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Business of the House

Volume 803: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2020

Timing of Debates

Moved by

That the topical Question for Short Debate in the name of Lord Cormack set down to be asked on Thursday 21 May be limited to one and a half hours not one hour.

My Lords, we are obviously very happy to support the Motion, but perhaps I could raise a related question on the allocation of time. Today in the Commons—I think more or less at this moment—there is an Urgent Question on last week’s negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Personally, I think it is bad enough that an Urgent Question had to be requested by the Opposition in the other place, rather than the Government making a full Statement to the Commons after such an important set of talks. That is perhaps a poor comparison with the way the EU works: its negotiator reports to the European Parliament and to the press. However, at least it is happening in the Commons.

I think it has been agreed that we will have repeat of the Answer to that Urgent Question tomorrow in our House, but that provides for only 10 minutes in total—well below the 35 minutes that the Commons will have today. That is insufficient for this House to be able to fulfil its role of scrutinising what the Government are negotiating in these vital talks. That contrasts with what will happen later today, with 20 minutes for Front-Bench questions and 30 minutes for Back-Bench questions quite rightly allocated to a Statement on Covid.

Will the noble Baroness undertake to look at whether that particular Urgent Question repeat tomorrow—not all Urgent Questions—could be given more time because of its significance, or whether, as Leader of the House, she could find another procedure to enable us to look how the talks are progressing? I think I am right in saying, from the Written Statement from Mr Gove, that the Government are to publish some time this week their draft legal texts that they submitted to the European Union. If they were to be accompanied by a Statement so that we could have a debate on them, that might be a way round—or there could be a debate on one of the other EU reports. Could she give some consideration to whether there is a way of dealing with this vital issue?

I thank the noble Baroness. The Government, through the usual channels, have been extremely generous with time. We now have extra time for Private Notice Questions. As she rightly said, this Motion is about extending further time. I am afraid that we will not be able to look to give extra time tomorrow because we have a full schedule, but, as she well knows, there are discussions through the usual channels about business coming up. I am sure that that issue will be raised. All the parties have party debates. They can choose the topic, so there will be opportunities for parties to raise this topic if they wish. I am sure that there will be discussions in the usual channels. As the noble Baroness said, we have talked about this issue a lot in this House and I am sure that we will continue to do so. We will continue to give it the time that it deserves.

Motion agreed.