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Business of the House

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

We will take a business statement now from the Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Having made one earlier, I knew that the House could not wait for another statement from me. I should like to make a very short statement this evening regarding Monday’s business. Before the House considers the Second Reading of the Environment Bill, Members will have an opportunity to debate and approve a motion relating to an early parliamentary general election. The business for the rest of next week remains as I announced earlier.

I thank the Leader of the House for making this business statement. Tomorrow, we will find out what extension has been granted. We opposed the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement Bill but it passed Second Reading. Several of my Labour colleagues have voted for that Bill, not because they support the Prime Minister’s deal, but because they wanted to scrutinise it, amend it and debate it—[Interruption.]—as is the normal process in this House. We offered the Prime Minister our support for a proper timetable to enable the withdrawal agreement Bill to be dealt with properly, but the Prime Minister has rejected our offer in his letter to the Leader of the Opposition because he does not want that scrutiny.

I want to make it clear that Her Majesty’s Opposition, the Labour party, will back an election once no deal is ruled out, and—wait for it—if the extension allows.

The right hon. Lady says that the Prime Minister has not made sufficient time. In his letter to the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend says:

“we will make available all possible time between now and 6 November”.

We are willing to start work tomorrow, Mr Speaker, if you are willing to recall Parliament. We are willing to work 24 hours a day between now and 6 November. What are the words of that hymn?

“e’en eternity’s too short

to extol thee.”

It seems to me that eternity is too short for the Opposition, because their opposition is fantasy opposition. They do not want Brexit, and, however much time we give them, they will come up with some foolish objection.

This will be the third time that the House will have voted on a general election. Can the Leader of the House recall any other occasion on which the Opposition have been offered an election three times and rejected it?

Earlier today, I was actually praising the Leader of the Opposition, and now I am able to quote him. His words are words of wisdom. On 24 September 2019, exactly one month ago, he said:

“This crisis can only be settled with a general election. That election needs to take place as soon as this government’s threat of a disastrous No Deal is taken off the table”.

We have met the condition that he set. The Prime Minister has got a deal; no deal is off the table. And yet, for some reason, the Opposition still do not want a general election. We know why that is: we know why they will not have an election. It is because they are afraid of the voters. So alienated are the voters—so disenfranchised do they feel by their socialist friends—that the socialists are running away from an election.

What an extraordinary business statement, once again, from the Leader of the House.

This simply confirms that the Queen’s Speech has been nothing but a charade, a simple electioneering stunt. For us the priority remains the same: we need to see an extension secured, and that extension must be long enough to protect us from the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit. We have seen the Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition, and we need to know that this Tory Government cannot play any games or tricks to use an election period to engineer a their way to secure their no-deal Brexit. The Scottish National party is clear: we want the opportunity to stop this Prime Minister, and to stop this toxic Tory Brexit that Scotland did not vote for. If there is to be an election, that election should be a chance for people to deliver their verdict on the deal and for the House to reflect it. That should come first.

Tomorrow the EU will make a decision on an extension, and we patiently await confirmation from Brussels and the terms that the Prime Minister proposes. We will not be pushed today by this Prime Minister. He may be hoping that the electorate will fall for his con tricks, but the SNP certainly will not.

Is it not saddening that “Scotland the brave” used to be the call but now it is “Scotland the runaway,” “Scotland the let’s not have an election”? The SNP, who wish to challenge the Government, actually want us to stay in office; I never thought that the broad coalition of the United Kingdom would have the Scottish National party supporting a Tory Government remaining in office. I look forward to that appearing on our election leaflets. It occurs to me that tomorrow is St Crispin’s day, the anniversary of Agincourt; what a good day it might be for us to meet and show our independence of spirit.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and may I just remind him that people in this House are blocking Brexit in the name of the sovereignty of Parliament, but whose is this sovereignty? What sovereignty do we hold that does not come from the British people? And should the British people not now be allowed to decide who represents them in this House?

As so often, I bow to my hon. Friend’s constitutional expertise. It is quite clear that the sovereignty of this House did not fall upon us like a comet from heaven; it comes to us from the British people. It is the people’s sovereignty delegated to Parliament. We need, as we are incapable of using it, to return it to them and ask them to have another election and decide how their sovereignty should be used.

This is absolutely fascinating, but we are not going to embark upon a philosophical discussion on the matter of sovereignty. This treats of the business of the House for Monday, nothing more, nothing less; brevity is required.

I just want to be clear: is the Leader of the House’s motion on Monday under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011?

Irrespective of whether people are Brexiteers, remainers or reversers, does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental question before the House on Monday regarding an early general election is about their democratic decision to be governed by themselves through their representatives in Parliament?

This House had 41 days for Maastricht and 25 for Lisbon, and now the Prime Minister expects us to rush through this legislation in less than a dozen days, and he expects us to do that because he has failed. He tried to prorogue Parliament to rush this through and get us off the cliff without a deal; he has failed. The Liberal Democrats will not support this until we can be sure that this country will not be crashed out of Brexit and the electorate has the choice.

It is always exciting to discover what the position of the Liberal Democrats is, because it changes like a weather vane.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the President of France stands firm and declines us the extension, there is still plenty of time next week to get the withdrawal Bill passed in this House and the other place, given the position taken by all on the Opposition Benches on the unacceptability of no deal? Then the general election itself can decide who is negotiating the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

If there were a will to get the Bill through, it could of course be done. Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it would satisfy the European Union. It would get the deal done; we would have left; and we could do it by 31 October, and that is what we should aim to do.

I wonder if the Leader of the House is familiar with what is known as the wash-up between when an election or a Dissolution is announced and when Parliament then stops. It is normally a time when, through the usual channels, Bills that remain are carved up because they are not controversial. But his attempt to use that period to basically seek a carve-up of the momentous future of generations to come with this Brexit settlement—which, by the way, should never have got a Second Reading but did—is an abuse of the procedures of this place.

I am sufficiently familiar with the wash-up to understand what it actually means and what it is for. At the end of a Session, normally of a year or more, Bills that have completed a lot of their passage are concluded. This Session has only begun. There is no washing-up to be done; the cupboards are full of clean crockery.

Could the Leader of the House enlighten the House? If we vote for a general election on Monday, what will happen in relation to the Speaker election scheduled for the following Monday? Would Mr Speaker be invited to stay on until the Parliament ceases?

The rules on this are absolutely clear. Mr Speaker has set out the timetable for his leaving office, and we will still have tributes to him on Thursday, during my statement. People can draft away—they have a few days in which to do it—and I expect they may be allowed a little latitude in the length of their questions on that occasion. However, once this House has no Speaker, and is sitting without the Speaker—I am looking at the Clerks for some help—the priority of this House will be to get a Speaker, whatever else is happening. I am getting lots of nods from very distinguished personages.

Many Opposition Members may allow a deal through this House holding their nose, but if, and only if, the public are given the final say in a people’s referendum before an election. Can the Leader of the House undertake to say that it is, and will be, possible to negotiate a situation where his deal can be put to the people before we have a general election?

Leaving the European Union was put to the British people on 23 June 2016, and a general election surely is consulting the people, if nothing else.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that 95% of the Prime Minister’s deal essentially remains unchanged from the deal that preceded it, and we had three and a half years to scrutinise that, so this should not take too long?

My hon. Friend is correct, but the Prime Minister got rid of the undemocratic backstop, which made the deal acceptable.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that if the House decides on Monday not to hold a general election, he will still bring forward a programme motion at some point thereafter?

We hope that the House will vote for a general election on Monday, because we need to clear this up. We cannot go on endlessly, not making any decisions, and that seems to be the situation this House is in. It won’t say yes and it won’t say no; it won’t say stay and it won’t say go. We need to bring this to a conclusion and the hard stop of a general election may help focus minds, because nothing else seems to.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that for those who do not want Brexit there will never be enough time to debate it, and for those who do not want a general election there will always be an excuse to avoid it, and it would appear that those two positions are not mutually exclusive?

My hon. Friend is right. I think there may be a developing desire in some quarters in this House to suspend the quinquennial Act.

This is a handy way of distracting from the reality that the Prime Minister has not succeeded in delivering Brexit by 31 October. Those of us who have been here longer than the Leader of the House know the fun and games, the jiggery-pokery, that he specialises in. When he does not get his election, perhaps he could then consider putting the Bill down with a proper timetable, so that we can debate it.

We have just offered all the time that is available between now and the 6th. We could sit 24 hours around the clock. The hours that are available are equivalent to over 20 sitting days. But it is rejected, and the rejection is phoney because the people who reject it do not want Brexit.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that if Opposition Members wish a referendum to overturn the decision of the last referendum, they are perfectly at liberty to stand on that basis in the general election—put it in their manifesto—and if they win that election they can legislate for one?

My hon. Friend’s point is brilliant, and an incisive explanation of how democracy works. Is it not extraordinary, Mr Speaker, that though they stand up and call for a referendum, they do not wish to put that to voters? If it were in their manifesto and if—heaven help us—they won, then they could do it, but they are so worried that they cannot win, and that they would not win their referendum, that they just try to use legislative legerdemain to try and frustrate the will of the British people.

Well, whatever the merits, I do like the word legerdemain. It is a splendid word. It has been resuscitated by the Leader of the House.

The Leader of the House wants a general election on 12 December. Can he explain to the House what the purpose of the Queen’s Speech was?

The purpose of the Queen’s Speech—the Gracious Speech—was to set out the legislative programme, and what a triumph it has been already. The Queen’s Speech has been adopted by this House with a comfortable majority and a flagship piece of legislation has already passed its Second Reading. Who would have thought that we could have succeeded so much in so short a time? It is hard to think of a greater political success in modern history.

Just for clarity, can I be sure that the position of Her Majesty’s Government is that they will agree to an early election only if this Parliament is prepared to railroad through their terrible deal? If that is the case, they know that they will be defeated, so is it not the truth that it is the Government who are running scared of an election?

No. I must confess that the logic of that point defeats me, and it seems that it defeats most Members of this House. This will be the third time that the Government have offered a general election, so we are clearly willing to have one. We are willing to take our case to the British people. Why? Because we are confident that our case is strong, just and right. The reason why the Opposition are so afraid of an election is that their case is weak, wobbly and futile.

Is it not a fact that, halfway through a parliamentary term, Parliament has got a dangerous Prime Minister in a cage and that Parliament would be wise to keep that dangerous Prime Minister in a cage at least until we remove some of his teeth, if not all of them?

I am afraid that that reminds me of the joke about the time that one should go to visit the dentist, which is, of course, at two thirty. But the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Somebody laughed. Thank you so much. These sort of jokes amuse my children. We cannot possibly want to remove the teeth of Prime Ministers unless they are rotten, but the Prime Minister has a fine set of gnashers with which to bite through these difficult problems.

I hope that hon. Members will oppose this dangerous and cynical manoeuvre, not least because no deal remains a real possibility until the trapdoor is closed in the withdrawal Bill that currently allows us to crash out if no future relationship is agreed at the end of the implementation period at the end of December next year. That is dangerous.

That tells you all need to know, Mr Speaker. The leader figure of the Green party says that an election is dangerous and cynical—dangerous and cynical to trust the people, dangerous and cynical to go back to our voters, dangerous and cynical to report to our employers. That is contempt for democracy.

For greater clarity, will the Leader of the House please confirm that he referred in his business statement just now only to a motion on Monday in relation to holding a general election? In the event that the European Commission comes back offering a further extension, would it be reasonable for the House to assume that the Leader of the House will make a further business statement at the start of business on Monday to allow for debate and a programme motion on the withdrawal agreement?

I have currently been averaging a business statement a day, and I am unsure whether that is a habit that will be unduly encouraged by you or by others, Mr Speaker. However, in the normal course of events, if there were some major development in our relationship with the European Union, a statement would be made by the appropriate person: either the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union or the Prime Minister himself.

It is now clear that, instead of dying in a ditch, the Prime Minister has ditched the ditch. Is the Leader of the House aware of the problems will be caused in many communities by having an election as late as 12 December in terms of dark evenings and short hours—

Order. I do not wish to be unkind or discourteous to the hon. Gentleman in any way but, with the very greatest of respect, that is a matter to be treated of in the debate on the motion on Monday, upon which I feel confident that the hon. Gentleman will wish to expatiate to convey those concerns to the House. Would he mind that? I actually think it is best for Monday. I genuinely do.

Why is the Leader of the House playing games with resolutions rather than taking up the Opposition’s offer to programme the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill properly?

We have done both, but offering an election is not playing games but trusting the people. Her Majesty’s Government, the Conservative and Unionist party, trust the British people; the Opposition do not.