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House of Commons Hansard
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13 February 2019
Volume 654

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This week, 12 Catalan leaders go on trial in Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of rebellion and sedition. If found guilty, they face sentences of up to 25 years in jail. Their supposed crime was organising a democratic referendum on Catalan independence in October 2017. One of their number was the President or Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, whom you graciously welcomed to our House when she visited us as a free woman. Her alleged crime was allowing a debate on Catalan independence in the democratically elected Catalan Parliament.

Mr Speaker, I know that you cannot comment directly on these matters and I wish in no way to put you in a difficult position, but will you confirm that it would be in order for you to allow a debate on Welsh independence in this democratically elected House and for me to take part, and that neither you nor I would be likely to face arrest or long-term imprisonment for so doing?

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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice of his intention to raise his point of order. Moreover, I am grateful for its substance, both because he raises an important point, to which I shall respond, and because it gives me the opportunity to say that I well remember welcoming Carme Forcadell when she came to this place—it was a privilege to do so.

On the substance of the matter, it is of course entirely orderly for there to be a debate in this House on Welsh independence. Members enjoy immunity for the words they utter in this Chamber and can come to no grief as a result of their freedom of expression. Moreover, I note in passing that as Speaker, I too enjoy immunity for the manner in which I preside over debates. Other people will fashion, and in many cases have done so, for better or for worse, their own arrangements. While ours are by no means incapable of improvement, and there are many people in this House who believe that there is much by way of parliamentary reform that can be accomplished, I think that on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised and the importance of democratic principle, we are very content with our arrangements. They could perhaps, in important respects, be imitated by others who proclaim a commitment to democracy. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the first urgent question on EU trade agreements, I stated that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) had opposed all 40 of the EU trade agreements in the first place. Can I say, for the benefit of the House, that on closer inspection, he actually abstained on one of them: the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement? Nevertheless, his complaint that the agreements, which he himself never voted to make operable in the first place, might no longer be operable after Brexit day still stands.

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I am sure that I am immensely grateful. It was not a point of order, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman feels that he has made an important point. If the right hon. Gentleman goes about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step, and feels that he has achieved a notable parliamentary victory—well, if that brings a little happiness into the life of the right hon. Gentleman, I must say veritably, I am pleased for the feller.

Bill Presented

European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 4) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Yvette Cooper, supported by Sir Oliver Letwin, Norman Lamb, Dame Caroline Spelman, Hilary Benn, Nick Boles, Jack Dromey, Mr Dominic Grieve, Stewart Hosie, Ben Lake, Liz Kendall and Clive Efford, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the period for negotiations for withdrawing from the European Union.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 335).