|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for giving me some notice that she was going to raise this question. The short answer is that, given a fair wind, you always have to keep several fingers crossed. The intention is that we shall finish the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in order to rise around 10 o'clock tonight. I need to complete the quotation from the Companion, because beyond the passage that the noble Countess quoted it states:
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I cannot give an answer to that question. I am in total sympathy with the motivation behind the question of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, which is a calculation we need to make, not just about late sittings, but about the demands that the workload of this House, which we recognise is considerable, makes on the staff who look after us so well and so effectively, and, I might say, even at 1.30 in the morningthis morningso uncomplainingly.
Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Chief Whip confirm that 50 per cent of yesterday's amendments were government amendments and that two-thirds of the amendments today will be government amendments? Can he tell us, in relation to the growing burden of work in this House, what proportion of those relate to
Lord Grocott: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, knows, the vast majority of government amendmentsthis certainly applied to yesterday's debatemeet the approval of the House and are indeed there precisely to respond to questions raised during the passage of the Bill. All that I can say is that the vast majority of them were accepted with wide agreement across the House. The majority of government amendmentscertainly at this stage in our proceedingsare introduced to try to reach agreement and consensus. Believe me, I work very hard to try to achieve just that.
As for the work of the other place, it is not a bad ruleI say this with some diffidenceto say that the approach is precisely the same there. We have different methods and different procedures in the two Houses. At our best, we work complementarily; I shall do my best to ensure that we do so.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept two things? First, it is a gross abuse of procedure that a Bill as important as the Criminal Justice Bill should arrive in this House not having been discussed fully in another place. The real work of scrutiny is done by this place; that is the value of this House and the way that it does its work. Secondly, most of the government amendments moved yesterday were indeed accepted by the whole House, but they had little to do with responding to points made by opposition Members of the Committee. They were mostly additions to the Bill. In response to my noble friend Lord Elton, many of them related to clauses that had received no discussion whatever in another place.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I fear that if we start comparing the procedural methods of the two Houses, we shall rapidly lose our audience. The noble Baroness well knows that when it is discussing timetabling arrangements, the other place does so with the full involvement of the opposition parties. There are often arguments about the length of time that should be available, but it is then up to the Opposition to decide how they should time their contributionsfrequently to have key debates taking place at key times in the proceedings. But, honestly, we shall become a House of anoraks if we start comparing procedural devices and methods in the two Houses to try to decide which is the best.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, once again I find myself in complete agreement with the import behind that question, which is to emphasise that in the judgment of my noble friendwhich I must say I sharethere is far more effective, detailed scrutiny of legislation when it is performed in the atmosphere of a Committee. In
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the noble Lord the Chief Whip has a silver tongue, but the truth is that we are now suffering the consequences of the House of Commons having turned itself into a part-time Chamber and guillotining every Bill, with the result that Bill after Bill is coming here having been insufficiently considered in the other place. Until that is put right, we shall never be able to meet the wishes of the Chief Whip and the House that we should rise at, say, 10 o'clock in the evening.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, a number of us have form on this business. I have never before been accused of having a silver tongue, but I am grateful for that, if it was a compliment. Can the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I agree to have a draw on this one? If I were to check the number of times he voted for guillotine Motions in the other place when he was in government and he were to check the number of times I voted for guillotine Motions when we were in government
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, there is no possibility of declaring a draw on this argument when the Government win again and again both here and in another place. What worries me is that the noble Lord and the Government as a whole tend to find it so easy to identify the convenience of the House with that of the Government.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that if the sole objective of the House has been to respond to the convenience of the Government, that has escaped me in my present role.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Government, instead of thinking things out well in advance of a Bill going to another placeor this House, if it comes here firsthave developed the custom or habit of thinking up further things later on? We have been asked to accept amendments that will add 30 or 40 pages to an enormous Bill, which was 374 pages long when it reached us. Will the noble Lord
Lord Grocott: Yes, my Lords, it is clearly in everyone's interest that any Bill should be in as good a shape as possible when it is introduced to the House. I do not detract from that for a minute, but any legislative system ought also to be able to deal with issues as and when they arise during what can be a lengthy passage between being introduced to one House and concluded in the other. It is a duty of governments to respond to public need and issues that arise, even when that is during the course of a Bill's passage.
Even if it sounds a little immodest, a government who managed in 1997 to be elected with a majority of more than 150 and who managed to repeat that operation in 2001 cannot be entirely out of tune in legislating in a way that is acceptable to the public.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, may I say how grateful I am to the noble Lord for trying to pour oil on troubled waters? However, I respectfully point out to himI know that time is going by, but this has been an important debatethat the usual channels are not the whole House. There has been much restless feeling on the Back Benches about the length of sittings. We would all very much appreciate it if something could be done to control the time at which the House rises.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am totally in sympathy with the thrust of the question of the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I should love the House to be able to complete its business earlier. As for the rights of Back-Benchers, I wholeheartedly agree with her, not least from the knowledge of having been a Back-Bencher for a large proportion of my life and knowing that, given the inevitable way in which these things operate, one day I shall be a Back-Bencher again. So I agree.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|