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Business of the House

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2024

I add my thanks to all Members who have paid tribute to the wonderful Sir Tony, not just today but over the past week, including the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). I sincerely hope that the words that have been heard today, and over the past week, will give some comfort to Tony’s family and friends at this difficult time.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a short statement altering the business of the House for Wednesday.

Wednesday 24 January—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of a short Bill relating to Executive formation in Northern Ireland, followed by a general debate on the situation in the Red sea.

I will announce further business on Thursday, in the usual way.

It was a privilege to be in the Chamber for those fantastic and wonderful tributes to our dear friend, Tony Lloyd. I gave my tribute last week, and I will feel ever in his shadow as his successor as the Member for Manchester Central.

Labour share the Government’s desire to see an Executive restored as soon as possible, and if extending the deadline for elections to be called is the best way to achieve that, which it seems to be, we will, of course, fully support that. However, can the Leader of the House provide any update on the talks with the Northern Ireland political parties to achieve restoration of the Executive? It has been some time since we had an update.

Can the Leader of the House say for how long the period for Executive formation will be extended? Indeed, can she say when the Bill will be published? Giving the House just one day’s notice to pass an entire Bill in a day is far from ideal, especially when its detail is still unknown. Can she outline the Government’s plans for timetabling the Bill in the Lords?

Finally, I welcome tomorrow’s debate on the situation in the Red sea, albeit that the debate has been shortened. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the wider debate on other matters relating to defence and security will now take place?

I thank the hon. Lady and the Opposition for their support in this matter. The Bill, which she will understand is a very short Bill, will be tabled today and published tomorrow. I recognise that is a short amount of time for the House, but it is a very short Bill, and I think the House will be able to cope with that situation. She will understand that the timetable for this matter is very important.

I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has heard what the hon. Lady said about an update, and she will know that the Government remain firmly of the belief that a sitting Northern Ireland Executive would be best placed to act quickly and effectively to resolve issues for the people they serve, and that is our aim. I am sure the debate will allow some of those issues to be aired, although it is a very narrow Bill.

Timetabling in the Lords is a matter for their lordships. I will make further announcements on future business in the usual way.

I too pay tribute to Tony Lloyd. It was really moving to listen to the contributions of his friends and colleagues, which reflected the warm and decent person he was.

I regret that we are having to deal with Executive formation in this place yet again, because it is always best for the democratically elected Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to be in their place and governing in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland. The longer this drags on, the more the people of Northern Ireland suffer, which is frankly unforgiveable.

I regret, too, that we are seeing parliamentary business created on the hoof by this Government, particularly in such a serious and sensitive area, but here we are again. Many of us warned of exactly this problem arising. We are here because of a mess of the UK Government’s making, but they refuse to acknowledge that the easiest way of resolving it would be closer alignment with the EU, which would make much of this go away. Instead, the Brexit bourach rumbles on—a bourach this Government caused and are unwilling to face up to and sort out. My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) will have much more to say on this tomorrow.

I have one question. Will this Government ever acknowledge their role in creating this mess and reconsider their hard-line rejection of the sensible option of returning to the single market?

The hon. Lady tempts me to go into detail on the single market, the customs union and the price we would have to pay for that, but you will be pleased to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I will not.

The hon. Lady will know that we have twice extended the period for Executive formation through primary legislation and, despite the best efforts, restoration was not possible before the formation period expired on 18 January. She will know that bringing forward this legislation has been tied to talks and negotiations, which is why we have the current timetable.