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As the noble Viscount indicated, this House is a revising Chamber or it is nothing. As he very fairly said, Motions of this sort are not compatible with that position. Yet we face a situation whereby we are confronted with another Business Motion, the second in 20 days, under which we are being asked to suspend our rule that no two stages of a Bill should be taken on a single day--indeed, to pass all stages of the Bill on Thursday of this week. Even the modest proposal that we made that there should be a second day to discuss this matter; namely, Friday of this week, was turned down.
The House will recall that we debated a similar procedural Motion relating to the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill on only 3rd April. My noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, in indicating that we have no intention of opposing the Bill, nevertheless expressed his concern that the House was to be deprived of the opportunity of discussing it with the degree of care that this House always applies to the consideration of legislation particularly when, as on this occasion, it could affect the interests of many law-abiding members of the public. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, also expressed some of his concerns about the timetable that the House was being asked to accept.
On that occasion the Government did not find it possible to answer the questions put by both noble Lords. I suspect that they would have been very surprised on that occasion to learn that, even then, the Government were considering proposing a similar procedural Motion on another Bill less than three weeks later.
The Government's argument on both occasions has been the same; namely, the need for urgency. Yet it is now clear that the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill could have been introduced many weeks earlier. Had that been done, the Bill could have received proper consideration. The same applies to this Bill.
As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House indicated a few moments ago, the Prime Minister made a Statement on 21st March which was repeated by the noble Viscount in this House, outlining the electoral process to be followed. Since the Bill, as ultimately published, followed the outlined system so closely, it is my view--and, rather more importantly, the view of my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who is responsible for Northern Ireland policy in my party--that it could have been published and its early stages gone through before the Easter Recess. However, as I have already said, the House will have to consider every stage of this Northern Ireland Bill on Thursday.
On matters of this sort we are very much in the hands of the Leader of the House. Following a similar dispute some years ago on a similar procedural Motion relating to another Bill, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, intervened and insisted that this House should be given more time to consider the Bill. That was done. I am extremely sorry that similar action has not been taken on this occasion.
The problem is a simple one. The overwhelming majority of Ministers sit in the House of Commons. Inevitably, their principal concern is to meet the interests of Members of the House of Commons. I do not think that they apply their minds a great deal as to how this House will react to a restricted timetable. Indeed, when my colleague, Mr. Alan Beith, was consulted by the Home Secretary on the contents of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, the matter of its consideration by this House was not even raised by Mr. Howard. Similarly, it was not raised when this Bill was first discussed with my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham. It came up only later when it was learnt that some of us were very unhappy about the arrangements.
I hope that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House understands our serious disquiet about the manner in which this House is being treated. If the House wishes to maintain its reputation as a serious House of Parliament, which is the last bastion of protection of the public interest against unreasonable behaviour by the Executive, it cannot afford simply to accept in a mood of humble acquiescence Business Motions of this character. I hope that the noble Viscount will register our concern and do his best to meet it.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, perhaps the unhappiest Member of the House is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who has had to come before us with this procedure. As he himself said, it would not be his wish in normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances. The noble Viscount will be aware that when the proposition was put to us our reaction was not overwhelmingly to accept it, but to recognise that this is a serious matter, not only in the context of the Bill, but in relation to the stature of this House.
Discussions have taken place. Among those with whom I discussed the matter was the spokesman for Northern Ireland matters on this side of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Unhappy as he was that we were being invited to agree to the procedure, his first reaction was that, if it could be done, then he would not stand against completing it in one day. But the Leader of the House should recognise that it is not a normal day. It is not a normal Thursday.
While no one would want to inhibit any Member from using the opportunities that may present themselves during the day, a tough point might be reached at a time when it may be recognised that it would be detrimental to attempt to proceed with what the House will agree to today. In those circumstances I hope that the usual channels, who will be present at the appropriate time, could meet to resolve how best to deal with the remaining stages. Let us hope that they are reached in good order.
It may be that at 9 o'clock, 9.30 or 10 o'clock we would need to make a judgment. In those circumstances it is not unreasonable to ask the House to agree to the terms of the Motion. However, the Leader of the House ought to be aware that the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, are good House of Lords points. If anything can be done to give earlier notice and to be more generous with time, that would be to the benefit of the House and to the Leader of the House.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I support the sensible suggestion of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, that should debate on the Bill proceed at some length on Thursday, the Leader of the House might see fit to arrange for the debate to be concluded on the Friday. The whole House will recognise that that would be a sensible way of responding to a difficult situation.
I wonder whether I might ask the Leader of the House to provide us with more information regarding the timetable of events. I am thinking, in particular, of the deadline to be met to enable the electoral process to commence in good time. This House, and the whole of Parliament, needs a clear idea of when Parliament has to conclude its deliberations on the subject.
We all recognise the difficult situation that exists regarding the Government's negotiations on Northern Ireland. We all hope that the discussions will be concluded successfully. We need to recognise that for that to happen the negotiations need to continue on the basis of mutual respect among all parties. One of the difficulties that we are faced with is the way that the Government are constraining parliamentary consideration of the Bill. It suggests that the Government have some contempt, some lack of respect, for the very institutions of their own Parliament. I hope that in his explanation of the constraints of the timetable, the Leader of the House will demonstrate that the Government have taken all possible steps to ensure that there is adequate time available for parliamentary scrutiny of this important Bill.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I should like to ask another slight timetabling question of my noble friend, the Leader of the House, because it is quite obvious that the House will want to put down amendments to the Bill as, indeed, it did to the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill which, as we have heard, we passed the other day through all its stages in one day. On that occasion the powers that be arranged for a
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