HL Deb 17 March 1997 vol 579 cc722-4
Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, following my earlier announcement I am now in a position to announce that the business for tomorrow will proceed as on the Order Paper, with the following additions. Immediately after Starred Questions my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will move a business Motion to suspend Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) and to suspend Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken in one day) until the end of the Session to give Her Majesty's Government the power to arrange the order of business. Such a Motion is usual and precedented on these occasions, but I am sorry to say that, in spite of a number of helpful agreements reached with the official Opposition, it has not yet been possible to secure agreement with all the usual channels on tomorrow's business.

If this Motion is agreed to, the House will be asked to take the Report and remaining stages of the Crime (Sentences) Bill tomorrow. The dinner break business will be as on the Order Paper, but remaining stages of the two Bills will also be taken.

I am unfortunately not yet in a position to announce the business for the rest of the week, except that it is intended to take the Finance Bill through all its stages as first business on Wednesday. I hope that the House accepts my will and desire to give as much information as soon as possible and that it appreciates the brevity of this Statement. I hope to make a further Statement tomorrow afternoon.

Lord Richard

My Lords, certainly we on these Benches appreciate the brevity of the Statement. I am obliged to the noble Lord for his brevity and also for making the Statement. Perhaps I may put two points to him. First, can he say whether or not the business on Wednesday will be Government business or whether it is proposed that the two short debates remain? Secondly, the noble Lord will know that at the moment the House is discussing the Education Bill. If it is the intention of the Government that that Bill should come back at some stage in the course of this week, it might be that the official Opposition—I speak for no one except them—may feel that to sit here until midnight or one o'clock tonight discussing the minutiae of that Bill, might not be the most fruitful way the House, or indeed those Members of it who will be here, can find to occupy their time.

If the noble Lord can tell us that it is the Government's intention that either on Wednesday or Thursday this House will consider further the Education Bill, then no doubt I shall be in a position to have conversation with Members on this side of the House who are speaking for us on the Education Bill. I hope that I shall also be able to emulate the noble Lord's brevity.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for making the Statement. He has stated the position with characteristic accuracy. There is in fact no agreement between the Government and my noble friends on the time allocated for these important measures which have major constitutional implications. I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in asking what are the Government's intentions as regards the Education Bill. We still have a substantial distance to go. Perhaps the noble Lord can assist us in this matter by giving us some indication as to whether we are likely to be discussing this legislation on Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition and to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. So far as concerns Wednesday, as I announced in my Statement we shall be taking the Finance Bill as first business after Questions. Therefore, for that part of the day it will be Government business. The position as regards the Wednesday debates is as yet undecided. However, I believe that it would be unfair to continue without indicating that, because of the large amount of business that needs to be completed before Parliament is prorogued on Friday, it is unlikely that the debates set down for Wednesday will continue.

As regards the Education Bill, I recognise that much fruitful discussion has already taken place today, but I would not wish the House to feel that it was wasting its time. However, I am not yet in a position to be able to offer advice to the House as to when or if a deal will be struck on the Education Bill. I hope that we shall be dealing with the remaining stages of the Bill before Thursday.

I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that the advice he should give to his champions on the Front Bench who are dealing with the Bill is that perhaps they should not spend too much time dealing with the minutiae of detail on the Bill so that the House can rise relatively early this evening, because it looks as though the House may well have to sit very late tomorrow evening.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, I hope that it is in order for me to speak from the Back Benches. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that the Back Benchers on all sides of the House do not form part of the usual channels. Therefore, when discussions take place to truncate your Lordships' business, Back Benchers who may have been playing a very active part in Bills which have been before the House have no opportunity to participate in those discussions. I am not urging that the usual channels should be swelled with great numbers of Back Benchers. I am merely stating the fact that Back Benchers do not participate among the usual channels. When they do not participate on occasions like this, there are Back Benchers such as myself—and there are many others who have actively participated in the Crime (Sentences) Bill thus far—who are greatly concerned that this Bill should go through all its stages tomorrow.

As your Lordships will know we had four days in Committee. I believe that we were scheduled to have two days for Report stage. I have in my hand the amendments tabled for that stage, and the Marshalled List is almost as thick as the Bill itself. A number of very important issues were raised from all sides of the House and your Lordships will be aware of what leading members of the judiciary have said about this Bill. I express enormous concern that your Lordships may be invited to take this Bill in one truncated stage tomorrow. There is another course, and that is the course of reflection and to bring this Bill back for consideration in the new Parliament.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, by asking the Chief Whip whether the business Motion to truncate the debate on the Crime (Sentences) Bill and take it in one day is debatable. When is it proposed to move that Motion?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, in reply to my two noble friends on the Back-Benches, I say that of course the usual channels are not designed to seek to bind the agreement of all of my noble friends, and it is helpful to hear what they have said. The usual channels are there as a convenience for the House and always seek to strike an agreement. It is unfortunate that in this instance they have not been able to do so. I do not say that the usual channels are the conscience of the House, but since I have been Government Chief Whip we have always sought to move forward on agreement.

Perhaps I may say in reply to my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow that the Motion that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will be tabling tonight on the Order Paper for tomorrow is a debateable Motion. I fully anticipate that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will want to say a few words at that stage before we continue with the rest of the business. This can only happen with the agreement of the House but I hope that noble Lords will deal with the issue as sympathetically as possible so that the reputation of the House may be maintained and so that we can do as much business as is possible, with the agreement of the House, before the dissolution of this Parliament.