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Lord Newby: My Lords, I give modified support to the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi. As someone else who is attempting to deal with the government amendments as they are brought forward, I find it extremely difficult to deal with such a huge volume of highly technical amendments on which one sometimes needs outside advice at short notice. The Minister made it clear at the beginning of proceedings that there were likely to be a large number of amendments, and he has certainly been right.
As a general principle, we support the idea that government amendments should come forward in due time. But the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, about the long process through which this Bill has gone, is absolutely valid. There was a pre-legislative committee on the Bill; it went through the
However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, will not mind if I disagree with him on two points. First, I notice from my supplementary list of amendments tabled on Friday that all bar one came from the Conservative Front Bench and we are facing the same difficulty in relation to late amendments from that front as we are from the Government. Secondly, I am not convinced that the best way to express our displeasure is to vote against an amendment with which we may agree, and therefore we do not propose to do so from these Benches.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I give warm support to my noble friend and to the points he made. Nobody can possibly say that my noble friends on the Front Bench have been other than extremely temperate so far in their opposition to the Bill.
I also echo one point made by my noble friend; that is, I exempt the Minister, who handles a difficult, long and complicated Bill in a civil and courteous fashion, from any criticism. Having said that, I extend to him my strong personal sympathy that he should now find himself in loco parentis to such a monstrous child. It is an unfortunate and embarrassing position in which to find oneself. In saying what I now say, I am not in any way underrating the parliamentary skills of the noble Lord, but they will be fully exercised in defending the Government's rather sloppy conduct with this specific measure.
The Minister finds himself in charge of a baby which has put on an enormous amount of weight in a record space of time. Indeed, even now, it shows further signs of extremely undesirable growth. I hope that the Minister will realise how very sorry we all are for him in the terribly unfortunate role that he finds himself having to play.
Lord Elton: My Lords, if the noble Lord accepts the role of parenthood perhaps we may invite him to sign a certificate such as the one mentioned by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which she offered to my noble friend Lord Denham a while ago? However, if the noble Lord was not present during Question Time, he may not see the point of that request.
On a more substantive matter, could the noble Lord put this Bill into context? I agree with other noble Lords that the Minister finds himself in a position with which one can sympathise, but is not the real problem the fact that this Committee stage has been scheduled too soon, before all the government amendments have been thought through? We receive government amendments almost daily through the post, accompanied by very helpful notes. Can the Minister say whether this haste arises from the pressure of other legislation that the Government propose to bring forward? Further, can the noble Lord remind the House of the total number of main programme Bills
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Saatchi said. Like him, I have particular sympathy for the Minister. Indeed, I spent many hours in Committee in another place on regulatory Bills. They are always very complicated and difficult to handle, especially when they are dealt with single-handedly by a Minister. But the problem with this Bill is not simply its length and the number of amendments that have already been tabled--and, indeed, the number of further amendments that are due to be tabled--but the fact that not only are some details of the Bill still unclear at this stage but also certain issues of policy still need to be resolved. That is the great difference between the present position and what I thought was the tradition in Parliament; namely, that one does not debate Bills in Committee unless the policy has been established, even if the amendments to implement that policy have not been brought forward.
During the passage of the Building Societies Bill in the 1980s--for which, for my sins, I was responsible--a large number of amendments were tabled in this House. That was a great pity. However, we took the greatest care to ensure that the import of all government amendments of any consequence that were due to be tabled was already known and published. I am afraid that that is not a position that we enjoy in relation to the present Bill.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I should very much like to endorse what my noble friend from the Front Bench said and to make one or two suggestions. I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for the care that he has taken to ensure that those of us who are taking part in the proceedings on the Bill have at least one or two days' notice of the amendments that the Government are tabling. I very much welcome and thank the noble Lord for the accompanying notes. However, with the greatest respect, I do not think that the noble Lord has taken on board the difficulty that faces those of us on this side of the House who are seeking to understand the Bill and to deal with it. These really are shifting sands. One thinks that one has understood a clause to which amendments may well have been tabled, but then one finds that the whole clause is to be left out and replaced with an entirely new one. Therefore, as my noble friend said, the context in which one is trying to debate the Bill seems to shift almost day by day.
Perhaps I may indicate to noble Lords exactly what we have been confronted with. On 22nd March, 81 new amendments were tabled and nine new clauses; on 23rd March, 23 amendments were tabled, together with three new clauses and one new schedule. All this actually runs into many, many pages on the Marshalled List. Therefore, having tried to understand the Bill, one then has to grapple with the detail--in this case, over the weekend--in an effort to try to understand the changes. I frankly concede that
However, it goes further than that point. In an effort to be helpful, the noble Lord has already given some of us notice regarding amendments that will be tabled on Report to parts of the Bill that have already been dealt with. I have with me a copy of the notification that we were sent, which is headed, "Draft Decision-Making Amendments to Parts III to IX". As noble Lord may be aware, we shall begin to consider Part X later this afternoon. The problem with those amendments is that their references are to the Bill in the form that it appears before the Committee; but, when they are tabled, they will refer to the Bill as amended in Committee. I am sorry, but I just do not have the resources to begin to go back and look through the Hansard reports and the Marshalled Lists to find what amendments have already been made to the clauses that the Government now propose to amend still further on Report. I am certain that the noble Lord was trying to be helpful, but I have to tell him that it is almost useless for one to try to understand what is intended to happen. Indeed, it emphasises my point that it is very difficult to find firm ground on which to stand.
Perhaps I may take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I am not trying to keep in touch with a number of experts in the field--namely, legal advisers and others--because, if I may say so, my noble friends on the Front Bench are doing that wholly admirably. But life is made extremely difficult for some of us as regards trying to understand what is happening when things change day by day. I totally support the protest made by my noble friend Lord Saatchi.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, I should like to add my support to the concerns that have been expressed regarding the amendments that have been tabled. Indeed, the amendments that arrived at the end of last week were such that, quite clearly, they should have required me to stay up late all weekend in an effort to understand them. One receives much comment from commercial interests with which one was previously connected. Those concerned have very strong views on the amendments that are being made. It would be helpful if one were to have the opportunity to discuss such amendments with them and to take note of their points, but one never seems to have the time to do so.
Like other noble Lords on this side of the House, I have no complaint to make about the personal approach of the Minister. Indeed, he has been most helpful. Although I understand the problem with which he is faced, he must, nevertheless, understand
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