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Arrangement of Business

Volume 794: debated on Monday 10 December 2018

My Lords, I think it was Harold Wilson who said:

“A week is a long time in politics”.

In the chaos that now passes for government, the Prime Minister will be making a Statement in the next few minutes in which she is expected to pull tomorrow’s votes in the House of Commons on her Brexit deal. Following that, the Leader of the House of Commons will make a further Statement in which she is expected to adjourn the remainder of the Commons debate. Given the gravity of the situation, we offered to adjourn this House for the Prime Minister’s Statement, and to mirror the process in the other place, but the Government Chief Whip has refused.

We may now be debating a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration that could already be dead in the water. If the Prime Minister returns to Parliament with amended agreements then your Lordships’ House will, as provided for in legislation, have a further debate and an opportunity for a further Motion on that deal but if she returns with the same arrangements—albeit unlikely—there is no legislative guarantee of a further debate. However, the Chief Whip has today agreed with me and my noble friend Lady Hayter that whatever the outcome of the further negotiations there will be an opportunity for a debate on a Motion in your Lordships’ House on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, for this House to express its view. That means that today your Lordships’ House has to continue as planned. Whatever happens in the other place, the Government are pressing the issue tonight on their take-note Motion. Perhaps the Lords Whips’ Office did not get the memo. In those circumstances, the Motion in my name stands, and I therefore plan later today to test the opinion of the House.

This House, your Lordships’ House, takes its responsibilities seriously. In the middle of chaotic and dysfunctional government, we will therefore continue to examine the wider issues of the deal and perhaps offer some advice on the way forward. To assist the House, we will be taking the Prime Minister’s Statement around 5.30 pm today, when some greater clarity may emerge, but that also means that our proceedings on the debate will take slightly longer.

My Lords, what the Government are proposing is that while the Prime Minister is addressing the House of Commons withdrawing from the Brexit battlefield, and while the Leader of the House is making a Statement immediately thereafter, suspending debate on this issue, Members of your Lordships’ House—and, most importantly, Members of your Lordships’ House who have worked hard on speeches—are expected to sit in your Lordships’ House listening to those speeches, unable to go out to find out what is happening in the real world. At the end of this process, late in the evening, the Commons having stopped business hours before, Members of your Lordships’ House are expected to vote on Motions whose political reality has completely disappeared.

If the Government Chief Whip wishes to continue with this charade we will continue to make speeches and to vote. The situation may be that we have a Government in name only and that the country is a humiliation across the globe, but there is no need to bring your Lordships’ House into such a charade and such a surreal set of proceedings. Your Lordships’ House should now adjourn the debate.

My Lords, it is quite appropriate that we should continue and conclude our debate today. We have already had two days of spirited debate in which noble Lords have been contributing their bit to this general discussion. Many noble Lords have already asked questions of my noble friend Lord Callanan, and I am sure they want to hear the answers. Other noble Lords who also had their names down to speak have waited patiently for their turn to make a contribution to this debate. I do not see that it is any way justified—except to make a political point, which may lie behind the suggestion that we adjourn—that we should discontinue our debate. Each House is in charge of its own proceedings and today is no different.

Lastly, I think the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that in earlier discussions I had with her I confirmed that should the Government decide as a result of other negotiations to come forward with any further proposals, whatever they are, we will find time to debate them fully and to have Motions tabled in respect of any further issues arising. In the meantime, the documents on which we based our debate lie before this House, and I suggest that the right and proper thing is that we should proceed with the debate.

My Lords, this is a complete farce. The Government are pulling the debate in the House of Commons on precisely the terms that we are supposed to be debating this afternoon. Is it not open to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition to move the adjournment of the House, which I think would be the appropriate step in the circumstances, rather than us continuing with a farce that, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, actually prevents those of us speaking in the debate later on today from learning what Her Majesty’s Government’s policy actually is? Surely we should adjourn this debate, not continue it in these farcical circumstances.

I am confused. I understood from what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said that he was about to move the adjournment; that is what it sounded like. As my noble friend Lord Adonis said, either he or my noble friend Lady Smith should be in a position to move the adjournment of the House. It is entirely ridiculous that I am down to debate something that will no longer exist in a few hours’ time. I do not know how the Minister can do this.

My Lords, I think the House would agree that we want to hear repeated in your Lordships’ House the Statement that the Prime Minister will make later, so I would not adjourn the House at this point. However, I urge the Government to reconsider their position. It is quite farcical for us to debate an issue that the House of Commons does not want to debate when its Members are the ones who have the meaningful vote.

Is the situation then to be that those who have not yet had the chance to speak on the first two days and are due to speak today, and would like to give their advice to the Government as to what we think ought to happen in this somewhat fluid situation so that those speeches can be taken into account thereafter, cannot do so? I certainly support my noble friend the Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms. I want to hear what my noble friend Lord Howell, who was about to speak, has to say, and I have the privilege of being last on the list to speak from the Back Benches. If I have to wait until half way through the night to do so, your Lordships can see how much I want to do it.

My Lords, we all want to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but I point out to the noble Lord, Lord King, that many MPs who were hoping to make speeches today and tomorrow will now be denied because—this is the key issue—the basis of their speeches is being taken off the table, at least temporarily. I am afraid I have not been here long enough to know the procedure well enough but I would like to propose that the House adjourn during pleasure until 5.30 pm, when we can take the Prime Minister’s Statement.

My Lords, I hope the Chief Whip heard that. I think, from listening to the tone of the House, that the House wishes to hear the Prime Minister’s Statement before continuing. I propose to the noble Lord the Lord Speaker that we adjourn the House now until 5.30 pm, when we can hear the Statement, and then there can be discussions between the usual channels on how to proceed. The current position is unsustainable.

I am sorry, my Lords, I am not prepared to accept that. We have business before the House. We have people who have prepared speeches. As agreed by the usual channels, we are repeating a Statement at 5.30 pm so there will be every opportunity to speak. I am afraid I resist any suggestion that we adjourn during pleasure.


Moved by

Sitting suspended.

My Lords, I thought it would be helpful to the House if, before my noble friend repeats the Prime Minister’s Statement, I said a few words about the rest of today’s business.

The House will have seen the exchanges earlier today about the timings of today’s business, which led to a Division. Since that Division, I have received further strong representations from the opposition parties that they do not want today’s scheduled debate to conclude.

My view has not changed since earlier this afternoon. I believe it would be in the best interests of those signed up to speak today—and of the whole House, which has not heard them—for us to conclude the debate today as advertised. However, I recognise the strength of the representations, and I do not believe that it is in the best interests of the House to have continued procedural Divisions.

I repeat the offer I made in good faith of providing more time for this House to consider the issue further when it returns to the Commons, and I apologise to those noble Lords who have been waiting patiently to make their contributions. We will adjourn the House at the conclusion of the repeat of the Prime Minister’s Statement.

I thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in making that announcement to the House. It is always difficult when the House votes on procedural matters, and his coming before the House today has been very helpful. I am sure that we will have the benefit of hearing the wisdom of those we are denied from hearing today at a later date, and we look forward to that.