HL Deb 13 July 1999 vol 604 cc174-6
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

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

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable more than one stage of any Northern Ireland Bill brought from the Commons before the House adjourns for the Summer Recess to be taken on one day; and to enable all stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill to be taken on Thursday next.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether this Motion is intended to apply to the Northern Ireland Bill set down for Second Reading tomorrow? Is the noble Baroness aware of the great concern over the hasty drafting of this Bill during the past weekend and of the obvious need for properly staged scrutiny if we are to avoid yet more confusion?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, yes indeed, this Motion does apply to the Northern Ireland Bill. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Bill will be considered in another place and, on the present basis of the timetable, should reach your Lordships' House tomorrow. There will be an opportunity for scrutiny, and I understand that the Public Bill Office is now prepared to accept amendments, if that is what concerns the noble Lord.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is it true, as we hear on the radio, that the House of Commons is to spend only eight hours on all stages of this Bill? Bearing in mind the implications of the Bill and the whole Northern Ireland situation, is it really sufficient for the House of Commons—which, after all, is sovereign—to have only eight hours to discuss all the implications of the Bill? My noble friend is well aware of the very strong feelings among the Unionists on the whole issue of the Good Friday agreement and what has transpired since. Surely, in the interests of democratic debate, the House of Commons should be allowed to hold more discussion on such an important Bill.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that that is, of course, entirely a matter for the other place. As regards the arrangements for this House—in which I am engaged—I believe that the usual channels have been consulted. In accordance with the undertakings which I gave last week, I understand that the Cross-Benchers have also been consulted on this important issue and that agreement has been reached in your Lordships' House on the timetable which is, of course, the matter which concerns your Lordships.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, the noble Baroness has just said that the handling of this Bill is entirely a matter for the other place. Not everyone in your Lordships' House is satisfied that the House of Commons is able to give or accustomed to giving thorough examination to very important measures. This one, which is highly contentious and very speculative, will receive only a short period of review in the other place. One wonders what will happen in this House. There are serious concerns about a measure which has been put forward suddenly, abruptly and without adequate consideration. No one would ever claim that the draftsmanship which goes into the legislation which comes before your Lordships' House is immaculate.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I say, I can only repeat that I understand precisely the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, about the extreme importance of this particular measure. However, the arrangements for the other place are entirely a matter for the other place. As I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I am sure that there will be adequate time for your Lordships to give their usual scrutiny to this Bill. As I stated, the opportunity to table amendments is already available.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, is mistaken in saying that the House of Commons is sovereign? Is it not only one person in the parliamentary trinity?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I always defer to the noble Earl and his constitutional observations.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain how we are to deal with amendments if the Bill is to be taken through all its stages in one day? Will there be a Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord is mistaken. The Bill will not be taken in one day. The Second Reading will take place tomorrow. As I stated before, as has been agreed through the usual channels in co-operation with the Cross-Benchers, the further stages will be taken on Thursday.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will the noble Baroness elaborate a little further on that? I do not want to trespass on the delicate ground of what the usual channels do in private. But those of us who are not in that circle are concerned, if amendments are tabled and agreed in Committee, as to whether there will be sufficient time to deal with them or indeed to refine them on Report. Therefore, where are the buffers at the end of the line? Are we trying to get away at the end of July or is there a possibility that a Report stage could be held over into the following week?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the buffer on this particular piece of legislation is Thursday evening. As I said, that has been agreed through the usual channels. I agree with the noble Lord that the mysteries of this particular process are not always immediately obvious, but that is the understanding. I am sure that the noble Lord and the whole House are aware of the implications of that timetable for the whole process of devolution which we all very much hope will take place this week.

On Question, Motion agreed to.