I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected a manuscript amendment in the name of John Stevenson, copies of which are in the Vote Office and which is also available online.
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards, Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House’s standards system: Initial proposals, HC 1726, and agrees the following changes to Standing Orders and to the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members as approved by the House on 17 March 2015:
Standing Order No. 149 (Committee on Standards)
(i) in paragraph (5), line 3, leave out from “witnesses,” to end and add “may move motions and amendments to motions or draft reports, and may vote.”.
(ii) leave out paragraph (5A).
Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members
Chapter 4: Procedure for inquiries
(i) Leave out paragraph 6(b) and insert –
“b) be in writing or by email, and provide the complainant’s name and full postal address; and”.
(ii) Leave out paragraph 11.
The motion stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate on behalf of the Government. The motion, if agreed by the House, serves to strengthen the independence of the Committee on Standards and modernise its practices. I will touch more on the content of the motion, and I am sure that the hon. Lady, the Chair of the Committee, will also provide the House with a detailed account of the proposed changes.
It is important that we put these changes in their wider context. Now, more than ever, we must not lose sight of our drive to improve the culture of our Parliament. How has this motion come about? In November 2017, shocking stories of harassment and bullying in Westminster came to light. I have been clear, as has the Prime Minister, that there is absolutely no place for this unacceptable behaviour in Parliament, or anywhere else for that matter. We should be setting an example for others to follow, and my ambition is that our Parliament become a role model for other Parliaments around the world.
In response to the allegations, the Prime Minister convened party leaders and set up a cross-party working group to develop an independent complaints and grievance procedure for Parliament. A programme team, overseen by a cross-party steering group made up of Members of both Houses and staff representatives, then worked on the implementation of the new policy, known as the ICGS, which was agreed by the House and launched in July last year. Throughout our work, there was a clear recognition from the cross-party group that establishing the ICGS was the beginning, not the end, of a bigger movement to challenge and change the culture in Parliament. As part of this, we agreed that there must be a review of the scheme at six and 18 months, as it beds in. This gives us the chance to improve as we go and to constantly ask ourselves what more we can do.
I am currently working with colleagues in the House to establish the first of these reviews and that work will begin later this month. The purpose of each review will be, first, to scrutinise how the new complaints procedure is working in practice; secondly, to address outstanding areas, such as how to incorporate into the scheme visitors to constituency offices and how to manage third-party reporting; and thirdly, to incorporate the findings of the Cox report, following the recommendations of the House of Commons Commission and the other independent inquiries set up as part of the ICGS.
Can I ask the Leader of the House about an area of which I was not aware? What does she mean by “visitors to constituency offices” in this context?
It means how visitors to constituency offices might potentially in future be able to submit complaints about the behaviour that they have received in constituency offices.
I am sorry, but I will not give way.
Dame Laura Cox QC’s inquiry—
I will not give way.
Order. The right hon. Lady is not giving way. We have not got much time.
Dame Laura Cox QC’s inquiry looked into the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff. Naomi Ellenbogen QC is conducting a similar inquiry on the House of Lords side, and Gemma White QC is currently conducting a broader inquiry into employees on the Commons side. All of the many different employment situations in the House will be covered by a one-off review of historic complaints.
Dame Laura Cox published her report into the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff in October last year. There were three key recommendations in that report, which the House of Commons Commission agreed and committed to taking forward.
I am particularly anxious that the second of the recommendations in the Cox report be moved forward as quickly as possible. Can the Leader of the House give us a timetable for that?
The House of Commons Commission is looking at each of these issues. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will answer his question in a moment.
Dame Laura Cox also raised serious concerns about the senior management of this place and, as an ex officio member of the Commission, I am keen that these issues be explored further. Her concerns cannot be brushed aside. It will be very important that the Commission does not ease up on the pace of dealing with what are most urgent issues facing the governance of Parliament. The changes to be made in the light of the Cox report are a matter for the Commission and the House itself.
That brings us to the motion on the Order Paper. I pay tribute to the Committee on Standards for its work, which was done not only quickly, in recognition of the gravity of the situation, but thoughtfully. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for the constructive way in which she has engaged with the process since the beginning of her chairmanship. It is not an easy task when Committees themselves must assess their fitness for purpose and adapt to calls for change. The Committee on Standards has adopted a clear openness and willingness to do so, while also recognising the need for a further and separate review of the standards system.
The motion relates to the third and key recommendation of the Cox report, on the independence of the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by staff against Members of Parliament. The House of Commons Commission agreed in December to establish a small, informal working group to examine and report on that recommendation. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that MPs are accountable for their actions, but also agree with the Commission that it is necessary to consider carefully the potential constitutional implications of wholesale changes in the standards system. In the interim, while recognising that need for further review, the motion seeks to make some important changes in the current system to enhance its independence and ways of working.
I want to put it on record that, as one who has spoken to people who have been raped, groped and abused in this building, I want the motion to be passed. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady realises, as I do, that we will struggle to get it through because of the lack of time, and will join me in saying that we can see the people who are trying to stop it. Does she agree that that would be a disaster and a shame on this House?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that it is important for us to demonstrate that we, as a House, are absolutely committed to ensuring that the dignity and respect that we want everyone to feel in this place is adhered to, and that we do everything we can to make that happen.
May I raise an issue relating to dignity and respect, especially for women Members? As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament, I have written to the Speaker asking him, as a matter of urgency, to consider the issue of proxy voting for women during maternity leave. Please will the Leader of the House also exert some pressure? The issue is becoming very urgent.
I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that I am committed to changes that will accommodate the need for parents to spend time with their new babies.
The changes sought in the motion will first confer full voting rights on lay members of the Committee on Standards. That means, in practice, that lay members will have equal status on the Committee and will hold a majority in any vote, with the Chair holding a casting vote only in the event of a tie, and it goes some way towards meeting Laura Cox’s challenge.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I tabled an amendment relating to that issue. What I seek from her is an assurance that, when the Gemma White inquiry reports, we shall have an opportunity to revisit the issue and ensure that her analysis can be taken into consideration.
I spoke to my hon. Friend earlier today, and assured him that the six-month review of the independent complaints and grievance scheme would indeed take into account the issues raised by each of the independent inquiries, and that all issues relating to the way in which the process for managing complaints works would be in scope for that.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I have already given way to him.
Secondly, the motion will modernise practices so that referrals can be made by e-mail or in writing. Thirdly, it will abolish the current requirement for the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to consult the Committee on Standards on whether a case that is more than seven years old, or one involving a former Member, can be investigated by her. That will ensure that she can act independently. Many of us have raised grave concerns about appalling allegations that have gone without investigation as a result of the current arrangements. So ensuring that the PCS can operate independently of the Committee on Standards is vital and will better enable justice for those seeking recourse.
On the issue of the Committee’s willingness to remove any obligation on the standards commissioner to consult the Committee before going to the police, I welcome the Committee’s willingness to look at that proposal, but can the Leader of the House reassure us that it will still be a victim-centred approach? She will know from our discussions in the steering group that it is vital that a victim’s or a survivor’s wish not to have a motion go to the police should be overridden only if there are overwhelming cases of safeguarding. Can she reassure us that there will be some kind of protocol on that?
The hon. Lady will appreciate that this motion has been put forward as a result of the Standards Committee’s own recommendations—not something that I am in control of—but I absolutely reassure her that I remain as committed, as do all members of the original working group on the complaints procedure, to putting the complainant at the centre of this process and to ensuring confidentiality about their identity. That is vital to the success of our complaints procedure.
As I understand it, the Standards Committee is appointed by the usual channels and, if it were to appoint people like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and people with a great commitment to ensuring that things are done properly—people of the highest standards and probity—why would we have this problem? Why do we lack confidence in people within this House to do the job for which they are elected and for which they have a mandate from the people? Why do we think we are going to get better people from outside?
That is a lengthy question. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to debate it further, but the evidence that was taken over a lengthy period and that was unanimously agreed by the working group and has been supported by the Standards Committee suggested that a greater element of independence was required, and that having seven lay members and seven parliamentary Members on the Standards Committee and the voting as proposed by the Committee’s Chairman provides the right balance—having the memory and the corporate understanding of being in this place, while at the same time ensuring that we can benefit from the experience and knowledge of independent lay members.
Clearly, the objection is to the idea of lay members being part of this, yet this Parliament put that as a construct into the General Medical Council, so we have members of the public who rule on the behaviour of doctors—not their clinical work, but their behaviour. It is important that we have that independent voice here because we work for them—for the public.
I agree with the hon. Lady.
The changes proposed today are a strong and positive step forward for the better. The Government are fully supportive of the work of the Standards Committee and the House of Commons Commission to make sure that the standards system is more independent, transparent and effective. To return to where I began my remarks, today’s motion is a separate matter from the new complaints system, known as the ICGS, in so far as it is for the House to make changes to its system of standards, but it is vital that we as a House look at this issue carefully in order that the complaints system in the round can command the confidence of the people who work with or for Parliament and the wider public. Today’s motion demonstrates that the House is listening on what more we can do to improve the culture of Parliament and, importantly, demonstrates that we are also taking action. The Government support this change and will support further changes to provide proper recourse for victims and to ensure the proper functioning of our parliamentary democracy.
The recent Christmas message by the Queen had a particular resonance for me when she said:
“Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.”
I would like to take this opportunity to stress that, while we may be divided on a few matters in this place, this is something we can all be united on: our shared ambition to make our Parliament a world leader in its respectful treatment of others. It is in that spirit that I commend this motion to the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for moving the motion. I should also like to thank the Committee on Standards for its work on producing the report. I want to speak to the motion, and also to touch on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). This is a short report, but at its heart lies a constitutional issue that warrants consideration. I note from the inside cover of the report that the Law Officers are entitled to attend the Committee although they are not entitled to vote. I want to place on record my thanks to the shadow Solicitor General, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), for his helpful discussions.
Before I move on to the specific proposals and questions, I also want to thank Dame Laura Cox for the time that she has given to this inquiry and for producing a wide-ranging report in the given timeframe. I also want to reiterate part of the statement from the House of Commons Commission, which is set out in paragraph 4 of the report:
“The scale of the problem and depth of hurt caused is beyond dispute.”
The Commission went on to state:
“The staff of the House of Commons are essential to the functioning of democracy. We deeply regret that their diligence has at times been so poorly repaid, and that it has taken so long for us to recognise what must be done.”
The Committee’s report then states:
“We, like the Commission…commit ourselves to contributing to putting things right.”
I want to add that the House staff and other people working in this great place need to know that they are valued, and I hope that they do.
Paragraph 5 of the report states:
“The functions of the Committee on Standards and of the House of Commons Commission are different, but with some degree of overlap.”
I agree that the functions are different, but I am unclear as to how they overlap. They have completely separate roles. The House of Commons Commission has elected representatives from different parties, and I am definitely not aware of any overlap. I would not want to give the impression that there was any interference in the work of the Commissioner or of the Committee. Nor does the Commission have any say over the work of the Committee. In paragraph 6, the Committee states that it chose to speak to only one elected representative, the Leader of the House. Was she aware of any discussions taking place with anyone else? Were any other experts consulted?
I want to deal with two other issues before I come on to the question of voting. First, if the Commissioner feels that she should refer matters to the police in a criminal matter, she is bound to do that. She should not have to ask anyone’s permission to do so. Secondly, receiving complaints by email will bring the process up to date, and I am sure everyone would agree that as long as we maintain the principle that any statement or complaint must be signed, it can be sent off by email.
The main proposal concerns voting rights for lay members, which Dame Laura Cox suggested in her report. This has been considered for some time but, as the Committee said, the matter now needs decisive and immediate action. A Committee of the House is covered by privilege, which is defined in article 9 of the Bill of Rights Act 1689 as relating to Members only. However, giving lay members a vote would change the nature of the Select Committee. As Dame Laura Cox has pointed out in paragraph 380,
“all the difficulties inherent in the process would not be alleviated by the giving of full votes to lay members, which will in any event require primary legislation”.
It is arguable that privilege would extend to lay members. Lord Nicholls, giving written evidence to the Procedure Committee in 2011, said that if all members of a Committee were undertaking the work of that Committee, he would expect privilege to extend to all members. Unless they are covered by privilege, this could leave lay members exposed to challenge, and however slight the risk, that cannot be right. There are two different views on this, and the only way to make this clear is through legislation, as Dame Laura Cox and the Committee’s report have said. It is not clear when the Government will bring forward the legislation to protect the lay members, so will the Leader of the House tell us when they will do so? Will she also confirm that advice has been taken on the risk to lay members of judicial review, and will she publish it? Lay members have to be protected.
In paragraph 44 of the report, the Committee states:
“The advice we have received is that, procedurally speaking, the House has the power, if it chooses, to confer voting rights on lay members”.
May I ask who that advice was sought from? Was it given on procedural rules or on a constitutional point? Has parliamentary counsel been consulted? Members and lay members need to be reassured. Once they receive that protection, lay members should, as recommended by the Committee, be allowed to move motions and amendments and vote. Their indicative votes are recorded now, so that would be a logical next step.
Everyone who works in Parliament will be concerned by the recent case in the House of Lords. The task was delegated to a Committee, which looked at the case under a fair procedure. The House of Lords, which is of course different, is however looking at including lay members on its sub-committee, albeit in a minority.
This proposal deals with the process at the end, but we must also ensure that Members and staff are reassured that the process is fair from start to finish and does not leave any person feeling that they have not had a fair hearing or that an injustice has been done, and that the recommendations of the Cox report are progressed without delay. I know that the Commons executive team is dealing with that. However, it does raise a constitutional question as to how to preserve the independence of the process while balancing it against the doctrine of exclusive cognisance. Some Members may want to hear the Leader of the House’s view before they vote, so will she reassure us on that point?
Finally, I thank the Committee on Standards again for its work. We must all play our part in ensuring that our new procedures are robust, fair and effective to protect everyone working and visiting Parliament.
Order. It is obvious that a great many people wish to speak, but there is hardly any time, so I am imposing a time limit of three minutes on Back-Bench speeches.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is not customary to impose a time limit when the debate would cease if a closure is not put on the motion.
It is customary to impose a time limit when the person in the Chair can easily see that the demand for time is far greater than the supply. I am therefore imposing a time limit. I call John Stevenson.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My comments will be short. I tabled the amendment, but the Leader of the House has reassured me, so I do not intend to press it. I will make a couple of general comments before talking about the motion before us and the changes to the Standing Orders.
The Cox report highlights concerns about behaviour that should trouble us all. Such unacceptable conduct should not and cannot be tolerated and must be stamped out. It is therefore important we introduce the correct procedures and rules to ensure that behaviour improves and that the culture and environment of Parliament is as it should be for the staff. I agree with the Cox report that Parliament has in the past been reactive in making changes and must get on the front foot and become proactive.
The lay members make a valuable contribution to the Committee on Standards, and their wisdom and knowledge from outside the parliamentary estate is valued, so I support the idea that they should have a vote.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
There is only a short amount of time for each speaker, so I will not take any interventions.
The only thing that I want to bring to the House’s attention is the fact that we must make this change with our eyes open. There are constitutional issues, so we must ensure that we do this with the full knowledge of the consequences. We must consider the individuals who will become lay members of the Committee, the criteria for their appointment, the appointment committee that will select them, the length of service and how members can be removed, and how they must conduct themselves. Political views must also be taken into account, because the Committee is politically balanced at present, so we must consider whether lay members should have to give some indication of their political background if they have one to declare. Finally, we must be aware of the democratic legitimacy and accountability of the Committee on Standards. It is an important function of this House, and we must get things right. I recognise that many professional bodies have lay members that make valuable contributions, but from our perspective it is important that we get the balance right.
My final observation is that this Parliament is part of our democratic process, so democratic accountability and legitimacy are vital to it. Change is required, but it must be managed and properly thought through. Change must not be reactive to the personalities of today; it must be for the long term and look to Parliaments of which Members here will not be a part. We must ensure that we leave a legacy that works.
I shall try to be as brief as possible. I welcome this report and congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on its timely contribution. I had the privilege of serving on the independent complaints and grievance scheme working group, and I know how many committees and bodies across this House have devoted great amounts of time and effort to trying to address some of the serious issues and difficulties that were identified last year, as the Leader of the House said. I think that we are getting there with some of the things that we have looked at, and I am grateful that we are starting to make some sort of progress in dealing with them.
A couple of things have concerned me about the situation over the past few months. The shadow Leader of the House referred to one of them, namely what happened in the House of Lords. It was totally unacceptable, and my worry and fear is that the same process could happen here in this House. We have to be very wary of that.
I am also concerned about the restoration of the Whip for two Members of the governing party, who had been suspended because of very serious allegations, so that they could participate in a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. I have no interest at all in the veracity of the allegations and claims that were made against them; my only concern is how the public observed what happened. The view of the public would have been that the House was more interested in internal contests in political parties than in ensuring that serious allegations were properly investigated. I know the Leader of the House, and I know that she is embarrassed about what happened with those two Members.
Progress is being made, however. We are looking at some issues that have, as the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) described, constitutional significance and an impact on our work. He is right to raise those issues. I am looking around at other members of the working group, and I think the most important thing is that independence is brought into the system as a predominant feature and guides all our undertakings in this House. There can be no question whatsoever of Members of Parliament marking their own homework when it comes to assessing claims made by individual Members of Parliament. I think it is worth disregarding the potential constitutional risks when we are looking at the independence of the process.
I welcome the fact that the standards commissioner can look at historical cases without reference to the Committee on Standards. The standards commissioner must be given the maximum amount of operational freedom to investigate such cases. In the working group, we raked over the whole idea of historical cases. I was disappointed, as I am sure other Members were, to be informed by legal opinion that we could not do anything about historical cases, but Dame Laura Cox is more than sure that that is going to happen.
The Cox report was a massive wake-up call to the House about the scale of some of the difficulties that we have to confront. Dame Laura has ensured that we will never return to a situation in which such things are overlooked, and that we will do everything possible, as robustly as possible, to tackle some of the issues that exist in the House. I know that the three main recommendations from her report have been accepted by the House of Commons Commission. As we have seen from the work of the Standards Committee, all efforts are being made to ensure that her report is obeyed in full.
We have a particular role in our community and society. Parliament is our premier institution of democracy, and whatever we do must set an example to the rest of our community and society. We must do everything possible to ensure that those who work in this House do so in a safe environment, with respect and dignity afforded to them. If we use that as a guiding principle, I am sure that we will achieve success and tackle these issues, as we want to do.
I strongly support the report. I hope that other hon. Members do not try to talk this out when they get to their feet this evening, although I am pretty certain that that is exactly what they will attempt to do. I hope that we will return to the matter, and that we will make sure that we have an opportunity to get the motion through this evening.
Dame Laura Cox rightly said that the bullying and abuse of staff in this place is
“an institutional failure…which has undermined the…authority of the House of Commons”,
and she is right. Anybody who attempts to block these changes at this very late stage, after previous debates, including on the role of lay members, risks not only embedding that perception but further undermining trust in this place. I urge them to consider that.
I fully support the Leader of the House, the changes to the Standing Orders that she has introduced today and her tenacity in doing so. I also fully support the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), in bringing forward the recommendations so swiftly. In debating the report, we have to acknowledge how the House of Commons has ended up in this situation. I believe it is because we are a dysfunctional and unaccountable organisation in terms of the system of management in this place. Who is actually fundamentally responsible for not having ensured that our staff can work in a safe environment? We still do not really know the answer to that question—or do we? I think that Laura Cox was pretty clear that it is the Speaker of the House of Commons, the House of Commons Commission and the chief Clerk of the House of Commons who are responsible, yet we still see very little change in those areas.
To go alongside today’s changes, we need a fuller picture of how the modest changes that we are debating—and they are modest—fit into the fuller picture of reform that Laura Cox called for. We need to see not only the changes that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been so good in bringing forward to make sure that we have training and a grievance procedure, but that we have a clear plan for modernisation; that we have a democratic, transparent and accountable governance structure in the House of Commons; that we fundamentally review the role of the Speaker, which is clearly not currently working as it should; and that we end this piecemeal approach to reform in this place.
An example of that approach, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) earlier, is the incredibly long-winded way we have had to bring forward changes for something such as baby leave, which is a fundamental right for every person we represent in our constituencies. If they work, they have the ability to take time off when they are pregnant or have young children. Members in this place are not able to do that. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has worked tirelessly to bring the changes forward, but there needs to be clearer and better management structures through which to make such changes in future, and to make sure that this is a modern place of work.
This is a matter of the utmost importance for the reputation and standing of this House. We cannot afford to be inward-looking tonight; we have to be outward-looking. The Cox report was an absolute wake-up call to this Parliament to act. I very much welcome the steps that the Leader of the House took leading up to the introduction of the independent complaints and grievance process this summer, but Cox requires us to go further and to have a system that not only is independent, fair and transparent, but that is seen to be so. The proposals in the Committee on Standards report that we are debating are a step on that journey. The Committee and I do not pretend that they are a full response to Cox, but they are a first step, and they are an indication of earnest intent that this House understands that we can no longer allow the public to believe and perceive that we are marking our own homework and that our decisions and adjudications on our colleagues cannot be trusted.
Does the hon. Lady agree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) that the role of lay members has become inherent in so many different professional organisations? Are we saying that we are not a professional organisation that would welcome such input?
I very much agree, and I also very much endorse the comments of my friend the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who rightly pointed to the standing of the lay members who currently belong to the Committee and, indeed, to the full Nolan process we put people through to recruit them to membership of the Committee. I remind the House that the Committee reports to this House. Ultimately, decisions will be taken by this House. We may vote in the Committee on a matter that comes before us—although it is very rare for us to do so—but ultimately the output of our deliberations will be a report to this House, so the elected membership of this House will have a final say.
It is important that the Committee take action now to ensure that the public see we are serious about independence and fairness in the system. That is particularly imperative because under the independent complaints and grievance system that now pertains, the Committee may very well find itself dealing with appeals very shortly. We need to be able to show the public that those appeals will be dealt with appropriately and in a way in which they can have confidence.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I do hope that the House will support the report tonight and give the motion of the Leader of the House the support that it deserves.
The Question is as on the Order Paper—[Interruption.]
I was not aware that this was a time-limited debate.
I beg your pardon? Is this a point of order?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My understanding was that the debate proceeds until there is a closure motion.
No, I have taken the decision that, as there was only 10 seconds before 10 pm, I would, as usual, put the Question. [Interruption.] I will take the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order after I have put the Question. The Question is as on the Order Paper. As many as of that opinion say aye.
Of the contrary, no.
Division. Clear the Lobby.
There do not appear to be any tellers, Madam Deputy Speaker, but there is a point of order.
Order. The Question is as on the Order Paper. As many as of that opinion say aye.
Of the contrary, no. The ayes have it.
Question put and agreed to.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that if there is no order of the House that a debate must end at a particular time, and if Members are standing at the moment of interruption, then that debate should continue at another time, when time becomes available, and not be put to a vote when Members are still standing, waiting to speak in the debate.
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, absolutely right in his description—[Interruption.] Order! Order! Close the doors!
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, of course, in his description of the way in which matters are dealt with at the point of interruption. I took the decision this evening that, as there were 10 seconds left before 10 pm, that was the point at which I should put the Question. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who was on her feet at 9.59 and 51 seconds—I was watching very carefully—had the courtesy to sit down just before 10 o’clock in order that I might put the Question. I took the decision that the Question ought to be put to the House, as it was the moment for the Question to be put. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that it was not right for the hon. Lady to sit down with nine seconds to spare, I think he is really splitting hairs. I understand very well the point that he is making, but I took the decision that nine or 10 seconds meant that we were at the point of interruption and that no one else could have made a meaningful speech in those nine seconds. Of course, I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s point, which was also made by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) in a point of order earlier in the evening, that it is possible for a Member to speak through the point of interruption, and that then there could be no vote and no decision.
My decision and my ruling from the Chair this evening has been that my reading of this Chamber was that the vast majority of Members in this Chamber wanted to have a decision on this matter this evening. I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman earlier that it is a great pity that today we had urgent questions lasting for some two hours and eight minutes that were somewhat repetitive, and that we then had statements lasting for three hours and two minutes that were also rather repetitive. As I said to the right hon. Gentleman in answer to his point of order earlier this evening, these matters are in the hands of Members. If Members insist on having their voice heard again and again, making the same point on the same matter, we will be in a position whereby an important debate such as the one that has just concluded has not had nearly enough time, but these matters are in the hands of Members.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I will of course allow the right hon. Gentleman to make a further point of order if he so wishes.
It is verging on impertinence, Madam Deputy Speaker, but could you share with us the rationale for your decision, rather than allowing the debate to proceed, which it would otherwise have done had you not terminated it at the moment of interruption? We could then have explored all those constitutional issues that were raised ever so briefly during the short time that we had.
I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s further point of order by saying this: it has become the practice in this House that everybody who stands up to speak thinks that they have an automatic right to do so in that debate at the point when they stand up to speak. But as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, when he and I were new young Members of this House—some decades ago—it was perfectly normal for us to sit there, hour after hour, and not be called. It was perfectly normal for 100 people to rise at the beginning of an urgent question or a statement, but for only 30 to be called. It was perfectly normal for people to write to the Speaker and say that they would like to speak in a particular debate, but for only half of them to get to do so. I am terribly sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has been disappointed this evening because, of course, his seniority means that it is normal that he is called in a debate, near the beginning of the debate, but many Members really ought to get used to the fact that it is not an automatic right to speak for as long as they wish, whenever they wish, because there are 650 Members of this place and it is important to balance the rights of one as against the rights of all the others.