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Business Of The House: Lords' Reform Debate

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 17 February 1999

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3.23 p.m.

My Lords, I undertook yesterday to consider and report back to the House today the request from the official Opposition and others for a second day for the Lords' reform debate scheduled for Monday.

I am pleased to say that, following discussions within the usual channels, it has been agreed that this debate will now extend over two days; namely, Monday and Tuesday of next week, 22nd and 23rd February. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip and his colleagues for their co-operation in ensuring that this arrangement can be made.

A Peer whose name is already on the speakers' list will be assumed to be available for both Monday and Tuesday unless he or she notifies the appropriate Whips' Office, and, in the case of the Cross-Bench Peers, the Government Whips' Office, to the contrary. Those constructing the speakers' list will try as far as possible to meet the wishes of all Peers.

A draft speakers' list will be available in the Government Whips' Office from four o'clock tomorrow afternoon, Thursday. It is, of course, open to Peers to table their names until 12 noon on Monday but no further names will be accepted after that time, as the debate is a single debate over the two days. I should also remind those noble Lords taking part in the debate that, as this is a single debate over two days, and in response to requests from all around the House, Peers taking part in the debate will be expected to be present for the majority of the debate, specifically including the opening speeches on Monday and the closing speeches on Tuesday.

I should perhaps also say that it is the Government's intention that my noble friend the Leader of the House will open the debate on Monday and I will wind up on Tuesday. It is not expected that other Ministers will take part in the debate.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for their wisdom in conceding this request from this side of the House, and, I believe, from all parts of the House. I note that the noble Lord the Chief Whip requests that all those taking part in the debate should be present at the beginning and at the end of it. I agree with that point but I point out that he acceded to the request fairly late. He might have offered it somewhat earlier. There will therefore be a number of noble Lords who have to rearrange their affairs with some difficulty and who may face some problems. However, I am sure they will ensure that they can be present of both Monday and Tuesday. When these matters come before the House on other occasions I hope that the noble Lord will accede to requests—or perhaps even pre-empt hose requests—by offering two days at an earlier stage so that noble Lords can arrange their affairs with greater ease.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, who is not able to be here, I thank the noble Lord for informing us of these plans, which we thoroughly support without any reservation and with great relief.

My Lords, I have been called a number of things but never a wise Chief Whip before. I am surprised that noble Lords do not wish to be present for the whole or most of the debate and to hear the opening and the closing speeches because, after all, they keep telling us that this is a very important subject. They have asked for two days on this single debate. Given the importance noble Lords attach to the debate and the number of speakers who have put down their names to speak in it, I cannot believe that Peers will not wish to be present. I am pleased to say that we have been able to keep the health service Bill on track thanks to the co-operation of the Opposition. I am sure that we shall have a good debate over Monday and Tuesday with all noble Lords present to hear it.