HL Deb 21 January 1997 vol 577 cc552-4

3.6 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I wish to ask the Leader of the House for a Business Statement about yesterday's proceedings on the Police Bill and the Government's intentions for the next stage of the Bill. It may be for the convenience of the Leader and the House if I explain very briefly why I make that request.

I understand that discussions took place this morning and have been widely reported between the Home Secretary and Mr. Jack Straw for the Opposition about the future of the Bill. Although I fully understand that they were conducted properly, it would be extremely helpful if the noble Viscount would give some account to this House of the nature and outcome of those discussions. It would also be helpful if he could give an undertaking that at the various stages of any further discussions, your Lordships will be informed about progress and will not have to rely upon press releases or, for that matter, statements in another place to know how the matter is to be resolved.

I ask that because the two amendments which were carried yesterday in your Lordships' House were of deep concern to Members on all sides. It would be discourteous—not of the Leader himself who is never that—if your Lordships were not kept fully informed of all developments. They should not simply learn of them after the event.

I believe that the assumption is widely held that, in the first instance, the Home Secretary will make a decision on the question in principle. Although clearly the Leader of the House will not say so, it is inconceivable that the Government will attempt to overturn those very decisive votes of your Lordships yesterday. Therefore, first, I should expect a statement of principle.

After that, no doubt the Home Secretary will come forward with his own proposals. I make it clear that any discussion of the proposals should not be on a bilateral basis between the Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition or his deputy nominee in another place. Instead, it should in some way involve all those who are extremely concerned about the issue and want to see a successful outcome and an amendment to the Bill which will ensure that the judicial authorisation would be credible in all aspects.

I am sure that your Lordships recognise, as we do on these Benches, that the two amendments carried were in some ways mutually incompatible. Yet, at the same time, the will of your Lordships' House must be reflected in the future of the Bill.

The second point on which I hope the noble Viscount will be able to help us is as regards the future progress of the Bill. As your Lordships will know, the House sat until 25 minutes before 2 a.m. in discussions on the Report stage. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House was not present, but I do not hold that against him. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was present, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, so they were a good team. But we sat very late indeed. I put it to the Leader of the House that it is not in the spirit of the Jellicoe Report that we should have continued in that way with what, by all accounts and in the view of the Government, are very important measures.

Part V of the Bill, which is of great concern to your Lordships and indeed to many people outside, was reached at a quarter-to 12 at night. I would respectfully ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to reflect on whether that is the way in which we should be conducting our business when our task is that of scrutiny.

We are due to reach the Third Reading of the Bill next week. I ask the noble Viscount whether it might be wiser to postpone the Third Reading until some of these matters have been resolved. As his noble friend Lady Blatch will say, some of the difficulties and some of the delays which occurred yesterday were in fact due to the amendments which had been carried earlier in the day. Would it not be better to settle that issue once and for all, before we attempt to deal with the rest of the Bill?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, not least for the charming way in which he alluded to what I believe he called my "courtesy". That is something which I always try to preserve in the best traditions of your Lordships' House. Noble Lords will be aware that an agreement has been reached through the usual channels to complete the Committee stage—

Noble Lords

Report stage!

Viscount Cranborne

I beg your pardon, my Lords; it must have been an even later night than I remember. As I was saying, agreement has been reached to complete the Report stage of the Bill this evening, after the completion of the Committee stage of the Firearms Bill. The noble Lord is quite right to say that the date for the Third Reading of the Bill, which was agreed some time ago through the usual channels, is Tuesday next, 28th January.

Of course the Government, as is only right and proper, will urgently consider the effects of the amendments which were carried in this Chamber last night. They will want to consider those amendments and their effects with some care and with due deliberation. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that, as this House has spoken, it would only be right for us to continue with the timetable of the Bill as agreed between the usual channels. I should stress that I am extremely grateful to the Members of the official Opposition for the co-operative way in which they have observed the traditions of this House and have taken part in constructive discussions regarding the timetable.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sorry if I am embarrassing the noble Baroness in any way by paying her compliments; but I can hardly resist the temptation.

I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that the situation is very clear. Your Lordships have amended the Bill twice. It will be up to your Lordships to consider the Bill further on Third Reading and then in due course it will be up to another place to decide what to do with the legislation. The Government are content to rest on the decision of Parliament as the Bill proceeds in the normal way through this place and, in due course, through another place, and eventually, when it comes to the point, to consider any messages from the other place in relation to the Bill.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, perhaps I could draw his attention to my first and central question; namely, what is the nature and outcome of the discussions which the Home Secretary engaged in this morning?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I have to say that I have not been privy to any discussions that have taken place. As far as I am aware, if discussions have taken place, no announcement has yet been made. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be in a position to make a public announcement when the time is right. He is not in a position to do so as yet.