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Planning And Compulsory Purchase Bill

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 11 May 2004

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3.18 p.m.

rose to move, That it is desirable to vary the normal practice of the House when considering Commons reasons and amendments, whereby no further consideration of a Bill can take place in the event that—

  • (i) the Lords insists on an amendment;
  • (ii) the Commons insists on its disagreement to that amendment; and
  • (iii) neither House has offered alternative proposals;
  • to allow the House to consider the Commons reason and amendment to the Bill.

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Motion is unusual, and the House will expect a word of explanation. When the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill came back to the Lords on 29 April, it appeared that unintentionally a double insistence had been reached on Lords Amendment No. 3. The situation appeared to correspond with the description of double insistence in our own Companion to the Standing Orders and Erskine May Parliamentary Practice. At paragraph 6.160, the Companion states:
    "if one House insists on an amendment to which the other has disagreed, and the other insists on its disagreement, and neither has offered alternatives, the bill is lost".
    Erskine May says much the same thing, but goes on to state:
    "It must be remembered, however, that there is no binding rule of order which governs these proceedings in either House, and, if there is a desire to save a bill, some variation in the proceedings may be devised in order to effect this object".
    What I am now about to say is somewhat technical, but I hope not too complicated. In the Commons, Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 were treated as forming a package and Amendment No. 1C was regarded as a new proposal that would keep the exchanges on both amendments going. Ministers took advice in the Commons and acted on it. However, when the Bill again reached this House, the authorities in this House were unable to accept the Commons' interpretation, which presumes a knowledge in the Lords of what happens in the Commons. The Lords can go only by Commons amendments and reasons as set out in their messages. The Commons gave a freestanding reason for insisting on their agreement to Lords Amendment No. 3 and did not indicate that the amendment in lieu of Amendment No. 1 represented an alternative proposal to Amendment No. 3.

    Turning from the Commons to this House, Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 were not grouped in the last Lords debate on 26 April. Furthermore, Amendment No. 1 was moved by a Liberal Democrat Peer, while the unrelated Amendment No. 3 was moved by a Conservative. In the circumstances, the Clerk of the Parliaments took the view that a double insistence had been reached as described by the Companion and Erskine May. I accept that advice.

    However, in the passage I read out just now, Erskine May makes it clear that no binding rule of order governs these proceedings, stating:
    "If there is a desire to save a Bill, some variation in the proceedings may be devised in order to effect this object".
    It is certain that on 29 April the Commons had no intention of creating a situation in which the Bill could proceed no further. Likewise, in this House the usual channels have accepted that this was not the intention and have agreed that this Motion and the new amendment should be put to the House: hence this Motion. It invites the House to confirm that the Bill should not be completely blocked unintentionally and that we are prepared to consider the Commons amendments and reasons.

    It is obviously undesirable that this situation should have arisen at all. I am sure that we all wish to ensure that it does not do so again. We accept that the consideration of amendments and reasons—which we know as "ping pong"—can result in the loss of a Bill. This may be deliberate, but it may also be inadvertent. If it resulted from carelessness on the part of Ministers or a refusal to take advice, then Ministers might simply have to live with the consequences. But that is not the case here. Ministers acted with due diligence and on the advice of the House authorities.

    I have invited the Clerks of both Houses and parliamentary counsel to consider jointly the lessons learnt from this episode and how best to avoid such a situation in the future. In particular, they will look at the practice of considering amendments in the other House in groups or packages and the procedural consequences which can follow. I am glad to say that they have readily agreed to this course of action. I will ensure that the House knows the outcome as soon as possible. In the mean time, I commend the Motion to the House.

    Moved, That it is desirable to vary the normal practice of the House when considering Commons reasons and amendments, whereby no further consideration of a Bill can take place in the event that —
  • (i) the Lords insists on an amendment;
  • (ii) the Commons insists on its disagreement to that amendment; and
  • (iii) neither House has offered alternative proposals;
  • to allow the House to consider the Commons reason and amendment to the Bill.—(Baroness Amos.)

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She has reported very fairly and properly to the House on an extraordinary and very serious situation that arose last week. This was no mere technicality. Without full cooperation from the usual channels, it could have ended in a humiliating fiasco for the Government and, very possibly, a Planning Bill on which Parliament has been working for 18 months would have been lost. Indeed, it will still be lost if the House does not agree to the Motion proposed by the noble Baroness.

    As the House knows, Members on this side are not in favour of the Planning Bill: we believe that it is a thoroughly bad Bill. I would have been glad to see it lost, but in such unusual circumstances I felt that we owed a duty to the House to preserve the spirit as well as the letter of parliamentary procedure.

    The House will. I hope, accept what the noble Baroness has said—that it was clearly not the intention of the Government or the House of Commons to lose their own Bill. I do not think, in those circumstances, it is for this House to exploit the kind of procedural mistake that would destroy the whole of a programme Bill.

    I should also say that progress was helped by the notable efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to whom I pay tribute, who along with my noble friend Lord Hanningfield persuaded the Government to accept that an amendment made by your Lordships which had been swept aside in another place should, in effect, be restored. However, I must make it clear that this is an exceptional agreement in the case of this one amendment to this one Bill. Although the noble Baroness has rightly reminded us that Erskine May states that either House can vary proceedings in this way. I know of no direct precedent for it. And, for the record, I must say firmly that it must form absolutely no precedent for the future.

    I share the view of the noble Baroness, who speaks for the whole House, in saying that this situation should never arise again. If it were to do so, then I give no undertaking that we on this side would be so forbearing.

    Perhaps it is worth reiterating what has happened. An amendment made by this House was linked in the other place to another unrelated amendment. It was then thought, mistakenly, that it was enough to propose an amendment in lieu to just one of the two amendments to justify outright and repeated rejection of the other one. Had that doctrine prevailed, then in future any number of unrelated amendments could be linked in another place and an amendment in lieu proposed to just one of them. All the other unrelated amendments made by this House to that same Bill could be rejected indefinitely by another place, which would never then be required to offer any compromise to your Lordships' House. That, I am sure, would be quite unacceptable to Peers on all sides of the House. After all, only in 1999, the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, promised that amendments made by the reformed House would carry more authority.

    I should like to pay the warmest tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments who upheld the authority and rights of this House. I also welcome the announcement by the noble Baroness of a new study by the authorities of both Houses and by parliamentary counsel into what has happened and how to avoid it in the future. They must realise that this House deprecates what has happened and fully accepts and upholds the advice given by the Clerk of the Parliaments throughout, as the noble Baroness has herself made clear. We look forward to the noble Baroness reporting hack to the House, as she has undertaken to do.

    I hope also that she will urge her colleagues in another place to give much more appropriate and serious consideration to all Lords amendments. If that too were to happen, then out of this even more good might come. I thank the noble Baroness for her part in arriving at a constructive solution that protects this House. I support the Motion and I hope that it will now be approved by the House.

    My Lords, Members on these Benches agree with the noble Baroness the Lord President that this is an extraordinary situation. But we also admire the ingenuity and flexibility that has been shown in this House to ensure that a procedural solution can be devised, as is suggested in Erskine May, to ensure that the will of Parliament can he determined and that procedure should not restrain what we wish to achieve.

    Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I am glad that in her statement, the noble Baroness referred to the fact that the authorities of the two Houses are to work together to ensure that this sort of incident does not recur and that comity between the Houses may be maintained in appropriate ways.

    This is one of the relatively rare parliamentary occasions when one can almost certainly note in advance that our proceedings today are likely to end up as a footnote at least in the next edition of Erskine May. We should be aware of that as we vote in support of the Motion put forward by the Lord President.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Roper, for their comments. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. was characteristically robust. I say again to the noble Lord that, as I made clear in my statement, Ministers acted with due diligence and on the advice of the House authorities. The noble Lord knows that all governments take advice from the House authorities. However, I should like to end by saying that I am grateful for the work of the usual channels and the House authorities which has enabled us to reach this point.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness made it clear in her original speech that this should never happen again. My noble friend on the Front Bench explained that it is quite important that it should not do so. If this were to set a precedent, the other place would have a means of avoiding treatment of almost all our amendments. I hope, therefore, that she will concur with him that this will not be, in her view, any kind of precedent.

    My Lords, that is precisely why I have asked the House authorities to look at the matter. I shall report back to the House.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendment and reason be now considered.

    Moved, That the Commons amendment and reason be now considered.—(Lord Rooker.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.