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Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, we will have two Statements later today. Shortly there will be a Statement on the Ministry of Justice from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and later a Statement on Northern Ireland will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Rooker. We will take that immediately after the Third Reading of the Serious Crime Bill.

My Lords, I thank the Chief Whip for making that announcement about the Statements. Will he confirm my belief that it is unprecedented that a Statement is about to be made by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor which has already been made in another place? If I am correct that this is a new precedent, is there any reason why Statements should not be made in this House before they have been made in another place?

My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition’s memory of this place goes back a lot further than mine. If he is asking me that question, he presumably knows the answer, which is always the wise way to operate.

When you have two Houses starting at different times of the day, the sensible time to take major Statements is at the beginning of business. Had this Statement been on a Monday, a Tuesday or a Thursday, when the Houses start at pretty much the same time, this difficulty would not have arisen. It would have been very odd, however, if a major Statement of this sort had been delayed in the Commons until well into the proceedings; on Wednesdays the Commons start at 11.30 am, so the Statement would have come much later. If the Leader of the Opposition is suggesting that we should start a little earlier in the day, I am totally in favour of that.

My Lords, with respect to the Chief Whip, he is not quite right. The whole purpose is that the Secretary of State, wherever he is, makes the announcement, and a junior, whichever House he is in, repeats it later. Should that not be what is done?

My Lords, I do not think there is anything in the proceedings of either House that dictates which Minister shall make which Statement when. I am as much a guardian of the rights of Parliament as anyone, having been on the Back Benches myself for many years, but, with the greatest respect, it is not for Parliament to decide which Minister makes which Statement. There are all sorts of other opportunities open to Members of either House by way of Urgent Questions, Private Notice Questions, topical Questions or other means, but the Government are responsible for which Ministers make the Statements. As we have 100 splendid Ministers, neither House is at any great loss regarding who makes a Statement.

My Lords, will the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms look into this again? I cannot remember a single occasion on which the Secretary of State has not made the Statement himself first. If this is to be a total one-off, can we make absolutely certain that what happens this afternoon is not regarded as a precedent for future occasions?

My Lords, I suppose there is a degree of precedent about today, on which the Government should be congratulated. In my knowledge, which goes back around 30 years but admittedly not in this House, I cannot remember it being normal practice that Governments make Statements about the redistribution of ministerial responsibilities. I can remember many occasions when whole departments, such as that of the Secretary of State for Employment, disappeared just like that. There is some precedent in a Statement being made at all. However, I will undertake to the former Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms to do my research and see whether anything on these lines has happened prior to today, but I would not regard it as being of huge constitutional importance.

My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify whether the Statement that is about to be made is a repeat of the Statement in the other place or is it the original one? If it is the latter, what was the status of the Statement made in the other place?

My Lords, my right honourable friend David Hanson, who made the first Statement in the other House, made it plain that the Secretary of State would be making the Statement—we are dancing on a pin head at the moment but I will do my best—when this House sat, which is at three o’clock in the afternoon as opposed to half-past eleven. I repeat that I would love it if we all started at the same time. I would love it if we started earlier. A three o’clock start for a parliament is late indeed and any proposals for change would be welcome.