Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 17th December 2003.

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Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat 3:25 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, while I do not accept the views of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about Wednesdays and Thursdays—and fortunately that issue is not before the House on this occasion—his 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 interests—a 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 continuously—unlike the situation, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in a Second Reading or a general debate—from 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 seeing—long before we have a chance to review the package as a whole—the 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.