It’s Official: The Only Certainty Is The Uncertainty



The Withdrawal Bill has completed its passage through the Commons this week. Yesterday, First reading in the Lords took place (usually a formality, without debate). With over 89 peers putting their name down to speak at Second reading, we expect they will put up a fight. Some peers are also already indicating they will add amendments to the bill.

In other news, the Alliance will be speaking about the Withdrawal Bill at the Gathering (the largest free third sector in the UK) in Scotland, click here to attend. 

MPs reject to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the bill  

While MPs across parties addressed concerns about the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the amendment tabled by Labour to keep the Charter in the bill was rejected by 317 to 299 votes. The message from the Tory rebels was that, whilst not entirely happy with the bill, they would not support any amendments tabled by opposition members and are looking now to the Lords to deal with deficiencies.

On behalf of the Government, Robert Buckland addressed those concerns saying that the bill does not aim to make changes to policy, the Charter was “never intended to bestow new rights” but to “reaffirm” rights that EU citizens already enjoy and that therefore incorporating the Charter would “sow potential confusion”. 

The legal opinion obtained by EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) contradicts Buckland’s argument however, which explicitly states that “contrary to the Government’s analysis, the Charter has created valuable new rights, and extended the scope of existing rights, and could continue to do so if Charter provisions were incorporated into domestic law”.   

We were not expecting big wins at Report, but we fully expect that peers will look in detail on how to protect our rights whether that's through the Charter or other ways.

Scottish Tories vote with Government on Clause 11  

Last week, the Government delayed its promises to amend aspects of the Bill concerning devolution (principally clause 11). Concerns about the deficiencies of Clause 11 (see herefor our concerns around devolution issues) are now widely shared and were raised again during Report, particularly by Welsh and Scottish MPs like Stephen Doughty, Anna McMorrin and Joanna Cherry. 

While Scottish Tories critiqued amendments to Clause 11 tabled by opposition members, their concerns and disappointment about the delay remain- Stephen Kerr, for instance, said: “no one is more disappointed and frustrated than I am that we do now have these amendments”. The view of the Scottish Tories that emerged during Report is that there needs to be an agreement between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, before replacing or amending clause 11. 

Speaking on behalf of the Government, David Lidington repeated its promises to bring forward amendments to clause 11 in the House of Lords and that discussions with devolved administrations will take place.

On the basis that the Withdrawal Bill is not yet amended to protect devolution settlements, the Welsh Assembly has unanimously backed a motion, calling on the Welsh Government to push ahead immediately with the publication of a continuity bill. Much like the Withdrawal Bill, a continuity bill would identify categories of EU laws to incorporate into devolved law. 

Environmental protections in the bill

Caroline Lucas (Green) repeated Alliance members concerns about avoiding an environmental governance gap in the bill- pointing out that while Gove’s animal welfare bill is welcome, there no certainty that this bill will reach the statue book before exit day. Given that Lucas’ amendments to deal with the governance gap and animal sentience were were rejected in the Commons, the next crucial steps is to keep addressing those concerns to peers.   

Recommended reading

Alliance members working with peers: overview of procedures in the House of Lords 

Click here for PDF version . 

Some general points about House of Lords procedures: 

  • Business for the House of Lords starts at 2.30 on Monday and Tuesday, 3pm on Wednesday and 11am on Thursday.

  • Bill Sitting times are between 3.30 - 10.00 with dinner hour between 7.30 and 8.30.

  • Question Time for Lords takes place at the start of business Monday through to Thursday and a maximum of 4 oral questions are asked of the government. Oral questions have to be worded as requests for information and addressed to the Government (not a Minister)

  • There is no fixed time for adjournments of the House - it is proposed at the end of business from the government front bench.

  • The House of Lords is self-regulating. It is the Leader of the House who normally advises the House on procedure and Order (but has no formal authority). There is a Speaker in the House of Lords who chairs debates but this is a relatively new role and does not carry the same weight, authority and role that the Speaker in the House of Commons does.

First Reading (Completed on 18th January)

First reading is the first stage of a bill’s passage through the House of Lords - usually a formality, it takes place without debate. There is then an interval of 2 weekends before Second Reading.

Second Reading (likely to be 30th and 31st January)

: Advisable to brief Peers before Second Reading as they like to give notice of what and where they are likely to table amendments.

This is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the key principles and main purpose of a bill and to flag up any concerns or specific areas where they think amendments (changes) are needed. This is when the general principles of a bill are considered. The discussion and details are left to the Committee Stage as with the Commons.

The government minister, spokesperson or a member of the Lords responsible for the bill opens the second reading debate.

Speaker’s List: only for Second Reading. The List is drawn up after consultation with the chief Whips of the main parties. Peers wishing to enter their names must do so by  6pm on the weekday before Second Reading.
Any member can speak during second reading – this stage can indicate those members particularly interested in a bill, or a specific aspect of it, and those who are most likely to be involved in suggesting changes at later stages. A peer who is not on the speaker’s list is not debarred from speaking and may speak ‘in the gap’ just before winding-up speeches if there is time, and they speak for no longer than 4 minutes.

Second reading debates usually last for a few hours but can sometimes stretch over a couple of days. For the EU (Withdrawal) bill it is expected that second reading will take two days. There is then an interval of 14 calendar days before Committee Stage.

 Committee Stage (likely 21 Feb, after February recess)

After second reading the bill goes to committee stage – where detailed line by line examination and discussion of amendments takes place. Committee stage involves detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of a bill. Starting from the front of the bill, members work through to the end. Any member of the Lords can take part. Usually starting about two weeks after the second reading debate, committee stage generally lasts for up to eight days, but can go on for longer.
It is between the government whips and opposition whips to work out how many days there are for committee. If there are millions of amendments this can be subject to renegotiation but doesn't happen often. At the moment it is expected that 10 days will be given over to the Committee Stage.
Generally debates are Mondays and Wednesdays but they can be Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Laying amendments

Amendments can be tabled any time after the second reading but late tabling of amendments is not encouraged. Admissibility of amendments can only be decided by the House - not the Chair - on the basis that they must be relevant to the subject matter; must not go beyond the scope of the relevant clause; must not be inconsistent with previous decisions taken earlier at the same stage. Further guidance here.
Two days before debate day the amendments tabled will be arranged in order in which they relate to the bill. The list (marshalled list) is then published on the working day before  - amendments must therefore be received 2 working days beforehand. Amendments handed in the day before are printed as a supplement. It is possible to move an amendment without notice (manuscript amendment) but this is rare and permissible only to address slight modifications (such as language).

There is no selection of amendments. All amendments get called and do not have to be moved. All suggested amendments have to be considered, if a member wishes, and members can discuss an issue for as long as they want. An amendment WON’T be called if preempted by one previously agreed to by the House.
The government cannot restrict the subjects under discussion or impose a time limit. This is a key point of difference with procedure in the House of Commons.
Unlike procedures in the Commons just one signatory (up to a maximum of four) is needed for an amendment - ideally one from each main party and possibly Crossbencher or a Bishop. (Labour peers who write amendments generally check them with the frontbench who are likely to suggest other signatories).
Related amendments are grouped and debated together in agreement with Government Whips Office and the member tabling the amendment, and usually available from 2.30pm the day before. They are arranged in the order in which they are tabled, except that priority is given to an amendment tabled by the peer in charge of the bill.

Speaking in debate at Committee Stage

The proposer starts off and any backbencher can speak. Lords who haven't put their name down can still speak but may not be called. The debate winds up with the opposition and then government.
There is much more propriety in the Lords about attending debates. It is expected that if you are speaking you should attend the whole debate.

What happens after committee stage?

If the bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments. At the end of committee stage, the bill moves to report stage for further scrutiny. Again there is an interval of 14 calendar days between Committee Stage and Report Stage. At the final stage, the Third Reading, Peers (unlike MPs) have a further chance to amend the bill
At third reading marshalled lists are published on the morning that the stage is to take place so amendments must be tabled by the deadline on the preceding working day.

For avoidance of doubt, the deadlines are usually specified in the future business which is available on the lords whips site.


NewsletterSamuel Ellis