Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition’s point of order yesterday announcing the motion of no confidence, which is in the remaining orders and notices, you will recall that the motion states:

“That this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away”.

Her Majesty’s Opposition have not heard whether the Government will be making a statement or tabling a business of the House motion to deal with that motion. The Prime Minister refused to ensure that a meaningful vote took place on the date that she agreed, she refuses to allow a vote to take place this week, and she is delaying a vote until 14 January 2019. This is an affront to this House and to the British people.

The motion is clear that this is the Prime Minister’s failure. The Government have not had the courtesy to come to the House to inform right hon. and hon. Members whether there will be a debate on the motion. It appears that the Government have made an announcement to everyone except this House.

May I have your guidance, Mr Speaker, on whether you have heard from the Government about whether they have agreed to find time for the no-confidence motion, and whether you heard before everyone else that the Government are not allowing a debate on the motion?

I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intended point of order. The short answer to her question is that I have had no such indication from the Government that they have any intention of acceding to the request for a debate on the motion, although I have no doubt that her plea has been heard on the Treasury Bench. For the avoidance of doubt and in the name of better public understanding of our procedures, I should make it clear that there is a strong convention that the Government provide time at an early opportunity for a no-confidence motion in Her Majesty’s Government if tabled by the official Opposition. However—and this is important—no such convention applies in relation to this particular motion, which is not a conventional no-confidence motion. So that is where things stand at present and I do not think I can add anything further, but the hon. Lady has put her point on the record.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not true that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 makes it absolutely clear that, if Her Majesty’s Opposition were to table a motion of no confidence in the Government, an immediate debate would have to be held? Indeed, if the Opposition had tabled such a motion last night, we would now be discussing a motion of no confidence in the Government. The problem for the leader of the Labour party is that he does not want an immediate motion of no confidence because if, as is likely, it were to be lost, he would be forced by his party to go for a referendum. The Opposition are playing games.

I will not get into secondary matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but I can confirm that his exegesis of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is broadly correct. I am not surprised by that; I would expect nothing less from him, as he is an experienced parliamentarian. He is right on that front.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In the light of your rulings just now, could you clarify whether it is possible for any hon. Member to table a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government? You will know that many of us are unhappy with the way in which Her Majesty’s Government have been conducting themselves, and that we are frustrated that a motion stating “This House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” has not been tabled.

It is open to other Members to table such a motion, but there is a difference between tabling a motion and having the assurance of time for a debate on it.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is there a precedent for motions of no confidence in the Prime Minister? What has been the response to such motions in the past? I seek your guidance on taking this forward.

Forgive me—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is seeking counsel, but I feel that I have already set out the position clearly. That is to say that there is a well-established procedure that has, in a sense, been underpinned and reinforced by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. That procedure allows for an official Opposition motion of no confidence in the Government to be allocated time for debate and a vote. The particular motion that has recently been tabled expresses no confidence on the part of the House in the Prime Minister, but it does not express no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, and it is therefore not automatically eligible for debate in the same way that a conventional no-confidence motion would be. Moreover, as I have explained to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), it is perfectly open to other Members to seek to table no confidence in the Government motions, but they do not have the same status as a motion from Her Majesty’s official Opposition. I hope that that is clear to colleagues.

Well, if the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) really must. I will come to the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey). We are keeping him waiting, but I am sure he will be worth waiting for.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I put on record how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on his point of order? This might be a first, but it is an important one. Have you had any communication with Her Majesty’s Opposition to assist them with the correct procedure? Is it not the case that you and your excellent Clerks are always available to Her Majesty’s Opposition, should they seek any information or advice on how to conduct themselves as a proper, functioning Opposition?

The Chair is always available to offer advice if it is sought. I sometimes proffer advice when it is not sought, but I do not unfailingly do so.

I think we should keep the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) waiting, because the hon. Member for Wells was first.

Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), Mr Speaker. Is it possible for a Back-Bench MP to table a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Opposition, given the mess they have made of tabling a motion of no confidence? They have confused even their own Back Benchers over the difference between a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister and a motion of no confidence in the Government. They have made an utter shambles of the entire process. So can we have two motions of no confidence: one in the Government and one in that lot over there?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I am not aware of any precedent for what he cheekily suggests. However, I would say to him that it is perfectly open to Members to table early-day motions. He is nothing if not an adroit and assiduous Member of the House and, if my memory serves me correctly, he is not entirely unfamiliar with that device.

Further to the points of order raised by my hon. Friends, Mr Speaker. We on this side of the House are seeking to table a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister with the objective of bringing forward the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement and of holding the Prime Minister to account for her failure. That was the objective of that measure. Failing having an opportunity to do that, what other measures are available to the House, which has held the Government in contempt, to bring forward that meaningful vote expeditiously?

The short answer is that the art of persuasion is, I think, the only approach that could possibly succeed in bringing forward that vote. I have explained what the powers of the Chair are, and what they are not. I quite understand that many Members would like to get on with the conclusion of that debate—or with the beginning, continuation and conclusion of it if it is an entirely new debate—followed by the vote, but it is not for the Chair to bring that about. The hon. Gentleman asks how he could bring it about, and I think the answer is through the art of persuasion and the use of the charm and guile for which he is well renowned, at least in his own constituency and perhaps beyond.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Has the Northern Ireland Secretary indicated to you that she intends to come to the Dispatch Box as a matter of urgency to respond to reports over the past 48 hours that the Irish Government have concluded a specific mapping exercise along the entire length of the 300-mile land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that they have concluded that there are considerably in excess of the 200 crossing points that they had previously established to be in place? They have now indicated that the number is approximately the same as the number that I and others have suggested, thereby negating any requirement whatsoever for a backstop, given that a hard border would be a total and utter impossibility.

The short answer is that I have received no such indication from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She is among the most courteous Members of the House, and I feel sure that if she were planning to make a statement I would have got wind of it. The hon. Gentleman beetled up to the Chair to raise this matter with me earlier, and I indicated that it was perfectly legitimate for him to raise it by way of a point of order. In the absence of any commitment to a statement, if he feels that this is a pressing matter that warrants the urgent attention of the House tomorrow, for example, he knows what resources and devices are available to him.

Bill Presented

European Union (Revocation of Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies, supported by Dr Sarah Wollaston, Mr David Lammy, Peter Grant, Tom Brake and Liz Saville Roberts, presented a Bill to require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met; to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 306).