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Business of the House

Volume 744: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2024

With permission, I will make a short business statement about an addition to tomorrow’s business. Following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the business tomorrow will now be:

Thursday 1 February—a debate on motions to approve the draft Windsor Framework (Constitutional Status of Northern Ireland) Regulations 2024 and the draft Windsor Framework (Internal Market and Unfettered Access) Regulations 2024, followed by a general debate on miners and mining communities, followed by debate on a motion on freedom and democracy in Iran. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for the update to the business and for advance sight of her announcement.

As the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, we welcome the decision of the Democratic Unionist party to return to the Northern Ireland Executive following negotiations, subject to commitments by the Government and to legislation being passed. We also thank the other parties of Northern Ireland for their forbearance and co-operation.

This is a very important moment. We warmly welcome the progress so far, especially for the people of Northern Ireland, who have been without their Government for almost two years and for five of the past seven years. I welcome the publication of the Command Paper and the statutory instruments, and the fact that the business has changed tomorrow so that we can speedily consider these matters in the timetable set out, although I am sure other Members will want time to consider them. Could the Leader of the House let us know whether she anticipates that consequential legislation will be needed in due course, such as legislation to establish the internal lane?

Like the hon. Lady, I thank all parties who have been involved in getting us to what has been described as an historic moment. It is a good thing for the people of Northern Ireland that this is happening. I want to place on record my thanks to everyone who has been involved. I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming, understandably, the change of business tomorrow. With regard to her sole question, the answer is yes, and that is set out in the Command Paper.

I thank the Leader of the House for making provision for a debate on the statutory instruments tomorrow. We have before us those two instruments, which address a wide range of issues: movement of goods in the UK, the internal market, and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. Each of those has been subject to multiple lengthy debates in this House. Will she consider making time for two debates—one on each draft statutory instrument—thereby doubling the time that Members have to consider these matters in this House?

My hon. Friend is right that there has been a tremendous amount of discussion of these issues on the Floor of the House. As the Secretary of State acknowledged earlier, the Standing Orders protect time for debate on statutory instruments to 90 minutes. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate on a particular topic, but the Standing Orders will protect the time tomorrow.

There is little to add to this short statement, as there will be more discussion on this latest legislation tomorrow. I want to state on the record that I welcome the progress that has been made, particularly as a former Northern Ireland spokesperson. Of course, there is much to be done, so I send my sincerest best wishes to all those in the Assembly who, hopefully soon, will step up to their places and their great responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland.

I thank the hon. Lady for her support in this matter, and I very much welcome her party’s support, too.

Just to be clear, we are presented with the United Kingdom’s internal market piece of legislation, a Northern Ireland constitutional law piece of legislation, and 80 pages of a Command Paper. With the best will in the world, we will get on to that around midday tomorrow. The maximum time possible is probably three hours for all that. That is insufficient time for the Front Benchers and all the Back Benchers with an interest in this matter to properly debate and scrutinise such legislation. Is there no opportunity to extend the proceedings to allow lengthier consideration of the legislation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He knows what is set out in the Standing Orders. I appreciate where he is coming from, but I point him to the comments the Secretary of State made a moment ago about the external timetable that we need to keep pace with.

As always, I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I am conscious that there will be quite a few speakers for the debates after that on miners and Iran and human rights issues. Given the time needed for the Northern Ireland legislation, and being ever mindful of how important it is to get it sorted, with no disrespect to the other two debates, is it humanly possible to have all the time between 12 noon and 5 pm for debates on the legislation that we need in Northern Ireland?

I say to the hon. Gentleman, “Welcome to my world.” We are trying to accommodate all parties. There was an additional Select Committee statement on tomorrow’s agenda, which we are talking to officials about to try accommodate tomorrow. I hope to update the House on that later.

Is it not a fact that, now this Government have the Assembly on the fishing hook, they really do not care one iota about scrutiny of the bait being used to get the Assembly back? Having introduced the Command Paper to the House today and having got a commitment to the Assembly, I suggest that this Government do not give two hoots about whether there is sufficient time to see whether the promises made will be fulfilled.

I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he is wrong in that assertion. There will be many strong feelings on all sides of the House about various aspects of the position we have got to, but the comments made from all sides of the House during the Secretary of State’s statement indicate that this is an important step forward and is to be welcomed. Inevitably, it is a compromise; people have had to compromise to get here, and I applaud them for doing that. There will be future debate on these matters. My colleagues on the Front Bench will be very happy to answer any points that the right hon. Gentleman raises. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, is an example of conviction, passion and determination on the issues that the hon. Gentleman cares deeply about.