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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I shall be even briefer than the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I put my name to the amendment because we on these Benches support the idea of a Joint Committee of both Houses. It is par excellence the kind of issue which, with a great deal of detail and complex inter-relationships, should be dealt with by a Joint Committee of both Houses. If one were writing a parliamentary textbook, it would be the kind of issue which one would think was most appropriate to be dealt with in this way. I am convinced that the Government, if they want to, can find the time. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is right in saying that if they do not do so they will ultimately take longer to get the Bill passed.
It is therefore in the Government's interest to respond as warmly as possible to the noble Lord's tanks on their lawn; that is an intimidating prospect set before them. I do not know how they will respond, but I hope it is sufficiently warm for the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, to be able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Dubs: I appreciate that the question of prelegislative scrutiny is as much for both Houses as it is for the Government. However, if the Government were to say that they welcome the idea, the two Houses can take it further and ensure that it is done.
This is not an occasion for a general debate on parliamentary procedure. However, prelegislative scrutiny of one form or another--the Joint Committee procedures are not the only ones available--is a good idea. I suspect that my noble friend on the Front Bench would have welcomed prelegislative scrutiny of this Bill. It would have cut down significantly the time of the Committee.
In my experience of the other place, where we had a special Standing Committee procedure on a Bill many years ago, the time necessary was significantly reduced. We all know that the process of tabling probing amendments is a clumsy way of finding out what is going on. Although we have all tabled probing amendments for this, that and the other Bill, it is not a good way of establishing the truth. It is cumbersome and long-winded and therefore my noble friend's suggestion is a good one. I hope that the Government will say that they are in favour.
Finally, perhaps I may press the Minister on a comment he made during the Second Reading about making the full Bill a consolidation measure. If we are to have prelegislative scrutiny, it would be easier if the draft communications Bill were to be a consolidated
Lord Crickhowell: The emphasis in the debate has been on speed. One of the great advantages of the proposed procedure, which I wholly support, is that we are likely to have fewer mistakes and a better Bill. I cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of the Bill which will come before us. Not only are the issues extremely complex but they are extremely important and they affect the survival of large parts of the communications industry. They certainly affect our competitive position in the world.
Already we are suffering from delay and vital action is being postponed. It is most important that we get the Bill right and the advantage of the procedure is that it is much more likely that we will get the Bill right and do so within the correct timetable. I wholly support what has been proposed.
Lord Borrie: My noble friend Lord Lipsey has made a powerful case. The last few words of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, are extremely relevant. This is the right kind of Bill for such examination and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not be too slow in responding positively to it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am in favour of prelegislative scrutiny. I am in favour of Joint Committees. I worked on the Financial Services and Markets Bill--indeed, I can say that I worked harder than anyone else in this Chamber on the Financial Services and Markets Bill. I agree that it could not have been done without prelegislative scrutiny and the work of the Burns committee. Therefore, I do not believe that the position of government in respect of prelegislative scrutiny can in any way be denied.
The question is: what can we do for this Bill in order to achieve the best possible scrutiny? I must remind the Committee that, yes, when we debated the Financial Services and Markets Bill we had prelegislative scrutiny at great length--we had a report from the Select Committee in the House of Commons and we had the Burns committee--but we also had agreement on carry-over between two Sessions. If we had not had that, we would not have got the Bill through. Those in the Chamber who are making threatening noises--putting tanks on the Government's lawn, as it has been expressed--had better consider that if the analogy with the Financial Services and Markets Bill is pursued there may have to be negotiation and consideration of what opposition parties are to offer in order to achieve what we all want; that is, the best possible Bill.
Let us put on one side Amendments Nos. 13 and 29 because no one has talked about them. They do not make sense because it is agreed that neither Ofcom nor the existing regulators are in a position to hold opinions on how Parliament should conduct its affairs. Let us concentrate on the significant amendment; Amendment No. 30. The Queen's Speech announced that a draft of the main legislation will be passed later in this Session. I hope it is understood that when the
I hope that after consultation--and it has to be consultation in which Parliament and not the Government in legislation takes the lead--the Government will be able to propose a process of scrutiny that will be fair to both Houses. However, I cannot say what time in this Session will be available for the Bill. The Committee and all Members of this Chamber know that as a result of the events of 11th September there are several pieces of legislation about terrorism which must take priority over existing legislation in the programme. We know that following the welcome events in Northern Ireland last week there must be further legislation relating to the Province.
No Government could commit themselves on the face of a Bill of this kind to a timetable within a single Session--within this Session--which asks what Amendment No. 30 asks. Amendment No. 30 is well drafted and well thought out and it skilfully avoids the problem of the Government taking the lead in what Parliament should do. Even so, it goes beyond what this Government, or any government, could conceivably agree to at this time.
In response to my noble friend Lord Dubs, I believe that he misunderstands what is meant by a consolidation Bill. Certainly, it is desirable that this legislation should adopt and update, as far as possible, previous broadcasting legislation and should be definitive and not require reference back to previous legislation. However, "consolidation Bill" is a term of art. A consolidation Bill, which I believe is proposed by the Law Commission, contains no new policy whatever; it takes only existing legislation and rationalises it. Therefore, the consolidation Bill procedure is entirely inappropriate.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The answer is: as far as possible. However, I am aware that that is not the principal issue before the Committee. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lipsey recognises the inevitable constraints on business managers in this Session of Parliament.
Lord Lipsey: As my noble friend Lord McIntosh warmed to his task I waited for him to accuse me of being the objective ally of Mr bin Laden by proposing a Joint Committee which would prevent all the legislation intended to bring him to heel. But my noble friend's view of what a responsible government can do does not accord with mine. My amendments--I am sorry that he thought so little of the first two, but the third is the most significant--do not mandate a Joint Committee but simply provide that there must be time to have it. If there is terrorist-related legislation it will take priority over the big Bill in any case. I am delighted that there should be carry-over if that is agreed and it is necessary. But that is much more likely to be necessary if we have not had a Bill that has gone through this process and has had its edges removed.
I find the arguments utterly unconvincing. I do not believe that in due course this House will find them convincing. I believe that when the Government go away tonight and reflect on the tone and tenor of the speeches made in Committee, as I am sure they will, they will realise that their position is unconvincing and when we come to the next stage of the Bill they will give a more forthcoming reply. In that confident hope and expectation I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.