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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 664: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2019

Under the terms of the Order of the House yesterday, amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill may now be accepted by the Clerks at the Table only. An amendment paper containing all amendments tabled up until 3.30 pm today will be available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website by 5.15 pm. Members may continue to table amendments up until the start of proceedings in Committee of the whole House. If necessary, an updated amendment paper will be made available as soon as possible during proceedings in Committee. For the benefit of everyone, however, I encourage Members to table their amendments as soon as possible.

The Chairman of Ways and Means will make a provisional decision on selection and grouping on the basis of amendments tabled by 3.30 pm, and that provisional selection list will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website before the start of proceedings in Committee. In order to make the texts of the amendments available to Members as soon as practicable, it may not be possible to publish all the supporting Members’ names immediately. I hope that colleagues will not be unduly discombobulated or offended if that is the case. Those names will be added to the permanent online version of the Committee notice paper in due course. I hope that that advice is exhaustive at least for the narrow purpose that I had in mind.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It will be perfectly obvious to anyone watching these proceedings and, for that matter, the entire House that this incredibly rushed procedure is a travesty in itself. This will be incredibly difficult, even given the manner in which you put your statement just now, due to the speed with which we are going to have to assess the Bill, which we have not even seen yet and which, I understand, is only just being made available in the Vote Office. We will then have to make amendments to the Bill and then see the people who might support them. All that raises some incredibly difficult questions not only of procedure, but of the drafting of the amendments. That is my first point.

My second point is that there is an issue regarding Standing Order No. 14, which relates to the timing within which private Members’ Bills of this kind should be introduced. I would be grateful if some consideration was given to that point right now or shortly after you have had a chance to talk about it with the Clerks.

My third and fourth points are to do with Queen’s consent and the money resolution, because we went through all this in relation to the so-called Cooper-Letwin Bill. You made rulings on these matters then but, of course, this Bill is significantly different from that Bill on a whole range of matters. I understand you have had an opportunity to consider these questions privately, with the Clerk of Legislation I imagine, and I would be grateful if, in that context, you could give a ruling on the questions of both the money resolution and whether Queen’s consent is required.

The issues are there, and it is perfectly apparent that vast sums of money are being involved on a monthly basis as a result of the extension of time under the Cooper-Letwin Bill. It is at least £8 billion from April to October, and now it is being extended by a further three months, which is even more money.

I am extremely obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I will attempt briefly to respond to each of the important points that he legitimately raises.

In terms of timing, it seems to me that there are two senses in which that concern can be aired and needs to be answered. The hon. Gentleman, if I understood the terms of his point of order correctly, focused in particular on the issue of time in the sense of the lack of it for Members to study the Bill and to table amendments. My response is as follows.

First, the hon. Gentleman is a quite remarkably experienced, skilled and dextrous parliamentarian. Now, admittedly not everybody has his level of experience, skill or dexterity, but I know he would not imagine that that of which he is capable is completely beyond everybody else. In other words, if everybody else has the opportunity to study the Bill and to come to a view about whether they wish to table amendments—the basic subject matter of the Bill was well known to them—they will be able to do so, probably at least close to his own level of acceptability and his own standard. That is the first point.

The second point on timing is that, of course, it is intended that the Bill will go through all stages today but, of course, there are several precedents for that. Those Bills have ordinarily been Government Bills, very often concerning Northern Ireland, but I accept it is unusual. What it is not, in any sense, is disorderly.

The hon. Gentleman has raised very important questions about a money resolution and Queen’s consent. Yes, this Bill is different, but I have, of course, consulted the Clerk of Legislation and other senior Clerks, on whose procedural expertise we regularly call. My ruling on Wednesday 3 April 2019, in respect of the earlier Bill that the hon. Gentleman referenced, was that

“the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill does not require either a Ways and Means motion or a money resolution… extending the period under article 50 would continue the UK’s rights and obligations as a member state of the EU for the period of the extension, which would have substantial consequences for both spending and taxation.”—[Official Report, 3 April 2019; Vol. 657, c. 1130-31.]

Clause 4(1) of the Bill before us today would require exit day to be moved to match any extension agreed with the European Council. The financial resolutions passed on Monday 11 September 2017 give fully adequate cover for the exercise by Ministers of their powers under sections 23 and 24 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to move exit day in order to keep in lockstep with the date for the expiry of the European treaties, which, of course, is determined by article 50 of the treaty on European Union.

So far as Queen’s consent is concerned, my ruling on Wednesday 3 April was that

“as no prerogative consent was required for the Bill in 2017 giving parliamentary authority to the Prime Minister to take action under article 50 of the treaty on European Union, there is no requirement for new and separate prerogative consent to be sought for legislation in 2019 on what further action the Prime Minister should take under the same article 50 of the treaty on European Union.”

The Bill before us today could require the Prime Minister to seek and accept an extension in certain circumstances, although it would still be up to the European Council to agree unanimously to an extension with the UK. In these circumstances, and I say this on the basis of professional advice, my ruling is that Queen’s consent is not needed for this Bill.

It will probably not satisfy or even humour the hon. Gentleman when I conclude my response with what I am about to say, but it is this: he will not be altogether surprised to know that we did consider these matters, not least in the expectation that they are legitimate issues that might be raised either by him or by others. I have been advised, I am satisfied with that advice and I would not rule unless I had asked the questions and got the answers, and I have done. I have asked the questions, I have received the answers and I have been satisfied that it is orderly to proceed and that the answers I have given in respect both of the money resolution and of Queen’s consent are correct.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), with his great distinction, is nevertheless blessed with the application called Twitter—if he is not, I am sure someone in his office is—but if he is, he will have seen that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) tweeted a full and complete image of the Bill and all its provisions at 5.25 pm yesterday.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a small question on the basis of your judgment. As this whole issue of Queen’s consent hangs on whether, when this House triggered article 50, the statute covered and assumed the right under article 50(3) to extend and accept that extension, or whether that right still remains a Government prerogative under the prerogative powers. In a court case on 19 August, Lord Justice Hickinbottom of the Court of Appeal ruled categorically that it did not assume such a thing in the case brought by the English Democrats and ruled that the Government still retained the prerogative rights under article 50(3).

Mr Speaker, I wonder whether you have seen that ruling and whether you would take consideration of that prior to Third Reading, when I gather a final decision will have to be made.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. My initial response is that we are guided in these matters by House rules in respect of Queen’s consent. It would be a mistake to think that they are extrapolated from or dependent upon judicial interpretation of the kind he references. We have our own procedures in relation to Queen’s consent, and what I am saying is consistent with those procedures.

I will certainly reflect further on the point the right hon. Gentleman has made, but it is not something that has a bearing on the Second Reading of this Bill.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You say you have taken advice on this. You may remember that the last time a Bill was put through the House at this speed was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014. That was done relatively quickly, supposedly under the pressure of the Government of the day needing that law. That Act was effectively overturned in court in Davis and Watson v. the Home Secretary of the day—she was subsequently Prime Minister—and part of the argument that I am sure affected the judges was the speed with which the House came to decisions on matters of fundamental constitutional importance.

Have you taken advice from Speaker’s Counsel as to the robustness of the legislation before us today in the face of such a judicial challenge?

It is not ordinarily the case that the courts look at how we make our decisions. There is quite an established principle of comity with the courts, and the principle is that our procedures are respected and, in turn, we respect those of the courts. As I say, I will happily reflect further on the right hon. Gentleman’s point, as I will reflect upon the point raised by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), but I am entirely comfortable that we are proceeding in a proper way.

I ought to say to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) that, of course, I am conscious, as every Member is, that there are different opinions about the merits of the procedure being followed today, as there are about the merits of the procedure followed yesterday and of the procedure followed at the time of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), but those are matters of political dispute, not, in my judgment, of rule observance or procedural propriety. We are proceeding in a proper manner. That manner may offend the instincts of some Members, but that does not make it improper. It may mean simply that it is distasteful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry if that is the case, but it does not mean that he has made a valid point of a procedural character.

Well, I am so fond of the hon. Gentleman and have such respect for him that I will take one more point of order, but after that we really must proceed.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand your ruling. I just want to put on the record the fact that where I was referring to discussions that have taken place, those have been based on some extremely learned analyses, for example, those by Dr Robert Craig, which are available on blogs and in various papers, and Sir Stephen Laws, a former First Parliamentary Counsel. So these issues have been looked at over the last period, and I just wanted to put that on the record.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. What he is really saying, if I may put it in shorthand, is that there are clever and distinguished people who take a view with which he agrees and which it is therefore useful for him to invoke in the course of this exchange. I absolutely accept that, but, knowing him as I do, I know that he would not, for one moment, cast aspersions on the character, integrity or ability of the Clerk of Legislation, who is deeply versed in these matters and regularly consults his scholarly cranium in order to provide advice to Members in all parts of the House on them. If, on this occasion, the view of the Clerk of Legislation is uncongenial to the hon. Gentleman, that is, obviously, most unfortunate, notably for the hon. Gentleman, but it does not further advance his cause this afternoon. I hope that we can leave it there, because—

If it is a completely different point, I will take it. If the hon. Gentleman just wants to pursue the same argument, I will not.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I simply seek your guidance. I am reading this Bill, which I have just received, as it has just come from the Vote Office, and I see that it directs the Prime Minister to seek from the European Council an extension to article 50. As I understand it, that is an exercise of prerogative powers. I just want—

Order. Please resume your seat. I am sorry, but when the Speaker is on his feet—it is not about me, but about the office of the Speaker—the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat. He is making a point that is important to him. It is a perfectly valid point of debate, but it is not a new point and it is not one that requires adjudication by the Chair. Sorry, but it is a political point and he can make it in the course of debate. There is nothing further to be added.