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First, the Government have provided for two days in Committee for this Billan entirely routine and well-precedented proposal for a Bill that is only 17 clauses long. We also made it plain to the various participants that, should some further time be necessary for the Committee stage, we would be flexible and would consider, among other proposals, referring parts of the Bill to Grand Committee or finding an extra day on a Friday. However, there was no agreement on that flexibility.
At the beginning of the Committee stage, which we started last week, in appeared that we had two full days to deal with just over 50 groups of amendments, which is not an unreasonable task for this House. Indeed, this week that has been performed on Bills in one day. For this Bill, we took an hour per group last Tuesday and longer todaynearly an hour and a half before dinner and more than an hour and a half per group after dinner. We have had 12 hours of debate and, to date, we have dealt with only five groups of amendments. That is pretty unprecedented. Even in the days when we were dealing with huge constitutional issues such as the reform of this House, devolution for Scotland and the human rights Bill, we never took that long over single amendments to a Bill.
The Government have been criticised for their sense of priorities in bringing this measure forward. Your Lordships must consider their sense of priorities in relation to the time that they have taken in this House. At the present rate of progresswe still have more than 40 groups leftwe calculate that it would take a further seven days in Committee of the whole House to complete the Committee stage. That is clearly impossible unless it had been agreed that some of the Bill could be taken in Grand Committee.
That is the situation that the House finds itself in and I must tell the Committee that I am advised that it is now impossible to complete the Committee stage this Session, if the resumption of the House is agreed now.
Lord Chalfont: I support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I understand all the arguments about the sense of priorities and everything else, but the House did agree some time in 2002 that on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we should stop work at 10 o'clock in the evening. It is now well past that time. We have reached Amendment No. 28 on a list that approaches 100 amendments. I believe that even those who find this debate absolutely fascinating have probably had about enough for today. I therefore support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Roper.
Lord Carter: The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is quite wrong. We agreed that we would normally finish at 10 o'clock. This Bill has not been normal: it has been abnormal in my 17 years' experience in this House. In my five years as Chief Whip, we never spent so long on groups of amendments. Those who wished to kill the Bill in this House have succeeded.
Lord King of Bridgwater: Will the Minister answer two questions? Am I correct in believing that, when the Commons debated the Bill, it did so under a timetable Motion, so the Government decided how much time was needed to debate the Bill? Under that timetable Motion, how much time was allowed for the Committee stage?
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is rightfor the wrong reason, if I may say so in the kindest way. It is an exceptional Bill. It was never discussed in Committee. There have been complaints about the time that the Committee stage has taken, but the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has already pointed out the glaring problem that arises from the last-minute amendments that were passed on Report in another place and completely changed the character of the Bill.
For presentational reasons, the Minister may wish to say that a tremendous parliamentary outrage has been committed by the House. I must say in the kindest way and with the greatest respect that, given the good nature and good sense of noble Lords in all parts of the House, nobody will believe him. The argument that it is not an extremely difficult Bill cannot be sustained. It is entitled to more time. I suspect that the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms knows how long was spent in Committee in the Commons, under the timetable Motion. If he gave us that figure, it would help the House to know whether it was being treated fairly or unfairly.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In answer to the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, I must say that, in my experience as a Government Whip, the way in which people have abused the normal practices of the House with regard to the time taken to speak to amendments has been unprecedented. Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite may not have seen the number of heads behind them that nodded when I complained about what could even have been interpreted as the deliberate lengthening of speeches.
I am advised that in another place, the timetable was agreed. I am also aware, as, I am sure, is the noble Lord, that, in another place, the Bill was debated in Committee off the Floor of the House. That option was available to your Lordships and was not accepted.
Lord Grocott: I do not have that figure to hand. Of course, we can ensure that the noble Lord obtains the figure. It might be helpful if a Written Question were put down on the matter. There is a misapprehension in the House that, somehow or other, less time is spent on the consideration of Bills in the other place. That is not the caseI say that emphaticallyfor the simple reason, as the noble Lord knows as well as I do, that Bills are considered in Committee. They are considered at greater length and, inevitably, in considerably greater detail than in this House. That is the fact. Should anyone wish to verify that fact, the simple procedure of asking a Question for Written Answer is available. The facts can be demonstrated in respect of virtually every Bill that has gone through the House this Session.
Baroness Byford: I must press the noble Lord. My understanding is that there were 27 sittings in Committee in another place, although I could be wrong by one or two. We on these Benches offered through the usual channels a timetable that would have included a third day in Committee and still allowed the Bill to be completed in this Session. That was not taken up.
Lord King of Bridgwater: Do I take it that those were two-and-a-half hour sessions and that there were 27 sessions? I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not have the information myself. With the greatest of respect to the Captain of the Gentleman-At-Arms, he made a brave point. But the idea that we should have such a minimal amount of time in comparison to the time spent in the Commons, does not stack up.
Lord Mancroft: The timetable problem is not a new problem. At the request of the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms, I met him on two occasions some two or three weeks ago. He was always aware, as were the Whips of all the usual channelsthat is, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and my noble friend Lord Copethat we on the Back Benches involved had always said that we thought that this Bill would take three and possibly even four days in Committee. That was several weeks ago. We always said that this was going to happen.
The reality also is that not only did the Bill spend 27 sittings in Committee in the House of Commons, but, as my noble friend Lord Jopling reminded the House at Second Reading, there was also 70 days between Committee and Report in the House of Commons. I suspect that the purpose of the Minister's comments at the start of the Motion for this short debate was simple: it was to lay the blame for the death of this Bill at the door of this House. That is perfectly clear and the facts are perfectly clear. The whole world knows it. The reason that the Bill is where it is tonight is because the Government have chosen to delay their own wrecked Bill.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Can my noble friend Lord Whitty confirm that a third day and possibly a fourth day involving two Fridays was offered through the usual channels for the Bill? That certainly would have enabled the Bill to complete Committee stage had it moved at a normal rate. Can the Minister also say on how many previous occasions the mover of an amendment has spoken for 28 minutes? It is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, but to say that a 28-minute speech when moving an amendment is normal or is not an abuse of the procedures of the House strikes me as extraordinary. That is not to mention what happened at the beginning of the day when we debated for an hour and four minutes an amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who was moving it, admitted half way through had no place in the Bill at all. Speaking for myself, I am happy to put on the record that if it is necessary to go through the night tonight to consider the Bill, I should be happy to do so. I certainly oppose the Motion for the adjournment.
Earl Ferrers: It is always very easy to get worked up about these matters. It has always been perfectly clear that this Bill would be highly contentious. Therefore, it was understandable that there should be a clamour for a reasonable amount of time for these matters to be considered. I have found these debates fascinating, not only because one person would say, "I approve of hunting" and another would say, "I do not approve of hunting", but the way in which the Bill was considered with all the bits and pieces drawn out of it to demonstrate that it was unworkable.
From time to time, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has fallen into the trapit is always fun to hear him talking when he addresses the Houseof saying that noble Lords opposite have done such and such. But it is not noble Lords opposite. The previous vote shows that 106 people were in favour of the amendment and 22 were against. On looking back at the amendments voted on last week, if all the hereditary Peers' votes were removedwhich I remind Members of the Committee were the only elected Members of this House; all the others were appointedand if all the Conservative Peers' votes were removed, the Government would still have lost. Therefore, it is not a question of addressing the Conservative Benches and saying that we are trying to filibuster or something like that. As a whole, the Committee has come to this conclusion. The fact is that in this House, the Government do not have the support of their own Back Benches.
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