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Lord Carter: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? This matter has been referred to on a number of occasions. I was prepared to give all the time that this issue required on a Friday. However, all of those interested in this subject said that they did not wish to discuss it on a Friday and that they preferred to discuss it during a dinner break.
I think that at the end of the day the honour and the position of this House depend on it taking care of the legislation that it lets go, of not being seen as a rubber-stamp, but rather as a critical and honest revising Chamber. On balance, when I look at the way this Bill has been drafted, I think that we owe it to ourselves to ask Kent County Council to think again.
Lord Rees: My Lords, my only pretext for intervening, I hope briefly, in this important debate is that I once had the privilege of representing part of east Kent in the other place and had a house in east Kent. I suppose that I bought, if I did not sell, some of the articles that are covered by this Bill.
I say in opening that I certainly applaud the objectives of the Bill. I do not seek to criticise the procedures that have been followed by the sponsors of both Bills in this case. It is difficult for us to say that Members of this House have been remiss in their duties. The petitions for the two Bills were deposited at the end of 1998. The Bills were introduced in this House and read a second time just under a year ago. No petition was deposited against the Medway Council Bill. However, a petition was deposited against the Kent County Council Bill but was withdrawn on 8th July 1999. The effect of that was of course that the Kent Bill became unopposed. A Home Office report was submitted on the two Bills and they were considered by the Unopposed Bill Committee. Amendments were made to both Bills at that stage.
Therefore in form at any rate, if not totally in substance, I believe that the proper procedures were followed. As I say, I believe that the objectives of the Bill are entirely laudable. I agree that the detail and the practicalities are questionable. Some of my noble friends, particularly my noble friend Lord Lucas, to whose speech I listened closely, drew particular attention to that. My noble friend Lord Astor set out attractively and accurately the criteria that ought to be applied to legislation of this kind. He drew attention to the matter of national consistency. I entirely sympathise with that point because if we do not have consistency in a field as important as this, those who want to operate in this field will experience difficulties and the kind of business likely to be covered by this Bill may be driven out of counties such as Kent into adjoining counties with possible unattractive economic consequences. I cannot see that they would be catastrophic but there may be unattractive economic consequences for people who wish to operate in Kent or in the Medway towns. That ought to be reflected upon.
The Minister owes it to the House to explain whether serious consideration has been given to legislation in this field that is national in scope. It is too late at night to go into all the delicacies that may arise from devolution. I cannot for the moment recollect whether this kind of matter would be covered by the Scottish or Welsh devolution Bills. However, as I am now resident in Wales I shall have to become more acquainted with that matter if this provision becomes law. At any rate I believe that there is rather a strong
Various noble Lords have mentioned the regulatory burden. There is no estimate of the likely costs not only for the councils or the police forces who are involved in this matter but also of the likely transaction costs. Again, we owe it to ourselves and to the country to show that we have considered that aspect of the case. There is also the matter of the general regulatory burden. However, as other of my noble friends have touched on that matter, I do not think that I need comment further on it.
As regards the question of enforceability, I am in no position to say whether these measures are practically enforceable to any reasonable degree. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth--for whose views I have the warmest regard--said that the measure had been introduced in eight other council areas and they had found it useful. I hope that he will allow me to suggest that it is not so much a question of the utility to the council authorities, or even to the police authorities in those areas; we also have to consider the utility to those involved in the manner of business that we are discussing. There cannot be any presumption that they are somehow on the edges of the law and we can disregard the inconvenience of the practicalities as they affect them. I should like to hear a little more about this matter. During the procedures which have led this Bill to appear before this Chamber tonight, was that aspect of the matter considered at all carefully?
There is also the question of civil liberties. As this matter has been discussed at length and with authority, I shall not discuss it further, but we must take that matter into account. The House will be relieved to hear that I say in conclusion that I approve of the objectives of the Bill and I have no particular criticism--indeed, in some senses I approve--of the course taken by the sponsors of this Bill. There is no question of it being forced through in an underhand way, but evidently the points were not taken up in the appropriate quarters at the appropriate time. I therefore cannot go along with my noble friend Lord Astor. I do not think that after a rather limited debate it would be right for us to kill off these Bills at this stage. Were the matter to be taken to a Division, I would vote that the Bills should be passed tonight, but on the clear understanding on the part of the sponsors of the Bills that ample time will be found--I know that that does not rest entirely with them--for a proper debate and investigation of these two Bills in another place. Subject to that reservation I am prepared to let the Bills go through tonight.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, in what I hope will be a brief speech on one or two procedural matters, I must first of all apologise to your Lordships for being perhaps somewhat overdressed for an occasion of this kind. While no trouble is too great to take for the benefit of your Lordships, the reason I am dressed in this manner is that I am due to attend the dinner which is being given by Cross-Bench Peers to mark the retirement of the former Convenor, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
I am sure that your Lordships have listened with considerable interest to the speeches which have been made both for and against the Third Reading of the two Bills. I am also sure that your Lordships will understand that it is not my responsibility to take part in any discussions on the merits of a Private Bill. However, as Motions have been tabled which, if carried, would have the practical effect of rejecting the Bills on Third Reading, your Lordships may find it helpful if I say something briefly to remind you, or perhaps to confirm in certain cases, some of the procedural implications of the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor.
As your Lordships have heard, neither the Kent County Council Bill nor the Medway Council Bill was referred to a Select Committee. This was because the only petition presented against the Kent County Council Bill was withdrawn, as has been indicated already, and the Medway Council Bill was never opposed in your Lordships' House at all. Neither Bill therefore received the detailed scrutiny of its merits which takes place in Select Committee if a Private Bill is opposed. I can assure your Lordships that both Bills received the detailed technical scrutiny that your Lordships would expect. Both Bills were amended, as has also been indicated, mainly on technical points, by the Unopposed Bill Committees.
Perhaps I should refer to one specific point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, during the debate. I confirm that private legislation is not covered by the requirement that there should be a statement by the Minister that the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act. That is true for both Houses.
I should mention that it is unusual for Private Bills to be opposed at Third Reading. The last time a Private Bill was rejected at Third Reading in your Lordships' House was the Swanage Yacht Haven Bill in 1987. That Bill differed from the two present Bills in that it had been considered by a Select Committee, which had produced a special report on the Bill. If the House agrees to the Third Reading of the two Bills today--this has been mentioned by at least one noble Lord--they will of course pass to another place, where there will be a further opportunity for opponents of the Bills, or either of them, to petition against them and for the Bills to be considered by a Select Committee there.
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