HL Deb 27 November 1991 vol 532 cc1317-9

3.15 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Order of Commitment of 19th November be discharged and that the Bill be committed to a Public Bill Committee.—(Earl Ferrers).

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, perhaps I may question the advisability of what is proposed, notwithstanding that I surmise that it has been agreed through the usual channels.

We tried the experiment of taking a Bill in what is the equivalent of a standing committee some Sessions ago. That was the Pilotage Bill and it was hand-picked as being particularly suitable for being dealt with in that way, but the procedure was not a success. Among other matters that came to light was the fact that practically every amendment moved in Committee was moved again on Report.

As I said, that Bill was chosen as being particularly suitable for the experiment. This Bill is profoundly unsuitable. It is uncontroversial, but detailed. Widespread apprehension was expressed on Second Reading about the bureaucratic burden placed on charities, particularly smaller charities. One of the matters that will have to be explored is whether it is possible to relieve the smaller charities of that bureaucratic burden. There are a number of ways in which that could be done and your Lordships' House as a whole is in an incomparable position to review that situation. Many of your Lordships are trustees of charitable trusts and bring unexampled and unparalleled experience to bear on that question.

I know that the Government, with general consent, are anxious to have the Bill. The fear is that, if it is not taken off the Floor of the House, it may be lost at a general election and, if that is so, may not be seen again for some years. In my respectful submission, that is a mistaken view. It is precisely the kind of Bill that is taken up after an election by the government who have been returned, whether or not they are a continuation of the previous government. After an election, any incoming government will be looking for a comparatively non-controversial Bill which can be considered while the manifesto Bills are being prepared. There was a striking example of that in 1951 when the incoming government picked up a Bill prepared by the very astute political manager of the outgoing government—the New Towns Bill—because it was there ready for presentation.

We are placed in this position because we have far too much legislation. The programme looked light at the time your Lordships debated the Queen's Speech and it is light compared with a full Session's programme, but it has now again proved itself excessive for the time available for consideration.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I understand the objection of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, to the Bill being taken off the Floor of the House. I would be one of the first to advocate the advantages of having Committee stages on the Floor of the House, but when the noble and learned Lord said—I paraphrase his words—that the reason is that there might be a general election and that the Government would lose the Bill, that is not the way we were thinking. We considered that there was a certain amount of legislation to get through. In this House we have two major pieces of legislation—the Local Government Bill and the Further and Higher Education Bill—which have to be taken on the Floor of the House. It was our hope to have the Committee stage completed by Christmas. We considered that that was best achieved by having the Bill committed to a Public Bill Committee.

I remind the noble and learned Lord that any Peer can speak at a Public Bill Committee and any Peer can put down an amendment. However, they cannot vote; the voting has to be done by those who are selected. As the noble and learned Lord says, many people may be well versed in charities, and are trustees. They will of course be entirely welcome to attend the Committee, to put down amendments—I hope not too many—and to participate in the proceedings. The Bill will then come back to the House and, at Report stage, it will be possible to discuss the various issues.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, says that all the amendments that are put down in Committee will again be put down at Report stage. That is not an unfamiliar precedent. On a recent Bill similar amendments were put down at Committee and Report stages, and also at Third Reading. If my memory serves me aright, one noble Lord even sought to table a similar amendment on the debate that the Bill do now pass. There is nothing new in that situation. I hope that noble Lords might break with that precedent on this occasion.

I believe that if we commit the Bill to a Public Bill Committee it will expedite matters and that the Bill will complete its Committee stage by Christmas. It will give your Lordships the opportunity to discuss the Bill in full and a chance to have the Bill on the statute book, which I know we all want.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will clear up one point on the proposed procedure. Will the Public Bill Committee which takes the Committee stage of the Bill sit in the morning—as do many committees in another place—or in the afternoon simultaneously with the sittings of this House?

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend answers that question, will he bear in mind that we have some important Committee stages, no doubt to be followed in due course by Report stages, on major Bills which will be discussed on the Floor of the House in the afternoon? To my certain knowledge several of us who may he serving on the Public Bill Committee upstairs will also be interested in those Bills to be taken on the Floor of the House. The point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is important.

Earl Ferrers

My Lord, I quite see my noble friends' anxiety about being, as it were, split in two; it is a very inconvenient position to be in. All I can tell both my noble friends is that when the Committee sits will be one of the first decisions of the Committee. It will be for the Committee to decide its own procedure.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend amplify that a little? Can the Committee decide to sit both in the morning and the afternoon or alternatively on one or the other?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it will be for the Committee to decide to sit either in the morning or the afternoon or both. I fear that it could even decide to sit at some other extraneous hour should it feel so moved. But there will be a motion. If your Lordships agree to this Motion, the Committee of Selection will meet this afternoon. It is expected that the first meeting of the Public Bill Committee will be at 3.15 p.m. on Tuesday 3rd December. I hope that that will not be inconvenient to my noble friend Lord Renton and that he will not find that he prefers to be elsewhere.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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