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Business of the House

Volume 808: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2020

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That, in the event of the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill having been brought from the House of Commons, Standing Orders 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) and 47 (Commitment of Bills) be dispensed with on Thursday 17 December to allow the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day and the Committee to be negatived.

My Lords, yesterday the Government introduced the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill, which contains important measures to support our ability to use data to secure our borders and support businesses which trade across them. These powers are needed to facilitate the sharing of trade-related data from government departments and public bodies. The Bill replicates clauses contained in the Trade Bill and is designed to bridge the gap between the end of the transition period and the point at which the Trade Bill receives Royal Assent. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 of this Bill, its only substantive clauses, will expire once the corresponding parts of the Trade Bill have been enacted and come into force. Scrutiny of the Trade Bill, including the permanent clauses which would replace this Bill, will continue as soon as we return in the new year.

This small Bill has been brought forward— at very short notice, I accept—in the absence of any other suitable legislative vehicle. The Trade Bill, which, as I have said, will make these provisions permanent, needs more time in your Lordships’ House to finish Report. The powers are needed regardless of the outcome with the EU, which is why the Government are taking steps to ensure they are in place before the end of the transition period. This new legislation should not be taken as an indicator of any particular outcome. If this Motion is agreed to, the Bill will be taken through all its Lords stages tomorrow.

This House has already done a great deal of work to ensure that the statute book is ready for the end of the transition period. I am grateful to the usual channels for their support in helping make these arrangements for us to consider this additional Bill at such short notice. We have also ensured that the Constitution Committee, which has rightly taken an interest in the fast-tracking of legislation, has been written to with a full explanation of why these measures have been brought forward.

This may also be a convenient point to confirm that, as things stand, my noble friend the Chief Whip anticipates that we will rise for the Christmas adjournment at the conclusion of our business tomorrow and return on Tuesday 5 February—

Sorry, but it is 5 January—we may all wish. A new Forthcoming Business will be issued later today. However, I need to be very clear; if developments are such that we are required to meet again before 5 January, the necessary arrangements will be made, whatever they may be.

I wish all noble Lords and members of staff of the House a very merry Christmas. I thank you all for your amazing efforts in what has been an extremely difficult year. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for some clarity around dates—or maybe not.

On the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill, it is a sensible precaution to take all its stages tomorrow, with that Bill then sunsetted until we can give proper consideration in any way we wish when dealing with the Trade Bill. I think I understand from what the noble Baroness said that there is no desire to lose the Trade Bill, although it has had a gestation period longer than most elephants at the moment. Can she confirm and put it on record that we will return to it?

I question why it is now, on 16 December—I should probably be home having dinner with my husband on our wedding anniversary—the Government have suddenly decided that they have discovered we need these provisions in place in the next few days. I would have thought that would have been evident prior to today or the last few days. Can the noble Baroness clarify why that is?

I do not ever recall a similar statement to this in the over 20 years I have been in Parliament. It is a quite extraordinary announcement. I feel a bit like I am living through a poor parody of Noel Edmonds’ “Deal or No Deal”, but without Mr Blobby—perhaps we all have our nominations for who Mr Blobby might be. The referendum to leave the EU was in June 2016. In December 2019, the noble Baroness’s party fought and won an election on getting Brexit done.

The noble Lord says “Hear, hear”, but he must be embarrassed by this—I forgot, he is past embarrassment—because with just 15 days to go, there is no clarity about the terms on which we will engage, do business or co-operate on security with the EU. That is not just an embarrassing position for businesses struggling with the twin challenges of the uncertainties of Brexit and the hokey-cokey of tiers, where they may be in lockdown or shutdown. It is embarrassing for the UK to have got this far.

Most of us in your Lordships’ House understand that the worst possible option for the UK would be a no-deal exit from the EU. I appreciate that we have seen some efforts in the last few days to reach a deal, but it was quite extraordinary listening to the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who has now left the Chamber, saying on the last Question how much effort has gone into securing medical supplies, for example, in the event of no deal. If only so much effort had been put into securing a deal earlier on. A little over a year ago the Prime Minister said, when he was in Dublin for talks, that no deal would be a “failure of statecraft”. I really hope that, with just 15 days to go before we crash out of the EU, so dangerously close to the wire, we will not see that failure of statecraft and no deal.

We stand ready to be recalled as and when required to ensure that we do not plunge the UK into a crash-out crisis. I hope that, even before the House rises tomorrow, we may get some clarity on this. There is huge uncertainty across the nation and the Government must bear responsibility for that.

I hope we will have the opportunity tomorrow to pay the usual tributes to staff as the House rises, but I join the noble Baroness in her thanks. The staff of the House and Peers—from the most important Peer in the House, the Lord Speaker, right down to the cleaners who clean our offices, for which we are very grateful, the catering staff, the doorkeepers and everybody—have gone to tremendous efforts to ensure that we can function, in however limited a way. They all deserve a very merry Christmas.

My Lords, of course I share the noble Baroness’s view about the importance of the Lord Speaker and, indeed, all those who have made the House work so well. I have to say, my office has never been as clean as it currently is, and I am extremely grateful for it.

On the Trade Bill, one just wonders what has been happening in the Department for International Trade which meant that it realised there was a gap in the legislation only a few days ago. It has been obvious for ages that we were not going to get through the Trade Bill proper, so it is rather worrying that this panic-stations Bill has had to be introduced.

As for Parliament being recalled at some point between now and the new year, there is of course precedent for Parliament to sit on Christmas Day; in 1654, there was an extremely erudite discussion on a number of major issues, although with a rather thin House. Given that the Government appear to have no idea whether they are likely to get a deal or not—or, if so, when—could the noble Baroness at least give the House an assurance that Parliament will not be required to sit during the five days, literally over Christmas, when households are able to meet together? We all have plans over Christmas, and some of us would want to come back and give what little scrutiny we can to this very major piece of legislation.

My Lords, I participated in a debate in the other House when Parliament was recalled when the Falkland Islands were invaded. However, since I came into Parliament in 1979, through the Falklands and through the resignations of Prime Ministers and all sorts of other crises, I have never known such chaos as we have at the moment. The chaos is not because of the epidemic—in fact, this House has dealt with the Covid epidemic very well and is operating very well, and I pay tribute to all involved—but is the man-made chaos of Brexit. It really is astonishing that we are dealing with this. I endorse everything that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon said. It is astonishing that this House, and this Parliament, are dealing with it in this way.

Nevertheless, I take this opportunity of wishing everyone, and particularly the Leader of the House—because she does deserve it—a very merry Christmas.

I thank noble Lords for their comments. I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we will be returning to the Trade Bill. I believe it is scheduled for the first week back, and it will be in Forthcoming Business when that is published either later today or tomorrow. I hope that that reassures her concerns.

As I said in my opening comments, I absolutely accept that this has been done at very short notice. I apologise to your Lordships’ House for that. I thank the usual channels for their co-operation in dealing with this, because we do need these clauses in place during this short period. At one point we were going to add these to the future relationship Bill, but obviously that has not come forward. To be honest, that is part of the reason why, I am afraid, they have come as a stand-alone Bill.

However, notwithstanding the comments of noble Lords, negotiations are ongoing, and I think we all believe that that is absolutely right. All efforts are being made to secure a deal, and I know that is what we are all hoping for. That is why, although we intend to break tomorrow, we all stand ready to do our duty, should we need to, over the course of Christmas, as the noble Baroness said. I am afraid I cannot say any more than that on timings or anything else, but we will of course keep noble Lords updated. I thank everybody for their patience, and once again wish them a happy Christmas.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.