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Business of the House

Volume 699: debated on Monday 12 July 2021

I should like to make a short business statement.

Further to my statement to the House last Thursday, the first item of business tomorrow will now be consideration of a business of the House motion followed by a general debate on the Treasury update on international aid.

This will be followed by remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill followed by a motion to approve the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021.

This will be followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism followed by a motion relating to English votes for English laws.

The last item of business will be a motion relating to the appointment of chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

The business for the rest of the week remains unchanged and I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday.

The business for the rest of the week remains unchanged, and I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday. It may be useful for Members of the House to know that the call list will be open once the business statement has concluded and will close at 8 o’clock this evening.

I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the statement. We on the Opposition Benches, along with many on the Government Benches, have argued strongly for a proper debate and an amendable motion with a vote on international aid cuts, so I have various questions about what will happen tomorrow. He says that it is a general debate, but what will be the question? Will the debate be on an amendable motion, and if not, why not? How long will the debate be? If we are to have a vote, will he confirm that it will be legally binding on the Government, or will it be just politically binding?

This evening is obviously not the time for us to debate the merits, or rather the lack of merits, of cutting aid and undermining our legally and morally binding commitments to the world’s poorest; that will be for tomorrow. If the motion for the general debate will be votable, what would be the consequences if it were defeated? My suspicions at the moment are that this could be a Treasury road map to 0.7%, which might take a rather roundabout route, rather than this House deciding—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman is usually in favour of that, as someone who defends the rights of this House. Am I correct on that?

Finally, so that we can all understand precisely where we will be, especially as so many Members on both sides of the House have expressed such strong views, if the House votes down the motion, if there is one, on the general debate tomorrow, will international aid go back to 0.7% of gross national income in January 2022—yes or no?

The answer to the last question is yes. The written ministerial statement from the Treasury says:

“However, if the House were to negative the motion, rejecting the government’s assessment of the fiscal circumstances, then the government would consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid in the next calendar year”—

so that is from January 2022—

“and with likely consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current public spending plans.”

The motion will be: “That this House has considered the written ministerial statement relating to the Treasury update on international aid, which was laid before this House on Monday 12 July.” The debate will be for three hours and the decision will be binding on Her Majesty’s Government.

Votes have consequences and if the motion were to be negatived, that would be a significant consequence for our fiscal situation where, I remind the House, more than £400 billion has had to be spent because of the coronavirus pandemic and yet we remain one of the most generous nations in terms of overseas aid. This is merely an effort to facilitate the House in debating an issue that is of concern to many Members because, unfortunately, some missed the opportunity to do so on the estimates days.

Obviously, it was only on Thursday last week that we had the previous business statement, so I guess my first question to the Leader of the House would be, what has changed in the time from Thursday till today? Clearly, it is welcome that such an opportunity is being presented, but it does appear to me to be highly unusual that a general debate is being used as a mechanism to allow this vote to take place, especially when the Government themselves are bringing it forward. Is there a particular reason why the Government are using a general debate, rather than any other more substantive mechanism, to bring this forward? Beyond that, may I ask the Leader of the House what time or protected time will then to be allocated to the other items of business that were already on the agenda for tomorrow?

What has changed? Well, I do my best to facilitate the House, and very distinguished hon. and right hon. Members wanted further debate because, as I have mentioned, they had rather forgotten their early education on how estimates days work and therefore wanted a further debate. It is being provided in this way to allow the House to come to a clear decision. It will be a yes or no answer. Does this House wish to see the public finances kept under reasonable control, does it recognise that there are limits to what we can do and does it recognise that there are in fact generous billionaires who are giving money for overseas aid, which should be enormously welcome, or on the other hand do we want to hard press our hard-pressed taxpayers even further? That will be the question for the debate tomorrow, and a very clear answer can be given.

On the timings for the debates tomorrow, most of them are set out in Standing Orders, so debates under an Act are always for 90 minutes, and the motion relating to English votes for English laws, on which I think the hon. Gentleman and I will be on the same side, will have an hour.

I had proposed only to hear points or take questions to the Lord President from those on the Front Benches, but if the two right hon. Gentlemen who have caught my eye, the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), are asking specifically about the narrow point that the Lord President has brought to the Chamber, I will hear them.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will resist quoting page 688 of “Erskine May” to the Lord President, but can he give us an answer to this question? He has told us about the financial numbers, but will we have an impact assessment on the number of lives lost as a result of this policy, and will the motion be amendable?

My right hon. Friend is coming on to some of the topics that will be discussed tomorrow. It is in effect a deponent motion: it is passive in form, but active in meaning.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and following your strictures, I will limit my very specific question to what is in the emergency business statement. The Leader of the House will know that the motion to approve the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 is also on a very important matter, effective compulsory vaccination for care home workers. What I am not clear about, even from his answer to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson)—and this would be of enormous interest to many outside this House—is whether the Leader of the House can give me an indication of when he would be expecting that debate to take place. In other words, when will the remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill finish so that that debate can start? That will be of interest to many outside the House.

My right hon. Friend is a former Chief Whip, and he will know that the progress of business is dependent upon the loquacity of hon. and right hon. Members, which is not something it is possible for me to predict.

Can I ask my right hon. Friend whether it will be possible to amend the business of the House motion to facilitate the deferral of the debate on the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021?

Those matters are matters properly for the Speaker rather than for me, but it may be possible that we could have an interesting discussion on the meaning of the word “forthwith”. I seem to remember that that topic exercised the House to a considerable degree in a previous Parliament.

Indeed we could, but let us hope that we will not.

That concludes the business statement, and I will very briefly suspend the House—for just two minutes.

Sitting suspended.