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Furthermore, this Bill, as proposed by the Government, could have paved the way to a constitutional shift by which not merely the powers of Parliament as a whole in relation to the legislation but the influence of your Lordships' House, as compared with that of the House of Commons, could have been reduced, as it were, by the back door. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House elliptically drew attention to a convention in answer to a Written Question in yesterday's Hansard. If that is a somewhat contentious convention, and it is accepted that your Lordships' House does not vote against statutory instruments, then to the extent that legislation is done by statutory instruments and not by Act of Parliament we are surrendering a considerable part of our influence over what happens.
That real danger in the Bill has to some extent been frustrated by the two relevant reports of the scrutiny committee. The House is deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and to the other members of the committee for the work they have done. The Government have shown some response to that.
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, they could hardly have done otherwise, with respect to the noble Lord the Chief Whip. We welcome the recommittal of Clause 6 although a wider recommittal would have been desirable. The recommittal of Clause 6 would be welcome in itself, although not regarded as satisfactory if at the expense of squeezing the Report stage of the Bill down from a day-and-a-half. No doubt it will be clarified, but from the timetable spoken about by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, it is not exactly clear what squeezing is to take place.
This Bill is now a recommittal issue. The report from the scrutiny committee is now an issue of major importance. The matter should be dealt with at the beginning of the day's business. It should not be brought on at six o'clock, seven o'clock or eight o'clock in the evening and the Report stage should not be squeezed.
There is another point on which I would like to have the intentions of the Leader of the House made clear. The Motion not only provides for the recommittal, but also for the stages of the Billnamely, the recommittal and Report stageto be taken on the same day. That does not mean, I trust, that the Report stage of Clause 6 takes place on the same day as the recommittal. If that were to happen, it would make a total mockery of a Report stage as distinct from a Committee stage. Whatever else may happen on that day as far as Report stage is concerned, there should be an interval of at least 24 hours between the recommittal and its outcome and the Report stage of that particular and now highly controversial and important clause.
Important issues arise here. I always listen with intereston this occasion it was with amazementto the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the deputy Leader of your Lordships' House. Last week he proclaimed, as it were, the Government's principle that legislation was of itself undesirable. He said that if it is not absolutely necessary to make law it is absolutely necessary not to do so. I wondered whether I was listening to a history of a Government who have produced how many criminal justice Bills; how many education Bills; and how many local government Bills? I wondered whether the noble Earl was living in a fantasy world of his own.
I pose these questions without the slightest politicking. What can be a worse possible government approach to their theory of little legislation than the practice of Ministers, before moving bewilderingly from department to department, feeling that they must put their imprint by an Act on their particular department? The worst of all worlds would be to have a great deal of legislation but with very little content, leaving it all to be filled out by statutory instruments. Such an approach would be the worst possible solution. It would leave us with skeletal legislation almost wholly dependent on statutory instruments to give it meaning and therefore, in the last resort, insulting.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I wish to say a very brief word in support of the Government. They have acted with total propriety. They have acted swiftly and given the scrutiny committee the credence which all noble Lords would wish the Government to give. As regards the recommittal of Clause 6, when one looks at the amendments which have been tabled already that would appear to be sufficient.
I shall come very quickly to my reason for saying that. I support the concept that a little more time be given. The reason is that when one looks at the scrutiny committee report, and at paragraphs 4 and 5 in particular, one sees that they are requiring, or suggesting firmly, that there should be more detailed framework in the drafting. I have tabled an amendment under Clause 1 to deal with that. The Bill Office has arranged to redraft it and put it into Clause 6 so that I can speak to it. There is no other amendment down dealing with the framework. Surely the framework is the crucial part of the report. That is a matter which your Lordships and the Government would wish to consider, but there is not yet a government draft of that particular format. Sufficient time should be given. There are no other amendments tabled that cannot be redrafted
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps I may follow what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said and recognise that in the drafting of his new amendments he has gone some way to try to meet some, but not all, of the criticisms of the committee on delegated legislation.
I wish to address only the constitutional implications of the extent to which we are dealing with matters of the greatest importance to many of our fellow citizens through the method of secondary legislation. I often have the privilege in this House, as I did in the other place, of hearing people refer to parliamentary sovereignty. The exercise of parliamentary sovereignty by the method of negative resolution as regards regulations is a deeply unsatisfactory part of the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty.
I am not going to raise partisan considerations. In this Bill matters of the greatest significance are to be dealt with by secondary legislation only. Perhaps I may mention just two in addition to those mentioned by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend Lord Jenkins. At Committee stage we attempted again and again to get on the face of the Bill a reference to the limitation of the possibilities of discrimination against a jobseeker on grounds that seem to be wholly inappropriate.
I give only one example. It is a matter on which Members of the Committee were lobbied by both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. I refer to the fact that an unwillingness to work on the sabbath has not been accepted as grounds for refusing to take a particular job although that might lead to the jobseeker's allowance being unacceptable and benefit being withdrawn. Furthermore, there are no references to race, origin or disability on the face of the Bill.
The crucial question of the level of the jobseeker's allowance has not been put on the face of the Bill, despite the reference in paragraph 8 of the report of the scrutiny committee to which my noble friend referred. There is also the crucial question of whether a jobseeker can be forced to take a job on pay that is below the minimum income support level. That has not been put on the face of the Bill although those provisions come very close to compelling people to work against their own rational interests.
Finally, the disturbing distinction between people who are sufficiently disabled to find it hard to hold a job but who are not so disabled that they might draw a disability income allowancethe noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made repeated references to thatis not dealt with on the face of the Bill.
I believe that one of the most significant roles of this House is the protection of our unwritten constitution and of the custom and tradition of the liberty of the individual in this country. A former Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, once said that the greatness of English law was that it,
I ask noble Lords to consider whether at this moment we are not being asked to "narrow down" from precedent to precedent. I beg noble Lords to take seriously this effective limitation on the powers of this House, the guardian of our unwritten constitution.
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