HL Deb 06 May 1999 vol 600 cc792-4

3.38 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I announce arrangements which have been agreed by the usual channels for the handling of the Weatherill amendment to the House of Lords Bill.

It has been agreed that it will make for a better debate on the Weatherill amendment if the principal amendment could be debated and decided upon on Tuesday without any debate on the 22 amendments which have been tabled to it. In order to achieve that, it has been agreed that should the Weatherill amendment be agreed to on Tuesday the Bill will, at the conclusion of its Committee stage, be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House only in respect of what would then be a new clause which gives effect to the Weatherill amendment. Noble Lords who have tabled amendments to the Weatherill amendment are therefore asked to withdraw them from the Marshalled List for next Tuesday. Noble Lords concerned should contact the Public Bill Office if possible by 4 p.m. tomorrow.

If the Weatherill amendment is accepted on Tuesday, amendments to the new clause can then be tabled for debate when the clause is recommitted. All noble Lords who have tabled amendments to the Weatherill amendment will agree with that approach. It would lead to a better managed and clearer debate on the principles which the noble Lords will wish to probe in Committee. It will also allow the House to decide on the Weatherill amendment in principle before it moves to consider its details. The House will agree that it would be a waste of time if the House were to spend a long time discussing the detailed amendments to the Weatherill amendment and then decided to reject it.

Procedurally, the scheme that I have outlined is the only way round this problem. It will certainly make for a better and clearer debate on a very important amendment. Therefore, the Weatherill amendment itself will Still be taken in Committee next Tuesday, 11th May, as previously announced. It will, however, be possible also to make some further progress with the Bill in Committee on that day. The recommittal will take place early in the week that the House rises for the Whitsun Recess. I hope that this arrangement is both clear and satisfactory to your Lordships.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for making that statement and agreeing to the request from the Official Opposition to take the business in that way. I give an assurance to the noble Lord that I shall do my best to make sure that all my noble friends who have tabled amendments to that particular amendment will withdraw them. However, I ask for some reassurance from the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that the time he suggests of 4 p.m. tomorrow is not an absolute limit and that those whom I find it slightly more difficult to contact may, if necessary, withdraw their amendments on Monday.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I, too, welcome what the Government Chief Whip has announced. I am sure he will recognise that my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and I have already expressed some serious concerns about the Weatherill amendment and that we have agreed to this proposal by the Government, notwithstanding our views on the principle of the matter.

I believe that proceeding in the way the Government Chief Whip has suggested will avoid an extremely untidy debate on the 22 amendments at the same time as discussing the Weatherill amendment itself.

First, on recommittal, I am sure the noble Lord will be able to guarantee that all the amendments can then be decided upon one-by-one and that thereafter the Weatherill amendment (possibly amended) will be put to the House and the House will make a decision on the matter. Given the fact that what will take place next Tuesday will in reality be a Second Reading debate on Weatherill, I think that many of us would very much welcome a list of speakers.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, although I cannot speak for all my Cross-Bench colleagues, I personally thank the Chief Whip for his constructive suggestion today. I think we all agree that this will lead to a more ordered debate. I suspect that many, if not most, of my Cross-Bench colleagues will agree that this is a sensible way to proceed.

Lord Peston

My Lords, as one of the Back-Benchers who has an amendment, I first would like to congratulate my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms and the usual channels on improving our procedure on this matter, for which some of us have asked, as he well knows, in the past week or two. I speak as someone who has tabled an amendment which is regarded as rather unhelpful. I seem also to have pulled off the amazing trick of uniting the Government, the Official Opposition and the Cross-Benchers against me!

Speaking for myself and my noble friend Lord Barnett, in the interests of good procedure in this House we shall certainly withdraw our amendment. I fervently hope that all the others—I did not realise that there are now as many as 24—will withdraw their amendments so that we can have a clean debate on the principles of the Weatherill amendment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, points out, then look at the detail, which seems to me to be the rational way of doing things.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, having an interest in this amendment, which I am minded to oppose, I accept wholly the spirit in which the proposals have been made, but not that there should be a list of speakers. That was never the suggestion of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, and I formally object to it.

Lord Carter

My Lords, on the first point about the removal of the amendments by 4 p.m. tomorrow, of course they can also be withdrawn on Monday. However, it would be helpful if it could be done by 4 p.m. tomorrow because it would enable us to issue the Marshalled List and the draft grouping on Monday.

When we come to recommittal, the amendments will no doubt be tabled, grouped and debated in the usual way, but as amendments to a clause in a Bill and not amendments to an amendment, which of course will be easier to handle. At the end of the debate, the House will have a chance to confirm the Weatherill clause, as it will then be, either with or without amendment.

I believe that it would be difficult to prepare a list of speakers. We are in Committee and we know the way in which we work in Committee. The whole idea of the recommittal, of course, is to allow the House to operate on a Committee basis. I therefore think it would not be possible to have a list of speakers on Tuesday. If my noble friend Lord Peston wishes to claim credit for this, he is, of course, perfectly entitled to do so.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Peston, I thank the noble Lord. It is so much more logical to work in this way and it is very nice to see sensible people agreeing with sensible proposals. It does not always happen; let us hope it continues. I thank the noble Lord for his contribution.

Lord Carter

My Lords, we now have the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, claiming the credit for this. Are there any more takers?