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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I do not use the word pejoratively. I suppose that it is perfectly legitimate to say that we will not get our holiday if we agree, but our duty is to scrutinise the Bill properly. If that costs us our holiday, I suppose that we will have to bite the bullet and face it, but I do not believe that it really will.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Earl is of course right, which is why I say that I doubt that it will make much difference. However, the Chief Whip did rather stress the inclusion of how noble Lords decided on the Motions today. I took that to be a slight nudge on the Bills. I am not complaining or criticising; I merely seek to anticipate the answers that I fear that I shall get.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will reconsider the suggestion that the Bill be referred to a Grand Committee. I listened with a great deal of interest at Second Reading last week. The Bill is not on my particular subject, but it was an excellent debate. A number of points made by noble Lordsthe noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and many othersled me to believe that the measure was very controversial indeed.
I speak from my experience of working on Bills in Grand Committee. I remember the then Employment Bill in particular, which it was felt was not controversial but later turned out to be very controversial. That meant that we spent an awful lot of time in Grand Committee when it would have been a great deal better had the points that we wanted to raise in amendments been debated in Committee on the Floor of the House.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, we should be very grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, who has not left me with very much to say. I appreciate that it is now well established that a number of Bills should go to Grand Committee. However, the Bill, with its constitutional implications, its implications for the liberty of the subject, and all the controversy that it has attracted because of the European arrest warrant, is really the last sort of Bill to be treated in such a way.
Bills in Grand Committee do not get the same publicity as Bills taken on the Floor of the House. It is a sad commentary on how another place now deals with its business that this important Bill has arrived in the House having attracted very little attention from the press, or indeed from Members of Parliament in another place. If the Government are saying that no other Bills are available to go to Grand Committee, so the Bill must go there to allow them to complete their legislative programme, that is a sad commentary on the way in which they are managing our affairs.
The Government's programme is obviously overloaded. They should put their house in order and have a programme of a scale that can be dealt with properly. The Bill will not be dealt with properly if it is treated as a merely technical Bill that can, so far as its Committee stage is concerned, be safely dealt with in Grand Committee where no amendments can be carried to a vote.
The noble Viscount should be commended for approaching the matter in a spirit of compromise. I hope that the Government will either accept the amendment or, perhaps even better, withdraw their Motion so that there can be further discussions through the usual channels to try to sort something out.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before the noble Viscount made his proposed amendment known, I wrote to the Minister to ask him not to press his Motion to send the Bill to a Grand Committee. I have three reasons that I would like to outline briefly to the House, and I hope that they will receive some support along with the amendment.
First, Part 1 of the BillI appreciate that the whole Bill might be involved as a matter of convenience, but Part 1 is picked out by the amendmentis controversial. For medical reasons, I was unable to be present in the House last Thursday at Second Reading, but no one who reads that debate can fail to notice that highly controversial individual human rights issues were raised from the Cross Benches, most particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. If there is any ground on which the case should be supported, it is that I found myself in agreement with him.
The noble and learned Lord made a most powerful case, along with noble Lords from the Conservative Back Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said that it would be a pity if the Bill were sent to the empty theatre of the Moses Room. Speeches were made on all sides of the Houseincluding by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and from these Bencheson points overlapping controversial matters relating to human rights. We had previously received reports, not only from the Constitution Committee but from the Home Affairs Committee of another place and from your Lordships' European Union Committee; and there are outstanding issues from the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, on 23rd April last year.
My noble friend Lord Filkin, said at Second Reading that the Government intend to bring forward in Committee most important amendments on the principle of dual criminality as regards which there could be a no more fundamental issue than that of human rights. These matters need proper scrutinythat means a proper Committee stage.
My second argument is that this proposal would lead to a Committee stage that would not be a proper Committee stage. That is not to say that I am in any sense opposed to the reforms of my noble and learned friend the Leader of the Houseindeed, I warmly supported them. But to press matters such as this into Grand Committee could ruin those reforms. The Government should pay attention to that point.
My noble friend Lady Turner referred to the fact that some of us had long and unhappy experience of the remission of a controversial Billthe Employment Bill 2002to a Grand Committee, which was a mistake. Your Lordships will know that it is impossible to have Divisions in a Grand Committee. It is not held in the Chamber. Therefore, debate is inadequate. It is stultified. In the case of the Employment Bill, I found that the preparation of ministerial answers was not so good as it sometimes is in the Chamber.
More particularly, the Grand Committee is not attended by noble Lords whose minds are not made up. In 26 years of debating some very controversial legislation in Committee in this Chamber, I have found that people attend whose minds are not made up, who are not specialists in the subject. One often has to address one's arguments to them. In Grand Committee that simply does not happen.
I want to say immediatelybecause the point has been misrepresented in the pastthat in making this comment I am not in any sense criticising Hansard, but it is a fact that the resources of Hansard in Grand Committee are not as full as they are in the Chamber. On one occasion, when dealing with the Employment Bill, we were asked to repeat our speeches because the recording tape had broken down during an earlier period and there was no record; therefore we had to make it up again.
It was said to us thenand mutterings from the prefects' room begin to indicate to us now"What are you making a fuss about? You can have your Divisions on Report"or even, these days, at Third Reading. Some noble Lords say "Hear, hear"; but the logic of that is not to have a proper Committee stage in the Chamber for most Bills.
One of the worst developments in the past 25 years is that Report and Third Reading have become yet another Committee stage. It is Committee stage in the Chamber which is the mark of this House. It is rare for me to think that, but it is the merit of this House that the Committee stage of Bills dealing with controversial human rights issues takes place in the Chamber.
That leads me to my third point. I hesitate to say this as I see heads nodding on the Opposition Front Bench, but this problem falls not only, indeed perhaps not mainly, from the hands of the Government. It is agreed in the usual channels, and that means, first of all, by those on the Front Bench of the Official Conservative Opposition. Yet at Second Reading last Thursday the Official Opposition made the boldsome would say extreme, as I think it isproposal that in Committee the whole of Part 1 dealing with the European arrest warrant should be excised from the Bill. But having made that proposal they now appear to have agreed to a process in Grand Committee whereby no amendment on that or any other matter can be put to a Division.
That is a mystifyingly self-contradictory intellectual position which should not be allowed to control your Lordships' procedure. In a post-Freudian age it would be quite wrong for the Government to take advantage of the eruption in the usual channels of some self-emasculatory anxiety to determine the procedures of the House.
My submission is that in those circumstances it becomes the dutyand we should be grateful to the noble Viscount for expressing this in his amendmentof those of us who serve only as spear carriers in the shadows of the Back Benches to ask your Lordships' House to give a proper Committee stage to a Bill which manifestly involves controversial issues of human rights.
It is not a question of being for or against the European arrest warrant in principle. I am all in favour of bringing people to justice when they flee to the Costa del Sol, but there are issues in the Bill relating to the mechanisms of the European arrest warrant which require that Parliament properly debates them and properly decides them.
As my noble friend the Minister said at Second Reading, Parliament is sovereign, and Parliament can do what it wishes in this respect, and that includes your Lordships' House. In the light of those three submissions I earnestly ask my noble friend the Minister not to press the Motion today but to take soundings in various corners of the House as to why these objections have arisen and how they should be dealt with, and to come back with a consensual and agreed procedure which we can then follow.
As someone who has served much longer in another place than in this House, I should be properly bashful about arguing about the procedures of this House. But the arguments advanced by the noble Viscount seem enormously strong. I say that with some knowledge of how the conventions have operated in another place over 35 years in relation to the discussion of constitutional Bills. There was a convention that such matters should normally be considered by that House as a whole and not in Committee. It became latterly, when there was rather a lot of constitutional legislation, a convention more honoured in the breach than in the observance. That seemed to me at the time to be an unfortunate tendency. It would be unfortunate if one of the most attractive aspects of the procedure of this House were to follow in that direction.
The substance of the Bill before us is in a sense not important. I agree with those who have already said that whether or not they agree with the arrest warrant is not the issue. What is important is the manner in which the arrest warrant legislation was decided in the European Unionwhich, there too, was novel. That is a subject that merits further consideration, because it is a portent of more to come, and the Bill should be considered in the traditional manner in this House.
There is one aspect of the business of this House which is potentially superior to that of another place. In another place, whether a Bill is or is not constitutional is not decided by Erskine May, or indeed, I believe, by anyone other than the Government, relying on the support of their Members. In this place, an important step has been taken to determine whether or not a Bill is constitutional. I refer to the setting up of the Constitution Committee. We owe that committee considerable respect and should listen to its advice; that is, that there are significant constitutional issues in this regard that merit consideration. We should follow that advice and, acting on it, consider these matters in the way in which the noble Viscount suggests. I hope that his powerful argumentsI have rarely listened to a speech in which the points were more carefully marshalledwill be given full and deliberate weight.
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