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The Earl of Balfour: I agree very much with what my noble friend on the Front Bench said. On my reading of Clause 34 it appears to offer only one opportunity for a Bill to be amended. In my amendment I suggest two stages as a means of winning at least a tiny slice of the cake. I support my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish in his amendment, although I feel a little unhappy about what will be the new subsection (1A). I believe that the delay would be rather trying for the parliament in Scotland.
I have never been a Member of another place, but I do not want amendments to be "chosen" in the Scottish parliament. I understand that that is done by the Chairman of Ways and Means in the other place. That is because--I say this quite loosely--I know of
Without making a long speech, I should like to refer to what happens in this House and why I think it is so good. Your Lordships' House goes through Bills properly, from end to end. That does not appear to happen often in another place. We also have a total of three bites at the cherry. I feel that there should be at least three opportunities for legislation to be amended although I have set down only two in my amendment. I say that on this principle. It is extremely difficult for a noble Lord from any corner of this House to table an amendment--obviously, it must not contradict the principles of the Bill--which is legally correct and in language that the parliamentary draftsman is likely to accept.
As so often happens, the Government have accepted the principle of the amendment and agreed to table an amendment of their own at Report stage. Even when that happens, occasionally a consequential amendment should be taken into consideration. There is then an opportunity for the Government to tidy up any loose ends at Third Reading in your Lordships' House.
Referring to my noble friend's proposed subsection (1A), there is a rather nice rule in this Chamber that there should be an interval of two weekends between the stages of a Bill. That is sensible. I hope the Government accept that back-benchers of the Scottish parliament should have every opportunity to discuss Bills and table amendments in the same way as Members of this House. I have the executive very much in mind. I want to make quite certain that when a Bill has gone through parliament it does not have defects. Occasionally Bills have had defects, with disastrous results. Sometimes the courts have found that legislation is not as good as it should be. That leads to complications. One of the difficulties is that primary legislation is required to alter primary legislation. The Scottish parliament should be given every opportunity to get legislation right in a reasonable time with a reasonable opportunity for debate so that every clause is discussed.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am sure that the Committee will be told that this matter should be left to the Scottish parliament and that it is wrong for us to interfere. The main element of my noble friend's suggestion is that the public in Scotland should have time to absorb what the Scottish parliament is trying to do and to react to it before legislation proceeds too far. There are examples of what happens when the Government decide in the course of a Bill to make a hurried change which does not work. This is a sensitive matter at the present time. We have the example of the proposal to lower the age of consent where there has been a last-minute change. The public have not properly absorbed what is proposed. Noble Lords had to take a view on it rather quickly. Public opinion is still developing on the subject. It was a pity that that happened so quickly.
Another example is Scottish student fees. One understood how the issue arose. A decision was taken hurriedly on the basis of the Dearing Report. A mistake occurred and another hurried decision was made by the Scottish Office to put it right. That turned out to be another doubtfully convenient decision. That is what happens when governments decide matters too quickly without public opinion having time to make itself heard.
It is quite wrong that this Chamber, which has enormous experience of how public opinion develops during the passage of legislation, should not insert into this Bill an extension of the period of time during which the parliament legislates so that public opinion can develop and react properly. It is very important for Scotland. If that does not happen many beginners who have not before dealt with legislation will become very disappointed with the process. They may let down their constituents and the country as a whole. The parliament may have been unduly influenced by Civil Service advice and not enough by public opinion. I believe that that will occur in a number of ways. The Scottish Civil Service is a marvellous body of men and women who do their utmost. However, it is not their job to test the opinion of people about legislation; it is the job of politicians.
On one or two occasions this afternoon the Government have said that they will look again at certain matters. I hope that they will either accept this or look at it again. It will be the greatest possible mistake if they do not.
Lord Hylton: I have great sympathy with what has just been said by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. I should like to explore other possible alternative procedures for the Scottish parliament. If Clause 34 is accepted as drafted, do the Government believe that it would be possible for the Scottish parliament to consider Bills while still in draft and before they had been finalised by the executive or by private members? If so it would allow for the taking of evidence from interested parties and either specific or broad pressure groups on particular Bills.
I understand that there is already in existence in the other place a special standing committee procedure whereby evidence can be taken. I believe that when Parliament resumes that procedure will be adopted for certain Bills. I am trying to elucidate the idea of scrutiny in advance of the terms of legislation becoming fixed. Anything that the Government can say to throw light on that matter is most welcome.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: I understand the purpose of Amendments Nos. 248 and 249. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, have done a lot of very useful work in considering a possible procedure. I quite like it but I will not have it, in that I do not believe that this amount of detail is a matter for us. Good work has been done on this. There is no disagreement with it as far as concerns my party. It provides a chance for a proper examination of legislation in a unicameral parliament. I cannot say the same about the efforts of the Government in Clause 34
Why on earth are we now putting on the face of the Bill detail in the form of recommendations that simply form parliamentary procedure? While I believe it would be wrong to put Amendment No. 248 onto the face of the Bill, it appears to me that Clause 34 is badly drafted and is certainly in need of modification.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I appreciate that in Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 noble Lords want to ensure that the parliament will have sufficient opportunities to consider and vote on Bills in front of it. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I also agree that it is important that the parliament is able to hear and consider the views of bodies interested in a Bill. However, the Government believe that it is not for us to prescribe the working practices of the parliament. We cannot accept these amendments because they would intrude too far into the legislative processes of the Scottish parliament. I am afraid that I am not disappointing the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, in saying that.
We consider that the Bill prescribes the three minimum stages of parliamentary scrutiny. This is a very minimal and generalised laying down of three stages of parliamentary scrutiny--not with capital letters. It is not unique to Westminster to have a general debate on a Bill with an opportunity for members to vote on its general principles, then consideration of, and an opportunity to vote on, the details of the Bill and a final stage at which the Bill may be passed or rejected. One could not get a much more generalised description of what most democratic legislatures go through when they are trying to get a Bill through. Of course, it does not mean that the detail of how then to proceed is in any way curtailed by what is in this Bill. Everyone has their own way.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, immediately saw Westminster and another place in the way that we have done that. But these are very generalised principles. It is very difficult to work out other ways that one could get a Bill through.
The Earl of Balfour: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness in what she is saying. But she did refer to three stages? Would the Scottish parliament be able to make its procedure enter four stages if it so wished?
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