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Speaker's Statement

Volume 696: debated on Monday 7 June 2021

Before we move to the statements, I want to say something about the selection of amendments and new clauses to the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill.

I told the House in my statement on 29 January 2020 that as Speaker of the House, I am committed to transparency and I respect and trust the advice from Clerks in this House. As the House knows and as “Erskine May” states:

“The Chair is not expected to give reasons for the decision on selection of amendments.”

However, on an exceptional basis, I want to say something about why new clause 4 has not been selected. I am doing so on this occasion because of the high level of interest in the new clause in the House and outside it.

Amendments and new clauses that are not within the scope of the Bill are out of order. “Erskine May” states:

“The scope of a bill represents the reasonable limits of its collective purposes, as defined by its existing clauses and schedules.”

In this instance, having taken advice from the House’s senior Clerks and the Office of Speaker’s Counsel, I have deemed new clause 4 to be outside the scope of the Bill. New clause 4 is therefore not selected and may not be debated today.

I wish to make a further point. As we all know, the Government have, through our Standing Orders, significant control over the business the House considers on any given day, and its control is particularly strong when it comes to the initiation of public expenditure. Under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance to the amount of 0.7% of gross national income is met by the United Kingdom each year. Until now, however, the House has not—I repeat, not—had an opportunity for a decisive vote on maintaining the UK’s commitment to the statutory target of 0.7%. I expect the Government to find a way to have this important matter debated and to allow the House formally to take an effective decision.

I should say that, on an exceptional basis, I will hear and consider for debate, to be held tomorrow, any applications made under Standing Order No. 24 by 5.30 pm today. Applications should reach my office no later than 5 o’clock this afternoon.

Having taken this exceptional step of explaining my decision on selection in this case, I will take only one point of order, from the lead Member for the proposed amendment, Andrew Mitchell.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your statement, of course I completely accept that you are the referee on these matters, and that is that, but the Government Front Bench are treating the House of Commons with disrespect. They are avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made, individually and collectively, at the last general election on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain’s leading lawyers, the Government are acting unlawfully.

Had we secured a vote on the new clause tonight, I can assure the House that it would have secured the assent of the House by not less than a majority of nine, and probably of around 20 votes.

In the week of the British chairmanship of the G7, the Government’s failure to address this issue will indisputably mean that hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths will result. It is already attracting criticism from all round the other members of the G7. What advice do you have, Mr Speaker, for my right hon. and hon. Friends and I to seek to stop the Government riding roughshod over Parliament in this way and seeking to thwart our democratic rights as Members of the House of Commons?

Can I first thank the right hon. Member for the courtesy of giving me advance notice of this point of order?

On the first point—that Government may have behaved unlawfully—I have to advise the right hon. Member that that will be a matter for the courts to determine, not me, as he is well aware. I know that he has worked very hard in looking at that, if it were needed.

On the right hon. Member’s more general point, I have already expressed my view that the House should be given an opportunity to make an effective—I repeat, an effective—decision on this matter. I have also indicated that I would, exceptionally, be prepared to accept an application today for an emergency debate tomorrow.

I would say that I share the House’s frustration. It is quite right that this House should not continue to be taken for granted, but we must do it in the right way. I believe the Government need to show respect and need to come forward—I totally agree with the right hon. Member—because not only the House but the country needs this matter to be debated and aired, and an effective decision to be taken.

I have now put that on the record, and I hope that the Government will take up the challenge and give the House its due respect, which it deserves. We are the elected Members. The House should be taken seriously and the Government should be accountable here. I wish and hope that that is taken on board very quickly. I do not want it to drag on. If not, we will then look to find other ways in which we can move forward. I am taking no more points of order.