Business

– in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Viscount Cranborne Viscount Cranborne Conservative 3:37 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to ask a question of the Deputy Leader of the House about the order of business. We understand that the NAO report on the Dome was published this morning. I wonder whether the Leader of the House or the Government Chief Whip can tell the House whether a request has been received for the noble and learned Lord the Minister for the Dome to come to the House to tell your Lordships about the Government's reaction; whether that request has been delivered; whether it was denied; and whether it was denied on the grounds that there would be an opportunity in the near future to question the noble and learned Lord on that matter.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, first, I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not here. She has official engagements elsewhere. I regret to say that, because I had not received notice of this question from the noble Viscount, I simply do not know the answer. Had I any information, I should of course want to share it with the House. However, in the absence of prior notification, I simply do not know the answer.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may ask a question that arises from that answer. In light of the fact that we have not had a Statement today and in light of the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has failed to reply to letters from me dated 14th September and 19th October raising important questions about information given to this House about the Dome at the end of July, can we at least be assured that we shall be given an early opportunity for the noble and learned Lord to answer for his responsibilities in this House?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, again, I do not know of the letters of 14th September and 19th October. I was given no prior notice of that question and I simply do not know whether my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton was given notice. However, if your Lordships want distinct answers to particular questions, it is helpful if notice is given so that I can discharge my duty properly.

I see that a finger is being pointed at the Government Chief Whip. I am sure that if he had any information he would transmit it to me. But I repeat that I cannot know the answers to questions about correspondence between one of your Lordships and one of my colleagues unless I am told about them in advance. With the best will in the world, I cannot do everyone else's job as well as my own.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, perhaps I may help. This is a major report, as everybody knows. It has been issued publicly and is being debated by the media all over the place. My understanding is that Her Majesty's Opposition asked specifically for either a Statement or for a Private Notice Question and that was refused. That would be very surprising and, certainly, it would be a matter of interest to all of us. Somebody here must be able to answer whether or not that is so. Otherwise, we shall go away thinking that there is collusion between the two Front Benches, both of whom come out of the report very badly.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, everybody must sympathise with the difficult position in which the noble and learned Lord the Deputy Leader of the House finds himself. We all understand that, from time to time, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House must absent herself from this House on official duties. But it is rather strange that she did not advise the noble and learned Lord, as her deputy, of the decision that she took earlier today.

My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns asked to table a PNQ on the Dome, requesting the attendance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in this House. That PNQ was turned down on the authority of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House herself. Does the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General find it rather strange that he was not advised of that?

Furthermore, does he also not find it rather strange that those of us who happened to turn on our televisions during the course of this afternoon saw the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, being interviewed by the press? This is not the first time that that has happened. Why is it that a government Minister in this House seeks to explain himself to the press but not to this House?

Finally, does the noble and learned Lord think that it would be appropriate for this House to debate the whole subject of the Dome at the earliest possible opportunity?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, the important question is the last one that the noble Lord put. That is a matter of the general interests of the House and I am trying to honour the interests of the House in dealing with the central question that the noble Lord put.

He asked me whether I think it is appropriate to have an opportunity to debate the matter in this House. The answer is that my personal opinion is yes, and I dare say that the usual channels will collude to ensure that a desirable outcome is brought about. I do not know whether or not the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is on the television. He may be; he may not be. I am not a great television watcher myself, except for the parliamentary channel.

Photo of Lord Shore of Stepney Lord Shore of Stepney Labour

My Lords, I do not wish to add at all to my noble and learned friend's difficulties and I appreciate them, but can he tell us where exactly my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer is? Knowing that this matter would arise, I am sure that he must have given a very good reason for not being present in this House this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn Attorney General, Law Officers' Department

My Lords, we becoming a shade unrealistic now. I do not know where my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer is. That is the danger with giving honest answers. I must reform myself! It is wholly unrealistic, to put it at its kindest and most neutral, to expect me to know where all my colleagues may be. Indeed, in many circumstances, I probably ought not to know.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, we all understand the difficulty in which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General finds himself in not knowing where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is. Does he know where the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is?