My Lords, I should like to make a short business statement about our sittings in February. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will have noticed that, last Thursday, the Leader of the House of Commons informed that House that it was no longer the intention for it to have a February recess in the light of the significant decisions taken by that House last Tuesday.
In our House, we have discussed our sitting patterns on the Floor of the House on several occasions in recent months. Noble Lords will be aware that I have always said that I thought it would be necessary for us to sit throughout February. Had the House of Commons decided to proceed with its anticipated February half-term, I would have suggested that we have a long weekend to allow all Members and staff some additional time away.
However, given that the Commons will now sit throughout February, I believe it would be wrong for us to do otherwise. I assure the House that we will have plenty to do in the weeks ahead. Whatever noble Lords’ views on Brexit, I think everyone agrees that we must allow the maximum time for scrutiny, and that is what I propose we do.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Chief Whip for making the announcement. When he last spoke about this and we pressed him on dates, he said that he was speaking in code and that if we looked at Hansard we might get a better idea. Many of us did, and still had no idea. Perhaps now we understand why. We certainly understand the volume of work that has to be undertaken. If the Government were to rule out no deal as an option—or, as the Prime Minister seems to think, a sword of Damocles if her deal is not accepted—the workload may be slightly less. Of course, we stand ready to play our part.
The Chief Whip will be aware that the business this week in this House is rather light. The House of Commons has risen early on several occasions recently, and there are two Bills currently stalled in the Commons that this House has been waiting for: the Agriculture Bill completed Committee on 20 November, but there is still no date in the other place for either Report or Third Reading; the Fisheries Bill finished Committee on 17 December, and there is no date scheduled for the Commons Report or Third Reading. Both need to be through Parliament by 29 March. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill has its Second Reading tomorrow, but there have been two months between Committee and Report in the Commons. It seems that while we will sit longer to undertake this business, the Commons and the Government have been rather tardy in bringing forward the needed legislation. I assure the Chief Whip that we stand ready to play our part, but we expect the Government to do so as well.
My Lords, I wonder if the Chief Whip might explain something to us. Under “Business of the House”, today’s Order Paper says:
“The Lord Privy Seal … to move that Standing Order 40(4) (so far as it relates to Thursdays) and (5) be suspended until Monday 3 June so far as is necessary to enable notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures, Affirmative Instruments and reports from Select Committees”.
What is the relevance of Monday 3 June?
It has none at all to the matter we are discussing. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will move a business Motion to follow what I have just said.
My Lords, could the Chief Whip explain just how much all these extra days we will sit will cost the taxpayer? It seems to be a concern.
Noble Lords are not obliged to claim their expenses but, should they wish to do so, they can. I think this House offers the taxpayer very good value for money, and I am not at all ashamed of its deliberations and their necessity. We should be proud of this House. I am very grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for registering her support for the programme we will have to consider over the next couple of months. We know that we will be busy and I am grateful for the support of noble Lords in going through that process together.