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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, for the reasons which I gave in response to the first supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Dean, I hesitate to comment on the history of the relationship between the Department of Health and the organisation we are discussing. As I understand it, services from the department in Bristol were commissioned by the Supra Regional Services Advisory Group but contract monitoring was limited to cost and volume considerations. That is, of course, precisely what we seek to change by introducing the quality element in monitoring.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an answer to a Private Notice Question in the other place on the Dounreay nuclear reprocessing plant. This will be followed by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey who will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on the "millennium bug". I take this
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, can the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip arrange for a third Statement to be made--which would give us such a wealth of enjoyment today--and for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to make it, on the future of this House? It seems to some of us that ordinary good manners--which I know are a little out of date--might have suggested to the Government that, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House made a statement about the future of this House, he might have considered doing so here within your Lordships' House. I shall quote from a handout which was available in the Library shortly before lunch. I quote from the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House in the Queen Elizabeth Conference Hall. He states,
I think that it is not asking too much, even in one of the Houses of Parliament which is under severe threats at the moment, for it to be treated, while it is still in existence, with the same courtesy as the Government would expect it to show to them.
This is a very serious example of the way in which the Government ride roughshod over other people's feelings and disregard the respect that is due to this House. Had they made a Statement today, as they ought to have done, it would have given some of us an opportunity to say that we regret the way in which the Government have picked upon supposed blemishes in this House, while they have entirely ignored those that undoubtedly exist in the far more powerful House of Commons. It would have been seemly had they done so.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and say that I was rather surprised that this statement was made to a conference called by the Daily Telegraph and a constitutional unit that has been formed for only six months, has no trustees and no aims, and is an offshoot of the Manorial Society, which sells titles.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I very much support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Peyton. It was to my surprise, as Opposition Chief Whip, that I discovered that, although many Statements were offered today, none was on the subject discussed this morning at the QEII Conference Centre.
Perhaps I may point out to my noble friend that, although we were promised an outline of the Labour Government's proposals on the House of Lords, I am afraid that very little in it was new. However, it did contain one important announcement; namely a promise by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that an options paper, a consultation document, would be produced. If that is the case--and I have no reason to disbelieve the noble Lord--when is it to be delivered? Will time be made available for a debate to take place in this House, so that the House can inform the
Members of this House know a great deal about the reform of this place. However, could not the opportunity have been taken to make a Statement that could have been repeated in another place? It is surprising from time to time to meet colleagues from another place who understand very little about the issues under consideration. Since reform of the House of Lords will affect another place considerably, should not Members there also be given an opportunity, through a government Statement, to discuss the matter and question the Government about the future of this place?
Earl Russell: My Lords, without wishing to prolong these remarks, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House join me in asking the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, to withdraw his slur on the Constitution Unit? It is a body dedicated to the provision of information which the noble Lord might find as useful as other noble Lords do.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, to correct a point of fact, in answer to the noble Earl it was not the Constitution Unit that was involved in the organisation of the conference. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Cox, in saying what he had to say in his usual salty and forthright way, was not directing his ammunition at the target that the noble Earl feared.
I am rather surprised at the somewhat waspish way in which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has approached this matter. As the Opposition Chief Whip said, there was little that was new in my statement this morning. There was no cataclysmic novelty. The idea that I or any other Government Minister cannot make a speech on an issue that is clearly of public importance, repeating what we have said previously--that I have to come to this House in order to repeat what I have said previously in this House before I am allowed to repeat it outside--seems an extraordinary proposition. I am bound to say that I reject what the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, had to say.
The Government have said that there will be an options paper. We have said that there will be a debate. I have nothing further to add today, save for the time-honoured phrase used so much by Members on the other side when they were in power; namely: we shall publish the options paper when the time is right. The matter of a debate is one for the usual channels.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has rejected my remarks out of hand. In doing so, he has acted unsurprisingly and totally in character. Since I have been in this House successive Leaders of the House from my own party have bent over backwards at least to treat the Opposition with courtesy and to consider whether there was anything in any point
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene in this unseemly bilateral argument. I think the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is being quite unreasonable and totally unfair. I listened this morning to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I believe that he will not mind my saying that there was nothing unusual in what he said. Indeed, the speech was made up of remarks that he had made in this House from time to time. There is nothing at all wrong with that. This conference was arranged to provide a platform for the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It was wise, right and courteous of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to open the conference in the way that he did. I say that totally without prejudice, to the extent that I agreed with him; and totally without prejudice as to the need for a debate in this House.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for his remarks. I am extremely surprised, indeed astonished, at what the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said. I totally reject his suggestion that I do not treat the Opposition with consideration, and, if it is not too harmful to him, with some affection. I do not believe that I have behaved in a conceited way in the office that I hold. Nor, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, do I believe that the House as a whole feels that I have behaved in that way since I have been doing this job. I am sorry that the noble Lord felt the need to express his feeling in the way that he did. I hope that, on reflection, he will feel that he went too far.