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Lord Wigoder: My Lords, as regards the Thursday issue--assuming I have the days of the week correct--I would be sad to think that your Lordships decided this issue on the basis of individual, personal convenience. With respect, it seems to me that the issue we ought to consider is whether or not the proposal will promote the efficiency of the conduct of our business. I want therefore to echo in a way what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said. If we were to conduct legislative business on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it would open up the possibility--the probability will perhaps be disputed by the Government Chief Whip--of sitting three consecutive days in Committee in order to deal with an urgent Bill. Even if the Government Chief Whip says that he would have no intention of doing that, it still opens up, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy,
As all of us who have taken part in a debate in Committee know, at the end of the first day many matters arise which require a little thought and reflection before one proceeds with the second day. Those matters may require further research; an outside body may require to be consulted; an amendment already tabled for a subsequent stage may have to be altered; and, on occasions when there is an extremely co-operative Minister, there may be the possibility of discussing an issue in order to find an agreed solution before proceeding to the second stage.
It is in the interests not only of the Opposition but of the Government Ministers who are conducting business, if they will allow me to be so presumptuous as to make an observation on their behalf. It is highly beneficial to the conduct of the business of this House that during the Committee stage of a complicated Bill there are intervals for consideration. It is important that we do not proceed from one day to the next, as is almost bound to happen unless the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is agreed to by your Lordships.
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for long. I cannot speak for all Cross-Benchers--nor would I presume to do so--but perhaps I may remind your Lordships of an old parliamentary adage: "Only the temporary is permanent". I have a suspicion that if we proceed to this experiment we shall be stuck with it.
I disagree with the noble Lord who spoke earlier about Wednesday debates being subsidiary to the legislative work of your Lordships' House. An important debate was initiated last Wednesday by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and a Cross-Bench debate is to take place this Wednesday, "to call attention to the economic and social role of marriage", a subject that would never be discussed in the other place. One needs only to attend such debates to realise that it is extremely important that matters of this kind are discussed in your Lordships' House.
Although I fully understand that it would be for the convenience of many Cross-Benchers--certainly those who live in the north of England and Scotland--to get away earlier on a Thursday, I strongly feel that, on balance, and bearing in mind the old adage, we should stay where we are, at least until we know the complexion of the new House when all kinds of changes may have to be made.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I make no comment about the extension of the time for a vote from six minutes to eight minutes--although I have an opinion--but the question of changing from three minutes to four the moment at which noble Lords may vote is another matter. As a frequent Teller, on every occasion I see noble Lords straining in the slips at three minutes to get
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps I may, for a moment, turn to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, with which I agree in very large measure. However, when talking about courtesies, he did not refer to a very considerable lack of courtesy shown in this place only the other day during the passage of the Access to Justice Bill. One noble Lord--I shall not mention who it was--made a quite considerable personal attack on a Government Minister and then, having made that attack, saw fit to leave the Chamber soon afterwards before the end of the debate on the amendment. I think that is an extreme act of discourtesy which should not happen. I hope that it will be noted by the House.
In the proposition advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I found an uncharacteristic lack of consistency. No argument has been put forward as to why debates on Thursday--not Friday, or even Good Friday for that matter--would be any less effective. People who are interested in the topics will attend, just as on Wednesdays. There are many noble Lords who are interested in the topics which are constantly raised. Of course, there are exceptions. If the draconian consequences spelt out by a number of noble Lords during the debate were to occur, would they not be revealed in the course of the experiment suggested by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton? If such consequences occurred, I would have thought that the House would have little difficulty in deciding that the experiment was a bad one and should not be proceeded with. However, simply to assume that all these consequences would arise is a dangerous way of proceeding. It would be within the capacity of your Lordships' House to say very clearly, "We do not like what has happened; we have given it a chance and it should be rejected". But to say that we should give it no trial period at all seems to me to be extraordinarily inconsistent.
It has been suggested that somehow or other the media will cease to have much interest in this House if we undertake this experiment. Quite frankly, it does not seem to have much interest in this House anyway. I do not think that is a very powerful argument. The media does of course report proceedings inadequately. "Today in Parliament" used to devote rather more time to the affairs of this place and it now interjects other issues during discussions occurring in another place.
Like my noble friend Lord Richard, I do not see that there will be any weakening of the position of the Opposition if we proceed with this trial period. They will have every opportunity, particularly if they are an
Lord Elton: My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said earlier, I think that your Lordships should give the matter a little more thought. I have been both a Minister and a spokesman in opposition. The strain of two consecutive nights in Committee on a major Bill is considerable. The strain of three consecutive nights on a major Bill would be verging on the intolerable.
Whether in government or in opposition, when one has a Monday and a Tuesday consecutively on a Bill one is desperate for Wednesday so that one can catch up on one's briefs for the Thursday. One has no opportunity on Monday and Tuesday to talk to one's advisers or to ring them up because one is actually in the Chamber. By the third day one has moved into a new part of the Bill which requires new briefing. I therefore think that to preserve an interlude in which there is a possibility for Ministers and opposition spokesmen on Bills to do the work out of the Chamber that enables them to do their work in the Chamber properly and effectively is very important. That happens to chime in with what other noble Lords have said, which was summarised by the noble Lord the Convenor of the Cross-Benches, about preserving Wednesdays, with which I heartily agree. But I would not wish your Lordships to think only of that point because I believe that the legislative efficiency of this House could suffer if we lost that interval.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I wish to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Graham. I do so as a northern Member of the House and one who usually leaves on a Thursday evening. I occasionally stay over when there is business on Friday in which I am involved but usually I leave on a Thursday evening. I leave not because it is a matter of convenience to me as an individual. I leave because I have commitments in the north which it is important for me as a Member of the House to fulfil.
I remind your Lordships that this House meets, for half the Session at any rate, for five days a week and not four days a week. There is business on Friday as well as on Thursday. I also remind your Lordships that we are not a full-time, professional, paid House of Lords. We are a part-time House. Very few Members spend the whole of the four or five days on the business of the House. Indeed, we are made Members of the House because of the experience we can bring to the House. We like to refresh that experience by being involved in matters other than debates and legislation.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords on the importance of the general debates on Wednesday but I disagree profoundly that the importance and status of those debates would be downgraded if they were held on a Thursday rather than on a Wednesday. Those debates are initiated by noble Lords who are fundamentally interested in the subject they are raising. The speakers who support them come forward for the same reasons. That would continue. Some of us attend the Wednesday debates out of interest in the subject being debated. That would continue if the debates were held on a Thursday rather than on a Wednesday.
A number of noble Lords have asked whether it is convenient to have three consecutive days on legislative work. We rarely have three consecutive days on one Bill. In fact, one could count on the fingers of one hand the occasions when we have had three consecutive days on a Bill. But there may be some substance in what has been said about the difficulty of getting up to date for the next day of the Bill and that it may therefore be important to have a break between the days. We do not know about that. It may be a valid point and we would find out if we had an experiment.
The experiment would be linked to one of the changes that is being made as a result of the excellent report of my noble friend Lady Hilton and her committee; namely, that amendments will have to be submitted earlier than has previously been the case and that the grouping of the amendments will be available by 2.30 p.m. on the last working day before the debate on the amendments. Those changes will have an effect not only on us but also on the outside bodies which brief Members of the House of Lords on these subjects.
I suggest to the House that it would be valuable to have the experiment of changing to Thursday the day of the general debates along with those changes that are being initiated as a result of the Hilton Report. I hope that we shall give an opportunity to the House to change the day of general debates from Wednesday to Thursday.
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