Skip to main content

Arrangement of Business

Volume 823: debated on Monday 4 July 2022


My Lords, I want to raise my concern—and I think there is concern across the House—regarding the preparedness of the Procurement Bill, which is an extremely important Bill that should have considerable support across the whole House. We have had 300 government amendments, many of which are not technical. I invite all noble Lords to look at today’s Marshalled List for the Grand Committee. Amendments have been tabled late, and groups of government amendments were still be sorted out over the weekend. Yesterday, the Government sent out another list, apologising for the ongoing issues, thanking Members for their patience, inserting the missing amendments and removing the duplicate ones. I fail to see the benefit of publishing a Bill in such a poor state.

This is a Lords starter Bill, yet on the first day in Committee so many government amendments are needed. Surely it would have been better for the Bill to be published when it was in a fit state to be published and then only at that point would the Second Reading and other stages take place.

I have discussed my frustration with the usual channels and we have found a way forward today. I am grateful to the Government Chief Whip for that, but this is no way to proceed generally. I ask the Government Chief Whip to go back, speak to his colleagues in government and government departments and suggest to them that, irrespective of whether a Bill would be generally supported by the whole House or is a more controversial aspect of the Government’s programme, it is unacceptable for it to be brought forward in this state. Every Bill brought forward in this state will have major problems here. The House deserves to be treated with respect, and the handling of the Procurement Bill fails to do that. It is just not what we expect. I ask the Government to look at this again because this Bill will quite rightly have a very difficult time in this House because of the way the House has been treated. I will leave it there. I shall not talk about the Schools Bill, which is in an equally parlous state. I await the Government’s response.

My Lords, in many respects I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I apologise to the House, and particularly to some of the government Front-Benchers who were working all weekend, as was my office, who have received the list of amendments. I agree with the noble Lord that this is not the way things should be done. I accept that. It is not totally without precedent, but the fact that it was done before is not a good excuse.

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, last week, I have taken more than 200 government amendments through and the way we had to do it then and the way we are doing it now is by talking to the usual channels. I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. We have decided to stop at the point where there is a particular problem for the Opposition Front Bench so that they have more time to prepare for the group, so we are going to do only the first three groups. It might help the whole House to get the Marshalled List a day earlier so that the majority of the amendments with their numbers would be made available to Members earlier so we would know the order in which they are coming. That would still allow manuscript amendments and other additional amendments later. That can be taken forward in the Procedure Committee.

We will do only three groups today. The usual channels have agreed that that is the way to go forward. I agree with the noble Lord that this is not an ideal way to proceed. I will certainly take the message back to other parts of government. I can only apologise again to him and to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Chief Whip for what he said, and I agree with him about the Marshalled List. Since I have a considerable number of amendments in the Procurement Bill, can he assure me that, given only three groups are to be debated today, there will be ample time to deal with all the other amendments in this important Bill and, if necessary, to allocate further days in Committee for that to happen?

I think you can take that as read, because one of the features of this House, and one of the nightmares for the business managers, is the fact that noble Lords can talk for as long as they like. If we do not finish within the appointed number of days, we have to find more time. I accept what has been said. One of the things we will try to do is to indicate more clearly what is genuinely a technical amendment and what is a substantive amendment that needs discussion.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having made this statement, but will he appreciate that the effect of this sort of change goes beyond the usual channels in this House? It affects those outside who have to live with the consequences of the legislation and want to brief Members of the House accordingly. In this instance, the weekend before last, I spent the whole weekend going through all 80 amendments to have a telephone conference—as did other noble Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Cross Benches—with members of the Welsh Government who are seriously affected by this. When this barrage of amendments comes forward, it totally undermines that sort of discussion that should be an essential part of the process of government, to ensure that the legislation is workable for those it affects. What discussion, if any, did he have with the Welsh Government?

The short answer is that I did not have any discussions with the Welsh Government, but I completely accept that when amendments come in late—and when government amendments come in late—it does affect more than just the Front Benches and the Members of this House. The people who brief Members of this House will be affected and the devolved Administrations will be affected—I absolutely accept that. As I said right at the beginning, I do not think having 342 government amendments at the last minute is a suitable way forward. I hope we will do our best not to do this again.

My Lords, it is much appreciated that my noble friend has come to the Dispatch Box to make this apology, but it is not really his fault. The fault lies with Ministers in this Government not doing their job properly, and with parliamentary draftsmen producing such material. Again and again, we see framework Bills that are full of Henry VIII clauses, we find bills that are not thought through, and amendments being tabled at the last minute that have not even been discussed in the House of Commons. Frankly, it is not treating this House with the dignity it deserves and it is a very bad way to make law. Should we not find some method whereby Ministers in the other place can perhaps be educated on what this place does, how it operates and what it expects?

I believe there are attempts going on at the moment to do that. In this case, however, this was a House of Lords starter, so we cannot blame the other place.