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Business of the House

Volume 797: debated on Monday 8 April 2019

Motion on Standing Orders

Tabled by

To move that Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to allow the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages this day.

On behalf of my noble friend Lady Hayter, and with her agreement, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, I will respond briefly to the Business of the House Motion. We had lengthy and passionate debates last Thursday on the most appropriate way to handle this Bill. This Motion gives me the opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who worked together in the margins of the Sitting to agree what I think is a more sensible way to proceed. By all sides compromising, we have had the opportunity to give this Bill more scrutiny than was possible on Thursday and have recognised the desire of those who want to see it progress following that scrutiny. Noble Lords have had a short but useful amount of extra time to consider the Bill and propose amendments for the House to consider. It has also allowed the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee to produce reports on the Bill to further aid the House’s scrutiny, and I am grateful to them.

I am pleased to see amendments tabled on the particularly problematic issue of the Bill inadvertently affecting the royal prerogative, and I hope that this can be resolved positively. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for bringing their expertise to bear in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who is today leading the Bill in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has tabled amendments that will allow the Motion to be debated in the Commons tomorrow should the Bill receive Royal Assent after midnight, and to maintain usual drafting practice by referring to a “Minister of the Crown”. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, has an amendment to remove two subsections of Clause 1; removing these subsections will allow greater flexibility after the European Council on 10 April and any further debates that need to be scheduled in the House of Commons. These are necessary amendments in light of our considerations today, which the Government will support to facilitate the tabling of business in the House of Commons.

Despite what I hope will be improvements, the Government’s position has not changed: we oppose the Bill and remain of the view that it is unnecessary. We are concerned about the manner in which both Houses have had to consider it, and its passage should not be taken as any sort of precedent. It has always been my belief that it is important in this House that all sides of an argument are aired and given due respect before decisions are taken, which is why I am pleased that we have additional time to consider and scrutinise the Bill. I trust that we will be able to consider its remaining stages in a timely fashion, and send it back to the House of Commons in a better shape than it arrived here. Although the Government oppose the Bill and the way in which it has been taken through both Houses, we will not oppose this Motion.

My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House. However, having read the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, the wisdom of us having an opportunity to consider it is reinforced. It makes some serious recommendations, which no doubt we will be able to deal with later this afternoon.

I very much agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House in her assertion that she hopes that the treatment of the Bill will not act as any kind of precedent. It arrived here as an orphan, it was being supported by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, it is now being supported by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who is acting on his behalf, and the whole thing has been done at a great pace. The very fact that the Opposition are moving a business Motion is undesirable. I hope that in the future, the House will consider whether what we all thought was the position in line with our constitution—that only a Minister should move a business Motion—will be the position going forward. However, I hope that we can now proceed.

I put on record my gratitude to the Chief Whip for the way in which he dealt with business on Thursday, which enabled us to carry out our duties speedily—or relatively speedily, compared to what might have happened.

My Lords, I too will reflect briefly on what happened on Thursday, when the House did not serve the interests of the people we serve, Parliament, or indeed this House and ourselves. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House might consider asking the Procedure Committee to examine what happened on Thursday, either to make sure that it is not repeated or so that we manage ourselves in a better way. In addition, the usual channels should acknowledge that the House operates considerably better when the usual channels are aligned, as they are today, rather than when they are not, as was the case on Thursday.

My Lords, I also express gratitude to those who worked out the business to allow us time to consider the Bill before it goes into Committee. My interest stems from the fact that I had an ancestor in Lord Townshend’s Administration at the time that this order was introduced. It is easy to think that we are in difficult and dangerous times but at that point people had seen real constitutional crisis: the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Act of Union, and a European monarch installed in a situation where there was an incipient civil war, which broke out about three months later. If we think we have a crisis now, we need to think about what other people have faced.

My Lords, I have the right to speak at the end of this brief debate, but because everyone agrees that the debate should be brief, I do not intend to use that opportunity.

Motion agreed.