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3.15 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Chairman of Committees for setting out briefly but succinctly the procedure to be followed for considering the national policy statements that have been prepared and were made available last November under the provisions of the Planning Act 2008. The noble Lord has already referred to the fact that there has to be scrutiny of these national planning statements in both Houses. This was agreed in the debates in this House to be an important stage in the new planning process.

Of course, this is a formidable task. Those who have seen the volume of papers that were tabled on 9 November-six separate reports covering six aspects of energy policy-will perhaps be a little surprised that we are apparently to try to deal with these in a single four-hour debate in the Moses Room. That is the subject of one of my questions. In another place, two-it may be more-Select Committees have already been appointed to examine the reports. I understand that these Select Committees have already indicated a call for evidence. I have discussed with one or two people whether they will be giving evidence to those committees in another place.

In this House, the usual channels and the Procedure Committee have adopted the very different procedure, which the Chairman of Committees described, of a

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four-hour debate in Grand Committee. The Procedure Committee's report on this aspect is very brief. I have been trying to find out exactly how this process will work. We are faced with a wholly new situation. This is not a Bill, a statutory instrument or a report from a Select Committee; it is something novel. Therefore, the authorities have adopted a novel constitutional solution. It is about this that I would like to ask some questions.

First, how is any noble Lord to propose amendments to any of the national policy statements? Will that be able to be done in the four-hour debate in Grand Committee, or will it have to rest until a subsequent procedure? The noble Lord has said that there can be no vote on any of this in the Moses Room, for reasons that we all entirely understand. Will there be a procedure whereby there can be a vote on the Floor of the House? People would like to know that. Section 9 of the Planning Act refers to,

As I have said, the other House is proposing not one or two but perhaps three committees to consider different aspects of this formidable array of national policy statements. This is not currently proposed in this House, for reasons that have been explained to me, but is it open to any noble Lord to propose that there should be an ad hoc committee? If so, would that be proposed in Grand Committee, or would it require a separate Motion to be considered on the Floor of the House? In paragraph 7 of its report, the Procedure Committee says:

"The Leader has indicated that in the event of a motion for resolution being tabled, the Usual Channels would undertake to provide time for a debate in the Chamber within the scrutiny period".

Is that something separate from and additional to the four-hour debate in Grand Committee, or is it all part of one and the same debate?

My next question concerns the fact that there are six of these reports, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will be well aware, are formidable and detailed. Is it envisaged that we will take all six reports in a single four-hour debate in the Moses Room on a single Motion, or will they be split so that we can have a number of debates on the different subjects of the national policy statements?

When can we expect the process to start? As I have explained, it is already under way in another place. I was trying to find the date for completion of the process. One of the documents refers to its completion by 22 February. I questioned whether that also applies to the consultation in this House; the answer is no. There is a separate time limit for that. In a letter written by the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, when the reports were issued on 9 November, he stated that-the technical words are "the relevant period"-the scrutiny period should end on 6 May. The letter was addressed to the chairman of the Liaison Committee in another place, with a copy to the then acting chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Not surprisingly I did not see this until quite recently-in fact, half way through this morning,

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when it was drawn to my attention by one of the extremely able and helpful ladies in the Government Whips' Office. That states clearly in the sixth sentence that the date is to be 6 May. That gives us rather more time.

Is it therefore the position-this is perhaps my last question-that if we take it right up to the end, including the several stages in this House and in another place, the final process will not be completed before the general election has to be announced and it will be for the Government after the election to decide how to take the matter forward? We have come right up against the boundary in terms of time; the Secretary of State's letter spells out why that is so. Rules applying to Select Committees in another place state that 39 days must be allowed after issuing a report. If we are not even going to begin to discuss this until after another place has finished-or until nearly after, as has been indicated-will we not find ourselves trying to deal with it in the very last few days in the wash-up before the general election? Is that a satisfactory way for this House to deal with these formidable reports with which we are confronted? I have said previously that I believe that the Government have done as much as they possibly can in drawing up these reports, and I will have some suggestions to make when we debate them, but we have left it to the last possible minute. Is that a satisfactory way of proceeding?

Lord Tyler: My Lords, we, too, share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. In view of the important business to come through your Lordships' House, I relate my queries to the final issue with which the Chairman of Committees was concerned, which is that of Oral Questions to Secretaries of State. Most of the other proposals are relatively uncontroversial.

I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees can say something about the context for that recommendation. I note that Mr Speaker Bercow has recently suggested that Secretaries of State who sit in your Lordships' House should respond to Questions from MPs not just in sittings in Westminster Hall but in the Chamber itself at the other end of the Corridor. There are well established conventions about such a summons from one House to another. The two individuals concerned may not need the protection of your Lordships' House-no doubt they can stand up for themselves-but there is a precedent here. What discussions have taken place with Mr Speaker Bercow on that matter? In particular, can the Chairman of Committees assure us that negotiations are in hand to secure reciprocal rights? Can we be told when Secretaries of State from the other place will answer Questions in this Chamber? It has been difficult enough, as I know from my own experience, to get Secretaries of State to come to sub-committees of our European Union Committee; they usually prefer to send underlings. What steps can be taken to ensure that we can have that reciprocal right?

On a different matter, I wonder whether we can be sure that the circumstances and terms in which one of the current Ministers referred to, who is also First Secretary of State, comes to your Lordships' House are quite as clear as the Chairman of Committees has implied. Can he confirm that all the oral questions to the First Secretary of State, whether tabled or

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supplementary, must relate purely and simply to his departmental responsibilities? In exchanges in your Lordships' House on 16 October 1995, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was anxious to establish the exact role and accountability to Parliament of the then First Secretary of State, the then Mr Michael Heseltine, who was also Deputy Prime Minister. If the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, is also de facto Deputy Prime Minister, can the Chairman of Committees explain what mechanism there is in this Parliament, at either end of the building, to question him on his role? Surely it is unprecedented that Ministers should take responsibility and not be accountable to Parliament.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I support every word said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. This is an important matter and it is important that this House gets it right. I want to add two points. On a simple matter, there will be many Members around the House who have not taken a detailed interest in the national policy statements that have been issued, mainly about energy, but also one on ports. I emphasise the points made by the noble Lord: the statements are at least four inches thick and are important and serious documents, which cannot possibly be scrutinised properly by this House in one debate in the Moses Room. I do not believe that having a further debate on a report back from the Moses Room in this Chamber would be satisfactory either. There has to be a process of scrutiny that allows noble Lords to get to grips with the content of these important statements.

During the debates that we had on the Planning Bill as it was going through the House, first there was the question of whether there should be parliamentary involvement in these statements at all. Some people said that they should be subject to a vote of approval, but the view that many of us took was that proper, detailed and expert scrutiny is more important than a symbolic vote of approval on the whole document. That is the argument that we put forward. I think that we now have to be true to what we said then and put into place a proper process of scrutiny by a Select Committee or some other means.

Secondly, the scrutiny was originally going to be only by the House of Commons. Led by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who was supported by these Benches and Members from all round the House, this House insisted that its expertise-not just on the planning process but on the issues that will be discussed about energy, major transport schemes et cetera-has to be brought to bear on these documents in the national interest. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is absolutely right. I think that the Leader of the House, the Chairman of Committees and the usual channels have to think more about this very quickly so that we set in place the kind of process that the noble Lord and many of us want.

3.30 pm

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked me a series of detailed and quite hard questions on national policy statements, some of which are for me and some of which are obviously for the Government and the usual channels.

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First, the noble Lord seemed to think that all six reports might be debated in one four-hour debate in Grand Committee. This is obviously a matter for the usual channels but my understanding is that there will not necessarily be a single debate; there could be more than one. However, that is a matter for the usual channels. It is perfectly true to say that amendments are not allowed in Grand Committee at the moment and there is no proposal to change that.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is it too late to intervene? If not, I should like to say just one thing. Is this not another example of the problems of the Back Benches, which are not exercisable under the authority of the usual channels?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not think that that is the case.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I believe that it is.

The Chairman of Committees: The noble Lord is entitled to his view of course, but business in this House is, and traditionally has been, arranged by the usual channels and I hope that, on the whole, the usual channels accommodate Members' wishes. It certainly is not a matter for the Procedure Committee.

I was on the point of dealing with the subject of amendments in Grand Committee. It is certainly true to say that at present amendments are not allowed in Grand Committee. This is something that the Procedure Committee could look at in the future but the point is that, as I said in my opening remarks, a debate in Grand Committee is not at all necessarily the last word on the subject. As I said, a Motion can follow on the Floor of the House on which a vote can take place, and amendments can be tabled and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about setting up an ad hoc committee to look into the matter. It would be for the Liaison Committee to set up such a committee. Lastly, he asked me-again, this is probably more a question for the usual channels and the Government-

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I apologise for intervening but I think that the noble Lord has moved beyond the question of an ad hoc committee. Would it then be open to any Member of the House, presumably on a Motion before the House, to recommend that the matter be referred to an ad hoc committee as part of the process?

The Chairman of Committees: I think that it could be. I shall have to get in touch with the noble Lord with further information on that but I think that that is possible.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Answer the question.

Noble Lords: He is answering it.

The Chairman of Committees: I am doing my best to answer the questions. As I said-

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Lord Greaves: Along with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I very much appreciate that the Chairman of Committees is doing his best, but he seems to be struggling a bit with this issue. I wonder whether the best thing for him to say is not that we should pass what is before us today but that the Procedure Committee will look at the issue again as a matter of urgency.

The Chairman of Committees: The Procedure Committee certainly could look at it again, but there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, some urgency in the process because all this has to be settled by 6 May. I have an assurance from the Leader of the House that time will be found to debate these national policy statements before the scrutiny period expires on 6 May next year. If that falls within a general election period, then of course that is something that I cannot deal with. I hope that that answers the question. If not, I shall study what the noble Lord said and attempt to come back with a more detailed response.

As I said in my original remarks, as far as the Procedure Committee is concerned this process relates to the four-hour debate in the Moses Room on the national policy statements. It does not affect or stop any of the other processes that take place as a result of the 2008 Act. I hope that that deals with that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked me about Questions to Secretaries of State. I am aware that some Members of Parliament-indeed, the Speaker of the House of Commons-have expressed a wish that Secretaries of State in this House should be available to answer Questions either in Westminster Hall or in the Commons Chamber. Some noble Lords might have an equally strong desire to have a chance to ask Questions of Commons Ministers in this Chamber.

We have yet to receive a firm proposal from another place, although I know that the Lord Speaker has spoken to the Speaker of the House of Commons on the subject. If we do, we will consider it, but we are not yet at that stage. The proposal at the moment is that the two departmental Secretaries of State should answer Questions in this House on their departmental responsibilities-as far as I can see, that means the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on transport and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, on almost everything else.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Reference was made to 6 May. If there is to be a general election on 6 May, which seems to be the favourite date so far, there will have to be dissolution by 6 April. Once dissolution takes place, presumably all proceedings in this House and the other place will cease, because it will be the end of the Parliament. Would the noble Lord like to comment on that?

The Chairman of Committees: I have already said that I cannot comment on when there might be a general election and what might happen to these national policy statements if there were. If there were a change of government, the new Government might not wish to pursue the statements. I am just saying what will happen in the immediate process, which is that they will be debated in Grand Committee. I hope that that satisfies noble Lords.

Motion agreed.

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Procedure Committee: First Report

1st Report of from the Select Committee

Motion to Agree

3.37 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.

Consolidated Fund Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.

Equality Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Second Reading

3.38 pm

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I am deeply proud and privileged to introduce the Equality Bill to this House. A standard accusation against Governments who have been in office for some time, of whatever political persuasion, is that they have run out of ideas, run out of proposals and run out of steam. This Bill clearly shows how wrong that is in the case of this Government; this is a radical Bill, a Bill brimming with ideas, a Bill with measures for the benefit of people across the United Kingdom. It is a Bill this Labour Government are proud to bring forward.

Before I discuss the Bill, I would like to pay tribute to the person who has done most to bring this Bill about. This Bill simply would not exist without the drive and determination of my right honourable friend, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman. At a time of extraordinary difficulty for the other place, my right honourable friend has, with a single-mindedness of purpose and an astonishing degree of commitment to the ambitions and ideas that the Bill encompasses, and to the people whom the Bill will manifestly help, fought to bring this Bill to this House. I commend and thank her and my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General, who has so ably supported her for all that she has done for this Bill and the cause of equality.

In this House, I will lead the ministerial team on the Bill, supported by the Attorney-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, and by my noble friends Lady Thornton and Lady Crawley. I look forward to the debates we are to have. I also thank very much many Members across the House, including the Front Benches of the parties opposite, key Cross-Bench Peers and my own noble friends for the constructive discussions we have had on the Bill and the issues involved in it before it reached the Floor of this House.

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I want to do three things in my opening remarks to this Second Reading on the Equality Bill: I want to set out the Government's case for the Bill; to lay out the broad structure of the Bill; and to detail some key issues in the Bill.

This country and, indeed, the party on these Benches have a proud record of legislation against discrimination. In the 1960s, we legislated against race discrimination; in the 1970s, against sex discrimination and for equal pay; in the 1990s, against disability discrimination; and, in the early part of this decade, we had legislation protecting against discrimination at work because of age, religion, belief and sexual orientation, first at work, and then in the provision of services and the exercise of public functions.

That range of legislation over 40 years has inevitably resulted in a legislative structure that is complex, inconsistent and often difficult to understand. For instance, different protections apply to different personal characteristics and different rules and tests apply to quite basic concepts-for example, the Race Relations Act contains two separate definitions of indirect discrimination. Although we are confident that our legislation properly transposes the relevant EU directives, its implementation has often resulted in subtly different provisions in the same areas of activity, depending on whether or not European law applies. That is because in many cases our domestic legislation preceded equality legislation in Europe and influenced its content, but the legal effect is not identical so a kind of retrofitting has been necessary in many areas. A major policy intention of this Bill is to harmonise and bring together all the existing equality legislation in one place: nine major pieces of legislation and various subsidiary instruments.

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