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Standing Orders (Public Business)

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2018

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the standing orders relating to public business be amended as follows:

After Standing Order 70, insert new Standing Order 70A:

“70A Laying of documents under Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Where, under paragraphs 3(3) and 17(3) of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, any document is to be laid before Parliament, the deposit of a copy of the document with the Clerk of the Parliaments in accordance with this Order at any time during the existence of a Parliament when the House is not sitting for public business shall constitute the laying of it before the House.”

My Lords, on 11 July the House agreed to the fifth report from the Procedure Committee and, in doing so, agreed to new procedure for sifting arrangements for certain instruments laid under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The report proposed a consequential amendment to the public business Standing Orders, and today’s Motion simply makes those necessary changes. I am aware that concern has been expressed to me, on and before 11 July, about the possible negative instruments which may be laid during the Recess. I refer noble Lords to the withdrawal Act, which makes it clear in specifying the scrutiny period that that means 10 sitting days from the first day back. I hope that that reassures noble Lords. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am not clear about this, and I am always slightly suspicious of things that happen on the last day before the summer. Why is the change in Standing Orders needed at all? Why is it needed now? How have we managed in the past, or is it just something that has emerged as a consequence of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill? Can the Senior Deputy Speaker tell us, if such a change in Standing Orders is imperative now, how will Members of the House be informed that an order has been laid with the Clerk of the Parliaments? If it has no consequence for us, why does it matter at all? I do not think that the explanation satisfies me of the case for this to happen.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. First, this refers to the EU withdrawal Bill, so we need procedures appropriate to that. A new class of instrument is also being introduced, and we are applying the existing procedure to the new class of instrument. It will very much affect the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. In anticipation of the workload with increasing numbers of SIs, that committee has taken on two additional committee advisers, and another committee assistant, meaning that it is now supported by a clerk, four advisers and two committee assistants.

There will be a parallel committee established in the House of Commons, which it never had before, and which will be referred to as the European Statutory Instruments Committee. That will be sifting along with the House of Lords committee, and it is anticipated that there will be engagement with both committees to ensure the smoothest approach. It is a new procedure as a result of the EU withdrawal Bill.

If the noble Lord is looking for more reassurance, the debate on 11 July was quite clear on these issues, and I refer him back to that. If he still has problems, he can knock on my door and I will be happy to have a chat.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and the Senior Deputy Speaker on this. He will recall that, when this was discussed in the Procedure Committee, assurances were sought and received. Will he discuss one point with the Government? One of the issues we raised was that, when instruments are laid during recess, they should be easily accessible to all noble Lords and to the public. I was given that assurance by the Chief Whip, which was helpful. We agree with this and it is important that, if they are laid during recess, we have that additional time to scrutinise them before the sitting days. It has become evident that, rather than all of them being available on the website for the Department for Exiting the European Union as we anticipated, they are being published on different department websites. Could he ask if they could also be published on the central website of the Department for Exiting the European Union, so there is no confusion for anybody and everyone can access them by looking at one website and not every different department’s?

I anticipated the answer to the question, but the noble Baroness is ahead of me on that issue. It will be published by the departments on their websites. She makes a good suggestion about it being on the central website. I have already heard whispers that the Government will look at that issue.

I am grateful and think it is right that we have increased the clerk capacity to help manage this process, but my understanding from earlier discussions—and perhaps I have just missed something—is that we were going to establish a further committee with additional members on it, so that the process would work for Members and speed up, or at least ensure it is given fuller consideration.

The noble Lord is correct there was talk about establishing a sub-committee. The committee has an additional member on it at the moment, but the decision about when it will form sub-committees is for the committee itself. It depends on the number and volume of the instruments laid. When it gets to that critical mass, the committee will divide into sub-committees.

Can I clarify? My understanding is that names have already been requested and both sub-committees are in the process of being established.

The noble Baroness has information that is superior to mine at the moment, but I am happy for it to be made public.

I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and we have already decided to meet twice rather than once a week. That was this morning.

Motion agreed.