HL Deb 27 July 1998 vol 592 cc1262-3

7.26 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration of the Scotland Bill be adjourned until after the dinner break and consideration of the education regulations. In moving the Motion, I suggest that consideration of the Scotland Bill should not commence before 8.15 p.m.

Moved, That consideration of the Scotland Bill be postponed until after the two education regulations.—(Lord Carter.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I intervene to say a few words. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for the Motion he moved. It is a sensible way to proceed with business at this time of the evening. However, the noble Lord will not be surprised at my rising to draw your Lordships' attention to the time of starting of the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill. It is now 26 minutes past seven; and this is a record. I did not think the previous record was capable of being beaten when on the third day in Committee we started at six minutes past seven, on the second day at 10 minutes past six, and on the fourth day at four minutes to six. Therefore, on only two of the six Committee days have we started at 3.00 or 3.30 and had any debate in what noble Lords would recognise as prime time.

Four days out of six with no debates significantly before six o'clock does not seem to me to be the proper way to conduct a Bill which involves the constitutional arrangements of this country which have lasted for 300 years. It is not just any old Bill. It is a significant Bill which will make a dramatic change to the way in which Scotland is governed within the United Kingdom. Frankly, I think that it deserves better than this.

When I agreed to eight days in Committee and to have the Bill finished in the Recess, I thought that we could do so comfortably and give proper consideration to the Bill, especially as many parts of the Bill had not been properly considered in another place. I do not consider eight days have been given to the Bill. This is the sixth day and up to now we have lost four half days. Four half days make two days lost. If we are to finish on Thursday, we shall have had only six days on this Bill which is totally inadequate for a constitutional Bill of this importance.

Having said that, and having made my point I hope briefly but as bluntly as I can, I am content with the Motion the Chief Whip has put.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I echo what the noble Lord said. It is disgraceful, especially since the Bill was truncated by agreement in another place. It was expected that when it came here it would have line by line scrutiny in Committee and eight days were agreed.

As the noble Lord says, we have lost 25 per cent. of the time we should have had to discuss the Bill. I do not see how that can be made up unless we sit into the first week in August, which I assume most noble Lords do not wish. I am quite willing to volunteer. It is a scandal that we are losing so much of the proper legislative time. It is not doing the reputation of Parliament any good. If anything, it is increasing and hastening the advent of the parliament in Scotland to look after Scottish affairs.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I did not plan to take part in this debate, but I cannot resist it when I see the Government Chief Whip rising to his feet. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has spelt out in some detail how much time has been lost. It must be clear to the whole House that something serious has gone wrong with the time that has been allocated to deal with the Bill. I am not looking for an answer now, and, as the noble Lord knows, I do not like conducting "usual channels" business across the Dispatch Boxes. However, we must have a statement soon as to when the Government believe we shall be able to make up the time so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, we can give proper consideration to the Bill. Does the noble Lord agree that by the time we finish tonight the Government will have made known their intentions?

Lord Carter

My Lords, it has been a very exciting day for some of us and I am sure that it would not have been complete without the intervention I have come to expect from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, now joined by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the Opposition Chief Whip.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said that under the previous agreement he thought that he could finish the Committee stage of the Bill before Friday and that the Bill could be finished in the Recess. As Chief Whip, I think that that is a brilliant idea, but I think that he meant the spill-over period.

We have had two Statements today on important subjects. The Opposition, as is their right, properly took them. As the noble Lord knows, we were prepared to sit in the first week of August, but the Opposition Chief Whip said in the House that he would regard that as a hostile act. Therefore, we are under a certain degree of constraint and have had the problems with the Northern Ireland legislation.

This is the last week and we all know of the problems that arise in the last week. Let us make some progress tonight. I suspect that we shall have a full day tomorrow and a full day on Thursday. That is the time to see how far we have gone. I apologise to the noble Lord, who knows of the problems I have had. He has been very patient, so let us keep trying.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, could we have five minutes more for our dinner now?

Lord Carter

My Lords, if the Question is put, noble Lords will get their dinner.

On Question, Motion agreed to.