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Business of the House

Volume 624: debated on Tuesday 18 April 2017

With permission, I should like to make a short statement about the business for tomorrow.

Wednesday 19 April—The House will be asked to approve a motion that allows for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to seek an early parliamentary general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. This will be followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Technical and Further Education Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.

The business for Thursday 20 April remains Backbench Business Committee business, as I previously announced. I shall make a further announcement about future business in the usual way on Thursday.

I start by thanking the Leader of the House for his statement and for coming to the House to inform us of the change of business to a motion calling for a general election. I now understand why it was so difficult to get out of the Leader of the House a date for the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, despite consistently asking him for it. Obviously, the Prime Minister’s U-turn has been a long time in the planning.

I am concerned that the Prime Minister chose to make her statement outside No.10 rather than come to the House. This is a massive U-turn. At least seven times, most recently on 20 March, the Prime Minister has ruled out an early general election. She said:

“I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”

Clearly, this Government cannot be trusted.

Given that the general election is on 8 June and there are 25 working days until Parliament can be dissolved, can the Leader of the House let us know the exact date for the Dissolution of Parliament? May I repeat that a statement of such importance should have been made to the House of Commons, given the nature of this massive U-turn. Her Majesty’s Opposition will ensure that we will promote stability, and that there is an alternative fairer vision for this country.

The hon. Lady asked about the date for Dissolution. That is laid down in statute: it has to take place 25 days before the proposed date of polling day. Therefore, the date of dissolution will technically be at one minute past midnight on Wednesday 3 May, so in effect we are talking about Dissolution at midnight on the night of 2 to 3 May.

I do not recollect any previous Labour Prime Minister announcing a general election on the Floor of the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went about things in the time-honoured fashion this morning. She is putting to the country the case for this Government to go forward on the basis of a clear mandate to provide the clarity and stability that the entire United Kingdom needs, as we approach the historic task of implementing the referendum decision taken by the British people and forging the new, deep and special partnership with our friends and allies in the European Union that we all want.

May I thank the Leader of the House for making a statement at the earliest possible opportunity, and the Prime Minister for making an announcement that was not leaked to the media in advance? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is not in the gift of the Prime Minister to decide whether there is a general election? It will be this House that decides, and if Her Majesty’s Opposition do not want a general election, cannot face it, or are worried about annihilation, they will not vote for it tomorrow.

I thank the Leader of the House for his short but incendiary statement. Here we were believing that this was not the time for these types of big decisions, and that the core focus of this Government should really be on their hard Brexit. This is one of the most extraordinary U-turns in political history, and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has been about the biggest possible waste of this House’s time. The calling of a general election now returns to a Prime Minister, and the interests of party now come before the interests of country. In the coming election, we will ensure that Scotland continues to be fully protected from this Tory Government’s attempt to take our nation off the cliff edge of their hard Brexit and from their obsession with austerity. The Tories might play their petty party political games, knowing that they are up against a woeful and pitiful Labour party, but the Scottish National party will ensure that Scotland is fully protected from the worst of this Government’s clutches.

The Prime Minister and the party she leads will take to the people the case for the Union of the four nations of our United Kingdom, and our belief that those four nations are better off working together in that unique enduring partnership of the United Kingdom. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister took her decision—a decision that, as she said this morning, she took with considerable reluctance—because it is in the interests of the people of this country. It is in the interests of the entire nation that we have clarity, stability and constancy of purpose as we move forwards.

Does the Lord President agree that this is actually one of the rare occasions when it is absolutely right that the statement was first made to the British people—not to this House—because it is they who are being asked to use their sovereign power to determine the composition of a new House?

My hon. Friend makes a cogent point. It will, of course, be for this House in the first place to decide whether to approve the motion that we will debate tomorrow. If the Government’s motion is carried, we will then put our case to the people.

The Prime Minister was not for calling a snap general election, but now she is, perhaps sensing a political opportunity. The choice to go for an election now is hers and hers alone, as was the choice of a hard Brexit. Will the Leader of the House make time available before the general election campaign starts for this House to discuss the party of government’s failure on the NHS, tackling violent crime, and dealing with people with disabilities and their benefits?

I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, was able to talk about political opportunism with a straight face. The Prime Minister alone has to take the decision to put forward the motion tomorrow, but it will be a decision for every Member of the House of Commons when we meet tomorrow to decide whether that motion is approved.

My right hon. Friend has confirmed that Parliament will be dissolved at midnight on 2 May. Will he please confirm on which date Parliament will be prorogued?

The usual discussions are under way between the usual channels about the handling of business that is currently before Parliament. On the assumption that the motion is carried by the House tomorrow, those discussions will intensify. I hope that I will be able to provide the clarity that my hon. Friend seeks as soon as possible.

The Leader of the House has given us an image of the Prime Minister being dragged, kicking and screaming, into calling a general election when she did not want one. Can we find time in what is left of this Parliament to have a debate about why she decided to trigger article 50 and then throw the entire planning into doubt by then calling a general election, which will waste at least three months of the precious, short time we have left to get the best deal for Britain?

Far from throwing things into doubt, the Prime Minister’s decision has, assuming that the people return this Government—it will be a choice for the people to take—ensured that there will be the clarity of a mandate behind her and her Government to deliver a successful negotiation, and to implement it over the course of a five-year term.

Some Members of this House are labouring under the impression that the next general election will be a rerun of the referendum. Will the Leader of the House confirm that article 50 having being triggered, regardless of who wins the next election there is no turning back?

The wording of article 50 is clear, and it is clear that any change to the two-year timetable can happen only if it is agreed unanimously by all member states, including the departing member state. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, whatever side we took in the referendum campaign, we must respect the sovereign decision of the British people.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and assure him that the Democratic Unionist party will support the motion tomorrow. We say, “Bring it on: bring on the election and let people support the Union and the Unionist cause in Northern Ireland.” Will he clarify tomorrow the last date for people who wish to register to vote to do so, so that there is clarity and certainty about the registration process, especially in Northern Ireland?

Clearly, I do not want to pre-empt the decision that this House will take tomorrow, but, assuming that the motion is carried, I will try to provide that clarity as rapidly as possible.

The Leader of the House says that he does not want to pre-empt tomorrow’s decision by this House. Was not the Prime Minister attempting to do that in naming 8 June?

What the Prime Minister was doing this morning was making her ambition clear about the timeframe for the general election. I have to say to the hon. Lady that the specific date would have been the first question put to the Prime Minister, in the House and outside, had she not named one.

Mr Speaker, you may remember—as you took an active part in it—a debate in January 2000 that went on all night so that the next day’s business did not exist. Given that in debating the Finance Bill the House can sit until any hour tonight, what will the Government do in the event of tomorrow not existing?

Given that question, I suspect that the hon. Lady and her colleagues are a bunch of fearties as far as a general election is concerned.

The Leader of the House will agree, I am sure, that the prime responsibility of this House is to hold the Government to account. Does he not think that many, not just in this Chamber but outside across the country, will regard the Prime Minister’s rush to an early general election as a strategy to evade responsibility for the chaos we have had in this country since the previous Government arranged a referendum that they actually lost?

The Prime Minister’s decision is about inviting the British people, in the national interest, to return her to provide the leadership, the sense of direction and the clarity which this country needs and which those in the hon. Gentleman’s party are so clearly unable to provide themselves.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that should the motion pass tomorrow we are not voting for a new Prime Minister for just two years over the course of Brexit, but a new Prime Minister for the duration of a Parliament of five years? Many of us are expecting that either the current Prime Minister or the leader of the Labour party will walk through the door of No. 10 post 8 June. Will the Leader of the House encourage my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go head to head with the Leader of the Opposition in as many TV debates as possible before 8 June?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that in the event of a two-thirds majority not agreeing to tomorrow’s motion, the only way the Government could call a general election would be to table a vote of no confidence in themselves? When does he plan to do so?

We intend to go into tomorrow’s debate with the clear objective of persuading that two-thirds majority to support the Government’s motion.

The Prime Minister was inconsistent about Brexit, and now her iron determination not to call a general election transmutes into a leaden determination to have one. May I assure the Leader of the House that, with Labour in a writhing mess, we in Plaid Cymru relish the opportunity to provide a Welsh alternative to this ideologically driven, opportunist, right-wing Tory Government, and that we will be voting yes tomorrow?

I suppose I should express my appreciation for the hon. Gentleman’s final phrase, if not for the rest of his remarks.

For weeks constituents have been emailing me and telephoning my office because they are terrified of the changes to the personal independence payment regulations, which we were finally going to be allowed to debate and vote on tomorrow, but the Leader of the House has suspended that. Will he guarantee that this House, this Parliament, will have a chance to vote on and debate them before Dissolution?

As I have said, the usual channels will discuss the allocation of business between the debate concluding tomorrow and the date of Dissolution.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the opportunity to take on this divisive, destructive Tory Government and their hard Brexit, but how much will this general election cost; and if the Prime Minister wanted to do it, why did she not call it for 4 May? The decision not to do so is going to cost a lot of taxpayers’ money.

The timetable for any general election is laid down by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. A general election on the same day as the local elections would not be possible, given what the laws require.

Inflation is rising, real living standards are potentially going to decline and we know that there will be very difficult negotiations with our European Union partners. Is not the real reason that the Prime Minister has called this election so that she can avoid having a general election in 2020, which would be very dangerous for her party? She thinks that she can win now in order to avoid dealing with the consequences of a hard Brexit.

The country I look at is one in which unemployment is falling, employment is at record levels, the deficit is down and there are record levels of spending on key public services, which is made possible because of the strong economy that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have fostered. I look forward to a general election and to making the case to the people for that programme of political commitment and the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to continue.

The Government’s ridiculous rape clause came into force on 6 April, with no parliamentary scrutiny. The usual channels had promised that a Delegated Legislation Committee would be held to provide some parliamentary scrutiny of that despicable policy. Will that now happen, given that Parliament is to be dissolved very soon?

Any change to the law has of course to go before Parliament. I will put the hon. Lady’s point to my colleagues among the business managers, but I cannot give her an immediate promise that she will get the time she seeks.

Will the Leader of the House confirm what will happen to the Manchester Gorton by-election, given that on 4 May there will potentially be no Parliament for any candidate to be elected to?

There is no statutory provision for the cancellation of a by-election when a general election is in progress. It is up to the judgment of the acting returning officer, whom one might expect to regard the by-election writ as having been superseded. That was the course of action taken by the acting returning officer in the one precedent that I have found, which dates back to November 1923.

Will the Leader of the House tells us whether the Prime Minister took soundings from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as to the impact of this announcement on the ongoing inter-party talks, and does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland still intend to bring legislation through this House and the House of Lords in the wash-up in respect of rates and topping up the mandate for the current Assembly to appoint an Executive?

My right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary is of course considering what difference, if any, should be made to his announced plans as a result of the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning. I will try to provide the hon. Gentleman with absolute clarity as soon as possible, but my expectation is that there will continue to be a need for such legislation.

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that we will none the less elect a metropolitan Mayor in Greater Manchester on 4 May, who will take up office and responsibility for transport in the city region? Will the Government confirm that the Bus Services Bill will complete its parliamentary passage before Dissolution?

The passage of any Bill currently before Parliament will depend on the talks between the Government and the official Opposition which always take place ahead of a general election.

In calling a snap election, do the British Government seriously take the view that a UK election will really change the EU 27 negotiating position? If so, are they not guilty of living in a land of fantasy?

It will be important that the newly elected leaders in France and Germany will meet a newly re-elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, all of them with the confidence that they have mandates from their voters as they approach those negotiations in a constructive spirit.

To date, the Chancellor has refused to share with Parliament any analysis of the impact of Brexit—in fact, he seems to have refused to share it with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, given his shambolic performance in front of the Select Committee—but this general election is all about clarity. In the interests of clarity, will the Government print analysis showing the impact of a hard Brexit versus Scotland staying in the single market, which is what my constituents voted for?

I could make the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has heard before about the vital importance to Scotland of the United Kingdom single market, but I would say to him in particular that the Prime Minister’s objective of delivering a new deep and special partnership with our friends and allies in the EU27 will serve the economic and security interests of Scotland well, as it will serve those of the whole of the United Kingdom well.

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), is the Leader of the House in a position to confirm or deny that the 2017 Tory manifesto will say “yes” to a single market, or will it be “out”?

I will put the hon. Lady on the priority mailing list for a copy of the Conservative party manifesto.

The Scottish Parliament recently voted by a margin of 69 to 59 for us to have a referendum, yet the Prime Minister arrogantly and contemptuously told us that now is not the time. If it is now the time for this Parliament to make such a decision, should not this Parliament also empower the Scottish Parliament to allow the Scottish people to have a say on their future?

The hon. Gentleman and his parliamentary colleagues have been demanding, week after week, that the Prime Minister seek a new electoral mandate from the people of the United Kingdom in order to deliver our exit from the European Union. She is doing just that, and if the hon. Gentleman is to be consistent, he might welcome that, rather than complain.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), the Leader of the House is right to say the general election will be about clarity. Does he, like me, look forward to the clarity that the TV debates will give us, and does he agree that any attempt by any political leader, especially one from the Government Benches, to shirk from those invitations would be wholly unacceptable?

Ahead of tomorrow’s debate it is somewhat premature to speculate on what the broadcasters will decide to propose with regard to the allocation of time for general election coverage, but I will take the hon. Gentleman’s comments as a representation.

I was not going to speak, but like everybody else sat in this Chamber it may well be the last time I get the chance. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will let me finish. I came here to speak honestly and plainly, and to speak like the people outside this building. What I cannot understand from what the Leader of the House has said today is how any of this makes things clearer, or makes us feel more stable, more secure. All I ask is: how does this look to people outside? As somebody who came from outside, it looks to me like political opportunism.

I think and I hope that people outside this building will look at what the Prime Minister said on the steps of No. 10 this morning and believe that she is seeking an electoral mandate for herself as leader of a Government who will then be in a position to carry through the extremely challenging and ambitious European negotiations over the next two years. She would then implement the new partnership we are seeking with the EU 27, with confidence deriving from the fact that—I hope—the Government enjoy a secure, enduring parliamentary majority for those measures for an entire five-year term.