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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate draws our attention to the two tragedies which have now struck the GNER company. I echo with real sympathy his concerns. Many of us who today heard Mr Christopher Garnett, the Chief Executive of GNER, would have been clearly affected by the way in which he spoke so movingly of the terribly tragedy which has happened and of his sympathy for the injured and bereaved.

I add my admiration for the work of GNER in these difficult circumstances. All day it has been working to ensure that every assistance is given not only to the injured but also to relatives. It is arranging travel, accommodation and counselling for relatives, staff and those involved in the accident and those profoundly affected by it.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I live in North Yorkshire and use this railway line every week when attending your Lordships' House. However, I wish to comment as the chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority. I thank the Minister for his generous remarks about the help that North Yorkshire Police have given in this tragic accident. I have been in close contact all day with the deputy chief constable in North Yorkshire who wishes your

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Lordships to know that he has been touched by the enormous amount of help and assistance that has been given all day. He will be grateful for your Lordships' recognition of that. He has been in liaison with other agencies and forces. He wished me to convey his gratitude to your Lordships' House; and I do so.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the noble Baroness has much to be proud of in the way that the North Yorkshire Police Force has worked today along with the other emergency services. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear at the scene of the accident how impressed he was with the way in which it had taken command of the situation in an effective but sensitive way. All of us who have watched as the tragedy has unfolded over the day would echo the noble Baroness's sentiments and praise the police force and other emergency services for their outstanding work.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, as have other noble Lords, I express my sympathy and extend thanks to the emergency services.

I am sorry to introduce this issue but matters will go on. No one knows how long the line will be closed; it may be for a short or a long period. If it is to be closed for any length of time there will need to be additional services on the West Coast Main Line. At present that line suffers from great restrictions. I hope that there will be liaison between the two railways to ensure that there is adequate provision of additional services for people travelling to the north, over the Pennines to York, and so on.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. GNER is the main operator on the East Coast Main Line. Its services north of Doncaster are currently suspended but its Leeds services are unaffected. It is too early to tell when those services can be resumed. All concerned are keen to reopen this important link as soon as possible. I take the noble Lord's point about the need for co-operation between companies in these circumstances. The rail recovery action group will meet tomorrow. That will give the industry an opportunity to share its views. At this stage it is too early to say when the service will reopen. I do not think that it would be proper for me to speculate on such matters before we have established the facts.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, at this time we think about this awful tragedy. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said, we have to look forward. The Minister will be aware that there has been considerable criticism about the length of time taken to get services running again through Hatfield, and to resume services when there are accidents, small and large. I understand what the Minister says, but can he assure us that once the necessary investigations have taken place and the wreckage cleared--clearly that is a sensitive matter because there may be more bodies--as a priority every effort will be made to get the line

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repaired and back into service, if possible within days rather than the 17 days involved with regard to Hatfield?

If services are to be diverted to Leeds--that is clearly a possibility--is consideration being given to suspending the work at Leeds Station?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I spoke earlier of the close liaison between the British Transport Police and the North Yorkshire Police. I understand that the police are treating this as an accident investigation. It has not been identified as the scene of a crime, as was the case at Hatfield. From talking to the parties today, I know that there is a shared belief that the line should be opened as soon as is practical given the fact that agencies have to carry out proper inquiries. The rail recovery action group will meet tomorrow. Operational matters of the kind to which the noble Lord referred can no doubt be on the agenda of that meeting.

Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

8.19 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Donaldson of Lymington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Viscount of Oxfuird) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

The Earl of Longford moved Amendment No. 1:

    After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(" . Nothing in section 1 shall reduce the steps or the time required for the House of Commons to overrule a legislative decision of the House of Lords.")

The noble Earl said: I would never dream of entering into a debate with some of our legal pundits, but a question of principle appears to be involved--I do not say that it is definitely involved, but it appears to be on the face of it. The Explanatory Notes--issued, I understand, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson--say that one indirect effect of the Bill will be that in future the House of Commons will only have to pass a Bill twice instead of three times before overruling us. We are also told that it will take the House of Commons only one year instead of two before achieving that result. I may be told that that is a misunderstanding but, as it is in the Explanatory Notes, it needs clearing up.

I must say two or three words about why I object so strongly to the weakening of the delaying power of this House. I do not say that it should be strengthened, but it should stay as it is now. There are not many noble

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Lords who want to stay to hear my reasons, but I can explain how I see the relations between the Houses by telling a short story. In 1946, when Lord Montgomery was Chief of the Imperial General Staff and I was Under-Secretary for War, he took me to the staff college at Camberley. Like everyone there, he was in uniform, while I was a wretched civilian, cowering on the platform. He finished his speech, "Well, gentlemen, you must never forget the politicians. They are our masters". There was loud laughter. He went on, "But we must also never forget our duty to lead them up the garden path".

That is how I see the relationship between the two Houses. In the end we have to give way to the Commons, but we do not want to allow them to overrule us without any delay. We do not want them to reduce the delay that we impose, because we have a higher intellectual and moral standard than they have. Anybody knows that perfectly well. However, we know that self-government is better than good government, so we have to give way to them in the last resort. However, we must be in a position to make our opinions widely heard throughout the country and exert our full influence. Once our delaying power is tampered with, that influence will be diminished. I therefore strongly object to any provision that could possibly reduce our delaying powers. I beg to move.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: I regret to have to say that the noble Earl has wholly misunderstood the purpose of Clause 1. He has misread the Explanatory Notes, which I am confident accurately express the purpose and tenor of Clause 1. In the circumstances, I hope that I may be forgiven for referring to the Explanatory Notes. They read:

    "Clause 1 of the Bill deliberately avoids the necessity for Parliament to express any view as to the validity of the 1949 Act by providing that it and those acts passed in reliance upon it, shall be 'confirmed'".

The 1949 Act, of course, purported to reduce the period between two readings in the other place and the number of occasions on which the Bill had to be passed by the other place before the will of this House could be overridden. The Explanatory Notes continue:

    "This is the appropriate term"--

that is, "confirmed"--

    "if the 1949 Act, and consequentially the War Crimes Act 1991 (the 1991 Act), the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 (the 1999 Act) and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 (the 2000 Act) would otherwise be invalid, or if the four Acts are, and always have been, valid and all that is required is a stilling of unfounded doubts. Its purpose is not only to place the validity of the 1949, 1991, 1999 and 2000 Acts beyond question, but indirectly to affirm that in future when using the Parliament Act procedure the House of Commons need only pass the Bill on two occasions (instead of three) and that the time required to elapse between second reading in the Commons in the first of these sessions and its final passing by that House is one year (instead of two)".

That has been accepted as the position since 1991, which was the first occasion on which that view could have been challenged. However, there are three views among the legal fraternity and others. The Attorney-General believes that no action is needed, because

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everybody knows that the 1949 Act was validly passed by the other place to amend the 1911 Act. Others take the diametrically opposite view that the other place had no power to change the constitutional arrangements. The third, and I hope not insignificant, group, of which I am one, does not know the answer. Not only do I not know the answer, I do not want it to emerge as a result of what the media will portray as a clash between the courts, the judiciary and the legislature. The Bill is designed to still doubts or to confirm the Attorney-General's view. At any rate, it would put the issue beyond controversy.

If the amendment were accepted, we would have the astonishing position that, in the event of a challenge to the validity of any attempt by the other place to pass, say, the Hunting Bill--I take that as an example, although other occasions may well arise--within the reduced time limits, the courts would have to ask whether this Act, as it then would be, reduced the terms required for the passing of Acts by the other place without the consent of this House.

The courts would have to resolve the question that Clause 1 is designed to remove from the arena. They would have to ask whether, without the amendment, the clause reduced the relevant periods. The Attorney-General would say that of course it did not. Others would say that of course it did. I would say that I do not know. As a result, we would have a potential collision between the courts and the legislature, which is what the clause was designed to avoid.

I say with some confidence and all the emphasis that I can command that the amendment would wreck one of the primary purposes of the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw it.

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