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Arrangement of Business

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019


My Lords, welcome back. I hope noble Lords had a relaxing break. With the leave of the House, I will now make a business statement.

As this is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box as the Government Chief Whip—perhaps not the introduction I was expecting—I first acknowledge my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. If the last few days are anything to go by, I am in awe of how he managed to survive so long, but I must say that he looks pretty relaxed now. I am also grateful to the other members of the usual channels for their welcome and for the helpful nature of the conversations we have had over the last few days.

In view of the plans for the new Session of Parliament in October, there will be some alterations to the government business for the remainder of this Session. As I said, this has been discussed with the usual channels. Noble Lords will see from the Order Paper that the business for today has not changed, apart from the addition of three Oral Statements. There are a few changes to business this week that are not currently reflected on the Order Paper or in Forthcoming Business. A new edition of Forthcoming Business will be available as soon as I have sat down.

Tomorrow, on 4 September, the Government’s intention is that we will have the Third Reading of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill. Then, as previously advertised, we will take the Report stage of the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill, which is a Law Commission Bill, and then the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill. On Thursday, again as previously advertised, we will hear the two time-limited Cross-Bench debates in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. Noble Lords will be aware that under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act, we have a time-limited statutory duty to debate reports that will be published and laid tomorrow. This debate will take place after those in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and a speakers’ list is now open.

The House will no longer sit on Friday for Private Members’ Bills previously arranged. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Wigley, for the helpful and pragmatic conversations we have had. The exact timings for Prorogation are still subject to further discussions, including discussions occurring in the other place, and I will endeavour to update the House as those discussions proceed. But, dependent on events in the other place, we must all be prepared for changes in the Order Paper with little warning.

My Lords, in welcoming my noble friend to his new position, may I say how much I regret the departure of his distinguished predecessor, with whom I always worked with great pleasure, though we were not always in agreement? Does my noble friend understand the importance of not facilitating an elective dictatorship, of which a former Lord Chancellor spoke so perceptibly some years ago—although he did not believe that such a work would ever be done by a Conservative Government? Does my noble friend understand that many in the Conservative Party, both in Parliament and outside, are wholly opposed to the Brexit-related policies being done in the name of the Conservative Government and will oppose them?

My Lords, I congratulate the Chief Whip on his appointment. He was present throughout the questions which raised the issue of the difference between Prorogation and recess. He may have had it drawn to his attention that, in 2002, Prime Minister Blair brought Parliament back to deal with issues arising out of the possible military action against Saddam Hussein. In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron did exactly the same in relation to the possibility of military action in Syria. Given the fragile situation in and around the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, may we have a copper-bottomed assurance that, if any events occur in that part of the world which justify the recall of Parliament, the Prorogation withdrawal—to which reference was previously made—will swiftly be taken advantage of?

My Lords, in the exchanges during Oral Questions, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, indicated that, given the Conference Recess, the length of Prorogation would not mean too many more days of parliamentary time lost. This argument has been deployed on several occasions by government spokespeople, and so I sought to try to find the dates of the Conference Recess. I do not seem to be able to find them anywhere. I congratulate the Chief Whip on his appointment, but can he point me in the direction of where I will find them, or is it the case that they have not been published and that without Prorogation the default position is that we would continue to sit next week and the week after, through the conference season?

My Lords, has my noble friend seen the reports in the press suggesting that some Members of the Opposition might seize control of the agenda in this House—I understood that we were given an undertaking that that would never happen again—and use that opportunity to introduce a guillotine to this House for the first time? Does he not agree that the very purpose of this House arises from the fact that the guillotine in the Commons results in Bills coming to us that have not been properly scrutinised, and that therefore the introduction of any guillotine to this House would destroy its very purpose and create a precedent that would have serious, almost constitutionally outrageous, implications?

My Lords, I do not always agree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, but I entirely endorse what he said about guillotines in your Lordships’ House. However, I wish to ask a different question of my noble friend, to whom I also offer warm congratulations, as I offer warm felicitations to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. On Thursday, two important debates are down in the names of private Members. Clearly, between them they will take some five hours. Should urgent business be brought before your Lordships’ House, having been endorsed in another place, can my noble friend assure the House that the business will be rearranged? It really would be utterly absurd if we did not begin a debate on a crucial national emergency until something like 6 pm on a Thursday, especially as the Friday sitting has now been cancelled. We have a duty to look at things carefully, and we should also look at them when we are not all too exhausted.

My Lords, in Questions, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave the impression that the only business we would be expected to consider after Prorogation—and presumably after debate on the then Queen’s Speech—is a withdrawal Bill. But there is currently a great deal of legislation that needs to be completed, including, as the Government themselves have said, the Trade Bill. As the then Minister said in March:

“This Bill is essential to providing continuity and certainty for UK businesses as we leave the EU”.—[Official Report, 6/3/19; col. 615.]

Can the Chief Whip give clarity as to what the status of this legislation is, because some of it may not be able to be carried over into a new Session after Prorogation? If legislation such as the Trade Bill is essential for British businesses that require legal cover to conduct business with European enterprises and European businesses which currently conduct business within the UK, they will have no legal cover because we will not have time for the Commons to consider Lords amendments of the Trade Bill that this House passed with large majorities.

My Lords, I repeat and warmly support the nice things that have been said about the Chief Whip, but will he consult with his colleagues in the Whips’ Office in another place in regard to the threats which have been scattered around to some Members of the other place of taking away the whip and their possibilities of standing as Conservative candidates? Will he remind his colleagues that, in the early 1970s when we joined the Common Market, as it was then—I was a member of the Whips’ Office at the time—we had more than 30 Members of the Conservative Party who either voted regularly against the Government or abstained and that there was never any thought whatever of taking the whip away from them or tinkering about with their ability to be readopted by their constituencies? Will he tell his colleagues that many of us find these threats arrogant, inept and totally unacceptable in the historic traditions of the Conservative Party?

My Lords, I am grateful for the questions and comments. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham that elective dictatorship is not a good thing. That implies that debate is important—and this House has a good reputation for unlimited debate on important subjects. Taking into account the question of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, we should make sure that we continue our debates within the conventions that we have had for many years. I agree with him. I accept that this issue is contentious—and that is another reason why we need opportunities over the next few days to debate issues that may or may not come to this House.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the Conference Recess. He is correct that that has not been published. However, I would point out that this House has not sat at the end of September and the beginning of October for, I think, 80 years.

I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for his comments. He asked about rearranging business. I made reference at the beginning of my remarks to the helpful conversations I have had with the usual channels and I shall continue to have them. I see no reason why the good relationship which has initially been established should stop. I shall make sure that the business that needs to be done will be done in a way which helps the House. However, I should point out that the Government’s business is what we have put forward and that is the usual procedure for this House.

On the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the Trade Bill, as far as I am aware and have been informed, all essential pre-Brexit legislation has been passed. Nevertheless, we are working on arranging with the usual channels some carryover Bills. We have agreement on that and I expect it to continue.

My noble friend Lord Jopling talked about potential sanctions on Members of the other place. I think it would be a bit presumptuous of me on my first day as Chief Whip in the House of Lords to tell my opposite number in the House of Commons how to behave. However, I am sure that my right honourable friend in the other place will pay close attention to what he said.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned events in the Middle East. Of course we want to make sure that important events can be discussed, and I will discuss that with the usual channels in the normal way.

With regard to the Trade Bill, when the Bill left this House, the Minister said that it was essential legislation. It has not been passed and is not on the statute book, and the Chief Whip is saying therefore that it is not essential. Which is it?

I did not say it was not essential. What I said was that I have been informed that all essential pre-Brexit business has been passed. However, as it is in the House of Commons, I will raise that, but I am not in charge of business in the other place.