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Arrangement of Business

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2012


My Lords, we have reached 30 minutes, and therefore Question Time is concluded.

Last night I made a business statement, and at that time I undertook to notify the House when a new date had been found for a debate on the Leveson report. The usual channels have met and have agreed that, in order to enable the debate to take place at the earliest opportunity, it will be rescheduled for Friday 11 January, which previously had been a non-sitting day, so it does not displace any business of any other Peer. Those noble Lords who were signed up to speak last night will be automatically transferred on to the list of speakers for 11 January and naturally will be notified of that by e-mail. Of course, if that date proves inconvenient for any noble Lords, they may withdraw their name.

My Lords, I was puzzled by what was scheduled originally. Will there be enough time on the day that the noble Baroness has mentioned for Peers who have major contributions to make on this subject—and I mean major contributions—to make proper, lengthy speeches? I understood that yesterday they were to get between three and four minutes. You can hardly get to your feet and take a breath before you are told to sit down again. Will the noble Baroness assure noble Lords that they will not be told, “We all have to go home early on a Friday; therefore you cannot make a major speech”?

My Lords, last night I made a statement at 6.46 pm, going into some detail on the circumstances surrounding why it was necessary in the minds of several Peers taking part to delay the Leveson report debate. I do not propose to repeat the comments I made at col. 1522, where I explained why the business that had been scheduled had gone outside the range of time that would normally have been taken for Third Reading. That is better left for reading.

I gave undertakings to the House last night that we would seek a very early opportunity. In answer to several questions last night, I fully supported the view of those who wished to speak that they should not be hindered by anything other than the rules of the House in the Companion in so doing. Therefore, I can confirm that the normal process on a Friday is that we sit at 10 am. This will not be a time-limited debate. We shall follow the usual processes that we have with defence, economics and foreign affairs debates. It is in the hands of those who speak; they decide how long their speeches will be. No doubt, if they become a little overlong, those present may make that view felt.

My Lords, the noble Baroness last night informed us of the cancellation of this important debate, but said it was influenced by “a forceful delegation” who approached her. Can she give me the names of this forceful delegation, since they were the eiderdown brigade who prefer bed to debate? Does she also realise that, in missing the opportunity last night, this House has missed the opportunity to discuss the alternatives that there are on the Leveson issue, which are likely to be decided in the next week or so and before we have the debate? Does she also recognise that it has denied us the opportunity to discuss the latest issue of the Mitchell police affair, which is moving into charges of conspiracy between the Sun, the Telegraph and the police? It would have been a good opportunity, as Leveson recommended changes and the press refuse to accept them.

My Lords, I was very ready last night to agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said. I made that clear and I do so again today. He makes a forceful point. Of course, the usual channels had originally scheduled the debate for yesterday to reflect the view that it was important for the debate to take place before anything had been set in stone. However, in politics I understand that stone sometimes moves anyway in any Government, so it is not quite as we might think.

I certainly believe that we have found the earliest available opportunity. I understand that there are Members present in the Chamber today who were part of that delegation who came to see the Leader and me. As I mentioned last night, they were speaking on behalf of others as well. That was certainly the case. I was also aware, as I made clear last night, that other Members of this House would have preferred to go on into the late night—whether they brought their duvets with them, I am not too sure.

My Lords, I think I have done as many all-night sittings in the other place as the noble Lord. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her decision. The Leveson report is immensely important to the press and public. It would have been completely absurd, and would not have done justice to the report, to start a debate with more than 40 speakers at 8 pm. Surely, as far as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, is concerned—and on Leveson we tend to work arm in arm, if that is not too close a relationship—I do not think that a series of time-limited speeches in the early hours of the morning would have had any influence whatever outside this House. Therefore, it underlines the correctness of the decision taken by my noble friend.

I want to speak very briefly because my noble friend Lord Prescott identified this matter. I happily put my name forward as one of the people involved. Without hesitation, I can say that this is not about eiderdowns, beds or anything else as I manage quite well with very little sleep. However, the reality is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, if we had had our debate yesterday my noble friend Lord Prescott would have been making his speech at about 1 am and it would not have been noticed—and it ought to be. That is why we have the debate when we do, when we can also respond to some of the things that have been said or discussed elsewhere.

I am sure my noble friend has made the right decision. Will the House still sit on Friday 18 January, as is currently the plan?

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack for that question. I can confirm that the business of the House already set down for 18 January will proceed as normal. One of the considerations I had to take into account was that any scheduling of the Leveson debate should not displace Peers’ Private Members’ Bills because I know that Peers of this House value every opportunity to bring those Bills forward.