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Points of Order

Volume 658: debated on Thursday 11 April 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I gave you notice just now of the point I am about to raise, which is a very important question relating to what happened last night.

In respect of the question I put to the Leader of the House about last night’s abject surrender by the Prime Minister to the EU on the extension of the time until our exit day from the EU—which, by the way, the Leader of the House herself and members of the Cabinet refused to support the other day—is it still competent for the Government to move motion 3 on today’s Order Paper, since it contradicts motion 1 on the same Order Paper?

Secondly, Mr Speaker, can you confirm that there is nothing to prevent the Government from moving motion 3 now so the House can indeed sit tomorrow to debate regulations that are, in my judgment, unlawful and not in the national interest? Many hon. Members will table a prayer in order to debate and oppose them tomorrow. Depriving us of the ability to debate those regulations tomorrow is an act of cowardice and chicanery, and the fact that the shadow Leader of the House did not raise these issues smacks of collusion with the Government to avoid a debate. The whole thing stinks.

I will respond to the hon. Gentleman, but the Leader of the House is signalling a willingness to comment and therefore I think we should hear from her.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I can clear this up. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is absolutely right that two motions were laid yesterday. In the event that the European Union had declined to provide an extension to article 50, we would have been leaving the European Union without a deal tomorrow. Therefore, it was felt that we needed to have a motion laid, as a contingency plan, for the House to sit tomorrow should it be the case that we were leaving without a deal tomorrow. However, I also laid the motion for the Easter recess. The fact of the matter is that later today I will be moving item 1 on the Order Paper, which is the Easter Adjournment, and we will not be moving item 3, which is the sittings of the House motion. I hope that clears things up, Mr Speaker.

Order. I will indulge the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) further in a moment. I am perfectly clear about the position. There is a manifest incompatibility between the moving of motion 1 and the moving of motion 3, a point that has not been gainsaid by the Leader of the House. She has, in fact, explained that it was really a matter of prudent preparation, if I can put it that way, and contingency planning that the Government wanted to afford themselves what I would describe, without levity, as the backstop of motion 3 in the event that the circumstances warranted its deployment. The circumstances do not warrant its deployment, and therefore they resort, perfectly properly, to motion 1, which I rather anticipate, if we proceed in an orderly fashion, the Government will in due course move.

Of course, I always treat the hon. Gentleman with the very greatest of respect, like all Members. He is a serious authority on parliamentary procedure, and I will indulge him further in a moment, but not before I have heard other colleagues.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When constituents send me—indeed, all of us—to this place, they expect us to be able to vote and have a voice on important issues that affect the future of the country. Therefore, Sir, can you advise me when we might get a chance to vote on the extension agreed yesterday evening at the European Council by the Prime Minister to the UK’s exit date from the EU to 31 October?

Well, if the Government proceed as they intend to, there will not be such an opportunity today, but there is a prospect, or a possibility, of such an opportunity at a later date. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I think there will be an opportunity today, in the light of the sequence of events and the way in which the Government intend to proceed, the answer is no, not today. That point I think has been anticipated and already, if you will, deprecated by his hon. Friend the Member for Stone. It may well be something that he also deprecates, which is the implication of his point of order, but nevertheless that is the situation with which we are confronted.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. Clearly, if Government motion 1 succeeds tonight—I hope it will—there will be no business next week, but Members across the House have submitted questions for business next week, and Adjournment debates and other debates have been requested. May we have guidance on when those Question Times will take place, what the status is of questions that have been submitted already, and also, of course, when the shuffle will be, so Members know which questions have been chosen?

That is a perfectly reasonable inquiry. My understanding—I think it is also in conformity with what has happened in the past—is that we would simply roll forward by a week. Therefore, I must advise hon. Members that it is not intended that the shuffle will be done again. If the hon. Gentleman was successful in the shuffle—I do not know, because I am not privy to that—he can dance around the mulberry bush in joyous appreciation of the fact that, when we do get to those questions scheduled for the following week, his success is something to which he can continue to cling. I hope that brings happiness into the life of the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am most grateful to you again. You used the word “deprecate” just now. You will forgive me for perhaps embellishing it by saying, frankly, that I think this whole thing stinks. It is completely unacceptable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) pointed out, that we should be denied the opportunity to debate these questions today or tomorrow, given their importance to the national interest.

My counsel to the hon. Gentleman, whom I am not seeking to contradict or to argue with, is that if he feels as he does, it is open to him to vote against motion 1 when it is proposed by the Government, which will be at some point today. That opportunity does exist for him. I am well aware of the consternation, indeed bordering upon disgust, of the hon. Gentleman at the way in which a number of matters have proceeded in recent times—I am referring not specifically or only to Government handling, but to other matters of parliamentary procedure that have attracted his indignation—but there is a recourse for him, and it is to vote against motion 1.

Moreover, the hon. Gentleman requires no encouragement from me, but if he wishes to vent his displeasure about these matters, he will have the opportunity to do so with eloquence and force when the Prime Minister comes to address the House today. The hon. Gentleman, I feel certain, will be superglued to his seat until the point at which I call him, when he will leap to his feet with alacrity—and he can rest assured that on this occasion, as on every other, he will be heard.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that historically parliamentary Sessions have normally lasted roughly a year, although sometimes they are much shorter and sometimes, particularly when there is a general election, they go on longer. We have nearly got to the 24-month point in this Session, which has implications for the number of Opposition day debates and so on. Even including the one that has been announced today, we have still had only 22 Opposition day debates, whereas pro rata we should have had 40 in this period. I just wonder whether you have had any intimation from the Government as to when this Session might prorogue, when we might have a Queen’s Speech, and when we might start the new Session of Parliament so that the process can start all over again. I hear rumours that the Government are now intending to keep the Session going until 31 October, which would be, yet again, to deny this House the opportunity to have some time of its own.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I have had no intimation from the Government that they plan to bring this Session to a close. I have had no indication at all of an early—well, not early, but imminent—Prorogation. What he says is true. The situation that faces us at the moment is, in that respect but also in many others, unusual. What he says about the under-supply of Opposition days is really a statement of fact. I well understand that there is much irritation about it, and I have myself commented on it. It is a most unusual way in which to proceed, but that is the situation at present, and I am not aware of any imminent plan to change it. Of course if it does not change and this Session runs on, and there is a continued under-supply of Opposition days, I suspect that that will be the subject of coruscating criticism, not least and not only from the hon. Gentleman.

Let me just give a further response to the hon. Member for Stone, because I think it is important to be accurate about this and to try to render—I keep trying to do this—our proceedings intelligible to people who are interested in them but are not parliamentarians or parliamentary anoraks. I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 passed earlier this week makes regulations changing exit day, subject to the negative procedure. Under that procedure, Ministers make the regulations, which are then subject to annulment by a resolution in either House in the form of a Humble Address praying that the regulations be annulled. Such a prayer can be tabled as an early-day motion in the Table Office. As a matter of fact, of course, not many prayers are debated, but the Government do find time for some to be debated either in a Delegated Legislation Committee or on the Floor of the House.

As far as I know, the regulations changing exit day to match the unanimous decision of the EU Council agreed with the United Kingdom last night have not yet been laid. If the regulations changing exit day are made and laid today, the hon. Gentleman may table a prayer, today, as an early-day motion. Regulations subject to the negative procedure can be laid on any day during the existence of a Parliament, as provided for by Standing Order No. 159. So it is perfectly in order for the regulations changing exit day to be laid tomorrow, in which case he could not table his early-day motion until the day the House returns, Tuesday 23 April—a fact of which I think he is aware and which he deplores.

Given the urgency with exit day in domestic law still fixed as 11 pm tomorrow—Friday 12 April—the hon. Gentleman asks if the Government will move motion 3 on today’s Order Paper so that the regulations can be debated tomorrow. I think I have already responded to that point by saying that the Government clearly intend to move motion 1, and it would be preposterous to move both 1 and 3. The Leader of the House has made clear the Government’s intention that the House should, at its rising today, adjourn until Tuesday 23 April.

I think that is the best explanation that I can offer to colleagues at this time. However, I am very seized of the procedural issues involved, and I am by no means insensitive to the rights of Members of the House, who should have their opportunity, by one means or t’other—and preferably by more means than just one—to register their objections. For now, we must proceed. I remind you, colleagues, that we are at an early stage in our proceedings. We are not even halfway through the parliamentary day yet, so we need to retain a glint in our eyes and a spring in our step.