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The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the amendment belongs to the House, and the Minister does not want to move it herself, I thought it would be helpful to the House if I moved it on her behalf. In moving the amendment, I will also speak to government Amendments Nos. 15, 17, 20, 24, 25, 34, 36 and 37.
I thank the Minister for writing from the Home Office to me and to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and others with an explanation of this amendment and some of the other amendments before us. I explained to the House earlier, before I was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that it did not help that the letters from the Home Officethat most efficient of departmentswere not dated, especially as one of them says, "As I made clear in my letter of 17 June". I am not sure now which one of them is the letter of 17 June, but I presume that it is the one that does not say that. It must be the other one. However, the Minister did offer a number of explanations of the wide variety of amendments that she was putting before the House. I am grateful for that.
This group of amendments is largely dealt with in the undated letter that I presume is the one of 17 June. Government Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 20 are dealt with on page 1 on her list entitled "explanation of government amendments". Government Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are then inexplicably dealt with on page 7 of the explanatory note that she sent to us. Government Amendment No. 34 was again dealt with on page 1. Government Amendment No. 36 was dealt with on page 2 and government Amendment No. 37 was dealt with on page 37.
I do not know whether I should read out the full details of these amendments. Amendment No. 13 is described merely as a technical amendment that does not affect the effect of Clause 5. I apologise to my noble friend for stepping on his foot. However, some of the other amendments have slightly longer explanations. If the House wishes, I could give details of thoseunless the Minister herself wishes to respond to her own amendments and give some explanation of them.
I find it odd that, when it comes to grouping their amendments, the Government have the expertise to manage and to persuade us that it is wise that government Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 17, 20, 24, 25, 34, 36 and 37 should be taken as one, but that, when they give the explanation to those of us principally involved in the Billas opposed to othersthey manage to scatter them around in sheets of paper, all undated, in a manner that makes it very difficult to follow what is going on. That is why, when I was dealing with Amendment No. 6 and was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I wanted some explanation from the Government about how they propose to find some means whereby we could discuss adequately all the government amendments that they intend to produceI presumein the Commons after they have sought the wishes of the Commons in trying
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to overturn the earlier amendment. How do they expect us to be able to follow what they are doing and ensure that this House performs its role as one equipped to provide proper scrutiny of the Bill?
My noble friend Lord Tebbit earlier referred to this Bill as being prepared in a "monumentally incompetent manner". I believe that that is correct. That was quoted by a noble Lord opposite as being some attack on the Bill. It was an attack not necessarily on the Bill but on the manner in which the Bill was prepared. It means that it is even more important that we in all parts of the House properly and adequately debate the intricacies of the Bill.
I appreciate that there are many more government amendments. I do not know whether I shall necessarily be able to stay to discuss them, but others willand that is all I intend to say on the matter. But I believe that it would be helpful if the Government could give us some sort of assurance as how they intend to allow this House properly to debate and discuss all the amendments before us. If the Government do not feel able to do that, it might be left to noble Lords such as myself or others to go through the explanation of government amendments tabled to the Civil Partnership Bill, sent out on 17 July, and read out every single explanation that the Government have given. However, I believe that most noble Lords would accept that that would not be a fit way in which to discuss the amendments that come before us. Other than that, all I can suggest is that we find some other procedure, when we come to the consideration of Commons amendments, that allows us properly to discuss the amendments. I beg to move.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I refer to the Government's statement from earlier this afternoon by my noble friend Lady Scotland. In the light of that statement, these amendments are not appropriate to the Bill in its new form. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I have nothing further to say.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, may I press this matter further? I observe that many Members of your Lordships' House, much more experienced in its procedures than I am, are at least as puzzled if not more puzzled at what seems to be happening.
The situation appears to be thisand maybe I can draw one of Her Majesty's Ministers to respond to it. Among the points made when the House voted earlier was that the vote was in disagreement with the character and impact of the amendment. The Government lost on that vote, which has surely to mean that among the things that the House did when it made that vote was to vote down the Government's understanding of the situation.
To me, as a child in matters of procedure in this House, it remains the Government's responsibility to engage fully in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we needed to proceed with the Billwhich, it appears to me, is what the Government are not doing. Not to proceed with the debate seems to me not to take note of the vote of this House. Of course, that does not mean that the
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Government should change their mind, but they have a responsibility to pursue the procedure of the House. That was what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, in his role as Chief Whip.
The word "pique" did not occur only to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is not in his placeI wrote it down on my piece of paper, too. Her Majesty's Ministers owe it to the House that the House can do its businesswhich is surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, to proceed with this Bill.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am puzzled by the situation in which we find ourselves. If the Government choose not to move an amendment, that is their affair. If someone else chooses to move the amendment, that is their affair. No one is obliged to say anything on any of the issues.
The problem that needs to be faced by the right reverend Prelate and others is as follows: I should have liked to move Amendment No. 102, which relates to pensions. If I had made a speech on that amendment, I would have drawn attention to important recent cases. But when one looks at Amendment No. 102, one can see that it is predicated upon a civil partnership between two same-sex couples. The moment when words are altered to include a whole variety of other categories, our amendment makes no sense whatever.
I am now incapacitated from moving that important amendment, so long as the Bill is in this House. I shall therefore not do so. But my argument does not apply to that example aloneit runs right through the Bill. That is why I said that Amendment No. 3 was a mischievous wrecking amendment, destroying the entire purpose of the Bill in this House.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was beginning to make a very good and valid point. In fact, he was on the verge of making an excellent speech until he spoilt it with the last two or three sentences. I thought that he was coming, through the logic of his remarks, to the conclusion that it would be appropriate if the House now adjourned and that we did not come back to Report on the Bill for a little while, until the Government had sorted these matters out. It should not take them very long. I imagine that they have the best brains of the country at their command. They do not appear to have used them very much so far, but I am sure that they could make a better effort, given a week or two. We could get on with other business in the House next week. There is no particular rush on this. It might ease the problem of which is the next available Finance Bill and other such tricky issues for them. It would make it easier for everybody. I think we could all go home and consider what has been done today. Perhaps the Government Chief Whip might advise us whether he is attracted to the idea of pulling up stumps as opposed to sitting in his tent andwell, the word that comes to my mind is rather hard, it is "sulking".
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