Timing of Debates
My Lords, why is it that we have to wait until late afternoon/early evening to consider the Statement on the document, Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement, when it has been all over the newspapers, it has been publicly explained through press conferences, and the rest of it? It directly affects the future of the United Kingdom and the interests of many Members who come from Scotland and the north of England and who will be travelling back to their homes on a Thursday night.
I do not doubt the importance of today for the people of Scotland and indeed for the United Kingdom as a whole and I understand the importance of the Statement. It is a busy day in the House today. We have Opposition day debates that will take up five hours of the business. It is one of the courtesies of the House that when a Statement is issued in another place the Opposition and the Government talk about it. The Opposition are given the choice whether to take the Statement and they are also asked whether the timing is convenient for the business of their spokesmen. Accordingly, the time that has been chosen to debate the Statement has been fixed. It is not impossible for the Government to override the wishes of the Opposition, but it is one of the long-standing courtesies of the House that the primary choice rests with the Opposition, and quite rightly so.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Can the Minister tell us whether the delay in producing today’s speakers list was down to the debate that was taking place between the two Front Benches? To be told only at five to 11 when you are to speak in a debate is quite ridiculous.
I understand that, but unfortunately the decisions on this matter were not available to my office in order to print the list at an earlier time. The noble Lord is correct, but he will know that my office works very efficiently in this regard. When a decision had been made, the lists were then made available. I am sorry for any inconvenience that Members of the House may have suffered. I know that many noble Lords expect to be able to go home at a reasonable hour on a Thursday, having considered the business that is of interest to them. However, the interests of one Member may not be the same as those of another. I think that the tradition of the House of working with the Opposition on these matters is an important one to maintain and I hope that it will be understood and continued by noble Lords.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, but if the Opposition decided to delay the Statement and prevent us from having an early opportunity to discuss it, that may explain why they are so far behind in the opinion polls—behind the SNP—in Scotland. This is a vital matter. These proposals were put forward by the leaders of the parties without any consultation. Indeed, the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland resigned, saying that she had not been consulted. It seems grossly unfair that Parliament has not been given an opportunity at an early stage to debate matters that are vital to the future of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this. I merely point out that tomorrow is a sitting Friday. If it were not, I would entirely accept that noble Lords would wish to go home to Scotland today. However, as it is a sitting Friday, they may wish to be here tomorrow. I would also point out that, had the Prime Minister gone to Scotland yesterday, the draft clauses would perhaps have been published yesterday. As it is, he has gone today, so I suggest that perhaps it has something to do with the Prime Minister’s diary.