Skip to main content

Arrangement of Business

Volume 740: debated on Monday 5 November 2012

Announcement

My Lords, last Wednesday, I made a short Business Statement to draw the attention of the House to a change in the Order Paper for that day to facilitate a period of reflection on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill before the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, invited the House to consider an amendment which the Clerks had advised was inadmissible.

Forthcoming business had advertised that the Bill would next be considered today. Noble Lords will see from the Order Paper, and the revised edition of FB circulated last Thursday, that that is not now the case. Today’s business is debates, and not legislation. The reason for the change is the same as that which I gave the House last Wednesday.

All those involved need further time to reflect before the House is invited to take a decision either on the admissibility of the amendment or on its merits. It will not surprise the House that those involved include senior members of the Government and, until their discussions are concluded, the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will not proceed further in Committee. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, intends to speak, but if she does, perhaps she can answer this question.

My Lords, I invite the noble Baroness to speak. If noble Lords opposite listen, they will understand precisely why I am posing it. On the last occasion that a Conservative Back-Bencher insisted on tabling an amendment against the advice of the Clerks, the then Leader of the House drew the matter to the attention of the House, as the Leader is required to do, and asked the House to endorse the opinion of the Clerks and, thereby, maintain our customs and procedures. The Leader of the Opposition unreservedly supported the Leader of the House, and the Clerks’ advice, and the Back-Bencher concerned did not move his amendment. The noble Lord was my noble friend Lord Trefgarne; the Leader of the House was the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington; and the Leader of the Opposition was me. Will today’s Leader of the Opposition tell us whether she will respect the role and advice of the Clerks, as her predecessors have always done?

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for his Business Statement seeking to explain why the House is again not dealing with the business that it—and indeed the Leader of the House—was expecting to consider. Your Lordships’ House expected on Wednesday of last week to consider the second day in Committee of the Government’s Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Instead, it was given an explanation by the Leader of why that would not be the case. During the course of his remarks in the Chamber, he said of the postponed business:

“I expect the business to be taken next Monday”.—[Official Report, 31/10/12; col. 622.]

That is today. However, as we know, today’s Order Paper yet again does not feature the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Instead, we have a further Business Statement from the noble Lord.

In the light of today’s wholly inadequate Statement from the Leader of the House, it is transparently clear where the disorder is on this matter. It is on the Conservative Benches opposite. Within the coalition, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are standing by their declared position that they will oppose the Government’s proposed changes to Commons parliamentary constituency boundaries, and the boundary reviews that would put them into effect. We on these Benches oppose them also. So do noble Lords on all sides of the House.

The Leader of the House, in his Statement last week, attempted to paint a picture of the amendment to the ERA Bill that would retimetable the boundary reviews as stemming only from these Benches. This House knows that the amendment was signed by four Members of your Lordships’ House: my noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton, a senior lawyer and former adviser to two Lord Chancellors; the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, a former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats; and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, a former leader of Plaid Cymru. Each is from a different part of the House; all are Members of the House who are highly distinguished and highly respected; and all are putting forward the amendment on boundary reviews.

There are a number of important issues here. On the merits of the amendment, the Government would be better advised to put their effort and money into improving the electoral register, and into making sure that as many citizens as possible are able to—and do—take part in our country’s democracy rather than into gerrymandering the voting system. We know that there are a number of views on the issue of admissibility and relevance. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible have read the legal opinion that we on these Benches commissioned, and last week placed in the Library of the House, which makes it crystal clear that the amendment to the Bill is both highly relevant and admissible.

The Leader invited me to give my opinion and say what I would do. I stand by the amendment as tabled. While I entirely respect the Clerks of the House, who are excellent, this does not mean to say that their view cannot be questioned. In this instance, having read the advice in the letter from the Clerks, and the quotations from Erskine May, I believe that we are right to ask the four noble Lords in question to continue with the amendment.

What characterises these and other issues is simple: this House should discuss them. It should consider the amendment, and the issues raised by it—but it is not doing so. Instead, and for the second time—in a move that we believe to be unprecedented—the Government have pulled the Bill from the Order Paper. Why have they done so? We have heard no satisfactory explanation from the Leader of the House. I hear that the actual reason is that time could not be found for the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to meet to consider the issues ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to the Gulf today. Even if that is the case, it is not a sufficient explanation: not sufficient for the workings of government, and absolutely not sufficient for the relationship between the Executive and the legislature. Parliament is not the plaything of government: in particular, Parliament is not the plaything of a political party in trouble. By yet again pulling consideration of this Bill because of the amendment being proposed to it by distinguished Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House, the Conservative Party, for party-political reasons, seeks to subvert the constitutional role and practice of this House. The Conservative Party seeks to prevent a discussion that this House wants to have.

One of the roles of Parliament is to protect the public interest against, if necessary, an overweening Executive. In this case, the public interest is clear: it is not in the public interest for the system of parliamentary democracy in the country to be shrouded in a lack of clarity, which the Conservatives’ position on boundary changes has produced. MPs, candidates, political parties and, most importantly the public, need certainty in the electoral system.

There is a further issue. In casting around for matters to be put on the Order Paper today in place of the ERA Bill, the Government have alighted on three issues: the role of the Armed Forces, policies on planning, and the fate of the British ash tree. They are all extremely important issues, but in a part-time, voluntary House, where Members have to arrange their time, it is a discourtesy to your Lordships' House to bring in, without any material consultation, debates in this way on matters about which many Members of this House may be interested, just to fill a party-political gap.

In what it is doing in relation to this Bill, the Conservative Party is seeking to subvert democracy. It should simply stop trying to do so now. I invite the Leader of the House, in his response to the issues raised in the Chamber this afternoon, to stop treating your Lordships’ House in the way that it has done so far on this Bill and stop running scared of this House considering, debating and, if necessary, dividing on these issues. It must stop treating this House as if it were a plaything of the Executive, face up to its responsibility to Parliament and set a firm date very soon for the Committee stage of the Bill—a date that it will stick to and a date that will allow this House to get on with the business that it wants to consider.

My Lords, first, the Government have not pulled this from the Order Paper: it is important that the House should recognise that. Secondly, it was never on the Order Paper. If any noble Lord can demonstrate how it was on the Order Paper, I would like to see it. But it was not on the Order Paper and has not been pulled from the Order Paper. That is the first accusation that is wrong.

Secondly, the usual channels were told on Thursday evening, which is plenty of time to let noble Lords know. Thirdly, on Thursday afternoon, we had a debate in this House about the lack of topicality of debates. Well today we have enabled the House to have a most topical series of debates.

But let us deal with the substantive nature of this. The noble Baroness said that the Government are perverting democracy. Perverting democracy in the House of Lords? That is a strange one. Secondly, the noble Baroness said that the review was simply about boundaries. It is not. It is a review to reduce the size of the House of Commons to save a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money and rebalance the number of Members of Parliament throughout the United Kingdom.

I return to the central point of my speech. Today, the noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, who held this post as Leader of the House only two and half years ago, said that she will now ignore the instructions and the advice of the parliamentary Clerks.

My Lords, I know many other noble Lords will wish to come in, but I would say three things. First, the debate was on the Forthcoming Business of this House and on the green sheet. Secondly, the House is an integral part of our democratic system. Thirdly, I did indeed very proudly hold the position of Leader of the House. But I believe that when I did so I acted in the interests of the whole House—the House as a whole.

My Lords, I have no wish to comment on the amendment that has led us to be in this situation but I am sure that I am not alone in regretting the fact that we are. When the House finds itself in a dispute of this kind there is no doubt that it affects detrimentally the efficiency of the House. It is clear from last Wednesday’s discussion and from what we have already heard today that this matter will not be resolved on the Floor of the House. It will have to be resolved through discussions, and possibly through discussions some distance from the House.

I urge the House on all sides to allow these discussions to take place and let us get back to discussing this important Bill as quickly as possible and get on with the proper procedures in a self-regulated House. I hope that the Leader of the House will assure us that it will be possible for us to get ahead with these discussions as quickly as possible.

My Lords, if a Back-Bencher may be allowed to speak, I say in terms to the noble Lord the Leader that what he said will not do in any circumstances whatever. We are in a great mess and the real point is how we get out of the mess with honour. I say “with honour” and noble Lords will have noticed that I used the word “we”, even though I personally have not been involved in any of this. However, we all have to regard ourselves as having that as our duty.

There is a very good way of getting out of this. I say to the noble Lord that he ought to appreciate that the amendment accepts the fundamental principles of the Bill the Government are placing before us. He does not seem to have noticed that, but it does; it merely postpones one aspect of what happens. We could get out of this with honour through the Government accepting the amendment. All they have to do is say yes—that is all they have to do—and that is their honour; and those moving the amendment will come away with a degree of honour in that they have got their way.

The matter should not involve us in fundamental discussions about the role of the clerks of Parliament and our attitude towards them or anything like that. It is important that we should get back to discussing the thing that we are good at, which is legislation, and a great deal of legislation is waiting to be discussed. If the Leader of the House persists in the technicalities of his answer, he will keep this mess going endlessly. He may feel that he would like to lose all his legislation but, as I favour quite a large chunk of it, I wish that would not happen.

May we ask the noble Lord to go away, think again —rather than him telling us to go away and think again—come back and say yes to the amendment? Indeed, he would also save the coalition, which he may like to consider. This is not a party-political matter—

I am perfectly serious. This is not a party-political matter but is a matter of how your Lordships conduct their business. What has been going on for the past week does us no credit whatever. The noble Lord nods his head, but he is responsible for this. We are not responsible for it; we did not pull out of the legislation. Speaking as a Back-Bencher, I say that enough is enough. Whoever are the powers that be, they should go away and come back with an agreement.

My Lords, the Leader of the House will recall or, if he does not recall I am sure that someone in his office can find the previous instances, that time after time when he was the shadow Leader of the House he was in the habit, quite properly, of reminding my noble friends at the time—I can recall three or four of them—that their duty as Leader of the House was to the whole House, the convenience of the whole House and observing the normal practices of the House as well as, and I recognise this as much as anyone, his duties and loyalties to his own party.

The noble Lord is trying to describe today’s events almost as a routine day at the office. I remind him that on two successive legislative days the Government’s business for the day has been withdrawn at the last possible moment: Wednesday’s business on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill was withdrawn on Tuesday night, and Monday’s business was withdrawn today—he quibbles about the word “withdrawn”— when it was quite clear that that business was going to go ahead today. That is not a routine day at the office. He is very fond of clerks’ advice, so to begin with I will ask him one question. Has he received any advice from the clerks as to the efficacy or advisability of a government flagship Bill which the House was preparing to consider being withdrawn on two successive days with virtually no notice?

The second point I want to make is to remind the noble Lord of what he said to this House last week. He withdrew the business on that day because,

“the House needed the opportunity to reflect on that advice”—

the advice from the clerks—

“before taking a decision on this matter”.

He went on to say:

“I would prefer an informed debate next week to an ill-informed, disorderly row today”.—[Official Report, 31/10/12; col. 619.]

I think that he could claim to have been speaking then for the House as a whole. Indeed, there were Members of the House who thought that that was not such a bad argument, but it cannot conceivably be used—as he has tried to do—as a justification for delaying consideration of the Bill again today. You do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to work this one out. It is quite clear that something happened between the Leader of the House making a solemn undertaking to the House at 3.15 pm on 31 October and then at 6 pm on 1 November, a day that is memorable not least because it is my birthday and All Saints’ Day, deciding that his advice to the House the previous day no longer obtained. The whole question of having enough time to consider and reflect over the weekend was not enough. I would simply ask him this question: what was it between 3.15 pm last Wednesday and 6 pm last Thursday that made him reverse by 180 degrees the advice he had given to the House?

My Lords, perhaps I may speak on behalf of some of the bewildered. My noble friend the Leader of the House is rightly reluctant, as I think all noble Lords should be, about simply overriding the learned views of our expert clerks. If an amendment is inadmissible, why is not possible for the four great gentlemen, the four noble Lords who drafted the amendment—on what is obviously a red-hot political issue, let us not pretend otherwise—to go away and draft an amendment that is admissible? Why are they so insistent on pushing through an amendment over the rulings of our learned clerks, whom we are accustomed to recognise for the validity of their judgments? Why is it suddenly the judgment that we should override them? I cannot see the necessity for that.

I think that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has made a wrong judgment call. She is anxious to pursue this issue, and why not? It might damage the Government—but to do so by overriding the clerks seems an absurd and clumsy way of proceeding. I suggest that she or her noble friends who have signed the amendment should go away and cook up a sensible amendment. They are learned and experienced noble Lords, so why on earth can they not cook up an amendment that is admissible?

My Lords, reference has been made to the signing of this amendment by my noble friend Lord Wigley. He consulted me before doing so because, in a party of two, consultation is essential. I rise to speak on this issue because for 12 years as the Presiding Officer in Cardiff I always took the advice of the clerks. It is not possible for a parliamentary assembly to function without taking seriously the advice of its clerks. However, we are in a different situation in this Chamber. We are a self-regulating House, which means that there is a democratic and moving relationship. The Speakership of this House—I defer to the Lord Speaker in this—is divided between the Leader of the House and the other parties in this House. The discussions that take place behind the Speaker’s Chair—as it would be in the other place—are essential to the progress of the business of the House.

We have to face two issues here. First, the Government have a right to take their business through, but the Opposition, along with other Members of the House, have a duty to oppose that business when they have the opportunity to do so. That is what is at loggerheads in this situation. I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his tactic of continually withdrawing the opportunity for the rest of this House to vote on this matter, because that also is contrary to the principles of this House and of parliamentary democracy.

My Lords, perhaps a rather naive Back-Bencher on this side might intervene. We continue to discuss this matter in the context of a specific amendment. That, to me, is not the point at issue. The point at issue is that if we accept this amendment in its present form, against the advice of the clerks, we open the door for any Member of this House to do precisely the same thing again—and again. It is my private view that if we go down that road, those who have tabled this amendment and are insisting on it will live to regret the day, and the future administration of this House will be infinitely more difficult than it has been—or indeed is at this present moment.

My Lords, last week the Leader of the House gave a reason to the House for the action that he took. Was the advice he received about the power of the Leader of the House to pull something from the Order Paper on behalf of the Government, or acting as leader of his party?

I find tragic the way in which the role and use of the usual channels have been diminished in your Lordships’ House over the past two years. I do not know whether all the parties in the coalition were made aware before a decision was taken about the procedure that the noble Lord has followed in changing the expected business or whether the other party in the coalition was informed after the decision had been taken.

I had a few years’ experience as a government Whip and I am aware of the way in which the usual channels used to work. I cannot recall any occasion when what was done by the Leader of the House was done by merely informing the usual channels rather than discussing it with them.

I have to tell the Leader of the House that there is a view outside your Lordships’ House that he may, as Leader, have convinced enough people to be able to carry the argument that time needed to be spent to reflect on the issue, but the action that he took on Thursday and the resulting effect today will be viewed by the cynical, within and without your Lordships’ House, as merely a response by the Conservative Party, as part of the coalition, facing a defeat. Many people will believe that. I listened so hard to the Leader of the House, waiting for a good reason for the business to be changed.

Secondly, in my view, to start putting matters on the Order Paper after the House has risen on a Thursday on issues about which Members across the House feel very strongly is discourteous. I did not think I would ever stand up in your Lordships’ House and feel the right to say that I believe the Leader of this House has behaved discourteously. However, on this occasion, I do.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, I am a member of the Constitution Committee and I have always held him in the highest respect—I do not think that we have ever disagreed about a matter of substance during our discussions in the committee. I had not intended to speak today; I had hoped that the matter would be resolved; but it is necessary to say that there is another reason why we should be very cautious about moving in this way—it does not arise from the procedures, though I think that they are important. In my view, the tabling of this particular amendment to this Bill in the way proposed flies in direct conflict to every single criterion and bit of advice that the Constitution Committee of this House has proffered. It is in contradiction to what we advised as being the proper process for constitutional change in a report that we produced in the previous Session. Indeed, in the report that we produced on the Bill that we are supposed to be debating, we congratulated the Government on having in an exceptional way followed the advice about the manner in which constitutional issues should be debated; that is, they should be debated with plenty of notice and the opportunity for wide consultation and consideration. To table at the last moment an amendment to another Bill that has been more widely considered in this House than almost any legislation in my time here and widely supported, without any opportunity for prior consideration—or, if it had been tabled on the day in question, without the importance of the matter being drawn the attention of the House—is an appalling way to conduct a significant constitutional matter.

In the normal course of events, if a piece of legislation comes forward which has constitutional implications, the Constitution Committee is given the opportunity to consider it, to take the advice of its extremely capable advisers and to produce a report to this House so that it is fully aware of what it is doing before it debates the matter. This has not been possible on this occasion; the Constitution Committee has not had the opportunity to consider and report; and so, quite apart from the importance of the procedural matters that the Leader of the House has drawn attention to, I believe that there are other, very important reasons why we should not go down this route. This is not the way to carry out constitutional change.

My Lords, with respect, I think that it is this side’s turn. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has just said, but I am bound to say that I totally disagreed with it. I disagreed with it almost absolutely. It is an extraordinary proposition that, if the Government bring in a Bill that allows the Opposition to table an amendment to it, somehow or other, it is unconstitutional for the Opposition then to table that amendment because the Constitution Committee has not been consulted. That is nonsense. If the Government have produced their Bill in the form that they have produced it, and if the amendment is in order, there is absolutely no reason why the Opposition should not table it, why the House should not debate it and why a vote should not take place.

We are making very heavy weather of this. The constitutional position is very clear: there is no Speaker in this House; there is nobody here who can determine whether the amendment is in order; and the clerks are there to give advice. Of course, there is an obligation to take the advice, but there is no obligation to follow it any more than there is an obligation on the Speaker of the House of Commons to follow the advice that he is given by the clerks of the House of Commons. If this House is self-governing, as it is supposed to be, the body that has to determine whether the amendment is in order is this House and nobody else, and certainly not the Constitution Committee.

My Lords, I know that one or two Peers still wish to speak, but I wonder just how much will be gained by that. Perhaps I can give a brief response to some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, as Convener of the Cross Benches, said that we should invoke proper procedures in accordance with the rules of self-governance. I very much agree with that approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others referred to the fact that I said last Wednesday that I expected that we would continue the business today. That was my expectation. The fact is that the discussions that I hoped would take place have not been completed. Therefore, rather than having a debate which may prove to be unnecessary, it is far better for those discussions to continue.

The usual channels were informed at the earliest possible opportunity, on Thursday evening. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, that 41 speakers have put their names down for today: not much notice, but enough for 41 speakers to put their names down.

To the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who said that we should just accept the amendment, and to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—

That was just one suggestion; what I was really suggesting to the noble Lord is that he goes away to sort this out. That is what their Lordships want. He does not have to accept my suggestion, although I think it is a rather good one. My main suggestion is: just go away and get this sorted.

My Lords, that is a much better line. That is the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I recognise; not the one who spoke a few minutes ago.

Let me just explain for a few moments to those who have questioned the process, the procedure and, indeed, my personal motivation in all of this. We do not have many rules in this House, but we do have some. One of them is that when an amendment is deemed inadmissible by the clerks, I have an absolute duty as Leader of the House—the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, if she were Leader of the House, would do the same thing; the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did it in the incident to which I referred a few months ago—to draw that to the attention of the House. The House, ultimately, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, is the arbiter of this. We cannot find an occasion—

My Lords, the noble Lord said that the House ultimately is the arbiter of this, but the reason that he gave for the delay was that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, the Deputy Prime Minister, would have to be consulted. If it is a matter for the House, why do they have to be consulted?

My Lords, we are crossing two different things. One is my role as Leader and the other is when we take this. I thought it right, as did senior members of the Government, that there should be a period of discussion before bringing the business before the House. As I explain, they are two clearly different things: one is the role of the Leader of the House and the other is a decision for the Government. It must be right that the Government decide when to bring business forward; after all, that is the purpose of winning a general election.

The noble Baroness said: why cannot we have our say? She is entirely free and allowed to bring forward her own Private Member’s Bill at any stage and, if it is in order, it will be taken. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford asks an extremely sensible question: why cannot these brilliant individuals, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, with all his training and knowledge of this House, advised no doubt by outside counsel, not bring forward an admissible amendment? I do not know the answer to that. I urge the noble Lord to do so. Then we would not be having this debate.

I am grateful for the support of my noble friends Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Crickhowell. There are matters of processing procedure that are not always straightforward in this House. I urge noble Lords who wish to discover more to go to the very excellent seminars that the Clerk of the Parliaments holds from time to time on these matters. They will discover that, as I said earlier, although we do not have very many rules, we do have some, and this is one of them. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, my predecessor, said:

“It is a consequence of our procedures that the House has collective responsibility for observing these procedures and that all Members of your Lordships’ House therefore need to co-operate to see that procedures are observed”.—[Official Report, 20/4/99; col. 1112.]

I could not have put it better myself.

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, would he be kind enough to acknowledge something that he has not acknowledged so far in discussing all this? It is not only my noble friend Lord Hart who is bringing forward the amendment. It is also brought forward by the former head of the Diplomatic Service from the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and, perhaps most significantly, by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who is such an important figure in the Liberal Democrat party. I wonder whether the noble Lord would be kind enough to acknowledge that before he sits down.

My Lords, it is because of the eminence of the four individuals who have brought forward this amendment that I pray in aid my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. Why cannot they find a better way of doing it?

May I make a point which has not, I believe, been touched upon up to now? There are procedural issues that are fascinating and of massive impact; there are also constitutional issues dealing with the possible merits of the amendment that are of massive impact. One point that I suggest should be considered by anybody who has the future of this House, and indeed the good of Parliament, in mind with regard to the two statutes we are concerned with—first, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and, secondly, the matter now before the House—has been very pertinently made in the most excellent opinion of Mr James Goudie, a Queen’s Counsel. It is that those two pieces of legislation, assuming that the ERA Bill goes through in its present form, are out of sync one with the other.

I can put it very simply in this way. In so far as the 2011 Act is concerned, the number of registered electors is the very touchstone of the approach of the Boundary Commission to the situation of a particular constituency. I do not think anybody would disagree with that. In relation to this proposed legislation, however, that situation is fluid not solid. It is fluid in this sense; at the moment, it is the householder who is legally responsible for registering persons living in his property. From the time that the ERA Bill becomes law, it will, of course, be a responsibility upon the individual elector. The effect will be that in the first instance there will be a fall in the number of registered electors in each constituency—I do not think that anybody can dispute this—because of the change in responsibility between the individual and the householder. Any calculation made by the Boundary Commissions will therefore be inaccurate. That is why the two pieces of legislation are out of sync one with the other. It was contemplated at one time that both should be looked upon as one whole. In a speech on 5 July 2010, the Prime Minister said that the effects of the proposals would be considered together. That is what I urge upon the Government in this context.

My Lords, I mean no disrespect at all to the noble Lord, and no doubt what he has said will be debated when we get to the Bill, but I wonder if the time might have come for us to proceed with the business of the day.

Before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, I have one brief point to make. I have some fellow feeling with him because I too was once accused of being discourteous to the House—as he will no doubt recall because he was the one who accused me of it, and then apologised privately and personally in a very kind letter. The important thing here is that, as has been made quite clear, it is for the House to decide, so let him put this business on the Order Paper and it can do so. Why has he not given us an adequate reason for removing the business? We know that some slight disagreement between his fellow coalition members might be a problem, but the House can decide—that is what we are here for. Why will he not bring it back?