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Business of the House

Volume 667: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

I should like to make a statement regarding the business for tomorrow and until Tuesday 5 November.

Tomorrow, the House will be asked to consider a motion relating to the first report from the Committee on Standards, followed by tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) (No. 2) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft (Civil Partnership) (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts.

The business for the week commencing 4 November will include:

Monday 4 November—The House will meet at 2.30 o’clock to elect a Speaker.

Tuesday 5 November—An opportunity for Members to make short valedictory speeches and to debate matters to be raised before the forthcoming Dissolution.

Mr Speaker, I might add that I shall make my normal statement tomorrow, which will also be an opportunity for people, in the course of that statement, to raise questions in the form of tributes to you.

I think that I should say thank you to the Leader of the House, but I am somewhat confused. Can he confirm whether there will be absolutely no business questions tomorrow and that what he will do at 10.30 is start the tributes to Mr Speaker? That is my first question. I can see why he perhaps would not want to be here on 31 October—a significant day—answering questions from hon. Members. It seems like the Government are melting away, along with the commemorative 50p pieces. We all know that it is a significant day.

I am slightly perturbed because I have not seen any reference to the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords. It is an extremely important Bill that provides a redress scheme for survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. The House of Lords is expediting all its stages tomorrow, and it is keen to get it on the statute book. The survivors who will benefit from the Bill are content with the legislation, and I know that the shadow Northern Ireland team are keen to agree with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that it should be on the statute book. The survivors cannot wait any longer. Some have passed away while waiting for the compensation that they are rightly owed. Will the Leader of the House make time for this important Bill?

I have had lots of mixed messages, and I do not think this is a good way to end this Session. I was not sure whether business questions were on. First they were on, then they were off, and then they were on again. This is not an appropriate way to carry out the business of the House, particularly as many Members are standing down and business questions are a good opportunity, just before an election, for them to raise issues that they might be able to deal with when they go back to their constituencies. So I hope that the Leader of the House will take on board those three questions relating to what time he is going to start, whether business questions will be in the form of questions or a statement and, particularly, what will happen to the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill.

The hon. Lady said that we were trying to avoid saying things tomorrow, and she referred to those 50p coins. I am afraid that I have never liked fiddling around with our coinage. I prefer the 50p coins with Britannia on the back, rather than the ones that have all sorts of peculiar—

What an excellent idea, shouted out from the back! Bring back the 10 shilling note! I think that is a little old-fashioned, even for me, but it is reassuring that some Members are even more antediluvian than I am.

On the important question of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill, I note what the right hon. Lady says about what is happening in the other place. We need to wait and see what happens there, and we will then be able to come to a decision on what can be done in this House. It will, of course, mean that there will be another business statement from me. That is becoming a daily occurrence at the moment.

The hon. Lady mentioned the business statement tomorrow, which will be a statement on tributes to Mr Speaker. The questions that arise will of course be whatever Mr Speaker rules orderly, so I think that Members will be careful to work out what is orderly in that respect. I am really pleased to have been able to announce that right hon. and hon. Members who are standing down will have the opportunity to make their valedictory addresses on Tuesday in the form of the Adjournment debate. That is a debate that I am very much looking forward to responding to, as it is an important opportunity not only for people to say their farewells but for their service to this House—in some cases, over many decades—to be acknowledged. I hope that that answers the hon. Lady’s questions.

May I briefly underscore what the shadow Leader of the House said to the Leader of the House about the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill? It has cross-party support in this place, as my right hon. Friend knows, and the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs has looked at it in great depth. I will not labour the point, but I know my right hon. Friend is aware of the pressing need for the delivery of justice and the start of closure. I am pretty certain that the legislation could be dealt with in 35 minutes to 40 minutes on Monday following discussions through the usual channels. If he will be so kind, I urge him to find the time to make that important step forward, because the wait has been far too long.

My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is absolutely right to highlight the importance of that Bill, and the Government are committed to bringing it forth as soon as possible. I congratulate him on his service to the people of Northern Ireland and to the people of Dorset—something that he carries out with great distinction. I am biased, of course, because he is one of my oldest friends in this Chamber, so I do listen to him particularly carefully. I have absolutely heard his message, as I have heard the message from the shadow Leader of the House. Let us see what their lordships do. The normal processes will then grind through, and we will see what can be done.

There is nothing too old-fashioned for the right hon. Gentleman. I think we are all getting used to these daily business statements, and we look forward to another thrilling episode tomorrow. However, I had real concerns when I saw this business statement about whether there would be standard business questions tomorrow, because I remember the right hon. Gentleman’s clear commitment that there would be the opportunity for tributes to Mr Speaker. I am pleased and relieved to see that that is included in the statement and that there may be the opportunity to discuss other matters as we conclude this Parliament.

I am very concerned about the business for next week, and the arrangements for the election of the next Speaker are particularly unsatisfactory. Members like myself will have to come down all the way from Scotland during an election campaign for the sole purpose of electing a Speaker. I do not know how many hours that will take, but we will have to decide what will be the better use of our time: fighting an election or coming down here to decide the next Speaker. There is a real chance that Members of Parliament from Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom could be disenfranchised in the important business of electing the Speaker.

How have we got to this situation? Conversations were ongoing through the usual channels between the political parties and among the candidates for Speaker about trying to resolve the matter this week, so that the House could dissolve on Thursday or Friday. We could then we make the decision about the Speaker when we returned with a new Parliament. What has happened to those conversations? Has there been any blockage? If so, who is responsible? What type of discussions have been had? From speaking to colleagues—not just those within the Scottish National party—there are real concerns about the election of a Speaker happening exclusively on Monday, and we need to better understand what has happened and how we have reached this situation.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that nothing is too old fashioned for me, and I shall try not to disappoint him in future. I am sorry that his travel arrangements will be inconvenienced, and I mean that genuinely because I appreciate that the situation is difficult for Members who have to come a long way. People must order their priorities accordingly. My personal priority always revolves around the Chamber of the House.

I will point out that a right hon. Friend of mine, whose name I will not give away, will be a long way out of the country on long-planned business and is going to pay a £1,000 of his own money to make sure that he is back for an important parliamentary occasion. Some people take that view of attending for business, and others may indeed wish to start their election campaigns early. That is a choice that they must make. However, Monday and Tuesday are sitting days, and once Mr Speaker has resigned, we must elect a Speaker if the House is sitting. That is completely routine and standard and orderly, and it is important.

I will, if I may, correct the hon. Gentleman on the question of Dissolution, as I was corrected by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). The date of Dissolution is set backwards from the date of the election. With the election being on Thursday 12 December, Dissolution has to be on Wednesday at one minute past midnight. It cannot be on any other day. There is no flexibility in the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

I confess, Mr Speaker, that there were conversations about whether we could have finished tomorrow, but for everybody who said to me that we should stop on Thursday, somebody else said that we should stop on Tuesday. There was no clear consensus. It is my view as Leader of the House that my responsibility if there is no consensus is to ensure that things carry on as they were planned to be. It would be wrong for me to force the House in a way that there was not a consensus to go down.

Exactly two years ago, I had an Adjournment debate about airgun safety, which was responded to graciously by the right hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who is in his place. That instigated a review of airgun safety. I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson), who is in his place, have pressed the Government persistently for the publication of their review and consultation. Today, I rang my constituent to say again to him and his young son, who was severely injured, that that has not come forward and that we have no idea when it will. Will the Leader of the House please indicate for the families we represent when that important review and consultation will come forward?

I add my support on the need to bring the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill to this House. Front Benchers from all parties have indicated clearly that it will be dealt with very quickly. There is cross-party support and it could be done very quickly next week.

On airgun safety, I will write to the Minister who is responsible to get an answer. There will obviously be no time for a debate on it before this Parliament comes to a conclusion, but it is important that when Members raise questions, they get answers. I cannot always promise people the answer they want, but by and large, it is important that answers are given.

I note the hon. Lady’s point about the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill. It seems that there may be an evolving consensus around that issue in this House.

Just to emphasise the consensus on that point, I want to back up what has been said by the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and other right hon. and hon. Members. This matter has been raised at every opportunity today in this House, including questions to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We do need to get the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill through the House before the election. I really hope that the Leader of the House has heard the consensus he has talked about and will work on the basis of that consensus. I add to the point that we can do this very quickly and that it does need to be done. I look forward to his taking it forward.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, our confidence and supply partner, for his important point. The message is loud and clear. There is—dare I say it?—some element of tension when the Government propose to bring Bills through quickly. There is sometimes criticism that it is being done too quickly. However, it is more normal in a wash-up period that things are done at a certain rate of knots than in other periods. I have heard what has been said, and I will ensure that it is passed on to all the relevant people.

I echo the comments that have been made about the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse. In the earlier debate, it was mentioned that the Bill might not be brought forward. I know that many victims will be deeply distressed and dismayed by that. There is an opportunity tomorrow with the further business question, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House can confirm that if there are no issues in the House of Lords —I am not sure what issues he was referring to—time will be made to get the Bill through before Dissolution.

On a purely technical note, we will not be able to make time for that tomorrow, because it is not in the statement that I have now. So the question would be for Monday and then issues may arise relating to Royal Assent, because there is a Royal Assent moment tomorrow, but I am not sure that there will be one on Monday. These issues will be looked into. I have heard from some extraordinarily distinguished Members and note their views, but I cannot give a definitive answer from the Dispatch Box now.

I met the Leader of the House recently to talk about the 100th anniversary of the election of Nancy Astor. The Dissolution of Parliament means that the celebrations of that momentous moment when Plymouth Sutton elected her as the first woman to take her seat will now not take place on the day. I would be grateful if he reflected on whether there is time to record that impressive moment on either Monday or Tuesday next week, so that we do not miss this moment to talk about the important role that Nancy Astor played in this place and in wider British politics.

I am very grateful for that question. I hope that I am not being indiscreet in saying that the Commission discussed this when it met earlier in the week on Monday, just before I had to leave early to come to make an emergency business statement, which seems to be quite a frequent occurrence. The Commission agreed to a series of suggestions, including particularly the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there could a picture in the Members’ Dining Room underneath the picture of Nancy Astor’s presentation and that there would be no hire charge for the room—that has been specifically agreed by the Commission—and the suggestion that we have a commemoration on the Order Paper on the relevant anniversary. Fortunately, there are several relevant anniversaries—for example, the anniversary of her maiden speech. Most of the ideas that he has come up with were warmly endorsed by the Commission. As I say, I hope that I have not broken the Official Secrets Act or anything of that kind by revealing this.

I would be grateful if the Leader of the House confirmed whether Tuesday’s Westminster Hall business will go ahead. From what he said, I assume that it might, but I just want clarification on that point.

As far as I am aware, business in Westminster Hall will continue as normal. I am being nodded at from the Box, which is always extremely helpful when I am on a slightly sticky wicket. I am glad to say that my forward defensive stroke has kept the ball clear of my stumps.

The word “inimitable” springs to mind. I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues.