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30 Oct 2002 : Column 968continued
Mr. Forth: Perhaps we shall have to read Hansard tomorrow to see what was said, although the tone and sense will not come across on the cold page. However, I shall try a little harder to coax the Minister into giving us some more information. I always thought that the point of this exercise was that the Minister should reply to the debate.
Mr. Redwood: The Minister would not give way to me earlier when I wanted to raise a point of great interest outside the House. She did not seem to care about people whose interests need to be protected by the Bill. I think that my right hon. Friend is right.
This group of amendments, which the Minister has attempted to portray as innocuous and technical, covers 56 pages of text in the Bill and 60 clauses. I am always nervous when asked by a Minister to accept that material of that length and complexity, with all its attendant implications, should be nodded through because it deals with technicalities. Some of us have been here long enough to know that that is rarely the case.
I want to start with Lords amendment No. 265, the lead amendment in the group. I have tried hard to understand it, but so far I have failed. I invite the Minister to explain it, in her charming way, to the House. I shall read out the amendment, as I want it on the record, so that when the Minister comes to explain it we can relate its content with the way in which she has been prepared to help the House.
When we look at the 55 pages that follow that amendment we realise that references to some important matters, such as time limits and powers of investigation, are hidden in this complex text. When I see references to such powers, I am always more than a little nervous. Time and again when we consider such provisions and powers of investigation, when we read the details we find references to
I do not know which is the case, because the Minister did not share that with us. She did not tell us the provenance of the wording. Therefore, we are in the dark as to whether we are being expected to accept something that is new, or something that is tried and tested, has been imported from other legislation and is deemed to be appropriate in this case. One could go through that text in some detail, but given the time limitations, sadly, that would be inappropriate.
Mr. Knight: My right hon. Friend has made a valid point. Had the Minister spent a little more time explaining in her opening remarks the ambit of the provisions, it would have shortened rather than lengthened the debate. My right hon. Friend's concerns would have been answered and he might not have felt the need to raise these important matters.
I hesitate to say this, as it is a maxim among lawyers that free advice is worth what one pays for it, but these seem to be fairly minor matters that are consequential on other issues, so the volume of the amendments should not trouble my right hon. Friend too much.
Mr. Forth: I defer to the legal expertise of my right hon. Friend, who has obviously studied these matters much more closely than I have. If he is satisfied that these matters are relatively detailedI will not say Xtrivial" as that would be the wrong termand of limited impact, I am prepared to accept his advice and judgment.
However, I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the Minister owes the House an explanation of what she and the Government understand to be the importance of those words, so that, at the very least, we shall know in future whether we are being expected to accept something that is of relatively minor impact or whether the impact might be much wider.
Even with an eye to the clock, I hope that the Minister can be a little more fulsome than she felt able to be in respect of the last group and that she can give the House some reassurance as to where we are going with the large volume of material that falls within this group of amendments, described as Xminor and consequential". We are always owed an explanation as to whether Xminor and consequential" means what it says. One does not have to be too cynical, or too much of a disbeliever, to suspect that sometimes something greater and of more importance lies behind those words.
Mr. Knight: I shall speak briefly, as I want to hear the Minister's response. The amendments seem to be fairly minor and consequential, but I have a question about subsection (5) of Lords amendment No. 290, on page 57. It states:
Miss Melanie Johnson: Amendment No. 265 is required to allow the Secretary of State to fulfil the consultation requirements imposed by clause 15, prior to making the rules of the Competition Appeal Tribunal. That is its purpose.
I hope that helps Opposition Members who had difficulty in understanding the wording. I am surprised at their difficulties because I know how expert the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is in reading legislation, but I accept his humble assurances as to the difficulties that he has set out to the House. I hope that he will agree that my explanation was fulsome and detailed and gave him all the information that he needs.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mrs. Anne Campbell, Mr. Mark Hoban, Miss Melanie Johnson, Mr. Jim Murphy and Mr. Andrew Robathan; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.[Mr. Woolas.]