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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I have tabled two amendments which fall within this group, and before referring to them briefly I should like to repeat paragraph 6 of the Select Committee's report because I do not think that I have ever seen its like. It states:
Perhaps I may make a few other points. First, although my understanding of this is extremely hazy, we understand that the Government have undergone some sort of conversion. In charity, one must always salute and welcome such surprising events with gratitude and thanks. However, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, I hope that we shall soon see the evidence that this is not merely a superficial device, but a real conversion and that the Government are determined not to
This Bill has also made me think--I was unaware of it before--that at the end of each Parliament memory is totally erased. I am not talking about the Minister's memory, but about those who advise him and the parliamentary draftsmen. I have not yet participated in a Parliament--either in the other place or in this House--in which I have not heard people of far greater eloquence than I can manage condemning the abuse of delegated powers.
Will the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, put this point to his advisers? Let us suppose that his advisers had come to me and that I had accepted their instructions and had produced a single-clause Bill, stating, "In order to check, prevent or terminate any supposed pollution, the Secretary of State may make any regulation he thinks fit". That would save a lot of time! However, for the life of me, I cannot see any real distinction between a simple one-clause Bill, such as I drafted then in a matter of seconds, and this Bill, which presumably took the parliamentary draftsmen a little time. I have a simple question, echoing what my noble friend has just said. It is a very simple question indeed--I do not want to interrupt my noble friend's communications because I am sure that they are very much more important than anything that I have to say--and I repeat it: why did the Government produce a Bill of such length? I can assume only that it was to offer some sort of disguise.
My next question relates to my point about memory. I simply cannot believe that somewhere in the building in which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, works, there is not someone with some fragment of memory causing a bell to ring somewhere, urging that person to remind the Minister, "Parliament is a very boring institution and there are some very tiresome people there who will get a bit sick about this sort of thing. They have repeatedly objected to it in the past and they will do so again". This particular measure is one of the more naked breaches of established custom and of what is desirable that I can remember.
I wish to put on the record the words which I do not like, and which my amendments seek to remove from the Bill. The only way that I can do so is to read them out to the Committee. In passing, I hope that this will give not only the Minister but also his advisers and, indeed, the draftsman some cause to blush and feel just a little uncomfortable at what they are seeking to put through.
I shall not go into the detail of the Minister's amendments, which I am sure are very well meant; indeed, we are to have a degree of consultation. However, that is not a lot of comfort. I hope that the Minister will take this Bill away. I also hope that he does not return with little tiny amendments; but that he will show real regard for the total condemnation dished out by the Select Committee of this House. Anything short of that will be tantamount to saying, "Well, the House of Lords won't give us much trouble, and, as for the House of Commons, we know how to handle them. We have a huge majority and a very powerful party Whip. They will do as they always do: what they are told".
I do not believe that I have ever seen a Bill which shows more manifestly a deep and profound contempt for Parliament. I acquit the Minister of any of this nastiness, but I hope that he will accept it as his duty as regards the constitution to take effective measures either to rewrite the Bill or so drastically to amend it that neither its parents nor anyone else who had anything to do with its conception will eventually be able to recognise it.
Baroness Hamwee: It is perhaps a pity that we are not able to start the debate this afternoon by discussing the Minister's amendments which, to my mind, deal most interestingly not only with the parliamentary processes but also with the processes of consultation with interested parties. Speaking only for myself, I suspect that the latter will have far more to contribute to the technical matters with which the Bill deals than I can possibly do.
As has been said, the Select Committee's report is damning. Although I shall not spend very long in commenting on it, I do not in any way discount the significance of the report. One aspect of it which interests me, although I realise that it is outside the ambit of this afternoon's discussion, is how this Chamber can contribute to parliamentary scrutiny and generally to debate of what our society needs. It is a very good model for what this Chamber might do in the future. However, as I said, that is outside the debate this afternoon. Nevertheless, I have to add that I cannot help recalling why the committee was formed in the first place. We do not have amendments about pots and kettles on the Marshalled List this afternoon, so I shall not go any further into the matter. But I am sure that other noble Lords will also have recollections of why it has been so important to have this Select Committee in place to comment on the inappropriate attempts at grabbing power of which any government must be capable.
However, at this point we are debating a number of amendments tabled in the name of the Conservative Front Bench. Interesting though those amendments are, I am concerned that they do not in my view achieve the balance of environmental protection, certainty for business and industry and constitutional propriety with which this little Bill has to grapple. I shall comment on just one matter; namely, the use of the word "significant".
Lord Jenkin of Roding: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder whether she recognises that this group of amendments deals with Schedule 1 and the scope of the Bill's activities. The Minister's amendments, with which we shall deal later, deal in the first instance with consultation and in the second instance with the procedures for delegated legislation. Therefore, it seems to me that it is quite a sensible division to have an initial debate about the scope of the legislation and separate debates later about other matters.
Baroness Hamwee: Of course I recognise the differences involved. However, it seems to me that one of the difficulties is the scope of the Bill. Indeed, that is central to how the whole matter is approached. For example--just to take one point--when dealing with a schedule to primary legislation or, as it may be, with secondary legislation which is subject to an affirmative resolution, I just wonder how one deals with the precise processes in an age of considerable and fast-moving technological advance. I am not happy with leaving on one side a whole area of activity and not spelling it out, but I do recognise the difficulty of achieving the balance to which I referred.
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