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Business of the House

Volume 838: debated on Thursday 23 May 2024

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Orders 38 (Arrangement of the order paper), 40 (Postponement and advancement of business), 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day), and 73 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments) be suspended until the end of the Session so far as is necessary to allow His Majesty’s Government to arrange business.

My Lords, although I agree with all that we have just heard, it had a rather valedictory tone. I must tell the House that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, may well be back—like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I understand that noble Lords wish me to move the Motions I had set down separately. In moving the first Motion in my name on the Order Paper, it will be useful for the House if I set out how we expect business in your Lordships’ House to work over the next two days.

Following agreement between the Government and the Official Opposition in both Houses, we expect to focus proceedings today on four Bills: consideration of the Commons amendments on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill; Committee and remaining stages of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill; Third Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill; and the remaining stages of the Media Bill.

The tabling deadline for amendments to the first three Bills has already passed. The deadline for tabling amendments to the Media Bill is noon. Tomorrow we will sit to consider the finance Bill, some Private Members’ Bills and statutory instruments. Members can now sign up to speak at the Second Reading of the finance Bill, and the list for that will close at 4 pm today. If any of the Bills I have listed above are returned from the Commons, we will also consider their amendments or reasons.

We expect the House to be prorogued on Friday—tomorrow—and we will announce any changes to business and the associated deadlines in the usual ways. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their forbearance and understanding in this unusual process, and we will endeavour to keep all Peers fully informed at every stage. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for explaining what will be happening. I oppose my noble friend’s Motion, but in respect only of Clause 50 of the Media Bill, which seeks to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

Section 40 is crucial to the system of press regulation proposed by Sir Brian Leveson and has largely been implemented already by a royal charter. This is a highly controversial and important piece of legislation. We know it is important because Owen Meredith, the chief executive of the News Media Association, has been writing about it in the national newspapers. We know it is important because, when I won a Division on a similar amendment to the Data Protection Act a few years ago, national newspapers devoted several whole pages of detailed and unhelpful coverage to noble Lords who had the moral courage to support me in the Lobbies.

The House should not get confused about how few noble Lords are prepared to debate the subject of press regulation. I have had to draw on huge amounts of moral courage to pursue these amendments. Unfortunately, this, combined with the proposed changes to our Code of Conduct, made me simply run out of moral courage on Tuesday. I am sorry to say that I left the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, largely on her own yesterday. I stress that nobody, inside or outside this House, has applied improper pressure to me.

There is simply not the time available to plan and draft a proper Report speech when the Committee amendments were debated only yesterday. For instance, I understand that my noble friend Lord Black made a very interesting speech, but I have not been able to read it. The Government should either drop the relevant clause completely or, better still, accept Amendment 84 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. If they did the latter, they would still meet their manifesto commitments in full. Relaxing the Standing Orders against the wishes of several Members of the House to suit the needs of the usual channels, and some frantic horse-trading down the other end of the Corridor, is not acceptable to me.

My Lords, I was one of the people who asked the noble Lord to separate these two Motions and I am very grateful that he has done so. It shows the great courtesy that he has always shown to this House and its processes since becoming Leader.

I rise to make a brief point about wash-up. I have been working in one House or the other for more than 50 years and I just calculated that I have done 11 wash-ups. They are always a bloody mess and they always will be, unless the procedure is properly revised. I may be deceiving myself but, in this case, I think the Government are trying to smuggle things through under wash-up that should not be in the legislation.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I feel very strongly about Clause 50 of the Media Bill. We debated it yesterday and will debate it today, but that is doing it in very short order. One of the unfortunate things is that not only do the Government support this Bill but so does my own Front Bench—at least that is what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said yesterday—although the Liberal Democrats take a different view. There are others involved, including Cross-Benchers, and I pay tribute to the role played by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins.

This is not the kind of change that should be smuggled through in wash-up. Wash-up is designed to allow elements in Bills that are still outstanding in the House and on which there is consensus to become law. There is no consensus about this. There is no consensus among the Cross-Benchers, among the Lib Dems and, if am honest, among Labour Back-Benchers.

I hope that lessons will be learned and that there will be no further attempts at smuggling. If I were an adviser to the Government, which I was once upon a time, in my good days, I would be saying, “Just forget about Clause 50. Let’s get the business we need through and proceed to the general election”.

My Lords, yesterday’s debate was very interesting. I raised the issue of a woman whose daughter had been murdered in a hit and run and who had made a complaint to IPSO. That complaint was not dealt with properly and there was no redress for that woman. I asked the Minister what protection the Bill would give to such people—ordinary people who face abuse by the press and have no way of getting justice.

This is a very controversial Bill that should not be included in the wash-up, and I support those proposing that this clause should be removed.

My Lords, before we leave this issue, I will briefly raise Private Members’ Bills and the way in which they are dealt with in wash-up. The noble Lord is well aware that there is a Bill in the House of Commons on making permanent the position of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. It passed all its stages in the Commons with the support of His Majesty’s loyal Opposition, with Front-Bench support. It has the support of the Lord Privy Seal’s noble friends, the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad and Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton.

In the circumstances, will the noble Lord look again at the number of Private Members’ Bills and how they are being dealt with? If one has all-party support and has completed all its stages in another place, it still might be possible to accommodate it, even at this late stage.

My Lords, I wonder whether, in the excitement of the general election, the Leader of the House has overlooked the fact that we have pending in this House a hereditary Peers by-election. Could he make my day by telling us that this by-election will not take place now, or ever, and that this is the end of these wretched by-elections for good?

My Lords, I associate myself with the concerns raised by colleagues over the controversial clauses in the Media Bill. On a practical point, I think that the Leader of the House is proposing that the House has an amendment deadline on the Media Bill of noon. We are just passing that time now, and therefore we are in effect prohibiting colleagues from amending the Bill with these new arrangements. At this late stage, is it possible to respect the House’s wishes and allow noble colleagues to move amendments if necessary?

My Lords, I will speak briefly for the Opposition. As the Leader of the House said, the Motion before the House was agreed in the usual channels. The points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and my noble friends Lord Lipsey, Lord Watts and Lord Watson, are important, but the Motion has been agreed by the House and the Front Bench supports it.

My Lords, very briefly, in one sentence, I want to broaden the support for the points made about the controversial elements of the Media Bill. The Green Party is also opposed to the Bill in its current form.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the points raised. One understands the strong, sometimes proprietorial, feelings and long-held dreams that different Members of the House have. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, this matter has been agreed. It is uncomfortable but, at this time of a Parliament, the raw realities of politics apply, and things can be done only which have the agreement of the Official Opposition and the Government. That is the fact of the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, it does happen and it has happened, and he has had experience of it on many occasions.

There are many people who will regret that certain Bills are not proceeding—speaking on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, I would have loved to have seen our full programme completed—but what we are proceeding with today is such business as has been agreed. The Media Bill has had examination: it has completed Committee stage, and Report stage—a late stage of the Bill—is today. Members had the longest of all today’s deadlines to table amendments. Discussions on all legislation are continuing, but I would not hold out too much hope for too many changes at this stage.

I appreciate the concerns expressed. Obviously, when a new Parliament meets, it will be able to take whatever view it wishes on whatever matters are put before this House and the other place.

There were an exceptional number of Private Members’ Bills brought forward in your Lordships’ House and the other place this Session. Even with the best will in the world, not every one of those Bills would have made it to the statute book, but some will proceed. I have heard what noble Lords have said today, but, unfortunately, all the hopes that many people may have had, including His Majesty’s Government, will not be fully fulfilled. I must stand by the Motion that I put to the House, the terms of which have been agreed in the usual channels with His Majesty’s Opposition.

Motion agreed.