Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is it not the case that if the two Houses sit on

25 Nov 2002 : Column 576

separate fortnights, the period during which Parliament itself is able to hold the Government to account is extended by a fortnight? Therefore, if that is our chief aim, that does not chime with the present Motion.

I have not apologised for being absent because I was present for the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, which was eloquent and almost as persuasive as usual. On this occasion, however, he did not entirely persuade me.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. For a week perhaps at the end of July and for a week in October this House sits and the other does not. If the Motion is defeated—if the Motion is put to the vote—it will not be possible to call the executive to account from the middle of July until perhaps the middle of October. The point about the two weeks in September is that we do have a chance to call the executive to account if there are important issues that arise at that time.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House tell us what he thinks a proper period of trial would be? It appears to me that one year is enough. We could then look at the situation.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps I may respond to that point immediately because it is also the point of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The Motion is carefully crafted to limit itself to 2003 only.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords—

Lord Jopling: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that there has been a contribution from this side at all.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

A noble Lord: He is an independent.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords—

Lord Jopling: My Lords, unlike some of my noble friends, I was in the Chamber to listen to the speech of the Leader of the House. I would hate to say to my noble friends that I was convinced by his speech because I came into the Chamber inclined to agree with him anyway, having just read the Motion.

I confess, having been around this building for 38 years, that I have always thought it a nonsense that in a normal year Parliament has not sat for 10 or sometimes 11 weeks and has not been able to hold the executive to account at all. I therefore came into your Lordships' House today rather inclined to support the Motion.

25 Nov 2002 : Column 577

Often both Houses are recalled in September. I do not have the statistics, but as that is happening more and more in my experience it would be more convenient for us to know that we were coming back for two weeks in September with due warning, compared with coming back perhaps for a day or two days in September in some years without any warning at all. I should have thought that that would be convenient.

I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Boston, on one particular matter: he talked about the disruption to the summer contractors. All I can say to him is that the contractors seem to be able to put the House together again quite quickly when we are recalled in an emergency during the middle of the Summer Recess. In any case, having, as I say, watched these things for a number of years, I am rather inclined to have the Summer Recess broken up because I have grieved over many years at the totally ridiculous waste of money which those contractors are led to spend on replacing carpets and other fittings in the House which I think a normal person would say were perfectly functional. A huge amount of money is wasted in that way. But that is a different point.

It is not in every year—if the noble and learned Lord looks at the history—that, by getting up in the middle of July, as the Motion says, we would be missing two weeks of sitting. If 16th July were a Thursday, if the House sat the following week, in many years—I say this as one who used to organise such things in another place—the House would not sit again on 27th July. So in some years, the House would rise only a week earlier in such circumstances.

That brings me to a point that the noble and learned Lord made early in his speech. One recommendation that he cited was that after the two week sitting in September, the House would rise for three weeks for the party conferences. I have no love of party conferences—I stopped attending them many years ago—but for those of your Lordships who want to attend, I should have thought that it would be far better as a general principle that your Lordships' House did not meet during the party conference period. I know that it has often happened, especially during the Conservative Party conference, which is held last. However, bearing in mind that sometimes we shall miss only one week in July, I hoped that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House would say what he nearly said but not quite: that he would propose that the House would rise for all three party conference weeks.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I am pleased that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, because I, too, rise to speak in support of the recommendation made by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House. I, too, was a member of the Leader's Group and I stand by the decision to which I subscribed when we wrote our report, which was to recommend September sittings as part of a package. I must confess that I was surprised that the issue was returning from the Procedure Committee to the

25 Nov 2002 : Column 578

House. I was under the impression that the House passed a package including an agreement to effect that change. Perhaps my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will put me right if I misunderstood the position.

The important point that the House should understand is that we reached our view on returning to work in September in advance of the House of Commons taking any such decision. That decision was reached by the Leader's Group in its own judgment based on what we were trying to achieve with our report. That was not entirely about the convenience of the House, but principally about raising the level of scrutiny and calling the Government to account. Within the Leader's Group, it was generally—almost unanimously—agreed that there was sufficient cause for the House to be recalled during September because there was sufficient work for it to undertake then. In particular, we discussed a whole range of different functions that were delayed that could readily and properly be undertaken in September. I mention to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that I find it amazing—

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He mentioned coming back in September because there was sufficient work to be undertaken then. My understanding of the proposals is that not a single extra day is being asked of Members of this House, so the point about workload has no bearing whatsoever on the proposals.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, as has just been mentioned, it is likely that we will go into recess later than the House of Commons. Later in the year, there may be some changes in the way in which the programme is organised.

Returning to my point about our responsibilities to the public and in regard to scrutiny, I find it amazing that more than 50 per cent of our legislation emanates from Europe. Many people increasingly express concern about the volume of such legislation being passed, yet we ran from the end of July through to October without any close scrutiny of European legislation. We shall shortly receive a report from the European Union Committee examining how we currently undertake scrutiny.

So there is a compelling case for work to be undertaken, especially now that the Commons will resume in September. I ask the House to consider what will be the public perception if they see that the Houses of Parliament are not meeting broadly together as they have in the past—whether we will enhance the reputation of the House for its scrutiny and its calling of the Government to account by taking a break that runs from the second week in July through to October. On balance, I do not believe that that would go down especially well.

Many noble Lords may express views later today about the firemen's dispute and the need for modernisation, flexibility and change. When considering the future of this House, it is also appropriate for us to be prepared to be flexible, to recognise how people perceive us and to consider the

25 Nov 2002 : Column 579

work that needs to be done. The change recommended by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House would ensure that the House would raise its status, rather than be the subject of possible criticism for failing to change.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I ask your Lordships to consider—putting it as neutrally as I can—that the Leader's Group was composed of different strands of opinion. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said earlier, we started off with little in common, we realised that we had to give and take and we came to a unanimous conclusion. There was then a full debate in your Lordships' House in which a significant majority decided that we should try to move forward. I think that that is the way. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, he is quite right to say that we suggested a trial period, but the Motion in my name specifically limits itself to 2003.

I turn to your Lordships' contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, both said that they were absent for my speech. I sympathise with them, because listening to reasoned and reasonable propositions often tends to cloud the judgment and erode prejudice. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that he was going to put forward a few odd views. They were not few, but they were certainly odd. I could not follow the Ferrers faucet point about the eight inch pipe, but I think that he was suggesting two four inch pipes that would not join each other. We would then get all the water running out and nothing useful done.

The noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Trefgarne, described themselves as the dinosaur tendency. One does not find many live dinosaurs about the world these days; they are normally buried in seaside resorts where people hold party political conferences. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that she was passionately enthusiastic about the Liberal Democrat party conference. I sympathise with her, because the Liberal Democrats do not really have anything else about which to be enthusiastic. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, did not want to go to the Conservative Party conference. I sympathise with him, because Conservatives have everything else about which to be enthusiastic, but not their party conference.

No one has dealt with the "Forth" point. Mr Forth is a parliamentarian. He is an irritant—and rightly. Even in the Chamber in which the current Opposition is in a significant minority, he ploughs his furrow. What did he say, speaking in another place from the Conservative Front Bench? He said:

    "We . . . enthusiastically endorse sittings in September because it will give the House more opportunity to hold the Government to account instead of giving the Government the free ride that they have traditionally had for two and a half months during the summer".—[Official Report, Commons, 29/10/02; col. 712.]

That point is extremely important. We do not simply scrutinise and check the Government on legislation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page