My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I rise to speak but I think that my contribution will substantially meet the criteria that the Leader of the House has laid down for this debate.
I addressed the House at some length on the first day in Committee setting out the reasons why I thought it was important that we should conclude our scrutiny of the Bill and present it back to the other place ready to become legislation. That was on
First, I rebut the suggestion that we are meeting on this Thursday to discuss this part of the Bill at the request of this part of the Opposition. I cannot speak for all of the Opposition, of course, but I have been privy to many conversations, getting uncomfortably close to the usual channels in your Lordships' House, and never at any time in these discussions did I ask, or was I party to a request from the Opposition, that we should meet on a Thursday.
Noble Lords ought to remind themselves of the somewhat chequered history of the management of the Committee stage in this House. It was the great plan that this day would be devoted to a debate about referendums. It was broadly agreed because the consultation would be over and it was expected that the Government would be able to come to the Dispatch Box and indicate what their response to the consultation would be. There was a degree of consensus that went beyond the Front Benches that it was appropriate to handle the matter in that fashion. However, as has consistently happened with the Committee days of the Bill, we have been subject to other items of business being imposed on them. We have just had the same thing today. In fact, we lost a whole Committee day for this Bill because it was seized from us for ping pong on the Welfare Reform Bill. I was assured that that would take only a couple of hours-at the time I laughed uproariously at that idea-but it took all day and we lost a whole day in Committee.
There was an attempt, to which I was a party, by those who want to see this matter proceed appropriately to manage the business in such a way that we would conclude it within the appropriate time. However, there was no agreement that we would sit on Thursdays. A lot of what has happened has been imposed on me and other Members of the House by the circumstances of the business of the House. I understand that it has to be managed and I do not want to be part of that process, but any suggestion that the Opposition requested Thursdays is not correct to my knowledge.