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Business of the House

Volume 525: debated on Friday 18 March 2011

With permission, I should like to make a short statement following on from the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just made.

The business for the week commencing 21 March will now be:

Monday 21 March—Motion relating to the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya, followed by motion relating to Members’ salaries.

Tuesday 22 March—Remaining stages of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 23 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 24 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

The provisional business for the week commencing 28 March will remain the same.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement. The House should have an opportunity to debate the resolution that the United Nations passed yesterday evening and above all, its consequences for the people of Libya and, in particular, for the deployment of British forces. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will be a substantive motion before the House on Monday and the fact that it will be available later today. It is right that the House should have the chance to debate and vote, as was the case eight years ago today and in 1991, a few days after action began in the Gulf war. Will the Leader of the House assure us—I am sure that it will be the case—that the House will be kept informed of developments, with statements, as appropriate, from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the revised timetable. We plan to table a substantive motion later today that the House will debate on Monday, and to keep the House informed. We had a full day’s debate in Government time yesterday, a substantive statement from the Prime Minister today, and we will have a debate on Monday. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the undertaking he has just sought.

I welcome Monday’s debate. Will my right hon. Friend be able to see his way in weeks to come to organising another debate on the middle east in view of the great interest in yesterday’s middle east debate in the House, and of the fact that events are fast moving, complex and complicated, and that they engage profoundly British interests in many countries other than Libya?

I think my hon. Friend recognises that we have a good record of keeping the House informed on matters concerning Afghanistan and Iraq, and indeed the middle east and north Africa. I can give him the undertaking that he has just sought. We will keep the House regularly informed, and I hope there will be opportunities to debate the matter again.

I welcome the opportunity for the debate and the Leader of the House’s commitment to keeping the House regularly informed. That is most welcome—that is what Parliament is for. However, will he assure me that Members will have a facility to table amendments to the motion that is to be tabled later today? Clearly, if the motion is not tabled until, say, 2.30 today, it will be difficult to table an amendment. We will want an opportunity to debate amendments on Monday morning, so will he accept late amendments, and will they be acceptable?

Whether amendments are acceptable is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than for me. The motion will be like any other substantive motion and will be subject to amendments. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and we will seek to table the motion in good time so that those who wish to table amendments will have the opportunity so to do.

Although it is entirely desirable for the House to express its clear opinion before any military action is taken, will the Leader of the House make it clear that the Government do not consider themselves restrained from taking military action before the motion is carried if it is necessary to do so?

Yes, that is indeed the position. If my hon. Friend looks at the statement that I made—I think—on 10 March, he will see that it refers to emergency action that might be necessary.

I agree with the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). Having taken the temperature of the House today, it is clear that the Government have more or less the assent that they would broadly need.

It is unusual for us to discuss matters of great import on a Friday morning. We tend to have lengthy, protracted—sometimes deliberately so—debates on private Members’ Bills. Hon. Members have private Members’ Bills tabled for debate on 27 days over the next few months when the House does not intend to sit, 19 of those Bills come from one individual Member, and because of the two-year Session, the last day on which the Government have thus far announced Friday sittings is 17 June. When will the Leader of the House give us the next dates, or preferably change the whole system?

I anticipate a written ministerial statement before the Easter recess outlining the Fridays on which the House will sit beyond those we have already identified.

In the light of the earlier exchanges with the Prime Minister, when I asked about the arms embargo and the “notwithstanding” provision of the UN Security Council, will the Leader of the House be kind enough to refer the matter to the Attorney-General, so it can be addressed when the summary of the advice comes out?

Order. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is an extremely experienced Member of the House, having entered in 1984. These substantive matters can, should and will be debated on Monday. This is a narrow business statement.

Notwithstanding that, Mr Speaker, I will refer my hon. Friend’s comments to the Attorney-General.

We welcome the opportunity to debate Libya. The Prime Minister mentioned that the position of British citizens affected in the past by Libyan-sponsored terrorism has not yet been settled. Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on that subject?

It might be appropriate to raise that matter in the debate on Monday; it seems wholly relevant. The right hon. Gentleman may have heard the reply that my right hon. Friend gave, I think, at Prime Minister’s questions last week on the issue of compensation. The Ministry of Justice is considering the matter and hopes to come to a decision very soon.

Although I would have liked the debate to take place tomorrow, given that it will now be on Monday may I ask why we are having any other business on Monday? The debate on Members’ salaries, which now seems completely irrelevant, should be removed, and we should have the maximum amount of time to discuss this very important issue.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the debate I have just announced will carry on until 10 o’clock, and the motion on Members’ salaries, which is protected business for 90 minutes, will happen after that.

I thank the Leader of the House for keeping Members informed about the Libyan situation. Is he aware of any other mechanisms that could be used to keep Members informed, for instance over the critical next 48 hours, because there could be developments and by the time of the debate on Monday much action might already have been taken?

The House will not be sitting for the next 48 hours, but there are other ways for Ministers to communicate with Members and the public, and I am sure that those avenues will be used if and when necessary.

I congratulate the Leader of the House and the Government on how they have, through the House, handled the Libyan issue since it started. We have had regular statements, yesterday’s debate, the Prime Minister’s statement today and now the undertaking for a substantive motion on Monday. The Government deserve 10 out of 10 for how they have approached the House of Commons on this issue. However, although the House always benefits from wise counsel, through the good offices of the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, can the House be assured that Monday’s debate will not be dominated by the usual suspects, and that many new Members will have a chance to participate, with an appropriate time limit being applied?

Mr Speaker, you will have heard what I suspect was a concealed bid to be selected to speak on Monday. The matter is entirely in your hands and happily has nothing to do with the Leader of the House.

I have of course heard what the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has said, as I always do, and will study it carefully, as he would expect.

Will the Leader of the House not close the debate at 10 o’clock on Monday? This will be one of the most important debates in which I, as a Member of Parliament, could participate, and it is important that, although you, Mr Speaker, may impose a time limit, no Member lack the opportunity to participate in the debate.

I hear what my hon. Friend says. I would say, however, that we had a whole day’s debate yesterday on Libya and north Africa, and it might well be that Monday is not the last time that we debate these matters. However, I believe that a full day’s debate on Monday is the appropriate decision for the time being.

I want to follow up the comments made by the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). Things will move fast. We are entering serious and dangerous waters, and the Leader of the House should not hesitate to seek to recall the House either at weekends or during the recess so that we can debate the matter in detail.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are opportunities for the House to be recalled. A Minister of the Crown can make a request to you, Mr Speaker. That has been done in the past, and will be done in the future as and when necessary.

I urge the Leader of the House to reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). Yesterday’s debate was not a debate about potentially committing British soldiers to military action, but the debate on Monday will be. I would say that they are substantively different, and I urge him to reconsider her request.

I hear what my hon. Friend says. I think I am right in saying that the debate on Iraq seven years ago was a one-day debate that ended at the normal time. However, there might be other opportunities to debate the matter later.