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11 am–1.30 pm House sits for public business
1.30 pm–3 pm House adjourns during pleasure
3 pm–7.30 pm House resumes, starting with Starred Questions
7.30 pm (or earlier depending on business) for 1- hours Unstarred questions (if desired)

    23. We strongly support the first part of this recommendation because the Moses Room is at present unsuitable for holding Grand Committees. The second part concerning the Robing Room raises a number of difficult issues, including public access and the installation of a suitable sound system and recording and broadcasting facilities. We recommend that the suitability of the Robing Room for Grand Committees should be considered by those responsible for the Robing Room.

    Group recommendation (j): three additional Wednesdays should be allotted for backbench debates in each session, and more debates on select committee reports and on general topics should be held in prime time on the floor of the House (paragraph 26)

    24. The Standing Orders of the House already state that general debates have priority on the Order Paper on Wednesdays5; but it has become increasingly the case that Wednesdays in June have been used for Government business. The Procedure Committee therefore supports recommendation (j). To give effect to it we recommend that in a normal full session every Wednesday from the beginning of the session until the end of June should be set aside for general debates. This should be stated in the Companion to the Standing Orders.

    25. Under Standing Order 40, debates on select committee reports already have the same priority on the Order Paper as proceedings on public bills. We recommend that the Companion to the Standing Orders should also state the desirability of regular debates on select committee reports and general topics in prime time. This would encourage the usual channels to give prime time for at least some reports to be debated. We recognise that other reports, in particular European Union Committee reports on documents subject to a scrutiny reserve, might still have to be debated outside prime time because they might need to take place urgently at short notice in order that the reserve can be lifted.

    26. Paragraph 19 of the Group's report raises the possibility of extending the scope of Grand Committees from consideration of legislation to the holding of debates on general subjects. Nothing in our present report should be taken as ruling out such a possibility and a procedure could be established at a future date to give effect to it.

    Group recommendation (l): the House of Lords should be willing to sit in September, and in return the House should have longer recesses at Christmas, Easter or Whitsun, or rise earlier for the summer recess (paragraph 28)

    27. This is not strictly a matter of procedure. However, we support the Group's aim of a more balanced parliamentary year. We are conscious that from 2003 the House of Commons is likely to rise in mid-July and to sit from the beginning of September with a break during the main party conferences. We do not believe that it would be desirable for this House to rule out the possibility of also sitting regularly in September. The Group made it clear that in return for sitting in September the House should have longer recesses at other times. We believe that the House will wish to express an opinion on this possibility before a change with such important effects on the lives of members of the House and their families is implemented. We therefore recommend that any proposal for the House to meet in part of the following September, rather than at other times of the year, should be put to the House with clear guidelines early in the session.

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    Group recommendation (m): Grand Committees may sit in September, whether or not the House is sitting (paragraph 29)

    28. This is largely a matter of business management and raises similar issues to September sittings of the House. It is desirable that more Law Commission Bills should be introduced. A procedure already exists for the scrutiny of Law Commission Bills, namely Special Public Bill Committees. But this has not been used since 1995 because no Law Commission Bill has been introduced. The aim of recommendation (m) is to encourage Governments to introduce more Law Commission Bills, and we endorse it for that reason. However, it is essential that the Government business managers give reasonable notice when Grand Committees will be meeting in September so that members of the House can arrange their other commitments accordingly.

    29. We must point out to the House however that a number of procedural issues would arise if Grand Committees were to sit in September without the House sitting at the same time. These include authority to print the bill as amended, the implications for minimum intervals between stages, the status of the Hansard report of the proceedings in Grand Committee, and the impact on praying time for statutory instruments. We invite the Clerk of the Parliaments to consider these and any other issues which may arise in connection with Grand Committee sittings when the House itself is not sitting and to propose for our consideration any necessary amendments to the Standing Orders and to the Companion to the Standing Orders. These various issues would need to be resolved before Grand Committees could begin to sit in September.

    Group recommendation (n): there should be a review of the House's scrutiny of European legislation, including the appropriate balance between the scrutiny of general policy and that of specific legislative proposals, and the desirability of a greater number of shorter and more focussed reports (paragraph 30).

    30. We believe that this is a matter for the European Union Committee and it is already conducting such a review. It would be desirable for the results of the review to be reported to the Liaison Committee in due course.


    31. Implementation of the Group's recommendations is likely to lead to a significant increase in the House's committee work. It is likely that there will be some days when a pre-legislative scrutiny committee is sitting at the same time as bills are being considered in a Grand Committee and also in Committee of the Whole House. It will therefore be essential for the business managers to plan the legislative timetable in order to ensure that ministers, Opposition spokesmen and other members of the House are not faced with conflicting demands for their time and presence. Certain administrative and resource problems will arise in the short term and ways will have to be found to overcome them.

Lord Trefgarne: I should like to make a few observations which will help me shorten my remarks when we discuss the amendments in a little while.

I was a member of the Procedure Committee which prepared the report which is now before the Committee. Although I accept that the report broadly reflects the view of the committee, I take a different opinion on at least some of the issues and will in due course propose certain amendments for the Committee's consideration.

I start with the observation that it was a great pity that the committee was asked to complete its work so quickly. My noble friend Lord Denham indicated at the time how unusual, not to say unprecedented, it was for the committee to be so constrained. The proceedings of the committee which led to this report were rushed to say the least. It was hardly ever possible for our hard working Clerk to provide documentation in a timely manner. Although, no doubt, our

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chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, did his best, we were often faced with the need to consider verbal amendments of an important kind. I caused some irritation by repeatedly intervening for clarification of what was being discussed or considered. I apologise to colleagues if that was so. Again, no doubt as a result of pressures of time, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was not always able to guide us through the intricacies of the various proposals and counter proposals as clearly as I am certain he would have wished.

Another issue, which is reflected in the amendments which I shall move later, was the question of resources. The plain fact is that it is clear that no consideration of any sort had been given to the likely cost of the enhanced facilities which these proposals will require. We were simply told that whatever additional resources were required would be found because the parliamentary budget is apparently not cash limited. I believe that that is a wholly inappropriate approach to the process of modernisation and I hope that the Committee will in due course agree. I emphasise that I intend no criticism of the staff and others involved. There was simply not time to consider these matters properly. That, of course, includes the officials of this Chamber.

There was also some suggestion that some of the points contained in the Leader's Group report, which we are considering, were not matters for the Procedure Committee. I take the view that the whole of the Leader's Group report, not just part of it, was referred to the Procedure Committee by the Chamber. I believe that the Chamber has the right and the authority to direct the Procedure Committee as it pleases. For the committee simply to refuse to consider matters on the ground that they are for some other Select Committee is just wrong. I hope that that doctrine will not be advanced again. The truth is that the Procedure Committee has often considered matters which may or may not have fallen precisely within its terms of reference when directed to do so by the Chamber. That must surely be the correct way to proceed.

I believe that this package, which we have repeatedly been urged to take as a package both in the Chamber and in the committee, has the effect of facilitating the passage of government business. Although a few of the detailed proposals may not be directly so intended, that is the effect of the package of proposals. I use the word "effect" advisedly. I am, of course, aware that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has protested that that was not his intention. But again I say that that is the effect of the measures now before us.

It is, I believe, of overwhelming importance that in formulating the procedures and protections available in this Chamber we are careful never to undermine the capacity of minority groups to express their view and to have their position considered. In the end the only pressure that a single voice or perhaps a small group of like-minded noble Lords can bring is one of delay. We are in this Chamber an adjunct to the democratic processes of the other place. We have a right, indeed, a duty, to revise, to amend and to have the other place

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think again. That means that it must be possible for even just one noble Lord to keep a Minister from his dinner or his bed at least for a while.

Of course, ultimately the Chamber will decide. There are procedures already in place to prevent abuse of that right. However, the package now before us in my view further erodes the power of Back-Benchers and especially minority groups of Back-Benchers. I confess that I should have much preferred our procedures to be left as they are. However, we now have a package before us. I shall therefore seek the Committee's agreement to certain amendments which I believe remove the worst of the proposals now before us and perhaps go a little way to ensuring that the rights of Back-Benchers are not unacceptably eroded.

Before I turn to the amendments I make two final points. I have said that I see the effect of these proposals being to facilitate the passage of government business. I fear greatly that if we are to move to a situation where the Chamber is expected to finish business at a certain time or within a certain period, it will not be long before business managers think in terms of a guillotine. Nothing has more undermined the capacity of the other place to consider, amend and revise legislation than the draconian use of the guillotine procedure which has become so prevalent in recent times.

I, of course, recognise that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has disclaimed any such intention, but we have to look to the time when other Ministers will occupy the Government Benches who may feel less constrained. I believe with complete conviction that if we were to move to a guillotine procedure in this Chamber the capacity of Parliament—that is both Houses taken together—to hold the Government to account and to have them explain and justify their actions and their proposals would be almost completely eroded.

I turn to my final point. These proposals have emerged from a Leader's Group and the Procedure Committee. In truth it is the so-called "usual channels" that bring the proposals before the Chamber. Even the Procedure Committee consists principally of distinguished denizens of the usual channels. When noble Lords such as myself seek to offer a different view, we are very soon seen off.

I accept that for routine matters the usual channels serve a good purpose, but for matters of principle particularly affecting the Back Benches they are unsatisfactory. My fears were underlined during the Procedure Committee deliberations when the Lord Privy Seal sought to defend a particular proposal by claiming that the rights of Back Benchers would be protected by, as he put it, the lock of the usual channels. At that moment I became resolved to challenge the conclusions of the Procedure Committee report now before your Lordships. I support the Motion before the House.

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