HL Deb 18 October 1999 vol 605 cc747-51

3.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords—

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, as we launch into the Report stage of this Bill, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to two matters.

First, a large number of government amendments were handed in very late. Last week about 250 government amendments were tabled and well over half were tabled for Thursday's or Friday's Order Paper. This morning I saw many more on the supplementary list.

I say about 250 because some amendments that were handed in last week have already been withdrawn and replaced by other government amendments. Such a situation causes noble Lords—and those outside the House—great difficulty in looking properly at the government amendments.

I realise that some of the amendments reflect the Government's response, in whole or in part, to points raised in Committee from all parts of the House. We shall have to see whether the amendments respond in whole or in part to the points that were raised in Committee, and that will require careful study.

These amendments include the removal of three clauses that were previously in the Bill, and the inclusion of nine totally new clauses and one new schedule. The result is that in response several late amendments have been tabled by me and other Members of your Lordships' House. Another result is that Third Reading will have to pick up some of the points that have not come to light in time for them to be raised on Report.

My second point is that these new amendments contain at least 16 new powers to make orders or regulations to give the Secretary of State powers. None of those has been examined—as always happens when Bills first appear in this House—by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. Therefore, I have written to the Chairman of that committee, drawing his attention to those powers and to the number and the importance of them—as will become apparent when we consider the detail on Report. I suggested that his committee may want to consider the amendments that have been tabled since the 22nd Report, which dealt with the Bill, was produced and to see whether it has any points that it wants to draw to our attention.

Of course, the committee could not consider the amendments—no one would expect it to—in time for the Report stage today, or when the Report stage is continued on Wednesday. I do not know whether the Report stage will be completed on Wednesday. There may be time for additional work, but much of what the committee may want to say to us cannot be considered except in time for Third Reading.

All that has made it extremely difficult to consider this Bill. The lateness in tabling these amendments demonstrates that the Government cannot have worked hard in the early part of the Recess to prepare them, otherwise they would all have been tabled on Monday, when no one would have complained. This matter also demonstrates that the Bill was not well drafted in the first place. I believe that point will emerge from our debates during the course of today and in subsequent proceedings.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I was not aware that he was about to make such a point. I had informed the Government of my intention to do so.

I share completely the objection expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. We have had innumerable amendments and major clauses—as the noble Lord has pointed out—tabled over a very short period of time.

I had imagined that such a situation would occur. Towards the end of July there were two major judgments—one by Lord Justice Simon Brown and one by Lord Justice Woolf—both of which directly affected the central tenets of the Bill. I was concerned that the Government may not have time to consider those judgments and redraft the Bill accordingly, so on 5th August I wrote to the Home Secretary. I stated: These major consequences of the judgements for the Bill cannot be satisfactorily examined and debated within a few days of amendments being tabled, since consultation will be necessary with interested parties. I would urge that the Report Stage be postponed to allow proper consideration of the substantial changes to the Bill that now require to be made". No such delays were allowed before the Report stage. Consequently, we find ourselves dealing with major consequences with virtually no notice at all.

On the morning that I saw the last group of major government amendments, which was the morning of the debate of the most reverend Primate in this House, I was replying on behalf of my party to that debate and I found myself having to draft amendments as I sat in the House listening to the most reverend Primate. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory way in which to run the House.

I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has said about the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. Some of the new clauses—in particular the new clause after Clause 11, new Clause 25 and others— have deep constitutional implications. They lead to legislation on major issues being covered by secondary legislation, not by primary legislation. On that matter many noble Lords would have welcomed the views of the Select Committee, which are intended to assist the House. The Select Committee said that it considered it necessary, if there is to be adequate Parliamentary control over the exercise of substantial powers conferred by the Bill, that careful consideration is given to the issue of secondary legislation.

For all those reasons, I believe that the Bill is in considerable trouble. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and regret that we shall have to return to the matter on Third Reading. We do not want to do that, but we have no option as this Bill will affect the civil liberties and the lives of a great many people. Therefore, I strongly endorse what the noble Lord has said about the unsatisfactory nature of the handling of the Bill and the fact that this means that as a revising Chamber, with the best will in the world—I have reason to thank the Government for their willingness to listen to many points that we have made—we cannot fulfil the functions we are charged with fulfilling if we do not have more time in which to consider these major issues.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I want to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and my noble friend Lady Williams. During the Second Reading of the Immigration and Asylum Bill I raised the issue of the substantial number of provisions in the Bill that would require secondary legislation. I believe that that was backed by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. We now find ourselves in a similar situation.

A large number of amendments have been introduced, some of which reached me only this morning. I understand they were not available earlier. I am grateful to the new Minister, who arranged everything last Friday, but even then some of us were not aware of the amendments proposed. Now we have these amendments which have implications for the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee.

I want to stress the need for this House to have the opportunity to promote legislation which has the co-operation of all sides of the House and for legislation not simply to be pushed forward on the basis of the Government's programme. Let me give an example of my anxiety. It seems extraordinary that the definition of "class" in the Bill, in relation to family visitors, is being given a new statutory right of appeal. We welcome that. Yet it does not appear on the face of the Bill; it has to await secondary legislation.

Rights of appeal should not be subject to such changes without full scrutiny. The danger is—it has happened in the past—that if refused family visitors are too successful, the definition may be changed by the Government and that alters the whole purpose of the Bill. I hope that the new Minister will take that into account and that in the course of Third Reading we have the views of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, it seems extraordinary that we should be having a general debate whereas I thought we were going to get on with the business.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, perhaps I may answer rather than my noble friend Lord Bassam because I was involved in the Bill at the previous stage.

I apologise for the number of amendments which have come so late. There are a number of reasons for that. First, a number have been caused by decisions in court cases and we cannot dictate the time at which court cases come up. Secondly, a number of them result from consultation papers issued during the summer. Thirdly, it is a long and complex Bill. Those are the problems. I accept that they do not explain the huge volume of amendments which came late; I wish they had come earlier. I apologise to the House for that.

The point in relation to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee is a point of substance which must be addressed. I suggest we address it in this way. Any provision which should have gone to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee we debate today and on the second day of the Report stage. The Government will then formally withdraw the amendment so that it is not on the face of the Bill. That will ensure that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee will have an opportunity to consider it between now and Third Reading. We will not then be deprived of two debates in relation to it. That was a suggestion made to me by the Chief Whip but it seems to me to be eminently sensible.

I apologise to the House on behalf of the Government Front Bench for what happened, but this seems to be a practical way of dealing with the problem.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what is clearly a helpful proposal. I recognise his apology and accept it with grace.

On Question, Motion agreed to; Report received.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 1: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

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