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Baroness Blatch: I am not prepared to accept that. That would leave us looking at 30 detailed amendments and having to start changing, modifying and bringing forward amendments in order to address our own concerns. Once the amendments are passed, they are passed and they are in the Bill. We have things to do other than trying to work on these amendments.
The noble Lord should simply withdraw the amendments and give us proper explanations and some answers to the questions we have asked. He should also give the noble Lord, Lord Tope, an opportunity to study the amendments. After all, a nine-page letter was delivered today to explain 30 technical amendments. All the questions that were put on the amendments have not been answered satisfactorily. That is not acceptable. Either we will ask for a recommittal or the noble Lord will find that we have great difficulty at the next stage. If the noble Lord is minded to put this to the vote now, it will create a distasteful atmosphere in the Chamber, in that we in the Opposition were not privy to a full explanation of what the amendments are about. That is unacceptable.
Lord Williams of Elvel: Having spent a number of years on the Opposition Front Bench when the party opposite were in government, I had the privilege of receiving 50 new clauses on the Financial Services Bill at Report stage in this House without receiving any explanation at all. The only solution was to move amendments on Third Reading. When the noble Baroness is objecting to what my noble friend is saying, I hope she will bear in mind that she is perfectly entitled to move amendments on Report. There is no problem about that. But please do not waste the time of the House in quarrelling about government amendments that come forward in Committee.
Baroness Byford: As a newcomer to the House, I am slightly appalled by the noble Lord's comments. I happened to be in the office this morning when we received the letter. It was very complex and very full. Just to say that that happened in the past and it is therefore acceptable seems completely irrelevant. We should have plenty of time to discuss these complex matters. My noble friend Lady Blatch has done extremely well to come up with as much as she has today, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has honestly
Lord Williams of Elvel: If the noble Baroness thinks that the intervention is unwise, I would just refer her to Hansard under the previous government, which will show that the Opposition had exactly the same problem. I accept that this is a problem, but this is the Committee stage. If the amendments are, in my view rightly, written into the Bill, it is perfectly possible for the Opposition, in whatever capacity they may be--Liberal Democrats or Conservatives--to move amendments to the Bill when it is reprinted for Report stage. There is no problem with that.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Before the noble Baroness replies, I rise to confirm what my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said about the passage of business under the previous government. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, is in her place. She will recall, as I do, that over 90 amendments were tabled on a health service Bill at Third Reading a week prior to the dissolution of the last Parliament.
Baroness Blatch: Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness make my point. There are two distinctions. The first is that where the Opposition were very concerned they won recommittals as regards some Bills where the House took the view that there had not been sufficient discussion. Secondly, I can say hand on heart that in the years when I took Bills through this House I did most of the work on those Bills myself, being the lead Minister. I was never left wanting in order to answer questions on technical amendments. If I had come into the Chamber armed with 30 amendments in one batch, I would have made absolutely certain that I had the answers to all the devil's advocate questions which might have been put to me.
The distinction here is that there is not a Minister on the Government Front Bench who can answer the questions that I have put on this Bill and these amendments. As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and his colleagues only had sight of the explanatory letter this morning. I am simply saying that if the noble Lord had been able to answer our questions today the situation would be different.
I know that my colleagues, including the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and others, with whom I have worked on the Front Bench, and indeed my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, were assiduous in being prepared. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege was assiduous in always having answers to technical questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, shakes her head. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege had a very high reputation and was much respected for the way in which she took legislation through this House. She was usually able to handle questions about her Bills.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: May I make what I hope is a constructive suggestion? If we allow these amendments, with the exception of Amendment No. 251AF, to go into the Bill it will then be possible to prepare two versions of the Bill, one with the amendments and one without. In Opposition I would have found that enormously more helpful than having to do what an Opposition have to do now, which is to put the amendments into the Bill in order to understand what difference they make. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I had that experience on Home Office Bills.
I suggest to the noble Baroness that we have the two Bills side by side, both amended and unamended, and that we have a full explanation for each amendment. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord Tope will be invited to spend as much time as they think appropriate after receiving the written briefing. The noble Baroness was good enough to say earlier on--the noble Lord, Lord Tope, agreed reluctantly with her--that she was prepared to let these amendments go through without that particular amendment. On the basis of what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have already agreed, I hope that we can now make progress.
Baroness Blatch: I am mainly concerned about the dismissive answers we had from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in reducing this to a trivial matter which we should not bother our pretty little heads about. I am saying that there could be quite important points involved. We have asked specific questions and we have had no answers to them. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is suggesting two Bills. I have transposed the amendments on to my Bill. I do not need someone to print them out in a Bill. I did that work this morning when I received the letter and that is what took such a long time. The amendments are already transposed. We do not need two versions of the Bill, one with the amendments and one without.
The point made by the noble Baroness about Third Reading is very difficult especially if the legislation has to go to the other place. We are talking about the Committee stage in this House. The Report stage is to come and these amendments could easily be dealt at that stage. By the time we fully understand them and we have had our anxieties allayed, there will not be a problem.
Lord Tope: I said at the beginning that I had not intended to intervene in this matter at all. As the Government Front Bench has continued digging, the hole has got deeper and deeper. At first we were assured by the Minister that the amendments were technical and that we would find no objection to them. I cannot find that consistent with why, taking them at Report stage, they would distort that stage of the Bill. If the Minister
The next thing I heard was that this performance is justifiable because the last government may have behaved in a worse manner or in the same way. I do not wish to join in an argument about that, but it is no assurance to me and my colleagues on these Benches that the present Government are as bad as the previous administration.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I am sorry it has taken so long to get to this stage. He has made a helpful and constructive suggestion. I did not get the letter until this afternoon because I did not arrive at the House until then. I have not done all the work that the noble Baroness has done. I find the noble Lord's suggestion very helpful. If we can proceed on that basis, we can bring an end to the matter now. But it has been a very unsatisfactory performance.
Baroness Blatch: I am not going to oppose that because it would hold up things even more. I intend to make a complaint through the usual channels because I find the dismissive way in which my questions were treated quite distressing.