In the light of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement, I would like to make a short business statement confirming the business for the remainder of this week:
Tuesday 11 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Ivory Bill—[Interruption.] Followed by a general debate on fuel poverty.
Wednesday 12 December—Remaining stages of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords].
Thursday 13 December—General debate on the public health model to reduce youth violence. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) is burbling away from a sedentary position and has been doing so on a recurrent basis throughout the past couple of hours. He is displaying delinquent tendencies and I want him to curb them.
Friday 14 December—The House will not be sitting.
I will make a further business statement in the usual way on Thursday.
May I just clarify something with the Leader of the House? Did she say that there would be a further debate after the Ivory Bill? We did not quite hear that properly. I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for the business for the next few days.
Before I get to the matter of the deferred debate and the vote, I would like to register our deep dissatisfaction that the Government have announced a substantive debate on the remaining stages of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill for Wednesday. This is an important Bill and proper notice should have been given to the House to ensure that Members had proper time to table amendments and to prepare to scrutinise the Bill. By giving less than two sitting days’ notice, it is now impossible for Members to table amendments that will not be starred. But I suppose the Leader of the House is quite grateful that she will not have to vote on the withdrawal agreement, because it has been widely briefed that she never supported the proposals.
On Tuesday 4 December, this House unanimously agreed a business of the House motion, which sets the rules and timetable governing the meaningful vote debate. The Prime Minister has today unilaterally announced that she will, in her words:
“defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time”.
Neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the House have today confirmed the date for the conclusion of the debate or the votes. That shows a complete disregard for Parliament and for the rights of the House, as well as for the 164 hon. Members who have already spoken in the debate, and I think almost the same number of hon. Members—perhaps more—planned to speak today and tomorrow. Once again, the decisions of Parliament are being ignored. It is clear, as the Prime Minister admitted in her statement, that she has decided to avoid a heavy defeat on her deal in the House of Commons tomorrow. Again, Parliament is being given no opportunity to express its view on her negotiation.
Mr Speaker, you earlier set out two options available to the Government to alter the business. The first “infinitely preferable” option is for a Minister to propose moving to the Adjournment so that the House has an opportunity to vote on this proposition. The second is that the Government Whip does not move the debate on the meaningful vote for today. It cannot be right that the Government can unilaterally alter arrangements once this House has agreed on a timetable without the House being given an opportunity to express its will. The public will look at the behaviour of the Government and how they treat their democratically elected representatives and despair—the Government are denying the vote because they are going to lose.
Our constitution works on the basis that the Government control the business of the House of Commons because they have a majority in this House. However, the Government appear to be avoiding a vote on a change to the business because they fear they do not command a majority. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether the debate will be resumed and completed this side of Christmas? Does she think it is reasonable to wait until Thursday before confirming the business for the final sitting week before Christmas? Can she also confirm that the House will rise for the Christmas recess on Thursday 20 December and return on Monday 7 January—2019? [Laughter.] Can she confirm that Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate and inform the Government’s negotiating strategy with the EU? Can she confirm that they will not bring forward the implementation Bill next week before Parliament has made a decision on a section 13 approval motion? Most importantly, can the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will treat Parliament with respect, honour the terms of the original business of the House motion as agreed, and therefore seek to move a motion for the adjournment after the statements today, so that this House, not the Prime Minister, agrees whether to defer the meaningful vote?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. She asks about the business on Tuesday 11 December. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Ivory Bill will be followed by a general debate on fuel poverty.
The hon. Lady asks about the business of the House motion. What I can say is that, in strict procedural terms, our intention this evening after the ministerial statements is to defer the debate until “tomorrow”. Members will be aware that this is a very common procedure. The Government often name “tomorrow” as the next date in deferring an order of the day—for example, we do this at the end of a Second Reading debate. It is then for the Government to decide when to bring that order back for debate. That is in line with the normal convention that the Government decide on the order of business.
The hon. Lady asks whether the House will still rise for Christmas on 20 December and return on 7 January. What I can say to her is that the House has agreed—that that recess is accepted. It is therefore a matter for the House. So the House will rise for Christmas as planned. She asks whether—[Interruption.] She asks whether there will be time for debate—[Interruption.] I can say to the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, would you like to call for order?
I cannot actually hear what the Leader of the House is saying. If she wants to repeat the last sentence, because it was not remotely audible to me—I am not suggesting that is her fault, but it simply was not heard. It is important that what is said in this Chamber is heard, so perhaps she would care to return to the Dispatch Box and repeat what it is she was saying.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Obviously, I will be dependent on you to keep order in the Chamber so that I can be heard—
Order. I have no difficulty whatsoever doing that, and I will continue to do that. What I am asking the Leader of the House to do is to furnish the House with the information that was requested. I am inordinately grateful to her.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady asked whether the House will rise for the Christmas recess as planned. What I said is that the House has already decided that it will rise for the Christmas recess on 20 December and return on 7 January.
The hon. Lady asks about time to debate Brexit. I can absolutely assure her, as she will know, that the Government have a very good record in making sure that the House has plenty of time to debate Brexit—[Interruption.] During the passage of the European (Withdrawal) Act 2018, both Houses played an essential role in scrutinising and improving the legislation, with 37 days of debate spanning 11 months, and with over 1,400 amendments debated and almost 280 hours given for time to debate. We have ensured that there are regular debates in Government time, including the two-day debate on European affairs in March and the debate on legislating for the withdrawal agreement in September, so I can assure all hon. and right hon. Members that the Government will make sure that there is plenty of time for further debates on Brexit, including on the meaningful vote—[Hon. Members: “When?] What I can say to the House is that the Government are under a statutory obligation under section 13(1)(b) of the EU withdrawal Act to have the withdrawal agreement approved by a motion in this House. In such circumstances, the business of the House motion agreed on 4 December will need to be updated through a further business motion.
How firm should any plans we might make for the first week in January be?
As I just said to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the House has already decided that it will return on 7 January next year.
I thank the Leader of the House for this hastily arranged and paltry business statement. It is absolutely no wonder whatsoever that this statement was given to shrieks of laughter from Members on these Benches. This is the ultimate humiliation for the Leader of the House and for this Prime Minister. How they can look this House in the eye and try to suggest and pretend that this is business as usual is quite extraordinary. Our constituents are watching this farce with bewilderment and bemusement, with no idea how this country is being run, and the Leader of the House comes up with no way forward for all of this.
This is the most extraordinary moment in our political life—a moment when people will ask, “Where were you on Brexit crisis day?” We have now reached the single biggest political crisis since Suez, with the biggest capitulation since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. I asked the Leader of the House last week if this vote would go ahead, regardless of what emerged or how much they feared defeat. She said that it most definitely would. Even one hour before this huge U-turn, the Government were still briefing that there would be a vote. Now, of course, there is no vote and there might not be one until 21 January—a monumental act of political cowardice.
What we want to hear from the Leader of the House tonight is that this House, and this House alone, will determine whether we have the vote tomorrow. It must be No. 1 of what the Speaker set out on how we address this. There must be a Minister coming to that Dispatch Box and asking for this motion to be adjourned. We cannot have it any other way. It is up to this House to decide whether the vote should go ahead or not. So far, 167 Members have spoken and half as many again were due to speak tonight or tomorrow. This is a huge disrespect to all honourable colleagues in this place.
The one other thing that we need to see on a business motion is an opportunity to test the confidence of the House in this Government. There must now be a motion put forward after all that we have had—after this humiliating climbdown and after things being withdrawn that we should be voting on. That is what this country now expects us to do—have a vote of confidence in this Government, which almost certainly will and should be defeated.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that somehow this is a lack of respect. I think that what this demonstrates is that the Prime Minister has very carefully listened to the many hundreds of colleagues who have already expressed their grave concerns—myself included —on the issues around the backstop. The Prime Minister has taken those views on board, and she has ensured that she will now go away and seek further reassurances from the European Union before coming back to this place, so that she can seek an agreement that this House can accept. I believe that that shows absolute respect for this Parliament.
When we come to resume this debate, whenever that will be, will it be a continuation of the debate over the last three days, or will it be a new debate?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we will require the business of the House motion that was agreed on 4 December to be updated through a further business motion. In terms of precisely how that will take place, that is something on which I will be keen to hear from all hon. and right hon. Members, and it will, of course, be discussed through the usual channels.
This Government are once again showing complete contempt for this sovereign Parliament. Why will she not put the shabby idea of taking this vote away from us—this sovereign Parliament—to a vote in this House, rather than doing it unilaterally? This can only end very badly for the Government if they continue to ignore the will of this House.
The right hon. Gentleman makes it clear that he wishes to undermine the will of the people of this country—[Interruption.] What the Government are making clear is that we are determined to bring a withdrawal agreement to this House that the House can support in the national interest and abiding by the will expressed by the people in the referendum.
What the Government have done today is shameful. It is a complete abuse of this House. Having been found in contempt recently for the first time in living memory, they have now gone for a “buy one, get one free.” The whole House wanted to debate this. We wanted to vote on it. The people expected us to vote on it, and the Government have gone and run away and hidden in the toilets. People watching this on television will be confused and bemused, and very, very angry at the way their own Parliament has let them down. The Government Front Benchers should literally be ashamed of themselves.
I simply do not agree with my right hon. Friend’s assessment. What the Government are seeking to do is to go back to the European Union to get further reassurances, so that this House can support a deal that is in the national interest. As the Prime Minister said in her almost three-hour statement just now, she recognises that the House—many hon. and right hon. Members—have grave concerns about the backstop arrangements, and she is determined to see that resolved and to come back to this place as soon as possible to resume the debate and have that vote.
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Lady and I am sure that she is feeling very uneasy about what she is doing today. Given that Parliament has already decided that the Government were in contempt, can she now bring back the legal advice for the rest of the withdrawal agreement—not just the backstop—which was what Parliament asked for?
The advice published was the final advice the Attorney General gave to the Cabinet on 14 November. That was the legal advice that fulfilled the terms of the Humble Address. On the hon. Lady’s point about the Government not abiding by procedures, I have to say that the Government are absolutely abiding by procedures. As hon. Members will know, we always at the end of a Second Reading debate name “tomorrow”, which in parliamentary terminology means “not now”. It is either now or another time, for which the terminology is “tomorrow”. That is normal House procedure, and there is nothing unusual about it.
The Prime Minister says she did not want to go back to square one, but that is precisely what she has done in attempting to terminate this debate. Like many other Members, I represented my community last week, and my constituents will be shocked to see that this debate has now been curtailed. Will the business motion the Leader of the House plans to introduce respect the amendment passed by the House to last week’s business motion, and does she agree that it should be incorporated into that business motion when the Government are finally ready to introduce it?
As I have already said, the Government are under a statutory obligation, under section 13(1)(B) of the EU withdrawal Act, to have the withdrawal agreement approved by a motion in this House. In these circumstances, the business of the House motion agreed on 4 December would need to be updated through a further business motion. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady would allow, I will answer the question. The Government have never disputed the fact that any motion to approve the deal is amendable. That has not changed.
Following on from the question from the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), can the Leader of the House be clear? The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) proposed an amendment, which was passed by this House, that meant that the motion under the withdrawal Act would be amendable. When they bring back the business motion, whenever that is, will the Government ensure that the amendment is incorporated into that business motion so that it is amendable by the House?
As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the Government have never disputed the fact that any motion to approve the deal is amendable. That has not changed. That means that, when the vote comes back to the House, the business of the House motion agreed on 4 December would need to be updated through a further business motion, and that in itself would be amendable.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will happily take the point of order afterwards.
It is on this very issue.
I still think it preferable to take it at the end of the statement. I will be happy to take it then, if it is of procedural relevance, which I am sure it is.
Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the resolution of the House passed on 4 December relating to the Attorney General’s advice will apply to any further arrangements that may be offered to the House as a result of any further negotiations over the next week or so? If it is not the same withdrawal agreement, there must be a question about whether that motion stands, because it relates to something that happened beforehand and not to anything that might emerge afterwards.
My hon. Friend will recall that the Attorney General answered significant questions and wrote a large document setting out the whole legal position on the withdrawal agreement. Should there be significant changes, I think that the Attorney General would certainly set out the legal position on those changes but, in direct response to my hon. Friend, he will appreciate that the terms of the Humble Address he refers to were met with the production of the Attorney General’s advice.
The Leader of the House was extremely coy in her answers to the questions from the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) about whether the amendment to the motion that we were discussing—before the Government decided to pull it today—which was passed ahead of the debate and which replaced the neutral and unamendable motion that the Government were planning to put to this House, would be replaced with one that was amendable. She has been asked twice now, and she has been very coy and not forthcoming in her responses. Will she now confirm—and not just read out the phrase she has read out twice already—that when we resume this debate, the Government’s motion will not be neutral and will be amendable, and that the Government will accept the spirit of the vote we had before we began the debate?
I repeat to the hon. Lady that any business of the House motion brought forward will be amendable.
Order. I should say—and I am trying to help the House, but what others seek to do is a matter for them—that, so far as I am concerned, it is very clear that the amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was agreed to by the House and that that amendment stands unless it is specifically repealed by a subsequent decision of the House. Unless I am mistaken—colleagues will correct me if I am wrong—that was the assurance that Members were seeking. I say on advice—and I do say so on advice —that it is a very straightforward point, the thrust of which I think I have pretty easily confirmed.
It is a shame we did not conclude much earlier that the vote was not going to be passed, because we would not have had to go two thirds of the way through the debate. It cannot be right that we do not have a further five days when it is brought back. Everybody puts in to speak in a debate at the time, and, in theory, if we only tag on another couple of days, some colleagues will get to speak twice and some will not get to speak at all. Several hundred people have already spoken and several hundred more wish to speak. It cannot be right for the debate to be limited to two days—potentially—because it will mean that some colleagues will never have a bite at that cherry, whatever side of the House they are on.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her points. I can absolutely assure her that I am committed to representing the views of Parliament to the Government, and I will listen very carefully to the needs of hon. Members across the House. The exact arrangements going forward will be subject to the provisions of a business of the House motion that the House itself will have to agree.
Businesses and business organisations are hugely concerned about a Tory Immigration Bill that will not allow them to attract new skilled migrants to fill jobs here. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Immigration White Paper and Bill will come forward?
I certainly share the hon. Lady’s desire to see that Bill as soon as possible, and I can confirm that we expect to publish the White Paper before the end of the year. It is vital that we have an immigration system going forward that is fair to businesses that need to attract employees from overseas, but also fair to those people in the UK who voted for the UK Parliament to be able to control our borders.
Order. May I gently say, and with good humour, to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and to the House that this is a relatively narrow business statement from the Leader of the House, and that the questioning on it should be similarly narrow or focused—focused, that is to say, on the business of the House for this week and changes thereto? It should not be an occasion for general inquiries about future business at some unspecified point in time. The Leader of the House signalled that there will be that regular business statement on Thursdays. I appeal to colleagues now to focus their inquiries on the more specific and narrow subject matter.
The items just put on the agenda—on addressing fuel poverty, reducing youth violence, the workings of the courts and helping endangered species—are all very important issues to our constituents, so can the Leader of the House confirm—[Interruption.]
Order. As usual, everyone will have a chance to put a question. The hon. Lady is now putting her question, which she is entitled to do, and she must be heard with courtesy.
I do not laugh about issues such as the need to address youth violence. Can the Leader of the House confirm categorically that the House will have time to debate and to have the meaningful vote?
My hon. Friend is exactly right: important issues will be debated during the rest of the week, and I know that Members care a great deal about them. I can absolutely confirm that, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, the Government have a statutory obligation to ensure that the withdrawal agreement is approved by a motion in the House. Without such approval, the Government would be legally unable to ratify the agreement.
I find today’s events wholly unsatisfactory. I refer not only to the rescheduling of today’s and tomorrow’s debates, but to the suggestion that I should set some store by the aspiration of receiving a meaningless assurance, which I do not. As one who was due to speak in today’s debate and to represent the wishes of those who support my view and those who do not, may I ask what efforts will be made to ensure that those of us who have not contributed thus far will have the opportunity to do so, and to honour our constituents’ views, wishes and aspirations as well as those of the House?
I completely understand and appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s decision to represent his constituents’ views, whatever they may be, and I applaud that. I am listening carefully, and when it does come to resuming the debate, all efforts will be made to ensure that enough time is provided for all Members who have not yet spoken to be able to do so.
Some 62% of my constituents voted to leave the EU, and I am sure that they meant us to leave with a good deal and not just any deal. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the steps that the Government have taken today will ensure that they get what they voted for?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It was vital for the Government to listen carefully to the grave concerns that were expressed about the backstop. The Prime Minister has spent the best part of three hours assuring the House that she intends to go and seek reassurance about those important points, so that the House will then be able to support the deal which, in the Government’s opinion, will be in the best interests of the whole United Kingdom.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister said that she had been heavily influenced by speeches that had been made in the debate. The difficulty is that there are many more Members who wish to speak and whose voices have not yet been heard. Does the Leader of the House not accept that that is very discourteous to those Members, and does she not accept that the habit of contempt seems to be becoming hardwired in the Government?
This is the opposite of contempt. This is a Prime Minister who is listening. Since the House returned from recess in October, she has spent more than 20 hours at the Dispatch Box, which is more than equivalent to a 30-minute session of Prime Minister’s Question Time on every day that the House has sat since then. She has listened carefully to concerns, and Members should appreciate the fact that she will now seek to address those concerns before returning to the House for that meaningful vote.
In these extraordinary times, is it not obvious that it is in the national interest for the Prime Minister to spend a few extra days getting a deal that is in the national interest?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital for us to take into account the concerns that have been raised in the House. An enormous decision is before us, and we must address all those concerns and come back to the House when we have something that we feel Members in all parts of the House will be able to support.
This is a farce. Along with other members of the Treasury Committee, I have spent days toiling to produce a report for the biggest vote for a generation, only for it to be pulled at the last minute in favour of Lords amendments to the Ivory Bill. However, this is also a farce that has real costs. Sterling is tumbling, and we face a crisis. I must say to the Leader of the House: bring forward the vote. It has to happen.
I assure the hon. Lady that it will happen.
I cannot be the only Member who has turned down a number of requests to attend pre-Christmas constituency events this week. People understood that I had to be here because of the business, but now they understand that none of us needed to be here today.
Not for the first time, for purely party political advantage, the Government have played fast and loose with parliamentary business by making last-minute changes. All that comes at a cost—the significant cost of unnecessary travel and accommodation booked by Members who would not have made those bookings had the Government come clean about their plans last week. Given that this week’s business has inexplicably and unexpectedly become much lighter, will the Leader of the House find time for a short debate on how much of that additional cost should fall on the taxpayer and how much should be refunded by the Conservative and Unionist party?
These are sitting days, and the hon. Gentleman’s duty, like that of all Members, is to be in the Chamber. If he chooses not to be here, that is a matter for him, but these are sitting days, and important business of the House will be dealt with tomorrow. We will consider the amendments to the Ivory Bill, and there will then be a very important debate on fuel poverty.
Perhaps the Leader of the House would consider changing the name of her party to the “Conservative and Contemptuous party”, given the way in which it has treated this sovereign Parliament over the past few days. I was due to speak today, not so that Parliament could hear my voice but so that it could hear the voices of my constituents, many thousands of whom have emailed me over the past few days asking me to speak and to make their voices heard. Will the Leader of the House come to the Dispatch Box and offer them an apology?
We will ensure that there is time for all Members to express their views. [Hon. Members: “When?”] It is absolutely vital for the Prime Minister to be given a little time to go back and look again at the backstop issues, so that all Members will be able to support this deal.
May I channel what was said by the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) about a matter of huge parliamentary and procedural significance, and ask “Is this it?”
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have decided that the Prime Minister should seek to address the concerns raised by Members further before coming back to the House with a meaningful vote, so that we can also address those concerns. I believe that that shows complete respect for this place.
A few moments ago, the Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister had spent three hours reassuring us that she would seek some reassurances. Does the Leader of the House understand that when a motion is brought back for us to vote on the withdrawal agreement, the only thing that will make a difference is for changes to be made to the text of the agreement? Does she understand that?
Let me first point out to my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister was here answering questions on all aspects of the withdrawal agreement. She was not here simply to reassure people; she was listening to all Members. In answer to the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, let me say that I think the Prime Minister fully understands that there are serious questions about the backstop, and a desire on the part of Members to see changes in the legal text.
It is sad, really: we often boast about our historical freedoms and liberties and we often preach to other countries about how to run parliamentary democracy, but, to be honest, this is a prime example of how not to do it. I would have had respect for the Leader of the House and the Government if they had come forward with a motion saying, “All right, we’ll put it to the House that we are not going to put it to the House,” but they are instead relying on a shabby little trick, where a Government Whip will just shout “Tomorrow,” which in this Parliament does not mean tomorrow: it means mañana; it means never. It is a shabby little trick, and is not the ultimate irony that the Government are preventing the people from having a vote on it and preventing the Commons from having a vote on it, but the House of Lords is going to vote on it tonight? What is good enough for earls and barons is good enough for us.
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a bit of parliamentary pantomime. He knows full well that the Government often name tomorrow as the next date for deferring an Order of the Day. So after a First Reading, when naming a date for the Second Reading debate if it is not “Now” then it is “Tomorrow,” and then the Government decide. There is nothing unusual about that at all.
The Leader of the House knows that:
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
Will it also be:
“To the last syllable of recorded time”?
As I have said to a number of hon. Members, we will bring the meaningful vote back to this House. There will be a further business motion that will be amendable, as soon as the Prime Minister has been able to seek the reassurances that will enable this House to support a motion that will be in the national interest. That is in the best interests of the whole United Kingdom, and it is vital that we get it right.
My constituents sent me here this week to vote against this deal. I spent the weekend trying to explain to people the processes of this House, the process that would happen and what might occur afterwards; what am I to tell them now?
That the Prime Minister is seeking the reassurances that will enable the House to support a deal that works for the whole United Kingdom.
The Leader of the House has announced that we will be debating the Ivory Bill. Is not the reality that the big elephant in the room is the statement this afternoon by the European Union Council President Donald Tusk that the EU is not prepared to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement at all? So is not that the reality, and does it not show that this whole proceeding is a total farce?
In congratulating the hon. Gentleman on a proper piece of parliamentary pantomime, I say that the basis of his argument is flawed. He will appreciate that this is a negotiation. The UK has a strong hand; it is vital that the EU understands that the UK needs reassurances about the backstop.
First, I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us if an abandoned debate is like an abandoned football match, whereby people’s names are expunged from the records. Secondly, who is going to take responsibility for this farce first—the Prime Minister or the right hon. Lady as Leader of the House—and who is going to walk first?
As I have said to many hon. Members, the purpose of changing the date of the vote is to enable the Prime Minister to address the very real concerns expressed by many Members.
I was hoping to speak on the withdrawal agreement on behalf of my constituents this evening, and I will now be denied that chance. Can the Leader of the House tell me if it is now Government policy to reopen negotiations on that withdrawal agreement and change its text, something many Ministers have said in recent weeks was not possible?
The Prime Minister intends to seek to address the concerns expressed about the backstop and our inability to unilaterally get out of it. That is what she is seeking to address, and she will absolutely do her best in the national interest.
In the previous statement, the Prime Minister’s only argument against the people’s vote was that it will make people lose faith in democracy. What on earth must the British public be thinking about our democracy on the day the Prime Minister runs away from losing a vote when she has had Ministers out defending her deal for days and days and hundreds of MPs are unable to speak to represent their constituents? Who is making a mockery of our democracy now?
The hon. Lady has it exactly the wrong way around: the Prime Minister is listening to this House and is acting on what she is hearing from this House. It is an entirely different matter from a second referendum that simply tells all those 17.4 million people that they got it wrong.
Can we just put paid to the nonsense that the reason why we are in this mess is that we have a listening Prime Minister? The Prime Minister has come to the House today and made out that she wants to go back to the negotiations because the speeches on the first few days have been the biggest surprise to her since the Immaculate Conception. This is absolute nonsense. If she had listened from the outset, she would have realised that the Chequers agreement did not command a majority of this House. Why are the Government determined to repeat the same mistake by rushing back to the negotiating table not to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, but just to try and get a few paper-based compromises? Why can we not have a substantial debate in this House this week about what our negotiating objectives should be, so that we have the support of the whole House before the negotiations, rather than the Government losing to the House after the negotiations?
First, I think the hon. Gentleman could at least appreciate the number of hours the Prime Minister has spent in this place listening and the fact that it is precisely because she has been listening to this House that she is going back to the EU to seek to address the concerns raised by this House. Hon. Members should appreciate that fact.
Tomorrow will be 108 days until the date of Brexit. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House intend to put this off for perhaps another month, that will mean we are down to 77 days. What then? Will the Prime Minister simply pick up the goalposts, run down the football pitch and position them then where she thinks the ball might land, and if it does not, pick them up again and run a bit further for another 31 days? How long will this farce continue, because frankly I can hear the sound of belief being beggared in Bristol West from here?
The Prime Minister will return to this House to resume the debate to pass a meaningful vote once she has sought those reassurances.
It is the role of the Leader of the House to present the Government’s case to this Chamber, but it is also the role of the Leader of the House to reflect what this Chamber says and does. Will the right hon. Lady now go back to the next Cabinet and really reflect on the anger being felt across this whole House and give us a meaningful vote?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I take my role of reflecting Parliament’s views in the Government very seriously, as much as I do my role of reflecting Government’s views in Parliament, so, yes, I most certainly will take that very seriously. But on the question of the vote, I think equally that all hon. Members must appreciate that it was clear that the will of the House was that further work should be done to ensure the UK could not be held in a backstop against its will, and therefore the Prime Minister is seeking to address that before we come back to this place to resume the vote.
Is the Leader of the House not a little ashamed to be here today, running away from the Government’s own major policy? It is a Government who are showing complete contempt for this House—for all views in this House. There are many Members who do not agree with me on Brexit, but they are going to be stifled as well by not being able to speak and not being able to vote on this, and we are not able to represent our constituents properly. Let us be clear about what is really going on here: the Prime Minister is playing for time—a few more days into next week—to go away and get some sort of exchange of letters. She cannot renegotiate the withdrawal agreement; Donald Tusk has made that very clear—it is a legally binding document. So why do the Government not just accept the reality, put this question before this House, and if this House does not agree, put the question back to the people?
First, the hon. Gentleman is obviously quite wrong. I am not running scared; I am actually here at the Dispatch Box. On his point about what the Prime Minister is seeking to do, he will appreciate that for the Government to ratify the withdrawal agreement, the meaningful vote must be passed in this House. The Prime Minister is seeking the means by which to ensure that she can win the vote in this House.
It cannot have come as a surprise to the Prime Minister that so many people spoke against her deal. It has been clear for months, if not a whole year, that that was going to happen. As one of the 164 people who have spoken in this debate—indeed, I sat here for eight hours and was called to speak at 25 to 1 in the morning—I should like to know whether we are talking about a continuation of the debate, or whether the speeches of the 164 will fall? Will we need to apply to speak again to count as having spoken on the meaningful vote?
The hon. Lady will appreciate that there are discussions through the usual channels about exactly what the business motion of the House will look like. The question of calling speakers is a matter for the Chair.
The Prime Minister has told us repeatedly today that there is no new deal and that the text of the deal will not be changed. Donald Tusk has confirmed that, so the deal will not change. She is preventing Members from speaking in a debate on the deal. What is the purpose of deferring the vote on the deal when the deal will not be changed?
The Prime Minister has been clear that the vote will take place when she believes she has the legal assurances that Parliament needs that the backstop will not be permanent.
I was also one of the people who was going to speak in the debate today, to reflect the wishes and views of my constituents, so I am extremely disappointed that the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister have decided to pull the rest of the debate and to cancel the vote tomorrow. The Leader of the House also appears to be ensuring that this is done in such a way that the House will be unable to vote on whether or not this should happen, despite the fact that Mr Speaker said earlier that it would be infinitely preferable to allow the House to make its views known in a vote. It seems to me that the Leader of the House and this Government are increasingly trying to avoid votes in this House. Does the right hon. Lady not realise that that is untenable, that it will not stand and that the House will assert its rights over this appalling Government?
The hon. Lady will be aware that scheduling business is a matter for the Government and that the proposal for the rescheduling of the meaningful vote is therefore, under normal procedures, a matter for the Government. That is what we intend to fulfil.
The Government have already been found in contempt of this House, and now they wish to be in contempt of the British people. I was due to speak later today, but I and my constituents will be denied that. When will the debate be rescheduled? Give us a date, or at least a timeframe; otherwise, based on past practice and without details, there is not much else that I can believe about the Leader of the House’s promises.
As I have said a number of times, we will resume the debate as soon as possible once the Prime Minister has sought the reassurances that the backstop will not be permanent, which the House has made it clear that it requires.
The Leader of the House’s job is not only to bring Government business to the House but to uphold the integrity of the institutions of the Government and of Parliament in the wider country. How is it going to look to my constituents, hundreds of whom have written to me in the past few days in anticipation of the debate and the meaningful vote, when they see this spectacle of gerrymandering and this tawdry, arcane manipulation of parliamentary rules to suit a Prime Minister who is failing and dead on her feet? Can the Leader of the House actually stand here with any degree of integrity and uphold that situation?
There is really nothing unusual in using the deferral of a vote to tomorrow. It is used every time we have a First Reading when scheduling a Second Reading.
It is unacceptable for the Government to change business of this magnitude with so little notice. It is equally unacceptable that we still have no date for a meaningful vote, so will the Leader of the House commit to come to the House on Thursday with a date for this vote?
As I have said to a number of hon. Members, the Prime Minister is determined to address the expressed concerns of many Members of this House, and once she has been able to do so, she will return to the House. That will be as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister wanted to take us out of the European Union without a meaningful vote in this House. The Leader of the House has talked on several occasions about resuming the debate. Will the 164 Members, of whom I am one, get the opportunity to make another contribution to a new debate, or will we be resuming the old debate?
The hon. Gentleman is asking about who will be called to speak, and I can tell him that that is a matter for Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House is making a mockery of the procedures of the House of Commons. This is not the same as a First Reading and a Second Reading. The difference here is that a motion of the House is already in existence for the debate to take place today and tomorrow, yet she is going to ask her Whips to perpetrate the fiction of saying that the debate will continue tomorrow when she has already announced that we are going to debate the Ivory Bill, because she is afraid that if she put the question to a vote of the House, she would lose. She knows that she would lose, so why will she not just be honest with the House and admit that?
I have been absolutely clear with the House that the Prime Minister has listened to the views of the House as expressed in recent weeks and that she is determined to address the concerns that have been raised. The House needs to be presented with a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration that Members across the House can support. The Prime Minister made it quite clear that she did not feel confident that Members would be able to support it and that it would therefore not be in the national interest to go ahead with it until she had managed to address those very real concerns.
Does the Leader of the House not realise the level of fury that exists in Parliament about the way in which she has changed the business? Does she also not realise that, as Leader of the House—one of the great offices of state—she is supposed to speak for Parliament? She is supposed to be the voice of Parliament to the Cabinet, not the voice of the Cabinet to Parliament. Will people outside not look at her statement with incredulity? A vote that every person in this country was expecting tomorrow is to be denied, and the people of this country will feel disfranchised and feel that the Leader of the House speaks for the Government and not for Parliament.
I take my duties as Leader of the House extremely seriously. They are to be Parliament’s spokesman in the Government as much as to be the Government’s spokesman in Parliament. I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman of that. I am listening very carefully, but it is nevertheless in the national interest that we go away and seek further reassurances before coming back to the House for the meaningful vote.
I wish the Leader of the House would stop talking about the national interest when what she is actually talking about is the Conservative party’s interests. This House passed a business motion with specific dates and times for the debate to take place. Of course the Government can choose when to schedule business, but we have agreed a business motion proposing a debate and a vote at a certain time, and I fail to understand how she can stand there today and say that it will be acceptable later on for one of the Whips to shout “Tomorrow” for the continuation of the debate, when we are in fact going to be debating the Ivory Bill tomorrow and not the motion that we in this House all agreed we wanted to debate.
I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns, and I can assure her that the Government will return with the meaningful vote once the Prime Minister has addressed the concerns expressed by hon. Members right across the House. It is simply not right to say the Government are looking at Conservative party interests. The Government are looking at delivering on the will of the people expressed in the referendum in 2016, where a significant number of people voted to leave the European Union. That is the absolutely essential task of this Government in bringing back this meaningful vote.
It cannot be comfortable for the Leader of the House to come here to front up this sorry act of political cowardice. Has she heard today the voices of the majority of hon. and right hon. Members in this House, who see it as a further contempt of this place?
I always listen very carefully in this place, and I will continue to do so. I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think it is essential that we bring back a withdrawal agreement that Members can support.
The Government have, in the middle of the debate, pulled the most important business this House has debated for a very long time. That is extraordinary. More extraordinary is the fact that the Leader of the House has given no indication about when the debate will be resumed. “As soon as possible” is not good enough when the futures of millions of people in this country, particularly EU nationals, depend on it. If she will not give us a day or a week, will she give us a month when the debate will take place?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Government are under a statutory obligation to have the deal approved via a motion in this House. Without such approval, the Government would legally be unable to ratify the withdrawal agreement. In order to bring forward the legislation that would enable us to enter into that withdrawal agreement, we will need to make that as soon as possible, so he can rest assured that that will be the case.
I do not wish to be disrespectful, but the Leader of the House sounds more like somebody who is telephoning to postpone a dental appointment than somebody who is changing our schedule. That is incredibly serious. Also incredibly serious is the fact that the theme for today’s debate, which will now not happen, was the Union. Many people across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, with very different views, have really important perspectives on that. Can she assure us that that matter will be discussed again, and when will that happen?
I can assure the hon. Lady that that matter will be discussed again as soon as possible.
The Leader of the House has been reminded several times that her role is to represent Parliament at the Cabinet, and not the other way around. I politely say to her that this was not about amending anything; it was about this House wanting to vote down the deal tomorrow. She previously confirmed that the Government would follow the recommendations in the report by the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member. Whenever this farce comes back, can she confirm that there will be five days of continuous debate, as has been set out? That is the only thing that the House will accept.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that my job is indeed to represent Parliament in Government, but it is also to represent Government in Parliament. It is in the interests of this House that we get a deal that all hon. and right hon. Members can support. Regarding the exact arrangements, there will be a business of the House motion, which the House itself will have to agree.
Whether our constituents voted to leave or to remain, they want to hear this debate, and they demand and expect decisiveness from this place. I therefore ask the Leader of the House to ensure that we are given at least five minutes each in the future debate, in view of its importance to the country’s future. Will she also confirm whether the debate and vote will be before or after the publication of the new year honours list?
The debate will come back to this House once the Prime Minister has been able to reassure hon. and right hon. Members who have concerns about the backstop arrangements. That will be as soon as possible.
Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), last Tuesday the Prime Minister brought to the House a business of the House motion for this debate that included the words “Tuesday 11 December”. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government introduced that motion, which she and the Prime Minister voted for, but the debate today and tomorrow will be cancelled?
The Prime Minister has explained clearly that she has listened to the House over the last three days of debate and concluded that she needs to do more to reassure Members prior to having a final meaningful vote. A business of the House motion will be needed to amend the prior business of the House motion so that we can have a meaningful vote after she has sought those reassurances.
The Leader of the House is becoming a bit of a serial offender when it comes to moving business around. Three weeks ago, she delayed the Offensive Weapons Bill on two occasions because Conservative Members would not support it. Today, using a shabby device, she will curtail business that was down for today, when people—including me—who promised their constituents that they would speak on the matter have not had the chance to do so. Will she make me just one promise? When she stands at the Dispatch Box, will she keep to her word?
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I always keep to my word. The issue with the Offensive Weapons Bill was that some significant statements were made on that day, meaning that there would not have been adequate time to discuss the various important sets of amendments that were subject to particular knives. That is why that business was pulled. The current business is being changed so that the Prime Minister can seek the assurances that many right hon. and hon. Members would like her to seek.
I call Carol Monaghan.
Good choice, Mr Speaker. I was due to speak tonight to represent the views of my constituents, and I am extremely frustrated that I will not be given that opportunity. I am also suspicious about the timing of the return of the debate. Can the Leader of the House assure us that it will not return to the House in the week beginning 24 December?
I can give the hon. Lady that assurance.
As they say in Glasgow, the game’s a bogey. When the Government are scared of their own shadow, they do not deserve to be in office. Given that a confidence vote is surely inevitable in the not-too-distant future, can the Leader of the House confirm that there is no parliamentary instrument or trickery that she can deploy on behalf of the Government to prevent that from taking place when it is called?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government are taking action to address the expressed concerns of hon. and right hon. Members. With regard to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the Government have the confidence of the House. If the Opposition wish to dispute that, it is for them to test it via a motion under the terms of the Act.