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Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord continues, perhaps I may ask him one question. If the Minister is giving consideration during the interim period between now and the Committee stage to including the word "independent", would he bear in mind the position in traditional English arbitration with one arbitrator appointed by each party and the two appointing an umpire? I believe that there may be problems in that respect.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I hope that I did not give any indication that I was inclined to move in the direction suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. All I sought to address to him was where I took issue with his views on the application of Article 6 necessarily to all statutory arbitrations. I hope that I left it satisfactorily enough for the noble Lord on the basis that, if wishes to develop the argument further with me, it might be conveniently done between now and the next stage.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should, perhaps, make it quite clear that I was not advocating including the notion of independence for ordinary, private commercial arbitrations for the reasons given by the Minister with which I respectfully agree. However, the problem is that there are some kinds of compulsory arbitrations regarding the case law of the European Court of Justice--in milk quota cases, to take an obvious example--where, for one reason or another, the Government do not abide by the award, or something of that nature, and where the European Court has said that independence is different from impartiality, that there must be independence from the Executive and a binding effect given to the award. I am confident that we can deal with those problems. My only concern was that if on the face of the Bill there was a mismatch between European criteria and ours it might lead to trouble later. It was only to be reassured about that that I raised the issue in the first place.
I was going to deal with the next stage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, expressed his concern when he said that he did not wish there now to be--if I have noted his words correctly--a maelstrom of consultation, given the long period of gestation that this work has already been subjected to. I am obviously open to further observations from your Lordships, but I should like to move my Motion this evening, not least because it is a procedure that has been recommended to your Lordships by the Procedure Committee indicating it should be used for Bills other than Law Commission Bills. It was one that the usual channels had identified as being a suitable candidate for the procedure. I would hope the procedure would provide an opportunity for careful, informed scrutiny in essentially a non-adversarial forum. The contributions this evening seem to me to indicate that that is certainly possible. It does not follow from committing it to this procedure that there necessarily has to be--nor indeed can there be--an unlimited period for the taking of evidence. What I would propose is to move my Motion unless I receive a clear indication from the House that that would not be acceptable. I suggest that in the course of the next week we might consider in an informal way whether what I have proposed is desirable and whether there is a sufficient restriction that can be put on the proceedings of the committee to make it acceptable to one and all.
What I am anxious to avoid is that if I do not move my Motion now that might mean that on the face of it we are committing this Bill to a Committee stage on the Floor of the House. I would certainly wish to avoid that. There may be a third option that is available to us, but if your Lordships will accept my undertaking that we will engage in informal discussions with all those who have an interest in this, having moved the Second Reading that would be the step I propose to take.
Lord Peston: My Lords, before we proceed I was rather hoping that several noble and learned Lords would get up and at least utter a response to the Minister as to whether what he was saying was acceptable to them because, as I said, I certainly would not wish to
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, one simply puts down another Motion to uncommit it. I should emphasise that because an opportunity would be given to that committee to take evidence it is not bound so to do. I think there may be some misunderstanding about the extent to which the mastery of procedure resides within the committee. It is entirely open to it to determine what evidence it receives in what form and whether it receives oral evidence. However, it seems to me that the informal discussions that I have suggested to your Lordships as being appropriate would be the better occasion on which to work out exactly what would be suitable rather than try to engage in that discussion on the Floor of the House at this stage.
The great advantage of that procedure is that there would be a specialist committee, not composed only of lawyers and judges but nevertheless specialists. Provided it was skilfully chaired, as I am sure it would be, and provided that the proper safeguards were built into the procedure, I see no reason why it could not be--in the words of somebody else--dealt with on oiled castors, speedily, with more expert consideration than might be possible on the Floor of the House. My view is that that seems a sensible way forward.
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