I am instructed by order of the House to say that the Motion “That the Question be now put” is considered a most exceptional procedure and the House will not accept it save in circumstances where it is felt to be the only means of ensuring the proper conduct of the business of the House. Further, if a Member who seeks to move it persists in his intention, the practice of the House is that the Question on the Motion is put without debate. Does the noble Lord still wish to move the Motion?
My Lords, it may be helpful to the House to know that the House of Commons has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Act by 327 votes to 299, a majority of 28. Given that we now know the views of the House of Commons on this piece of legislation, it would be helpful to open discussions with the Government as soon as possible on how our business may proceed. I have already told your Lordships’ House that I am happy to have those discussions as soon as possible. We want to have a timely, ordered approach to business between now and Prorogation to ensure that we give effect to decisions taken by the House of Commons. So I propose that we adjourn during pleasure until 8.39 pm.
My Lords, without any commitment at all on the part of these Benches, we do not seek to oppose the Motion for an adjournment for the period indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, because I think that it would be helpful to have those discussions. I know that he said, “no commitment”, but I am sure that he will have heard the mood of the House earlier today—from his own Benches and everyone else—that discussions should open up and would be very helpful for the interests of the House. So I am grateful to the Government for not opposing this.
My Lords, I am grateful to the House for adjourning. I had hoped that during that time, we would have had discussions about the role of this House in dealing with legislation, given that the Commons has completed its consideration on the withdrawal Bill, which was passed with a significant majority, and will be coming to your Lordships’ House. What we managed to achieve was talks about talks. The Government have agreed to talk to us, but, unfortunately, not until 9.45 pm. I am slightly cautious. I have worked with the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, before, and know him to be a man of integrity. What concerns me is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that somehow, how we in this House conduct ourselves on legislation is dependent on what happens in the House of Commons on the Motion regarding a general election. As I made clear earlier, I think that is totally irrelevant to how we deal with legislation.
We are in a unique and difficult situation. We have so many amendments to this Bill. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True, for his comments on how we consider this, which helped enormously, but these amendments are designed to frustrate not only this Motion, but also the legislation, and that would not be the right thing for this House to do. I know that on the point about legislation, the noble Lord agrees with me.
If all we did was sit continuously and vote on all these amendments, we would probably be here until Saturday. Given that these amendments are designed to frustrate the Motion and the Bill, we are seeking just one thing: a categorical assurance that this House and the Government will abide by the normal conventions and rules of this House in dealing with legislation, and ensure that the Bill, passed by our friends in the House of Commons, will be able to complete its passage through this House prior to Prorogation. With that assurance, my Motion becomes unnecessary. We must respect the work that MPs have put in, coming together to agree something. We have an assurance of talks with the Government at 9.45 pm. That is the assurance we will be seeking from them at the meeting, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, agrees with our intention.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I think “talks about talks” is reasonably good shorthand for what happened when the usual channels met. Some of those we need to involve in those talks were not immediately available, so in the meantime, we would like to consult some of the other people who are interested. We are not going to do nothing between now and 9.45 pm. We will try to form some proposals to put to the noble Baroness. It is difficult to say more at the moment, but the talks will continue, and we will certainly be ready to talk to her at 9.45 pm.
I am grateful for that. The Minister says that he is waiting for others who are involved—I understand that they are in the House of Commons. Can he confirm that they would not be involved in matters of procedure for your Lordships’ House and that we are talking about a matter of procedure for this House and not about a policy matter? I am slightly puzzled, because I would have thought of the Minister, “He’s the guy in charge”.
I understand the noble Baroness’s confusion. It was not just the other place that I was talking about; there are other parties and people involved, not least some other Peers. It is slightly more complicated than it might first appear. I have made the offer that I have made, which is consistent with what I said earlier, and I conveyed that to the Opposition Chief Whip.
I am grateful to the noble Lord; that is helpful in many ways. I think that we are grateful to MPs for coming up with a Bill that is clear-cut in terms of their views and that we can now consider, and we will do all we can to ensure its safe passage.
To reiterate, the Minister knows that my Motion becomes unnecessary with guarantees from the Government of the normal conventions of this House. I am happy to stand by that commitment to him as long as we have the assurance that the Bill is completed in this House before Prorogation.
What the noble Baroness has said is important, but unfortunately there is something in it which I cannot accept—the idea that there is something normal about the procedure. I must ask the noble Baroness to accept at least this: it is not normal to slap down a massive guillotine Motion without notice; it is not normal to expect this House to deal forthwith with whatever legislation comes from the House of Commons, and it is not normal to apply those principles to any Bill that is not covered by the Salisbury doctrine. I cannot accept those contentions, but that does not mean that I resile from my position when I withdrew my amendment. The noble Baroness should be under no illusion that, if the Front Benches are not able to come to an arrangement, those of us who find a guillotine utterly repugnant will not feel free to continue. I hope that I do not have to be in that position personally—I cannot speak for others—but I cannot accept that this procedure is normal.
I thank the noble Lord for those comments. There is very little that is normal at the moment. I do not want to put a guillotine Motion before this House; I was trying to help the House. It is not normal to have so many amendments; it is not normal to have such a Prorogation. We are trying to make the best of a difficult situation and see our way through it.
May I express the hope, having introduced this earlier, that my noble friend will indeed accept that these are exceptional times? Prorogation has never been like this for 90 years—and not even then. We want an orderly end that allows this House to preserve its image and reputation and not to shred them by talking through until one minute past 10 on Friday.
My Lords, I suggest that we continue with the Bill in the normal way at this stage and, following the discussions that we have, I will be happy to report back to the House on how those discussions have proceeded.