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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal appreciates the force of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition and that he will wish to discuss it personally with him on his return from duties abroad. As to the nature of the full debate which will be necessary in due course, I am sure that my noble friend will pay great attention to what has just been said. We very much appreciate the shift in attitude that has been evident in the Conservative Party. In particular we agree with the six principles of reform that the Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr. William Hague, set out in his article in the Sunday Express at the weekend.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, provided the appropriate carrots and sticks are put in place, any proposed changes or reforms to the House of Lords should emerge from the House of Lords, just as is to happen with local authorities?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend. The composition of the House of Lords is a matter for Parliament and the people as a whole rather than Members of this House.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, is there any truth in the rumour that consideration is being given to retiring Life Peers at the age of 75? If so, will I have a case for an action for damages having been assured that I would be able to stay here till death us do part?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord paraphrases his Writ of Summons. In answering a comparable question, my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal withdrew from any commitment on this issue.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the guidance he has proffered--that one should look to the party manifesto to understand the intentions of the Government--will not be treated with wholehearted rapture?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is true that there is no provision in legislation for party manifestos to have universal assent. But it was the noble Lord's own party which introduced the Salisbury convention by which, at least in this House, party manifestos have some effect.

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, surely it is wrong to play hopscotch in this matter. Political parties are here today and gone tomorrow. The Government become the Opposition and the Opposition become the Government in due course. Should we not have a proper intellectual appreciation of the problems of constitutional government by a Royal Commission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am fascinated by the remarks of the noble Earl. I remind him that this issue is not Johnnie-come-lately as it was in the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act, in which it was acknowledged that reform of the House of Lords was necessary and it would involve the removal of the hereditary peerage.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, we who sit on these Benches have listened with interest to what has been said. Can we be assured that we shall be included in these discussions?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course.

Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

3.26 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they are having with the broadcasting authorities regarding the adequacy of the reporting of the proceedings in Parliament.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, while I recognise that the noble Lord's Question refers to broadcasting authorities generally I have taken his focus in raising this matter to be the BBC's current consultation on its proposals to alter arrangements for its parliamentary programming. Noble Lords may have noted that the BBC has been examined on the proposals this morning by the Select Committee in another place. The BBC consultation has been copied to the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have taken part in previous discussions on this matter. There is no direct role for the Government as such in regulating matters of broadcasting content, and the Government are not discussing the proposals with the BBC. However, parliamentarians will be given a number of opportunities to question the BBC on its proposals which have already been influenced by previous parliamentary debate before they are finalised in mid-March. The BBC chairman will make himself available to discuss them with noble Lords and Members of another place on 12th March, and the All-Party Media Group will also question the BBC on this matter on 10th March.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his very full reply, does he recall the outrage before Christmas when the BBC made proposals to stop "Yesterday in Parliament" and downgrade its reporting of Parliament? Is he aware that the consultation paper to which he refers, while recording a retreat on those proposals, is still quite inadequate? Is he aware they would mean that "Yesterday in Parliament" would be available only to those who listened on long wave? Is he also aware that instead of "A Week in Parliament" being broadcast at prime time on Saturday morning it is to be broadcast on Thursday evening? A week in Parliament seems to end mid-week as far as Broadcasting House is concerned. Does the Minister agree that the BBC, with its Royal Charter obligations in respect of the reporting of Parliament and its licence fee that we all have to pay, has a moral duty to report Parliament adequately, as distinct from commercial broadcasters, and should fulfil those responsibilities without one eye on ratings? Finally, given that the parliamentary cable channel which gives total coverage of Parliament appears to be facing extinction, will the Government use its influence so that the BBC carries on the parliamentary cable channel as part of its public service responsibilities?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already made it clear that as a parliamentarian and a distinguished expert in this area the noble Lord will have ample opportunity to make known his views to the BBC. As to changes in parliamentary coverage, the noble Lord accurately reflects what the consultation paper says, but the final result of this is a net increase in parliamentary coverage of 55 hours a year on radio and 24 hours a year on television.

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As regards the cable parliamentary channel, the consultation paper makes it clear that the BBC is considering taking the channel on its own services.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in view of the fact that the Government tend to make announcements outside Parliament rather than inside and that Parliament has less control and the European authorities have more over the affairs of the people of this country, perhaps the BBC are merely getting with it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, while I disagree with both premises of the noble Lord's question, I must adhere to my previous answer that in the end it is a matter for the BBC.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the consultation paper suggests that there should be a radio broadcast fairly early on a Thursday evening on the week in Parliament? However, in both Houses important decisions are sometimes made late on a Thursday evening. Therefore, should not the consultation paper be taken with a grain of salt and pushed into a more suitable state later?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord has ample opportunity to make those views known to the BBC.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the proposed extension of "Yesterday in Parliament" on long wave from 14 to 23 minutes is a good idea, but that it would be an error to discontinue the broadcast on FM? Surely, it is in the public interest to give serious daily coverage of Parliament, especially as so few newspapers no longer carry a parliamentary column? Could the Minister encourage Sir Christopher Bland to maintain the reporting of Parliament on both bands?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness, as a parliamentarian, has an opportunity to do that just as I do.

Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Bill [H.L.]

3.31 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Statutory interest]:

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis) moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, after ("interest") insert ("subject to and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No.1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 21 and 22.

A query from a business representative organisation has prompted us to reconsider terms such as "qualifying debt" and "the debt" as used in the Bill. As currently

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drafted, the Bill might not adequately cover the rare instance where a contract debt is owed partly for a sum which carries interest under the Bill and partly for a sum which is excluded from the Bill.

I apologise that, in revising the wording to ensure such contract debts are caught, it has been necessary to lay so many drafting amendments. I wish to assure the House that these do not change the policy intent of the Bill. The substantial amendment is No. 3, which rewrites Clause 3. From that amendment, the others follow. The result of the amendments is that any part of a debt which qualifies for statutory interest will be subject to the Bill, regardless of whether some other part of the debt is excluded from the Bill.

I have written to a number of noble Lords who have been interested and involved in the Bill, explaining the reasons for these and later amendments. I beg to move.

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