"My noble friend and I said we thought it was absolutely reasonable that to protect the business of the House they wanted this Bill before the new Session. We had already made it clear that this would have to be reported out from Select Committee by 19 December, and that was acceptable. The clerks tell me they have to report it out. They may say they want more time but there has to be a report. So I think we have dealt with one of the problems."This explicitly says that the Select Committee will report before the 19th of December.
Lord Howe, the Government minister rejected this amendment:
"The provisions that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, asks us to send to a special Select Committee affect the entire Bill. The twin-track approach that he advocates carries a major risk: the potential disconnect between the special Select Committee and the Committee of the whole House. The Select Committee might recommend amendments to parts of the Bill that have already been debated by the Committee of the whole House. The result could be that, notwithstanding the offer made in good faith by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, we could see a slippage of the timetable of the Bill that would be most unwelcome."This basically says that Lord Howe rejected the idea of having a Select Committee because it may discuss amendments already discussed by the entire House (sitting as a Committee on the Bill) and this would delay the Bill further. The Government is desperate to ram the Bill through Parliament because if the Bill is not passed before April 2012 the timetable for major changes like abolishing PCTs and SHAs will have to be changed.
Then yesterday the Government had a re-think. Commenting on the group of amendments to clause 1 being debated, Lord Howe said:
"having spoken to a number of noble Lords during the past few days, including my noble and learned friend, it is my view that the best course for this Committee would be for none of the amendments in this group to be moved today, and instead for us to use the time between now and Report to reflect further on these matters in a spirit of co-operation."Now Lord Howe is saying that he does not want the full Committee of the House to discuss the clause, and instead he wants to submit an amendment during the Report stage of the Bill (in January). Later in the debate he added:
"I have said that I believe the balance of advantage for this Committee lies in our agreeing collectively not to amend the Bill at this stage and I am pleased that there seems to be consensus around that view. I believe instead that it would be profitable for me to engage with noble Lords in all parts of the House, both personally and with the help of my officials, between now and Report to try to reach consensus on these important matters."During the Second Reading Lord Howe said that the clause must be debated by the whole House Committee, rejecting the proposal to ask a Select Committee of experts; yet yesterday Lord Howe says that he wants informal talks with Lords rather than to allow debate in the full Committee.
The result of this dithering means that there is now a real danger of delay in the passage of the Bill, something that Lord Owen had tried to avoid with his original amendment. There is also real danger that there will not be sufficient time to debate whatever amendments that are made to clause 1. If Howe had allowed the clause to be examined by a Select Committee there would have been an opportunity for a full debate.
Lord Howe has handled this very badly, but it is symptomatic of the entire Bill: extremely badly drafted and badly managed.