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Lord Lucas: My Lords, none of us knew that. All we knew was the standard procedure. I am not at all surprised that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was misled by the remarks of the Minister into thinking that the Public Bill Office was--as would usually be the case--closed and would be open for business the following morning.
In the Motion which we successfully amended yesterday, the Government asked for standing orders to be set aside for the purpose of taking the remaining stages on one day. The right procedure for the usual channels to have followed was to give us that same width--to have allowed standing orders to be set aside so that amendments could be made when noble Lords were fresh and awake and had had a chance to look at Hansard and consider the previous day's proceedings. Standing orders are for the convenience of the House. If we are to take two stages of a Bill on successive days, we must have arrangements that allow those noble Lords who come in in the morning and read Hansard to put down amendments for consideration at Third Reading on the second day. It is not right that we should be prohibited from so doing. If the Government wish for their convenience to have the two stages of the Bill taken on consecutive days, they must suspend the standing orders that prevent noble Lords putting down amendments to that second stage.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I understood--of course one has to accept it, one is never there--that the usual channels made a deal. That deal was, as I understand it, that the Bill would pass by Friday. That was the deal; that it would pass in that way. That pre-empted of course the functions of this House. But let that pre-emption go for a moment. The deal that was made has pre-empted in this manner. It has worked with manifest unfairness to the noble and learned Lord, and in relation to a very important aspect of the Bill--whether particulars are given on the criminal side or the civil side. Of course without them there is inevitable injustice. The House is indebted to the noble and learned Lord on this occasion for having drawn the attention of the House to that matter.
I respectfully suggest that the deal can be kept if Third Reading is dealt with on Friday. The noble and learned Lord can put down his amendment and anyone else can put down an amendment. Noble Lords may wish to do so. We have been pre-empted twice. Talk about double jeopardy; there is a good example of it.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have enormous respect for the Chief Whip in other situations, but what he has just said is an outrage. Yesterday the Minister--that it was a slip of the tongue has only now been admitted--nevertheless advised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, that he could table his amendments "tomorrow". Tomorrow is today.
My noble friend Lord Renton suggested a compromise which, sadly, was not accepted the other day when we had a similar debate. I should like to suggest one now. The House has co-operated to this point to allow the Government to have their Bill before the House rises on Friday. All the normal intervals between the different stages of the Bill have, by agreement, collapsed. It would make eminent sense also to make an adjustment to the rules which pertain to a Bill when the normal intervals are not observed. If that is the case, the Minister--having now accepted that it was a slip of the tongue when giving advice to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner--should accept that there should be a short interval and that manuscript amendments should be accepted, especially as the House knows about those amendments. They were referred to yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, agreed to bring information to the House today in response to those amendments. If he does not accede to this request, I hope that the House itself, as indeed it did the other day, will take a view on the matter.
Lord Richard: My Lords, yesterday we had a debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Noble Lords expressed their views with varying degrees of certainty and enthusiasm. We came to a certain conclusion. I am bound to say that I found the decision somewhat confusing. But it was afterwards clarified that we would have the Report stage yesterday and we would have the Third Reading today. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway--that was the deal that was come to in the usual channels after the vote on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, yesterday afternoon. If that is the deal, I can suggest only that the House should stick to it.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, in answer to that point, does the noble Lord agree that, if the Government give an undertaking in the House through a Minister, that entitles the Government to postpone a stage of a Bill?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am talking about the procedures. Everyone knows what the procedures are on Third Reading. Everyone knows that, under standing orders, one cannot put down a manuscript amendment at Third Reading. The fact that a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and gives an opinion that is contrary to the standing orders cannot bind the Government; nor indeed can it conceivably bind the House.
The second proposition I find a little strange is that advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. I had the experience of appearing before the noble and learned Lord when he sat as a judge. If I had stood up in front of the noble and learned Lord and said, "I am terribly sorry. I thought that the procedure was different from that which it is. Please will you now allow me to tear up the rules of procedure and pretend that they are otherwise than the white book suggests?", I do not think that the noble and learned Lord would have given me a very good hearing.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, with respect, I have not made that suggestion. I have accepted the error and have merely suggested that, in all fairness, the Government should agree to adjourn today's proceedings until tomorrow. There are very few amendments to be considered today. They are all government amendments. There is no hardship in putting Third Reading over until tomorrow. That is what the Government should do. I have not suggested that the concession made by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has changed anything except the merits of the case and the strength of my submission that, in all fairness, the Government should do what I have suggested.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, yesterday we had a long debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. It was said by noble Lords on all sides that we are masters of our own procedures. We voted to overturn the agreement which had been reached by the usual channels precisely and only to allow a reasonable interval between Report and Third Reading. The arrangements that we are being told have been agreed between the two Front Benches prevent the substance of the vote yesterday being implemented. Frankly, if it is impossible for Members of the House to table amendments to be debated at Third Reading, then yesterday's vote was a totally nugatory exercise.
Lord Renton: My Lords, in reaching a decision on this matter, the Government and indeed the Opposition Front Bench should bear in mind that this is a most unusual Bill. If we do not get the provisions right, injustice could occur, for which the Government and others would never be forgiven. It would be so easy for us to make a further attempt to get it right in the way suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Instead of pursuing the Third Reading now, we should adjourn it until the first item after Questions tomorrow. We could deal with the few amendments that there are--they will be mostly government and formal amendments--and present them to Members of another place first thing on Friday. They could either agree with them or send them back to us, and we would not then try to pursue the matter further.
The choice is this: do we stick rigorously to our rules of procedure and the decision of the usual channels, or do we try to get the Bill right, in order to avoid future injustice, by doing what has been suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and other noble Lords, and deal with Third Reading tomorrow?
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