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Lord Roper: My Lords, while I do not accept the views of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about Wednesdays and Thursdaysand fortunately that issue is not before the House on this occasionhis remarks show the great advantages gained when leaders of political parties have previously served in the "usual channels", and therefore understand the concerns of opposition Front Benches having to deal with legislation on Thursdays.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, was perhaps overstating the matter when he said that the current arrangements for Thursdays are clearly unsatisfactory. There are some who feel they are unsatisfactory. They are complicated and not totally satisfactory; there are problems, but inevitably they are a compromise.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, we have a difficult problem. We have a conflict of interestsa perfectly open one. First, we have the interests of those on opposition Front Benches who deal with legislation in Committee, on Report or at Third Reading, and who would be expected to be on the Bench continuouslyunlike the situation, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in a Second Reading or a general debatefrom the time consideration of the legislation commences until it ends. Secondly, we have the interests of government Back-Benchers, who are obviously not terribly keen to be whipped here for longer than is necessary. That is a perfectly understandable difference of interests.
However, I think that the interests of those who have to carry out the task of scrutiny of legislation in detail, of holding the Government to account on their legislative programme, should also be taken into account. Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, I served on the working practice committee of the former Leader of the House, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
In that committee, one of the things on which I worked very hard in terms of moving more legislation into Grand Committees was to stop the situation of government Back-Benchers being kept in the House until absurd hours in the evenings because there was a risk that a Division might be taken later. That is why we have the target time of 10 o'clock. But that was part of a package. Now we are seeinglong before we have a chance to review the package as a wholethe process being interrupted and the legitimate position of opposition Front Benches being addressed in this way.
I have to say that there is no difference of opinion between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives on this issue. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, having taken into account the points that have been made, will withdraw his amendment and accept the recommendation of the Procedure Committee.
Lord Monson: My Lords, last Thursday we had a very full day and sat for seven hours exactly. We had an important Second Reading debate on the Energy Bill, an important Statement on the Defence White Paper and an Unstarred Question on hepatitis. Despite that, we still rose at the very civilised hour of 7.32 p.m., which I think is perfectly acceptable, and of course we had time for party and Cross-Bench meetingsand dinner as well. Under the proposal, we would have risen at two minutes past six, whether or not the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, were accepted, since the Unstarred Question on hepatitis would have been taken in the lunch hour.
However, we would still be faced with the problem of when to hold the weekly party and Cross-Bench meetings, since I understand that the next week's business is not known until late on Wednesday. Moreover, if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, were accepted the Government and opposition Front-Bench teams would have no opportunity for lunch, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has pointed out. Unfortunately the status quo is not an option, but if change there must be, the Procedure Committee's recommendation, as it stands, is the lesser of two evils.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not think that there is much that I can add to the report. Noble Lords have not asked any specific questions regarding my role. I think that it should be left to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to decide what he wishes to do with his amendment.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I shall be extremely brief as there are some important debates to follow. Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As he correctly says, the debate that has continued for many years about Thursday mornings is over. In fact, we have all agreed that we should start at 11 a.m. with Question Time.
The noble Lord referred to the "usual channels". Of course they were strongly represented on the Procedure Committee which produced the report. Modesty forbids me saying that the usual channels are not what they used to be.
The point about Statements is very simple. If we have a lunch break with an Unstarred Question tabled and there is a Statement, we will have a Statement and a lunch break, so the Front Benches will get two breaks and not none. After 10 years on the Front Bench in opposition and five years on the Front Bench in government, I know how it is possible for Ministers and other Front-Benchers to slip out to get some refreshment.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, said that the package should be considered as a whole. I can only quote what the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said when I asked my Starred Question about this matter in June. He said:
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.