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Points of Order

Volume 587: debated on Monday 10 November 2014

Order. That was an exceptionally ignorant observation from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). If he would sit quietly and listen, instead of pontificating from ignorance, he might one of these days learn something.

Will you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the motion on the Order Paper refers to the criminal justice and data protection regulations, which, as you have said, include 11 measures, none of which is the European arrest warrant? Will you therefore confirm that this is not a vote on the European arrest warrant today?

I can. Members can interpret all they like, but there will not today be a vote on the specific matter of membership of the European arrest warrant. That is the reality.

I will come to other Members, as these are important matters that have considerably and understandably exercised hon. and right hon. Members, but first I call Yvette Cooper on that point of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I thank you for your response, which is very clear. The Home Secretary wrote to me on 9 November and said that she wanted to be absolutely clear that Monday’s debate and vote in the House of Commons would be a debate and vote on the whole package of 35 measures, including the arrest warrant. Will you therefore confirm that that is not correct?

I stand by what I have said. The House will understand that in doing so I do not act entirely alone and certainly I do not do so without studying the matters and taking the advice of disinterested experts. That is what I have done, because that is my responsibility. The Home Secretary, of course, can offer her own take on the matter and doubtless she will do so. I have advanced the position in what I believe to be factual terms, unadorned but benefiting from expert advice.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On 29 October, the Prime Minister said:

“I am not delaying having a vote on it”—

that is, the European arrest warrant—and:

“There will be a vote on it.”

He went on to say that

“we are going to have a vote, we are going to have it before the Rochester by-election”.—[Official Report, 29 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 301.]

Have you had any indication from the Leader of the House whether there will be an emergency business statement so that we can facilitate a vote on the European arrest warrant rather than on everything but the European arrest warrant?

There are two answers to the hon. Lady. First, I have had no indication whatever that a Minister intends to make an emergency statement to the House. Secondly, I do not think that it is for me to seek to interpret the comments of the Prime Minister. It would be presumptuous of me to do so and would require probably a degree of sophistication that I do not claim that the Chair possesses.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you accept that it is likely that the issues that Members will wish to raise in the course of today’s debate, on whichever side of the argument, will be very similar for all of the 35 measures that the Government propose to opt back into and the more than 100 measures they are opting out of? Although I accept your ruling on the technical meaning of the vote at the end, will you allow a broad interpretation of what is relevant to the debate, because at the root of it is the competence of the EU in these issues and the use that is made in this country of the 35 measures that the Government are seeking to opt into?

I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whom I have known for 20 years, that I do not feel entirely confident in anticipating what, as he puts it, is likely to be said. However, I am probably not blessed with the degree of prescience that he possesses. He possesses great prescience. I have indicated an intention to offer some latitude to Members of the House, because I think that that is what Members, in these rather imperfectly configured circumstances, would expect.

I was asked the specific question, “Is the vote on the European arrest warrant?” The simple and straightforward answer—I, like the public, believe in straightforward dealings—is no, it is not. That is the end of it.

I will take further points of order, but we cannot deal with these matters indefinitely. Let us hear from a knight from Lincolnshire.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am completely confused now. I read in all my Sunday newspapers that we would be debating the European arrest warrant today and that we would have a vote. Apparently, there was going to be a rebellion, but I know nothing about that. Apparently, we are not now voting on the European arrest warrant. What are we voting on?

The answer is that we are voting on the regulations, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has studied comprehensively. When he says that he is confused, I find it hard to credit. He is a sophisticated barrister and has served in the House for 31 years and five months—[Interruption.] Yes, and a day. He has served in the House for 31 years, five months and a day, so I cannot believe that he is confused about anything.

Nine hon. Members wrote to me, presumably independently of each other because I do not think that Members are in the habit of sharing their letters to the Speaker with each other, to indicate that they intended to speak in the debate on the European arrest warrant. They obviously all thought the same thing. I will let the hon. Gentleman into a secret: I, too, thought that we would be debating and voting on the European arrest warrant. However, I ask him to bear it in mind that I am just the Speaker. Government Whips sometimes have another language altogether, which only they understand.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the confusion and secrecy that there has clearly been, the difference between your clear advice to us and the Home Secretary’s letter to me, and the fact that the Home Secretary is sitting here, do you not think that this is a great opportunity for her to stand at the Dispatch Box and make a point of order to clarify the position—are we voting on the European arrest warrant or not?

It is open to the Home Secretary to do so. She may feel that she wants to set out her thoughts in the debate, and she is welcome to do that.

In all courtesy, I must come to the point of order from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your helpful reply to my inquiry on this matter. Is it not right that debates are, on most days, in the hands of the Government? They are perfectly capable of putting down clear motions that people will understand. If they want a vote on the arrest warrant, they can have one. Does this not seem to you, as it does to me, to be procedural prestidigitation to persuade people that they are voting on something on which they are not really voting? Would it not be better if the Government were to put down a clear motion on some future day that we could vote on properly?

I say to the hon. Gentleman that all sorts of things might be better, as he puts it, but as I said in my statement, the Chair and the House can deal only with what is on the Order Paper. I understand, because it has been communicated to me by several Members, that there is considerable irritation on this matter. I absolutely understand that, but what I am trying to do, operating within the limits of the powers of the Chair, is to facilitate the will of the House. I have only a partial ability to do that—I cannot create a vote for which provision has not been made—but the House will want to debate what the House wants to debate. In future, it would be better if these matters were handled in a way that is straightforward, and if the hon. Gentleman’s appetite for the honouring of commitments were to be met.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to you for you excellent clarification so far. Will you confirm my understanding that the mighty issue of opting in and giving away major powers from this House is also not on the Order Paper, so the House cannot vote for or against that massive opt-in and surrender of power today?

I think it is probably safest for me to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I leave that for him to interpret. I do not want to embarrass him, but he has an intellect truly frightening, so I am quite sure he can interpret these matters to his own satisfaction.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am delighted that you will allow some latitude in the debate later on, because I always like it when you allow a certain amount of latitude in the House.

The Home Secretary wrote to the shadow Home Secretary saying:

“The Government has been clear throughout that Parliament should have the opportunity to vote on the final package—

which includes the arrest warrant—

“before we formally notify Europe of our desire to remain bound by it.”

We may debate whatever we want, but what really matters is what we have voted for and what, in the end, goes into law and is resolved by virtue of what we have voted on. Can you make it clear that the Government have been extremely unwise to proceed in this way, and that legal uncertainty will remain unless we are absolutely clear that by virtue of what we are voting on this afternoon, we will not be notifying the European Union of joining the European arrest warrant?

All we can do today is have a debate, and after that debate Members will have either to vote for or against the regulations or decide to abstain upon them. What motions might or might not be put forward on a subsequent occasion, either to satisfy Members’ appetite or for the purposes of the clarity that the hon. Gentleman hankers after, is another matter. That, of course, is in the hands of the usual channels.

I think I have given a fairly clear indication that this has been a rather sorry saga and that the House should not be put in this position. Most of us think that a commitment made is a commitment that should be honoured, and we should try to operate according to sensible standards rather than trying to slip things through by some sort of artifice. It may be the sort of thing that some people think is very clever, but people outside the House expect straightforward dealing, and they are frankly contemptuous—I use the word advisedly —of what is not straight dealing. Let us try to learn from this experience and do better.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you not simply rule that this is an utter and absolute shambles? Have you any explanation of how we have got to this sorry state?

I have expressed my own thoughts to the House on how we should proceed, and I have tried to be very fair and candid about the matter. Whatever opinion people have about these matters, they will express it, and that is nothing to do with the Chair.

I cannot really go further than I have gone today. The handling of matters in the future, as ordinarily, is in the hands of the business managers. In the best, pragmatic British tradition, what we must do is work with what we have before the House today and, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, do our best.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the House is most indebted to you for your ruling. It is being said that tonight’s vote will be a proxy for a vote on the European arrest warrant. Is there anything in Standing Orders to allow a vote on one issue to be treated as a proxy for a vote on another?

It is not for me to interpret individual votes. The hon. Gentleman asks whether there is anything in the Standing Orders about how a vote on one matter can be considered to be a proxy for another, and the straightforward, factual answer—as I think he knows—is that no, there is not. I am not aware that anybody is suggesting that there should be, but do not give them ideas.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have made it clear that the debate is about 10 powers being transposed, excluding the European arrest warrant. Can you make clear that in the event that the House votes down that motion, the Government will still be free to go forward with the 35 measures they want, without reference to the House?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is doing his best, but he is getting a bit beyond himself. I have said that the debate is about the regulations. I have been very fair and quite fulsome in my responses to colleagues’ inquiries, to try to give straight answers. We should probably leave it there—

Except, of course, that I cannot refuse to take a point of order from somebody who first entered the House in 1966.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I think there is general agreement that what has emerged from these points of order has not in any way improved the reputation of the House of Commons. You said a few moments ago that we should know precisely what we are debating, and that the public outside certainly will not. Do you therefore feel that there is a case for the sitting to be suspended for a short period in order—given the usual way in which these matters are looked on by the usual channels—for us to have clarification before the debate begins? I emphasise that the reputation of the House of Commons is not so high that we should go through this farce.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and I always treat what he says with great seriousness and respect. The reason I do not think we should travel that route is first that we are where we are and, as I have said, I think pragmatically that we should deal with the circumstances that exist. Secondly, a business of the House motion will give people the chance to say their piece on the allocation of time and, with latitude, more widely on the handling of these matters—matters to which I think we should now progress.