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Lord Lucas: I should be grateful to know whether use of the word "sexual" is new in this aspect of legislation or whether we have heretofore used the word "indecent". In other words, are we introducing the use of the word "sexual" in a way which, over time, will have to be defined by the courts before we really
Secondly, my mind goes back to the Pensions Bill 1995, which I helped through this House. We were able to justify in minute detail every provision in that Bill, often with the agreement of the then Opposition.
Look at what has happened to pensions and how much that Bill and what went before it were the reasons we are in a mess now. We had justified things in detail but we had not stepped back to look at the big picture. The big picture we are looking at is a solid trend to decrease the number of men in teaching and in other aspects of similar professions. That is the long-term accumulation of the suspicion that goes with it. One can always see, when you look at the minutiae, the justification for it.
Sometimes we need to step back and look at the big picture and recognise that we have had blinkers on. Looking at things in the round, it is clear we have been getting things wrong for quite a long time.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The definition of "sexual" is as I have indicated. The definition of "indecent" is taken from the Court case that has been followed by the courts subsequently. It is not a new concept we are dealing with.
Lord Northbourne: I expected to get a drubbing on the detail of these amendments. I set them down because it is the basis of business in this House that you have to set down amendments in order to get a debate on a specific aspect of the Bill. They were not intended to be the sort of amendments that would be made to the Bill. It would have been welcome if the noble and learned Lord had thought creatively about how the fundamental objectives would be achieved, rather than simply tearing to bits the drafting work done by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and me. We are amateurs.
It is all too easy for the lawyers to say, "This won't work" or "This will be like this in court" or "That will be like that in court". I am addressing a sociological problem of great magnitude in our country. If the Government are not prepared to address it, I shall have to shut up. However, if the noble and learned Lord would, at least, be prepared to see some of us who believe strongly that it is an important issue, I should be extremely grateful.
I shall say one or two words more. My fundamental argument is that it does not matter terriblyto me, anywayat what level we set the crime or what we criminalise. However, it must be clear what we are criminalising. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, says, "Leave it to the courts. They are very sensible. They will work it all out". They willin two, three, five or 10 years' time, we will have a body of common law that will give us a basis for writing some guidelines for men whose work is looking after children. There will not be any men looking after children then, so we will not need to worry.
It is frightfully important that we should have guidelines or, in some way, get a little nearer to defining something in the Bill that ordinary people at the coalface can understand. I shall say no more now, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Before we start the next amendment, I ask the Government to make clear their intentions with regard to tonight. We all know that they started today hoping to finish the Committee stage of the Bill, but here we are, well after eleven o'clock, and we have nearly finished Part 1, with Parts 2 and 3 to come. Put another way, we have nearly got halfway through the number of pages in the Bill. We are well after our normal time of rising.
I need not remind the Committee that the Leader's Group on working practices, the Procedure Committee and the House itself agreed to an experiment that, as a packagethose words were emphasised at the time by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the Housewould involve more sittings in Grand Committee in the Moses Room and, as the other half of the package, would mean that the House would normally rise at 10 p.m. on Mondays to Wednesdays and the equivalent on Thursdays. We had misgivings about those arrangements, but, since there were agreed, we have, nevertheless, done our best to enter into them in good faith. We have kept our side of the bargain. More Bills have gone to Grand Committee, not without some criticism of ourselves. That is what we have done.
There has also been a pattern of creep on Thursday lunchtimesparticularly bad last Thursday, when it was nearly two o'clock againand in the evenings. On 24th March, we sat until 20 minutes past two in the morning on the Regional Assemblies Bill. We have already sat until after midnight on this Bill in Committee. We now hear rumours of late sittings on the Communications Bill. We have agreed to none of this as regards the usual channels. I am very concerned both about the position of this Bill and the overall agreement. As regards the Bill, I remind the Committee that it began in this House. It was not presented to the House for months after the Session started. There was then a very long delay before Committee stage began, and it has not been pursued very frequently in the past few weeks. We are now told that we shall sit far into the night. Those who have been responsible for the preparation and presentation of the Bill have to answer to the House for the fact that we now have to carry the burden of the Bill having been so delayed.
I believe that the Government are testing the patience of the House. I am very concerned that it should not become a habit. It is supposed to be the norm now that we rise at 10 o'clock. We are frequently breaking that ruling when we should not.
Lord Roper: Before the Captain of the Gentlemen-at- Arms responds to that remark, I emphasise that I do not want to delay the Committee at this late hour when we still have 30 groups of amendments to consider which, on the assumption that we take, not the hour we spent on the last group of amendments, but only 10 minutes, would take us to about 4.20 in the morning. We are in a very serious situation.
As regards this Bill, a number of the days have been interrupted so that it has not been the first business. That has had a very serious and deleterious effect on its progress, not to mention the fact that there seems to have been a proliferation of Statements which have affected this Bill and others rather badly. Therefore, when the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms is considering our progress for the rest of the day and the Government's programme over the next few weeks, I hope that he will have these points in mind because I believe that the tolerance of the House is being very seriously tested.
Lord Grocott: I have listened very carefully to comments made by fellow members of the usual channels with whom we normally manage to reach agreement on large numbers of issues. As regards this Bill, the statistics are worth putting on the record which I shall do very briefly. The last thing I want to do at this time of the night is to have a long discussion about procedures.
The facts are as follows. It was thought that four days of Committee might be a reasonable time. It is always a "guesstimate" because no one can judge these matters accurately. Until the start of play today we had spent 23 hours 18 minutes in Committee on this Bill which in round figures is four days at six hours a day. So far today we have had a further four and a half hours. If we continue for another one and a half hours that will be five days in Committee. That is certainly not an unreasonable amount of time. Some would argue that it is quite a good amount of time to allocate to a Bill of this length with a large number of clauses.
Perhaps I may address the specific point about the programme as a whole. I am a passionate supporter of the changes which I believe were inevitable. I do my utmost to make sure they operate although it is very difficult at times. Perhaps I may offer one statistic for the record. The Bill on which the longest time was spent in Committee, per group of amendments, in the last Session was the NHS reform Bill. It took 21 minutes per group. That is the kind of calculation we have to make. The shortest of the Committees in this Session in terms of minutes per group was that for the Licensing Bill, which
Lest it be suggested that this Session is particularly onerous, I shall give one further statistic. So far this Session there have been 33 government Bills. In the early 1980s1980-81there were 57 Bills, in the Session 1981-82 there were 46 Bills. Most recently, before the change in Government, in the Session 1995-96, there were 43 Bills.
I want to put some simple propositions to the Committee. First, the Bill has had a reasonable amount of time in Committee. Secondly, the overriding statistic that needs to be borne in mind is that of the amount of time spent per group of amendments, which under the new sitting arrangements is much greater, on any basis of calculation, than in the previous Session. Thirdly, this is not a particularly onerous Session. I suggest, if the Committee is agreeable, that the best thing would be if I sat down and we got on to see how far we can progress with the Bill.
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