Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I was clearing my throat at that particular moment. I am grateful to have caught your eye.
This may look like an innocuous motion from the Government, essentially suggesting that hon. Members, prior to Second Reading, should be allowed to table amendments for the Committee stage, but these are highly unusual circumstances and this motion relates to probably one of the most momentous pieces of legislation that has happened certainly in the last 50 years. It is of course preferable to give hon. Members as much time as possible to table amendments for the Committee stage and potentially for the Report stage, although there is normally an intervening period between the Committee stage and the Report stage.
For the benefit of the House, I want to highlight that, as far as I know, the programme motion for this Bill has not yet been published, although I have heard some quite frightening rumours about what the programme motion is likely to look like. One suggestion I have heard—I invite the Leader of the House to disabuse me of this—is that, as well as seeking Second Reading tomorrow, the Government also intend to commence the Committee stage and have a number of hours in Committee tomorrow.
Order. I very gently interrupt the hon. Gentleman to say that that information was divulged, and therefore this prospect was foreshadowed, in the business statement that the Leader of the House delivered earlier, so it is not something on which we need to dilate further.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I may not have been in the Chamber at that moment in time, but I am still quite shocked at the idea of having the Second Reading take place and then moving straight on to the Committee stage on Tuesday—tomorrow. The reason this is relevant to this motion today is that the House is expecting Members to frame and draft amendments to a Bill that we have not yet had the opportunity to see. It has just this preceding moment received its First Reading. The time is now 7.41 pm, and we are expected to table amendments for a Committee stage that will take place tomorrow—I think on clauses 1 to 4 of the proposed Bill.
While this motion is, I think, absolutely the minimum required, it is worth reflecting on the appalling notion that this Bill is going to be rammed through in this way and in this particular fashion. I say this for a very good reason. Many hon. Members will remember—the Leader of the House is too young, possibly, to remember many of these things—that the practice when considering legislation that amends aspects of European treaties has quite a long pedigree. The House of Commons Library has rather helpfully produced a briefing paper about the parliamentary process of Bills in respect of EU treaties. We know that the Commons Committee stage on the treaty of Rome was not three days or two days, but 22 days; for the Maastricht treaty, 23 days; for the treaty of Lisbon, 11 days; for the treaty of Amsterdam, five days; for the Single European Act, four days; and for the smallest of them all, the treaty of Nice, three days. In total, there were five days of Commons consideration for the treaty of Nice reform.
This is an unprecedentedly short period of time to dedicate to a massive and momentous piece of legislation. Personally, I am very worried that the motion we are now debating is the first in a series of attempts by the Government to presage what is essentially the ramming through of a piece of legislation in what I regard as a disorderly way. Order in this place is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, but from my perspective, in terms of good law making, this has all the hallmarks of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and all those other bad pieces of legislation. We know that legislation that has not had a chance to be properly scrutinised tends to end up with ill effects or unforeseen consequences for our constituents.
At a quarter to eight in the evening, what are hon. Members really supposed to do? Presumably, by now, the Bill has been published and is hot off the press and available for us to scurry to the Vote Office and look at. Perhaps the Leader of the House—I have not had the opportunity to see it—can tell me how many pages there are in that legislation. He is asking in this motion for us to go and write amendments to that piece of legislation and table those this evening for them to be in order for a Committee stage that is taking place tomorrow. I do not know whether the Leader of the House can say on how many occasions a Bill of such magnitude and importance has had a Second Reading and Committee stage on the same day. Perhaps he can give me some examples, but I do not see that that was the case in any preceding piece of European Union legislation going back to the early 1970s, before I was even born. I am really worried about this motion being the first of many such motions. I think it is necessary as an absolute minimum, but everybody needs to be alert to the fact that it is not just an unfair way to treat the House of Commons, but quite a dangerous approach to take.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman’s definition of “chubby” is, but this is 110 pages of legislation, with at least six complex schedules to it. Let me see what the tally of clauses is within it: there are 40 clauses in this particular piece of legislation.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can cite to me what he understands clause 38 to be or perhaps the Leader of the House can tell me what he thinks clause 39 is, but I doubt that they can. The point I am rather facetiously making is that it is impossible for them to have digested it in that time. I am quite sure that they and other hon. Members—I can see hon. Members beyond the Bar doing so—are saying, “Oh, this is just remainers making these points. Of course they’re going to say that. That is just what they do. They should just shut up, take it on trust and ram the Bill through or nod it through. Everybody’s impatient, everybody’s frustrated. We are really tired. Let’s just do it.” But that is not good enough. Our constituents’ livelihoods and their jobs are at stake in what happens with this very significant piece of legislation.
First, the hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point. Our constituents will be profoundly affected by this significant Bill, and to try to ram it through for political purposes is something that I know my constituents will not accept. Secondly—and I notice the remarks on the Benn Act—we rely on the Government usually having control of the Order Paper, but we were able to get control of the Order Paper for one day. Does he therefore agree with me that perhaps the opposition parties should get some more days to consider issues that we think we should be debating?
I really do not want to be either greedy or unreasonable. I just think we need to be fair and give due diligence to this piece of legislation. I am not saying we should have—what was it?—the 23 days in Committee on the Maastricht treaty. By the way, when I was very young, I watched its passage from the Gallery in this place many moons ago. I know many Conservative Members, some of whom are still in the House, who fought that Maastricht legislation tooth and nail, and they tabled amendment after amendment during the 23 days in Committee. However, I bet hon. Members anything that if they were told at nearly 8 pm on a Monday night that they had to table amendments for a Committee stage that would take place some time on the Tuesday, the next day, they would be absolutely up in arms—and quite right too.
There are a number of consequences that follow, and they are relevant to the motion we are discussing now. For example, will Clerks be available this evening, and to what hour, for hon. Members to ask advice about drafting amendments that have to be taken tomorrow? Will those amendments tabled tonight be starred, which essentially means that there is no guarantee of their relevance on the amendment paper? What is the procedure in respect of tabling amendments this evening and their being regarded as legitimate? If they are tabled tomorrow morning, even at 8 am, will those amendments be valid, and equally valid by the time we get to the afternoon? People watching these proceedings may say, “Oh well, this is all very technical—this is the wiring of the House.” These things matter, because important amendments may need to be tabled.
The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful case. Certain Government Members have suggested that the impasse that we seem to be in brings Parliament into disrepute and that public confidence in Parliament has been eroded. Constituents of mine who are watching this will say to me, “Jamie, you are kidding. You are putting this huge piece of legislation—something that could endanger our livelihoods—through in three days flat.” I would suggest that that damages the reputation of this Parliament. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct, and I can hear the impatience of Ministers of the Crown bubbling over—not perhaps the Leader of the House, who does not often bubble over in that way. We are all fed up with this process, but we should not sweep under the carpet concerns about the legislation simply because Ministers of the Crown are impatient. This is our job. We are employed to do it, and we were elected by our constituents in 2017, long after the referendum in 2016, to scrutinise this legislation. [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker, there is a lot of noise. The hon. Gentleman is making some strong points, but does he agree that there are many people in the House, on different sides, who want a deal to go through, or do not want a deal to go through, or want to amend things in different ways. There are varied views on Brexit, and they want to be able to table amendments, including to early parts of the Bill, in a proper way. I imagine that some members of the European Research Group might be unhappy with the first few clauses, which continue to assert the supremacy of EU law over UK law for the transition period. Other Members, including Opposition Members, who would like to see a deal voted through, would want to propose sensible amendments to improve the Bill so that they feel able to vote for it. I do not understand why the process is being rushed in this way.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. I am surprised that a Minister of the Crown did not propose the motion at the Dispatch Box—it was going to be nodded through had I not cleared my throat to let the Speaker know that I was worried about it when the Question was put. Perhaps the Leader of the House will reply to the debate. [Interruption.] I am glad he says that he will.
The hon. Gentleman was correct, because those first few clauses, which I understand will be debated tomorrow afternoon, if the programme motion succeeds, have many ramifications about which hon. Members are concerned. I point generally in the direction of where ERG members normally sit or lounge in various forms on the Government Benches. They are not here, and I gently suggest to the Leader of the House that in such exceptional circumstances—[Interruption.] Certainly not the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)—I would not say that he would ever be a member of the ERG; absolutely not, I know his views well. I wonder whether the Leader of the House, given the circumstances surrounding the motion, has taken exceptional steps to alert all hon. Members, perhaps with an email this evening saying that the clauses are likely to be debated and they will need to table amendments tonight if they are not to be starred amendments. Has he gone to any lengths to alert hon. Members to these unusual and, in my view, dangerous circumstances?
As I understand it, the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) obtained assurances from the Government that there would be a procedure whereby the House could consider properly, during the implementation period, the future trading relationship between us and the European Union. I do not know, but I have been told that it looks like that is not in the Bill. Have the two hon. Ladies been informed, because given the hour it is difficult to see how they could table amendments to deliver the promise that was made to them by the Government?
It is indeed very serious. In this modern era, people think, “Oh well, politicians make promises across the Chamber, and if they are ignored or not honoured, that is just the nature of political to-ing and fro-ing.” That is not good enough, and I know that in his heart, if the Leader of the House makes a commitment at the Dispatch Box to hon. Members that certain amendments will be considered and given credence by the Government, he will allow time for amendments to be tabled. I am not sure that the timetable proposed in the motion is fair for those hon. Members. All it will do is annoy them further and offend them, and it will not necessarily win their support for the legislation. I suspect that he is making a rod for his own back with the timetable.
To give a practical illustration—it is important that Members in the Commons and the Lords understand what has happened this evening—I became aware of the situation only 20 or 30 minutes ago. I went to the Vote Office and asked to see the programme motion if it had been published. The Vote Office told me that it did not have a copy and that I could not see anything. It told me that I might be able to find one in the Table Office. Members have not even had a look at the timetable. The vast majority have no idea whether or not they can table amendments, but they need to do so in relation to these parts of the Bill.
That is an incredibly important point, and I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will want to reflect, in what appears to be not just an emergency procedure that the Government have invoked but a quite unprecedented one, on whether the programme motion details are available in the Vote Office. I am not sure whether that is the case.
Order. I was almost going to make a point of order—in fact I realise that I am making a point that, I think, is a point of order. It might help hon. Members to know—and this is perfectly normal procedure every day— that until tomorrow’s Order Paper is published, it is available for any Member to see in the Table Office. If anyone wants to see what is on tomorrow’s Order Paper, they can go to the Table Office and discover that. Once it is published it will be available in the Vote Office. The hon. Gentleman is correct, technically, but the information is there if Members wish to see it.
I have been in the House for very many years, Madam Deputy Speaker—more, perhaps, than hon. Members and I care to remember, but I did not know that I would not be able to obtain from the Vote Office details of a programming arrangement tomorrow for the Committee stage of a Bill that has not yet had its Second Reading. Now that this has been aired, we are all supposed to toddle along to the Table Office to obtain them—that is another innovation of which I was not aware—and I shall certainly do so.
There is concern among Opposition Members—this will not surprise the hon. Gentleman or others—that the Conservative party never quite got to grips with devolution. Does he agree that, given the short timescale, there is inadequate time for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to consider this in a proper fashion, as we should do through the devolution settlement?
I do not always agree with what happens in the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, but they certainly have a right to be consulted, and certainly when a Bill of this magnitude is being railroaded through. If it were a one or two-page Bill with a couple of clauses, the Leader of the House would have a case to make: it would be a simple issue, and hon. Members could be fully aware of its contents.
There was no reason why the Government had to wait until this evening to publish the Bill. I do not understand the notion that it had to be withheld. I went to the Vote Office earlier this evening and asked to see a copy of the Bill. I was told, “Oh no, not until First Reading.” The Government have published draft legislation online for many years, so there was an attempt to withhold details—deliberately, I suspect—from hon. Members until after 7.30 pm, to make it as difficult as possible for me and other hon. Members to take the time to look at the Bill, find its flaws, draft amendments, consult the Clerks and ask for their assistance with the legal framing of such amendments, perhaps consult colleagues to obtain signatures for the amendments—there are only a number of hours to do that—then table the amendments in time for the Committee stage tomorrow of a Bill that has not even had a Second Reading. It really is a ridiculous state of affairs.
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I will point out, just before he moves on to his next point, that there has been an innovation, and he has probably been instrumental in bringing it about. I am happy to tell the House that, as of a few moments ago, tomorrow’s Order Paper is now available in the Vote Office. It is not quite ready to be published, but it is on paper and it contains a lot of information. Any Member can find it in the Vote Office. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the matter to the attention of the House.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. Ordinarily, I would be humbled to have had a hand in such an innovation, but I am actually a little annoyed that we have reached this state of affairs. In the past I have tabled the occasional amendment to such pieces of legislation, but in this case it will be quite a challenge. I am now more determined to table my amendments this evening, in the hope that they will reach the Order Paper. I would therefore like to apologise to the Clerks in advance, because I am afraid that I will be pestering them later tonight, possibly at quite a late hour, because what other choice do we have in our democracy?
Well, the hon. Gentleman’s intervention has just added a minute to that process. That is always the way with Government Members; it is a case of, “Just shut up; sign on the dotted line; don’t criticise; everybody’s tired; don’t bother looking at this; take it all on trust.” That we have reached such a situation is perhaps a consequence of having opened the Brexit box in 2016. It need not be this way. There is false cause for the 31 October deadline that the Government are rushing towards, which is all about the promises that the Prime Minister has made in various political circumstances. We know that an extension request has been made, and we know that it is entirely feasible. There is no real reason to truncate proper scrutiny of this legislation.
I, for one, learned only today that article 271 of the deal that the Prime Minister has struck with the European Council contains proposals that will mean that goods being shipped across from Northern Ireland to Holyhead or Liverpool will need an exit summary declaration form to be shown in order for them to cross the Irish sea within the United Kingdom. I am staggered that we are seeing that level of fettering of the transmission of goods within the United Kingdom. I would like to table an amendment on the impact that will have on constituents in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Last Friday one of the supermarket giants told the agrifoods sector in Northern Ireland that it could no longer source all of its chicken product in Northern Ireland, because that was simply becoming too expensive as a result of the matters that the hon. Gentleman refers to. That means that the agrifoods sector in Northern Ireland will lose 80% of the chicken business with that supermarket giant. That is an example of what is happening, yet the Government are telling us that it will make no difference and that we will be okay. Well, we are not going to be okay.
The hon. Gentleman is completely correct. What makes it worse is that he and I might want to table an amendment—it would be to the early clauses of the Bill—seeking to mitigate the impact of that proposal, or indeed to remove it altogether, but potentially we will have to table it tonight for consideration tomorrow. How on earth are we legitimately supposed to do that? I know that we will have another debate on the programme motion tomorrow—I might seek to catch your eye on that occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker—but tonight we are debating a motion on whether the House should allow hon. Members to table amendments this evening, with the good grace of the Government, so that they can be considered tomorrow. I think that is the absolute minimum requirement, but this is a very bad business indeed.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for not being here for the start of his remarks—I was getting a copy of these two documents. How on earth am I supposed to digest 110 pages of a Bill and 122 pages of accompanying explanatory notes, before determining what my amendments might be and how to attach them to the right part of the Bill?
Order. I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon, but I do not think that the hon. Lady was here for the start of these proceedings. Was she? Perhaps she had been here but then went out. That is fine, but we have to be a little careful about sticking to the normal rules. We are in an unsual situation, but we will observe the normal rules. If she was here, that is quite all right, but I thought that she was making a point that had already been made—of course, it would not be unusual for a point to me made more than once.
Of course my hon. Friend did explain her circumstances; she saw that we were debating an issue that she is concerned about. She quite rightly questions how on earth, logistically, she is supposed to read the Bill, draft her amendments, consult the Clerks, discuss the amendments with hon. Members who might want to sign them, and then table them before the close of business this evening. Other hon. Members watching these proceedings from their offices will also be thinking that this is the most important piece of legislation for decades, affecting their constituents, the manufacturing sectors and the service sectors, and with public services expecting revenues that will now not come in because the economy will be adversely affected. It affects so many people and all aspects of their lives. That includes businesses in Northern Ireland that did not realise that they would have to get an export summary declaration just to ship their goods across the Irish sea. Yet we are all supposed to table amendments for consideration in Committee tomorrow, on the same day as Second Reading. I am absolutely staggered that the Government have the brass neck to come to the House with that proposal.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had more time to debate these issues, it might be possible to clarify the cost to business of the forms that he has just mentioned, so that we get a better understanding? It could be a phenomenally large figure. We know that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has costed some of the changes under a no-deal exit at £15 billion, in relation to the customs forms that might need to be completed.
It is sometimes said from the Government Benches—perhaps not necessarily by the Leader of the House—that with a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to quite a lot of money. The issue of an impact assessment has already been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and I have already tried to see whether there is a chance of having some level of analysis, which of course was disparaged by the Leader of the House. He said that in his entire career he has never seen a piece of analysis that he agreed with—I really think he treats the whole profession of researchers and analysts with great disdain.
It really is not on for the Government to expect hon. Members, under the terms of this motion, to have a fair and decent opportunity to frame amendments for consideration in Committee tomorrow. I appeal not just to the Leader of the House to reconsider, but to the Chair—to you, Madam Deputy Speaker—to protect the interests of Back Benchers on the practicalities of how we are supposed to frame amendments tonight and then seek the advice of the Table Office, the Clerks and others, because this is a totally unacceptable state of affairs.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to respond to your helpful comments about the programme motion and the information now available in the Vote Office and the Table Office—thank you for that. In the past the Clerks have been incredibly helpful to me and to other Back Benchers who want to table amendments to such complex pieces of legislation. They have often emailed the programme motion to all Members of the House, along with the Bill and other documents. Given the late hour and the rush in which this is being done, it would be very helpful if the programme motion and the Bill could be emailed to all Members, and made available on the House of Commons apps, along with information on the availability of Clerks to help with amendments if this motion passes, so that we have fair play on a level playing field and everyone knows where they stand.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very reasonable point, and I shall endeavour to find out what can be done to help hon. Members. I assure him and the House that whatever can be done will be done to expedite these processes and to make it easier for hon. Members to become conversant with exactly what will happen tomorrow and on subsequent days.
I rise to make a couple of observations on the debate so far on the business of the House raised by the Leader of the House. I am afraid that I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), with whom I have had many friendly exchanges over the past 10 years, because the vast majority of what will be discussed until midnight tomorrow, midnight on Wednesday and for as long as it takes on Thursday has been discussed in this House for three and a half years in huge detail. The idea that at this stage there is not enough time to come up with a reasoned amendment could be true only in one small and particular way, which I will come to. However, the bulk of the issues that we will discuss on Second Reading—money, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland—have been discussed and laid out in vast detail for a very long time. To suggest otherwise is frankly disingenuous and close to showing disrespect for our constituents, who feel that this has been going on for a large slice of their lives.
There is one way in which the Bill that will be presented tomorrow has changed relatively recently, and that is therefore relevant. I daresay that my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will have similar views on this. The provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol have been significantly revised. There are some 100 pages to the Northern Ireland protocol in the original agreement and the changes that have been made affect only a relatively small number of pages. None the less, they have a considerable impact on those in the United Kingdom who either live in Northern Ireland or have significant business across the Irish sea.
I therefore seek the thoughts of the Leader of the House on how the House, and particularly those of us who represent the Conservative and Unionist party, can best be reassured about the impact of business trading arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, because I am quite sure that just as the Government’s clear intention is to ensure minimal change to the existing arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, they surely also intend to ensure that there is minimum change in the arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. If the Leader of the House can reassure us on those points and on how the Government will be able to provide further information for us all before tomorrow evening’s debate, that would be extremely welcome.
In other respects, much of what is in the documents that have been laid in the Vote Office will be extremely familiar to Members, and I am sure that we will cover them in more detail tomorrow evening.
I gently say to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) that his last remarks really are palpable nonsense, because the Prime Minister has told this House—in fact, he and all the other members and supporters of the Government have been very proud to tell us all this in no uncertain terms—that he has negotiated a new deal. It is not a little variation here or a change there, but a new deal. Sadly, I now find myself in a position where, even though in recent times, I do not agree with pretty much anything that our Prime Minister says, I absolutely agree with him on this: he has indeed negotiated a new deal. It is not good enough for Government Members to blithely trot out what are now becoming really offensive comments and lies, saying that anybody who has—[Interruption.] Let me finish. They say that anybody who has almost the audacity to say that we should look at things in the normal manner, especially something of such magnitude that will impact on our country, our children and grandchildren for generations to come, is trying to thwart the will of the people and do something profoundly wrong and undemocratic. It is simply not good enough.
I respectfully suggest that the simple truths are as follows. It is undoubtedly the case that the majority of people in this place share exactly the same views as all the people we represent. We are all fed up to the back teeth with Brexit. Some of us have been saying that for quite a while, but just because it has been three and a half long years—not helped by such things as calling a general election, which did not solve the impasse in this place but merely added to it—does not mean that we should all become frightfully impatient and rush towards the final post, especially given the huge change that has been made to our future relations with the European Union.
I read the Irish protocol not just once, but twice, and the second time that I read it I was even more disturbed than the first. Right hon. and hon. Members might remember that I stood up in this place last Thursday—days go into a blur, as you will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker—and said that on first reading, it represented two very important changes. One is that it removes the backstop not just for Northern Ireland, but for England, Wales and Scotland, so for England, Wales and Scotland that backstop, which was the bare-bones customs union, has now gone completely. In effect, in the absence of the free trade agreement, which will not be negotiated in the 10 months that, in reality, will be available to negotiate it, we will leave at the end of the so-called implementation/transition period without any deal. We will fall back on World Trade Organisation rules. I believe that the hon. Member for Gloucester does not want that—I have always believed that—but I say respectfully to him that he has to understand what has happened to the party that I used to be a member of. It has now swung over to the hard Brexiteers, and the European Research Group, with its determination to get that very hard, no-deal Brexit, is now running the show, so we absolutely face that very real prospect.
As I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree—she has been the victim of this herself over the past few years—keeping a close control on language is really important. She says that I have been speaking “palpable nonsense”. I ask her gently to withdraw that, because the point that I made was that the only bit of the withdrawal agreement that has been renegotiated is the Northern Ireland protocol. That is fundamentally at the heart of what is being presented to us tomorrow and that is exactly what she defined herself.
As for the right hon. Lady’s comments about what I do or do not think about future trade arrangements and so on, I am very grateful to her for speaking on my behalf, but I can do the job myself—it is okay. As for our fellow colleagues on the ERG, what they think and what they are feeling, that is, again, entirely up to them and I am not acting as a spokesman for them either. What is under discussion this evening is simply the business of the House and how long we will have to debate the changes that have been made and the legislation that we are being asked to approve. I am in support of that and she is not; that is perfectly understandable.
Even I do not do interventions as long as that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have just explained to the hon. Gentleman that this is not simply a change to the Northern Ireland protocol. [Interruption.] I will say it more gently: with respect, that is not the case. Yes, there is a change to the Northern Ireland protocol, but there are two other big changes. First, England, Scotland and Wales now find themselves without any customs union backstop. Secondly, in relation to our future relationship with the European Union, there were provisions in the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement that would have ensured as close a relationship with the EU in the future as possible, but those have been taken out. That is precisely the sort of amendment that hon. Members may want to make to the Bill, to put those things back into the agreement.
I will conclude by turning again to Northern Ireland. Nobody, especially a Conservative and Unionist, should be under any doubt about the profound changes that this deals makes to our United Kingdom. It does not just set up a border in the Irish sea; we have heard one example of the sort of regulatory changes and consequences it will have for businesses in Northern Ireland and those in the rest of the United Kingdom taking in their goods, and from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) we heard of the real-life consequences for businesses and people in Northern Ireland.
Over the past three and a half years, I have had some connection with various people in Northern Ireland. Some of us have done radio and television programmes in that time—I did one such programme today—and I have had other experiences and people contacting me. There is real anger in Northern Ireland, and not just from the Unionist community; it is found right across Northern Ireland from people who now see that they are to be treated entirely differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. That cannot be right, and not only is it not right for Northern Ireland; the consequences in Scotland—here I fall out with my friends in the Scottish National party—will undoubtedly be profound, because their cause, which they champion so ably if not always successfully, will be enhanced. It is important therefore that amendments to the Bill, which has profound consequences for our Union, be made properly.
Come the next independence referendum, the right hon. Lady, who I respect, and I will be on different sides, but I want to make it clear that throughout this process the SNP has worked constructively with colleagues across the House. I do not want to see our friends and neighbours south of the border subjected to the disastrous jobs-destroying kind of Brexit we both oppose. I want to reassure her that we will continue to work with her even if the end points for us both might be slightly different.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Far be it from me to try to do your job, but I thought we were debating the business of the House motion. We seem to be rehearsing a debate that we are likely to have all over again tomorrow.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He makes a very reasonable point. I have been listening very carefully to the right hon. Lady. She is straying towards being out of order, but as yet she is not out of order. I take the position that she is addressing the need for the Bill to be done unusually quickly and so I have allowed her to deal with those issues. That said, I am quite sure that she will not stray further than she ought to.
North East Fife—very pleasant place. He made exactly the point. He and his party may well want to table amendments to this important Bill, but we know what is happening and the constraints that have been placed on the tabling of those amendments and on the debate.
I would like to make two points. First, as Members have heard me say before, my wife is from Northern Ireland, and I completely endorse the point about the concern in the Six Counties about the speed with which the Bill is to proceed. Secondly, as the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) said, the consultation with Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly has not been at all in the spirit of devolution, which is most regrettable, to say the least. That is because the Bill is being rammed through at an unholy gallop.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman and endorse everything he says.
Finally, I must put this on the record yet again. I am sick and tired of people in this place claiming that people who share my views about the need for a people’s vote never vote for anything. It is a fact—history will record it—that there was a time before the general election in June 2017 when a consensus existed in this place to deliver on the referendum in the least harmful way to trade and prosperity. The SNP, Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and several Independent Members would have voted for the single market and the customs union—and on many occasions we did. It may not be some hon. Members’ version of Brexit, but the consensus was there. We could have done it years ago, but unfortunately a Conservative Government wrongly took a different view by setting down red lines and did not form a consensus. If we have the time to consider and amend the Bill properly, who knows—we could yet find that consensus.
I am conscious of what you said, Madam Deputy Speaker, about sticking to the terms of the debate and the motion in my name.
I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) for his characteristically civilised approach to the debate—he always ensures that the temper of the House is kept relatively cool—and for the important points he made, but the motion is very narrow and is merely a facilitation for the House. It is not really about what happens tomorrow, when there will be an opportunity on Second Reading, as is now customary, to debate the programme motion, if that is what people want. It merely relates to amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
As I said in my business statement earlier, the public expect us to do what is necessary to pass the Bill so that we can leave with a deal on 31 October. That is the reason for the urgency.
Perhaps the Leader of the House can reassure me on the point we raised about the devolved Administrations. I do not think this Conservative Government take the devolved Administrations into account. How will they be involved, will the legislative consent motion be granted, and what did he make of the joint letter from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales that was delivered to the Prime Minister today?
The Government always take the concerns of the devolved Administrations very seriously. Leaving the European Union is primarily a reserved matter—it is a matter for the United Kingdom Government —but that is no reason not to have constructive and continuous engagement with the devolved Administrations.
The Government tabled a programme motion today. You said that it was available in the Vote Office, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I wonder whether it might be useful to Members who have not had a chance to go to the Table Office if I were to run through the timetable briefly, for the sake of Hansard. You nod most elegantly, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I take that as an encouragement to carry on.
The Second Reading debate will be a normal Second Reading debate, and will continue until 7 pm tomorrow. The programme motion proposes three hours of debate after its commencement in the first stage of the Committee procedure. On the second day, there will be 12 hours of sitting divided into four sections of three hours, with a three-hour section specifically reserved—the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) may be pleased about this—for motions relating to a second referendum. Members who are concerned about that issue will therefore have an opportunity to debate it. On Thursday, there will be eight hours for proceedings on consideration up to and including Third Reading: six hours on the Report stage, and two hours on Third Reading.
I am not entirely sure how a programme motion could necessarily relate to amendments that have not yet been tabled, but will the Leader of the House please clarify which parts of the Bill he intends to be covered in the Committee stage tomorrow?
While I have the Floor, may I ask another question? The position of Leader of the House covers some of the role of safeguarding the interests of Members, although I know that that is primarily the role of the Chair. May I ask what facilities will be available this evening to assist Members with the drafting of amendments for a Committee stage that will begin tomorrow?
I am grateful to the Leader of the House. I ask this question for the record and for the benefit of people outside this place, and also, in fact, so that I myself can fully understand the position. If Members wish to submit amendments to part 1, what will be the last moment at which they are able to do so?
The last moment for submitting amendments will be the point of Second Reading. It will, of course, be at the discretion of the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I should be very surprised if manuscript amendments were refused tomorrow. There will be time for amendments to be submitted right up until the completion of the Second Reading debate.
It is in the nature of the House not to assume anything, and the tabling of amendments is therefore always possible at a late stage if proceedings are taken in close proximity. That will be the position tomorrow, although obviously it is the Chairman of Ways and Means who determines what amendments are taken in Committee. It would be wrong for me to give an authoritative answer, but I hope that that is helpful general guidance on how things tend to work.
Tomorrow there will be a full service. The tabling of amendments tomorrow will prove acceptable, inevitably. Tonight a Clerk is sitting here working hard, as always. Clerks do work very long hours, and are very assiduous—we mentioned that earlier today, when we thanked the staff of the House for the work that they had done on Saturday—and I think I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that they will not work any less hard tonight.
This motion has one very simple purpose: to suspend the normal rule that amendments may be tabled by Members only once Second Reading has been achieved. We have tabled it simply for the convenience of Members, to make it easier for them to consider and then table any amendments. My intention today is purely to assist those who wish to table amendments, and I therefore encourage all Members to support the motion.
I apologise to those who have raised specific points in relation to the debate tomorrow. I will not respond to those points tonight, because that is not what this debate is about. I am sure that if they raise them on Second Reading they will receive full answers from those who participate in that debate, but if they feel that they have not received such answers, I will write to the Ministers concerned to ensure that they do receive them.
Question put and agreed to.
That, in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.