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Business of the House

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 40(4) and (5) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Thursday 31 October so far as it is necessary to enable notices and orders relating to Public Bills and Affirmative Instruments to have precedence over other notices and orders that day; and that, in the event of the Northern Ireland Budget Bill being brought from the House of Commons and read a first time, Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to allow that Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move the second Business of the House Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. The second Motion relates to tomorrow. It will allow us to pass the Northern Ireland Budget Bill, which is likely to be certified as a money Bill, in one day and adjust the order in which other business is taken. A speakers’ list for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill’s Second Reading is now open. Noble Lords will have until 6 pm this evening to add their names. The important debate on the Phase 1 report from the Grenfell inquiry will be taken in the Chamber after the Northern Ireland Budget Bill and debates on two statutory instruments. The debate on international development will not take place tomorrow. This Business of the House Motion ensures that essential legislation on public expenditure in Northern Ireland can reach the statute book before the Dissolution of Parliament. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

To leave out the words “to be taken through its remaining stages that day” and replace with the words “and the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] to be both taken through their remaining stages that day”.

My Lords, this manuscript amendment concerns historical institutional abuse involving hundreds or maybe thousands of children and going back decades. This Bill received its Second Reading with unanimity on Monday. It went through the House in an hour less than was originally allocated—half the time—and had cross-party support. There is no argument about the principle of it. I spoke to the Secretary of State this morning. He supports it and wants to see it go through before Parliament is dissolved. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, who is an excellent Northern Ireland Minister, wants the same thing. This is supported right across the House; we want to see this concluded.

An inquiry reported on this in 2012—seven years ago. Three years ago, a final report recommended levels of compensation and the basis for the Bill. That was three years ago and it was logjammed by the failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to sit since then. This House should take the lead in taking the Bill through its remaining stages and it should then go back to the Commons to complete its remaining stages and receive Royal Assent before Parliament is dissolved. The victims of historical institutional abuse—terrible child abuse, sexual abuse and violence—need redress. There is no argument about the principle.

The business managers have not so far found space to do this. We have to help them do so by passing this manuscript amendment. I hope I do not have to divide the House, but if I have to, I am afraid I will, because this is crucial. I am told that there is no time because MPs want to go back to their constituencies. I was an MP for a quarter of a century. I understand that but, frankly, tough. They should stay on, either well into the night tomorrow, sit on Friday morning, or come back as originally envisaged on Monday or Tuesday to complete this. These remaining stages could go through in less than an hour tomorrow. The same would be true in the House of Commons. I have also spoken to the shadow Secretary of State, Tony Lloyd. He says that there is complete support for it there as well. We should do this now and it should go back to the Commons if necessary. I was Leader of the Commons for two years. A Business Motion could go down in the Commons to say that at least the First Reading could be taken tomorrow after we had completed all the stages here expeditiously. It could then go into the wash-up and the victims of historical abuse in Northern Ireland could get the redress they have waited for decades for. I beg to move.

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. We had the Second Reading of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill in this House on Monday. There was unanimity in this House, and there is unanimity among every party in Northern Ireland.

There is a humanitarian issue. I said during my remarks on Monday how cruel it would be, having got to this stage, yet again to steal away another opportunity to do justice to these people who have suffered an enormous amount of abuse. The inquiry covered 1922 to 1995. Anyone who has read any of it knows that it is a horror story of horror stories. Since the report came out, more than 30 of these victims have died through natural causes. These victims are being hit again and again. How can it possibly be that, due to some procedural minutiae, we thwart the delivery of this compensation, which everyone—here and in Northern Ireland—agrees should be given? I see this as a humanitarian, not a political, issue. There is no politics in this because everybody agrees.

I appeal to the business managers to revisit this. I spoke to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland yesterday. He is obviously sympathetic, but he is in the hands of the business managers, as we all are in this situation. I appeal to noble Lords: surely to goodness, on the basis of helping these people after what they have suffered, we can put ourselves out a little, since they have suffered for decades. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and if the House divides I shall be in the Lobby along with him.

My Lords, these Benches also support the manuscript amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I repeat that there is unanimity in this House and complete agreement across all the Northern Ireland parties. This can be done very quickly. It would be a travesty for a procedural block to be put on something positive that the Westminster Parliament can do in agreement with the politicians of Northern Ireland together. The plea really is preferably not to have a Division, but I look to what the Lord Privy Seal says. The business managers really should be able to find time for this. If there is a Division, these Benches will support the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

My Lords, we had this debate on Monday, when everybody spoke in support. It would be a very good idea if this not most glorious of Parliaments ended on a note of constructive compassion towards those who have suffered for so long in Northern Ireland. There is absolutely no reason why this Parliament should not sit on Monday and Tuesday of next week. It would take very little time to get this through. Dates have become too sacred recently, and cannot always be met, but this is something that can be met. I hope that there will be no need for any Division, and that my noble friend will indicate that time will be found. When he spoke on Monday, very movingly, my noble friend Lord Duncan of Springbank, an exemplary Minister in every way, made it plain that he would like the Bill on the statute book before the end of this Parliament. Of course, he did not know that we were going to have such accelerated progress yesterday, but there is no just cause or impediment that means this should not be put on the statute book before this Parliament is dissolved. I hope my noble friend will be able to respond positively to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and supported by many others.

My Lords, we are deeply sympathetic to the aim of getting the Bill on to the statute book. However, although I am in danger of sounding like a heartless bureaucrat, the usual channels in this House work very well, and it is very much against the established traditions of the House to support Back-Bench or other non-government Motions that are on government time, and this Motion may not help.

Having said that, let me make it clear that the Bill in question is vital for those who have suffered historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland to get compensation. If the Bill does not pass, it will cause great anguish in Northern Ireland. It is vital that it is done as soon as possible, because many of those affected are old. Many have already passed away, so every week counts. We are aware of all those in Northern Ireland waiting for it to become law. We want to see it become law as soon as possible. I know that my noble friend Lord Murphy, whose record on Northern Ireland stands second to none, was clear about our support for the Bill from these Benches at Second Reading, and that it should pass quickly, as there was cross-party support. Like others, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, who has made superhuman efforts on this issue and, unfortunately, has not so far succeeded. We want to see the Bill become law as soon as possible.

There is great uncertainty around. We are aware of rumours that Parliament may finish for the general election as early as tomorrow evening, yet the uncertainty continues. I do not like to bring a note of contention into it but, given its cross-party support, the finger of blame for not passing the Bill will lie squarely with the Prime Minister. It can still be done.

I am asking my colleagues to abstain on the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, purely as a matter of process.

Difficult things have to be said. It is not for us to support such non-government Motions in government time. However, I agree with the sentiments of the Motion, as we all do on these Benches. We are willing to work with the Chief Whip and have further discussions, as we have had all week, to find creative ways to get the Bill to the Commons as early as possible. Is the Chief Whip willing to meet me, and my noble friends Lord Murphy and Lord Hain, to investigate any method by which we can get the Bill through? Can the noble Lord provide the House with any more information about Parliament rising for the election?

Certainly, on this issue there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has said, total unity of purpose among all the political parties in getting this Bill on to the statute book. It is not easy, in Northern Ireland, to get all the parties to agree to anything, but they are in total unity about getting Royal Assent for this Bill. We heard late last Monday that all stages of this Bill would be done: that is certainly my belief and that of some of my colleagues. If this Bill falls because of a general election there will be great hurt out there among the victims. They have waited many years for justice and at the last second it will be taken away from them. That is absolutely wrong.

We have a mind to support the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, this afternoon. We do not want to divide the House; we would rather find a mechanism that gets the Bill over the line. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, has been talking to the business managers and has excelled himself in trying to find a way through all this, but that he has found it very difficult. If a mechanism is not found we may be left with no choice, this afternoon certainly, but to divide the House and support the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

I am sorry to intervene yet again, but it has just been confirmed that Parliament will sit next Monday and Tuesday. Does that not give us all the opportunity to get the Bill done?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, the Opposition Chief Whip, who confirmed that the usual channels are working well. I am always happy to talk to him—as we have done in the past few days.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would raise the possibility of taking the remaining stages of the historical institutional abuse Bill tomorrow as well. I acknowledge the comments from around the House and the way the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out his manuscript amendment. I assure the House that the Government take seriously the issues that the Bill addresses and are fully committed to delivering the compensation scheme. The importance that we attach to it is demonstrated by the fact that it was one of the first Bills introduced after the Queen’s Speech, and the Second Reading was on Monday.

As a consequence of the decision by the House of Commons to have an early general election, however, parliamentary time is now very limited. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough time for the Bill to pass through both Houses before Dissolution on 6 November. The Bill has only had its Second Reading in this House, and even if it were to go through all three remaining stages in this House it would still have to be considered by the House of Commons. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that this Bill has cross-party support, I am sorry that, on the grounds of practicality, I cannot agree to the noble Lord’s request. I ask him, therefore, to withdraw his amendment.

Before the noble Lord sits down, my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip has said that the news from the other end has changed, and we are now not going to prorogue on Thursday night, in which case there is a lot more time at the other end than was previously thought. Will the noble Lord, the Chief Whip, tell us, therefore, what the situation is with regard to Dissolution and the time available to deal with this legislation?

One thing I have found since I started this job very recently is that it is a full-time task keeping up with the business of this House, let alone that of the House of Commons: that is not in my gift. If it is true, however—I have not been informed about it yet—then the House of Commons has more time than if we had adjourned on Thursday, so more time for this Bill is certainly a possibility. I cannot, however, make decisions about House of Commons timing while on my feet at the Dispatch Box. I am perfectly happy to talk to the usual channels, as I did before, but this is not the time and place to accept the noble Lord’s amendment.

My Lords, I am sorry for once again intervening, but in view of that, we now have the time. The Government say that it is a priority. To quote someone else, let us get the job done. I now change the whipping on this side of the House.

Nobody can accuse the noble Lord of not being able to think on his feet. I would like to be able to support the amendment, but, at the moment, we would like to leave it so that I am able to talk. The issue is not whether the Bill has time to get through this House; it is whether it has time to get through the House of Commons. I am not in a position to agree that they—having, for example, elected a Speaker—will have time. If they do not have time, which was the position when I came into this Chamber—

I have not finished yet.

If the House of Commons has time and we are told that the situation has changed, of course I am open to discussions on that, but I cannot do it without confirmation from the House of Commons.

My Lords, I quite understand the difficulties that the Government Chief Whip has in making commitments for the House of Commons, but we are not asking him today to make commitments for the other place; we are asking him to allow us to have time to do our job as the House of Lords. What then happens is in the decision-making capabilities of the other place. We should not be constrained by making other people’s decisions for them. I think that the feeling of the House on all sides is very strong. We all recognise that the Government Chief Whip cannot speak for the House of Commons; he can speak for this House, and this House wants the time to do this work.

My Lords, I have just taken the initiative of calling the House of Commons to see what their situation is. I can only tell your Lordships what I have been informed, which is that a decision has not as yet been made, and that Monday and Tuesday are still a possibility. That may be helpful.

My Lords, I have accepted that there is widespread feeling in the House on this. As I said, a lot depends on the House of Commons. It would be silly to spend a lot of time on this if we knew that it would not get through the House of Commons. If the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment, I will agree to talk to the usual channels and, if necessary, he could bring back his amendment tomorrow—or we may not even need an amendment. Is he happy to accept that?

My Lords, I appreciate the dilemma and predicament that the Chief Whip is in; I am not having an argument with him. There is no argument across this House about the principle. I would hope that in pressing the amendment to a vote, as I intend to do, I would be helping him and the whole House provide leadership on this matter. The House of Commons needs to follow suit and support the victims concerned.

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s suggested help. It is better if we follow the normal procedure, which is to agree these things between the usual channels. We have understood. I have agreed to talk to the usual channels tomorrow. I leave it up to him whether he will accept that and press his amendment or not.

The Lord Speaker decided on a show of voices that the amendment in the name of Lord Hain was agreed.

Motion, as amended, agreed.