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Business of the House

Volume 639: debated on Monday 16 April 2018

With permission, I wish to make a short statement about this week’s business.

Monday 16 April—The House awaits your decision on the application for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 24, Mr Speaker. Notwithstanding your decision, the House will no longer proceed with today’s announced business.

Tuesday 17 April—General debate on anti-Semitism, followed by a debate on a motion on redress for victims of banking misconduct and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Wednesday 18 April—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on industrial strategy.

Thursday 19 April—Backbench Business Committee debates on surgical mesh and on cancer treatment.

I shall make a further business statement in the usual way on Thursday.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for early sight of it. It is disappointing that the Government have not bowed to the inevitable pressure to hold a debate on the action in Syria in Government time. Earlier, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to be held accountable, but the Government seem to rely on the outcome of an application under Standing Order No. 24 to debate this important issue.

The Prime Minister was right when she said that there is no graver decision than to commit our forces to combat. A debate is not about interfering with operational matters, which are left to our brilliant armed forces and defence capabilities, who defend this country every minute of every day, for which we thank them. A statement, although welcome, allows only short answers and questions, as we have just seen—I thank you, Mr Speaker, for sitting through the questions from 140 Members. A debate is about Parliament and Members from all parties having the views of the country, through our constituents and as elected Members, heard and responded to in full. A debate in Government time would have respected conventions, democracy and Parliament.

First, I join the hon. Lady in thanking our armed forces for the superb work that they did. I point out to her that in fact the Prime Minister did seek an urgent debate today, but that was not to be granted. I also point out that the Prime Minister just answered questions for three and a quarter hours. I hope that the hon. Lady feels that that was something of a useful contribution to the parliamentary debate.

Many important issues that came out of today’s exchanges will continue to cause interest and concern for Members of Parliament. Will the Leader of the House make sure that in the months ahead the Backbench Business Committee has plenty of days to allocate, to ensure that all Members of Parliament can continue to raise their concerns on the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend the Chair of the Procedure Committee is absolutely right that it is vital that all Members get the chance to debate a wide range of subjects. There is a huge number of interests across this place, of which tomorrow’s debates on anti-Semitism and the Royal Bank of Scotland redress scheme are two examples. I assure my hon. Friend that I will continue to work carefully with the other business managers to ensure that there is always plenty of time for Back-Bench debates.

I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your steadfastness and mettle in sitting through those few hours of the Syria statement. I am glad that the Leader of the House sort of knows what is happening with the business this week, because the timetabling of business has been nothing other than the usual shambles and chaos that we see from this Government. They were going to apply for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 themselves, but that was taken away, and apparently we are going to have a debate under Standing Order No. 24 again tomorrow.

We need the Leader of the House to come to the House to say that we are going to get a full debate tomorrow, with an amendable motion, and that directly elected Members of Parliament will get the opportunity to vote on behalf of our constituents, who expect nothing else. We have been denied a say before the Government took us into military action; they should now be doing everything possible to ensure that we can reflect our constituents’ views on such an important issue.

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the decision to allow or not to allow an urgent debate under Standing Order No. 24 is a decision for Mr Speaker. The decision as to which application, if any, Mr Speaker chose to take was for him. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister has made it clear that she is always willing to come to the House. She has just been on her feet for three and a quarter hours, answering questions from across the House. She fully intends to be, and has shown her commitment to being, accountable for the decision that was taken.

I very much welcome the Leader of the House’s statement, but I welcome even more her reference to the three and a quarter hours that we have just been through. Does she agree that in the course of that extraordinary sequence, we not only had the opportunity to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) make important points about international law and many other Government and Opposition Members make important contributions, but were able to witness a Prime Minister who showed, in the moderation, good sense and compelling arguments that she put forward, the capacity to lead this country at a time when we need such a leader?

Yes, my right hon. Friend is exactly right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) made some important points of law, and there were many good contributions from throughout the House. I was delighted to see that a good number of Opposition Members support the Prime Minister’s decision to protect our armed forces and ensure operational success while taking moderate steps to make sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.

I, too, pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s dedication this afternoon—it was a remarkable performance—but, with respect, she did not answer all the questions put to her. In particular, I asked her why she was not following the precedent set by David Cameron in 2011 in respect of the intervention in Libya by granting the House a vote on an amendable motion. That is surely the precedent that should be followed. Why are the Government so resistant to it?

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Prime Minister alluded to the 2016 written ministerial statement that set out the position in terms of the need to take urgent action for humanitarian relief. He might also be aware that the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, has supported the action taken by the Prime Minister for the reasons given.

Order. One of the accidental and perhaps injurious by-products of the postponement today of the Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] is that the House will not have the opportunity to hear the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) expatiate on the matter, to which I know that he enthusiastically looked forward. Nevertheless, we can have a mini version of his oratory now.

That will be a cause of grave disappointment to many Members in all parts of the House. Nevertheless, also displaced from today’s business was an important debate on housing. Members from all parties have expressed strong views about homelessness, home ownership and the Government’s consultation. The Leader of the House has announced that we are going to consider the laser Bill to which you referred, Mr Speaker, but she did not mention that debate on housing. Can she tell the House that that general debate on housing will indeed take place, so that we can explore the matter in full and to the degree it deserves?

Like you, no doubt, Mr Speaker, I was very much looking forward to hearing my right hon. Friend’s contributions to that debate. It is certainly a top domestic priority for the Government to improve the plight of those who need their own home and, of course, to alleviate homelessness. Those are incredibly important issues, so we will certainly reschedule that debate in Government time as soon as we can.

I remind the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister does not need to brief the media or indeed ask Mr Speaker for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 to have a matter debated in the House. The Government control the House’s timetable, so why on earth were they trying to use that procedure to do something that they have the power to do anyway?

As I said previously, the Prime Minister requested an urgent debate under the Standing Order No. 24 procedure, and it was not granted.

The Prime Minister has explained why Parliament was not recalled. Would it not be a good idea to have a full debate on a voteable motion about Syria tomorrow, so that the House can show its support for the Prime Minister’s view? I think the House would vote overwhelmingly in favour. Will the Leader of the House consider coming back later to make another business statement to announce a full debate for tomorrow?

I would be delighted to change the business of the House every few minutes, but the patience of the Chamber might wear a bit thin. My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and without giving too much away, Mr Speaker, you will be getting another application for a Standing Order No. 24 debate, which may have a bearing on tomorrow’s business.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that, although coming to this House and answering questions for three and a quarter hours is commendable, it is actually the Prime Minister’s job in a moment such as this, and that the job of this House is to debate important matters, and this is a very, very important matter? Answering a series of questions is not the same as having a full, frank and detailed debate.

I am very fond of the hon. Lady, but that was quite an ungenerous response to a three-and-a-quarter-hour marathon. Let us be clear: in a statement, there is a personal reply to every single question, which does not happen in a debate, so that was actually commendable of the Prime Minister.

I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said. The Prime Minister set out in her statement, and in her replies to the questions from Members, the very clear reasons why she did not recall Parliament last week for a debate and a vote before the decision for military action was taken. I accept her decisions for doing so, but I do think that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) has a point when he says that the precedent set in 2011 for a statement by the Prime Minister followed by a debate is a good one. Having listened to every question in today’s statement, my judgment is that a full day’s debate tomorrow, opened by the Prime Minister and followed by the Leader of the Opposition, would lead to a very clear judgment by this House that would strengthen, not weaken, the Government’s position.

Again, I feel like I am on shaky ground here, because as you will be aware, Mr Speaker, the Government did offer a debate for tomorrow, but I think that you already had applications for Standing Order No. 24 debates for tomorrow.

Order. I appreciate that the Leader of the House is trying to respond to the question that she has been asked, but it is extremely important that the procedural position is understood.

First, it is a fact that applications for debates under Standing Order No. 24 are applications in the first instance to me and then to the House. I have invested in me by the House the power to grant the right for the application to be made, and if support exists in the House, such a debate, with my approval, can go ahead.

Secondly, however, the Government control the Order Paper for future days. It is therefore open to the Government to table a motion—a substantive motion or a take-note motion and if a substantive motion, an amendable motion—on any matter that they choose.

I know that the Leader of the House, whom I have known for a long time, would not seek to misrepresent the position—she was just trying honestly to answer the question of the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)—but it is important to be clear that I am not an obstacle to an amendable Government motion. If the Government had wanted to table such a motion, they could have done so. If they had told me that they were going to do so, that would have been fine, but they did no such thing. I am simply discharging my obligations to allow SO24 applications and to adjudicate on them. The waters must not be muddied.

If the Government wanted to have a debate earlier today and had pursued an SO24 application in order to secure it, why do they not want a debate now, and why do they not table a motion now in order to have a debate tomorrow? It is within their power. Why should they be using powers that are available for Back Benchers to call on the Government when they have the power to do so themselves?

Mr Speaker, you probably were not aware of my interest in the Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill until now. We are now due to have it on Wednesday, but on Wednesday we should have been considering the Committee and remaining stages of that Bill. Can my right hon. Friend shed some light on when that might now take place?

My hon. Friend is right: it is a very important Bill that will help ensure the safety of vehicles from laser misuse, and we will schedule it as soon as we can.

No parliamentarian worth their salt should accept this flannel from those on the Government Front Bench. Will the Leader of the House outline from that Dispatch Box why she will not leave this Chamber after this statement and table an amendable motion for the House to debate tomorrow?

I have made it very clear that the Prime Minister has just made a statement and taken questions for three and a quarter hours. We are awaiting an SO24 emergency debate. The Prime Minister applied for an urgent debate for today. We looked at having a debate tomorrow, but we understand that there will be another SO24 application heard later for a further debate tomorrow, so we have decided to leave the business unchanged. I hope that that is clear.

As the Clerk has just advised me, my judgment on the SO No. 24 debate—I know this because we discussed it earlier—could have been impacted by a Government decision to table a motion for a substantive debate tomorrow. I am sorry but I cannot overstate the importance of accuracy and correctness in these matters.

My decision about an SO No. 24 application is independent of, and can be separable and distinguishable from, a Government decision to table a substantive motion. It is entirely open to the Government to do that if they so wish. I was pleased to see the Father of the House nodding from a sedentary position when I was making that point. I do have the advantage, procedurally, of being correct.

Given what the Prime Minister just said about the urgency of taking action on Saturday and the fact that she did want to listen and respond to the House, the business statement that we have just heard is utterly extraordinary and flies in the face of everything we heard during the Prime Minister’s statement. My constituents expect me to tell them how I would have responded to this matter, and it is a matter of record that may last for many years in the future.

I support entirely the SO24 application of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), but it is not the same as an amendable motion, in Government time, where we as Members of Parliament are asked to justify to our constituents our view on this matter. The response of the Leader of the House is utterly unsatisfactory and demeans Parliament. She should go away and come back with a much better response.

As I have already said, the Prime Minister has just answered questions for three and a quarter hours. She gave individual responses to individual questions, which is a much more detailed response than in a general debate. We are now looking forward to the urgent debate put forward by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), and that is what we are all waiting for.

I have been asking myself for some days why the Government would not table a substantive motion in this House and put the matter to a vote. I cannot rid myself of the unworthy suspicion that there may have been some doubts as to whether we would get a majority for it, and whether we might repeat the 2013 experience.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, having listened to three and a half hours of questions—a performance by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of outstanding endurance and assurance—it is quite obvious that there is a large majority in this House in favour of the action that the Government have taken? Will the Leader of the House discuss the matter further with colleagues and lay any fears on one side? We would be in a stronger position if the House gave a big majority for the action.

I am very grateful to the Father of the House for his advice, and I will, of course, take it away.

After the farcical and contemptuous folly of not recalling Parliament last week and given what Mr Speaker has just said, why does the Leader of the House not have the courage to come forward with an amendable motion for us all to debate and vote on tomorrow?

I am in danger of repeating myself. We have just had a three-and-a-quarter-hour statement from the Prime Minister, with individual replies to individual detailed questions. We are now looking forward to a three-hour debate under Standing Order No. 24, with the prospect of a further such debate tomorrow.

The Leader of the House has said that she is a champion for the will of Parliament. On this gravest of grave issues, regarding conflict, does she agree that we should test the will of this House by having a vote?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there can always be a Division when the House does not agree on two different sides of an argument. We are now looking forward to an urgent debate on the question of Syria, the application for which will be made momentarily by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern).

The Leader of the House quite often tells us that Parliament is taking back control, so hon. Members can imagine my surprise when I sat in front of my TV set on Saturday and watched the Prime Minister in a wood-panelled room taking questions from journalists, rather than from Members of this House. But there is a wider point about the recall of Parliament. People have been calling regularly for the recall of Parliament over the past week, which only the Government can currently do. If the Leader of the House is serious about Parliament taking back control, will she support changes to the Standing Orders that would allow Members of the House—not just the Government—to recall Parliament and at least allow us to take back control?

As I have always made clear, I will always listen to sensible proposals about changes to procedure with recommendations from the Procedure Committee. It is right that we should take such issues seriously. The hon. Gentleman will, however, be aware of all the arguments that the Prime Minister has just made for taking action without recalling Parliament. That decision was entirely legitimate and justified.

Will the Leader of the House also consider taking away the excellent recommendation from the Father of the House to form a cross-party commission to examine and clarify the role of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive on the question of deploying British forces in military action overseas?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been a number of reviews of the use of the royal prerogative and the way in which Parliament works in relation to Executive decisions about military intervention. The Prime Minister has clearly set out the written ministerial statement in 2016, which is the latest assessment of how we would act in the case of the need for urgent humanitarian relief, and I think that she answered all those questions.

Mr Speaker, you have made it absolutely clear that the Government have the ability to table an amendable motion on this subject. Why do they not do so?

We have just had a three-and-a-quarter-hour statement from the Prime Minister, with individual questions and responses. We are now looking forward to a further three-hour urgent debate on Syria. [Interruption.]

Order. The Leader of the House must be heard, as she was answering the question. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) asked that question and there was a lot of bellowing—it was not chuntering—from a sedentary position from her party colleagues. The Leader of the House must be heard.

Well, I am very happy so to be advised. I am grateful to the Leader of the House.

I shall this evening hear two applications for debates under Standing Order No. 24. First, I shall hear the application from the Leader of the Opposition, who has up to three minutes in which to make his application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24.