HL Deb 26 October 2000 vol 618 cc486-8

3.30 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a brief statement on the date of State Opening. I hope that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that State Opening will be on Wednesday 6th December.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the Government Chief Whip for finally coming to the House to give the date of State Opening. Will the noble Lord confirm that this is the first time since the Second World War, perhaps since even the First World War or even earlier, that State Opening has been as late as December? Will the noble Lord also confirm that there has been full co-operation and absolutely no filibustering by this side in dealing with the vast amount of legislation before the House? I give the example of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. It was intended originally that that Bill would occupy about 10 days in Committee, but we managed to finish it in some six days.

Will the noble Lord also confirm that it is not only the number of Bills before the House which has resulted in this unprecedented late State Opening but the fact that many of them have had to be rewritten as they have proceeded through the House, not by this side but, as often as not, by the Government? One has only to consider the saga of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. The noble Lord will recall that the first day in Committee on that Bill, which emanated from the Home Office, was back in May. On the second day in Committee noble Lords had to consider some 100 pages of government amendments to a Bill which itself was scarcely longer than that.

Can the noble Lord also confirm that much the same was true of the Financial Services and Markets Bill? Will he remind noble Lords of just how many government amendments to that Bill were tabled and the fact that, just one month after Royal Assent, it had to be amended because of the passage through this House of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill? I could also mention the Freedom of Information and Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bills, and the time that the Government wasted on Clause 28.

In passing, I remind the Government Chief Whip that many of those Bills emanate from the Home Office. It may be that the noble Lord will want to have a word with some of his colleagues in that department. Perhaps the noble Lord and the Leader of the House can take a slightly stronger line with that department when they consider legislation that is to be brought before the House next year.

I end by asking for an assurance from the noble Lord that we shall have a considerably lighter burden next year. This year we have already sat on 155 days—that surpasses the figure last year when we sat for longer than the Commons—and there are 18 or more days to go. That is asking a lot of this House which has sat to midnight and beyond virtually every day since we returned from the Summer Recess. I hope that the noble Lord will offer us a lighter passage next year.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the Opposition Chief Whip. He is misinformed about the lateness of State Opening. In 1921 State Opening was on 14th December. I am tempted to observe that some of your Lordships may well remember it! The Opposition have not filibustered and, through the usual channels, there has been the customary co-operation. The noble Lord said that originally 10 days had been allocated to the Committee stage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. The Opposition asked for 10 days; I offered five days, and it took six.

The number of Bills this Session has not been exceptional compared with others. I agree that a large number of amendments have been tabled, but we are a listening government and respond to sensible requests for improvements to Bills. This is not unusual. I recall that when I sat on the Benches opposite at Report stage of an education Bill 400 amendments were tabled in this House, which is a second Chamber. In nine of the past 20 years, the Queen's Speech has taken place in the second half of November. It is a little later this year. However, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is on record as saying that the Government are entitled to get their programme. I entirely agree with him, and I organise the business to that end.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that it would be to the advantage of the Government, Parliament and the people if legislation contained clear statements of principle and was encumbered with much less detail? Will the noble Lord seek to persuade the departments and Parliamentary Counsel to legislate in the way that I suggest?

Lord Carter

My Lords, that view is not shared by all those involved in the preparation of legislation. It is believed that purpose statements, which were quite common in the 19th century, lead to considerable legal problems in the interpretation of Acts. But I agree that there is a debate to be had on the balance between what appears in primary legislation and what appears in secondary legislation.

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