§ 12.57 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, with permission, I should like to make a short Business Statement. It is proposed that we should take the Second Reading of the West Indies Bill, which has just been given a First Reading, on Thursday, February 9—that is, next week. I should like also to comment on the business which is now on the Order Paper for Wednesday, February 8. It is quite clear that the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, which is an important Bill, is the subject of considerable interest. In order that it may be considered at a fairly early time in the day it is proposed that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order 1967 be taken as first business on Thursday, February 9. It is also further suggested that the Hartlepool Order 1966 should be taken after the consideration of the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill. I thought it right to make that Statement for the information of the House.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for informing the House of these changes. He will 1125 appreciate that the suggestion came forward only very recently, so that I have not been able to consult with those of my colleagues who are particularly affected. But I have every confidence that the new arrangement will be satisfactory.
As I am on my feet, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are meeting on a Friday for the first time for a good many months, to say the least. While appreciating that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, succeeds in organising the business of the House, I think, to the general satisfaction, I would point out that on Tuesday and Thursday of this week we rose at what was really a very early hour. On Tuesday it was at 5.47 p.m., and on Thursday at 4.50 p.m. If we had been able to sit another two hours on each of those days it would not have been necessary to have a Sitting today. Noble Lords will appreciate that on the Order Paper there is a Sitting on Friday, February 10. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will bear in mind that the House does not take too kindly to Friday sittings and that next Friday's may be the last for some considerable time.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, we on these Benches have no objection to this proposed rearrangement of business for next week, but I should like to ask one question. I am interested in the West Indies Bill, and I propose to speak on it. Could we have some indication of how long the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order is expected to take? With regard to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, I should like to say that we appreciate, of course, the difficulty in which the Chief Whip finds himself: that business sometimes collapses far earlier than anticipated. I agree with the noble Earl who has just spoken that it is not to the advantage of noble Lords to meet too often on Fridays; but it is of great advantage to those noble Lords who wish to move Private Members' Bills to be able to do so. I think that we might occasionally put ourselves out, rather than that important Private Members' Bills, such as the one we have to-day, and Questions, such as that to be asked by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, should be jeopardised. After all, the business of Parliament comes first, and if it is neces- 1126 sary to sit on a Friday we on these Benches are quite prepared to do so.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am most grateful for what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. Regarding the fact that we rose early on two days this week and are now sitting on a Friday—which I agree is one of those rare occasions—all I can say is that I have been a Whip since 1958 and have been responsible for organising business since 1964. I am still learning. I have not yet mastered the art of looking in the crystal ball or reading the runners in terms of the length of speeches. Nor have I any control over the business of another place, and there are occasions when one foresees a fairly heavy week only to find that something unfortunate has happened in another place so that the business becomes light.
This is a problem, and I do not know how we are to overcome it. This House is changing in character. We have far more Life Peers who are anxious to speak and to take part in our deliberations. Apart from discussing Bills, they wish to discuss also matters of public importance. On the other hand, the Government have a very heavy legislative programme, and one tries to make it possible for these matters to be discussed at the right time. To-day we have had a very interesting debate, and I question whether it would have been quite so interesting had it taken place at eight o'clock on some other day. This is one of the problems which have to be taken into account by those responsible for business management. I would assure the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, that so far as I am concerned sittings on Fridays will be rare occasions. So far as I am concerned, we shall sit on Fridays only when perhaps he and I can at least agree that what is before us is of national importance.
In reply to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, about the West Indies Bill, the Order of the House, unless we make a contrary Order, is that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order should be taken as first business. I do not know what line the Opposition or Members of your Lordships' House may wish to take upon it. I hope we may have a short, and perhaps sharp, debate on it and then move to the important West Indies Bill. 1127 We will certainly see that we control our business, particularly in view of the fact that we shall be adjourning at about 4.15 p.m. for the visit of Mr. Kosygin. This is a matter over which we shall be in communication with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and noble Lords who sit on the Liberal Benches. I thank the noble Lords for their reception of the Business Statement and I apologise for having to bring them in on a Friday, although I must say that we have had a remarkably good attendance.