Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
In a moment, I shall call Ian Blackford to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The right hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I think the point of order will have to come afterwards. Forgive me—I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman—but I am two thirds of the way across the road, and it is arguably hazardous—[Laughter.] I am saving him up, because I think he can wait.
The right hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make his application. I call Mr Ian Blackford.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and if we can help you across the rest of the road, we would be happy to do so.
I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the validity of the Sewel convention. This week, during the proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Scotland’s voice was silenced. This Government pressed ahead with their power grab to keep Scotland’s powers in London, not in Scotland. This Government pressed ahead in direct opposition to Scotland’s elected Parliament. This Government downgraded devolution and defied the will of the Scottish people. That is an absolute democratic outrage.
The UK Government have agreed to amendments that severely curtail the authority of the Scottish Parliament in several vital devolved areas. However, legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament was required, and was accepted by the Government to be required, in order for the Bill to proceed. That consent has not been forthcoming. The Scottish Parliament voted, by 93 votes to 30, not to consent to the withdrawal Bill. The Sewel convention established the long-held practice that the UK Government cannot legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the devolved Parliament.
The First Minister of Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have made it clear that the lack of a consent motion would have been fatal to the passage of any changes to the devolution settlement. Legislative consent motions are one of the hallmarks of devolution. By proceeding, the UK Government have blatantly ignored a central pillar of the relationship between the Governments and the Parliaments of these islands. This unprecedented move means that the very nature of devolution could be changed forever. What does the failure to grant legislative consent mean if Westminster is prepared to ignore the sovereign will of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people?
Mr Speaker, due to no fault of yours, the time restrictions placed on the Bill virtually eliminated the amendments on devolution from the debate. It is imperative that we have an emergency debate as soon as possible to examine the seriousness of this matter. We are in uncharted territory. The people of Scotland must know when this Government will act to recognise and respect the will of their elected Parliament. While we were unable to get a vote for the House to sit in private yesterday—Mr Speaker, I want to make it clear that the SNP’s issue is with the UK Government, not with you—I trust that you will give your consideration to this most urgent matter.
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the validity of the Sewel convention. I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman in making his application, and I am satisfied that the matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Does the right hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House?
Application agreed to.
The right hon. Gentleman has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held on Monday 18 June as the first item of public business. The debate will last for up to three hours, and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application.
I will take the point of order—now that I have successfully crossed the road.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am delighted that you managed to get to the other side. With regard to the Standing Order No. 24 application we have just heard, I seek your guidance in the interests of the House. Will you look at the application and see whether there are any Standing Orders that would allow Members to add their names to it in case the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is indisposed come Monday? This is the second Standing Order No. 24 application we were due to have from the right hon. Gentleman in two days, and if the subject of this debate is indeed so urgent, perhaps we should have had it more urgently than Monday.
I note the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. My understanding—I will interpret his point of order literally and strictly—is that an application is made in the name of a particular Member and cannot be appropriated by another Member. In that sense, and this is a serious point, it is in a different category from an amendment to legislation or a new clause, which might commonly have a number of lead signatories, meaning that in the absence of one, it can be adopted, moved and spoken to by another. That is not the case in relation to a Standing Order No. 24 application, but it is perfectly open to the House to change the procedure if it wishes.
In response to points of order on Tuesday evening, I made the point that it is very common for people to complain about a procedure—including about a Standing Order, as in this case, or a programme motion—when and only when it adversely affects them. I said that there was merit, if people wanted change, in their seeking change during what might be considered as peacetime, so to speak—I think I used that expression—as opposed to waiting for a situation of conflict and then saying, “Oh, this is all very unsatisfactory.”
Inevitably, procedural change is not achieved overnight. I will leave on one side the hon. Gentleman’s little teasing or ribbing of the leader of the Scottish National party Members. I do not in any way take exception to that; I take the hon. Gentleman very seriously. My honest and sincere advice to him is that if he and others feel that the Standing Order should be more broadly drawn, their best recourse is to write to the Chair of the Procedure Committee to invite consideration of that matter. That would then elicit a response, and matters can flow, or not flow, in one direction or another thereafter.
I know that that is a rather dry response to the hon. Gentleman, but these issues can and probably will arise from time to time, and the Standing Order No. 24 procedure is now being used more frequently than it was in the past. Is that something I regret? Absolutely not. It is a very legitimate mechanism to be used. It is not for me to solicit applications, any more than it is for me to solicit urgent questions. I generally find these days that Members require no particular encouragement. There are plenty of such applications, and it is my privilege to look at them, and then, in the case of a Standing Order No. 24 application, to submit it to the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier this week I asked what options are available to us in this House to ensure that the Government understand the real concerns among the people of Scotland at the unprecedented power grab, and how we could make sure that our voices are heard. In response, the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) shouted, “Suicide”. I have to say that, in the opinion of many of my colleagues, that is intolerable behaviour. Suicide is a serious matter, with almost 6,000 people taking their lives across the UK in one year. I contend that this behaviour is not fitting for a Member of Parliament and should not be tolerated by the House.
I understand that when this matter was raised with you, Mr Speaker, by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), you said that you had not heard the comment. However, the comment can be heard very clearly on the video of the sitting, which I have taken the trouble to watch. Will you advise me what options are open to the House to deal with the disgraceful behaviour of hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset? I have told the hon. Gentleman that I would be raising this matter.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Off the top of my head, I am not entirely sure what recourse he has. I have just been advised by a Government Whip that the Member concerned, who is not present at the moment, maintains he was referring to political suicide. I would say that this whole matter underlines the importance of our using language with great care. If somebody uses a word apparently without qualification or political spin but in its raw form, it can cause great offence. None of us—least of all your Speaker—wants to suppress, distort or constrain debate. That said, it is very important that we speak passionately but responsibly, and we probably could all usefully be reminded of the principle encapsulated in the precedent recorded in “Erskine May” that moderation and, where possible, good humour in the conduct of parliamentary debate are much to be encouraged.
I have weighed my words carefully in responding to the right hon. Gentleman, because I have no desire to pick an argument with the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger). I was not here and I did not hear it, and I do not want to get into a retrospective spat with him about it. He is an honourable Member, and no doubt he said what he did in the spirit of the moment and sincerely. I repeat that we should all take care. The seriousness of the matter that the right hon. Gentleman has raised is not in dispute, but I hope he will accept it if I say that we all have to take care, the Chair included.
It is probably quite risky for anyone to assume perfection. Over the last 24 hours, some Members have been critical to me—in some cases on the Floor of the House—of the right hon. Gentleman’s conduct and that of some of his own Members. These are, to some extent, matters of opinion. Procedurally, how he chose to operate is a matter of record, but when there are aggressive exchanges across the House, we probably have to remind ourselves that passion and disagreement should be able to co-exist with respect for one another. That means speaking one’s mind—in some cases, extremely strongly—but then also listening to what the person whom one is challenging, questioning or castigating has to say by way of reply. I hope he will accept that that is a fair response to the very proper and legitimate point he has raised.
In case anyone has beetled into the Chamber since the right hon. Gentleman’s application, I remind colleagues that his application for the SO 24 debate has been successful, and that debate will take place on Monday, as the first item of public business, for up to three hours.