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Lord Harris of Greenwich: The person who is in charge of these arrangements is of course not the Leader of the House; it is Mr. Heseltine who has decided the timetable in which we are discussing the Bill. He showed an extraordinary degree of arrogance over the privatisation of the Recruitment and Assessment Services. Guarantees were given by the Leader of the House on the Floor of this place. They were dishonoured by Mr. Heseltine when he came to the committee which was considering the matter.
On that occasion, we were given undertakings that the privatisation would not be pushed through until the Government had had the opportunity to consider the report of the Committee on Public Service. When Mr. Heseltine gave evidence he made it abundantly clear that
The Leader of the House is merely Mr. Heseltine's messenger. The Government are prepared to rip up all the normal arrangements with regard to discussions between the usual channels about the organisation of public business in this place. If the Government continue in that way, I promise them that they will pay a heavy price in the future.
Earl Howe: The noble Lord, Lord Harris, may huff and puff, but he has not produced one argument against the substance of the Bill. I shall turn briefly to the amendment which I think we were discussing some time ago. The retrospective powers contained in the Bill are essential, because without them the courts risk becoming burdened by needless argument. They risk being obstructed by the need to have individual SIs specifically approved.
That is a process that can no doubt be undertaken, but it is not fair of Members of this place to force the courts down that road. There is a risk, albeit a remote one, of defendants being acquitted on a mere technicality. Is it for Members of this place to sanction such a risk? Discussion of the Bill has enhanced all of those risks. It is imperative that the Bill, in its final form, removes the risks. So I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
I return to what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said. Naturally, we on this side very much reject any breakdown in the usual channels. That should go without saying. If I can say this in as kind a way as I can, it is noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber who are seeking to pick an argument when there should be no argument. There should be no argument on a Bill of this kind. I have stated here, and I repeat the assurance, that the Bill has no bearing on the privatisation of HMSO. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not believe me. I am very sorry about that, because I say those words advisedly. If we reject the Bill, we shall cause all manner of problems for the courts, and we shall be deliberately sanctioning possible legal loopholes. I do not believe that that is a worthy thing for this place to be doing.
Lord McNally: My Lords, sometimes, particularly when one is a new boy, one tables an amendment without realising fully the implications of it. Having listened to the debate, I am very proud that I tabled the amendment because, if the Minister has access to cable television and looks at the repeats of the Lords' proceedings when one is given a glimpse of the serried ranks of Tuscany from time to time, he will see that his colleagues behind him looked glummer and glummer as he dug deeper and deeper into the hole of his own making. If they did not fill it, then they certainly do not realise the full implications of what the Minister described as a relatively unimportant and small piece of legislation. He dragged in at the last minute the
The Minister denies, denies and denies again any linkage between the Bill and the privatisation of HMSO. And yet, as my noble friend indicated, the circumstantial evidence of that linkage and the linkage between the diktats of the Deputy Prime Minister and the behaviour of that Front Bench would stand up in most courts of law.
Beyond this Bill is the behaviour of this House. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out quite rightly that we shall move into a period when the behaviour of this House will be scrutinised and debated very closely. I say very clearly, because although I may be a new boy in this Chamber, I have been around this Palace in one guise or another for more than 40 years and I am very proud of the role of Parliament, that, if the Executive continues to use this House to demean Parliament and parliamentary procedures, in the long term it is this House which will pay the penalty. I intend to divide the Committee this evening to indicate how deeply we on these Benches feel that this Government are overriding the proper parliamentary procedures in dealing with this Bill.
Earl Howe: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that I do not believe that the Government have overridden any parliamentary procedures. We have agreed through the usual parliamentary channels to take the Committee stage this evening. The noble Lord may have found that inconvenient but that is the case.
We have referred to the possibility of my noble friend moving the Third Reading Motion tomorrow. That is yet to come. I suggest that the Committee is now looking at the amendment. The noble Lord has not argued in any substantive way against the principle in the Bill that there should be retrospective adjustment to cover a clear loophole in the law.
I have not heard such an argument. I do not believe that the noble Lord has addressed any of the points which I raised. Therefore, before going down that road, I urge Members of the Committee to pay close attention to what I said. Even at this late stage, I ask the noble Lord to think again about dividing the Committee.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: The fact is that the Government have made a Business Statement in the course of the debate which is frankly of a truly disgraceful character. We propose to vote for the amendment to demonstrate our total disapproval of what the Government are doing.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.