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The second point, which follows from the first, is the question of the status of the document. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has courteously--indeed, courtesy is proper in these circumstances--exonerated the Minister from responsibility for the inability to give answers to questions today, but there still remains the question of the status of the draft. In my view, although further consultation must follow, what we have at the moment is the Minister's department's best view of what the draft should be. If it is not that department's best view of what the draft code of practice should be, it should not be before the Committee at all. It has been brought before the Committee only because at the moment it represents the provisional view of Her Majesty's Government; otherwise, we would have had it much earlier. If I am wrong on that, I hope that the Minister will tell us, because I believe that should not have come forward. However, if the draft is the provisional view of Her Majesty's Government, Her Majesty's Government must have a view on the amendments which have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. They cannot have it both ways.
Baroness Blatch: The status of the code of practice is that it is a draft code of practice. It is before the Committee because, quite properly, those people who take an interest in the Bill believed not only that it was desirable, but that it would be difficult to discuss the Bill without having a draft code of practice in their hands as we dealt with the Bill. That is why it is in this form. When it was presented to both the Library and the Printed Paper Office and when I referred to it on the first day, I made it clear that it was a draft code. I also made it clear that there has already been some consultation on the code of practice, which has been substantially refined in the light of that consultation. I also made it clear that the provisions would be influenced by the Bill's progress through both Houses. Indeed, one way of addressing the concerns held by noble Lords on all sides of the Committee may well be to refine or modify the code as a result of some of the amendments that have been discussed by your Lordships but which may not have been accepted by the Government. When the code is modified--if the code is modified--it is important that there is proper reflection. It is also important that the draft should have the value of the opinion of those who have to operate under the code. That will continue to be the case. As each draft is brought forward, it will go out for consultation.
I have already said that the ideas in the amendments are interesting. I have also said that they will be given serious consideration. Furthermore, I have said that I shall respond to them in detail and that I shall make sure that any response to any noble Lord will also be made available in the Library to all noble Lords.
I came to the Dispatch Box today to discuss the Bill. That is what I had prepared to do today. Before me are a set of amendments to place on the face of the Bill copied, amended and new ideas to the code of practice. I have responded in detail to that. I have said how we shall deal with that.
As to how the code itself is dealt with, I have already said that we are speaking in something of a vacuum. The Bill proposes a particular procedure. That has been queried by Amendments Nos. 97, 99 and 100. I have responded by saying that I shall take those amendments away and reflect on them between now and Report stage. I shall then return either with a modified procedure or not. That is as far as I can take the matter. I do not believe that I have done anything improper. Asking me to respond now in detail to some detailed points about the code is not a proper use of our time. That would be creating a new procedure whereby we would discuss a code of practice in detail at the Dispatch Box when we should be discussing the Bill.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Minister has said that we are discussing this matter to some extent in a vacuum. She is entirely right. The truth of the matter is that because this is a draft code and because, quite properly, it needs further consideration by those who will have to operate it and by those outside who have an interest in it, the only people in this country who cannot make suggestions to the Government and receive a response are Members of your Lordships' Committee--
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is the case. I have asked the Minister whether she accepts that the code of practice is an important element in our consideration of the Bill. That is what the scrutiny committee said and I am sure that it is right, as were noble Lords on Second Reading. To that extent, it is our duty to seek to debate the content of the code of practice without which Part II of the Bill is meaningless. The Bill includes matters which the Government have decided are of such importance that they should be included on the face of the Bill. There are various constraints on the code of practice, including in Part II. That is the Government's view of the constraints on the code of practice. It may not be the view of Parliament. Where we disagree, it is our duty to seek to draw the attention of Parliament to those issues.
We are as much at liberty to put up matters for discussion as are the Government when they propose their legislation. We are doing no more than the Government themselves have done. We are being denied the opportunity to do so, not because our amendments are not being accepted for debate but
Baroness Blatch: What the noble Lord has just said is absolute nonsense. What I have said--I do not know how many times I have said it during the course of the debate, but I shall say it again--is that every Member of this place is at liberty to make suggestions about changes to the code. I, as the Minister in the department, will ensure that there is a response by government to ideas about modifying or changing the code. So the noble Lord can have his say, and he will be responded to. It is not the purpose of this stage of the Bill at this moment to modify the code. I have said also that I will take away and consider the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, and supported by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I shall consider the affirmative resolution procedure for approving the code.
No noble Lord is denied the opportunity to make suggestions in any kind of detail. I give an absolute guarantee that I shall respond on behalf of the Government to noble Lords, but not on the hoof at the Dispatch Box.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I say with respect to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that that must be reasonable. It is not a question of the noble Lord not being able to obtain an answer from the Government; it is not a question of the matter not being debated in this place. The position merely is that my noble friend the Minister cannot today answer for the Government in the way that she is asked to do. She can only give her own personal impression.
My noble friend the Minister has given a firm undertaking that she will give the Government's answer to every one of these related matters and amendments on or before Report stage. She will give full information of the Government's reaction. It is--I hate to use the word "unfair"--unrealistic of the noble Lord to pursue this matter further when, as I understand it--I may be mistaken--on Report he will receive full answers from the Government on every one of these amendments. Ought not we to continue with our debate and accept in amity the basis of my noble friend's offer?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has fully appreciated how serious is the situation. It is acceptable on occasion for the Minister to say,"I think that is an interesting idea. I have not been briefed on it. I shall take it away, and we will consider it". Of course it is acceptable that there should be opportunities for Members of this place, as there are for any inhabitants of this country, to make representations to the Government about any issue of public policy. We hope that they will receive the courtesy of a reply, and knowing the Minister I am sure that she will do her best to do so. That is not the issue.
The issue is whether the code of practice which has been widely acknowledged, including by the scrutiny committee, as being essential to the consideration of the legislation can be debated on the Floor of this place in a meaningful way. By being debated on the Floor of this place in a meaningful way, I mean that we can use whatever means are available to us to table amendments which should be responded to by government.
The Minister has not just said on one or two occasions that she is unable to answer and will respond later. That of course would have been acceptable. What she is saying is that because the only device available to us is to debate the code in the context of the Bill, she is never going to make any response to the amendments we table to the code of practice.
That procedure is not acceptable. Under those circumstances, the only thing I can do is to move now that the House resume. Then I shall propose to a resumed House that there should be an adjournment of 30 minutes for the usual channels and the Leader of the House to consider this matter. I do not believe that the Committee is being properly treated. I beg to move that the House do now resume.