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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, if this issue is so complex, could the Minister not answer his noble friend simply on the point of whether contractors should pay for the policing of such loads? The Minister's noble friend has asked a simple question which could receive a simple answer.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, under the provisions of Section 25 of the Police Act 1996, it is open to the police to charge for this service. The facility for such charging is already in place. However, some parts of the haulage trade would be quite happy to have charges raised on them, while others believe that it is a service and should be provided free. Some would be happy with private escorts, while others believe that the police should carry out these duties. It is most important that the Government should reach a balanced view. We must listen to the haulage industry, listen to the police service and try to work together to get it right.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does not part of the difficulty lie in the fact that the Home Office is conducting all these discussions and writing letters rather than answering questions?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we carried out a detailed consultation. The noble Lord will know that, because it was his government that began this process. They were determined in 1995 to introduce private escorts for abnormal loads on motorways. They failed to do it in their time; we intend to get it right in ours.

ECHR: Legislative Compatibility

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we believe that a Minister in charge of a Bill should address convention-related issues during proceedings on the Bill. It will be for him or her to decide how best to do so in the context of the debate.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does he recall that at all four stages of the Representation of the People Bill the rectitude of the statement which he made as to compatibility was challenged on the basis of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights? Does he recall also that no reasoned justification was given? If the advice on which that statement was made is

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kept on file, why, in accordance with government practice, was the substance not disclosed in the exercise of his ministerial discretion?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reminder. He is right that it was a question that he raised at each stage of the Representation of the People Bill. It is a matter for Ministers to give their opinion as to whether or not the legislation for which they are responsible conforms with convention rights. That is a statement that is made on the face of each Bill. Legal advice to Ministers is kept in confidence, as has been the practice across many years and across many administrations.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one man's reasoned justification is another's smooth excuse?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I rather like the way my noble friend puts that.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that one of the duties of the human rights committee of your Lordships' House will be to monitor Bills for compatibility with convention rights and to give a reasoned report to your Lordships' House on any apparent incompatibility? Can he therefore tell us, now that a distinguished academic has been appointed as legal adviser, when the committee will be set up and start work?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I can confirm the noble Lord's first statement. It is the Government's intention to introduce the Human Rights Act on 2nd October this year. We have not fixed on a firm date for the creation and establishment of the Joint Committee of both Houses. However, the points raised by the noble Lord are up for its urgent consideration.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, despite the fact that the committee is about to be set up, it is important that the Minister concerned should be capable of expressing his own view of the statement that the Bill is compatible. If the Bill is not compatible, it will be changed under the fast-track procedure because of the Human Rights Act. Should not the Minister therefore be prepared to give his own view and not hide behind the fact that his legal advice is confidential?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am interested in the point made by the noble Baroness. However, I do not believe it would be right for the Minister to offer a personal view. It must be a view based on sound legal reasoning. Ultimately it is a matter for the courts to determine. We give a legal reason and that is the explanation which should be carefully provided for.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is the Minister fully seized of how urgent the setting up of

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the Joint Committee has become in order for Parliament to have proper access to an objective and independent body of opinion in human rights issues as they affect the drafting of statute?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it goes without saying that the Government are seized of that fact. After all, it is our legislation. We are proud of it and want to ensure that it is effective. The points made by the noble Lord are perfectly proper. As soon as the committee is in place--appointments are already being made--it will begin its important work.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for not answering either of my Questions.

Census (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

3.4 p.m.

Lord Weatherill rose to move, That the proceedings of Tuesday 14th March be vacated.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion is required to vacate the proceedings on Third Reading of my Bill on 14th March. Those proceedings were entirely formal, as the single line recording them in Hansard attests. Unfortunately, they are now thought to have been defective because I did not at that time invite the House to agree to the privilege amendment. That is because at that stage it was not thought that the Bill would have any financial implications. However, on further inquiry it appears that the Bill may result in some additional costs which will need to be sanctioned by the other place. This means that a privilege amendment is required in order not to offend the financial privilege of the Commons. Accordingly, the Bill has been returned from the Commons for that to happen.

If your Lordships agree to my Motion, I shall invite your Lordships to give the Bill another Third Reading and to agree the privilege amendment before the Bill is finally sent back to the Commons. I beg to move.

Moved, That the proceedings of Tuesday 14th March be vacated.--(Lord Weatherill.)

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I cannot allow this moment to pass without some comment. I make it plain that I ascribe no specific blame to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. But this is a most unusual procedure. I am sure it is not without some precedent, but it is unusual for a Bill to be vacated.

It is my understanding that this Bill is in fact a government hand-out Bill and it is doubly a reason why the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is not to blame. But I wonder when the last occasion was that this happened to a Bill drafted by parliamentary counsel. Also, does the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, know what Minister was responsible for this? Would it not have been better, rather than having to ask this question in the House, to have put this on the Minute of the House last Thursday and an explanation be given and recorded in Hansard? Would not that have

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been more convenient to Members of your Lordships' House rather than having this small debate this afternoon?

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I can enlighten the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The last time a privilege amendment was omitted was in 1992, when your Lordships agreed to a Motion to vacate proceedings on the Third Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. There are other examples in 1984 and 1980.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this is a Private Member's Bill and not a government Bill. But it is only right that I should intervene as the Minister representing the Treasury in this House to say that no blame whatever attaches to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. This Bill was introduced by the noble Lord and it was only at a later stage that the Treasury, which is the controlling department for the Office for National Statistics, realised that there may be some financial implications. If this has caused difficulty to the House, I apologise on behalf of the department. But it should be clear that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is entirely without fault.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Census (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Care Standards Bill [H.L.]

3.9 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Independent hospitals etc.]:


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