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Business of the House

Volume 664: debated on Wednesday 25 September 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker. With permission, I wonder if I may add to the comments that were just made, because what you said was of fundamental importance. A lot of Members of this House, but particularly women and ethnic minorities, get treated in a quite disgraceful way. I have never tried to make a great fuss about what has happened on my own account, because it is very mild compared with what others have had to put up with, and I am well aware of that. I am grateful for the support that I have had from Members on both sides of the House—I catch the eye of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has always been very good about this, and of course you, Mr Speaker.

What has happened to me has been very, very minor. What has happened to other Members, particularly on social media, has been deeply unpleasant and troubling. We all have a responsibility to be mild in our language when we are speaking in this House or outside. I am afraid to say that it is something where all sides err from time to time, and it would be invidious to pick on individual examples, but we have a responsibility of leadership. At this particular time, emotions are unquestionably running very high, and therefore calmness is to be encouraged, though we are discussing matters of the greatest importance.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you said, which I think has the support of the House. May I also congratulate you on sitting there for 10 hours, 37 minutes and six seconds without a break, which I think is more than any of the rest of us have managed? I also want to reiterate the thanks you gave to the staff at the beginning of today’s proceedings. As Members will know, the Door- keepers expect to be on holiday at this time in a recess that was long planned, and many of them have had to rearrange their affairs to be here to look after us and ensure that our proceedings run. They are not alone—this applies to Clerks as well and to the staff who work in the catering department—and we ought to thank them for breaking potentially long-standing commitments to be with us.

The business for tomorrow is as follows:

Thursday 26 September—The House will be asked to approve a conference adjournment motion for next week, followed by a general debate on the principles of democracy and the rights of the electorate.

I thank the Leader of the House very warmly for the opening remarks that he made. By the way, my experience, likewise, has been extremely minor by comparison with the experience of colleagues. I merely mentioned it to demonstrate empathy, but he and I are in the same boat in that regard, and I very much appreciate his words.

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with the remarks you made about the Members who have faced such difficulties and thank you for making them? I also thank the Leader of the House, and I want to respectfully ask him to ask the Prime Minister not to call the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 the surrender Bill—he could start with that, please.

I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, following the Adjournment of the House on 9 September. While it is vital that the House sits to scrutinise the Government at this important time for the country, we stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that the Tory party conference takes place in the fantastic Labour-led city of Manchester.

It is surely possible for the Leader of the House to schedule important legislation that commands widespread support across the House. The Government need the three statutory instruments on Northern Ireland, scheduled previously in September. Surely the Leader of the House could bring forward the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would be supported on both sides of the House. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill would similarly be supported widely by Members. Those important Bills are not contentious, and they would allow the House to sit while the Conservative party conference went ahead. Given the Government’s desultory approach to motions proposed by Opposition parties, may I also ask for an Opposition day?

I know the Leader of the House was part of the whole process, and I notice that the Prime Minister did not want to talk about the judgment of the Supreme Court, but I want to place on record Her Majesty’s Opposition’s thanks to the justices of the Supreme Court for the speed at which they heard the cases and gave judgment, and to all those who took part in the legal process. The judgment was a clear restatement of the principles on which our democracy, the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law are based. I am pleased, Mr Speaker, that you have read into the record the citation of the judgment. I would ask that the whole judgement be included in Hansard. Anyone who reads that judgment will think that it should be a model for citizenship and be taught everywhere, as a vital part of our democracy.

The first sentence of the judgment makes it clear that the issue decided by the Court

“is not when and on what terms the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union. The issue is whether the advice given by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen…that Parliament should be prorogued was lawful.”

The justices were concerned that

“the longer that Parliament stands prorogued, the greater the risk that responsible government may be replaced by unaccountable government: the antithesis of the democratic model.”

Does the Leader of the House agree with that? At paragraph 50, they also said that

“a decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive.”

Does the Leader of the House accept that that will also affect any future Prorogations? The justices confirmed the foundations of our constitution at paragraph 55:

“We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies).”

The Government therefore exist because of, and are accountable to, the House of Commons. Will the Leader of the House clarify the comments on a constitutional coup? Did he mean the Government were embarking on a constitutional coup, or was it the Supreme Court? Who exactly is undertaking this constitutional coup?

The question asked by the justices was whether the action of the Prime Minister had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account. The answer they gave, at paragraph 56, was, “of course it did”. This was not a normal Prorogation, as you said, Mr Speaker; they mostly last five days.

Why are the Government spinning that they do not agree with the judgment? These are eminent justices well versed in the law, undertaking their role as checks and balances, who have heard the submissions and come to their own conclusion. Does the Leader of the House agree that every Member of the House who impugns that judgment effectively does not accept the rule of law or the sovereignty of Parliament? The Government cannot say they disagree with the judgment when they offered no evidence other than a witness statement from the Treasury Solicitor and a memo from Nikki da Costa, which was copied to various other people. As the justices said, they are concerned not with the Prime Minister’s motive but with whether there was a reason, and none was given for closing Parliament for five weeks. As the memo says, everything was focused on the Queen’s Speech. Why did that require a Prorogation taking five weeks? The evidence of a previous Prime Minister, Sir John Major, was unchallenged by the Government. He said that it typically lasts four to six days, not weeks, and that he has never known a Government to need five weeks to put together the legislative agenda. How long does the Leader of the House think that preparations for the Queen’s Speech should take, and will Parliament be prorogued before the Queen’s Speech on 14 October?

A fundamental change was going to take place on 31 October. With the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, this House, by our motions and enactments, does not support the Government on the issue of leaving without an agreement. At this time, we needed scrutiny Committees and the release of documents updating both Houses, but none of that could take place while Parliament was not sitting. Sadly, the Government did not believe us, but they had to be checked by the Supreme Court.

Given that the Supreme Court has decided that everything that flows from the unlawful Order in Council is unlawful, could we have a debate on the costs to the taxpayer of that unlawful act, including of flights and the return of Parliament, and could the Leader of the House publish those costs? Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for the Government’s unlawfulness?

This Government have cast aside parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and they are now casting aside the checks and balances of our democracy by disagreeing with the judgment. The Leader of the House did not raise an objection. As one of his predecessors has said, he is the voice of Parliament in the Cabinet. Why did the Leader of the House not protect parliamentary sovereignty? He will know that in 1733 Dr Thomas Fuller said:

“Be you never so high, the law is above you.”

How very rude. If this Government cannot obey the law and do not believe in accountability to Parliament or in the sovereignty of Parliament, they should step aside now.

Order. Before I ask the Leader of the House to respond, I should like to emphasise, because it has been a long day, although we are, arguably, just getting going, that this is a narrow business statement. I do not use the term “narrow” in any pejorative sense; it is narrow in the sense that it is tightly focused on the proposed business for tomorrow. I certainly would not have dreamed of interrupting the shadow Leader of the House, who has put a series of points on the record—I make absolutely no complaint about that—but there will be a further business statement tomorrow, and that will be the occasion for wider inquiries about subsequent days and the preferences of colleagues for debates on those days. This statement treats of tomorrow, and therefore it would be helpful if colleagues would observe that in terms of the questions that they ask. I am not trying to prevent anybody from speaking, but this is about tomorrow’s business. It is not a general debate and it is not about a subsequent week’s business. I hope that that is helpful.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) on becoming a Privy Counsellor? I am looking forward, wearing my other hat as Lord President of the Council, to being present when she is sworn in as a member. I think that the whole House is pleased that this has happened.

I am very grateful for, though, I am sorry to say, slightly suspicious of, the hon. Lady’s offer that we could all go off to Manchester and business could carry on here if the business were desperately uncontentious. There has been a recent habit for Standing Order motions to lead to legislation, and it would be a pity if the Conservative Benches were empty because we were all in the wonderful city of Manchester. Tomorrow’s motion to have a recess for three days seems only fair, as the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party have had their conferences and we should have ours. [Interruption.] I understand that this is difficult for the SNP, but had we carried on with the Prorogation it would have been able to have its conference—[Interruption.] Would it not? Well, that is a great loss for so many people.

I share the hon. Lady’s concentration on the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. They are both important measures and we will bear them in mind when we make the statement tomorrow, depending on how events go.

The hon. Lady asked about the “constitutional coup”. That phrase has been attributed to me, and I use the word “attributed” with great care.

The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position that it is general knowledge. Just because something has been in the newspapers, it does not make it general knowledge. It was attributed to me in a Cabinet meeting. Cabinet meetings are confidential. The files will be released under the 30-year rule in the normal way. I reiterate the Government’s position, as expressed by the Prime Minister:

“I have the highest respect, of course, for the judiciary and the independence of our courts, but I must say I strongly disagree with the judgment, and we in the UK will not be deterred from getting on and delivering on the will of the people to come out of the EU on 31 October, because that is what we were mandated to do.”

That is the Government’s position and that is my position.

The hon. Member for Walsall South said that we had been “spinning” our disagreement with the judgment. No, we had not. It was not spin; it was a straightforward statement by the Prime Minister, but with the highest respect for the judiciary. It is reasonable to disagree with somebody whom you respect. Dare I say it, Mr Speaker, sometimes I have disagreed with you, but that has never reduced my respect.

The hon. Lady raised the cost of Prorogation. If we remain in the European Union after 31 October, which the Opposition want, it would cost us £250 million a week. Any cost of Prorogation pales into insignificance compared with the extravagance wished upon the hard-pressed taxpayer by those on the Opposition Benches in their proposals.

Then we have the extraordinary view from the Opposition that our actions are not in support of parliamentary democracy. Government Members want a general election. What is more democratic than that? What sort of tyrants are we that we are willing to go to the British people and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, you choose: do you want my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) or the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)?” We know why the Opposition are running away from a general election and are so scared of it. They do not back their leader, let alone think that the country will. We know that people think our leader is a great, inspirational, charismatic figure. We trust the people and the Opposition do not.

I have a question about tomorrow’s business, but if you will allow me a small indulgence, Mr Speaker, I would like to refer to a matter that the shadow Leader of the House mentioned. She said that she would be grateful if you allowed the full judgment of the Supreme Court to be read into the record. I second that because the summary judgment contains an inadvertent error. I was listening to the esteemed President of the Supreme Court yesterday while I was eating my toast and marmalade, and I almost dropped said toast and marmalade when I discovered that, according to Lady Hale:

“Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council, Mr Mark Harper, chief whip… attended a meeting of the Privy Council held by the Queen at Balmoral Castle.”

I must say, I could not recollect having done so. I would be grateful if the Lord President of the Privy Council confirmed that it was indeed my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), who is the most excellent current Government Chief Whip, who attended the meeting. It would save me a lot of grief from those constituents who have written to me, wondering why I was attending upon Her Majesty at Balmoral castle.

The serious point about the business of the House tomorrow is on the motion to approve the conference Adjournment. If the Opposition are churlish enough not to be generous and support that motion, and the House sits next week, perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could find time for a debate on the Labour conference’s extraordinary decision today to have a policy of no immigration controls, which would allow literally anyone from anywhere in the world to come to Britain, use our national health service, have unlimited benefits and vote in our elections. That policy deserves wide promulgation. I feel sure it will see us well in any forthcoming general election.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and it seems that there was some confusion over forests. He is of course the Member for the Forest of Dean, and my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is the Member for Sherwood forest, where, I seem to remember, Robin Hood spent his formative years. My right hon. Friend’s point about the Labour party policy is why we want a general election; it would be wonderful to put that fantasy world to the British people and I am confident about what they would choose.

I, too, congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on the stellar shift you have put in once again today. I think you must now have the most famous bladder in political history, given the time you have spent in that Chair. May I also share your congratulations and thanks to the staff who have been assembled at such short notice and have served us so diligently once again today?

I thank the Leader of the House for his very brief statement on the business for tomorrow. Of course, we all know that this is the last place he wanted to be and that this is the last thing he wanted to do. What does he bring to this House, after all this hard work to get the House to sit again? A motion to simply abandon the place all over again. After we got the courts to reopen this place, he wants us to agree voluntarily to close it all down again so that they can all swan off to their conference. As a member of a party that is never, ever covered by the so-called conference recess—I remind the Leader of the House that the Queen’s Speech that he had scheduled would have been on the first full day of our conference—can I tell him, with all due respect, that he can go and stuff that notion where his top hat don’t shine?

Perhaps while we are at this, and while we are still thinking about the business for tomorrow, we could ask about the Opposition days that the Scottish National party is due—the day and a half that we have still to get on the Floor of the House. Perhaps that could be done tomorrow, because what we have tomorrow as the main item of business is a Brexiteer whinge fest debate. Can we not instead have a debate about obeying the courts and respecting the rule of law?

I share what has been said by so many right hon. and hon. Members tonight about the tone of the debate. I have to say that today we heard the most undignified diatribe from the Prime Minister, which was simply unworthy of the House. I have been in this place for 18 years and I have never heard such a poor statement from any sitting Prime Minister—no apology, no contrition, just petulance and defiance.

The Prime Minister said that the Supreme Court was wrong. Notionally, the Leader of the House said that it was a “constitutional coup”. I did not quite hear him deny that he said it; perhaps he will get the chance again to tell the House—did he say that, or did he not? If it is a constitutional coup, what does it say about the sovereignty that he claims and his claim that this place is little more than some sort of tin-pot dictatorship?

It was, of course, the Leader of the House who led the “Prorogue Three”—the three Privy Councillors who travelled to Balmoral to ask the Queen to act unlawfully in an attempt to draw the monarch into their half-baked scheme. If he will not apologise for the Prorogation of Parliament, will he now apologise to Her Majesty the Queen for attempting to draw her into this sorry state of affairs? I am trying to use measured language, Mr Speaker, but he has simply probably been the least successful Leader of the House since the post was created. He has lost every vote in the House. He has lost the Government their majority. He cannot even get the election the Prime Minister craves. His Prorogation was unlawful. He is supposed to be the smartest cookie in the no-deal Brexit cult coup. If that is the best they have got, Mr Speaker, God help the rest of them.

Mr Speaker, I am afraid that your successor will have an uphill task. Moderate language lasted precisely 21 minutes before the hon. Gentleman got up and managed to reduce the tone. He said that being here would be the last thing that I would want to be, but actually, Mr Speaker, I share one thing with you: there is nothing I like more than being in the House of Commons, other than speaking in the House of Commons. I think I compete with you for how much I enjoy speaking, but I think that we get a similar pleasure. I am therefore delighted to be here. I would point out in response to the hon. Gentleman, in relation to the recess motion, that the court itself pointed out that there was a huge difference between a recess and a Prorogation, so it is therefore completely in accord with and in the spirit of the judgment the court came to.

“Measured” is a relative term, and I say in the friendliest possible spirit to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), whose elegant constructions favour the House each week, that I think that he thinks that he was being measured. I think that each of us probably needs to reflect on this.

Could we have an early debate, perhaps even tomorrow, on getting a deal and what it might look like? The Prime Minister stressed earlier that he was seeking a deal, which was extremely welcome. We have seen various initiatives in recent weeks, such as the alternative arrangements commission and the new MPs for a deal group, which includes the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and others. There does seem to be a renewed momentum, including from other parties in the House, towards getting a deal. Would it not be sensible to have a debate early on to see what the parameters of that deal might look like? Ultimately we will have to have that debate in this House. Would it not be sensible to have at least a reconnaissance sooner rather than later of what might be acceptable?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done to try to bring people together and to seek compromise. It is worth saying that it will not be possible to arrange that particular debate for tomorrow. If any of the Opposition parties wish to have a vote of no confidence tomorrow, they have a few minutes, while I am still speaking, to put that motion down, and it will be accepted by the Government. In terms of a future debate on a deal—assuming the Prime Minister can agree a deal—obviously that will come with a meaningful vote, even if we are in the same Session of Parliament, as it would be a completely separate deal from the one before and therefore would be an entirely different motion from the ones before. In terms of debating it beforehand, I have a feeling that the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, is going to comment in a moment, and he will have heard the request.

I ask this more in advance of the business statement we are anticipating tomorrow. As I understand Standing Orders, I ceased to be Chair of the Backbench Business Committee at the close of business in the early hours of 10 September, but yesterday I was reinstated retrospectively by the Supreme Court by a majority of 11-0. If the Leader of the House would like the Backbench Business Committee, now reinstated, to fill any parliamentary time in the coming weeks, could we have as much notice as possible of what time he wants us to fill so that we can fill that time as best as we can with the appropriate debates?

I am grateful to the distinguished Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for his very polite request. It is obviously sensible and we will work with him through the normal channels to ensure that he is notified of the time as soon as possible. I know he had a backlog of debates prior to Prorogation. Some of those have come to me in correspondence and I know are important. And I am glad he has been reinstated. Every cloud has a silver lining.

I have not quite your stamina, Mr Speaker, but I have been on these Benches for many hours listening to the barrage of invective that my Front Bench have been on the receiving end of. I think I heard the Prime Minister offer something unprecedented—that any Opposition party could table a vote of no confidence tomorrow. Is the Leader of the House aware of anyone having tabled such a motion yet?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very important point. It is an unprecedented offer. It is available for a limited time only. It is like one of those offers in supermarkets. I cannot promise it will be there forever, but it is currently available, but what has happened so far? What have we heard from these people who say they want an election? Absolutely nothing. By their fruits ye shall judge them.

It may have taken 21 minutes for moderate language to be lost, but it has taken even less time for the brief moment of—perhaps—pride that everyone in the Chamber will have felt about the sense of certainty about why we are all here, and the need to engage in decent debate and make progress, to be lost.

This piece of paper sends a strong message to every victim of domestic violence in the country: the message that yet again, when it was possible to use time in this place to do something decent and right on which there was cross-party consensus, the Government have said no. Indeed, last week, because the House was unlawfully prorogued when the Government missed an important reporting deadline for the United Nations on progress in addressing the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it was not sitting to hold them to account.

May I ask the Leader of the House to do something decent tonight? May I ask him to tell domestic abuse victims that we will have this legislation—that we will not be messing around with jolly japes about taking time off and asking for votes of no confidence, but will put their rights on our agenda? I tell him now that if he does not do that, we will.

I think that the hon. Lady has overstated her position. That Bill was going to be a major part of the Queen’s Speech. It is a Bill to which the Government are deeply committed, and to which the Prime Minister is personally committed. It is of great importance.

When we talk about good will across the House and about moderate language, it is worth assuming that, actually, we all have good intentions. We may not always do things in the same way, and we may not have the same philosophy, but this Government have every possible intention of doing everything that they can to stop domestic violence. That is a priority for the Government. The hon. Lady shakes her head; if there is no reassurance that I can give her, why does she ask the question?

May I ask the Leader of the House about tomorrow’s debate on the principles of democracy and the rights of the electorate? Would it be in order for the motion to be amended to read, “That, notwithstanding the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, there is a general election forthwith”? I know that this is a general debate, but general debates and amendments seem to have changed recently.

I am always careful about stepping into your territory, Mr Speaker, when it comes to what is orderly and what is not orderly, but an amendment to a motion cannot change the law. Therefore, even if you, Mr Speaker, were to allow an amendment, it could not override the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, nor could it meet the requirements of the Act, because they are set out very clearly in terms of the wording that must be used.

Further to our earlier exchanges, Mr Speaker, may I also put on record that I know that the Leader of the House has himself been subjected to abuse online, which then led to physical abuse offline? That is why he supported my Online Forums Bill, and I am grateful for his support. However, I now want to ask him about the conference recess.

As the Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, I want the Conservative conference to go ahead—not because I want to welcome the Conservatives to our city, but because livelihoods depend on it, and I think that it is an important part of our democracy. However, given the current lack of trust across the House because of the unlawful Prorogation, it is difficult to see the motion, as laid, being passed tomorrow. May I ask the Leader of the House, at this eleventh hour, to continue the cross-party conversations that have been happening today? I think that, through the usual channels, generous offers have been made about next week. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue those discussions, so that we do not cancel or curtail next week’s conference and cost many people throughout Manchester their livelihoods?

I am grateful for the spirit in which the hon. Lady has put her question. It is important to the Manchester economy that the conference goes ahead, and it is a concern for the Conservative party, as well as for the Government, that it should not be cancelled for that reason. Usual channels conversations are always extremely welcome, but the hon. Lady has pointed out that there is not a great deal of trust at the moment. Let us hope for the best, but I would not hold my breath.

May I, on behalf of my party, echo the sentiments that have been expressed this evening? We know more than most what it is like to live with the constant threat of attack, and still to live with a very high level of security for politicians in Northern Ireland. May I welcome the general debate that is to take place tomorrow, and say to the Leader of the House that we on these Benches hope that the Government will intervene in Northern Ireland very soon, because the principles of democracy have been turned on their head and the rights of the electorate are being denied? The Northern Ireland electorate voted for parties to form a Government in a devolved institution in Northern Ireland. One of those parties—only one—refuses to form a Government, and for almost three years now it has held the people of Northern Ireland, and all the other political parties, to ransom. In our view, that breaches the principles of democracy and denies the rights of the electorate, who in good faith voted in the Assembly elections to send their people to do a job.

We will also make the point tomorrow that amongst those who lose out when democracy is put on hold are the victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, who, having had a recommendation made that they should be compensated for their suffering, are being denied that support because one party in Northern Ireland refuses to form a Government. That breaches the principles of democracy and the rights of the electorate.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. It is a matter of great concern to the Government, who want to see the Northern Ireland Executive re-formed as a matter of urgency. I note very much what he has said about the contribution that the Democratic Unionist party is making to ensure that that happens, and I am aware that there is one party that is obstructing that. That can of course be raised with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in due course, and we will have to have some debates on Northern Ireland subject to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, and that may be an opportunity to raise some of these subjects further in coming days and weeks.

I am sure the Leader of the House is forward-thinking. In anticipation that his motion for tomorrow may not be carried, he is probably thinking what business might be considered next week instead. Would that thinking include an announcement on a social care Green Paper, which the House has been waiting for for the last three years?

Unfortunately, I have to keep the hon. Gentleman in suspense, but I can reassure him that there will be an exciting announcement tomorrow, in a statement from me, and all will be revealed as to what may happen under certain circumstances, or under different circumstances. But Opposition Members, in the spirit of generosity that has been emerging at this late hour, may well vote for the conference recess so that the Manchester economy can be protected, and so that the sauce that the goose has already had shall become sauce for the gander, to use a term that the Prime Minister favours.

The Attorney General this morning, and then the Prime Minister and now the Leader of the House, have made it absolutely clear that they would like us to call for an immediate general election. So may I ask the Leader of the House the question that I asked the Prime Minister, whose answer, I am afraid, I failed to understand? If we have a general election, what is the point of a Queen’s speech?

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not manage to understand the Prime Minister; that is unfortunate. The point of a Queen’s speech is for setting out the Government’s programme, which we have to do because we have not got a general election. If there were to have been the general election, on the motions that we tabled twice in September, we would have had a Queen’s speech opening a new Parliament, not just a new Session. I would have thought that was rather obvious and straightforward.

In every constituency, ballots are arriving today for Royal Mail workers who are set to take industrial action unless Royal Mail Group sticks to its promises made on jobs, terms and conditions and drops its plans to sell off Parcelforce. I stand with the Communication Workers Union and the postal workers and I am pleased that the Labour party stands in solidarity with them. Does the Leader of the House support the postal workers, and will the Government make a statement on that fact?

The hon. Gentleman may raise these matters in many ways. Details of how to apply for Adjournment debates have been posted on the Annunciator and he could apply for one of those. We have already discussed Backbench Business debate. I do hope that as we get closer to Christmas, postal workers will not think of going on strike and causing misery to families. I think that is always a great shame, and that it would be unfortunate if that were to happen, but there are parliamentary opportunities to discuss the matter.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is planning to speak in the general debate on the principles of democracy. If he is, he might want to explain something to us. If not, could he say now what he meant by a “constitutional coup”? He has not denied saying it, and the Attorney General led us to believe that he did say it. Did he mean definition 1, a sudden and illegal seizure of power from the Government; or definition 2, an instance of successfully achieving something difficult?

The trouble with the Leader of the House’s argument about the recess motion tomorrow is that there is already a provision on the Order Paper for Westminster Hall debates next Tuesday, and lots of people have already submitted for them. I have submitted for a debate on skin cancer because the number of men in particular in recent years who are presenting the skin cancer, particularly at later stages which can be fatal, has grown quite dramatically. Postal workers are still not provided with free sunscreen, and nor in many cases are police officers, so it would be good to be able to have that debate on Tuesday. I guarantee absolutely that if the Leader of the House were to allow us to sit on Monday and Tuesday and he brought forward the Domestic Abuse Bill on Monday, there would be no other contentious business to deal with.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has suffered personally from skin cancer and I reinforce what he is trying to do to ensure that more people know about it, so there is greater awareness and so that treatment can be faster and quicker. I therefore think it is a very suitable subject for debate, because Westminster Hall debates do have the effect of raising awareness, and I wish him extraordinarily well both in his personal health and in this campaign. However, he knows procedures of the House better than I do, and he is aware that Westminster Hall debates and Adjournment debates are organised, assuming the House is sitting, before recess motions are taken, and that they then get changed. Government business in Government time is not announced unless a recess motion has been either not taken or sorted out. So it is routine for Westminster Hall to have an announcement for next Tuesday, regardless of tomorrow’s motion.

May I reveal to the House that the Leader of the House unintentionally learned some guid Scots words more than 20 years ago when he was knocking doors in my constituency, and that what he referred to was not a constitutional coup but a constitutional cowp, which I think well describes the position the Government have got us into. May I ask him, even at this late stage, to think again about the necessity to close down Parliament in order for the Conservative party to have its annual conference? I do not think anybody is suggesting that it should be cancelled, because it has been pointed out that that would have serious economic implications for Manchester, among other things, but this will be the fifth year in succession that members of the Scottish National party in this House have had successfully to manage the fact that we are expected to be here as Members of Parliament at the same time as our party members want us to be at our party conference. This year, the conference is in Aberdeen, which is more or less twice as far from here as Manchester is. The Queen’s Speech is right in the middle of our conference, yet we will manage that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) has had to make some extraordinarily difficult and tortuous journeys to combine both duties. If 35 SNP Members can manage that every year, surely almost 300 Conservative MPs can manage it just this once. Let the conference go ahead, but let us have Members of Parliament in the House doing the job they have been elected to do.

The hon. Gentleman reminds everybody that I stood in his constituency many years ago, in1997. Standing in Glenrothes was a great honour and privilege, and the people of his constituency are fantastic people—[Interruption.] They did not vote for me, but that is a separate matter. That does not stop them being good people. I am not so exclusive in my view of good people. I was very touched on becoming Lord President of the Council to get a letter of congratulation from Elizabeth Scott, who in 1997 was chairman of the Conservative Association in Glenrothes—a small but perfectly formed Conservative Association.

I am very conscious of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is a long-standing problem that the SNP conference takes place when the House is sitting. What I would say to him in relation to the Conservative party conference is that we have had no notice of this change, whereas the SNP was aware when booking its conference that the House would be sitting. I therefore do not think that the two are exactly comparable, but I am certainly sympathetic to the situation that he and his party find themselves in.

The Leader of the House clearly enjoys his role as Lord President of the Council. Can he tell us when was the last time the Lord President of the Council presented an Order to Her Majesty that was subsequently found to be unlawful? Has he apologised to Her Majesty, and will he rule out requesting any further Prorogations?

Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman has forgotten what you said at the beginning. This statement is narrowly about tomorrow’s business. He has not asked for a debate; he has not asked for a statement; he has not asked for any parliamentary activity. He really ought to get to know the procedures of this House, and then I look forward to answering his questions.

It strikes me that the business tomorrow is incredibly light. I want to offer to help out the Leader of the House with some legislation he could bring forward tomorrow. He kindly wrote back to me on the issue of drug deaths in Scotland. I was glad that he did—he showed me more courtesy than the Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service and the Home Secretary, who have failed to come to Scotland to discuss this issue.

Tomorrow, we could discuss the Second Reading of the Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities Bill, which would go some way to preventing a repeat of the 1,187 souls that we lost in Scotland last year to drug deaths. As the FAVOR campaign says, “They keep talking, we keep dying”. People in Scotland are dying and we are not even getting to talk about it in this House. I ask the Leader of the House to bring forward this ten-minute rule Bill, which would help to solve some of these issues.

The issue the hon. Lady raises is of the greatest importance and I will happily take it up again with the Home Office, further to the response that I have already sent her. She is entitled to receive proper answers. That is one of the purposes of this set of questions: to allow me to follow up where people have not got the answers they feel they want.

Tomorrow will not be the day for ten-minute rule Bills, but there will be further opportunities for ten-minute rule Bills. I absolutely accept that the issue the hon. Lady raises is of fundamental importance. Anything that relates to drug deaths is something that this House must take really seriously, both in terms of how we help people who are addicts and in terms of how we enforce the law. Both of those issues need attention.

In relation to tomorrow’s general debate on the principles of democracy, one of the unfortunate consequences of the unlawful Prorogation is that it has dragged the Crown into a matter of enormous controversy on one of the biggest issues of our time and calls into question the role of constitutional monarchy. If in future the monarch was asked to sign off an unlawful Prorogation and simply rubber stamped it, it would call into question the very need for a constitutional monarch. Conversely, if Her Majesty was asked to agree again an unlawful Prorogation and, having had this experience, refused, Her Majesty the Queen would again be drawn into political controversy.

Given the enormous speculation about the role of Her Majesty the Queen in relation to the last Prorogation and in relation to future Prorogations, does the Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council not consider it a matter of enormous personal regret that the actions of the Government of which he is a part have dragged Her Majesty the Queen into such controversy and plunged the whole notion of constitutional monarchy into the political spotlight, in a way that I do not think anyone who believes in constitutional monarchy could possibly want?

The Prime Minister said earlier that the hon. Gentleman normally makes sensible points. This is the second time today when he has not. That is the most fatuous point I have heard. We know full well that Her Majesty acts on the advice of her Prime Minister. That was set out in front of the Supreme Court and was not questioned by anybody. Her Majesty does not independently decide whether to prorogue or not to prorogue. The British public know that. The only doubt that is ever caused is by hon. Gentlemen opposite raising the point that it is the Queen and trying to politicise Her Majesty, of which I think the great work, “Erskine May”, disapproves. It is quite wrong to drag Her Majesty into it. The responsibility is unquestionably the Prime Minister’s and this is the routine a, b, c of constitutionalism. Anybody who understands the constitution knows that Her Majesty had no discretion. There was no question of dragging her into it and it is the hon. Gentleman—who is, to use your favourite word, Mr Speaker, chuntering away merrily—who ought to go back to school and learn about the constitution. A Ladybird book can be provided.

It is not for me to say, and it was not evident to me whether the activity was being undertaken merrily, but I can certainly confirm that there was chuntering from a sedentary position. I may say, of course, that the expression “chuntering from a sedentary position” is very commonplace in the work of the House, but I have noticed in my travels to Parliaments around the world that it is a source of regular comment and no little amusement.

It is great to see the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box, in his natural element. May I ask him a question that does not relate to Brexit? Before the House was prorogued, because of a Standing Order No. 24 debate it unfortunately lost the opportunity to debate and conclude the remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. The measure is uncontroversial on both sides of the House, and its basic point is to extend the sentence for cruelty to an animal from six months to five years.

Will the Leader of the House be in a position to say something in his statement tomorrow about finding Government time for this important Bill which, amid all these other controversies, would allow us better to protect animals across the country? The Bill is vital to the millions of animal lovers in the United Kingdom, so could the Government find time to bring back the Bill and get it on the statute book as soon as possible?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what I will say tomorrow, but I encourage him to keep his hopes up.

Yesterday was an excellent day for burying awkward news, and the awkward news that emerged way down on the bulletins was that the National Crime Agency had decided that there is no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever by Leave.EU, or by its founder and key supporter, Mr Arron Banks, for that matter. That has not brought forward any apologies from Members who asked the NCA to begin that investigation.

Will there be scope in the debate on the principles of democracy and the rights of the electorate for Members who had wrongly raised that matter, causing great burdens on individuals in that organisation, to apologise for abusing the court process?

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. Members of this House must be very careful when they use parliamentary privilege to raise accusations of crime, not just in relation to Leave.EU but in relation to certain senior figures who were accused of very horrible crimes, all of which turned out to be untrue and the work of a fantasist. Indeed, tomorrow may well be an opportunity for people who have, or ought to have, a guilty conscience to come to the House and ask for forgiveness of their consciences.


Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.— (Mr Marcus Jones.)

House adjourned.