HL Deb 16 June 2003 vol 649 cc557-8

4.41 p.m.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I have two brief pieces of information. First, the start of the Grand Committee on the Local Government Bill has been delayed for the entirely sensible reason that noble Lords who wish to participate in the proceedings on the Bill wanted to take part in the exchanges that we have just been having. That Grand Committee will now resume at 4.50 p.m.

Secondly, perhaps I may say to the House what I normally say on these occasions. We are about to start a Second Reading debate on a very important Bill. Many noble Lords have put down their names to speak in the debate. The arithmetic is as follows: with around 30 speakers and starting now, if the contributions were limited to around eight minutes, then we should finish at about 9.45 p.m. I am talking about the Back-Bench contributions now. I saw some alarm on the Front Bench when I said that.

At the other end of the scale, if the contributions were around 12 minutes, we should finish at 11.30 p.m. It is not a time-limited debate. I am therefore not instructing anyone about anything. I am simply reminding your Lordships of the arithmetic.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, in giving what was advice to speed up the debate, has he taken into account that there are two volumes in relation to the Criminal Justice Bill? One volume contains 306 clauses and occupies 175 pages. Volume 2 contains 23 schedules and occupies 200 pages. Is this not more a case for giving us two days for the Second Reading rather than trying to hide the time we are entitled to use?

Lord Grocott

My Lords, very briefly, because I do not want to prolong this exchange, I simply repeat that this is no injunction. I am not able to give an injunction. I am suggesting to the House that I have no doubt whatever that all the detailed issues relating to the Criminal Justice Bill will be considered in detail in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. As we all know, the Second Reading is a debate about the general thrust and principles underlying the debate. I am not telling anyone how long they should speak for; I am simply pointing out the consequences of the various time lengths for each speech.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the Minister, it is impossible to cover all the generalities of this Second Reading, even if individual speakers speak only to three parts of the Bill, as for instance I intend to do. Even so, I do not believe that justice can be done to this monstrous Bill, or momentous Bill, in a time-limited debate. I know the noble Lord is not imposing a guillotine but if he says to the House, "If you take 15 minutes per Back Bencher, you can expect to sit here until two o'clock in the morning", it is not a guillotine but it comes jolly near to it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, this might have been easier if we had been about to start the Second Reading of the Bill at say 3.10 p.m. It is now a quarter to five, so we have lost an hour and 35 minutes.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, if I respond any further to these exchanges we shall lose even more time. I suggest I let the Second Reading proceed.