Bills threatened by crowded timetable

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Indy Politics

The Government is facing serious problems getting a number of Bills on to the statute book before autumn because of an overcrowded timetable in the Lords, the Tories said yesterday.

Lord Strathclyde, their leader in the Upper House, said ministers would be "hard pushed" to meet their deadlines. "Since last week and up to the week after Easter, we will be dealing with nine second readings. These are very substantial Bills. We do think the Government are in a legislative bottleneck."

Tories and Liberal Democrats said the Government's problems in the House of Lords had deepened because of the peers' insistence on more debate on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, under which the age of consent is to be lowered to 16 for both sexes.

Baroness Young, the leading campaigner to keep the present law, has said she would seek to change the Bill during its committee stage by introducing an amendment that would change the age of consent to 18 for boys and girls. But a government source made clear that ministers would not allow the issue to lead to the delay of otherlegislation.

Lord Strathclyde said a last-minute flood of 500 government amendments to such measures as the Financial Services and Markets Bill was causing the crowding of the parliamentary timetable.

He said the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and the Transport Bill had still not reached the Upper House. He raised the possibility of the controversial legislation implementing the Patten Report on Royal Ulster Constabulary reform being introduced as well.

Lord Strathclyde said: "All this will put a great deal ofpressure on the legislative timetable. But it's not our fault; it's the Government's fault. We are simply doing our job of scrutinising it."

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