Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Swinfen: The Minister said that the matter is already being considered by the Lord Chancellor. Am I right in thinking that if Parliament wills it, it will be done; that Parliament is paramount; and that if both Houses agree on the matter, it will become law?

Baroness Blackstone: I shall be extremely happy to draw this debate to the attention of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. It is right and proper that I do so. However, we are in some danger of getting ourselves into a legal quagmire, by pre-empting something being considered and where there is a larger issue of representative class actions. I am advised that such proceedings are as yet unknown in our law and that we need to consider the matter in a fundamental way. It is a complex issue. The right thing will be for me to draw this debate to the attention of my noble and learned friend, then we can return to it at the next stage.

Lord Rix rose--

Baroness Blatch: I am sorry to continue to prevent the noble Lord, Lord Rix, from coming in. Can the

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1663

noble Baroness give us a ballpark figure as to when the Lord Chancellor will come to a conclusion on this matter? The question posed by my noble friend Lord Renton is a very real one. There are two issues. First, there is the general issue as to whether a power should be taken for class representation in such cases. The second issue is whether the case for class representation stands alone in its own right and on its own merits. I believe that the Committee would like to take that into consideration if it knew, in advance, that it was unlikely that the Lord Chancellor would come to a conclusion either in time for it to be considered in this place or in another place.

Baroness Blackstone: I am sorry; I had meant to reply to that point earlier. I forgot that it had been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Regrettably, there will not be a conclusion to this matter before the Bill has gone through both this House and another place because the Lord Chancellor intends to consult widely about what I believe is a fairly major and complex change to our legal system. It would be wrong to introduce such a change without proper consultation with many different parties. I regret that I cannot give the reassurance for which I was asked that this matter will be dealt with before the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Lord Rix: In that case, does not that underline the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and to a lesser extent the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in as much as the Bill could be on the statute book when the Lord Chancellor brings forth the conclusions of the review and then it will be too late to include such a provision on what will then be an Act? It seems that practically every Member of the Committee is on the side of this amendment or a form of this amendment. I cannot believe that it can be delayed until such time as the Lord Chancellor's Department comes forward with conclusions on class actions. Could the Minister give me an answer?

Baroness Blackstone: As I said earlier, this is a matter for consultation with the Lord Chancellor. I have already agreed to that. I can write to the noble Lord, and others who have taken part in the debate, to give him the answer, if that would be helpful.

Lord Swinfen: Before the noble Baroness sits down, will the Government consider including such a measure in the Bill, but bringing it into effect at a later date, possibly by order? There is a provision allowing various clauses of Bills to come into effect at varying times. Perhaps that is a way forward.

Baroness Blackstone: Yet again, I think that it is right for me to consult on this before giving a clear answer.

I have just been handed a note which says that if the outcome of the Lord Chancellor's review is legislation, the necessary consequential amendments will be made, including to this legislation. I was going to say that it is never too late to amend an Act of this sort. The outcome

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1664

of the consultations will probably require legislation and all existing Acts that need to be amended can be amended by that legislation.

Lord Rix: With that assurance, I shall seek leave to withdraw Amendment No.14. However, I have two final questions before the Minister sits down. Am I to understand that the wording in Clause 6(3)(d),

    "provide any other assistance which it thinks appropriate",
will cover a range of support for advocates, relatives and carers? Am I also to understand that my Amendment No.17, which seeks after the word "provide" to insert "or arrange", has been accepted? If the Minister can give me those assurances, I shall withdraw Amendment No.14.

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, I can give that assurance to the noble Lord.

Lord Rix: With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 15 to 17 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Codes of practice]:

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 6, line 21, at end insert--
("(5A) A written statement under subsection (5) may include proposals for changes to the code.
(5B) Where the Secretary of State has proposed changes to the code under subsection (5A), the Commission may undertake further consultation as it considers appropriate on the proposals from the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: I can be relatively brief in speaking to Amendments Nos. 18 and 19. The Bill enables the Secretary of State to refuse to approve a code of practice and to give his reasons, but not to provide proposed changes. I am introducing into the Bill flexibility for the Secretary of State to do just that: to propose changes and to enable the commission to consult on any such changes.

My second amendment allows for the affirmative resolution to be used, should an order be made under subsection (6)(c). I believe that it would be appropriate to seek the approval of both Houses in such circumstances. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The provisions in the Bill for the disability rights commission to produce codes of practice are very similar to the arrangements for similar bodies. However, they have been updated in the light of experience to ensure that changes to draft codes on which the Secretary of State and the disability rights commission agree can be made speedily and would not involve a bureaucratic process. Therefore, I hope it would be a rare occasion that the Secretary of State would need to refuse to approve a code of practice.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1665

However, turning specifically to the first amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, this seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to propose changes to draft codes of practice which he is unable to accept for any reason and then to allow the commission to consult further on his proposals. Far from having any argument with the purpose of this amendment, the present provisions of the Bill already allow both processes to take place. They would allow the Secretary of State to explain how the code might be improved. Similarly, if the commission felt that any of the Secretary of State's proposed changes significantly altered the code, there would be nothing to prevent the commission consulting further on it. I hope that that has allowed clarification. I hope that it has also persuaded noble Lords that such a provision as suggested is unnecessary on the face of the Bill.

On the second amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I recognise that there may be circumstances relating to the revocation of a code of practice about which Parliament might well have views because it would indeed be unusual for a code to be revoked rather than revised and reissued.

It is for this reason that orders revoking codes of practice will be subject to the negative resolution procedure and, as such, a copy of the order will be laid before Parliament and Members of both Houses will be free to request a debate if they so wish. This is in line with the advice of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. It has given consideration to the appropriateness of the regulation-making powers in the Bill and has made no comment. In the light of that, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to my first amendment. I shall read carefully what he said, but I assume that everything that I sought to achieve by Amendment No. 18 is subsumed in the Bill and that, therefore, my amendment is surplus to requirements.

On the point about the affirmative resolution, that is an old argument that I had put to me many times when I sat on that side of the House. I am afraid that I used to do battle in my department on behalf of those who argued for the use of the affirmative resolution. The argument was that it takes up valuable parliamentary time. However, there is a powerful argument for the affirmative resolution procedure to be used automatically and not to wait for people to pray against a regulation when it comes before the House. I am sorry to say that I have to put the noble Lord the Minister on notice that I will return to my plea at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1666

Clause 10 [Procedure for amending s.7(1) of the 1995 Act]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page