On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just before Christmas I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking if she would be respectful of the mandate in the Scottish Parliament for a second independence referendum by agreeing to a section 30 order. The response came about a month later, and I have to say that it was not respectful of UK member Parliaments at all—in contrast, of course, to the European Union. Indeed, the response was not from the Prime Minister, but from the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is an example of the Government arbitrarily changing the rules—something they complained about last week. Should the Prime Minister herself not be responding to these things or, in an innovation, has she passed to the Secretary of State for Scotland the power to grant a section 30 order for a second independence referendum?
I thank the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. However, what I have to say to the hon. Gentleman might disappoint him. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly at liberty to put his inquiry to the Government Department of his choice, and indeed the most senior Minister of all, but it is the entitlement, constitutionally and procedurally, of the Government to decide by what route a reply is provided. Although there is some consternation etched upon the contours of the hon. Gentleman’s face that he got a reply from the source he did not want and not the source he did want, I am afraid that he will have to live with that and bear it with such stoicism and fortitude as he can muster.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday you said you would adhere to the advice of the late Lord Whitelaw and cross bridges only when we come to them. I think we would all agree with you on that, but in the interests of knowing what bridges might be crossed, you were asked yesterday to confirm that only a Minister of the Crown could move a motion to extend article 50, and I wonder if you have any update on what you described at the time as being a holding response.
No, I do not, for the simple reason that although I am extremely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has been willing to learn from me and, more particularly, from Lord Whitelaw, that point has not been reached. I appreciate the assiduity of the hon. Gentleman and his nimbleness in being ready to spring to his feet to raise a matter of immediate concern and preoccupation to him, but that crucial point at which some ruling might be required, though of great interest to him, has not yet arrived. So there we are. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman chunters cheekily from a sedentary position, “When might it be?” The hon. Gentleman has to learn the art of patience. If he is patient and deploys Zen, he will find that it is ultimately to everybody’s advantage.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You said yesterday that you were very “happy to reflect”. Can you give the House a sense of when you might have had the chance to reflect, and reassure me that it will be before such a motion is proposed?
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that at the point I am ready to say something on important matters of procedure that require a statement, I hope she will trust that, on the strength of nine and a half years in the Chair, I do know when that point is. Much as I appreciate the diligence and commitment in the Chamber of the hon. Lady, and recognise that there is a desire on the part of many Members, often at short notice, and sometimes on a co-ordinated basis and sometimes not, to raise points of order with great enthusiasm, there is no need for it now. At the point at which a ruling is required, it will be proffered to the House by, if I may say so, an experienced Chair. I think it would be regarded as a courtesy by the House if we could proceed to the presentation of a Bill, for which the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) has been patiently waiting.
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Nick Boles, supported by Liz Kendall, Norman Lamb, Yvette Cooper, Nicky Morgan, Hilary Benn and Sir Oliver Letwin, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 314).