Motion to Agree
My Lords, I should like to touch briefly on two matters raised in the report. The first relates to the timing of future elections to the office of Lord Speaker, including any election that may be held this year. As we state in paragraph 2 of our report, we believe that the current provisions in Standing Order 19 relating to the timing of elections are defective. We therefore propose various amendments to the Standing Order, which are set out in full in the appendix to the report. The amendments are very technical but their purpose is to simplify the timing of future elections, ensuring that they will be conducted according to a predictable pattern. The practical effect of these changes, if an election is held this year, will be that it will be held on Wednesday, 13 July, with the result reported to the House the following week. The amended Standing Order would also provide for a longer handover period between any election and the new Speaker taking office. In other respects, the arrangements for future elections will remain as they are at present.
The second matter raised in the report relates to the tabling of Oral Questions. Many noble Lords will be aware that in recent months there has been increased competition for the limited number of Oral Questions. Under the current arrangements, most slots for Questions become available at 10 o’clock on either Friday or Monday mornings, and priority is given to noble Lords who can attend the Table Office in person at those times. These arrangements are inconvenient for many noble Lords, particularly those who live outside London or who have work commitments in the mornings. We therefore propose that in future the notice period for Oral Questions should be reduced from one calendar month to four weeks. This means that three or four Questions will become available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We further recommend that slots for Questions be made available at two o’clock rather than 10 o’clock, making it easier for noble Lords to go to the Table Office in person.
I hope that these changes will commend themselves to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a query about the proposed new Standing Order for the election of the Lord Speaker. If a Lord Speaker resigns or dies in, say, mid-October, the election of the new Speaker will take place within three months under this new Standing Order—that is, no later than mid-January. However, under the proposed Standing Order, the new Lord Speaker will take office on 1 September in the year of the election. We could thus have a new Lord Speaker elected in January but not able to take up the post until 1 September, with the role presumably being filled in the interim by the Lord Chairman of Committees. Is that correct or have I missed something?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, makes an interesting point. I assure the House that if a Lord Speaker resigned in the timetable that he envisages, it would certainly not be the intention that the new Lord Speaker would not then take office until the following September. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a precise answer to whether we have made a mistake in this. I hope that we have not but I shall have to write to him. However, that is certainly not the intention.
My Lords, I draw attention to the recommendation which the noble Lord has already mentioned at paragraph 14, that Standing Order 43 be amended in the terms set out in appendix 1 to reduce the notice period for Questions and Motions, other than those relating to legislation, from one month to four weeks. I am all in favour of reform and modernisation, but is this not in danger of going too far, too fast in making an immediate change from one month to four weeks? Did the committee consider a phased introduction, perhaps over several decades, in order to bring this about?
I can quite see the noble Lord’s concerns, but the committee did not feel that it was going too far in this reduction, which of course in February, other than in leap years, would mean no change. In some other months, it will mean a change from 31 days to 28 and in others from 30 to 28. Given the difference between 31, 30 and 28 in February, except for leap years, it would not have been sensible to have phased it in any other way than to make it 28 days right around the year.