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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, arising out of that very interesting speech, perhaps my noble friend the Minister will tell us the average number of the electorate in a Northern Ireland Westminster seat and how that compares with the average size of an electorate in England and Wales?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions on this order before the House. I begin by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that it is unusual for any matter to be raised in Northern Ireland without controversy. As regards the order before the House, I cannot add anything or go beyond the reasoning given in the commission's report. It is an independent body and I have no information available to me beyond that contained in the commission's report and its other published papers. The Government are satisfied that the commission has carried out its review conscientiously and within the guidelines laid down by the rules.

The revised recommendations propose that there should be 18 constituencies. The commission endeavoured to draw up proposals for 17 constituencies which would give effect to the recommendations of the five assistant commissioners who conducted the local inquiries. However, that proved to be an impossible task without causing excessive disparity between the proposed electorate and the electoral quotas.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the review which has been announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will take into account the other matters raised by the commission. It is important that that is so. They will be considered along with our own considerations of their importance. The form and composition of the review has yet to be decided, but all the matters recommended by the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission will be considered in the review.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked me to look at the electoral average. I can advise him that, with the recommended number of 18 seats, the electoral average for Northern Ireland would be 64,082 constituents; in England the figure is 68,626; and in Scotland it is 54,569; so there is, I hope, some level of common ground as a result of the effective and fair work of the Boundary Commission. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Charities (Amendment) Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries etc.) Bill

12.11 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Baroness Miller of Hendon.)

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as no amendments have been tabled on Third Reading, I wonder whether it is appropriate for me to comment on the Bill at this point. However, if I may do so, as the noble Baroness and your Lordships will be aware, on Second Reading I said that we had no particular difficulty with Clauses 1 and 3, but that we had some difficulty with Clauses 2 and 4 which contained retrospective legislation. Since that time the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has reported on the Bill and made certain suggestions about some of the provisions of Clause 1. We are satisfied with the assurances that Ministers have given in response to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and have no particular complaints about them, provided they are met. The regulations are already out to consultation and we were told quite firmly by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that they will be produced in January next year. I very much hope that the Government will adhere to that timetable.

However, Clause 2 still gives us problems. It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness that we believe that the Government have not really perceived the problems raised by Clause 2, not least that set out in Committee by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. We do not think that the Government understood what my noble friend was saying. We do not think that they took the point. However, there has been correspondence since then and we have to leave it at that.

Clause 4 in our view, and in the view of my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford in Committee, is quite unnecessary in Scotland. There have been no cases requiring retrospective legislation of this nature in Scotland; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, pointed out then, the clause was intended simply as a safety-first procedure lest anything untoward should happen. That seems a slightly undesirable way of making legislation. We should not introduce retrospective provisions where there is no necessity for them.

Having said all that, my thanks are due first to the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who introduced the Bill on Second Reading; secondly, to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who took the Bill through Committee; and, thirdly, to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, who is now taking the Bill through its Third Reading—a fine array of ministerial talent, if I may say so, on a fairly technical Bill. My thanks are also due to my noble friends Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Ewing of Kirkford who helped in Committee.

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It would be wrong if I said that I am wholly satisfied with the Bill; but it would be churlish not to recognise that this is an action which the Government had to take in one form or another to clear up a very messy situation. In that spirit, I hope that I shall not seem too churlish if I wish the Bill moderately well.

12.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we recognise that Clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill, dealing with retrospective validation of payments previously sought from planning authorities and paid by them in good faith, remain controversial. I shall not rehearse the arguments in favour of retrospective validation again today. Our view, which a good many planning authorities appear to share (because they have not sought refunds of the charges they have paid), is that these provisions simply restore the situation to what authorities and government departments thought it was since the late 1970s.

It is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has said that he is not wholly satisfied with the Bill. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the help which the Opposition have given during the progress of the Bill in your Lordships' House and I am grateful also for the thanks that have been expressed to my noble friends. In that spirit, I hope that the Bill will now be given its Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed.

Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill

12.16 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

I had intended to send the Bill on its way with a formal thank-you to all those noble Lords who have co-operated in the proceedings so far, but in view of the fact that there is a very prominent article in today's Daily Telegraph which blames your Lordships for trying to kill the Bill, perhaps I may put one or two comments on the record.

The Bill arrived in your Lordships' House just before the Summer Recess, and we gave it its Second Reading within four days of resuming. The Committee stage followed on 31st October—this week. If your Lordships agree to its Third Reading, we shall have completed the remaining stages of the Bill this week. Therefore, we cannot be accused of delaying the Bill. When the Bill arrived here, it contained a number of ambiguities in its wording which worried a good many noble Lords. It was clear that some amendments would have to be made. We had meetings with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports, and the British Field Sports Society. After long discussions, all the amendments that were put to the House on Tuesday were agreed, with in some cases the complete understanding of the RSPCA that those amendments were necessary.

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I believe that even at this late stage if the Bill goes back to the Commons there are devices which can be used to get it onto the statute book before the Session ends, but that is not a matter for us. It is not the business of this House to rubberstamp anything that comes from the other place. We have a duty to look at the wording of every Bill that we pass to see that we are not creating a playground for lawyers. In this case, I think that that is what we have done. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Baroness Nicol.)

Lord Renton: My Lords, I wish to support the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. When it came to us, this Bill was defective. Clause 1 would have caused so much trouble. It was unworkable. It would have been unfair to lorry drivers, for example. If by chance a lorry ran over a hedgehog in the road, the driver would have been guilty of an offence whether or not he had intended to do anything to the hedgehog. He may not even have seen it. I give that as just one example of the many that were mentioned during our earlier proceedings.

That would have been a ridiculous way for us to have legislated. I wish that the Bill could get on to the statute book in this Session. If there were the slightest chance of it doing so, that would be splendid. But even if it cannot, we have the satisfaction of knowing that instead of enacting a defective measure in this Session, which we would have done had we not considered it carefully, we can now have a legally effective and enforceable Bill passed into law, perhaps early in the next Session, without much discussion. That is a more sensible way for us to legislate. We should all be grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has done.


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