When I first entered the House, it was not unusual for the House to sit late to get through particular pieces of legislation. On occasion I spoke on, or moved, amendments around midnight or even well after.
Now the practice is to try to rise by 10.00 p.m. If legislation is being considered, the House will rise after a particular amendment or set of amendments has been discussed, which may be a little before or a little after ten o’clock. Debate on the remaining amendments is resumed on another day. If it is a Second Reading or some other set-piece debate, guidance will be given to peers to the effect that if each speaker sticks to x number of minutes the House will finish by about 10.00 p.m. Peers tend to be good in sticking to the guidance, even though it is purely advisory.
There are still occasions, though, when House sits for longer. One day last week, it sat until nearly 11.00 p.m. to complete discussion on amendments to a Bill. It also happened yesterday, though not by design. The Third Reading of the Planning Bill, estimated to take a couple of hours, lasted for just over four. Commons’ Amendments to the Local Transport Bill, estimated to take about an hour, continued for two hours. As a result, debate on the report of the Constitution Committee on Relations between the Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament began not around six o’clock but after 9.00 p.m. There were last-minute discussions as to whether this debate should be postponed to another day, but it was agreed to go ahead with it.
The debate on the report was very useful. Lord Pannick made his maiden speech. He mentioned that as a lawyer his first case was not very successful: ‘my client was hanged’. I followed him (Lord Pannick that is) and, as is the convention, congratulated him on behalf of the House. I was also able to use the debate to make the case for setting up a Royal Commission on the Constitution to look at our constitutional arrangements holistically. I was followed by Lord Tyler. Another blogger, Baroness d’Souza, was in for a good part of the debate.
We rose just after eleven o’clock. Before the debate, I reminded the Government Chief Whip, Lord Bassam, of the late-night debates he and I engaged in on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill in 2000. I don’t mind such sittings. He prefers to avoid sitting late. I suspect mine is a minority view.