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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the Bill is full of some fairly unhappy precedents. That is why it is having a sticky time in this House. It would be a great pity if we added a new precedent. We all know that Ministers frequently make slips of the tongue. There is nothing unusual in that. If a Minister comes back to the House and says that he or she has made a slip of the tongue, that is well understood and no one feels too hard about it. That is what has always happened in the past. However, if a Minister says that it was a slip of the tongue when he gave an undertaking and therefore the undertaking, on which others have relied, is to be washed away, that would indeed be an unhappy precedent to set.

I simply cannot see why the Government should be so obstinate. As noble Lords have said, the Third Reading could be taken tomorrow without any great problem. The agreement entered into by the usual channels could be maintained. I must say that I am not bound by agreements entered into by the usual channels. I am no part of the usual channels and I am not consulted. Most of us are in that position. None the less, where we can, we like to go along with what is agreed for the expeditious conduct of business in the House. However, there is no reason why the agreement that the Bill should be delivered on Friday should not be honoured. We can discuss the Bill tomorrow. Why on earth should we not do so?

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I think that the House is getting on to dangerous ground on two or three points.

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First, it is true that the usual channels are the servants of the House and its Members. It is equally true that the freedoms of all individual Members of the House are protected by our standing orders. Therefore, if we are to protect our own rights, we need to be careful about how we approach sudden changes in terms of standing orders. In fact, if we wish to change standing orders, the proper way of doing so is through consideration by the Procedure Committee and agreement to any recommendations by the House.

The usual channels are the servants of the House. We could not work in the smooth, business-like way which allows our independence as individuals to be maintained without the usual channels negotiating arrangements for business. Therefore, if the usual channels entered into an arrangement based on the broad picture, it would be an undermining of our procedures and of our confidence in our arrangements if that agreement was overturned, as it was.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord must have been away from the House for a while. Had we stuck to the intervals prescribed for public business, we would not have attempted to go through Committee, Report and Third Reading on the same day.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, the noble Lord is not listening. I said that the House agreed to suspension of the standing orders as they relate to the timing of this Bill. We are therefore acting within the standing orders.

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words. This is the second time in three days that we have held this kind of discussion. The House works by agreement and by co-operation, as a result of discussions between the Front Benches and through the usual channels. I can confirm that there has been no breach of standing orders.

Noble Lords will recall a point I made in our debate yesterday when the House decided that a split should be introduced between Report stage and Third Reading: I immediately made arrangements to hold the Third Reading today. However, I pointed out that the arrangements for the Bill had been agreed. In fact, the days on which we had the Second Reading and were to have had the Committee stage, the Report stage and Third Reading were days suggested by the Official Opposition, to which I agreed. Nothing was said until the debate yesterday in which the House decided to introduce a split between Report and Third Reading. That was because the Committee sat until 10 past five o'clock of that morning.

The omission of one word in my noble friend's response has caused the problem we are now discussing. If my noble friend had said, "If the noble Lord tables his amendments for tomorrow", there would have been no problem. Noble Lords know well the rules of this House. Many noble Lords present in the Chamber have been involved with this Bill. Noble Lords know that manuscript amendments cannot be

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tabled at Third Reading. Surely anyone who wished to table an amendment at Third Reading should have asked me or, still better, inquired at the Public Bill Office or sought the advice of the Clerks and authorities of the House. Noble Lords could have asked what needed to be done to table an amendment at Third Reading. Noble Lords would have been told of arrangements made by the Public Bill Office--not by me--to meet that eventuality. Those arrangements were in place. The fact that noble Lords did not attempt to avail themselves of that information is not my problem.

If, every other day, we are to have a debate in which the House seeks to take issue with agreements that have been made between our old friends "the usual channels"--who aim to ensure that the business of this House proceeds in an orderly manner--it will be very difficult for the House to retain its reputation for upholding the agreement and co-operation usually demonstrated on all sides.

I have discussed the problem of adjourning Third Reading with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. My noble friend has ensured that a full reply on all the points that have been raised is ready to be given to the noble and learned Lord.

I suggest to noble Lords that it would be better if we now continued with Third Reading, as tabled, and proceed with the Bill which must go back tonight to the Commons to fit in with the timetable there. That is in case, for a variety of reasons, it needs to be returned to this place.

I stress again that there has been no breach of standing orders. However, there has been a failure on the part of noble Lords themselves to check what they should have done if they had wanted to table amendments at Third Reading.

Lord McNally: My Lords, explanations and justifications are going to dig us deeper into this hole. Can the noble Lord the Chief Whip answer one point? Lords amendments are amendable in another place. Would it be possible, perhaps with the co-operation of the Government, to arrange for the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, to be tabled in another place and debated there?

Lord Carter: My Lords, that could take place only if an amendment were consequential on an amendment that had been made in this place. That is the difficulty.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord the Chief Whip, having decided to take the Bill today, must have appreciated--certainly if he heard the response given by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam--that people were not going to put down their amendments in time. It was open to him to move that the standing order be suspended to enable the amendments to be tabled today. Is not the right answer at this point to move that the amendments, although now suspended, be tabled and for the Bill to be taken later today--if the noble Lord is so keen to complete it today? That would allow a little time for the amendments to be put down.

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It would be perfectly easy for the noble Lord himself to suspend the standing order. He moved to suspend the standing order yesterday in an attempt to get the Bill passed in one day. Surely he could move a lesser Motion to suspend this standing order and thus enable the amendment to be tabled.

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the point made by the noble Viscount. The reason why we were able to hold yesterday's debate on the suspension of standing orders was because a Motion had been put down on the Order Paper.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of Standing Order No. 87:


    "No Motion shall be granted for making any new Standing Order, or for dispensing with a Standing Order of the House, unless the notice shall have been given in the Order Paper to consider the said Motion".

It is quite clear that we cannot now move a Motion to suspend standing orders. It should have been tabled last night so that it could have appeared on the Order Paper for today.

Although I appreciate that noble Lords feel strongly about this matter, I suggest that we should now get on with our business. I repeat, there has been no breach of standing orders. Immediately after Tuesday's debate, I met with the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. We agreed to leave a day between Report and Third Reading and to take Third Reading today. Everyone agreed with that. No complaints were made when it was clear that Third Reading was put down on the Order Paper for today.

I repeat: it is not my responsibility to ensure that noble Lords check on the procedures. All noble Lords know and understand the procedures as regards manuscript amendments. There are plenty of lawyers in this House. Why did no one think to ask me, the Clerks or the Public Bill Office about the procedure covering amendments to be tabled at Third Reading? I think that noble Lords forgot to do this and now they are making a meal of their own forgetfulness.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, perhaps I may make two very brief points. My action yesterday had two purposes. The first was to point out the undesirability of omitting the normal intervals, a point which I suspect has been underlined by our discussions this afternoon.

My second point, which I made specifically, was,


    "It is also clear that, under Standing Order 48 it would not be possible for any amendments to be tabled for Third Reading. That could be a serious handicap in terms of our wish to improve the Bill".--[Official Report, 25/7/00; col. 284.]

That is the central point here. Surely what we are really discussing is not a point of procedure, but the need to improve the Bill.


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