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Lord Waddington: My Lords, is there any precedent at all for the Parliament Act being invoked without the House of Commons having the opportunity to consider amendments passed in this place? Is it not quite disgraceful that, after amendments were carried in this place to increase the protection of young people against sexual abuse, the Bill should be railroaded through under the Parliament Act without the House of Commons being able to confirm what most people recognise would be real improvements to the Bill? Does not the noble Baroness realise the indignation that will be felt in the country that the Parliament Act should be used to railroad through a Bill which does nothing to help young people but merely grants a licence to older people to abuse them?
The noble Lord used the somewhat emotive language of "railroading" the Bill through. The Bill was, of course, defeated at Second Reading in the previous Session. If further consideration of amendments to the Bill had been intended, they could have been laid at that stage.
Earl Russell: My Lords, can the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the last time a Bill was railroaded through under the Parliament Act, on a free vote on a matter of conscience, was the War Crimes Act 1991, when the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, held the office of Lord Privy Seal?
Lord Waddington: My Lords, as my name has been raised, perhaps I may point out that on that occasion--against my advice--the House voted down the Bill at Second Reading when it could very well have given the Bill a Second Reading and amendments to improve the Bill could then have been considered.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, in that case, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will agree with my analysis of the decision of this House to defeat the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill in its current form at Second Reading in the previous Session.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, does she consider that she has answered the first part of the question of my noble friend Lord Waddington? In spite of the precedent so ably and predictably produced by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, can she think of any precedent where a Bill has been passed under the Parliament Act without another place first being given the opportunity to consider amendments passed here?
The noble Lord may not agree with that point, but perhaps I may follow it up with the point I was making more generally. This Bill was considered and was defeated at Second Reading in this House. Nothing has changed in the Bill which would have prevented the amendments that the noble Baroness has now successfully passed being tabled at Committee stage, when they could have been considered in the normal way by the other place.
If I interpret the views of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary correctly--I explained his position, perhaps not entirely clearly, in my previous answer--under the order-making power in Clause 5(1) of the Bill there is provision to meet some of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness in her amendments, and he is willing to discuss those potential arrangements with her.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and I had a meeting with the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, who listened very patiently and courteously to the points that we are making today? He communicated those points to the Home Secretary, who came back to us, through the Attorney-General, to say "no change"--and, therefore, that the abuse of trust amendments could not be accepted.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sorry if I am being a little unclear about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is not taking the point that I am making about the order-making power. It is the case that the amendments were not accepted, but the width of the order-making power, as I understand it, is such that the provisions could be included in that way, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is prepared to do that.
I also believe--I stand to be corrected--that the meeting that the noble Baroness had with my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General was before the letter of 20th November, which the Government Chief Whip wrote to his opposite number, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, explaining the potential for the order-making power very clearly. It is set out, and I have it in front of me.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that her last remarks are only minutiae with regard to the facts here? That is the case, even if the noble Baroness does shake her head. Can she explain why the House of Commons is not to be permitted to consider amendments made by the House of Lords? It would not take much time and could be done easily. Honour would then have been satisfied. At present, honour is far from being satisfied, a position in which the noble Baroness has played a great part.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in my original response to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, quite frankly, it is the case that, over the previous three Sessions, the House of Commons and the House of Lords have together considered this Bill for 48 hours. Those who have primary responsibility for policy in respect of the Bill--not myself, but my noble and right honourable friends in the Home Office--consider that adequate attention has been given to the main provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, the order- making powers, which I do not regard as minutiae--I respectfully disagree with the noble Earl on that point--are sufficiently wide-ranging. If there are concerns which either the noble Baroness, Lady
Baroness Young: My Lords, this is an extremely serious issue. What another place has not had an opportunity to look at is the amendment which was passed in your Lordships' House on Monday last. This is a new issue. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest to the noble Baroness that, in the course of our long debates, the House of Commons has not had an opportunity in particular to examine issues of trust as regards girls, a matter to which I believe the noble Baroness is very committed, as indeed am I, along with all noble Lords. There are, too, other issues of trust.
Of course I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Home Secretary, which unquestionably I shall take up. However, I should like to be assured that, if I do take up that offer, there would be some prospect of having a form of words added to the Bill on those matters of trust.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Baroness a categorically positive response to her final point. She will understand that, given the way in which procedures in the two Houses are organised.
However, I am glad that she has brought up the question of abuse of trust. Of course I share her concern, but, as I said in reply to the noble Earl, this is not my primary policy area of responsibility. As I understand the position, the main amendment moved successfully by the noble Baroness on the last occasion the Bill was debated in this House concerned the question of extending the categories to which the provision should apply.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. The main amendment was the one in which we went out of our way to try to meet the Government's concerns on the issue of equality.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I may have misquoted myself when I referred to the "main" amendment. I wished to refer to the amendment relating to the extension of the categories on abuse of trust, to which the noble Baroness referred in her previous question. I can only repeat that I am glad that the noble Baroness feels able to take up the suggestion made by the Home Secretary that she should talk to him about the order-making power. I hope that those discussions will result in a positive resolution of their mutual interests.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness has just made an extremely important statement. She said that her colleagues and those directly responsible for the Bill thought that the matter had been sufficiently considered, both in your Lordships' House and in
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