My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Blake comes to move her Amendment 292H, everybody will have seen what the plans are for today by looking at the groupings. They basically involve five groups dealing with things that have stood over from the pre-protest section of the Bill, and then three or four groups dealing with all the protest sections in the Bill, including one group, I think, dealing with all the proposed new clauses that have been added.
On any basis, the grouping is inappropriate. The proposed new clauses have the additional feature that they have not been debated at all in the Commons, from where this Bill originated. They have had no Second Reading of any sort in this House and now, to have Committee stage with them all crammed in effect into one or two groups means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House.
Can I make a suggestion and ask a question? In relation to the new clauses, could we treat, without any additional formality, the proceedings today as a Second Reading in effect and then have an additional day in Committee so that there is proper consideration? In addition to that, could one have more time to deal with these very important clauses?
My concern is that this marginalises the House of Lords in relation to considering these provisions in detail—although I am sure that was not deliberate on the part of the Whips. It may well be that these provisions are needed; our role is to look at them line by line. The effect of the way in which this has been done is that now that is not possible. The House as a whole was entitled to look for protection in that respect from the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip. Instead, they have just gone along with the Government, like so many institutions, in pushing the institution to one side—and it is not right.
I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in what he has just said. I have heard two rumours—one, that the Government Chief Whip is urging people to keep their comments on the Bill today short. I wish to declare to the Government Chief Whip that that is not possible, bearing in mind the number and complexity of issues that we are supposed to debate today. The other rumour that I have heard is that, if the House is still debating at 2 am, only then will the debate be adjourned. If that is right, looking at the timetable, that means that the most contentious parts of the Bill—the new amendments, as the noble and learned Lord said, which have not even been considered by the House of Commons—will be debated either side of midnight. That is no way for this House to be treated.
My Lords, I have not heard the rumour about keeping comments short. We are about to begin the 11th day in Committee of this Bill. In total, this House has sat for 60 hours in Committee, including starting early and going beyond 10 pm, as well as allowing three extra days. By the time when we finish today—and we intend to do so—we will have considered and debated more than 450 amendments.
As for the new clauses, they have been agreed with the usual channels and with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I would say to noble Lords who have spoken that we intend to finish Committee today.
I support the noble Lords who have spoken. Quite honestly, this is no way to treat the House of Lords. Especially as we get older, we do not want to stay up until 2 am—and, quite honestly, this Bill should have been four Bills. I think that everybody on the Government Benches knows that. Therefore, the 60 hours of debate and 400 amendments is not that that unusual. Bringing in these amendments at the last minute is really scandalous, and very typical of an arrogant attitude towards your Lordships’ House.
I no more want to stay until two in the morning than does the noble Baroness. We will get to the public order new measures later on. I understand that the Liberal Democrats wish to vote against them, and ultimately I shall introduce them but will withdraw them, so there will be another occasion on Report to discuss them as well.
To pick up on that last remark, the Government are going to withdraw the new amendments—so how will they regard Report? Will it be treated like a Committee stage?
Report will not be treated like a Committee stage, but I have no intention of moving amendments that this Committee intends to vote against, so I shall withdraw them.
Can I confirm, though, that we will be going on until such time as we conclude the Committee stage—that is, as far as today and the early hours of the morning are concerned? So if it takes until 2 am to get through this list, we will be here until 2 am, and if it takes till 4 am, we will be here till 4 am. What the Minister said was a statement of hope that we would finish tonight; it is not an undertaking from the Government that we will not go on beyond midnight, even. Can I be clear on that?
Can the Minister then confirm, if the Government accept that it is unreasonable to force through these new amendments—these eighteen and a half pages of new offences and police powers— and that therefore they are going to withdraw those amendments, they also undertake to have the accepted gap between Committee and Report, which is 14 days, rather than the shortened period that has appeared in Forthcoming Business?
If the Committee will allow, I can answer some of these questions. We intend to have an Order of Consideration Motion so that, on Report, items will be taken as much as they can be in the same order as they are in Committee—so there will be plenty of time to consider these matters. We have discussed, in the usual channels, how the arrangements for this Bill should take place. I completely accept that it might go quite late tonight. We have spent a lot of time on this Bill—I accept that. But this is the Committee stage, and it cannot go on for ever because, if it goes on and on, the House of Lords looks as if it is preventing the Bills that have been passed by the House of Commons from going ahead.
The noble Lord shakes his head. As my noble friend the Minister has said, there has been ample time to talk about this Bill—and all we are saying is that, after three extra days, we have to draw this to a conclusion at some stage. This is not an unreasonable number of amendments to deal with—we have often done this in the past. The key, of course, is that we actually get on with it and that noble Lords have a view to the rest of the Members of this House. None of us wants to stay up too late. It is perfectly doable to have this number of groups—we have done it before—if noble Lords are able to be brief and succinct and make their point.
On the government amendments, the idea of having them in Committee is that we can debate them today. My noble friend has said that she will withdraw them, and that allows Report to go ahead—and, if necessary, noble Lords can vote on them.
My Lords, I do not want to elongate this procedural debate before a lengthy debate that we are debating the length of, but the protest provisions in this Bill have been some of the most contentious—and not just in your Lordships’ House but in the country. They are not the final provisions or the final part of this Bill, even, yet they have been saved for the latter stages of this Committee, and the later hours of this last day will include this raft of new and even more contentious amendments. That is the reason for this suspicion and the concern that your Lordships’ House has not been shown the appropriate respect of a second Chamber in a democracy, when dealing with provisions that are, arguably, contrary to the human rights convention, and are certainly thought to be very contentious and illiberal by many communities in this country.
Something that we did last week was to start early. Why could we not start earlier today so that we did not need to go into the early hours of the morning? We could have started at 10, which would have been a reasonable start for most people.
Because when we started three hours earlier, the usual channels asked us to finish three hours earlier—so it did not achieve anything.
My Lords, I have listened to this with great fascination. I am afraid that the Chief Whip is being slightly disingenuous. He says that all this time has been spent in Committee in this House on this Bill. Nobody disputes that; it is a fact. But what is significant is that this is new material which has not previously been considered anywhere—except within the bowels of the Home Office perhaps. It is new material and that is why this House needs the opportunity to scrutinise it. Without that scrutiny, it will pass into law without there having been adequate discussion of what are clearly important provisions—they are important because, otherwise, I presume the Government would not have brought them forward.
But they will be scrutinised, at the Committee stage and then at the Report stage.