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Volume 593: debated on Thursday 3 September 1998

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My Lords, it may be helpful if I make a brief statement on today's procedures. My noble friend the Leader of the House will move a business Motion. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will then move Second Reading of the Bill and the debate will take place in the normal way. Although the debate is not time-limited there is a long list. Even if the average time taken by each speaker is eight minutes the Second Reading debate will last for almost six hours. There will be a 20-minute adjournment following Second Reading to allow amendments to be prepared for Committee. Some noble Lords have already tabled amendments in advance and those have been printed, but further amendments will be accepted by the Table in the course of the afternoon. It will assist all noble Lords if such amendments are tabled as early as possible. Once the Bill has been considered in Committee, the Report and Third Reading stages will be taken.

My Lords, the House is extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for having outlined today's procedure. However, is the noble Lord aware of the very real unhappiness existing, I suspect, on all sides of the House over the Government's haste in tabling the Bill? We are all aware of the reasons why we are here today. But the Bill that is to be taken through all its stages was published only yesterday. I ask the Government to reflect on whether that is the right way to deal with a subject of this importance and complexity. I hope that the Chief Whip and his government colleagues will consider other procedures so that the House can examine Bills in detail and table amendments instead of being asked to pass legislation in the manner proposed.

As the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip is aware, we have agreed in principle to complete all stages of the Bill today. That agreement was given subject to having sight of the Bill. Unfortunately, we did not have sight of the Bill for very long. I believe that some very serious concerns will be raised in the course of debate today. It would be useful to have an indication from the Government as to whether they will consider those concerns favourably and if so what they intend to do particularly in relation to amendments that do not pertain directly to the situation in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord has just said. I recall putting precisely the same arguments to him when he was Government Chief Whip. I did not make a great deal of progress then. Although this is an important debate, I believe that it should take place on the Motion to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.

My Lords, I have with me two pages of precedents—I shall not bore the House with them—where this procedure has been adopted in the past. I am aware of the concerns voiced by the noble Lord. But all noble Lords are also aware of the urgency of the situation and why the matter needs to be dealt with in this way. The draft Bill was available on Tuesday evening. The print of the Bill in the House of Commons was available yesterday afternoon. The Public Bill Office was open yesterday to accept amendments based on the draft Bill if necessary and amendments have been tabled. I shall take into account all that the noble Lord said, but I must inform the House that it is not the first time that this procedure has been followed.