Business of the House - Motion on Standing Orders

– in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 8 February 2023.

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Lord True:

Moved by Lord True

That Standing Order 38(4) (so far as it relates to Thursdays) and (5) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended until the end of the session so far as is necessary to enable notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures, Affirmative Instruments and reports from Select Committees of the House to have precedence over other notices and orders on Thursdays.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, in moving the Motion in my name on the Order Paper, I will update noble Lords on the approach agreed by the usual channels on the use of Thursdays in light of this Session being extended until the autumn. As is usual at this point in a typical Session, this Motion enables priority to be given to legislative business on Thursdays. While the Government will use some of these sitting Thursdays for scrutiny of government Bills, as the Session is longer, we have also agreed that there will be additional days throughout it for debates, which I know are valued by your Lordships.

Reflecting the arrangements in a typical Session, we have agreed that at least eight of the additional Thursdays will be used for debates. These will be divided between party, balloted and Select Committee debates. They will be taken throughout the remainder of the Session in a staggered way. These days are also in addition to time that will be made available this week for a debate on Ukraine. I say in parenthesis what an honour it was to see so many of your Lordships present at that extraordinary occasion in Westminster Hall; we affirm our support for President Zelensky and the brave people of Ukraine.

These debates will be in addition to time for a debate on the Spring Budget, which will be on 16 March. I am pleased that this year the debate on the Budget will follow very soon after it. The usual channels agreed the division of the extra debate days between various groups. The first was on 2 February, when noble Lords debated three Select Committee reports. I know that opportunities to debate these are valued by your Lordships. The next will be on 31 March, when we will have Labour Party debates. Subject to the progress of the legislative programme, we will look to allocate additional Thursdays for debates, if possible, above the eight I can confirm today. The timing of further days will be announced in Forthcoming Business in the usual way.

Photo of Lord Reay Lord Reay Conservative

Could the Leader of the House kindly let us know how many Select Committee reports have been debated so far and how many are outstanding?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I know that this is a matter of concern to your Lordships. My noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford and I acknowledge the strong feeling across the House on the need to progress debates on Select Committee reports. We have already made good progress this Session; 28 reports have been debated and a further two are due for debate tomorrow. This puts us on track for well over the recent norm of around 30 debates in a 12-month Session.

This has gone a long way towards reducing the overall backlog. Currently, I think there are only 10 reports —I do not have the information to hand—for which debates are still to be scheduled. Only two of those are from 2021. We have also already had more debates in the Chamber. Last Session, only about a third of debates on Select Committee reports were in the Chamber; this Session, we have already debated 18 reports in the Chamber, representing around 65% of the total number.

There is never perfection, but these debates on our Select Committee reports are of inestimable importance to the House. I hope that noble Lords will feel that this and the announcement I have made today demonstrate the earnestness with which we in the usual channels attach importance to enabling your Lordships’ voice to be heard. I thank most earnestly the usual channels for their agreement to this and their support.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I assume that we are debating this Motion. In his characteristically emollient and persuasive way, the Leader of the House is actually announcing what a shambles the Government’s legislative programme is in. As he said, towards the end of a Session, it is normal to have government business on a Thursday, and I know that this has been agreed between the usual channels, but the Motion says that government business will take precedence

“until the end of the session”.

The end of the Session should be in May. It is a good discipline that Sessions normally last a year, to make sure that the Government get their act together in time and can deliver on their promises in the Queen’s Speech at the end of the year—that is what happens.

However, we now know, at least in part, that the Session will end not in May but in the autumn, whenever that may be—that is the best date I could find in searching the internet—so it may be six or seven months before the end of the current Session. Of course, the next one may be truncated because there may be a general election —who knows? This Motion says that the Government can carry on having their business on a Thursday until the end of an unspecified Session that will go on until an unknown date. Couple this with the fact that not getting their act together has been a behaviour pattern of this Government since 1970; we have had at least two two-year parliamentary Sessions that I can remember, and this one will apparently last at least 18 months.

I am not happy with this Motion. It has been agreed by the usual channels, and I can understand why this gets done; I know that we are getting a few extra days. But it is an important discipline for a Parliament and a Government, even more so, that they announce a legislative programme that can be done in 12 months and do their best to deliver during that period. Perhaps, at the very least, the noble Lord could help the House by telling us when the next Queen’s Speech will be—we would know where we are then.

A noble Lord:

It will be the King’s Speech.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I will not remind His Majesty the King of that. Recollections may vary, but I recall a two-year Session when the noble Lord was at the helm of the state and sitting in No. 10. It is rare for a member of the Opposition to complain about the Government taking more time to lay their legislation before Parliament. The Government will seek to proceed with their legislation in a timely way, paying full respect to the rights of all Members of this House, to which I attach great importance.

This Session will be longer, although I am not in a position to announce the precise date of Prorogation. We have made some rough planning assumptions to help organise business and ensure that the House can prepare. I have shared that information with the House, and I cannot give a precise date for Prorogation at this point.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

I thank the Minister for this Motion and the effort being made to clear some of this huge backlog, of which I, among others, have been pretty critical. However, does he not think that, since the Government operate under a requirement to respond to a Select Committee report within two months, it would be quite reasonable if the House set a limit on the time that it could delay putting this on the agenda? Would he be prepared to discuss that with the usual channels?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:00, 8 February 2023

My Lords, I have not been in post for eternity. I repeat what I have already said with all due humility: I hear what the noble Lord says, but my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms and I have sought to address the concern that he articulated. As I said, we have already debated 28 reports this Session and two are tabled for debate tomorrow. The backlog is being attacked, and I hope that that will continue. I have had the honour of chairing a Select Committee of your Lordships’ House and believe that Select Committee reports should be debated in this House, so, for as long as I am the Leader of the House, I will try to ensure that they are.

Motion agreed.