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I should preface my comments by saying that we are grateful that the amendment responds to the arguments that we put all the way through the Bill that there should be a possibility of legal challenge. The fact that the clause began by stating:
We believe that we have won the argument, because the welcome amendment introduced by the Minister allows for a challenge. The challenge is restricted in the way we accepted when we first tabled our amendments in Committee and on Report, and which we accept now. The timing is about right; I originally suggested a much tighter timescale, but the newly proposed timescale is reasonable. However, we are still misled by the Bill.
The clause is headed, "Exclusion of legal proceedings". That means that the clause describes the exclusion of legal proceedings, which is a messy way of expressing it. Paragraphs (a) and (b) are introduced by the statement:
I am grateful for the Government's change of heart. The Minister has shown himself to be on the side of the House as regards the matter we are discussing. Previously noble Lords on all sides of the House showed their concern about the matter. The Minister has fought his corner extremely effectively. However, as I say, I believe that my Amendment No. 14 is clearer and is much more encouraging for local authorities or, indeed, for the electorate if they have concerns about a legal challenge as it constitutes a positive rather than a negative statement. I beg to move.
We on these Benches are also grateful to the Minister for clarifying the matter. I certainly feel considerably more comfortable about the clause than I did at an earlier stage. The noble Baroness criticised the wording of the clause. I suppose it is almost inevitable in the case of a government amendment being tabled at this stage that rather than deleting the whole clause and starting with the words,
Will the Minister confirm that the heading of Clause 11, "Exclusion of legal proceedings", does not have legal force? Perhaps the clause could be headed simply "Legal proceedings" or with words that are a little less
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I have to oppose Amendment No. 13 for the reasons given by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I shall support Amendment No. 14. It seems to be common ground that Clause 11 cannot stand. I do not quite take the point that has just been made that at this stage of the Bill it is better to seek to retain and amend a clause rather than remove it, especially when the clause in terms is the exclusion of legal proceedings and the substance of the amendment is to confer a form of legal proceedings.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I must have gabbled. I said that I supposed it was inevitable that Amendment No. 13 was tabled in the way that it was rather than that it was better done in that way. I was merely referring to human nature rather than to any precise legal detail.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I was not trying to be provocative. I hope only that the point that I made would commend itself as reasonable, particularly in view of the fact that Amendment No. 14 is well drafted, is an integral whole and is wholly intelligible. In the circumstances, as something has to be done about Clause 11, which cannot stand anyway, it seems to me that it is far betterI am not trying to make a cheap point about thisto have a clear, well drafted clause which in its entirety is readily enforceable and readily understandable rather than Amendment No. 13.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I come briefly to the defence of the Minister who seems to be having an unduly difficult time since we began Third Reading. It seems to me that he has made a sensible concession in Amendment No. 13 which is not only acceptable but is logically preferable to other phrases. Normally there will be no legal challenge. There is an exception made in Amendment No. 13 as drafted. We should accept Amendment No. 13 and regard it as an entirely acceptable form of words.
I could discuss at length why Amendment No. 14 is not as clear as Amendment No. 13. We think that a challenge by way of judicial review should be the only means for questioning referendum results. The proposals in Amendment No. 14 would open up a can of worms.
Clause 11 is headed, "Exclusion of legal proceedings". I am told that that heading is appropriate as the function of the clause is to set out when legal proceedings cannot be entertained. Amendment No. 13 states:
I shall resist the temptation to speak to Amendment No. 14 at length as I was informed only within the past 30 seconds that Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 had been grouped.
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