My Lords, before we move on to day three of the Committee stage on the Bill, now might be a convenient point for me to say a word about next week.
Noble Lords will be aware that we have made steady progress on the Bill, but it has been significantly short of the targets we have set. On the part of the Government, let me say that we recognise that the House has approached the Bill in the spirit of genuine scrutiny, but we also need to continue to make progress with this important Bill. With the agreement of the usual channels, I have therefore arranged for the House to sit early on Wednesday 7 March, at 11 am. It would not be my intention to sit late on that day. My noble friend the Leader of the House will move a business Motion tomorrow to enable Questions to be taken at their normal time of 3 pm.
Noble Lords may also notice that we have postponed the Questions for Short Debate which were scheduled as dinner break business for this week and next. I am grateful for the co-operation and good will of all those who had tabled these debates. My office will endeavour to offer them suitable alternatives. It is my intention that, should progress allow and should those involved desire it, we should be able to ensure that all those speaking on the Bill have a short break at a convenient point in lieu of dinner break business and, where necessary, we will adjourn the House during pleasure. This will of course be kept under review by the usual channels as the Bill progresses. I am grateful for their continued constructive spirit.
Finally, I have another announcement to make. Members arriving early for Questions today may have already visited the Robing Room, where the House authorities have arranged the annual Members’ open day. Stands cover the full gamut of services available to Members and it is open to all Members and their staff. I end my statement by whole-heartedly recommending that all noble Lords find time to pay a visit. They may be advised to wrap up well.
Perhaps I may ask the Government Chief Whip a question in relation to his original statement. He clearly indicated that, on days when we meet in the morning such as next Wednesday, he would not expect us to continue late into that evening. Could he then explain why it is that Deputy Speakers are being asked for their availability after 10 o’clock next Wednesday?
The noble Lord will know that the House has to take all precautions. We are not expecting to sit late. The spirit in which I have been discussing this within the usual channels is that we hope to see the Bill move a bit faster than it has been and, by giving it extra time, Members will have the opportunity to scrutinise it properly. However, it is often the case that the House has to sit on Bills after 10 o’clock in the evening. It is not my intention to do so, but I am suggesting that it may suit the House that that is the case.
My Lords, the Government Chief Whip’s statement was somewhat convoluted in the first part. Assuming that we will be continuing until 10 o’clock, did I take him to be giving a definite commitment that there will be a break for dinner? Is he aware that there was considerable resentment in the House on Monday that we sat for nine and a quarter hours in debating the Bill and the Government did not grant us a break? The noble Lord needs to be aware that some of us are not going to be starved into submission.
I am sure the noble Lord would not expect that that was my intention. Following a communication from the noble Lord, I discussed this matter with the usual channels to find a way of giving those who are dealing with the Bill an opportunity for refreshments. For example, this evening there will be a couple of repeat UQs. These will be taken in a half-hour period, when the House will resume and the Committee stage will be suspended. It is my intention that we should always have a half an hour, at any rate, where people can be relieved of attention to the Bill before the House.