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Points of Order

Volume 651: debated on Monday 17 December 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have listened very carefully to all the answers that the Prime Minister gave during the lengthy exchange today. I have listened very carefully to what Members on all sides of the House have said and it is very clear that it is very bad—unacceptable—that we should wait almost a month before we have a meaningful vote on a crucial issue that faces this country. The Prime Minister obdurately refused to ensure that a vote took place on the date that she agreed. She refuses to allow a vote to take place this week, and I assume she now thinks that the vote will take place on 14 January—almost a month away. That is not acceptable in any way whatsoever.

As it is the only way I can think of to ensure that a vote takes place this week, I am about to table a motion which says the following: “That this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away on the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relationships between the UK and the European Union.” That motion will be tabled immediately, Mr Speaker. Thank you.

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said. It requires no response from me, but it is on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a couple of questions from my hon. Friends, the Prime Minister implied that Scottish National party MPs and the Scottish Government were aware at the time the Bill was brought that the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill was outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that the Prime Minister has inadvertently overlooked the fact that last week the UK Supreme Court passed judgment in the case that was referred to by the Attorney General and found in fact that the Bill was within the competence of the Scottish Parliament when passed—all save one clause, clause 17—and that it was only the subsequent enactment of the EU withdrawal Act that retrospectively took powers away from the Scottish Parliament, meaning that the Bill was no longer within its powers.

Tory Members of the Scottish Parliament have been peddling misinformation about the Supreme Court judgment and there have been a number of inaccurate media reports over the last few days. I am certain that the Prime Minister would not mean to perpetuate misunderstandings about a judgment of the UK Supreme Court, Mr Speaker, and I seek your guidance on how I can put the matter straight and on the record.

I think that the hon. and learned Lady has found her own salvation. She is aware of the device—one might almost go so far as to call it a ruse—of an attempted, but in practice bogus, point of order to put across a particular point that is dear to her head and her heart, and she has succeeded in that mission with admirable clarity and eloquence. The point is on the record. It will be read in the Official Report, and I have a sense that the hon. and learned Lady will seek to spread copies of the Official Report far and wide, in her own constituency and doubtless beyond.

As far as Ministers are concerned, including the Prime Minister, it is of course incumbent on any Minister who thinks that he or she may inadvertently have given incorrect information to the House to correct the record. Whether in this case it has been decided to do so is not a matter for me, but I hope that the hon. and learned Lady feels that she has achieved her objective this afternoon.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over the weekend, it became very clear that the Prime Minister has some strong views on certain subjects. One is her view on Tony Blair, which I know she shares with the Leader of the Opposition, and another is her view on the merits of a people’s vote, which she also shares with the Leader of the Opposition. But however intense the Prime Minister’s antipathy to a people’s vote may be, is it in order for her to leak chunks of her speech before coming to the House to make a statement, which contains the same chunks of her speech that were leaked to the press at 10.30 last night?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter. Certainly I agree, wholeheartedly and without equivocation, with the proposition that announcements of Government policy should be made in the House, and should not be preannounced to the media. That is not just a courtesy expected of the Government, but an important principle.

However, I think it only fair to add that the Government might, in this case, argue that the No. 10 press release to which the right hon. Gentleman referred contained no announcement of Government policy, but merely reiterated what the Prime Minister had told the House last week. I understand the sense of disquiet, even irritation, that the right hon. Gentleman feels, but I think that, in the name of even-handedness, it is reasonable for me to put that second point on the record to sit alongside, and to be judged against, the first.

I will come to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). I am saving him up. I do not want to squander the hon. Gentleman too early.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Given your record of being a champion of Back Benchers against those on both Front Benches, may I ask whether there is a way in which those of us who want to move to a vote on what options are open to the country if we do not support the Government motion—which has been delayed for a month—could have the opportunity to express our views to establish whether there is agreement in the House on one or more lines of attack before we rise for the Christmas recess?

I indicated last week that there were two means by which the vote could be deferred. I will not rehash all that for the right hon. Gentleman or others, but he will recall that I thought there was a preferable way to do it, and a much less preferable way to do it. The Government chose the course that they did, and, as things stand, that course appears to be set.

I also explained to the House, and with a view to people outside this House, that whatever the Chair might think about matters of procedure, the Chair must operate within the powers of the Chair; manifestly, the Chair cannot operate ultra vires. The clear evidence, and all the precedents support this, is that an Order of the Day in respect of a piece of Government business can be moved only by a representative of the Government—that is to say by a Minister or a Government Whip. So I was able to express disquiet on behalf of many Members across the House at the sudden deferral of the vote, but I was not in a position to bring about the continuation of the debate or the vote upon it.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what recourse he has, and if he has any recourse, and I say to him that it is always possible for Members to table motions in this House. I am not exhorting him to do so, nor am I discouraging him from doing so; the right hon. Gentleman is extremely experienced and knows that that option exists. He has a motion on the paper; he can seek to gather support for that motion, or if another motion that is judged to be pertinent to his objectives is tabled, he can seek to garner support for such an approach.

My role is to serve this House. I would be perfectly happy to chair debates over the Christmas period; I would be perfectly happy to come back on 2 January and sit in this Chair. Millions of people are going to be working on 2 January, and we could do that, but it is not for me to say when the House should sit, when it should debate and when it should vote. That has to be determined by others, but I am here to serve and if the House decided it wanted to proceed at a faster pace it would be my responsibility to be here, and I would gladly accept that responsibility.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it be in order if one or more of the Opposition parties gave their time early in the new year so we could reassemble and vote on the six or so options you might choose? Would that be in order even if the Government had not moved their own motion?

My sense is that for the date upon which the House sits to be changed would very likely require a conversation; I am speaking, I say to the right hon. Gentleman for the avoidance of doubt, off the top of my head, but that almost certainly would require a conversation and agreement between the usual channels. If there were such an agreement, nothing is impossible.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there is a supply of Opposition days, but the Government will normally give an indication of when there will be an Opposition day, and that is usually a matter of negotiation between the two sides; it is not something on which the Speaker can rule. But I do not say that what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting is impossible; what I am suggesting is that there seems to be some distance to travel between his aspiration and its realisation.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) about the Prime Minister’s response to my question in her statement, as the Prime Minister has inadvertently overlooked the facts of the matter in terms of the UK withdrawal from the EU Bill of the Scottish Parliament, when does convention in this House suggest that the Prime Minister be expected to correct the record as a courtesy to the House so as to be accurate, particularly given the office she holds in the United Kingdom?

If an error is judged to have been made, the correction should be made with dispatch. In other words, if a Member believes that he or she has erred, there should not be delay; the record should be corrected without delay.