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Business of the House

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

Following the decision of the House to pass the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill, I should like to make a short statement regarding the business for tomorrow. The business for tomorrow will be a general debate on the report from the Grenfell Tower inquiry, led by the Prime Minister, followed by a business of the House motion and all stages of the Northern Ireland Budget Bill. You will be very glad to know that I shall make a further business statement to the House tomorrow regarding the business for the rest of the week.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement—we should not keep meeting like this. The Opposition agree with the business statement.

Before I call Pete Wishart, I appeal to Members who are leaving the Chamber—say I, playing for time—to do so quickly and quietly, so that the remaining Members can attend to what the hon. Gentleman wishes to say on the matter of this relatively narrow business statement. If people are about to be beetle out of the House walking past the hon. Gentleman, I hope that they will do so quickly so that he is not interrupted as he orates in his inimitable fashion.

It will not be a point for oration when I get down to the business that the Leader of the House has announced. I join the shadow Leader of the House in saying that we must stop meeting like this for these impromptu business statements. However, we will all miss them and the Leader of the House’s genuinely individual style as he announces emergency business statement after emergency business statement. We look forward to the next enthralling episode tomorrow, when we will all be congregated again, and the three of us will obviously enjoy the get-together that we have been experiencing over the past few weeks.

The SNP has no problem with or objection to the business announcement, and we look forward to the debate on Grenfell. I also look forward to our continuing get-togethers, which have become a regular feature of our time in the House. Finally, we are pleased that the Bill passed this evening. It is worth saying that, under the last Division result, the Prime Minister would have had the two-thirds majority that he was trying to secure—[Interruption.] I see the Leader of the House laughing and grinning there. The SNP is looking forward to this election and to coming back in increased numbers to ensure that we will oppose the Government’s hard Tory Brexit. We will continue to fight for Scotland’s right to choose Scotland’s future.

May I just say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman’s good nature shine through in a question? He normally keeps it so carefully hidden on the Floor of the House, but it is always so apparent in private.

Does the Leader of the House agree that this is one of those days on which I want to go home and watch Laura Kuenssberg to find out what the hell is going on in this place? I feel that his statement was not very full. He did not mention the election of the new Speaker and said nothing about this week’s Prime Minister’s questions. Can he fill us in with a little more detail about what the hell is going on?

All the routine Question Times will continue to take place in the normal way while this Parliament is in existence. Parliament has to be dissolved in accordance with the Bill, if it completes its passage in the House of Lords, at one minute past midnight on Wednesday. That date is set at 25 working days backwards from the date of the general election, with an exemption to cover the bank holiday in Scotland for St Andrew’s day. I accept that I am not giving further business, but that is fairly normal at the end of a Parliament when we will have to look at what items need to be washed up and dealt with. I can therefore absolutely assure the House that I will come back with further statements as necessary.

Does the Leader of the House anticipate that the House will be meeting at all next week? Does he anticipate that we will be electing a new Speaker before the House dissolves?

That will depend on the progress of business and the date of Prorogation. We will have to see how rapidly business progresses, but the Dissolution date is Wednesday, so it is perfectly possible for the House to be sitting on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that all staff employed by Members of this House are given urgent advice about what might be necessary for them to do, particularly where their Member may be retiring or might not be re-elected?

That is an extraordinarily important point. When talk of an early general election first started in September, the House authorities started working on updating the information that is available to staff and to Members—both potentially returning Members and retiring Members—to ensure that they are fully informed of what happens and what the conditions and provisions are. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and I know that the House authorities will also have heard it. If the information has not already been distributed, it will be distributed as a matter of urgency.

Just to follow up the point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), I tabled an amendment to the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill that was not selected, and it said that any member of staff who has worked for a current Member for a continuous period should be considered for additional redundancy payments, given that, if the Member were to lose their seat, they will get only a month’s redundancy payment and they will lose their job on 12 December.

Will the Leader of the House look at that with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the House authorities to ensure that the staff of Members who stand down or lose their seat are not disadvantaged over the Christmas and new year period?

That is an important point. We are all very grateful to the staff we have supporting us, both those working for us as constituency MPs and those working for the House authorities. This House is extraordinarily well served by people who are dedicated above and beyond the requirements of duty. Those of us who, as constituency MPs, deal with a busy postbag often find that our staff have dealt with problems for our constituents before they have even brought them to our attention.

We are very lucky with the staff we have, and I am always keen that they should be treated as well as possible. I will certainly undertake to make representations on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf to IPSA. It is always difficult to find a fair balance where taxpayers’ money is being used, but my sympathies are very much with staff and in favour of looking after them well.

Will the Leader of the House clarify whether the election of a new Speaker will take place next week? Many Members will obviously have a view on where they wish to be if that election is taking place.

Will the Leader of the House ensure there is robust guidance for parliamentary security and security forces across the United Kingdom, particularly given the outcome of Lord Bew’s report on intimidation and bullying in public life, so that all candidates from all backgrounds can stand in the next general election without fear of abuse?

That is a point of fundamental importance to our democracy. I had a meeting earlier today with the head of security in the House of Commons and with a representative of the Metropolitan police, and we discussed a number of security matters relating to Members. Obviously, it is important that candidates feel safe, too, and I am sure the Home Office will send out guidance to returning officers. It is important that, as the hon. Lady says, people from all backgrounds feel safe standing for Parliament.

We are in a tense period, as I think everybody recognises, and the temperature around the issues we are facing is higher than it has been previously, and therefore there is more cause for concern than perhaps there was in elections in 2015, 2010 and before. I take what the hon. Lady says very seriously, and I will bring it to the attention of both the Home Secretary and the House authorities.