HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc615-8

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Chief Whip a question about tomorrow's Business? Is she aware that the third item on the Order Paper is the Children Bill, and that that Bill was brought from the Commons only a couple of days ago? Is she further aware that all that is available of the Commons Amendments to that Bill is what is termed an advance proof of some of them, but that the sum of those Amendments runs to over 34 pages of foolscap? May we be told how the noble Baroness proposes to handle this Bill tomorrow and in future days? Is she also aware that this Bill started in your Lordships' House and that it is a measure in which noble Lords have shown a particular interest?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter, particularly, as although this is a nonpolitical Bill it is very close to the hearts of noble Lords in all parts of the House. It is true, I am afraid, that there are only 165 Amendments from the Commons available; they have been available since this morning in the Printed Paper Office. We had, knowing the interest of your Lordships, made inquiries earlier this week and were quite confident that we should have all the Amendments in their proper form by this morning, and I had assured noble Lords opposite that this would be so. Owing to production difficulties this has not, unfortunately, come about, so noble Lords have the 165 for the moment. Perhaps it would be useful if I went on to explain what we propose to do about this. Knowing of the great interest of noble Lords in this matter, we have decided, through the usual channels, that we should take the first two parts of the Bill tomorrow —that is, the parts on adoption and custody, which absorb about 114 of the Amendments available—and that we should then take the rest of the Bill next Wednesday, the 5th, at a quite late hour, say, 7 or 8 o'clock; though the time is not yet finally settled. The rest of the Bill will, therefore, be taken then and thus your Lordships' House will have the maximum time to discuss what is a very important Bill indeed.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is, as usual, very conciliatory to the House and I do not think any blame rests with her, but this occasion should not pass without it being set on record that your Lordships are being treated in an almost impossible fashion. There are 365 Amendments down for this Bill, which is of the very greatest importance. It is, as the noble Baroness said, not a Party Bill and it affects everybody in the country. It really is important that a measure of this magnitude and importance should go on the Statute Book in the best possible form that we can, all of us, devise. This is very difficult for noble Lords who are interested in the Bill, with only half of the manuscript Amendments having arrived and with no opportunity of any kind to consult with people outside who arc interested in this matter because, as noble Lords are aware, half the work that is done on Bills of this kind is done in conjunction with societies and organisations which are interested in the subject of the Bill concerned.

On this occasion there will be no opportunity for that because they have not seen the Amendments; there are only duplicated copies of them in your Lordships' House and, as I understand it, not very many of those. This is putting the House in a very difficult position. I know that the noble Baroness is doing her best, but may I urge her to agree that if it becomes apparent tomorrow that it is getting late and there has not been sufficient time to consult about any Amendments which come up, we shall postpone any further discussion of the Bill either to Wednesday or a date later than that? It is the duty of this House, as a revising Chamber, to make sure that Bills get on the Statute Book in good shape.


My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said. We on these Benches are desperately worried about the legislative programme which is being put before this House at the present time. I understand that seven of the new clauses which are to be taken tomorrow are totally new. It is not fair that this House should have to deal with these at something like 24 hours' notice. We did not get the last Children Bill right—we all know that—and we cannot afford to put half-baked legislation on the Statute Book. I understand that the major parts of this Bill will not come into operation until about 1977. Ought we not to have a look at this and take more time over it? Let the Government roll it over to the next Session if necessary, but let us get it right this time.


My Lords, no one is more worried about the legislative programme than the Chief Whip; I take that point very much to heart. May I remind your Lordships that so important do we here feel this Bill to be, that in fact it began in this House; rightly so in my view because we have experts here who have given it the most careful consideration. However, as usual of course the experts all disagree, and that is partly why we have had such interesting debates. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, copies of the rest of the Amendments will be available tomorrow morning in duplicated form and they will be available in printed form on Monday. Almost all the outside organisations—indeed, I believe all—have been consulted though out the whole of the long process of the Bill through both Houses and I believe that it is an exaggeration to say that there will not be time to consult them between today and Wednesday.


Tomorrow, my Lords.


My Lords, it is tomorrow for the first part of the Bill and, of course, if anyone wants to make representations tomorrow about the proceedings, I shall be here to listen to them. However, in my view the time allowed will be perfectly adequate, and I should like to add that there were a good many copies of the Amendments available this morning, not just a few. I feel confident that it will be perfectly adequate to discuss the first two Parts of the Bill on what is available now and to deal with the rest next Wednesday.