The House of Lords finally gave a Third Reading today to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill and the Bill will now return to the House of Commons in September.
There were five divisions today on the Bill – much to the irritation of the Government Chief Whip, even though she won all of them.
This was the thirteenth day of debate on the Bill, since it was introduced in the Lords on 1st April 2011. Despite the many, many hours of consideration – the only disputed amendment passed was on the first day of Committee when the first few lines of the Bill were removed.
The Government has made it clear that they intend to reverse this change when the Bill goes back to the Commons and that reversal will then have to be considered by the Lords. It is unlikely that there will be any further opportunities to fine tune the Bill – despite the wish for this to happen being expressed in all parts of the House today. See, for example, this exchange between Lord Cormack (a Conservative peer who served in the House of Commons for 40 years bbefore entering the Lords last year) and myself:
“Lord Cormack: My Lords, … . I remind the House that the Bill to which we recently gave a formal Third Reading is in fact very different from the one that came from the other place. It is the expectation of most of us that the other place will indicate its dissatisfaction with the major amendment made in Committee by this House. Obviously we must wait and see, but I say this to my noble friend the Minister. The Government will have to look at this Bill again because of that amendment, but because of what has happened over the past three weeks, …. surely it is necessary to enact a Bill that truly deals with all the problems, ones that were not foreseen—I blame no one for that—when the Bill was first placed before Parliament. This is a golden opportunity for the Government to come back to us with amendments that recognise that there are areas of policing which are not adequately dealt with in the current Bill. Certain problems have been highlighted in recent days which it is incumbent on Parliament to recognise and adequately to legislate for.
My plea to my noble friend the Minister, who has shown herself to be painstaking, thorough and responsive to the feelings of the House, is that she should talk to the Home Secretary and her other ministerial colleagues with a view to ensuring that when the other place comes back to this House, one would assume either in September or October, we will have before us amendments which deal fully with many of the issues that initially provoked the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, to move her amendment, and that subsequently have built upon that feeling of unease. I do not seek lengthy Divisions this morning, but an assurance that the final shape of the Bill proves to be up to the circumstances that we are now aware of.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt someone with such long parliamentary experience, but I would be grateful if he could give the House his guidance. I share with him the objective that, even at this very late stage, the Government should look again at how the proposals they would like to see enacted will work and how they could be improved in the light of the events of the past week or so. But is not the real dilemma for the Government that what will go back to the Commons for consideration are simply those narrow areas of the Bill which have been changed by the decisions of your Lordships’ House? The safeguards that I am sure we all want to see—perhaps with one or two exceptions—will be very difficult for the Government to introduce during the course of ping-pong.
Lord Cormack: Like the famous Irishman, I would not have started from here. The truth of the matter is that on the very first day in Committee, a major amendment was passed in this House. It is therefore likely that the Government, unless they are going to see their Bill completely torpedoed, will wish to reject that amendment and come back to the House. As we saw earlier this week and last week, when ping-pong is played, there is an opportunity for the Government to insert further amendments. It is not a desirable situation, but the Government are going to want to put back all the provisions for police and crime commissioners that were taken out by the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. When they do that they will have an opportunity, as I see it, to further refine the Bill in a way that reflects not only the general concerns expressed in this House, but also the need to deal with the sort of situations which have disturbed us all so much in recent days.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that advice. My understanding of the problem is that essentially all that will be sent back to the Commons, apart from the government amendments which will be nodded through, are the three lines from the beginning of the Bill which the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, deleted, and the sole fairly short clause which was then added. Someone incredibly ingenious needs to insert into those first three lines all the safeguards that Members of your Lordships’ House are seeking. I am delighted that the noble Lord, with all his parliamentary experience, thinks it is possible, but I have to say that I have deep reservations over whether a way can be found of doing it.
Lord Cormack: In turn, I am delighted to hear that. I am merely making a few remarks in the hope that my noble friend the Minister will discuss this matter to try to make it possible because it is clear that we have an unsatisfactory situation. I believe that it is possible, when the Government decide to disagree with us in that fundamental amendment, for them to make some additional comments, as it were. I hope that that is what will happen.
This is not a situation that I or the noble Lord would have wished to see. The dilemma is that the problems have been compounded by the events of recent days and weeks. The Government have time during the Recess in which to look at this, and I hope that they will be able to do so. Then, when a police and social responsibility Bill goes on to the statute book, it is legislation that is truly adequate for policing in the next quarter of the 21st century. That is because we do not want to be, as the Americans say, continually revisiting this situation over the coming years.”