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Point of Order

Volume 666: debated on Wednesday 16 October 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you have often commented, we often have to rely on media reports and not statements in this place. That is how we first learned that the Government intend for us to sit on Saturday from 9 o’clock in the morning until 2.30 in the afternoon. Can you assist, Mr Speaker, as to the very special emergency circumstances that would require this place to sit on a Saturday?

I accept that, if the Government have secured a deal within the meaning and terms of both the Benn Act 2019 and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, it would be perfectly proper for us to meet on Saturday, but, as is now reported on Twitter, I accept that the Government are going to have to seek an extension in any event.

I suggest that, in the absence of any deal as I have described, there is no reason for this House to meet on Saturday. It makes no difference to me, because I shall be here for the people’s vote march, but there are many hon. and right hon. Members who need to make proper arrangements for childcare. One hon. Member has just told me that she has already spent £200 because she thinks that she will have to have somebody looking after her children on Saturday. Other hon. Members have constituents to see in surgeries, family events or other engagements that they will now have to break, because they do not know what is happening on Saturday.

Mr Speaker, do you agree that it would be wrong for the Government to abuse the procedures of this House, and that we need clarity now as to the Government’s plans for any Saturday sitting, especially to ensure fair and democratic debate on any deal? Have you been given any notice of the Government’s intentions?

I appreciate the points that the right hon. Lady has raised. Indeed, they are very similar to those raised yesterday during exchanges on the business statement and by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) in a later point of order. I should preface any substantive response by thanking the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me notice of her intention to raise a point of order on this broad theme.

As I said in reply to the point of order yesterday from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, there can be a Saturday sitting by a motion passed by this House, or, under Standing Orders, by the recall procedure. The former, that is to say by a motion of this House, is clearly preferable because it entails far more notice and, indeed, a decision of the House. I will not go into the detail, and the right hon. Lady would not expect me to do so, of discussions that, necessarily, the Speaker has with key players in the House, but the relevant representative of the Government is well aware of my thinking on this matter. I said what I think is preferable. However, it is for the Government to table such a motion, which they must do before the House rises today if it is to be agreed by the House tomorrow. I do not think it is productive for me to be drawn into a discussion about the criteria for recall when another, and better, avenue remains available to the Government. I hope that that is helpful to the right hon. Lady and to the House, and I think it is best if we leave it there.

I now call on Priti Patel to open today’s debate on the Queen’s Speech. By the way, I know the difference between the Home Secretary smiling and the Home Secretary laughing. I do not think any education is required on that matter and we look forward to hearing her.