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Arrangement of Business

Volume 769: debated on Monday 21 March 2016

My Lords, I am sorry to detain the House, but I wish to draw your Lordships’ attention to today’s business, last Thursday’s business, tomorrow’s business and Wednesday’s business, as well as business on 11 and 13 April. The eagled-eyed will have spotted that they have one item in common: the Housing and Planning Bill. I know we are in the middle of a housing crisis, but this is overkill. Today’s business concludes with the Housing and Planning Bill, and it is said that the government Chief Whip intends the House to sit until midnight and is prepared to do the same tomorrow.

This cannot be right. Four consecutive days on one Bill—what precedent is there for such a process? The Companion is clear about business intervals and about concluding at 10 pm, and we have generously stretched that, probably too far, on many occasions so far. Noble Lords need to know that this part of the usual channels does not agree to this as a way of working. Our office offered the Chief Whip four different ways of managing the business which would have avoided this unfortunate car crash, but none of them was accepted. The current plan makes it impossible for opposition parties to do their job properly. It is well-nigh impossible for our research staff to assist. We have only one staffer supporting our shadow Ministers, while the Government have an army of civil servants as back-up, and even then the poor Minister gets so tired that she cannot give us answers.

Can the Chief Whip please consider this issue urgently and give the House an assurance that the Government will not do this again? Can he assure the House that they will not do this on Report? Finally, can the government Chief Whip ensure that in the future his office has a more realistic view of how long difficult, incoherent, inchoate, poorly drafted and badly thought through Bills take in your Lordships’ House? We stand ready to be helpful, but we can be helpful only if the conditions exist in which we can do that work.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord has strayed slightly into a critique of the Bill rather than focusing on the substance of his objection, but I am grateful for the advance notice he gave me that he wished to raise this matter. Because he and I have been discussing this for perhaps three or four weeks—it certainly seems quite a long time—he will know that we have had to try to find ways of accommodating this slow-moving Bill in the Government’s programme.

There have been extensive discussions in the usual channels, and I have been very grateful for the co-operation that I have had. We have discussed the Committee and Report stages of the Bill—the noble Lord referred to some dates for Report on the Bill. As a result of those continued discussions, we have provided an additional, eighth day tomorrow, 22 March. Following the good progress we made on the Bill last week, for which I am grateful to noble Lords, we agreed in the usual channels that we would table the Bill for Wednesday as well. We aim to allow the House to have proper time to perform its role in scrutinising this Bill. This scrutiny will continue after the Easter Recess on Report. I know that my noble friend has undertaken to make available a great deal of information, which the noble Lord has highlighted. It is proper that that is for discussion when the Bill itself is discussed.

My Lords, I want to make one thing clear. I did not agree it, but I certainly acknowledge that the noble Lord put this forward as a way of doing the business. I do not think that it is right that the House does business in this way. There is plenty of time in which we can consider the Bill; we do not need to push it so far and so fast that it makes it impossible for our side to do our job, and well-nigh impossible for the Minister to perform her duties.