Welfare Reform Bill — Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:45 pm, 14th September 2011

My Lords, I have been open to negotiation and received just the word "no". I welcomed the offer of the Opposition to engage in discussions about splitting the Bill between the Chamber and Grand Committee. However, the negotiation was one in which the Opposition said no to the Government. The offer of four days on the Floor of the House and as many as the House wished to spend in Grand Committee was turned down. This has to be balanced against the needs of other Bills, which will also attract great attention around the House from people who feel passionately about and have great expertise in all the issues.

In response, I shall refer to one or two of the points that the noble Lord raised, and I shall try to do so fairly briefly. This is not a step towards regulation-just the reverse. This is the House regulating itself. It is self-regulation to avoid full regulation. It is not the case that Grand Committee has been used effectively in the past few years. I note the careful way in which the Opposition Chief Whip referred to a number of Bills. The numbers of Bills in Grand Committee in recent years are as follows. In 2007-08 there were 10 in Committee of the Whole House and 12 in Grand Committee. In 2008-09 there were nine in Committee of the Whole House and six in Grand Committee-that is 40 per cent. In the following years the figures were 36 per cent and 33 per cent of Bills in Grand Committee. We are at an all-time low in agreements from the Opposition to put Bills into Grand Committee.

I would have liked to have been in a position where we did not have to sit in the first week of October during the Conservative Party conference. We debated this in June, when I made it clear that the failure to put another Bill into Grand Committee would mean that this House would have to sit for longer in order to give proper consideration to Bills. On that day the Leader of the Opposition said:

"One of the problems, not only on my Benches but throughout the House as a whole, is that people do not understand yet that the Grand Committee is not a second-rate Chamber".

She is absolutely right. She continued:

"It is a Chamber where we can deliberate and assess Bills and scrutinise them just as we can in this Chamber".

Again, she is right. She continued:

"All around the House we have to be more aware of the ability of this House to better use the Grand Committee".

She went on to say:

"I know that next week my noble friend the Chief Whip will wish to enter into further conversation with the government Chief Whip to see how we can secure other Bills in a Grand Committee of this House". -[Hansard, 16/6/11, col. 1031.]

We had those discussions but the result was that the Opposition refused to allow the Government to split the Bill in such a way that there could be proper consideration on the Floor of the House and yet also consideration of other matters in Grand Committee, thereby allowing other Bills to have their time in the Chamber. I have done all I can to come to an agreement with the Opposition, but the response has been to turn down the Government's offer of time.