Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I want to refer to how we have reached this procedure. While I was a Chief Whip in opposition, the bane of my life was the ability, by virtue of our procedures, of noble Lords to have not one or two bites but three bites at the cherry. Colleagues in the House who felt passionately about an issue, whether they lost heavily or not at the first bite in Committee, would return to the matter at Report stage and at Third Reading. One can have too much of a good thing.

About a year ago when the decision was taken to modernise procedures I took the view that in general we wanted not just to speed up our procedures but to take account of a situation in which a small number of Members would keep a large number of Members about the House waiting for a vote. I am not as involved as other colleagues—I believe that the laughing noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, is one of them—and I am not one who understands the issues passionately. I come completely fresh to this discussion.

However, I understand that the procedure that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, suggests is one that has the approval of the usual channels. As someone who once was a member of the usual channels, I sometimes look aghast at the ability of people who, in general, are happy to be led by the usual channels but who reserve the right from time to time to go against that leadership. If the usual channels have recommended or agreed to or acquiesced to this procedure—I declare where I come from—that is almost good enough for me.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, when replying to the debate—I shall give way to my noble friend Lord Wedderburn when I am ready—will have the opportunity to tell the House that perhaps there are special issues in this case that deserve reconsideration. For my part I have heard nothing that justifies a change from a procedure that I and the whole House were happy to support less than 12 months ago.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, perhaps I may speak now that my noble friend is ready to give way. I was laughing not at him, but with him. Is he aware that one of the first things that was explained to me when I came to the House 26 years ago was that we

6 May 2003 : Column 966

did not debate issues at Report and Third Reading stages—especially at Third Reading—that had been decided in Committee. Therefore, the logic of his remarks, and unhappily the preference of the executive, is not to have Committee stage in the Chamber at all, but to send all Bills to a Grand Committee. That is the logic of the position. Therefore, my mirth was because I was sure that that was not his position, and that he too would be aware that the two or three bites at the cherry argument is non-existent.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this Motion and those previous Motions on earlier Bills are the result of a decision that the House took last summer on the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that for a two-year trial period more Bills should go to Grand Committee and that, in consequence, the House should normally rise at about 10 p.m. For our part, we do not like any Bill being committed to a Grand Committee. I certainly do not agree with the over-glowing description made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, of the process by comparison with a Committee of the Whole House. However, we have done our best to implement the decision of the House taken last summer and we support the Motions today for that reason.

I am well aware, as I was before this debate, that there are many noble Lords in all parts of the House who are unhappy about this Bill and the important Local Government Bill—an earlier Motion—being committed to a Grand Committee. We also know that the Government have problems with the 10 o'clock arrangement and we continue to deplore the idea that the Government can have one half of last summer's deal, which the House accepted, and not the other half. Of course, the 10 o'clock finishing time means that a Bill that may have taken four days in Committee under the old system, may now take six days. For that decision to be implemented, more Bills must to go to Grand Committees. In many cases the process also means that Report stage is likely to take longer than it would have done.

The problem is compounded, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said earlier, by the weight of government legislation and by the fact that these days so little is reviewed in another place. The Government Chief Whip, when speaking about recess dates earlier, indicated the pressure that the Government's programme is under for all those reasons.

In the terms of his amendment the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, calls for the consideration of the Extradition Bill in Committee to be split between the Floor of the House and a Grand Committee. Last summer the Procedure Committee considered the matter briefly, but did not accept in principle that Bills should be so split. I believe that it was right to take that view. If we split this Bill, why not split many other Bills? Frankly, I do not relish having to negotiate on every Bill which clauses should be discussed where. Different aspects of particular Bills are thought to be controversial by different groups of Peers. Furthermore, when there is controversy about an

6 May 2003 : Column 967

aspect of a Bill, the proposed changes often affect other parts of it as well as the immediate one that is under consideration. I also think that splitting Bills would make it even more difficult than at present for noble Lords and those outside the House to follow our proceedings from reading Hansard and so on.

On this matter we are, as always, in the hands of the House itself. Today, I think that it should stick to the experiment that was decided upon last summer. It should review the position as a whole, including the 10 o'clock arrangements, in due course when the experiment has run at least more of its course than it has so far.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I shall try to be brief. I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for his honourable speech and position on the point, which is much appreciated. The Procedure Committee said in July 2002 that the Grand Committee is right for Bills of the kind considered suitable by the Rippon Group. The usual channels have agreed that this Bill passes that test. As to whether the Bill is constitutional, many Bills have elements in them which touch on the constitution, but that does not mean they are constitutional Bills. In the Commons, where constitutional Bills are normally committed to a Committee of the Whole House, this Bill was considered in Standing Committee in the usual way.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is exactly right that splitting the Bill in the way proposed by the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, would be extremely complicated and damaging. It is inappropriate because many of the same issues arise in Part 2 as in Part 1. Indeed, I note that the Official Opposition's Front Bench have tabled identical amendments to both Parts 1 and 2. If the amendments were to be made we should run the risk of having the same debate twice, once in Committee on the Floor of the House and once in Grand Committee.

I shall not respond in detail to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on the substance of the Bill itself. This is not the place. It is not true that extradition is virtually automatic. If anything, as a country we extradite. Other countries in the European Union do not currently extradite to us, which is why there are great benefits in the Bill. The noble Viscount was right to say that I did not respond to all the points. We had about a three or four hour debate. I gave my usual commitment that every Member who speaks will have a full response in writing from me about any points that have not been fully handled on the Floor of the House before the first day of Committee. I repeat that undertaking. There can be a lot of serious amendments. In fact, it is important that there are many serious amendments in Grand Committee. That is when the process of testing starts.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, raised the amendment that I promised at the European Union scrutiny committee and again at Second Reading. I shall go further: I shall ensure that the House is aware of that amendment before we reach the first day of Committee so that all Members can see it. I can give

6 May 2003 : Column 968

the House the assurance that in general it will be well pleased with the amendment because it specifically addresses the issue that has been raised.

I think that the Bill is appropriate for Grand Committee because of my experience of working with noble Lords on Opposition Benches in Grand Committee. I do not say that the procedure is easy for the Government, but it strikes me that it is a good process for scrutiny. The Government are able to listen more; are able not to resist for the sake of it; and are able to respond where appropriate.

My noble friend Lord Carter stated the situation correctly. He pre-empted what I was going to say should the House want to persuade the Government to think again and not send the Bill to Grand Committee. On the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill—and please ask of colleagues who worked through that process—in response to the debates we had in Grand Committee we brought back amendments on Report, which progressively narrowed down the nature of the Bill. We did not dig in. We were able to give way willingly when we thought it was sensible for us to do so.

By comparison, defeat us on the Floor of the House in Committee and noble Lords lock the Government in to conflict for no good reason. I give the House my assurance that the tone and style in which we handled the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill will be applied to this Bill. We shall listen seriously to the arguments without fear or favour. If we think that we should be persuaded, we will be persuaded and will adjust accordingly. The House will have a full opportunity to test those matters at later stages of the Bill.

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I am most grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment. I am interested to note that—I may be wrong—the only noble Lords who have spoken against the amendment are all former Whips or operators in the Whips' department, which perhaps says something about the difference between those in favour and those against.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page