Arrangement of Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 21st March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Chief Whip (Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:36 pm, 21st March 2016

My Lords, I am sorry to detain the House, but I wish to draw your Lordships’ attention to today’s business, last Thursday’s business, tomorrow’s business and Wednesday’s business, as well as business on 11 and 13 April. The eagled-eyed will have spotted that they have one item in common: the Housing and Planning Bill. I know we are in the middle of a housing crisis, but this is overkill. Today’s business concludes with the Housing and Planning Bill, and it is said that the government Chief Whip intends the House to sit until midnight and is prepared to do the same tomorrow.

This cannot be right. Four consecutive days on one Bill—what precedent is there for such a process? The Companion is clear about business intervals and about concluding at 10 pm, and we have generously stretched that, probably too far, on many occasions so far. Noble Lords need to know that this part of the usual channels does not agree to this as a way of working. Our office offered the Chief Whip four different ways of managing the business which would have avoided this unfortunate car crash, but none of them was accepted. The current plan makes it impossible for opposition parties to do their job properly. It is well-nigh impossible for our research staff to assist. We have only one staffer supporting our shadow Ministers, while the Government have an army of civil servants as back-up, and even then the poor Minister gets so tired that she cannot give us answers.

Can the Chief Whip please consider this issue urgently and give the House an assurance that the Government will not do this again? Can he assure the House that they will not do this on Report? Finally, can the government Chief Whip ensure that in the future his office has a more realistic view of how long difficult, incoherent, inchoate, poorly drafted and badly thought through Bills take in your Lordships’ House? We stand ready to be helpful, but we can be helpful only if the conditions exist in which we can do that work.