The Commons has now considered amendments made to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords. Of the 15 government defeats in the Lords, the Government accepted one, and managed to get the Commons to reverse eight and accept six substitute amendments. In the next stage of ‘ping pong’ on Monday, the ball will be back in the Lords’ court for them to consider whether to accept the verdict of the Commons.
Last week may have looked like success for the Government, but the Lords are likely to dig their heels in, and with good reason. The focus of the ‘drama’ in the Commons was the Government’s promise to give Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal.
Attention will focus on how the Lords react to Thursday’s behind-the-scenes negotiations on the ‘meaningful vote’
We now have the text of the revised government amendment on the ‘meaningful vote’ tabled for consideration by the Lords. It says that, if no agreement with the EU is reached by January 2019, the Commons will be able to vote on an unamendable motion to say it has considered the fact that no agreement has been reached.
It is clear that many of the MPs who gave the Government the benefit of the doubt on Monday are not satisfied by this formula. And the Lords have an alternative.
Viscount Hailsham has tabled the amendment Dominic Grieve put forward in the Commons last Tuesday. This gives Parliament a vote to approve the Government’s next steps if no deal is reached by November 2018, and allows Parliament to direct the Government in February 2019. It is odds-on that the Lords will accept this amendment rather than the Government offering – and that is what will be sent back to the Commons for consideration on Wednesday.
The amount of time scheduled for ping pong in the Commons was insufficient for thorough debate of other amendments
But that may not be the Government’s only problem. The Lords sees its role as asking the Commons to reflect again – but Tuesday’s scheduling did not give much time for reflection. The Government scheduled 12 hours in total for the consideration of all the amendments made in the Lords, including the 180 or so made by the Government itself. On the first day of debate, seven of the Lords’ amendments were due to be discussed but the first half of the debate was dominated by discussions on the ‘meaningful vote’.
The second half of the debate was eaten up with voting on the amendments discussed in the first half. In total, three hours and ten minutes of a six-hour session was spent voting rather than talking.
The Lords would be justified in sending back their amendments for proper consideration in the Commons
That means the Lords will feel justified in asking the Commons to think again, especially on the procedural amendments rejected by the Commons.
For example, on Tuesday the Commons was set to debate an amendment which would limit the so-called Henry VIII powers given to ministers in the bill from being used where ‘appropriate’ to where ‘necessary’. The limited extent of debate on this amendment is demonstrated by the fact that the word ‘appropriate’ was only used eight times in the whole debate.
Lord Lisvane’s amendment to beef up the sifting committee for statutory instruments introduced by the bill got even less of a look-in. The word ‘sifting’ was only mentioned seven times in the House and five of those were by Brexit Secretary David Davis in his opening speech.
Under these circumstances, the Lords will almost certainly insist on these amendments returning to the Commons to give them an opportunity for proper debate.
The Government may have scraped through the Commons without a defeat this time around, but ‘ping pong’ is far from over. The way the Government has treated Parliament over this bill, including the behind-the-scenes shenanigans over a ‘meaningful vote’, has only increased frustrations.