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Arrangement of Business

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010


My Lords, it might be helpful if I make a brief Statement in relation to certain events that have unfolded today and the impact on our business this week.

This morning my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked Her Majesty the Queen to proclaim the Dissolution of Parliament, and I am pleased to be able to report that Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to signify that she will comply with this request. In other words, my Lords, there is a general election.

Your Lordships may wish to note the following key dates, which are now available in the Printed Paper Office. Parliament will be prorogued at the end of business on Thursday 8 April, and the general election will take place on Thursday 6 May. The new Parliament will meet on Tuesday 18 May, when the other place will elect a Speaker and, in both Houses, Members will be sworn in. The State Opening of Parliament will take place the following week.

Today’s events will have implications for the business for the rest of this week. However, I should stress that business today will proceed as it is set out on today’s Order Paper. Following discussions in the usual channels, which is quite normal on these occasions, I can announce the following provisional programme of business for the next few days. The House will sit as usual at 3 pm tomorrow and at 11 am on Thursday. On both days, Prayers will be followed by Oral Questions.

I now turn to business tomorrow. Immediately after Oral Questions, the Leader of the House will move a customary Business of the House Motion which, if agreed, will allow more than one stage of a Bill to be taken on the same day. We will then take proceedings on Bills as follows: Committee on the Financial Services Bill; Committee and remaining stages of the Crime and Security Bill; Committee and remaining stages of the Energy Bill; Committee and remaining stages of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; and finally, Committee and remaining stages of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that House dinner will be available tomorrow evening, as previously advertised.

Before turning to business on Thursday, it might be helpful if I say a few words about the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which I know many Members have taken a great deal of interest in. As a result of usual channels discussions, the Government intend not to proceed with the provisions on alternative voting reform and the provisions on hereditary by-elections.

On Thursday, the House will meet at 11 am for Prayers. After Oral Questions, we will take Report and Third Reading of the Financial Services Bill, then Report and Third Reading of the Flood and Water Management Bill. We will then proceed to take the following Bills: consideration of Commons Reasons on the Personal Care at Home Bill; and Committee and remaining stages of two Private Members’ Bills: the Mortgage Repossessions (Protection of Tenants Etc.) Bill and the Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill. We will then take a draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order before turning to Bills arriving from the other place. We will take all remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill and the Finance Bill and two further Private Member’s Bills arriving from the Commons—the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill and the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill—before considering any other Commons Amendments as required.

Finally, the intention is to prorogue by Royal Commission at the end of business this Thursday. Dissolution will then follow on Monday 12 April. This information is now available in a special edition of Forthcoming Business in the Printed Paper Office and the Government Whips Office. The Public Bill Office has agreed to extend the deadline for tabling amendments tonight to 7 pm and the Refreshment Department has made plans to provide what is required, for which I am sure we will all be very grateful.

I know that many Members of your Lordships' House have shown a great and keen interest in the wash-up process in recent weeks, and I trust that the House will ensure that the process works as smoothly this week as it has in the past.

My Lords, I thank the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for setting out the programme of business for the remainder of this Parliament. The wash-up procedure is indeed a well trodden path followed by both Houses over decades. Naturally, I support the objective of ensuring that where Her Majesty's loyal Opposition and the Government are in agreement that Bills or specific provisions within Bills are necessary for the good of this country and its future, they should be given the opportunity to pass on to the statute book by the end of this Parliament. The Government will have our support during the remainder of this week in achieving that objective.

Today, the Government are setting out the business for the dying days of this Parliament. We on these Benches have cleared our diaries and are ready to campaign for the future and for what we hope is a change in Government. I cannot let this moment pass without expressing my surprise and some disappointment that the Government have decided to delay the start of the next Parliament beyond the normal time.

I notice that the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms referred to the swearing-in date of 18 May and to the State Opening in the following week. Will he at some stage confirm that the date of the State Opening is anticipated to be 25 May? We would have wished to see Parliament return a week earlier than that, so that we could get on with the business of scrutinising policy and legislation, which this House does so well. I know that Members of this House would be ready, willing and certainly able to rise to that challenge.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Government Chief Whip for making this announcement. I hear that there has been a lot of discussion about this thing called the wash-up, but it seems to me that the wash-up is a wash-out. I am far from clear as to who is involved—certainly, the first I heard of any of this was at about 2.20 pm—and if anyone thinks that the channels, which are little becks as far as I am concerned, have any involvement, I would like to know where this happens.

I am amazed that the Opposition Chief Whip is surprised at the announcement of the signing-in days, because I would have thought, as with everything else, that that is part of the duopoly of this place. However, one is surprised from time to time. We may learn more later, but my colleagues will think very carefully about the Bills that come before us, and things might take that little bit longer than some noble Lords think before they get their Bills: if, indeed, they get their Bills.

My Lords, will my noble friend say who is blocking the referendum? Is it Downing Street? Is it the Official Opposition? Does not the elected House, the House of Commons, which carried the referendum with a two-thirds majority, have any say in these matters?

My Lords, this Statement has been sprung on us somewhat, and some of us cannot absorb it completely in the time that has been given. One Bill was mentioned—the constitutional reform Bill—large parts of which affect this House and the future of this House. However, only two matters were referred to, only one of which affects this House: the position of the hereditary Peers. What about all the other matters that affect this House? They need a lot of discussion and simply cannot be dealt with in a few hours. We need a few days, perhaps even weeks, to deal with some of them. Parliament and this House are being sidelined in this process, and very important matters are being imposed on the country without proper discussion in this House and, perhaps, in the other House.

My Lords, will the Government Chief Whip confirm that no one party has a veto over what should or should not be agreed during the wash-up? Will he also confirm that in March 1997 the then Conservative Leader of the House pushed through, against opposition, a Motion to take complete charge of all business, including business that was not acceptable to some parties in the House? Will the Government Chief Whip therefore confirm that this is not just a matter of all parties taking the same decision on the same issues, and that it has simply been a deal between the Government and those on the Conservative Front Bench?

My Lords, I think I described the wash-up as something that is based on tradition. It is exactly that, and I am sure that noble Lords will understand exactly what I mean.

I hope that the House will discuss the remaining stages of Bills in an orderly and appropriate fashion. Noble Lords will be aware that there are discussions outside this Chamber to agree an orderly process, which is exactly what we have attempted to achieve here. I am sure that most noble Lords will dwell on the fact that it is to be praised and admired that we can arrive at consensus and agreement on the majority of business before your Lordships’ House. I am delighted to see that most of the Government’s programme will find its way onto the statute book; it is that which gives me great pleasure, and I am sure it gives great pleasure to those of my colleagues behind me who wish to see the effective implementation of a Labour programme. That is what we have secured through these arrangements.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was very kind and polite in her words, and asked one question to which I am afraid I am not able to provide an answer. I think that the date of the Queen’s Speech is yet finally to be determined; but of course all Members of your Lordship’s House will focus a keen interest on that date.

The Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms did not answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. Surely the situation is that, when time is so limited, only that to which this House in the great majority agrees can go through this House. If there is no agreement, surely it cannot be put on the statute book.

My Lords, in this context, will the Chief Whip say whether the tradition to which he referred goes back before 1916?

My Lords, it is a tradition that goes back a very long while. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was right to remind me that I had not fully answered the noble Lord’s question, but I think that, in all of these matters, there has been a high degree of scrutiny. To take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, about the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, that Bill has not only been scrutinised in the other place but has been through pre-legislative scrutiny. We are now seeking to secure the maximum agreement to most of the measures in that Bill, and I think we can do that. I hope noble Lords will all play their part in securing that agreement over the next couple of days.