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British Lord Resigns After Being A Few Minutes Late, But Will Keep His Job

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now we turn to the British House of Lords.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Second reading. Second reading of the European Union withdrawal bill.

KELLY: Parliament's been debating the fine details of withdrawal from the European Union. Typically such a session opens with a prayer. But with such a big bill to debate, members decided to get an early start. They knocked the prayer out early in the day so they could start right at 3 instead of 3:05.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Lord Michael Bates, the international development minister, was first up to answer questions. The Baroness Lister of Burtersett had the first one.

RUTH LISTER: So come 3 o'clock, I'm sitting there and I - looking, and think, where's the minister who's supposed to be answering my question? And I was saying to colleagues, the minister's not there. So they started chanting, where's the minister? Where's the minister?

SHAPIRO: They could wait no longer. At one minute past three, the chief whip stepped in for Lord Bates.

KELLY: Who arrived just minutes later, but too late to join in. So he took a seat.

LISTER: And so what was extraordinary was that at the end of the 30 minutes Lord Bates jumps up.

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MICHAEL BATES: My lords, with the leave of the House, I wonder if you'd permit me to offer my sincere apologies to Baroness Lister for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her question on a very important matter.

LISTER: And that would have been more than enough as far as I was concerned.

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BATES: I've always believed that we should offer - rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect.

KELLY: Which apparently are way higher than ours because then he said...

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BATES: I'm thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place, and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the prime minister...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.

BATES: ...With immediate effect. I do apologize.

KELLY: And with that he walked out of the chamber.

LISTER: I mean, everyone was absolutely flabbergasted. You know, my party as well as his own party was shouting, no, no, no, because actually he is a very popular minister. And he's one of the few ministers who actually tries to answer one's questions because a lot of them just spend their time evading answering a question.

SHAPIRO: We tried reaching Lord Bates today with no luck. The baroness says his gesture was not lost on her.

LISTER: It's a lesson to us all about the importance of getting there in good time, not sort of trying to just squeak in at the last minute.

KELLY: As for Lord Bates, he'll be back. Prime Minister Theresa May refused his resignation. We can only hope she did so in an utterly courteous, respectful and timely way. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.