Skip to main content

Business without Debate

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

Delegated Legislatoin

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Infrastructure planning

That the draft Infrastructure Planning (Business or Commercial Projects) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 31 October, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Armed Forces (Remission of Fines) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 24 October, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 28 October, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Sittings of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That on Thursday 12 December there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.—(Tom Brake.)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) for delaying his extended Adjournment debate, but given that he was expecting a half hour’s debate but can now have the best part of two hours and 15 minutes, I hope he will forgive me on this occasion. As somebody who no doubt has travelled a lot on the West Anglia rail line, he will be used to delays in any event.

I wished to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, because we have just had absolutely no explanation from the Deputy Leader of the House for why tomorrow’s sitting in Westminster Hall is to be changed. [Interruption.] The Chief Whip, who is just leaving, will be familiar with this argument, because we had this debate when he was Leader of the House. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the House are being too cavalier in simply excising three hours of parliamentary airtime. I take the view, and I hope other right hon. and hon. Members do as well, that the sittings in Westminster Hall are extremely important. If they were not, the House would not have decided to set them up in the first place. I am pretty sure that the Liaison Committee also regards them as important, because it regularly schedules important debates from the various Select Committees to be debated for up to three hours in Westminster Hall.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern for the Liaison Committee, but I can assure him that it wants to take cognizance of other events happening tomorrow adjoining Westminster Hall and that I have made provision for the debate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), the Chairman of the International Development Committee, was going to introduce tomorrow to take place on another suitable occasion soon.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is acting with the best of intentions, but he was sitting in his place, as I was sitting in mine, when the Deputy Leader of the House rose simply to move this motion formally, without giving any explanation of the circumstances tomorrow whatsoever. I think the House deserves a better explanation. I understand that tomorrow there is an important celebration in the main Westminster Hall relating to the death of Nelson Mandela. No doubt, that will be a wonderful occasion, and it is right for the House to celebrate the great man’s life in that way, but we have been given no explanation for why the sitting in the small Westminster Hall tomorrow afternoon is to be cancelled. Is it to do with security, logistics, staffing? I do not know. I would welcome an intervention from the Deputy Leader of the House, if he wants to apprise the House of the reasons, but as far as I can tell no one in the Chamber knows why the sitting is to be cancelled.

I have no doubt that the Chairman of the Liaison Committee is acting in good faith, but scheduled on the Order Paper, as we speak, are two very important debates from the International Development Committee. I see in his place the esteemed Chairman of that Select Committee, who has been good enough to attend this afternoon, no doubt also anticipating an explanation from the Deputy Leader of the House for cancelling the sitting. These debates would have been on the subjects of global food security and violence against women and girls.

Perhaps to help the hon. Gentleman let me explain that I was asked whether the Committee would agree to postpone tomorrow’s debates. It was not me who took the decision; my Committee took it. Our decision was that, in the circumstances, provided we were reassured that we would be able to conduct the debates in short order subsequently, we would agree to do so. We have already been offered dates for both debates in January.

I have no doubt at all that the right hon. Gentleman, along with his Committee, has acted entirely in good faith. I put it to him, however, that his rescheduled debates will replace other debates, which will never see the light of day, because we are losing three hours of important parliamentary airtime—with no explanation to this House of why that is happening.

If on today’s Order Paper, along with this motion, a suggestion had been made—I guess it would have been another item rescheduling the sitting in Westminster Hall to another day—I could just about have lived with it. Why have we had no suggestion from the Deputy Leader of the House that the International Development Committee have its debate in Westminster Hall tomorrow morning, before the Nelson Mandela celebration takes place there? Why does today’s Order Paper not suggest that the International Development Committee has its important debates on Monday afternoon from 1.30 to 4.30 or from 4.30 to 7.30? Sittings in Westminster Hall take place on Monday afternoons so why, given the importance of these subjects and the reassurance of the Chairman of the International Development Committee that his debates would take place in short order, did the Deputy Leader of the House not make provision for these debates to take place on Monday?

I never had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela, but I am pretty sure that he was concerned about violence against women and girls. I am pretty sure, too, that he was also concerned about global food security. I am thus pretty sure that he would have wanted the British House of Commons to discuss those important items. I have a feeling that he would have been rather upset if his celebration—if I make the correct assumption—displaced three hours of important debates on those crucial subjects.

I do not think I am being unreasonable in saying that, in putting forward this motion tonight, in failing to provide us with an explanation for why the Westminster Hall sitting is not going to take place and in not putting forward an alternative time slot, the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House are not playing fair by this House. This is a matter I have raised previously. I regard debates in Westminster Hall as very important, and I am pretty sure that the House of Commons does, too. It is simply not good enough to come here at the end of today’s sitting to wipe out three hours of parliamentary airtime on important debates without first giving the House an explanation or secondly providing an alternative time and date for those debates to take place.

In the circumstances, I think it appropriate to make a few points. First, this motion will allow us to resolve not to sit in Westminster Hall tomorrow. This follows the decision of the International Development Committee, many of whose members one assumes will want to attend tomorrow’s events in Westminster Hall to commemorate Nelson Mandela, not to proceed with its business, as agreed by the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, who intervened a few minutes ago to confirm that.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) made a number of alternative proposals about the timing, for example, although I do not know whether the International Development Committee considered that because I was not party to the discussions. If we do not proceed with this motion, the impact would be that the business would still appear on the Order Paper and a Chair, Clerks and Doorkeepers would need to be on a rota to attend tomorrow’s business even though it was not taking place. On that basis, it seems sensible to ask the House to resolve the matter in order to clarify the position to the public, and for the convenience of everyone else.

My right hon. Friend has just mentioned the public. Given the importance of the Westminster Hall debates, some members of the public may have made arrangements to come to London specifically to attend them, so we are probably inconveniencing members of the public as well.

My hon. Friend has made a telling point. I cannot disagree with him: some people may indeed have been inconvenienced as a result of this decision. I therefore hope that the alternative dates will be widely publicised to enable them—we hope—to attend the debate in future. I also hope that they will take account of the fact that there was a strong demand for this event, and the fact that, because of the way in which things happened, it was not possible to predict that it would clash with a debate initiated by the International Development Committee that they had wished to attend.

Question put and agreed to.