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My Lords, my noble friend Lord True has asked me to deal with this amendment and I am pleased to do so. It basically relates to the role of the guillotine in our proceedings and the advisability if we had time, which I fear we do not, of referring it to the Procedure Committee.
It is sometimes forgotten that historically the Opposition’s main weapon against the Government or bad legislation has always been time—time to look at things in detail, but also simply time. When I first became a Member of the House of Commons there was no such thing as a guillotine. The subject before you was treated with respect. Sometimes things took a long time and sometimes they did not, but you were very conscious that, particularly on complex, difficult problems, you had enough time. You would not do the wrong thing because you did not have enough time. That was absolutely crucial.
Then, of course, along one day came the guillotine. It was very rare in those days, but then it became the programme Motion, so it went from being used very rarely to being used occasionally and then becoming, as it is now, entirely routine. The trouble is that, when a Bill in the other place is sent to Committee, the programme Motion decides how much time will be spent on different aspects of the Bill. That is, at very best, a good guess. It is frequently wrong, with the result that too much time—far too much time sometimes—is spent on some sections of the Bill and other sections do not get dealt with at all.
Sometimes, given the increased volume of legislation coming from the other place to your Lordships’ House, this has created great problems. Lots of undigested legislation comes down to us almost like a sausage factory and we have to deal with it and make sure that it is right. To do that we have to have the time that it no longer has. It will be absolutely crackers if we use guillotines as it uses guillotines and give up our right to do the job that it should have done. The public whom we serve will not be well served by that. If we pursue this course, lots of Bills will not be dealt with as efficiently as they are now. To introduce the guillotine to your Lordships’ House just for one specific thing is outrageous, and the thin end of the wedge. Once it is done, once the Rubicon has been crossed, it is much easier to do it again. We should think very carefully before setting this terrible precedent. It smacks of a heavy-handed, authoritarian approach to matters, which, if it were ever translated into government, would have frightening consequences for the people of this country.
I do not know how to respond to that. I know my noble friend’s position on this matter. He has stated it time and again. He is not going to change, so I do not think it is worth engaging with him in this way—
We have. That is what we are here for. Prorogation is not a suspension. It is sometimes said that a Prime Minister “has suspended Parliament”. These are emotive words, used for a purpose. It is a Prorogation. Parliament is normally prorogued regularly. This last Session has been particularly extended before it is done. I am the first to acknowledge that there are other issues at play too. However, it makes overall sense to deal both with the parliamentary programme and with Brexit all at one time. The Prime Minister is absolutely justified and right in doing it, and in no way is it the extraordinary event that is being portrayed. Constitutionally, it certainly pales in comparison with the idea of guillotining your Lordships’ House.
Can I finish by saying this?
Thank you. In May, I said the following:
“My Lords, the days that we have spent debating amendments to the Bill have been very dark days for your Lordships’ House. Sometimes when we have successfully scrutinised a piece of legislation in the past, it has been described as the House at its best. Without any doubt, these days will go down in history as the House of Lords at its worst … Noble Lords, some of whom have been elected to or worked in Parliament for many years, have used and abused the gentle, forgiving system in your Lordships’ House to further their own ends of stopping us leaving the EU. I have watched and listened with growing concern and incredulity as people who should know better have tabled and spoken to amendments, most of which have been technically out of order and nothing to do with the Bill. I speak as an ex-Deputy Speaker in the other place: it is interesting to note that if we had a Speaker—and that day may now be much nearer than we think—none of the amendments put down by wreckers of the Bill would have been called and the Bill would have been back in the Commons long ago”.—[Official Report, 16/5/18; col. 683.]
That does not relate to today’s business, but it is about the same matter. I can say only that, if I said that those days would go down as the House of Lords at its worst, today is even worse.
My Lords, does the noble Lord think that there are lessons to be learned from this evening? While I originally had considerable sympathy with the guillotine Motion put before us, I fear that it is simply not working. Would it not therefore be more effective to have the whole guillotine Motion removed even from this circumstance and for the Constitution Committee to consider the practicality of such guillotine Motions being used in this regard?
The noble Viscount will realise that I am totally opposed to the whole idea of a guillotine in your Lordships’ House. If it were to be considered, it should certainly be referred to the appropriate committee, but, there again, we come upon the problem of time. We need time to do that, time to absorb it and time to think about it. Rushing it will be bad, and that applies to this guillotine, too.