As a student, I was a keen table tennis player. Little did I think, in those far-off afternoons in the Students’ Union, that I would one day be engaged in another sort of ping pong, played late into the night on the green benches of the House of Commons.
“Ping pong” is Parliamentary vernacular for the process of settling disputes between the Commons and the Lords over the contents of Bills. The Commons sends a Bill to the Lords, which amends it and sends it back to the Commons. The Commons decides whether to accept the amendments. If it doesn’t, the Bill goes back to the Lords. And so it goes on. The “ping pong” analogy is therefore highly apposite.
We are now nearing the end of the current Parliamentary session, so there is more ping pong activity than usual. The Government is keen to complete its legislative programme, so amendments to Bills are pinging backwards and forwards between the Houses, resulting in late sittings and lengthy series of votes. One evening last week, the Commons had no fewer than 12 consecutive votes on Lords amendments, over a period of almost three hours. A marathon ping pong match, indeed.
It is expected that outstanding Bills will finally be agreed this week, when Parliament will be prorogued. The next session will begin on 10th May, with the impressive spectacle of the State Opening, one of the great events of the Parliamentary calendar.
All eyes and ears will then be directed to the Queen’s Speech, which outlines the Government’s legislative programme for the new session. The precise contents of the Speech remain a matter of speculation until it is delivered. This year, however, it is widely anticipated that there will be a number of Bills aimed at restoring the balance of the British constitutional system after our departure from the European Union.
On exit, the UK retained a large body of EU law, simply to ensure there was no legislative vacuum after we left. EU law is very different from domestic law. It is not Common Law, nor, frequently, is it statute law. Post-Brexit, it is an alien element within the body of our legal system. It is expected that legislation will be introduced to modify or repeal retained EU law and restore the integrity of our native legal arrangements.
The legislation, whose working title is the “Brexit Freedoms Bill” is also expected to clear away a raft of regulation that has become unnecessary after EU exit, much of which, indeed, was opposed by the UK during its membership of the Union.
There is also speculation that the Speech will announce legislation to address the damage caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has visited such disruption on the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Fixing the Protocol is essential to compete Brexit. For that reason, if for no other, the Bill is likely to be strongly opposed in the Lords, resulting in many more hours of midnight ping pong.