Nice to be quoted by Paul Waugh in the excellent Waugh Room.
I have already referred to the farce that followed the Government’s defeat in the House of Lords last night on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.
For those who want the full exchange with the Leader of the House, , here it is:
“The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): Before my noble friend Lady Hamwee continues speaking to her amendment, perhaps I may explain that there has been a short Adjournment of the Committee’s proceedings so that discussion could take place as to whether we should continue. The Government’s position is utterly straightforward. Earlier today, a defeat took place. It is not the first time that a defeat has taken place on a government Bill. There is no reason why we should not continue; in fact, it is the Government’s wish that we should. I understand that some noble Lords who have put down amendments would prefer not to continue. It is entirely their right-and we would not complain-not to move their amendments this evening, but good order and precedent should continue and we should carry on with the Committee stage. I hope that my noble friend Lady Hamwee can continue with her amendment.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I accept what the Leader has said. However, the advice given to us earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to perhaps take time to reflect on where we are on the Bill and the implications of today’s vote for the remaining amendments, was cogent and very sensible. When the House was adjourned a brief 12 minutes ago, it was agreed that it would be adjourned in order for discussions to take place. I point out to the Chief Whip that that is what was said. No discussions have taken place with the Opposition. I do not complain; I merely point that out as a matter for the record. I am perfectly happy to continue as the noble Lord desires, but I do not think that it is a sensible way forward. It would be far more appropriate for us to take time to reflect. However, the noble Lord is the Leader of the House and it is for him to decide.
Lord Soley: I am not very confident of my knowledge of the procedures when we get into a situation like this. I simply say to the Government-and I recognise that I probably would not be their first choice as a political adviser-that there are aspects of the Bill which we could deal with very effectively and get through; for example, on drugs and alcohol. I am at a loss to understand why the Government do not proceed with that, leaving aside the policing bit for the moment while they decide a policy. The provisions on drugs and alcohol will get a lot of support. The Government could be well advised, politically, to split off the policing aspect so that they can take their time on it, and they would get a very good Bill on drugs and alcohol which I think we would all welcome.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, having heard the Leader of the House speaking earlier, I can see no reason why we should not start to debate Clause 2 of the Bill and everything that follows. It is merely Clause 1 that causes the difficulties. I urge the Government Front Bench, whom, I repeat, I broadly support on this Bill, to consider whether we might move to Clause 2 and invite those who wish to move amendments to Clause 1 not to move them at this stage.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is trying to be helpful to the Committee. His analysis that it is difficult for us to debate anything in the Bill that relates to police and crime commissioners until a way forward has been determined is helpful. Clearly, Clause 2 does not contain anything at the moment about police and crime commissioners and there are a number of other clauses in the first part of the Bill, including Clauses 3 and 4, that do not relate to police and crime commissioners. So we could with due determination proceed with the Bill with those bits that are not affected by the decision that the Committee took earlier on.
However, there is one further difficulty and I would be grateful for the Leader of the House’s guidance on this point. We were told that the target for tonight was the group beginning Amendment 15. I suspect that a number of noble Lords worked on the basis that government targets on such matters are rarely achieved let alone surpassed. They might have wished to speak about amendments or issues subsequent to Amendment 15 but have left and would not be particularly happy if we were to proceed beyond that point without notice. Speaking for myself, I am always happy to talk on those matters that I have put down. However, it is unfair on those Members of the Committee who may have left on the assumption that the Government’s target-they are, as I said, rarely exceeded-was to reach the group beginning Amendment 15.
This process is enormously unhelpful, although I am sure that she can speak for herself, to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She has an amendment about transitional arrangements. There is a useful debate to be had about transitional arrangements-whether it should be for a year, which I think is the substance of her argument, or whether it should be for a shorter period and how it operates. But it is difficult to understand how we can debate a transitional arrangement when we do not know what transition we are making and from what state to what state. If, for example, a very simple matter were being proposed, a transitional arrangement of a year might seem excessive. However, if a more complicated change were proposed, a transitional arrangement of a year might seem appropriate.
We are in a difficult position and the Government Front Bench has put the noble Baroness in a very difficult position by encouraging her to move her amendment when we do not know what that transition will be. If, for example, the Committee were to decide that this is all getting silly and that we should stop, I would be sorry that the substance of debating transitional arrangements should then be lost. But I do not see how the Committee can debate transitional arrangements when we are not even in a position to judge what state we are in transition from and to what future state we are aiming.
The Government Front Bench must help the House and find a way out of this terribly difficult impasse. I appreciate that it may have one or two slightly bigger consequences of today’s vote on their minds, but we are in a difficult situation tonight. It would be better for us to have some proper time for reflection and for the Government to have time for reflection so that they can let us know how to proceed.
Baroness O’Loan: My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, just said. With my limited experience of the House, I think that we are debating a police and crime panel which is defined in the legislation, which has now become part of the police and crime commission, with much greater powers than it had originally. The police and crime panel will also be the police commission. It will have powers to hire and fire police chiefs and all sorts of other powers as a consequence of this change. But we do not know what we are talking about. We do not know whether it is an elephant, a tiger or what it is. We should think again.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I support that idea. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, for whom I have immense regard-I respect his very great experience in these matters-was not quite right when he said when that Clause 2 has no reference to a police commissioner. Clause 2(5) reads:
“A chief constable must exercise the power of direction and control conferred by subsection (3) in such a way as is reasonable to assist the relevant police and crime commissioner to exercise the commissioner’s functions”.
Am I right-
Lord Elton: As I understand it, under our Standing Orders, we can only speak to a Motion. The Motion before the Committee is Amendment 13. My noble friend the Leader of the House has proposed the way that we should go forward and the Leader of the Opposition has said she agrees that we should go forward. If we go forward now, we have decent time to do at least one amendment and we might get on with this Bill.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I am speaking to the amendment to this extent-that I believe that the amendment is an utter unreality and that every other amendment in relation to Part 1 is similarly tainted and coloured. My argument in favour of that, and I speak from the neutrality of the Cross Benches-
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I do not wish any evil whatever upon this House, for which I have immense respect. The situation, surely, is that there are these categories of provision-first, as regards any provision dealing directly with the police commissioner, it would be utterly impossible and absurd to debate it; secondly, as regards any reference to a police commissioner, again, it would be impossible to debate it; thirdly, as regards any implied relevance of a police commissioner, again, it would be wrong to debate it. It seems that no real, genuine and substantial debate can properly occur in relation to Part 1. I do not say that with any sense of pleasure whatever.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, as a veteran of many amendments and many losses, I am slightly baffled by this debate. The Government have presented a Bill to this House and it is the property of this House. The House has decided, in its wisdom, to vote on an amendment that has removed an important aspect of the Bill. Noble Lords have spoken and have agonised over the implications of that decision. The time to think about the implications of that decision is before you vote, not after.
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Strathclyde: It is a good point. However, noble Lords have done so, without thinking over the implications. We have an amendment before us. Noble Lords have said it is difficult-
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Strathclyde: I am going to finish my point. Noble Lords have said it is difficult to continue. Moving amendments in this House is not compulsory. If noble Lords do not wish to move their amendments at this Committee stage, they do not have to. They can reconsider them in the light of the debate. We will of course be returning to this Bill on Report. We have spent a great deal of time discussing the implications of a vote that took place some hours ago. I assert that we should have discussed the implications of that in that very long debate and not now. If noble Lords wish to down tools and go home early, that is their decision. I think we should continue with the Bill.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House is being slightly unfair on the House. Noble Lords were very clear what they were voting for. They realised that if the amendment was passed, they were kicking a very large hole in this Bill. That was the decision of the House. What people are querying is the strange “band played on” mentality of the government Front Bench. You have hit the iceberg but the band carries on playing. No doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wishes to remain at the wheel until such time as the “Titanic” sinks below the waves-you can see where the metaphor is going. My point is that I do not think it is fair of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to suggest that people were not aware of what they were doing. What we cannot understand is what the Government think they are doing.
Baroness O’Loan: My Lords, if I may speak again, perhaps the Leader of the House could help me by telling me exactly what it is that I am now discussing. I think that I am discussing a police commission comprising a police and crime panel that will elect one of its number to be a police commissioner that has no powers in the Bill, as all the powers in the Bill belong to other organisations. I am mystified as to what I am supposed to be thinking about.
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness is generous in giving me powers, which I do not have, of knowing what it is that she is talking about. I dare say that what the noble Baroness is supposed to be talking about is the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. If my noble friend Lady Hamwee wishes to proceed with her amendment, she may and she can explain what noble Lords are supposed to be discussing. If she does not wish to carry on with her amendment and subsequent noble Lords do not wish to carry on with their amendments, the rules of the House are utterly clear: you say, “Not moved” when your name is called. We would then carry on to the stage that the noble Lords, Lord Soley, Lord Harris and others, wish to get to. This really is not complicated.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords-
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, could I seek one point of information? Given that, as was suggested by one of my noble friends earlier, we had a target of reaching the group starting with Amendment 15, if noble Lords did not wish to move their amendments in the groups preceding that group, would the Leader agree that we should finish at Amendment 15 for the sake of those people who are not present this evening and who did not expect to have their amendments debated this evening? Would the House then adjourn?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the target is a sort of rough target in order to help the House. From other discussions that have taken place, I understand that the Opposition are fully briefed up to Amendment 18, but I do not know whether that is true. I would rather dispose of Amendment 13, which is the amendment that we are on, and see where we get to. It is nearly 20 minutes to 10.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader give an assurance that he will give the Government’s position in relation to the earlier decision of your Lordships’ House on anything that we discuss from now? We need to know what the Government are arguing in the light of the earlier decision. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, was asking that question. As the Government have suffered a defeat and the Bill has now changed, an amendment that we discuss ought to be discussed in the light of the Government’s position now. Therefore, we need the Government’s position to be spelled out even before we debate amendments.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Government’s Minister will respond to the questions posed by those who propose amendments. That is what happens when we deal with Bills at Committee stage. Nothing has changed. Let us get on with it.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, can we just have some clarity from the noble Lord the Leader? I am sorry to prolong this-I promise not to do so, or I give an assurance in the same sense that targets for amendments are given to the House-but can the noble Lord the Leader explain to the House why the government Front Bench has permitted us to debate an amendment that potentially no one in this House understands? We are talking about transitional arrangements, which are a perfectly valid area of debate, but we do not know what we are transitioning from or to. Under those circumstances, why has the government Front Bench allowed the debate? We are a self-regulating House. If the powers were invested in the Lord Speaker, no doubt we would have a ruling, which we would all of course at once obey. Under these circumstances, the noble Lord has to tell the House how he has reached his decision, and we have to understand it.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, first of all, this will not be the first time that the House has debated an issue that it does not know anything about. Secondly, it is up to the noble Baroness-this is not a government amendment-who owns the amendment to explain what it is for. Again, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that this is really simple. If the noble Baroness does not explain it sufficiently well, the amendment will either be withdrawn, or voted on, or whatever. That is what happens. The Government will respond to questions that are put to them. I cannot be clearer to the noble Lord. I invite the noble Baroness to carry on from where she left off.”