Business of the House: Summer Recess

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 20th June 2002.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:30 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Bach repeats the Statement, perhaps I may say a word on a matter that may be of passing interest to the House—that is, the dates of the Summer Recess. The usual channels have been able to agree that, subject to the progress of business, we hope to rise at the close of business on Tuesday, 30th July and return on Monday, 7th September—I am sorry, October. That was a bad start. Monday, 7th October.

As noble Lords will know, "subject to the progress of business" is the phrase normally used. In this case it means precisely that. If business progress is slower than we expect at the moment, I shall have the grim task of coming before your Lordships and saying that it may be that we cannot rise when we are hoping to. On the other hand, if it is swifter, I shall have the joyous task of coming before your Lordships and saying that it may be that we can rise a little earlier. But those are the dates that we expect to adhere to.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Roper, for their help in the long and difficult task of trying to find agreed dates.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for making this announcement today—it is in the interests of the House to know what are the Government's proposals—and for his personal remarks. At an earlier stage in both our careers I would have taken his kind remarks as an attempt to damage my career, but things are different here.

We believe that the Government are setting themselves—and hence your Lordships' House—artificially early deadlines for the completion of business. Before anyone reads too much to their advantage into the noble Lord's remarks about the progress of business, it is my opinion that the Committee stages we are looking at are likely to take a longer rather than a shorter time than that currently allowed for. But the Government are entitled to have their business considered and we shall try to make it work.

As to the noble Lord's Freudian slip, I expressed the view that many of your Lordships would prefer to come back a little earlier—for example, on 2nd October—rather than sitting in the week beginning 29th July. I hope that I was reflecting your Lordships' view in that respect. If it is really necessary for us to sit so much longer than another place—to maintain, among other things, our reputation as the hardest-working legislature in the world—that might be a better way to do it. After all, as we know, sitting in September rather than in July reflects the view of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, I am glad that the Government Chief Whip has been able to make this announcement. It is for the convenience of the whole House to have information on these matters as early as possible. I thank him and his office for the hard work that they have put in over the past two days to ensure that we have a timetable. However, it is a challenging timetable which, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, will present us with some difficulties. I believe that it is possible to meet the timetable. I hope that we can achieve the optimistic view and even shave a day or two off it. Let us hope that that is the case.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, it seems that in this House the Recesses get shorter and the sitting times get longer whereas in another place it appears to be the reverse and that the Recesses are longer and the sitting times are shorter. Can the noble Lord say what will be the Recess dates for the House of Commons? Is it not right that we should examine further the relationship between progress in each House so that this House does not have to sit a lot longer in order to accommodate the House of Commons sitting fewer days?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister (Home, Constitutional and Legal Affairs)

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, can the Government Chief Whip explain what are the Government's views now on family friendly policies? There is much interest in this subject in another place but, speaking as a mother with three young children, I take exception to the fact that family friendly policies seem to stop at the entrance to this Chamber. Here we are continuing, as always, to sit during the school holidays.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is very much in the mind of the Leader's Group and the Procedure Committee. It may be that the outcome of discussions will result in what she seeks. I am entirely sympathetic to the point that she makes, but the choice here is whether the extra days come at the beginning or at the end. It would be nice to have fewer, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It was rightly pointed outthat several noble Lords—including some who have spoken—who used to be at the other end of the Corridor have popped down here thinking, "Well, maybe it has a more gentle, leisured style". Clearly, that is not the case. We have longer, more frequent days of sitting now than the other place.

As to the noble Lord's question about how long the Recess will be at the other end of the Corridor, I believe that they rise three days earlier than us and return a week later than us. So I suppose that he will say that his case is made. The mismatch between the sitting days at the two ends is a serious issue that will have to be addressed.

I greatly appreciate the efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to reach accommodation on this issue. He referred to my Freudian slip. If he had seen noble Lords' reaction, as I did, when I made that Freudian slip, he would have noticed that it was more in the nature of blood draining from faces than any sense of exultation. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for his help. I hope that we are able to keep to these dates.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the noble Lord give an undertaking about the need for extra time being accommodated at the end of the Recess rather than at the beginning. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, those of us with school-age children have no time to go on holiday except in the month of August. If the extra time needed is added at the beginning it is extraordinarily inconvenient for those with families, whereas we would not mind if it was after September when the children have already gone back to school.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we are hoping to finish on 30th July, which is not an inordinately late day historically. I agree with the noble Lord that it would be highly desirable if we could look to more family friendly days of working. Those of us without children of school age may have grandchildren of school age and it is always desirable to achieve those objectives. But that may take a little negotiation.