which agreed it without Division.

Lord Higgins

It may have been thought helpful to proceed in this way. It is too late to change it now. However, surely it is not a sensible way of proceeding. It is blatantly clear that we cannot amend the report of the committee. We ought to have a Motion to approve it and we could then agree or disagree with that approval. We cannot have a report of a committee and then try to change it as a report of the committee. It is not a report of the committee in those circumstances.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I understand what the noble Lord says, but we had this discussion at about ten past three and approximately seven hours have now passed.

Lord Higgins

Can the noble and learned Lord explain why we should presumably treat this as a precedent so far as concerns future occasions?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

It is quite usual to do so and I believe that everyone understands what will happen. The proposals that are accepted will be put into effect. If any are defeated, they will not be put into effect.

Our duty here is to carry out our own work of scrutiny irrespective of what the Commons have done. Indeed, parts of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill had not been discussed in the Commons. We discussed them extremely fully, and everyone who participated in the proceedings on that Bill believed that we had done extremely well in that regard.

It is not our job to pass judgment on the quality of scrutiny in the Commons. We do not consider procedurally, but I accept that we consider politically whether scrutiny has occurred in the Commons. If, for example, excellent scrutiny had taken place in the Commons, would we then limit our scrutiny here? I think not.

There are many opportunities to consider a Bill. I quite understand that some of your Lordships do not like the idea of Grand Committees, but that is a different issue. What is said here is that, for whatever reason in whatever circumstance, if a clause has not been previously considered in a Commons Committee, it should automatically be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. I do not myself consider that to be a wise way in which to proceed.

Lord Elton

As I understand it, the noble and learned Lord's principal argument is that we take no cognisance of what happens in another place. Until Monday, I should have been content to accept that argument. On Monday, however, the other place told us what was going on there. Its reason was that, having reached its decision without the opportunity for debate, it would not be appropriate to accept our amendments. Therefore, the other place revealed that, and it was reflected by the Attorney-General at col. 57 of the Official Report for 22nd July.

The next reference is at col. 64. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, said: A programme Motion was agreed with the Opposition in another place before the debate took place".—[Official Report, 22/7/02; col. 64.] Therefore, we were party to that information. We were told that the programme Motion allowed three hours, and were therefore party to that information. We were told that that time was taken up with matters which Members of another place wished to debate.

Later, at col. 65, the noble and learned Lord went on to add that, the Commons did not debate the matter; the time was used for other purposes". At col. 66, he said: I understand that the Government did not have a majority on the Reasons Committee", drawing us further and further into what is going on in another place.

Penultimately, at col. 66, he said: In the absence of a debate…the Reasons Committee has to find what it believes the will of the House to be".—[Official Report, 22/7/02; col. 66.] Therefore, at the word of a member of Her Majesty's Government, we are led further into the knowledge of what is proceeding in another place. Finally, in relation to a view on Part 5, the Attorney-General pointed out that the matter had been debated fully on other occasions in another place. In other words, this House, at the invitation of the Attorney-General, took into full account all the procedures in another place.

Therefore, I do not accept the argument that we cannot take cognisance of what happens in another place. I believe that Parliament should examine legislation fully. If that cannot be done fully in another place, it is more important that it is done here.

I regret to do this to the Leader of the House, who has not had the advantage that we have had of a break during the Northern Ireland Statement, but I shall test the opinion of the Committee.

10.4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 98.

Division No. 5
Astor, V. Burnham, L.
Blaker, L. Byford, B.
Blatch, B. Caithness, E.
Boardman, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. [Teller] Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chalfont, L. Lindsay, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Liverpool, E.
Colwyn, L. Lucas, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Lyell, L.
Craigavon, V. MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Crathorne, L.
Crickhowell, L. Mancroft, L.
Cumberlege, B. Marlesford, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Denham, L. Northbrook, L.
Elton, L. [Teller] Northesk, E.
Fookes, B. Norton of Louth, L.
Fowler, L. O'Cathain, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Geddes, L. Pym, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Harris of Richmond, B. St John of Fawsley, L.
Higgins, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L. Selborne, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Selsdon, L.
Jopling, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
King of Bridgwater, L. Stewartby, L.
Kingsland, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Trefgarne, L.
Acton, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Addington, L. [Teller] Harrison, L.
Ahmed, L. Hayman, B.
Amos, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Andrews, B. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Bach, L. Hoyle, L.
Barker, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Barnett, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Jones, L.
Borrie, L. Judd, L.
Brett, L. Kirkhill, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Brookman, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Burlison, L. Lipsey, L.
Campbell-Savours, L. Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Carter, L. Lockwood, B.
Chandos, V. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Morris of Aberavon, L.
Crawley, B. Nicol, B.
David, B. O'Neill of Bengarve, B.
Davies of Coity, L. Orme, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Pendry, L.
Dixon, L. Peston, L.
Dubs, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Evans of Parkside, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Evans of Watford, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Rooker, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Roper, L.
Filkin, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Sawyer, L.
Golding, B. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Goldsmith, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Goodhart, L. Simon, V.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller]
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Greaves, L. Tomlinson, L.
Grocott, L. Tordoff, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Turnberg, L.
Whitaker, B. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Williams of Crosby, B. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

10.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 15: Page 6, line 49, leave out from "Fridays)." to end of line 3 on page 7 and insert- The Procedure Committee endorses Group recommendation (h) and proposes the following new Standing Order: "Restriction on length of sittings" 39A (1) On any day when the House sits for public business before midday, the Clerk at the Table may not call any Notice or Order of the Day after 7.30 pm nor may the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair put the question on any amendment not already debated; likewise on any day when the House sits for public business after midday, the Clerk at the Table may not call any Notice or Order of the Day after 10 pm nor may the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair put the question on any amendment not already debated. (2) When the House is in Committee, the question may likewise not he put on any Clause or Schedule not previously debated.

The noble Earl said: As the Committee will remember, I degrouped Amendment No. 15. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in his place because on Amendment No. 5 he said, "Well, really what we want to know is whether we can go home early". The amendment ensures that we go home at the proposed time.

When we discussed this matter in the Procedure Committee, we were told that this was all part of a package. The benefit to the House would be that it would rise at about ten o'clock and that the Government would get their way with more pre-legislative scrutiny. I thought I had heard those words before. Indeed I had. In 1994 we had the same argument with the Rippon committee. It suggested that we should make use of Grand Committees because that would allow the House to rise earlier. It has not risen earlier. The executive got exactly what it wanted, which was Grand Committees and the House got nothing in return.

I looked for a way of trying to establish that the House would get some benefit. So I went back to the original wording in the working group's proposals. Therefore, there is nothing radical in what I suggest. Indeed, it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who in the Procedure Committee suggested an alteration to the wording that he had agreed in his working group and diluted the strength of the commitment to rise at ten o'clock.

In essence the noble and learned Lord has transferred the power to decide when the House should rise from the House itself to the usual channels. If we have a Standing Order that says that the House must rise at ten o'clock it is up to the House to determine whether that is changed. It is, in the words of the Procedure Committee, "entirely a matter for the usual channels" on which the House has no say. I appreciate there is greater flexibility, but we must remember that the "usual channels" were not designed to help Back-Benchers; they were designed to get government business through. Therefore, the House will lose out again. I fear that the Government will get what they want out of the report and the House will be the loser. I beg to move.

Lord Roper

I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment. As the noble Earl said, this is the original proposal which came forward from the Leader's Group on working practices. However, when we came to consider it in the Procedure Committee, points which were made earlier about the need for flexibility were made, and the severe constraints which would be imposed if we had an absolute ten o'clock limit—the kind of points made so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and by other noble Lords taking part in the debate at an earlier stage.

Therefore, on balance, the Procedure Committee found that what we had recommended, which is that the Companion should recommend that normally we would adjourn at ten o'clock, should come forward for the Committee's consideration today.

I hope that the noble Earl will think about this matter before pressing it to a vote. My view is that we ought at least to give the voluntary principle and—those disreputable people—"the usual channels" a chance. If in the course of the next year we are unable to deliver on the ten o'clock finish as the norm, which we have suggested to the Committee today, I believe it would be right for us to go back. We should have a kind of sunrise clause, accepted by agreement if not formally on the face of the Bill: that if we have not solved the issue voluntarily after a year we should consider the need for a Standing Order to do so. On that basis, I hope that it will be possible for the amendment not to be pressed today.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the driving force which has motivated me throughout has been the position of the Back-Benchers in your Lordships' House. I am truly nervous that the proposals contained in the Procedure Committee report, including those to which the amendment relates, further erode the rights of Back-Benchers at the expense of the Front Benches and in particular of the Government. It is the duty of this House to hold Ministers to account and to make them explain their proposals in a clear and concise manner. The arrangements that the proposals bring forward do not enhance that requirement. For that reason, they are to be regretted. If the amendment moved by my noble friend achieves that desirable aim, I support it.

Viscount Bledisloe

My Lords, a cut-off time of 10 o'clock, or any specific hour, could lead to the ridiculous position of 20 minutes of a five day Committee stage being hung over. The choice is either to return to the matter the next day or, more likely, for it not to be considered and just dropped. The inevitable battle is about practicality and the real fear of the noble Earl, which I share, that the usual channels will erode the provision. I should have had greater sympathy with the noble Earl's amendment if it provided for the normal practice to be to stop at 10 o'clock with an absolute cut-off a little later so that there was some leeway.

If erosion takes place, we should come back, and very soon, with a rule such as the noble Earl seeks to make perhaps with my small margin in it. It could be a short trial period; it need not last two years. As soon as those we deeply respect, namely the usual channels, start to erode the position, we quickly table an amendment to that effect.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I support the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. We are at the mercy of the Government. They can win any Division they wish.

Noble Lords


Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, what on earth is the objective of dividing? Let us be realistic. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has accepted on one occasion—there may have been two; I have not been present throughout the debate—that he would consider Amendment No. 8 and deal with it. That, for me, is one of the main considerations.

On the other matters which have arisen, we are really at the mercy of the Government. What on earth is the objective of dividing, especially at this hour of the night? There is every objective in moving amendments and seeking to persuade. It is obviously possible to do so.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am happy to follow the course the noble Lord, Lord Roper, suggests and confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I am perfectly content to see whether the measure works to the satisfaction of the House for, say, a year. I accept that two years may be too long. Originally, we thought that we had got it right. Representations were made that we needed a certain amount of flexibility. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about Back-Benchers. The argument which convinced me was that a Back-Bencher may have waited patiently in the House throughout the debate. The House comes to the last two amendments in which he or she may be particularly interested and there is then the cut-off. We simply wanted decent flexibility.

If there is erosion or bad faith, I am perfectly happy to return to the issue in a year's time. I hope that that satisfies the noble Earl.

The Earl of Caithness

When the Conservative Party was in power, I remember sitting as a Back-Bencher and waiting until two o'clock in the morning for my amendment to be called. Exactly what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House described occurred: the usual channels decided to stop about two amendments before mine. If I had known that earlier in the evening, I could have gone home.

Wherever we place the cut-off, some people will be hurt. Rippon did not deliver the goods because there was no check on the executive. The Procedure Committee's proposal also contains no check on the executive, but I am grateful to all Members who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, has come up with an interesting idea, which I support. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, for picking up that idea. I hope that the House will consider the matter, because it concerns a serious point at which power to make decisions is being transferred from the House to the usual channels. We must return to the proposal if it does not work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 17: Paragraph 22, page 7, line 12, leave out:

11 am–1.30 pm House sits for public business
1.30 pm–3 pm House adjourns during pleasure

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the amendment standing in my name and in the names of my noble friend the Earl of Caithness and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and to speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 20—although Amendment No. 19 is in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

The purpose of my amendments is simply to disagree with the suggestion that we should sit on Thursday mornings. Frankly, it is undesirable for the House to sit on any morning. We are not a paid House; most of us must earn our living, or at least a partial living, elsewhere. The only time that we can do that with any sort of certainty is in the mornings. If we are regularly to sit on Thursday mornings, that creates a serious problem for those of us, such as myself, who have to earn a modest living somewhere else. That is an important consideration. It is no more than that. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

In the Procedure Committee, I suggested the table laid out on page 7 of the report. I am not hugely attracted to the idea of sitting on Thursday mornings. However, when the working group, the Leader's Group, sent out a questionnaire, the response that we should sit on Thursday mornings was the most popular.

My noble friend Lord Trefgarne may well be right to say that that will be inconvenient to some noble Lords. It is equally inconvenient to some noble Lords to stay late on Thursdays when they have far to travel. It strikes me that the best way to resolve that is for the House to take a decision. The reason that I put it like that is that if we do not try an experiment, we shall never know whether my noble friend or those who want to stay late on Thursdays are right. We can spend half an hour—or even more, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House suggests—discussing the merits of sitting on Thursday mornings, but I suggest that this is one issue on which most Members of the House have already made up their minds. It is a clear-cut case: either we decide to try this out, or we do not.

10.30 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, trivialises the issue when he describes it as a mere matter of convenience. During all of our debate about the powers, duties and constitution of this House, enormous lip service has been paid to the theory that it is of value to the House to include people who have outside activities and bring them to their work in the House. Those outside activities do not necessarily have to involve earning. They may involve sitting on the boards of charities, but they are doing things that are other than—I was going to say "merely"—legislating or debating. They involve applying ourselves to what we are legislating about, rather than merely doing the legislating.

It is difficult enough to do such things and be available in the afternoons; having to be available in the mornings as well would make things even more difficult. We might take the example of someone who is offered a seat on a board or on the governing body of a great charity. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings are probably the only occasions on which such bodies meet. So we are ruling out one in three of those occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, rightly said that people who undertook to sit on committees of the House owed a duty to be here. However, people who sit on boards or boards of charities owe a similar duty to be there. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, shakes his head, but he would be the first to criticise someone who took the salary of a non-executive director and did not go to the meetings. I do not say that for financial reasons; I say it because Members of your Lordships' House, the Government and the Wakeham report have all said how valuable those who work outside the House are.

My amendment represents a halfway house. If we must sit on Thursday mornings, it would be intolerable if we took the Committee or Report stage of a long Bill on those mornings. The House might be considering a Bill that takes five days—the Countryside Bill, the Animal Health Bill or whatever. Sod's law being what it is, one can be dead certain that the amendments one has put down for Committee or Report will turn up on a Thursday morning, if that is the one time one cannot he here. We might have discrete debates on Thursday morning about Select Committee reports or orders that need confirmation, and if one cannot be there, one cannot be there. However, if we take the main stages of major Bills on those days, it will not be possible not to be there. One's amendments may be part of a central thesis that one is trying to carry through.

I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to agree that, on most occasions, Thursday mornings will be taken up with other business and that we will not find that Committee and Report stages of big Bills are taken then. If he can make that concession, I shall be happy try the Thursday morning experiment. If he cannot, he is kicking in the teeth the theory that the House wants people who are also involved in outside activities.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

One of the arguments advanced for sitting on Thursday mornings and rising by 7 o'clock on Thursday is that it would enable people who live a long way away—in Scotland, perhaps—to get home that night. As one who lives in Scotland, I must say that the latest that I could go would be 6 o'clock. Even then, I would not get home until after 11 o'clock.

Those of us who live a long way away generally go early on a Thursday, if we are not involved in the business. If we are involved in, say, an important Committee stage on a Thursday, we stay the night and go home on Friday. There comes a point at which the business of the House must take precedence over individual convenience. There is no reason, other than not being able to collect one's expenses, why one should not go home on Thursday morning, if one is not involved in Thursday's business.

Lord Peston

The comments made in this debate are very important because they bring out the difference between some of us in this Chamber. There is no obligation to be a Member of this House. Nowadays, when hereditary Peers do not stay on automatically, there is absolutely no obligation whatever. It is a duty and a privilege to be a Member of this House; and it does involve a commitment. It is my judgment that that commitment must take precedence over non-executive directorships, and all the other ways in which some noble Lords earn a living. They have a choice to make: is their choice in life to give the commitment to this House, or, alternatively to say, "I'm going to earn this and that. When I can come in, I shall do so, but I want this House to organise itself so that it is convenient for me". That is the difference between us.

Noble Lords opposite should not shake their heads. Those of us who chair committees occasionally say that we should like to have our meeting on a particular day because, for example, that may be the only day that the witness can attend. Sometimes on those occasions someone will raise his hand and say that he has a meeting, and so on. When I am chairman of a committee, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I say "That's too bad. That is when the meeting is because your Lordships' House requires our committee to meet and to hear this evidence". This is a fundamental difference between us. I believe that noble Lords should make up their minds.

The issue is not whether this is a full-time or a part-time commitment. The issue is: what is your priority? In the case of a number of us, this Chamber, together with its legislative scrutiny, is a priority and we build everything else around it. More to the point is the fact that what we are doing now is constructing this House for the future. Our successors will certainly go that way and expect that from us.

I am not saying that other noble Lords agree with me; I am simply pointing out that there is a deep difference between us. First, there are those who say that this House matters and accept that our agreement to come here is our commitment. We organise our lives accordingly for that purpose. Secondly, there are others who say, "You're lucky to get me. I'm a very important person. I'm very distinguished, and this House gains from my being here. When I can come, which I hope doesn't clash with all the other things that I am doing, I shall do so".

This House is constantly boasting about the expertise of its Members. But many times I have looked around the Chamber and wondered where all those experts are who often do not seem to have bothered to turn up, even though it is their subject under debate. I am glad that these amendments have been tabled. They distinguish between us. I believe them to be extraordinarily moderate. As noble Lords know, I would meet every morning of the week. Some of us operate very much better in the mornings than in the afternoons—

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

Is not the noble Lord arguing that he wants to sit in the mornings because it would suit him? Surely it is important to consider whether the general membership of this Chamber is able to attend in the morning. The noble Lord is making a totally personalised statement.

Lord Peston

I must continue because I had not quite finished my contribution. I take it that that was an interruption rather than a speech. No, I am not speaking in those terms. It is true to say that I operate better in the mornings. I tire during the afternoons; indeed, at this time of night, I do not find it at all convenient to try to get my mind around difficult matters. So, in that sense, it is personal.

I regard it as a general principle that in serious enterprises—I regard this House as a serious enterprise—the normal working day is just that. It is about time that this Chamber recognised the fact that that is what people in this country do. Moreover, it is what most people in this country expect us to do. They would regard it as preposterous—

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I understand what the noble Lord is saying. I always listen to what he says with great respect. However, the part of his argument that I cannot follow is why he has said that this is not a question of a part-time or full-time commitment. The noble Lord is simply saying that he thinks that the business of this House should take priority over anything else. But that is not the basis upon which most people are invited to join this House. People are invited to do so on the basis that it is not paid; that it is not full time; and that people have outside commitments. The noble Lord may believe that they should not earn, but they do earn.

People are not invited to come here and thereby jeopardise, and put aside, everything else in their lives. I do not understand how the noble Lord can say that this is not a question of full-time or part-time attendance. He is saying that it ought to be full time.

Lord Peston

The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, may well have been asked a different question from the one that I was asked when I joined the House. I was asked whether I would devote my efforts to the business of this Chamber. I spent 10 years on the Opposition Benches receiving no extra pay while working in the interests of this House. I tried to fit it in with my other commitments, but I gradually retired because I could not do it any other way. I took on more and more work in this Chamber.

As I have said, the question I was asked was, "What is your commitment?". I was given a peerage on the assumption that I would be fully committed. It turns out that other noble Lords do not appear to have made that promise, or perhaps they were not asked to do so. However, I have to tell noble Lords that I was asked.

Baroness Blatch

As one of the class of 1987—I speak as a "kept" woman and thus do not have the difficulty of needing to earn a living—we were all told what to expect when we entered this House. However, we took on the commitment on the basis of the hours that prevailed at the time. The proposition before the Committee is to move towards morning sittings. That is wholly new.

The noble Lord is being self-indulgent, not only on his own behalf but on behalf of many of his noble friends and, indeed, on behalf of some of my noble friends on this side of the Committee. We are not paid expenses as a substitute for a salary. People of working age have to make a living. So far it has been possible quite successfully to combine making a living by using the mornings to do so, and then fulfilling the commitment as a working Peer in this House.

Noble Lords make a considerable commitment to the work of the House. However, as I have said, that commitment was accepted on the basis of the hours that prevailed at the time.

Lord Denham

Before the noble Lord rises to respond—he is taking rather more than his fair share of time, if I may say so—I wish to say this. His argument that this House should come first works in two ways. He is saying that we should not be selfish and expect to have the mornings off; we are saying that he should be not selfish and expect to go home early on a Thursday afternoon. His argument works both ways.

This is an important Chamber and it is important that we get the business done. The noble and learned Lord has suggested a change. However, the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would be equally valid for keeping things as they are as it is for making the change sought by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Peston

I shall try to reach the end of my remarks. I wish to make a speech, but it is not normal for me to be interrupted. Most noble Lords simply glaze over and let me get on with it.

The point here is that the mornings are not central. Those noble Lords who have experience of these matters often discover that many jobs are undertaken in the afternoon. A meeting is not held only at ten o'clock on a Tuesday morning; it may be called at almost any time. Indeed, people work at any time, including whole days.

While I do not wish to prolong the debate, we must bear in mind the fact that many noble Lords who come to the House have work that is not even based in London. We should not assume that all jobs can be done during the odd morning in London.

My argument is twofold. First, the central question is that of commitment: which should come first? Secondly, the assumption ought to be that a noble Lord should make himself available during normal working hours. I say that with a view to the future. If a noble Lord finds that unacceptable, then the time has come for him to reconsider his position.

I regard the views of my noble and learned friend as very moderate. All he is asking is that the House should meet for a brief period on a Thursday morning. Having said that, I do not understand the proposition for a lunch break; it would take up good working time. No doubt a subtle argument will be advanced with regard to the lunch break, but it is one that has passed me by. We must start to behave in a rational, working way.

Lord Denham

The "rational, working way" according to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is that which he defines as a natural way. But what both he and his noble and learned friend are asking for is to enable Members of the House who may live far away to finish on a Thursday afternoon. However, while that is a perfectly valid request, it does not compare like with like. What we seek is that those undertaking outside work on a Thursday morning should be able to carry out their duties in this House during the afternoon. The noble Lord wants noble Lords to work during the morning so that they can get away in the afternoon, home to their beds.

The noble Lord has spoken of "taking the House seriously". Members of this House have always taken the House seriously.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I have been provoked into doing so because I made heard the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, so many times before. I have not heard it in this House, but in another place. When I entered the House of Commons 32 years ago it had in it a large number of people who had outside knowledge, outside experience and outside work. Increasingly, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was made there. One of the consequences is the other place as it exists today. Its Members have practically no outside interests. Indeed, they have voted themselves increased pensions on the grounds that they have no outside experience and are therefore unlikely to get other employment.

If the noble Lord's principle were to be followed here, there would be similar consequences in this House. Instead of possessing the wealth of experience from which we have benefited—and still benefit—it would become more and more like the other place.

I am coming to the end of my outside working interests and I have no strong views about the issue, but the noble Lord, Lord Peston, should not think that no consequences will flow from his kind of attitude. His speech is not new, and there is the evidence of the other place to tell us what will be the result.

Lord Elton

Does my noble friend agree that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peston—so often heard before—heralds the creation of a Parliament consisting entirely of a political class, which will be distinct from the rest of the country, not understanding and eventually not trusted by the people?

Lord Crickhowell

I agree entirely with my noble friend. I shall leave the matter there.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I believe that the Leader of the Opposition said that this had had a popular response from Members. Noble Lords on the opposite side of the Chamber, who claim to be democrats, may not believe in focus groups, but the best focus group here is the membership. Some people have responded—not everyone—and we now have a benchmark. Given the option, which they never had before, of working potentially between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on a Thursday night or from 11 a.m. onwards, the Members have chosen to do this. For the life of me, I cannot see why Members opposite are so tenacious in defending the status quo come what may.

This is a recommendation of a committee on which we were all represented. It has come from the Leader's Group and from the Procedure Committee. I said earlier that I trust the usual channels. They seem to have been besmirched by those who were themselves part of the usual channels at one time but who are now saying there is something dirty and unclean about their work. That is not true. They do their best and are responsible for their parties.

From my experience in another place and here, it is quite clear that the problems, not only for the Government but also for the Opposition, of maintaining a full House on a Thursday night are getting worse—not least because of the passage of time and what is happening in the other place. 'We do not affect what happens down there but it is a fact of life that the dining rooms in the other place are empty after seven o'clock on a Thursday night. The House is not dead, but it is very, very quiet.

Why do we not trust the usual channels, the Leader's Group and the Procedure Committee to carry out an experiment? As I understand it, this will be for an experimental period. It may work out. I said earlier that people are hinting darkly and snidely that this is being done to benefit the Government. It may be that the Government will find that they are not the greatest beneficiaries of these changes, but in 2002 we should at least drag our procedures out of the 19th century and into the 21st century.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

I had no intention of joining in this debate, but have been encouraged to do so by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, which I still believe were supporting his self-interest.

Let me make it clear that, as a retired person, it would suit me very well if the hours proposed were to be adopted, just as it would suit the noble Lord, Lord Peston. But my concern is with the effect of this proposal on the House as a whole. Once we introduce morning Sittings, it will not be long before we have morning Sittings on other days as well.

The great advantage of this place is that its Members are active in business, in medicine and in other professions. They have various kinds of jobs which require them to work for part of the day. They then commit themselves to come here for the latter part of the afternoon and the early part of the evening. I believe that we shall lose sadly if we find ourselves in a situation where we are working a normal working day, and if when approached those people say, "I am terribly sorry. I believe that I have something to offer, but I am afraid I cannot possibly commit myself to those hours".

I support the point that the commitment made by existing Members of this place was made on the basis of the hours that then existed. It is not a question of commitment. I believe that those on all sides of this Chamber are totally committed to what this House can achieve. However, if we start sitting in the mornings, we shall lower the standard, or lose many people who might otherwise be willing to come here. It is for that reason, and certainly not out of self-interest, that I shall support the amendment.

Lord Marlesford

Apropos the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, quite apart from the fact that he seeks to paint matters all black and white when most of the time they are grey, and most of the time it is possible to fit in both activities, is he not aware—as a distinguished economist, I am sure he is—that the demographers have worked out that, because of the changing age pattern of this country, it is desirable and indeed necessary that we should continue to work until we are 72 in order to earn money to pay taxes to keep those who are over 72. Some of us who have not yet reached that stage are trying to make our contribution.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. She said, and I marked her words, that duty to the House should take precedence over individual convenience.

On a number of occasions, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred the idea that the proposals were what I wanted. I remind him and the noble Baroness that this proposal was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and he gave his reasons for doing so: it is a compromise; the reason for having the break from 1.30 to 3 p.m. was that a large number of colleagues said that they wanted to attend their party meetings during that time; therefore, that was the agreement. It was the most popular outcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rightly says, when opinions were canvassed.

The idea of having a questionnaire was not mine either. In fact, I was horrified to think that people's views might actually be taken. But on this occasion the questionnaire was unambiguous. This was the popular way of dealing with matters.

A number of other Peers made the point that they had commitments in the mornings but wanted to be here for Question Time—hence the proposed timetable on page 7 of the Procedure Committee's report. That is the reason why Question Time remains at three o'clock.

I take the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I shall give careful attention to the points he has made. I personally advise Members of the Committee to accept the proposal made by the Procedure Committee as outlined here today. It is on a trial basis for two Sessions. Let us see whether we can make it work.

I personally do value the variety of experience that we have in this House. However, I also welcome the ability of the House sometimes to regenerate itself. We are simply offering that.

Lord Trefgarne

I believe that the arguments for and against these proposals have been fully canvassed. I think that I had better take the opinion of the Committee.

10.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 95.

Division No. 6
Blaker, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Blatch, B. Higgins, L.
Bledisloe, V. Jopling, L.
Boardman, L. Kingsland, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lucas, L.
Burnham, L. MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Byford, B.
Caithness, E. Mancroft, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Marlesford, L.
Colwyn, L. Northbrook, L.
Crickhowell, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Denham, L. O'Cathain, B.
Elton, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Fowler, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
St John of Fawsley, L. Seccombe, B.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. [Teller] Skelmersdale, L.
Trefgarne, L. [Teller]
Acton, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Addington, L. [Teller] Hollis of Heigham, B.
Alli, L. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Amos, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Andrews, B. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Jay of Paddington, B.
Bach, L. Jones, L.
Barnett, L. Judd, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Kirkhill, L.
Brett, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Brookman, L. Lipsey, L.
Burlison, L. Lockwood, B.
Campbell-Savours, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Carter, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Chandos, V. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Aberavon, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Nicol, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Orme, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Pendry, L.
Crawley, B. Peston, L.
David, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Davies of Coity, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Rea, L.
Desai, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Dixon, L. Rooker, L.
Dubs, L. Roper, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Rotherwick, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Sawyer, L.
Filkin, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Simon, V.
Golding, B. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Goldsmith, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Goodhart, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Tomlinson, L.
Goudie, B. Tordoff, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Turnberg, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller] Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitaker, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Whitty, L.
Greaves, L. Wilkins, B.
Grocott, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Hardy of Wath, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

11.5 p.m.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Viscount Bledisloe had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 19: Paragraph, page 7, line 17, at end insert— Save in exceptional circumstances the Committee stage, the Report stage or the Third Reading of a public bill shall not take place during the above period of 11a.m.–1.30p.m. unless it is expected that that stage of that bill can be completed wholly within that period.

The noble Viscount said: I understood that the Leader of the House was sympathetic to my suggestion. I hope that means that he will do his best to ensure that such business does not occur on Thursday mornings. On that basis, I am delighted not to move the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

In case there is any misunderstanding, I said that I would give careful attention to the suggestion. I cannot dictate the conduct of the House's business on my own.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 21: Paragraph 27, page 8, line 17, at end insert— None of the proposals in this report shall take effect until the Procedure Committee has received a full analysis of their impact on

The noble Lady said: On 21st May, at col. 697, I wondered what consultations had taken place with Black Rod and the superintendent of the Refreshment Department on sittings in September. I did not receive an answer, so I wrote to the Procedure Committee and asked what consultations had taken place with either of those persons.

As far as Black Rod is concerned, I was concerned about repair and maintenance work to the Palace, for which it is necessary to have at least two clear months—probably longer—in the summer holidays. Extra weeks at Christmas and Easter are no use, because for serious structural work it is necessary to have a long unbroken period at a time when tradesmen are not on holiday.

For the rest, it is not only a question of the Refreshment Department staff, but also the cleaners, the security staff, the Doorkeepers and Clerks, all of whose holidays will be affected. That is why I should like to know that a report will be received from all the departments concerned before any decision is taken for the House to sit in September. That applies also to Grand Committees, because they affect the House's staff, unless they can be arranged to sit somewhere else.

I feel strongly about the staff and inconvenience to them regarding their holidays. We all know how willingly they return for emergency debates, such as on 14th September last year, and for the tributes to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and we are grateful to them. But that is no excuse for them to be imposed on. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins

The amendment is concerned with paragraph 27. In seeking to establish the way in which the committee's thoughts had developed on the issue, I looked at the appendix to the report. All one finds is that, Paragraphs 7–28 were read, amended and agreed to". We have no idea whether they were all amended or what the amendments are.

Presumably, this is a summary. As the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House pointed out earlier, the appendix contains extracts, not the full minutes of the proceedings. I asked on an earlier amendment why only extracts were provided and not the whole minutes of proceedings. The noble and learned Lord did not answer that question. Perhaps he will do so now.

The noble and learned Lord also replied that the full version was in the Library. It is not. The Library staff are unable to find it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My advice, which I am having re-checked, is that the minutes are in the Library. I have not examined them, but that was the advice that I was given in answer to the noble Lord's question earlier. That is why I replied in the way I did.

The amendment would delay all reform until there had been a full analysis of the effects on the works programme and so forth. Your Lordships will remember that we had a very full debate on the subject on Amendment No. 2. It would be discourteous of me to rehearse the arguments again. I simply invite your Lordships to remember what was said earlier.

Lord Higgins

I still do not understand why we have only the extracts of the minutes and not the full minutes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I do not have encyclopaedic experience of such matters, but as far as I know this is not uncommon.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I seem to recollect that on Amendment No. 2 the noble and learned Lord said that contractors would be given very long notice that the House would be sitting in September. I do not recollect him saying anything about notice that would be given to the staff. I am still not very happy about the issue, but in view of the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Crickhowell had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 22: Page 8, leave out paragraph 27 and insert— 27. We do not endorse, Group recommendation (1) that the House should be willing to sit in September and we recommend that the House should not normally sit in September.

The noble Lord said: I have two or three very brief comments. More than seven hours ago, I set out a number of issues that I thought ought to be looked at thoroughly before we started rising in mid-July and sitting in September. I leave those on the record.

I have to be in an important Joint Committee of both Houses not at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning, but at 9 o'clock. I have no reason to wish to delay the proceedings of the Committee further. It would also be wrong to ask the Committee to vote on such an important issue when there was thin attendance late at night. We will have the opportunity to vote on any specific proposal for a September sitting. We have already been told that substantial notice will have to be given. The Clerk of the Parliaments informed the Procedure Committee that at least six months' notice would be needed if the contractual arrangements were to be made satisfactorily.

For those reasons, I do not intend to pursue the matter further this evening. If any other Member wishes to speak, they have an opportunity to do so.

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Report from the Select Committee reported without amendment; report received.

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