Moved by Lord True
Leave out from first “Commons” to the end and insert “that this House believes that any Bill that has been allowed only one day’s consideration in the House of Commons, should receive full and unfettered consideration in the House of Lords and in the interests of orderly Parliamentary scrutiny deplores any attempt to curtail consideration in both Houses.”
My Lords, we have just seen 288 Members of your Lordships’ House vote to close discussion on one of the most fundamental principles to come before this House procedurally: whether we should have a guillotine in this House. Two hundred and eighty-eight Members voted not even to discuss the matter after the most impressive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Whatever our opinions on any question, is this the way that this House wishes to proceed?
Does my noble friend not think that for the Liberal Chief Whip to call a closure after only one speech had been made is one of the most disgraceful acts we have seen in this House?
My Lords, I was coming to the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. As the Liberal Democrats know, I am one of their greatest fans in the world, but my noble friend has of course made the point: the Liberal Democrat—democrat—Chief Whip, from a sedentary position, without even the courtesy to stand up to address the House—
Our proceedings are filmed. He moved the closure on a fundamental question of procedure in this House without any opportunity for anybody to respond when it was clear that other noble Lords, including one noble Lord with extensive experience of presiding over the House of Commons, wished to contribute. I will not talk about repentance, because I saw four or five right reverend Prelates move in to support the principle of a guillotine—they clearly do not like dissent in their pews; they are not quite in the Anglican tradition—but I believe we might see some repentance from the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and that he will not on this amendment, which allows the House—
My noble friend referred to the Lords Spiritual. That is quite interesting, because I noted this morning that the learned judge in Scotland in dismissing the case said that this question was not one for the judiciary, but a matter of high politics. I am a little surprised that the Lords Spiritual want to engage so actively in high politics.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his intervention. However, returning to the fundamental point, are we really going to allow the acceptance of the principle of a guillotine to go forward without any dissenting voice being allowed? What the Liberal Democrat—democrat—Chief Whip offered the House was a guillotine of a guillotine. We started off today with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, saying that there will be no developments, no further guillotines and that nothing will happen. We have moved from the presentation of the most draconian guillotine Motion ever seen in this House to a Cross-Bencher who wished to put some points about the principle of the matter being closed down from a sedentary position by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip—a guillotine of a guillotine. In the long proceedings I anticipate on this there may well be many occasions when it might be apt to intervene. I do not like to see the closure used, but it might be understandable. For my part as a parliamentarian—
My Lords, what is an abuse of the processes of the House is for the noble Lord to come here and fail to read the amendment before the House. If he reads it, he will see that it is exactly to the point of the propriety of the guillotine and every point I have made has been germane. Perhaps he was asleep.
I appreciate that the noble Lord is hankering after the halcyon days he had in local government, but he is simply abusing the Liberal Democrats. I am very happy to abuse them on appropriate occasions, but we might try to carry out a debate focusing on the direct issues rather than streams of verbiage that do not get to the point.
I repeat: perhaps the noble Lord would like to read the amendment before he keeps standing up and saying that what I have said is not germane. I might also say that, much as I have been tempted, I said in my speech that I am not attacking the Liberal Democrats. I am attacking the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, one of the leading figures in this House, who behaved with such discourtesy to a senior Cross-Bench Peer and to other Peers who wished to speak. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris, wants to make general attacks on Liberal Democrats, there will be other times for that and I might well join in.
Perhaps those on the other side do not share the view that this House, after the disaster of 1911, became a great revising Chamber and a great debating Chamber because of its freedoms—freedoms that went with and must always go with responsibility. But if we are to become a House where, when some people do not want to hear the opinions of other people they shout, “Closure, we’ll hear no more”, what kind of House will we become? It would be a great and sad occasion, obviously, but it would be a farce to call that anything like a free Parliament. This is the kind of thing that happens in some Parliaments that none of us would ever wish to belong to in countries that some of us would never wish to live in: when somebody comes to stand up and make a point on a debate of fundamental importance, someone shouts that they cannot be heard. This is not the way we should go in this Parliament.
Why does my noble friend think that, when a closure is moved, our procedures require the Chair to remind people that this should be an exceptional procedure and invite the person concerned to revise their view? Why does he think that procedure is there, and what does he think about what has happened so far today?
I do not want to be disobliging to my noble friend, whom I admire very much, but I say again what I said to the noble Lord opposite. I have been trying to make that point, and I am grateful to him for reinforcing it. It is the fundamental issue which I believe noble Lords should be allowed to wrestle with. Do we want to be the sort of House that we have just been, where we have voted by that large number—288 Peers—to close down, at the behest of a Peer, without any debate? I would like to have heard other Members from the Cross Benches responding to and commenting, from the viewpoint of their experience, on the noble Baroness’s speech. As I said at the start, I would like to have heard my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Cormack, who wished to speak.
I have tried to explain to the noble Lord opposite that my amendment addresses the same issue. Sometimes in life you get a second chance. This amendment offers the House a second chance to address and hear a little about why this great principle of freedom of debate should be cast aside, but on a more limited scale. I do not ask, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, did in her powerful speech, that the House should reject the principle of a guillotine. I put before your Lordships a proposition relating to any Bill that has been allowed only one day’s consideration in the House of Commons —we have not got this Bill yet, so it may be this Bill, but it could be any Bill—and we are discussing the principle here. This is an issue of principle about the guillotine. Surely any Bill that has been allowed only one day’s consideration in the House of Commons should receive full and unfettered consideration in your Lordship’s House.
I come back to the central point: what is this Chamber for if not to revise, consider, scrutinise and debate? I submit that there should not be curtailment of consideration on a Bill which is not an emergency Bill. There should not be a guillotine imposed in both Houses on legislation of this sort.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. When I was shadow Leader in another place during the William Hague administration, the Blair Government introduced guillotining at all stages for Bills going through the House of Commons, something that the Conservative Party robustly opposed at the time. Unfortunately, the Blair Government had their way, and that is what happens now. Having come to your Lordships’ House from another place nine years ago, I am only too familiar with the fact that, at all stages of a Bill coming from another place, the guillotine will fall and at all stages large sections of those Bills never get debated. It is incumbent upon this House to look line by line at everything that has not had the benefit of Members of the House of Commons looking at it. If we give up that duty—and it is a duty—through this measure being introduced to the House today, then I say to my noble friend that what he is proposing is very serious in its consequences for any Bill. We might all be worried about what is coming in the next couple of days, whether you support it or not, but as he rightly says, this is a principle, and we shall rue this as far as the future of this House and its role is concerned.
I am very grateful to my noble friend, particularly with her great experience in the other place. I never had the privilege of serving there, but I remember that in 1975, when I was a young researcher, the late, great Michael Foot—a remarkable parliamentarian, though not necessarily always the greatest Minister—introduced five guillotine Motions on the Floor of the House of Commons in one day. That was considered such a sensational and shocking thing to do that it was on the front pages of the newspapers, and people cried “Liberty”. And here we are, in my lifetime, as my noble friend just pointed out, we now see the House of Commons treated as the lapdog when it comes to whoever is in control, whether it is the Government—
My Lords, I have listened with great intent and attention to the passion of the noble Lord’s principles regarding curtailment of discussion. Is he intending to say a word about the fundamental and ultimate guillotine, which is the closure of Parliament through proroguing, which is the very reason that we have been forced into our current circumstances?
The noble Lord has been a member of many Governments, and year after year has attended ceremonies of Prorogation with the sovereign there. He knows full well that it is a perfectly normal part of the parliamentary year. What is abnormal is that we have had years without a Prorogation and without a Queen’s Speech. The noble Lord knows this far too well to try and pull that one.
Let me return to the point. The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip is not in his place, so I need not repeat what I have said about him, but since he is not here, I say to noble Lords who have the power over this House—the power of the closure Motion, the power to silence an individual Member in this House at will, without even standing up—please may we be allowed to hear from other noble Lords on the question of the propriety of a guillotine in this House, in general terms? Will they graciously vouchsafe, from their lofty places, permission for another Peer to address the points that I have made, and which the noble Baroness made on the previous amendment?
Can I suggest to my noble friend that part of the reason for what is happening is that all the Liberal Democrats, and a large number of the Labour Party, simply do not want to leave Europe at all, and that all this is just shenanigans and make-believe? They are not interested in debate. Why should they be remotely interested in any debate about how we leave or what is going on? They simply do not want to leave. I am not referring to anybody here personally, but this will prove to be the biggest political lie in history. Everybody is talking about how we leave, and what they should really be saying is that they do not want to leave at all.
My Lords, my noble friend may be right, but I do not wish to follow on that point, because I believe that the principle applies to all legislation. In brief response, I pointed out in my earlier speech that it would be perfectly possible to pass in late October the Bill that we are allegedly getting; in fact, there would be more days, so in a sense an entirely false prospectus is being presented to us.
My fundamental point is a question of power. Is not Parliament really about discussing, shackling, scrutinising and considering power? The question of power is this: today, now, as has just been demonstrated on the previous amendment, they—the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—have the power to shut your Lordships up. They have the power to say, “We don’t want to hear from anybody in this House who doesn’t think that a guillotine is a good idea. We’re having this guillotine. Shut up”. That in demotic language is what the closure Motion means. Those who have power, as they do today, should exercise it with wisdom and restraint.
When I conclude my remarks, I hope that even on the more limited proposition that I put before the House that a guillotine should not be applied to legislation in both Houses, at least one Peer may be allowed to say something. When I look around this House, I see noble Lords who sat in Cabinets, great judges, the right reverend Prelates, people of immense experience, former heads of the Cabinet and the Civil Service. “Shut up. We do not want to hear from you. The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip does not want to hear from you. The Labour Party does not want to hear from you. We have our guillotine”.
Then do not impose the guillotine; do not use the closure Motion on this issue. I shall give way to a representative of a party that opposes power.
Oh, not at all. I am so sorry; you are completely wrong on that. I thank the noble Lord for sitting down; I wish it were for longer. As I have said previously here, I voted leave; I did not vote for no deal. What I am trying to do here today is stop no deal. The person who had the power is the Prime Minister, who decided to prorogue Parliament, to close it down and to shut it up. It is not this side of the Chamber that is stopping debate; it is that side, and you have to take responsibility for that.
That of course is entirely false, my Lords. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, whoever it is, has no power to enter this Chamber. He may come and stand at the Bar of this House and listen to its proceedings or sit on the steps of the Throne, but he has no power here. It is in your Lordships’ gift to decide whether to submit to the principle of the guillotine, and the guillotine of the guillotine, which has been put forward by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. “Shut up”. Is that what we are going to accept in future in this Chamber? I beg to move.
My Lords, I should inform the House that if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call any other amendments by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with what my noble friend said about the precipitate action of the Liberal Chief Whip at the beginning of the previous debate, which never happened. I say very gently to my noble friend that speaking for 20 minutes or more does not encourage.
I speak here for one main reason. Of course, I am one of those who voted remain, but I have accepted, from the moment of the referendum, that we would come out of the European Union. All that I have been concerned about is how we come out and the terms on which we do so. I deeply resent the fact that certain colleagues—not all, by any means—suggest that we want to go back in. I wish we could, but we cannot. There has been a democratic decision. Only a general election or another referendum—and I do not favour another referendum; I never have—can alter that.
What I am concerned about is the reputation of this House. I had the honour to serve for 40 years in another place and I shall always look back on that period as an enormous privilege. I look upon it as a privilege to serve in your Lordships’ House. We are complementary houses. We do not want an American deadlock system. We add value here to the democratic system, and the main reason for that is that our procedures are different. I do not welcome guillotine Motions in your Lordships’ House, but exceptional times call—sometimes—for exceptional remedies.
I support the Motion before us in general terms, for two reasons above all others. One is the disingenuous explanation for the excessive prorogation. Of course, Parliament prorogues—not, I say sadly, as my noble friend indicated, in the presence of the sovereign, but in the presence of a number of extremely well-dressed Peers who form Her Majesty’s Commission—but we normally prorogue for a few days. This is the longest prorogation for some 90 years and there is only one reason for it: to foreclose debate on the greatest issue that has faced our nation in peacetime for the last two centuries. The other reason that I give my general support tonight is that I am incensed—I use the word deliberately—at the treatment meted out to 21 men and women who have given decades of service to their party and their country and who were dealt with in what I can describe only as a vindictive manner in another place last night.
I am therefore speaking in this debate, but I want to try to make one or two constructive suggestions. I do not think that it will serve the individual health of any of your Lordships or the collective reputation of your Lordships’ House if we carry on with this procedural business until one minute past 10 on Friday morning. I therefore appeal to the usual channels to get together this evening, as they did earlier in the year, to discuss how we can give this Bill decent scrutiny when it comes—if it comes—from the other place. We all accept that it has to be dealt with fairly quickly, as we have to accept on Northern Ireland legislation from time to time. Two days, the whole of Thursday and Friday, ought to be enough to consider the Bill properly and, if it has a majority in the other place—it will not come to us if it does not—to accede as we do to the request of the premier House. We all accept the supremacy of the elected House over the appointed House.
There is one other thing that I think we should do. I regret to say this, but we need a general election. The Prime Minister has now, partly by his own hand, completely lost any semblance of a majority. He has now lost 21 senior Conservatives, several of whom were in the Cabinet six weeks ago, several of whom consistently, bravely and valiantly voted for the former Prime Minister’s deal and were in fact frustrated by the present Prime Minister and his friends. An election is needed. He has to establish whether he really has the authority to carry on. I think we should have a Motion, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, with a date in it. People, rightly or wrongly, do not entirely trust the Prime Minister. Therefore, any Motion has to have a date in it—
I beg and implore the Front Benches on both sides to get together this evening and try to work out a civilised approach to this impending legislation and to the Motion before us tonight. It should be withdrawn on the basis of a firm agreement to have proper debate on the whole of Thursday and Friday—and indeed to go, if necessary, into Saturday. Parliament has met on Saturday before. I shall never forget one Saturday in April 1982 when I and all my colleagues on a Select Committee visit to Warwick University were summoned and came back to debate the Falklands. There are precedents. What will not do any of us any good, individually or collectively, is going on with this debate until just after 10 am on Friday.
I agree with much of what my noble friend has said about procedure. I think it would be a good thing for the Front Benches to agree and for the Bill being considered by the House of Commons to make its passage, and for the Opposition leader to agree—we hear different things at different time—to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to take his case to the voters on a timetable, preferably on my birthday:
I am very glad to have the support of my noble friend and I look forward to being invited to his 65th birthday, when he will be 15 years my junior. His support is very welcome, because we do not always agree on everything.
My Lords, I share the views of my young noble friend Lord Forsyth about what my noble friend said. His interesting speech covered a number of areas but did not cover one of the more outrageous elements, which is the use of the closure Motion. This, as noble Lords are aware, is designed to be used only in very rare circumstances, which is why the Lord Speaker or the Deputy Speaker always reminds the House that it is a very unusual procedure. It was used several times earlier this year and it seems to be being used as a routine tactic this evening, in a way it was never intended to be. My noble friend Lord True is quite right: it is the equivalent of saying “Shut up”, which is not the way we conduct our business. I would be interested to hear my noble friend’s views on how the way we conduct our business in this House is being harmed by the use of that procedure.
As my noble friend asked me to respond, let me say that any procedural device should be used sparingly. I have moved a closure myself, so I cannot pretend that I wholly disapprove of it, but I believe that filibustering does not do the House or the individuals indulging in it any good at all. Of course, it should be used, but the main purpose of my speech was to try to lower the temperature and bring a little sense to both sides of the House, so that we can conclude our proceedings today in a seemly manner and deal with the legislation that is likely to arrive, in an equally seemly and sensible manner.
My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Lord has said. It seems to me that we have to be realistic. I speak as a Lord spiritual with an obligation to engage in what was called “high politics” earlier, as a Member of this House, noting that the Lords spiritual cannot be whipped and that we are not a party. It seems to me that we have to be realistic and say that this prorogation has been disingenuously propagated as being just a little extension to recess, when we know that it is of a completely different order. We have prorogation on one side and these procedural objections about closure and guillotine over here. The reality is that we are going to carry on with the sort of spectacle we have had thus far unless the Front Benches come to some agreement and conclusion. It would be grown-up to do that. I do not suspect, from what I am hearing, that anyone in this Chamber wants to spend day and night going through these Motions to achieve very little other than irritation, so I add my endorsement to what the noble Lord has said and encourage the Front Benches to do as he requested.
My Lords, from this Front Bench I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for what he said, which was in good tone and wise. The important thing is that he called on both Front Benches. Noble Lords will recall my noble friend Lady Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, saying at the beginning of the debate that if we could be clear that the Bill could get through in time—that means before prorogation, because otherwise we know what would happen—then she did not see her Motion as necessary. I am not in a position to make promises on her behalf and certainly not in a position to say anything about general elections—that is way above my pay grade—but on the point about whether the Front Benches can agree a business Motion, as it were, to get the Bill through in time, that is something that I understood my noble friend to say she would welcome. At that time, the Leader of the House was saying something different. I am not going to put her on the spot, but if we knew that both Front Benches were saying that, that would be a very different matter and it would be welcomed by the House. I understand the House and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to be accepting the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am not going to say anything more, since I cannot, but I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
The noble and learned Lord is being very constructive, but he has left out the key point. There needs to be a commitment from the Opposition that they will allow the Prime Minister to take his case to the country. I find it quite extraordinary that the Opposition do not want to fight a general election.
I have made it very clear that this is way above my pay grade, but I understand that what has been said is not that we are against a general election but that we are against a general election before the Bill has passed and we have clarified the position in relation to the possibility of crashing out without a deal. I am not going to say anything more, because some of this may be taken as an official statement from the Labour Party, which it is certainly not.
I will not ask the noble and learned Lord to go further, but the fundamental point is that we cannot do the whole thing in this House. I endorse fully what has been said by others. We should have an arrangement and understanding between the three parties. It has also to involve the Front Benches in the other Chamber. If that can be achieved, that would be a good way to proceed.
My Lords, I speak as a former Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker who took the Maastricht Bill in another place. I remember meeting opposition spokesmen across all parties in my room as Chairman of Ways and Means and discussing that Bill. There is nothing to prevent discussions on a Bill taking place, but the Motion before us this evening is not really necessary for a subsequent Bill, the likes of which we do not know in any detail. The noble and learned Lord opposite shakes his head—perhaps he does know, but I do not, and I am quite sure that 90% of Members here do not, either.
We have already passed an amendment that this House will in the future have the opportunity to guillotine any Bill that comes. I take some objection to the Liberal Whip insisting from a sedentary position on putting the Question when a privy counsellor gets up. He must have known, or should have known, that I took the Maastricht Bill—all 26 days of it, all three whole-night sittings and all 600 amendments. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that was quite a long Bill—but at least there was no filibustering on it. There was a lot of discussion. There have been subsequent Bills on Europe which have been much shorter.
None of us here this evening has any idea what is in that Bill. So I put it to this House that it is up to the two Front Benches to get together, talk about the Bill that is coming and, when it comes, reach some agreement. However, to change the whole procedures of the second House for a Bill that the country as a whole is divided on is not a procedure that should be welcomed by anyone. I look at the amendment that my noble friend has moved. Are we really saying that we will get rid of all the Standing Orders on how we operate in this House? That these notices, where you have precedence of notices of orders relating to public Bills, measures, affirmative instruments, negative instruments and reports from Select Committees of the House, can be varied on any day if the convenience of the House requires it—are we going to throw those procedures out of the window in the future? That cannot be a sensible way forward.
I say to noble friends on all sides of the House, and to the noble Baroness in the Chair, that I sat in the other place when a great argument was taking place. Good decisions were made in the end. This evening we should forget about this Motion. It is a pariah of democracy and, quite frankly, should not have been put forward. I understand the emotion behind the Labour Party putting it forward. I sat in a marginal seat with majorities of 179 and 142, so I do understand these things. So I ask the two Front Benches to come together and say, “Right, we’ll pull this Motion on condition that there is discussion on the future Bill”.
I will just make my position clear on behalf of these Benches in returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am very much in sympathy with the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. All I will say is that I am willing to play my part as the leader of these Benches in trying to reach an accommodation as to how we resolve these proceedings without having to go through all the amendments one by one. However, I stress that this will happen only if those on the Government Front Bench are prepared to engage with, no doubt, the Bishops’ Benches, myself and the Opposition. It will not work without the willingness of the Government Front Bench.
My Lords, I will very briefly support the amendment of my noble friend Lord True, but before that I will clear up a point in the light of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Cormack. As both rightly pointed out, in her opening remarks the Leader of the Opposition alluded to the prospect of her Motion becoming unnecessary if the Government were to guarantee safe passage for the Bill, should it arrive. I need to put on record, lest there be any misunderstanding, that no such prospect was raised prior to today’s sitting with my noble friend the Government Chief Whip. That was the first time we had heard of that proposal. By that time the noble Baroness had already placed her Motion in the hands of the House. All I can say is that the usual channels, at least in so far as the Government are concerned, are always open.
I will make some brief remarks on the amendment of my noble friend. I focus, as other noble Lords will do, on the practical effects of this Motion. Its main effect, as has been said, is a guillotine. Setting aside the issue of precedent, I do not think that one can dismiss this as some kind of run-of-the-mill measure. The practical effects of the guillotine will be wide ranging and deeply damaging to the ability of the House to scrutinise legislation as fully as it needs to. Many of us have observed over the years how much the House prides itself on the scrutiny of legislation and how seriously it takes its role in the legislative process. My noble friend Lord Forsyth was quite right in all that he said earlier. The Business of the House Motion as tabled would shackle noble Lords to procedures that only the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I understand will pilot any Bill that arrives from the Commons, would have any control over. What does that do to the principle of self-regulation?
The House as a whole must be free to take important decisions about how and at what speed it conducts its business. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier, the Motion would limit the number of noble Lords who could make meaningful contributions at Second Reading. It would mean that amendments not reached before the guillotines could be agreed only on a unanimous basis, meaning that noble Lords, no matter what experience they bring, would be unable to have their amendments debated or decided upon fairly. This Motion means that the House is being asked to agree that, should the Commons send us a Bill, that Bill should be passed without full debate and proper scrutiny, and that the role of Members of this place should be bypassed. No noble Lord, in my opinion, should find that even remotely acceptable.
I apologise to the noble Earl—I caught him on the television and came in urgently to hear the rest of what he was saying. I understand the points he is making, and the Motion in my name is designed to ensure a full debate—far more so than in the House of Commons. But if the noble Earl could say that the Government would be prepared to ensure that the withdrawal Bill, if passed by the House of Commons, would be guaranteed to complete its stages in your Lordships’ House prior to Prorogation—that is, by Friday—there would be no need for my Motion, because the Bill would be guaranteed to leave the House in good time. I think that that is all that anybody in your Lordships’ House wants to achieve. Are the Government prepared to have those kinds of discussions to ensure that that can be achieved? That might deal with a lot of the issues of concern to noble Lords here today.
My Lords, I indicated that the usual channels on our side are open, and I wish we had been alerted earlier. In answer to her question, of course we are prepared to discuss this. No noble Lord wants to see this debate unnecessarily perpetuated.
I am extremely glad to hear that, because I made that suggestion earlier today to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. My understanding, which I hope was a misunderstanding, was that there could not be such discussions. What the noble Earl has said is extremely encouraging. I would be happy at the conclusion of this debate to talk outside the Chamber to progress those discussions.
I just want to say that we have got ourselves into the most appalling political mess. We are getting ourselves into a constitutional mess and anyone looking in on this House must be completely bemused as to what we are debating. We have had these ludicrous closure Motions, which should be used extremely sparingly. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, has reappeared. I was rather hoping that he would feel that he should absent himself from the House, given his truly deplorable behaviour earlier of closing down the debate not on a political person but on a member of the Cross-Benches, who had scarcely finished her words before that debate was closed down. I very much hope that he will send her an apology that the House was unable to debate her amendment, the first amendment due to be considered.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. None of us wants the temperature to rise any higher. I say to the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House: would it be helpful for the House to adjourn for pleasure at this point so that some discussion can take place? I hear that from around the House and see nods opposite. I therefore propose that the House adjourn for pleasure to return no later than 7.15. Would that be possible?
I would like to make a suggestion to my noble friends on the Front Bench which might work for the House. I do not know whether it would be acceptable at this stage. I understand why the Government might want to see what actually happens in another place in the course of debate both on the Bill and whether it is passed but, secondly, on a Motion as to whether there should be a general election. That means that we could perhaps usefully fill our time with a debate due to take place in any case, probably in the middle of the night, on HS2, which is a rather interesting debate with a whole bunch of speakers. I wonder whether, if the Government were to consider bringing forward that debate, we could adjourn the debate on the noble Baroness’s Motion, take a view later on and, with the discussion that could take place with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others, take a better way forward.
I suspect that my noble friend Lord Howe is unable to accept this useful suggestion, but he might want to consider it and, if not, perhaps we could adjourn the House for half an hour or so for the other discussions to take place.
I suggest to the noble Lord that the first debate in the other place is of more interest to this House—the legislation which concerns us. If we are honest, I think we are probably less concerned about general elections, which do not affect us in the same way. Perhaps a good time to conclude discussion and return would be when we have a decision from the House of Commons on passing the Bill. I am sure that, in the normal traditions of your Lordships’ House, a commitment from the Government that they would ensure that any legislation passed from the House of Commons would be completed in the time available, which is before Prorogation, would be welcome.
It might help the House if I responded for 30 seconds to the amendment to withdraw the amendment, because I think that the spirit of the House is right on this. I shall not press the amendment because I do not want this great House to record a second vote in favour of a guillotine. That would be very sad, particularly against my Motion, which asked for the guillotine not to be applied in a case where a Bill has been guillotined in the other House.
In the heat of these debates—I acknowledge that I perhaps believe a bit too much in the sense of liberty of this House—it would be a great pity if we put on the record of the House that we had rejected Motions that I proposed and, by implication, supported guillotining a Measure in both Houses. I therefore intend to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment, but I hope that there might be a little pause, as some have asked, and some consideration, because the reality is that there has to be a total deal, it involves the other place, the leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, and we cannot deliver that in this Chamber. In some way or another, because someone has to give something up—in a good deal, people on both sides give something up—this side of the House has to keep an insurance policy against the imposition of the guillotine if there is no deal.
I therefore suggest that a pause, rather than going on to later amendments, might be helpful, but the mood of the House will decide absolutely. I do not want to proceed until 10.01 on Friday morning, but my goodness, I am prepared to do so to prevent the imposition of the guillotine. I hope that the end desired by all can be achieved by means other than a war of attrition.
Are we not getting a little ahead of ourselves here? It is perfectly clear that none of us wants to go through all these amendments and be here until Friday morning, but they have been tabled because of the principle of the guillotine. It is also perfectly apparent, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, started his argument in a very constructive speech, that were the leader of the Opposition in another place to agree to give the Prime Minister his desire to go to the country—
I think the issue for this House is legislation, not general elections. The way in which the noble Lord, Lord True spoke, was extremely constructive and I am grateful to him. I welcome his comment, which was absolutely right, that agreement takes concessions on both sides. I should hope that the only thing of interest to this House is ensuring the primacy of the Commons and that we conduct ourselves in a proper manner.
I am being heckled by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to withdraw my Motion. If we were sure that the legislation, if passed in the House of Commons tonight, would go through your Lordships’ House in the usual way we do our business and it was guaranteed by all noble Lords that we would complete our deliberations and conclude prior to Prorogation, there would really be no need for my Motion.
In an attempt to simplify matters, I support the idea of a simple, straightforward, short break, not to insert any other business, because that would be confusing, but to accept that any agreement reached among the usual channels in your Lordships’ House at 7 o’clock might be conditional on various things happening in the Commons in the next few hours. In that way, we would know what to do in various circumstances. I am loath to see a long pause, because if for some reason the good will, which I am pleased to see breaking out, did not lead to an agreement, we would be back to where we were, and the sooner we got back to where we were, the better.
As it is now 18.48, I should have thought that if we had half or three quarters of an hour, that should be perfectly long enough to—
I am attempting to withdraw my amendment. I agree with what the noble Lord is saying, but if we have to come back, of course we will go through all the amendments. However, let us hope that the spirit of amity continues. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Lord True’s amendment to the Motion (2) withdrawn.
My Lords, may I propose that the House do now adjourn but that we return no later than 7.30 this evening?
My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition has, very helpfully, proposed an adjournment. The difficulty I find myself in is that any discussions that we have through the usual channels will be predicated, at least from our point of view, on discussions with others in another place. At present, I cannot therefore accede willingly to her proposal to adjourn although in principle, as I said earlier, we are of course open to discussions at some point in the evening.
I am slightly confused by what the noble Earl says. I sense that, across the House—I will talk for a moment so that the Chief Whip can catch up—we want to conduct our business in a timely, sensible and ordered manner. Perhaps we can do so through adjourning briefly. I hope that the noble Earl is not saying that officials and Ministers in this House are unable to come to an agreement; however, I appreciate that we must understand what happens in the House of Commons first, which is why I suggested adjourning until 7.30 pm. I would appreciate the views of the Chief Whip on this issue.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I can inform the House that she and the Leader spoke earlier. Our position is that, until the House of Lords is clear on the decisions that it is making, which will come later this evening, that might be a sensible time—
The House of Commons—I beg noble Lords’ pardon. We think that a suitable time to meet may be when the House of Commons is clear on the decisions that it will make tonight. The House does not need to adjourn during pleasure for that to happen.
My Lords, there does not seem a lot of point, particularly in view of the extremely helpful and constructive remarks from my noble friend Lord True, in continuing on this particular path. Surely other business on the Order Paper could be dealt with. I personally think that an adjournment during pleasure is by far the most sensible solution.
My Lords, may I seek clarification from what was at least a partially constructive description of what might develop? I agree with everyone else that the noble Lords, Lord True, Lord Cormack and Lord Strathclyde, as well as other noble Lords, have displayed the spirit of the House. The Chief Whip referred to pending events in the House of Commons tonight. I can see that it is absolutely essential that we know what is happening with the Bill that will come here, but was he including in his embrace—in that precondition—what might happen as regards, say, a general election? If so, what is that to do with the conduct of this House or that Bill?
I am not quite clear what the noble Lord means. As he rightly said, that includes the Bill, which will be voted on later—soon, I expect. Secondly, there will be a vote on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. We would like to know how that goes as well.
My Lords, the reason for proposing an adjournment was that there would be an opportunity for the usual channels to discuss how to manage the legislation that we expect to see tonight from the House of Commons. We may expect a result on that before 8 pm, I would think. I am not convinced that we need to wait for the result of the vote on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act because that does not have an impact on how your Lordships’ House deals with legislation. Having said that, it would be helpful if the Government understood fully the point about the withdrawal (No. 6) Bill. It seems clear that, despite the helpful comments from the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Cormack, and others, the Government do not want any discussions—the Leader made this point to me earlier but I had hoped that things would have rather moved on since then—until after the results in the House of Commons.
Let me settle this: we should not adjourn at this point but we should hold early discussions with the Government through the usual channels. We want to discuss only the legislation and how this House deals with legislation in its normal way to ensure that we respect the primacy of the House of Commons and—[Interruption.] The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a former Member of Parliament, is shaking his head when I talk about the primacy of the House of Commons. It is an absolute given that we do not wreck Bills passed by the House of Commons. We do things only on that basis. I can say that quite easily because that is the position—[Interruption.] The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, should calm down and not shout at me from a sedentary position. As a Minister, he should know better.
I see little point in adjourning now but we must have urgent discussions; not doing so would do this House a great disservice. Looking at the faces of Members opposite, apart from those on the noisy Front Bench, I believe that that is what the House wants. This House wants to do its business properly. We will do all that we can to facilitate that. If the Government agree that we will use the normal procedures and allow the legislation to complete its passage, my Motion will not be necessary. I will forget a Motion to adjourn now but I expect discussions to take place urgently.