Motion

Business of the House - Motion on Standing Orders – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:

Moved by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make the case for this business Motion to be considered in Committee. The Leader of the Opposition has made a very good job of presenting a wolf in wolf’s clothing. She suggested that there is nothing unusual about what is proposed. As she sat down, she said that the guillotine was provided by the Prorogation. This business Motion has driven all our business off the agenda. It is proposed by the Opposition, when the conventions of this House and the other place are that it is the Government who propose business Motions. What has happened here is that a bunch of Liberal and Labour Party people have seized control of the agenda and prevented us discussing, for example, the Chancellor’s extremely important Statement.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

Well, the Liberals say: “We would never do that”. The Chancellor has announced major increases in expenditure on education, on health—

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

I know noble Lords do not want to hear this—on health, education and social care. This very day I had a letter from the Secretary of State for Health in my capacity as Chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee responding very positively to the future of social care and the commitments being made. We have no opportunity to discuss that this afternoon. We have no opportunity to have the Statement because this game-playing by the Opposition continues.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I am interested to know whether the noble Lord could give an example of when this House had taken the spending Statement by the Chancellor on the day on which it was made.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

The noble Lord knows perfectly well that this is a self-regulating House. If the Government and Opposition wished to do so, that would be possible. Can he give me an example of when, in the entire history of this House, anyone has put forward a guillotine Motion on the Order Paper? I will give way to him if he can, but he cannot, because it is utterly and absolutely unprecedented.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I am sorry for interrupting the noble Lord, but I think it might be to the benefit of the House if I answer all his points sequentially when I make my speech.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

That would be a first. Getting an answer out of the noble Lord is not as easy as getting him to ask a question. The fact is that the use of the guillotine is an absolute outrage. It is constitutionally unprecedented and dangerous for our democracy. It is an abomination. These are not my words. They are the words of the former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in 2011 when David Cameron proposed tabling a guillotine Motion in this House. If it was an abomination then for the Labour Party and constitutionally unprecedented and dangerous for our democracy, so is it today. The noble Baroness should be ashamed of herself for being a party to it, no doubt on the orders of Mr Corbyn.

Turning to the Cross Benches, I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, is in her place, but at the time she said: “The Cross Benches will vote against this or fail to turn up”. It will be interesting to see what happens today.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Just to reassure the noble Lord, I have to claim credit for the Motion, along with other Members of your Lordships’ House. When is he going to get to the point of his amendment?

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

The point of my amendment is that these are very serious matters. We are making a dangerous and unprecedented assault on the part of this House, to quote the former Lord Chancellor, and this should not be nodded through as part of a business Motion. We should be in Committee and consider all the implications. The implications are enormous. The noble Baroness laughs, but this is a revising Chamber. What do we do? We take huge quantities of legislation from the other place which has not been discussed or even debated because it has a guillotine procedure. When I left the House of Commons in 1997, we did not have any of that. One had to go through numerous hoops to get a guillotine. Now everything is guillotined and everyone in this House knows how legislation comes here in a completely unscrutinised way. That is the purpose of this House. If we are to have a guillotine procedure in this House, Governments will absolutely love that. It is extraordinary that Opposition Members, of all people, should be proposing it.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, is not the position even worse than that? The noble Baroness is currently Leader of the Opposition. She must have considered the possibility that in the next few weeks she could be Leader of the House—that is, if the Labour Party concedes to a general election. If the noble Baroness is willing to push forward a guillotine when in opposition, just imagine what she would do if she had the full powers of government behind her.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My noble friend makes a very important point. Of course, we all know that Labour Party Members are busy making speeches around the country saying that they are standing up for democracy, when the very last thing they are prepared to do is give my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the opportunity to have a general election where they can put their views to the people.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I am sorry to intervene on the noble Lord, but given that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was so happy to invite me to become Leader of the House, I put it to him that I am not pushing through a guillotine in any way. I am asking your Lordships’ House whether it wishes to consider a better way, as proposed in my Motion, for dealing with its business. It is for this House to decide—not for any Government on any occasion—how to manage its business.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

I know what the noble Baroness is doing. We referred to the debate we had on the Cooper-Letwin Bill earlier this year, in which she gave an undertaking—now broken—that they would not take control of the business of this House and we would proceed as we always have by agreement between the usual channels. Not only has she done that today but she has added to it, bringing forward a guillotine procedure. That is an absolute outrage.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

Having also been involved at the time, I know that this certainly is the breaking of an undertaking. Many of us agreed to facilitate the passage of Cooper-Boles on the basis that this would not happen again in your Lordships’ House. There will be a lot of debating and a fundamental amendment will come forward from the Cross Benches about the very principle of the guillotine, which we can discuss. However, as I take it, the purpose of a Committee discussion—which perhaps could be confined to a short part of this—is that the person who is proposing unprecedented action in this House, the Leader of the Opposition, should be required to answer for that in the same way a Minister of the Crown is required to answer to the House. I put this to my noble friend as just one example, and I will have others later: did he hear the noble Baroness say that every Bill from the Commons should be dealt with? Does that mean immediately? How are we going to find out these things unless my noble friend’s Motion is passed and we have a proper Committee discussion and interrogation?

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My noble friend makes a really important point. We need to remember that we are dealing with private Members’ legislation because the procedures in the other place have been subverted and its Standing Orders undermined. The proposition here is that private business, which may or may not come to this House, should be dealt with using a guillotine procedure. These are revolutionary changes being proposed by the noble Baroness. As my noble friend says, she really ought to account to this place, if we are in Committee, for many of the issues which will arise.

I return to my point about the other place sending us vast quantities of legislation that has not been properly scrutinised and the establishment of a precedent that we can have a guillotine procedure in this House, which will be used by Governments of all parties. There were no guillotines, other than in exceptional circumstances and subject to exceptional rules, until Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, and now everything in the other place is guillotined and not properly considered. All of us in this House know in our heart of hearts how damaging that has been to the good conduct of government and the provision of legislation.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

May I take my noble friend back to the example he gave from 2011, when the former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, expressed outrage about the possibility of the guillotine being introduced in your Lordships’ House? The then Prime Minister withdrew his proposal. Is it not quite extraordinary that a Prime Minister would withdraw his proposal in the face of outrage expressed about a breach of procedural precedent, whereas the Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships’ House, in the face of exactly the same protest, intends to pursue her plan?

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Does the noble Lord accept that a guillotine would not be necessary if noble Lords undertook not to filibuster?

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee 4:00 pm, 4th September 2019

That reminds me of the points that Screaming Lord Sutch used to make about the Monopolies Commission in various election campaigns. If there is a Division on this matter, I hope that the noble Baroness will join us in the Lobbies because she is making a very important point. In order to prevent the guillotine procedure being used in this House, it is necessary for us to table amendments—the only thing we can do—that will enable this House to keep talking until one minute past 10 am on Friday. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is outrageous that we should have to do that, but it is her doing. That is what we have to do in order to prevent this dangerous constitutional innovation in this House.

When I say “dangerous”, in agreeing with the former Lord Chancellor, I think it is dangerous for this reason—I am determined to make this point. If this House is going to be subject to a guillotine procedure, we will be in exactly the same boat as the House of Commons. If we are in the same boat as the Commons, we will not be able to do our job of scrutinising legislation, and if we are not able to do the job, what is the point of us continuing to exist? This Motion leads the way to unicameralism. My noble friend Lord Hailsham, who is not in his place, was burbling on yesterday about the elective dictatorship. What this does is to transfer huge power to the Executive.

I know your Lordships do not want me to go on for too long, but we are discussing serious issues which point to us having to be in Committee. I shall make a point which may appeal to our friends on the Liberal Benches and in the Labour Party. If we get to a position where these guillotine Motions can be used in this House, we cannot have a situation where the Government do not have a majority of Peers, so with each change of Government we will end up with a House of about 1,500 to 2,000 Peers as the Government try to maintain that position. What the noble Baroness is doing in order to avert something she supposes may happen—that somehow this House will not operate in its normal way in considering legislation—is putting a bomb under this Chamber and this institution. I hope that I might persuade your Lordships that we should sit in Committee and consider the implications.

Noble Lords will note that I have not sought to talk at length and I have not mentioned Brexit or any of the proceedings in the other place; I am entirely focused on the rights and opportunities of this House. I hope that every Member of this House, if they are not prepared to take this in Committee, will urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this wretched Motion. She said she will withdraw it if the Government give an undertaking to give safe passage to a Bill which has not even been passed in the other place. She might like to reflect on this. What is the Prime Minister meant to do when the Opposition are now so gutless that they are not even prepared to have a general election and let the people decide on these matters; when they are going around the country saying they want people to have more opportunity to discuss the issues arising, but they are bringing in guillotine Motions in this House to prevent us discussing those issues? It sounds like—are we allowed to say “hypocrisy” in this House? Is it parliamentary? Whatever the equivalent of hypocrisy is, that is what we are seeing from the Front Bench today. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Baroness wholeheartedly. I do so, according to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as a member of a bunch of malcontents who, apparently, are being dictated to by Jeremy Corbyn. Well, you could have fooled me. The Motion is proposed by the Leader of the Opposition as a matter of convention, but it is supported absolutely by me and my colleagues on these Benches, by many on the Cross Benches—including many of the most distinguished parliamentarians, civil servants and former judges in this country—and by a significant number on the Conservative Benches. To try to characterise, to trivialise, the motivation behind the Motion as something to do with a plot by Jeremy Corbyn does the noble Lord and this House no service.

In supporting the Motion, I am not acting lightly. I have sat through many thousands of hours in your Lordships’ House, at literally every hour of day and night, when there has been no time limit. I have accepted, through stiff bones and weary eyes that, on balance, our normal system was preferable to that in the Commons where, as the noble Lord says, so many debates, however important, are severely truncated. I sat through 150 hours of debate on the withdrawal Bill, when debates on individual amendments often took several hours. I did so cheerfully, despite the odd moments of tedium, because I knew that we were debating issues of first importance for the country and that they deserved exhaustive deliberation. I would have been more than willing for the debates on the Bill that we expect from the Commons tomorrow, and which we have to make provision for today, to follow our normal procedures. But if I had done that, I would have had to acknowledge that there would be a real—

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

I must point out to the noble Lord that we do not have a Bill. When he uses the phrase, “we have to make provision for it today”, the provision he is making is to prevent this House discussing it properly. How does he justify that?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

The provision we are making today is specifically to allow this House to debate it properly and in a proportionate manner. If, however, we had simply waited for the Bill to arrive and started debating it tomorrow under our normal procedures, I would have had to acknowledge the real possibility that it would not pass. The reason for that is straightforward: we are faced with Prorogation on Monday next, and if the Bill is to pass, it must receive Royal Assent by then. In the absence of some sort of time limits on our proceedings, even with good will—and even if we sit over the weekend—things would be, at best, tight. However, it became clear at an early stage that such good will, at least from the Government’s side, would not be forthcoming.

Last Thursday, I was contacted by a senior political journalist. She had just been in discussion with a Downing Street spokesperson. The Downing Street line was that if the Bill, which is being debated in the other place today, passes the Commons—as it is likely to do—it would not get through the Lords because there would be a government-inspired filibuster. I have no reason to believe that Downing Street was not accurately representing the position of the Government, although I am willing to be told that it was not. Indeed, the spate of amendments before us today, clearly co-ordinated, gives some support to that thesis. Given that I believe that this is an issue of the first importance for the future of the country and that we will face a filibuster on the Bill itself, what options lay before us, other than to shrug our shoulders and capitulate?

The first was that we could have repeated the performance that we had with the procedural amendments on the substance of the Cooper/Letwin Bill. As noble Lords know, we were able to get that through only because we repeatedly moved that the Motion be now put. We would have been faced with that prospect on the substantive issues of the Bill and some issues might well not have been debated at all. That did not seem to be a sensible way forward.

The only other alternative before us was a timetable Motion such as we have today. It has of course been objected to on the grounds that it goes against our normal practice, that it will set a baleful precedent and that it is intended to curtail debate. However, as has already been said, we are not seeking to stifle debate. I am happy to debate hours into the night with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—it is a peculiarity of mine that I quite enjoy it. However, the brutal, unprincipled Prorogation with which we are faced on Monday is specifically there to curtail debate, and it is in the context of that Prorogation that we have to decide what we do today. It goes against our normal practice. According to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, it is an abomination. That is a pretty strong word but frankly—

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

It was the former Lord Chancellor’s word, aired in the press, to describe the threat of a possible guillotine Motion. “Abomination” is not my word; it was his.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

It was a word that the noble Lord happily appropriated. However, how does he describe the unprecedented Prorogation, the sole purpose of which is to curtail debate? How does he describe a senior Cabinet Minister going on the television, as happened at the weekend, and saying that the Government would decide, after the event, whether to follow a piece of legislation duly passed by Parliament? I think that that is an abomination and that what we are proposing is eminently reasonable.

If we pass this Motion, your Lordships’ House will have some 14 hours to discuss the Bill. That is over four times the amount of time being given to it in the Commons. It would give seven hours for the principle of the Bill to be debated. Is that unreasonable? Clearly not. By our normal standards, we are undoubtedly talking about a tight timetable, but in the circumstances it is an eminently reasonable timetable.

Of course, it has been suggested that this is the beginning of a slippery slope, but it is not unusual for your Lordships’ House to take an entire Bill through all its stages in one sitting day. That is the norm for Northern Ireland legislation. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, helpfully points out, that is normally done by agreement between the parties. This Bill is undoubtedly urgent and, in the absence of agreement between the parties and as a self-regulating House, it is for your Lordships to decide whether the proposals before the House today are proportionate and necessary in their own right. I hope that we never find ourselves in such a position in the future, but the only future that we should have in our minds today is the future prosperity, security and influence of our country, and in order to protect those we need this Bill and we need this Motion.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

I rise to second and support the proposition put by my noble friend. The coercion, or the instinct to coerce, could never have been put with more charm, eloquence and mildness than it has just been put by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. He made everything sound so reasonable, so normal and so in line with what we always do—that nothing we have here has never happened before. But when I went to the Table Office and saw that Motion in black and white, the like of which has never been tabled in this House in its history—by a Government, still less an Opposition—I must confess that, to appropriate a phrase, it was a dagger in my heart. It was the same thing that the Lord Hart of Chilton, who we all esteemed—

Photo of Lord Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative

I am jolly concerned about my noble friend’s heart. I wonder what his cardiologist would have said when he learned about the longest Prorogation since the 1930s, at a time when this Parliament is engaged in extraordinarily important discussions about the national interest? Is that not a rather larger dagger—a rather larger guillotine—than anything we are talking about today?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 4:15 pm, 4th September 2019

I very strongly disagree with my noble friend, and I will discuss my heart when he discusses his soul on this matter. The question of Prorogation is not before us now. I will stick to the central point, which is the guillotine. Perhaps I should not have used the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, about the dagger—but it was his phrase and that of Lord Hart of Chilton before that.

Setting that phrase aside, I suggest that very few noble Lords who were involved in the pre-cooking of this plot—because it is a plot—who were not shocked when they saw that Motion. Someone said that I should be ashamed of myself for putting the case that this House should never, never accept a guillotine.

I remember that, when I first came into the House, by chance the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, had a very memorable debate on the implications of coalitions. It was around the time that all this stuff was going on—the threat from David Cameron and what was said by the former Lord Chancellor. Her question was whether the House has to acquiesce—or acquiesce immediately—if a coalition brings something forward. Does it have the authority of the Salisbury doctrine? When the noble Baroness replies, it would be interesting to know whether she thinks that everything that comes from the Commons has the authority of the Salisbury doctrine.

In this case, we do not even have a formal coalition but an ad-hoc group of folk who have come together in the other place, cobbled together some sort of Bill, plan to send it up here and have got their minions here to put down something that will change the whole character of how your Lordships’ House does business. I will give way to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

Does the noble Lord agree that the question of the primacy of the House of Commons is nothing to do with the Salisbury doctrine; it is to do with the fact that it is elected and we are not?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

The Salisbury doctrine is very important for relations between the two Houses. It allows this House freedom to challenge and dissent on things that are not covered by the doctrine. If it is a manifesto measure or something that has been put before the people, this House must certainly defer, sometimes quickly.

Who put this proposition that we are told is coming up the Corridor to the people? Who actually published it? It was written by Sir Oliver Letwin and a few clever lawyers—perhaps some of them in this place—and put forward. What is the authority by which those people claim that this House should not only defer but defer to a guillotine to force it through? We will shortly come on to the amendment

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Is the authority not from the majority in the House of Commons last night?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, if that argument had been put before this great House for 700 years—with the House told that every time a vote in the other place produced a majority it must be silent—this House would not have endured. This House has a right and a duty to respond. I believe that we should consider the matter of the guillotine separately. On this I agree with the noble Baroness opposite that the sensible thing is for an accommodation to be reached between the opposition party and the governing party, which must involve a lot of things, including acquiescing to this general election, about which we do not know whether they are keen. It is clear that the House of Commons is not functioning. In those circumstances, of course there would be no need for her guillotine and no need for our response—but that is certainly above my pay grade. That accommodation having not yet been reached is no excuse for her to come and present to the House something so exceptional, so draconian and so unprecedented, and then to complain when that gets an exceptional, unprecedented and possibly draconian response. If there is no guillotine Motion, I will shut up. But as long as this House is prevented—

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I thank the noble Lord. One way, of course, would be if Prorogation were delayed so that this House had plenty of time to discuss it. Will the noble Lord undertake to lobby the Prime Minister on that?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

I do not want to get into the issue of Prorogation, simply because of the time. But I spoke about Prorogation the last time we discussed these things. We all know that Prorogation is perfectly normal. There is always a Queen’s Speech. There has been one every year and the next Government will introduce a Queen’s Speech after the general election. In response to the noble Baroness, I will make the point that, if there were an election and a new Session, there would be more time to have such a Bill after that than there is in the next two days. There would be several days in which we could discuss it, not two days. It is not necessary to do it now. Indeed, after an election, if the party opposite won, we would not need a Bill because it would ask for an extension anyway—and if our side won, the Bill would not go forward. So the whole thing is entirely unnecessary, and this House is being asked to sign away hundreds of years of tradition on a pretext.

I support my noble friend. There are questions that the noble Baroness should answer. What does the Salisbury doctrine apply to? In her doctrine, we must defer to the Commons. Does self-regulation always mean a Motion from the Leader of the Opposition? Her guillotine says that if it passes, no one else may put any proposition to the House in the time that we are discussing this Bill, except the Leader of the Opposition. There are questions that need to be answered. I strongly support the view of my noble friend that we should take the Committee opportunity to get some answers from the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

Will my noble friend include on the list of questions that he is putting to the Leader of the Opposition that of whether this Motion would be necessary if we did not have Prorogation?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

The Motion is not at all necessary, irrespective of Prorogation. I just made that point. There will be more time in a new Parliament to deal with this Bill than in these two days.