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Points of Order

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We live in interesting times, if I can put it that way; we are in a constitutional crisis. We are aware that the Prime Minister is going off to Brussels tomorrow, and out of that we will learn whether we are going to have an extension to article 50. We need to reflect on the fact that we are a week away from the intended departure date from the European Union. The threat of no deal from the Government is very real, and we ought to be aware of the consequences. The Government have told us about the threat to the supply of medicines, to food supplies and to public order. These are serious matters, and given that we have very few days left, I have today written to the Prime Minister and demanded that, in the circumstances, this House should convene on Saturday so that we can plot a way ahead. We need to use the opportunities granted to us in these few days that are left, and we might indeed need to use the opportunity to revoke article 50 if the Government are serious about taking us forward on a no-deal scenario. Mr Speaker, I ask your forbearance, and I ask what opportunities you can suggest that are open to us to ensure that, in these times of crisis, we have the opportunities that we had at the time of the Suez crisis—the last disaster visited upon us by this Government—to ensure that we can stand up for our constituents and protect our people from the catastrophe of no deal.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. When he seeks my advice, my response to him is to say—as I indicated to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) yesterday —that a Saturday sitting, or indeed a Sunday sitting, would be perfectly possible. It would, however, be possible only if there were a resolution of the House to that effect. Indeed, any change to the thus far set out—and therefore by Members anticipated—sittings would require a resolution of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman reflects on the point that I have made, he will be keenly conscious that such a resolution could, potentially, be put to the House either tomorrow or indeed on Friday, as this Friday is a sitting day. I am not seeking to engender an expectation, and I have no indication at all that the Government are thinking in these terms or that they would necessarily be sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman’s request, but this would be perfectly possible in procedural terms. My advice is that he should await a reply to his letter.

Further to that very good point of order from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), Mr Speaker, would it be in order for us all to be here on Saturday in the circumstances that he has described, given that many hundreds of thousands of people are due to march in London on that day in support of a people’s vote? Many of them will be young people who are demanding a say about their future, given that they will be bearing the burden of Brexit. In those circumstances, would the House be able to rise to go out and greet those hundreds of thousands of people who rightly want a final say on Brexit and a people’s vote?

The right hon. Lady’s point of order contains a twin, or at any rate double, hypothesis, and we shall have to wait to see. As I always say, invoking the late Willie Whitelaw, it is best across bridges only when we come to them. Her use, and some would say abuse, of the point of order procedure displays a notable, though not altogether uncharacteristic, cheekiness—a fact of which she is well aware—but she is nothing if not dexterous in her use of available procedures.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is, of course, right about a resolution of the House being required to sit on a Saturday, but staffing arrangements and much else are needed to run the House. Can I be assured the planning is in place in case of such a resolution?

That is a very sensible point. Planning will be under way lest that scenario should arise, and not least out of consideration for the staff who serve us so loyally and so well, it is essential that that is so. They have already in recent times been very gravely inconvenienced as a result of our deliberations. That is the way it is, and they very graciously accept it, but we should not take their loyalty for granted. They must be treated with respect.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Anyone who heard the urgent question from the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and all those who responded to it will know how there are many Members who absolutely love and indulge themselves in long discussions about arcane matters of European legislation and its different articles and who spend far less time worrying about the disastrous potential consequences of their actions. Are you aware of whether there are any plans for grief counselling for those Members? In the event that we leave the European Union, those Members would no longer spend many long hours talking about these things and they would have to spend some time concentrating on the poverty in their constituencies.

I am not aware of any plans for grief counselling, but my expectation is that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) would focus his beady eye on a vast range of other important topics.

I have no reason to think that the right hon. Gentleman is about to contradict me but, if he really insists, I feel that on the strength of our 35-year acquaintance I must indulge him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. To save the House and the country money, if we leave at 11 pm on 29 March—we are at D minus 9—I will have no need or requirement for grief counselling, but I might have a whacking hangover on the morning of 30 March.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. This has been an afternoon in which colleagues have volunteered more personal information than is customary.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you inform me of how I might best do my duty? As leader of the Plaid Cymru parliamentary group, I have been invited to No. 10 at 6.15 pm, but I have also been invited to a meeting, at between 6 pm and 7 pm, with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The meetings clash, and I seek your advice on how best to proceed.

Well, it is not for me to endorse or, indeed, to repudiate the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) is clearly a much sought after individual. I have always regarded her as important, and I know she has a very full diary—no doubt there are many competing claims upon her time and, as I say, her attendance is required by noted celebrities within the Government. My advice to her is very simple: trust your instincts and, very simply, to thine own self be true.

If there are no further points of order, I will in a moment call Keir Starmer to make an 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. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.