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Localism Bill

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 14 July 2011

Committee (8th Day)

Relevant documents: 15th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, according to the programme we are supposed to conclude the Committee stage of this Bill on Wednesday after one further day’s debate. That does not seem to be a realistic prospect. I would like to make good progress with the Bill and the House has the flexibility to do better than that and to give itself some additional time. We could hoof the Education Bill out of the Moses Room on Monday. We could perhaps use the Moses Room on Tuesday or put the Finance Bill into the Moses Room and use the Chamber on Tuesday. We could sit on Thursday. There seem to be a number of options available to enable us to complete the Committee stage of the Bill before we rise. I very much hope that the Government will be able to tell us which of them they propose to use. One way or another, we are not going to complete it unless we do something.

My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. We might wish to be where we are now but none of us would wish to be where we are with the Bill, if I can make that distinction. We are where we are. We on these Benches remain committed to completing the Committee stage of the Bill as soon as possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, there are a number of options available to enable us to do that before the Recess. We are willing to stay as late as may be on Wednesday evening and if necessary to come back on Thursday or take what other measures can achieve that. It is not for us to determine the progress of other Bills or where they may be taken but we and your Lordships’ House can urge the Government and the usual channels to co-operate with each other to ensure that we achieve the objective that we all share: to complete the Committee stage of the Bill as soon as possible before the Recess.

My Lords, I, too, support the statement of my noble friend Lord Lucas. It is quite appalling that we have made such little progress. My next amendment is Amendment 149. Today is the eighth day that I have come here believing that we have reached Amendment 149. Instead, as I have said to people, I find 50 other amendments piled in before it. I have counted them while I waited through proceedings on the police Bill, and 125 amendments are piled in before me today. Of those, only three groups have simple numbers, and come from before the first day of the Committee. They are original amendments. Others go as far as Amendment 152ZZA. That seems the most far-reaching number that I have found for any of the other amendments. It is unbelievable how many Zs and things can come up in this. This is a terribly important Bill and the rate of progress has been dreadful. It is very important that we deal with this before the Recess because there is so much work to be done before Report. The Minister and those who have moved amendments will need to do a lot a work before we get to Report. We must finish this before we rise. If we have to sit on Thursday, I am only too happy to do so, or I will sit all night on Wednesday. For the Bill to just drift on in the way that it has is a disgrace to the House.

My Lords, we all share the desire for the Bill to make as speedy a passage through your Lordships’ House as possible. It is not up to us or indeed to the Ministers who support the Bill to arrange these things but for the usual channels. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in raising the issue talked about being able to reschedule Tuesday and other days in the week. The noble Lord perhaps ought to be mindful that some of us, not just one of us, have commitments under the Welfare Reform Bill as well, which has its Second Reading. We understand that that is a very important Bill for the Government.

I am very clear that we need to do the job properly in scrutinising this Bill. In so far as it might be alleged that there has been delay, it cannot be laid at our door. I do not believe that the noble Lord did that. We still have a lot to get through: most of the planning stuff, some very important housing stuff and issues around London. Frankly, even if we sat right through the night on Wednesday, I do not see that we would conclude by having one more day, particularly as we must have the Third Reading of the Bill that we just sat through. I do not think it is practical.

I really am opposed to sitting through the night when we are discussing a Bill that has a lot of intricacies in it; a lot of it is complex and technical, and we need to deal with it when we have minds that are still relatively fresh. I do not personally see that it would be a great disaster if we picked this up and concluded it when we are back in September. The key thing is that we should have the time to scrutinise the Bill properly and have the time and opportunity to do it when we are at least not all falling asleep on the Benches.

I have taken some part in this Bill and, on the basis of having spent 13 rather misspent years in the usual channels, I heard what my noble friend Lord Lucas and others have said about potentially sitting on another day. As other noble Lords have said, I would be very willing to do that to make progress on the Bill. I did not hear the noble Lord opposite express similar willingness.

One thing that I looked up, which might be helpful to these discussions, is what has happened in previous years. This is in fact the earliest date on which the House would rise in July since and including 1996, apart from 2003. If one looks at three separate years after the party opposite formed a Government, in 1998 we were asked to sit until 31 July and noble Lords on this side co-operated; in 2002 we were asked to sit until 30 July and noble Lords on this side co-operated; and in 2006 we were asked to sit until 25 July and noble Lords on this side co-operated. I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask noble Lords opposite to show the same willingness as noble Lords on this side have to allow the usual channels some flexibility in considering not only sitting late but perhaps allowing an extra day to complete this important Bill.

Perhaps a word could be said from the Cross Benches, too. I have quite a lot of the amendments that might detain us further on. Although we must all accommodate whatever the usual channels decide, it is quite late notice for next Thursday suddenly to be removed from our diaries when we had every reason to expect to be on Recess at that time and had other plans. I, for one, would be letting down an awful lot of other people, which I may have to do if we have to sit next Thursday. If it is of any help—and I am sure that we all have our different preferences—I would be quite prepared to go into all hours of the night on Wednesday night and will try to remain fresh, if that is required of me.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contribution. It is not easy, because we had no idea of the exact time when the earlier Bill would conclude today. There were great expectations that there would be a serious amount of time to discuss localism today, but noble Lords in regulating themselves felt that it was important to consider the previous Bill. Those who have been observant will have seen that various noble Lords have been talking off the Floor of the House, as others have been talking on the Floor. If we could make a start on the Localism Bill now, even though there are only 22 minutes before seven o’clock, we could do one or two amendments. That would be sensible.

The usual channels can channel away a little longer and, I hope, make a statement before we conclude tonight. We do have it in our diaries to come here on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The prospect has been put—

It might be for the convenience of the House if we invite the government Chief Whip to make her statement now, because I think it would help us to draw proceedings to a close. I, as ever, wish to be helpful.

My Lords, my deputy and I are joined at the hip, like twins. In this occasion, the Gemini were slightly apart, and I had the advantage of being able to have a further conversation with the opposition Chief Whip as well as briefly with the Leader of the Opposition and their spokesman on these matters. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, is spokesman not only on this Bill but also on the Welfare Reform Bill, which as he has just this moment said is very important. We have perhaps found a new way forward, which needs further examination but would provide for the inclusion of the Localism Bill next week. It would also meet some of the concerns expressed around the House that, having started the Welfare Reform Bill Second Reading, we would do the Committee stage as soon as we got back in September.

The discussions now afoot would mean that we would do whatever we may within about the 20 minutes or so remaining tonight on the first amendment on the Localism Bill. However, we would expect to continue discussions. The proposal is around the idea that Monday would go ahead as anticipated, with the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill followed by the Finance Bill, but on Tuesday it may well be that instead of the Welfare Reform Bill Second Reading, we could then have a full day on the Localism Bill and on Wednesday, as already scheduled, start the day on the police Bill Third Reading but then move into the Localism Bill, with a fair expectation of being able to conclude that business.

People say that the House of Lords stays the same over centuries, but things can happen in seconds here by agreement. That is one of the interesting things of this place, where there is self-regulation. I know that there is continuing good will on these matters. I think that this is the time when Chief Whips sit down and invite the Convenor and others to come to a meeting to discuss what the impact might be on their Benches.

My Lords, as ever, my door is open for discussions and if there is some small progress this evening and we can carry on discussing next week’s business, that would be very helpful.