I beg to move,
(1) At today’s sitting-
(a) the order of the House of 1 April (Business of the House) shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph (2)(a), there were inserted “and then to proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill”;
(b) any proceedings governed by that order as amended or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;
(c) immediately upon the conclusion of proceedings under the order of 1 April, the Speaker shall call a Member to move the motion that the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill be now read a second time;
(d) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);
(e) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.
(2) In respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(3) The provisions of this order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill.
Timetable for the Bill today
(4) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting today in accordance with this Order.
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 7.00 pm.
(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 10.00 pm.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put today
(5) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(6) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(7) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (4), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply–
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the Chair or Speaker for separate decision;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a designated Member;
(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (16) of this Order.
(8) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day
(9) If any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords on any future sitting day, the House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (10) have been concluded.
(10) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—
(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order), any Lords Amendments to the Bill or any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly;
(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private).
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to a conclusion as if:
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted –
“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.
(12) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of a Lords Message to a conclusion as if:
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) in paragraph (5), the words “subject to paragraphs (6) and (7)” were omitted.
(13) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.
(14) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies.
(15) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(16) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(17) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(18) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this order apply.
(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means –
(a) the Member in charge of the Bill; and
(b) any other Member backing the Bill and acting on behalf of that Member.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should begin by saying that it is the feeling of both the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and me that we should accept amendment (a), which provides for the possibility of indicative votes on Monday, should that be necessary in the light of discussions between those on the Front Benches between now and then, which I strongly welcome.
This House has debated a number of measures in the past few weeks about the Order Paper and Standing Orders, and who controls them. I am sure that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of whom have made learned and important speeches about the subject already, will wish to raise those issues again. Of course, I am happy to respond to any points made in the course of my remarks about that matter, but I do not intend to dwell on it all over again, because I have more or less said what I had to say about that subject. I just want to refer to the substance of the business of the House motion.
The first question that needs to be addressed is: why bother with this business of the House motion and, therefore, why bother at this point to consider the Bill that stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, of which I and others are backers, given that the Government have already said they are going to seek an extension, which, again, is an enormously welcome development? I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it is not that I have any doubt that the Government will now wish to seek an extension and avoid the cliff edge of a no-deal exit on 12 April, but rather that there is concern that there should be a transparent and orderly statutory process or framework within which the House has an opportunity to consider the length of the extension that is asked for and to provide the Prime Minister with backing for her request to the EU in an unequivocal and transparent way. That is the purpose of ensuring that we consider the Bill that follows this business of this House motion, and therefore the main purpose of the business of the House motion is simply to provide for the proceedings on that Bill.
The second question I wish to address is that of the speed with which we are considering the Bill. I would much prefer to have had considerably longer set out in the business of the House motion for consideration of the implications of the Bill, because, as right hon. and hon. Members will see when it is debated, although the Bill is short, it is nevertheless significant and there are significant details associated with it. It would have been nice to have a considerable time in which to debate and consider it over a number of days, as is normal. Unfortunately, there is no point in legislating if that which we are legislating about has occurred before the time when the legislation would be relevant.
I am listening very carefully. My right hon. Friend said that the emergency legislation process is necessary but, as the whole House knows, the reality is that the Prime Minister has already said that she is minded to seek an article 50 extension. I fail to see what the emergency he is claiming is, considering that his Bill is completely and utterly unnecessary.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remark that he was listening carefully to what I said. In the preceding section of what I was saying, I explained the reason for the Bill, which is to provide a transparent means of ensuring that the precise details of the extension that the Government seek are brought before the House. That would have been necessary anyway. My view is that it would be a good proceeding for our Parliament to have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the extension proposed by the Government. I am now explaining not why it is an emergency but why it is a quick process. The reason for it being a quick process is that, if we believe it to be a necessary one, it would obviously be redundant if done after the event to which it refers.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Prime Minister has already sought an article 50 extension. She came to this House to explain it and, to my mind, I cannot see how she has not been transparent already. What extra transparency does he think is necessary that she did not provide with the extension that she has already sought?
That is an instructive example. The last time around, when as my hon. Friend rightly says the Prime Minister sought an extension, in point of fact, she sought a double extension in a sense, because she then brought before the House a statutory instrument which, although not much considered, provided both for 12 April and a later date to be included in the adjusted domestic law, in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There was, however, no direct discussion in this House of the validity or otherwise of the period for which she sought the extension. I do not complain about that because, as things then stood and as they stand today before the passage of this business of the House motion and the Bill, if they do pass this House, the Prime Minister has an absolute right to seek those extensions—without consulting anyone, actually. There is absolutely no need for her to do so, because it is a prerogative power. She might feel it necessary to mention something to Her Majesty, but otherwise there is no reason for the Prime Minister to tell anyone.
The Bill will provide for a transparent process not for consultation but for approval by the House of the application that the Prime Minister makes to the EU. I believe, as do others who support the Bill, that that is appropriate. Of course, one can have an argument about that—my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) might well disagree—but that is the purpose of the Bill, so I do not think one can deny that, from my point of view or that of someone who shares it, the Bill is therefore necessary.
My right hon. Friend made an assertion just now about the law relating to the prerogative. He may recall the Gina Miller case and the great deal of powerful evidence to suggest that he is fundamentally wrong on that very question. Will he accept the fact that there are those who have a very different view?
The idea that after all these years of many charming conversations with my hon. Friend that I would not accept that he might often have a very different view from mine is of course fanciful. I entirely accept that he might have a very different view from mine—he very probably would do.
On this particular point, I do not think that the Gina Miller case is relevant, because the decision by the Supreme Court in that case was in essence based on the question of individual rights. The argument, whether right or wrong, was that in invoking article 50 there was an attempt to use the prerogative power in a way that the Supreme Court believed would arguably deprive individuals of rights. No one can argue that seeking an extension of the existing position, which is that we are in the EU, deprives anyone of their rights. I therefore very much doubt that the Gina Miller case could be used as a means of injuncting the Government to seek parliamentary approval.
In this case, in any event, we have empirical proof. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover pointed out, the Prime Minister has already sought an extension, and she did that quite properly without asking the approval of the House of Commons. Therefore, she and the Government lawyers on this occasion obviously agree with me. I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) might well be right and the Government lawyers wrong, but at least I have some backing on the matter.
I am worried about the process we are debating. My right hon. Friend knows that I concern myself with process and, indeed many times in government I fought his corner on process, unbeknown to him. The last time that we took such a controversial Bill through the House so quickly was actually on the day when he became the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill went through almost equally quickly with equally strong, powerful arguments. The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), now the deputy leader of the Labour party, and I spent nearly a year and a half in court challenging the quality of the decision on that Bill. We won and in effect had it struck down. Does my right hon. Friend not worry about the quality of what he is doing today?
In a word, no. That piece of legislation was a serious one with effects on a wide range of our citizens so, good or bad, my right hon. Friend did indeed conduct an enormously impressive campaign at a time when he was an outrider of the sort that I have found myself, in an unaccustomed way, forced into being in the past few months. He was highly successful at it. This is a very different kind of Bill, because all it does—as the House will see when we come to consider it—is to enjoin Ministers to put propositions to Parliament. I do not think that that can possibly be regarded as a very dangerous or controversial activity. It might be one that some of my hon. Friends do not wish to see happen—a perfectly legitimate political dispute—but it is not a case in which in the interstices of the law lie questions of freedom.
I share the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about the speed with which this has come about and the lack of scrutiny. In particular, I am concerned about something that was part of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) just now—I will raise it in my amendment, if I am allowed to move it tonight. The Bill that he is trying to rush through the House simply asks the Prime Minister to seek an extension; it does not ask her to bring an extension back or to agree an extension, and it does not require her to refuse an extension. I am concerned that deals done behind closed doors in the EU might not come back before this House, which might be a result that my right hon. Friend does not anticipate. I believe that the flaw in the Bill that he is trying to put through is that it sends off a Prime Minister who has the absolute right of her office to decide to do things, but it does not mandate her to bring back to this House anything that she is offered. I cannot think that that is what he intends.
Mr Speaker, you will rule if I move out of order, of course, but the point that my hon. Friend is making is about the Bill. In section 1(6) and (7) of the Bill, if I recall that correctly, there is a requirement for the Government to bring back what the EU asks it to do, but that matter is probably better debated as part of the debate on the Bill, because it is not a question of the business of the House motion. In response to her, however, I want to repeat that the lack of scrutiny of which she complains arises from the fact that, unfortunately, in the absence of an extension request, this country leaves the EU on Thursday next—a point that she and others of my hon. Friends have often made, and rightly. We do not have the choice between a long look at the Bill and no look at the Bill; we only have the choice between a short look at the Bill and no look at the Bill. She prefers no look; I prefer a short look. Those are the only two options.
My worry about expending this time today is that the only proper thing that the House can debate and influence is whether we ask for an extension. We know that the Prime Minister wishes to ask for one. He, however, indicated that he would want the Bill to be amended or developed so that the House may express its view on what the length of the extension had to be. We know that last time the Prime Minister asked for an extension to 30 June, but she got one to 12 April. Once we have asked for an extension, it is the EU’s decision. This House, for all its mighty powers, has no ability to legislate for what the EU should do.
My right hon. Friend tempts me to stray into the particulars of the Bill, but I was not suggesting that it should be developed to have the effect that he describes; it already has that effect. The Bill provides for the House, upon the Prime Minister putting forward a motion about the length of the extension, to determine whether it wishes to amend that length, and then provides for her to seek the approval of the House for whatever she comes back with from the EU. There are issues about whether this is the best drafting, but they can be considered in the Lords stages of the Bill if the Government so wish. We had productive discussions with the Government this very morning about their views on whether more flexibility should be built in. We are very open to that—I think I can speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford on that—but at the moment, the Bill does exactly what I described, and not what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) described.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and Labour colleagues for their work on the Bill. Given our proximity to crashing out with a no-deal Brexit, which could have devastating consequences for our industry, and particularly manufacturing industry, does he agree that the Bill reassures business and underlines to it that we have the maximum possible process for preventing that?
I am grateful to my neighbour for giving way. If I might quote him, he has just said that the problem is that if his Bill does not get through tonight, “we leave the EU in a few days’ time.” Is that not what 17.4 million people in this country instructed us to do, and expect us to do? The Bill does nothing but prevent that.
I know that my hon. Friend and neighbour, who is an admirable constituency MP, holds that very strong view. As he knows, I do not share it. Those 17.4 million people mandated us to leave the EU, and I am entirely aligned with the Prime Minister in believing that we have a solemn duty to fulfil that mandate. My hon. Friend interprets that mandate as meaning that we should leave with no deal just over a week from now. I do not, and I do not believe that a large proportion of the 17.4 million people do, either—or would do, once they saw the results. However, that is a matter of dispute between us that does not have anything to do with the business of the House motion, to which I shall return.
I have in the past shared platforms with the right hon. Gentleman on issues that had nothing to do with the EU; they had to do with playing fields. He is a very experienced Member. Does he not have any genuine concern about the speed with which the Bill is going through Parliament, and does he not think that people watching our proceedings, many of whom know that this is a remain Parliament, will see the Bill, and particularly the speed with which it is being pushed through Parliament, as just another little legal way of trying to delay or stop Brexit?
I promised myself at the very beginning of this process—going right back to the referendum campaign and beyond—never to deny the truth about these things, even when it was inconvenient. If the hon. Lady has asked, as I think she has, whether some people see things in that light, I have to answer that some do, and that is a misfortune. If she also asks, as I think she does, whether I regret that this is being done at high speed, the only honest answer is yes; I do regret that. Unfortunately, it can only be done at high speed, because there is no time left. I also very much regret that.
In fact, on the subject of the chain of regrets that I have to admit to the hon. Lady, who I think is my constituency MP in London, I have to say that my biggest regret is that my right hon. Friend for—[Interruption.] Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford; thank you, Mr Speaker—and I decided some weeks ago not to pursue an admirable previous Bill, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 4) Bill, if I remember correctly, which would have had the same effect but could have been considered at more length. Perhaps I was more responsible for that decision than she was. That was, I think, an error on my part. It arose from the intention and hope that we could work entirely with the Government, who made a series of offers to us about the votes that would be held, and which were indeed held. I felt—I think we joined in feeling this, partly because I persuaded my right hon. Friend to join me in this—that it was sensible in the circumstances not to pursue that Bill. That is not an error that I will make again, and that is why I have moved the business of the House motion.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and thank him for his work on the Bill. If ever there was a time to justify looking at a Bill swiftly, surely this is it, when we are on a cliff edge, about to fall out of the EU, which is not what 17.4 million people voted for. Does he agree that, as Bills go, this is pretty straightforward? It is not complex. It is a vital insurance policy that is needed just in case all these other processes, not least the discussions going on between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, fail.
The hon. Lady puts it very well indeed. I agree with her about all of that. She is right that the business of the House motion describes a process for a Bill that is, to all intents and purposes, one clause long, aside from some interpretive provisions. It is not a complicated Bill; everyone in the House, on reading it, would understand it in a matter of seconds. Essentially, it is a binary decision as to whether we accept it or not. Of course amendments may be proposed; we will have plenty of time to vote on those. I do not see that there is any mischief in getting the Bill through Parliament quickly. It is always better, if one has the time, to consider things at greater length, but we do not have the time.
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman back to the business motion, and progress it? I seek his confirmation that the purpose of paragraph (1)(d) is to avoid any attempt at making today’s business be heard in private, so that all that is happening can be shared with those who want to watch and read it later.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing us back to the business of the House motion, which has not had much of an airing yet. The paragraph to which he refers is one of a large number of provisions in the motion that are collectively designed to ensure that the short time at our disposal is not ill used on procedural devices and dilatory actions, and to ensure that we can spend the time talking about the Bill, rather than whether we should talk about the Bill, whether we should have talked about some other Bill, whether we should talk about it on some other day, whether we should sit in private, whether we should adjourn, or any other matter of not the slightest significance that might be raised to delay our talking about the Bill—by, incidentally, those who may also complain that we do not have enough time to talk about the Bill. I think it is legitimate to close off those things.
I pay enormous tribute to the brilliance and incredible hard work of the Clerks, on which those of us engaged in this have called repeatedly. The quality of their advice, and their sustained effort, is beyond compare. It is a really remarkable performance by the highest class of professional.
I shall mention briefly the other features of the motion. As well as provisions on timing, which take us up to paragraph (8), the motion provides for the House of Lords to bring back messages, should it seek to amend the Bill. In fact, unless the Government choose to move amendments today on the detail, in order to increase the Government’s flexibility, we will need, I think, to accept some amendments from the House of Lords—a punctilious House that will, I am sure, want to tighten the Bill. Paragraphs (9) to (12) allow that to happen in an expeditious way, and are otherwise uncontroversial, as is paragraph (13).
The whole House can see that my right hon. Friend has given himself the style, if not the title, of leader of this House in his actions today, but what is his plan for making sure that his Bill, should it pass through this House, is discussed in the House of Lords, and that any messages are further debated in that House?
The proceedings of the House of Lords are of course a matter for the House of Lords and not for the House of Commons, and vice versa. It would therefore be an impertinence for me or any other hon. Member to seek to determine how the House of Lords goes about its proceedings. My hon. Friend can rest assured—although this may not be of any comfort to him—that those of us who are promoting this course of action have taken the trouble to identify Members of the House of Lords who are well able to carry the Bill forward in the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend may also wish to know, although I fear that it will also be of no comfort to him, that there is overwhelming support in the House of Lords for this measure, and that we therefore anticipate that it will, in all probability—although obviously nothing can be guaranteed—pass through the House of Lords very rapidly. To that end, the House of Lords has in fact already passed a motion that provides for the expeditious consideration of exactly this form of Bill.
I think that my right hon. Friend said earlier that the British people were against a WTO arrangement, but the latest opinion polls that I have seen—certainly in my constituency—say that more British people are actually in favour of a WTO exit. What is his message to those millions of Britons who do believe in a WTO Brexit?
I therefore will not dilate on the subject, but let me just say that I did not say anything about a WTO exit. There could well be circumstances under which people were in favour of a WTO exit. What we are discussing is the question whether it would be appropriate for the UK to leave the EU next Thursday without a deal, which is a wholly different matter.
Paragraphs (14) to (18) of the motion simply prevent the mischief of the Bill being hijacked by anyone other than its promoter. Again, these paragraphs are standard fare in any business of the House motion of this kind, except that they add further provisions against dilatory motions. Some of my hon. Friends—in particular, one right at the end of the Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—are great experts at dilatory motions and are really quite brilliant at them. I hope and expect that, notwithstanding their brilliance, they have in this case been prevented from exercising it.
I am intrigued by the word that my right hon. Friend used. Will he be a little more honest with the House? When he says “hijacked”, does he mean that other colleagues might seek to use the same parliamentary practice that he has done today?
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is never anything but completely honest. I know that the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) used the words loosely and I am sure that he would not for one moment suggest otherwise, because that would be quite wrong. He said, “a little more honest”. The right hon. Member for West Dorset is always impeccably 100% honest, as is every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber.
I would never take offence from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), who is a very old friend and colleague. We have been through many things together in Cabinets and shadow Cabinets over many years, and although we disagree about this particular constitutional issue, we agree about much else.
It is of course the case that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the possession of the House of Commons. It is therefore the case that, as in all other matters pertaining to the House of Commons, a majority may alter them. If my right hon. Friend is asking me the only question that he can logically ask me under those circumstances—that is, whether a majority of Members of the House of Commons can alter the Standing Orders of the House of Commons at any given time should they wish to do so—the only answer I can give him is the only answer that he could give me as a former Chief Whip, which is yes.
Normally, the Government Chief Whip commands a majority sufficient at all times to ensure that the Executive are able, in effect, to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, but this is a very unusual provision of our Parliament. In the United States Congress and many other legislatures, it would be regarded as quite intolerable for the Executive to be able to change the procedures of the House using that kind of whipping, to which we are entirely accustomed. However, it is our method, and if the Government of the day have a sufficient majority to be able to do so, they will be able to exercise that method. On this occasion—not in general, but in relation to this particular set of issues—the Government do not command a majority in all cases, as has been frequently remarked by Members on both sides of the House. They may do tonight or they may not; they have not on some other occasions. Where they do not command a majority, it is open to Members of the House of Commons in the majority to alter the Standing Orders.
There is a danger in the comparative analysis of different constitutions, because of course the United States constitution has a very different method of the separation of powers. As I pointed out in the debate we had on Monday, the President has a legislative veto unless Congress has a two-thirds majority. In any system of government, there is usually an opportunity for the Executive to veto legislation, and that is what our Standing Order No. 14 effectively provides for, with money resolutions, Queen’s consent and that sort of thing. All that is being bypassed in this procedure, which has no mandate or democratic legitimacy from the voters. This is therefore a very questionable process, which is undermining the accountability of how laws are made in this country.
Alas, I think that Brexit will leave behind it a trail of many difficulties for our nation, as we seek to heal the divisions and so on. But I suspect that one of the good things about it is that it will have provoked between my hon. Friend and myself many years of interesting discussion about the evolution of our constitution. My own view is that our constitution is not very well constructed, and does not contain proper checks and balances in a written form in the way in which some better constitutions do. Interestingly, that includes the Basic Law, which we ourselves wrote for the Germans and which is a much better organised constitution; there is not the veto to which my hon. Friend refers, but there are checks and balances through which it would certainly be impossible for the Government to engage in the sort of things that have become usual since 1902—I mistakenly referred to 1906 on a previous occasion—and that have given the Executive too much control over the proceedings of the House of Commons.
Interestingly, some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), have for a very long time argued that the Executive have too much control over the House of Commons. It is just that, on this particular occasion, he would like the Executive to have more control—or would have liked the Executive to have more control before yesterday, in any case. I rather think that people’s views on this constitutional matter are currently being overly influenced by their view of what the desirable result is, and I admit entirely that mine are too.
I do not think that this is a minor constitutional wrangle. We could go on happily having this discussion for some years, and ought to in a proper way. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chair of the Procedure Committee, will want to inaugurate proper discussions of these things at much greater length. At the moment, this nation faces a very serious issue by anybody’s reckoning—those who are in favour of stepping out on Thursday week and those who are against it. We all agree that it is a very important step. The business of the House motion provides for a Bill that has the effect of making it not possible for a Prime Minister to take that step without coming to the House, proposing an extension and trying to obtain an extension approved by the House from the EU. That is the importance of it, and I think that it is actually very important.
I am desperately fond of my right hon. Friend and I apologise to him for what I am about to say. He is a previous member of this Executive and a fixer for the Government over a long period, and has on many occasions taken advantage of the fact that there were not necessarily all the checks and balances that he needed to be in place in order to move legislation that he wanted to move in the House. Is there therefore not a slight whiff of hypocrisy that he is now lamenting the lack of those checks and balances? And is not this tiny emergency Bill, without time for proper scrutiny, just here to thwart the process of Brexit?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the phrase “slight whiff of hypocrisy”, when it is implied that it is coming from the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), in order? I am sure that you will be able to advise me.
I was diverted by a former Deputy Leader of the House, who was perfectly legitimately whispering into my ear, as colleagues often do when there is a matter of great moment in their minds, and therefore I did not hear it. I am not disputing what the hon. Gentleman has said—
No, there is no requirement for repetition by the hon. Lady. I think that she was making what I would call a political charge. I find it unimaginable that she would make an accusation of personal dishonour against the right hon. Member for West Dorset. If she were to make such a charge, I feel sure that she would be in a minority of one.
That is true, although, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, he has been solicitous at every turn in taking interventions from colleagues, the effect of which, as they know, has been to lengthen his oration. I call the right hon. Gentleman to respond to the intervention from the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries).
I am sorry. I will take one more intervention, from the former leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), whom I could not possibly deny, and then I shall resume my seat, in deference to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne.
It is perfectly true that Governments of all hues have used their power when they have a significant majority to move things through the House in ways that would not be possible without a majority. I do not complain about Governments doing that when they have that capacity, but neither should Governments complain about the House taking control of its own Order Paper when they lack a majority. The reason the Government lack a majority in this case is that various hon. Friends were unwilling to back their deal, which I have repeatedly voted for, which would have avoided the need for all this.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, with whom I served in government for a positive period of time. I gently chide him on his previous comments about colleagues changing their minds. He knows very well that we all change our minds when we are in government, because we curse the very fact that we are delayed by the Speaker for urgent questions—you were one of those too, Mr Speaker. Now that we are here, we all praise the Speaker because we are not in government and we think it is an excellent idea. You were with me on that as well, Mr Speaker. I say gently that it never does to criticise colleagues for changing their minds. I think it is a habitual point in this House that we somehow forget what we said before.
On my right hon. Friend’s motion, I am little confused about how he thinks this procedure will follow from the House of Lords. I think he expects it to take precedence over everything else. Does he anticipate that this House might reject some amendments and, if so, how does he see this happening the second time around? Would it still have the same precedence?
The answer is yes it would, but I do not anticipate that that is at all likely. My sense, for what it is worth, is that although the House of Lords procedures are arcane and it is impossible to determine from the outside the time that will be taken, there is very substantial support for the Bill there, and it is therefore very unlikely that anything other than technical amendments, which might be wholly welcome, would come back, and they would therefore be accepted. I do not think that is an issue we need face.
I apologise for going on for so long. I have tried to answer the points that have been made and shall now sit down.
Order. I should inform the House that if the business of the House motion passes, amendments and new clauses may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a Second time. This must be done in the Chamber only, not in any of the Clerks’ offices. However, it would be helpful if Members intending to table such amendments and new clauses shared them electronically with the Public Bill Office. In order to produce an amendment paper as soon as possible after amendments and new clauses are tabled, the Chairman of Ways and Means has decided that only the first six names for each amendment or new clause will be published. However, a full list of all names will be produced as soon as possible and made available in the Vote Office.
May I start by thanking the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) for moving the Business of the House motion to enable the Bill to be considered? I thank him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for enabling the Bill to be debated.
It is this Government who have created the Brexit deadlock, and the Bill seeks to get things moving. The people and their democratically elected representatives in Parliament want to make progress. When someone such as the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who was an outstanding Minister and played a leading role in ensuring the introduction of equal marriage, decides to sit as an independent, we are in interesting and difficult times.
It is this Government who have put us in this position. Their red lines were drawn right at the beginning and formed the boundaries for the negotiations. In her Lancaster House speech on 17 January 2017, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s plan for Britain and the 12 priorities that they would use to negotiate Brexit, but there was a lack of information and Parliament was bypassed and ignored until we in the Opposition ensured that there was a meaningful vote.
As hon. Members have said, 17 million people voted to leave the EU. The Government have failed to represent them and they have failed to represent the nearly 16 million people who voted to remain. More importantly, there are many young people—we do this not for us but for the next generation—who did not have a chance to have their voices heard in 2016 but who are now able to vote.
It is right that Parliament has tried a new process of indicative votes as a means of testing the will of the House of Commons on different options relating to one issue. The Bill seeks to run in parallel with that process and create a legal mechanism whereby the House can instruct the Prime Minister to ask the European Council for an extension to article 50. We know that these are unusual times and that we are in a hung Parliament, and that the Government are governing on the basis of confidence and supply and nothing else. Back Benchers from across the House want the Bill to be debated.
In her statement from No. 10 yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that she intends to seek a further extension to article 50, but there are no details about how the decision will be made, including on the length of the extension or what will happen if the European Council puts forward an alternative. The Prime Minister did not explicitly rule out leaving the EU with no deal yesterday, so it is right that the House can have a say on an extension to article 50, which would avoid the UK crashing out without a deal.
I just wonder whether the hon. Lady is concerned about the process being used today, because the convention is that emergency legislation passed in one day has the consent of the whole House before it is brought forward. Is there not a risk that if this is good enough for today, a future Government with a large majority, of whichever party, might conclude that this is the way to legislate? The conventions and customs of the House are a protection of our constitution and ensure that the rights of minorities are respected and reserved, so is there not a risk that this tramples on that in a way that others will learn from in future?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the customs and conventions of the House have already been trampled on by this Government, who have stopped participating in and voting on Opposition days, redefined a Session as two years long and given the Opposition less time? They have trampled on quite a few bits of our unwritten constitution, and yet this business motion seeks to use the existing powers of the House in its Standing Orders to do something that Parliament clearly wants, which is to prevent this Government from plunging us over a cliff into no-deal chaos.
Yes, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a former shadow Leader of the House. She is right. She has heard me ask at business questions a number of times for Opposition days, to which we are entitled, and we have debated the fact that the Government decided to rig Select Committees and other Committees by giving themselves a majority on them.
A great number of constitutional Bills have been examined by the Clerks and others in relation to matters of this character. Would the hon. Lady be good enough to give us examples of comparisons of different kinds of Bills, or would she be glad to wait for me to explain it a bit later?
I think we can wait for the hon. Gentleman’s lecture later.
The motion allows for the Bill to be considered and asks the Prime Minister to make a proposal to be considered by the House the day after enactment. As with every Bill, a helpful explanatory note to the Bill is available in the Vote Office that describes each clause and exactly what the Prime Minister has to do.
I am nearly finished.
We are trying to help the Government. I am pleased that the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has been selected. Her Majesty’s Opposition support the motion and want to find a way forward. Our democracy demands it.
I will keep my remarks brief. The Government regret the position that Parliament is in today. This motion not only challenges again our constitutional conventions but offers Parliament hardly any time to consider, let alone debate, the legislation. The people of the United Kingdom rightly expect our democracy to be upheld at all times and for our democratic institutions to take their responsibilities seriously.
Last night, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Government’s approach to next steps, including that we will need to seek an extension to article 50—one that is as short as possible and avoids the need to fight the European parliamentary elections, which, nearly three years after the referendum, would be unacceptable. She also set out the Government’s next steps to leave the EU in a way that can command support from a majority of parliamentarians. In that context, I question why this legislation is necessary.
My right hon. Friend is making a good case. Does not my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) give us an excellent precedent for the Government putting business through in one day in the future? If the Opposition are happy with that for this proposition, why should they not be happy with that for any future proposition from the Government?
My hon. Friend sets out clearly the dilemma today. The precedent of many years of parliamentary convention is being broken and will therefore no longer be a precedent, and others may well seek to do this in the future. The Government have consistently said that we do not support the unprecedented removal of Government control of the Order Paper, no matter the circumstances. For many years, the convention has been that it is for the Government, with the confidence of the House, to set out the business, and it is for Parliament to scrutinise, amend and reject or approve.
What is in order about today’s business is entirely a matter for the Chair. The point I am making is that it breaks many years of precedent, whereby the Government of the day, with the confidence of the House, determine the business of the day, and then parliamentarians scrutinise, amend and reject or approve.
Many people who have had a chance to look at this Bill have noticed that it is completely shambolic and extremely badly drafted. We will be moving on to consideration of amendments in this very truncated and, in my view, completely reprehensible procedure. Grouping of amendments will be necessary in the circumstances, which means that many important amendments—even those intending to improve the Bill—will simply neither be reached nor passed. Is that not an indictment of the manner in which this entire process is being carried on by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset?
My hon. Friend is a genuine expert in procedure and how best to improve a Bill, and he is right; there is no time for any of the usual niceties.
As Members will know, my job as Leader of the House is to ensure, before introducing any Government legislation, that it has been considered carefully from all angles by the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, which I chair. It is also my job to ensure that legislation is given adequate time for scrutiny and consideration by the House.
Traditionally, when legislation is rushed through this House, the other place gives consideration that has not been given. What measures will the Government take to ensure that there is proper and detailed consideration of the Bill in the other place?
I will not take any more interventions. I have taken a few, and this really is a matter for Parliament.
While the Bill is a short piece of legislation, as Members know, it has far-reaching implications for an international negotiation that is subject to unanimous agreement with the EU27. I remind Members that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 had just two clauses but was debated for five full days in this Chamber. It therefore seems inconceivable that Parliament only saw the Bill under consideration today for the first time yesterday and will have just a few hours of debate this evening. As a result of my grave concerns about the conventions that are being undermined today, the Government will oppose this business of the House motion.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the Leader of the House. She has made her intentions clear when it comes to the business motion, but perhaps she could clear something up for us. There are rumours in the press that the Government may be tempted to support the Bill as a means of progressing some sort of extension. She was not taking many interventions, but she could shake her head or nod to signal whether that is something the Government are thinking about. She is sitting still; we can come to our own conclusions about that.
I very much welcome today as another great innovation for Parliament. Precedents are there to be established, and again we are doing that in this House. I am proud of this House today and the fact that we are embarking on this journey. This is something new, and precedents are there to be created. What surprises me is that the hon. Gentlemen—it is nearly all hon. Gentlemen today—sitting on the Government Benches are the great “take back controllers”, but when this House demonstrates that very thing, they are the ones who object to it most.
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I ask him this simple question. He has complained throughout this Parliament and the long time he has been here that, since the Blair Government brought in programme motions, Governments have cut and curtailed time for debate—he finds that reprehensible, and I agree with him. So why, when a Bill is introduced with such a tight timetable, does he not think that that creates an excellent precedent for the Government to use again and again? Will he complain about that in future?
What attracts me to this particular motion today is that Parliament is doing this. For the first time, Parliament is actually defining, creating and progressing a Bill through this House. That is an exciting prospect, and I did not think the right hon. Gentleman would be so churlish as not to enjoy that, as somebody who really enjoys such events.
I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s reference to taking back control because, of course, what actually happened is that the referendum Act, by 6:1 in this House, gave the decision to the British people—that is what the vote was about—and they also voted incessantly, and rightly, for a whole series of enactments. In fact, the sovereignty of this Parliament has been preserved, but it was given to the people so that they could make the decision, and now Parliament is trying to take it back again.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s words about taking back control and his passion for Parliament, but does he not accept that people watching what is going on with this Bill today will just see it as another means to obfuscate, delay and kick the can down the road, not what people expect us to be getting on with here, which is voting for a deal and leaving?
I say to the hon. Lady that this is about the only means we have actually to make progress in this House. We are going to get a Bill through the House of Commons, I hope later today, which will allow some sort of way forward so that we will be able to make sure that there is a plan to take forward, because if we do not we are crashing out next Friday, and we have to make sure that does not happen.
My hon. Friend is setting out a very good case. He is talking about precedents, and one of the welcome precedents that I am sure we and others will look to is the fact that this may provide the opportunity for some opposition parties to progress Bills through the House in Opposition day time. Will he reflect on the opportunities that may arise as a result?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This does present such a precedent, and I hope all parties across the House will make use of it and ensure that Bills are passed on Opposition days. This is a new way of doing things that should be looked on positively. I am really very surprised that the “take back controllers” cannot see the opportunities presented to this House to, in effect, take back control in this Parliament.
Doing this with a Bill for the first time ever is really interesting. I have to say to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that I think there are deficiencies in the Bill. Earlier, I called it a bit of a dog’s breakfast, but it is the only meal on the menu, so we have to take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented. What it does is ensure that we do not leave next week without a deal. It attempts to ensure that there is at least some sort of way forward in trying to renegotiate with Europe, and it will oblige the Prime Minister to come back and give updates about the progress she is making.
I think the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said, absolutely correctly, that if we do not do this we will have to leave it to the Prime Minister and take it on trust. What we have seen from this Government already is that they contemptuously ignore outcomes in this House repeatedly, and again and again. All of a sudden, however, we are supposed to trust them with the process of doing what they say they are going to do.
The hon. Gentleman says we would have to leave this as a matter of trust to the Prime Minister. The reality is that, if he had actually bothered to read it, he would see that the Bill simply makes a request to her, and she could completely ignore it. That is why this Bill is so pointless, and why it is an abuse of this House to be using the emergency legislation method. The precedent, which he acknowledges will be created, will be visited most dearly and deeply on Opposition Members when they find themselves seeking time but a Government cite this precedent, which they themselves have adopted, as to why they should not have it.
That sounds like some sort of admission that the Conservatives are on their way out and they are expecting to change places. God help us if what the hon. Gentleman says was ever actually the case. There are in fact lots of deficiencies in the Bill—I am quite happy to concede that—but what he presented is not one of them. The Bill explicitly mandates the Prime Minister to come back to ensure that there is a statement about any conversations she has with the EU. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should perhaps read the Bill before he intervenes again.
This is a day for precedent, isn’t it? As another part of the breakthrough in the Brexit process, we now have the Prime Minister sitting down exclusively with the Leader of the Opposition. This idea to try to share Brexit with the Opposition is a huge elephant trap that has been set for the Leader of the Opposition, and he has gone wandering into it with his size 12 shoes, like some sort of hairy mammoth. That is exactly what the Opposition are doing today, and it will be fascinating. Today, remainer meets leaver across the table to discuss Brexit—a remainer whose party is a bunch of leavers and a leaver whose party is a bunch of remainers—so this will be fascinating. We are looking forward to the outcome of this particular meeting, and I think the whole House will be thoroughly entertained by the outcome. For Scottish National party Members, this looks a bit like Better Together 2.0: the sequel. Here are Labour and the Conservatives sitting down to conspire to take Scotland out of Europe against its will. That is exactly what will be done, or it looks very much like that to us on these Benches.
If I may gently correct the right hon. Gentleman, it is actually a business motion, not a programme motion, and I am speaking to the business motion. I do not know who informs the Tories, but I think they need the Whip’s note to be passed around to ensure they are actually asking the right questions, because a few of them have come up very short today. However, I always enjoy the entertainment with the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
We will support this business motion today. We know the Government are going to oppose it. What is intriguing is what they are going to do beyond that, because they may very well be supporting the Boles motion—
I think the hon. Gentleman is in danger of confusing the House. He ticked off my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) for calling this a programme motion, saying it is a business motion, but now he seems to be going back in the other direction, so I am not clear.
Talking about going in another direction, the hon. Gentleman is heading us back to the 18th century. What we have missed in the proceedings today is a history lesson, with the Tudors, the Barebones Parliament and so on. We will miss having a history lesson today, but perhaps we will have it later.
The hon. Gentleman has made it very clear that he does not trust the Prime Minister and he does not trust the Leader of the Opposition. At the next available opportunity, will he give the people the chance to have their say, and trust them?
I have already learned from the conversation today that the Leader of the Opposition is not prepared to push this as an option, as with freedom of movement. That is an absolute and utter disgrace, and a betrayal of everybody in Scotland. We shall await very keenly the outcome of today’s motion. We will back this today, and we will be backing the Bill later this afternoon. We are intrigued to see what the Government do, but I hope that this unusual bit of parliamentary procedure—this new precedent—will be enjoyed and appreciated by everybody across this House.
I intend to be very brief. I rise to explain why I will oppose this motion, in line with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who spoke for the Government.
I think the biggest danger here is that a precedent is being set. I am not by any means the oldest Member in the House—I simply chide the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who spoke from the SNP Benches—but I recall that when I first came here that it was always a requirement for every Bill to have 100 hours in Committee before the Government were allowed to bring it back to the Floor of the House with any kind of guillotine. Debate and scrutiny took place in Committee, or on the Floor of the House for that matter, at great length, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will remember. I think the quality of our examination of Bills was infinitely better than what followed under the subsequent Labour Government, who introduced programme motions on Bills immediately. That has meant that this House has fallen into disrepute for its inability properly to scrutinise legislation in the way it should.
We now dump everything in the other place and say blithely, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said earlier—I say quite genuinely that he is a good friend—things will go to the Lords and, of course, we expect the Lords to tidy it up. However, we are the elected Chamber: the public have elected us to come here to hold the Government to account. We constantly say that we are here to hold the Government to account, and then we blithely say that we will let the Lords do it for us when they get the chance and that we will think about it later on.
I certainly would never accuse my right hon. Friend of speaking for too long; it was others who advised me that I was speaking for too long. I just say to him and other Members present that we are aware of the issues the Government have with the details. We have discussed with the Government, at their request, changes that would accommodate those concerns. We expressed our total willingness to include those amendments at this stage in the Commons; the Government, so far at any rate, have not come forward with those. That is why that would have to be in the Lords; I would far prefer if it were done today.
I am happy to accept my right hon. Friend’s explanation for some of the rationale behind this, but if he will forgive me, I do not speak for the Government—to be fair, I have not done so for a little while, since I resigned, in case he had forgotten. I will try to speak for what I think it is like to be in opposition. I always think that Oppositions should be careful about what they wish for when they are going to be in government, because Oppositions fall upon all these mechanisms in this place. Delaying Bills is part of the reasonable rationale of an Opposition to force the Government to think again. These devices, once swept away at short notice, are swept away for good and for ill.
I absolutely sympathise with the sentiments that my right hon. Friend is expressing. Did he note that our right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) also said that this was not the world’s best drafted Bill, but that there was not enough time and that the House of Lords would expedite it, because he had already talked to a few people there who were going to proceed in a fashion that meant it would come back here quickly? The rush associated with this is absolutely appalling.
I think it is—I agree with my hon. Friend—but more important is the precedent being set. I worry that future Governments, of whichever persuasion, will reference this device and frequently conclude that time must be curtailed because it is their right to do so.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to feel bad about it. I also remind Members that the Northern Ireland Office has developed quite a habit of using the emergency procedure to take through Northern Ireland legislation in all its stages in one day in this House. We have had the Northern Ireland budget taken through in all its stages not just once but twice, when it was not an emergency, along with the regional rate and energy tariffs in Northern Ireland, so the right hon. Gentleman should please not use the argument that what we are doing today is setting a precedent. The Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have already set that precedent.
I recognise that, and I think that procedure should never be used, except in absolute extremis. I agree with the hon. Lady. As someone who once served in Northern Ireland, I have to say that if we legislate in haste, we will repent at leisure, and we do nothing in this place but repent at leisure again and again. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and all these other things that we said were emergencies were never properly scrutinised, and it is the scrutiny of this place that should matter above all else.
We talk about sweeping away precedents because they are archaic and were around for 200 years or whatever, and that everything modern must be brilliant. I do not agree with that. I think that sometimes history teaches endless lessons. This place is at its best when it is arguing and debating, and taking its time to do so. Other legislatures around the world, such as the Senate, which has no time limits, spend a lot of time looking at Bills and legislation. We do away with that at our peril.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because he has made all the points that I want to make, so I do not now need to speak, expect to make one point about the Northern Ireland legislation. That process was done with the consent of both sides of the House before the legislation was brought through. Therefore, there was a consensus in this Chamber that it needed to be done in that way, which does not exist on this occasion. That is a convention of the greatest importance, because now a Government with a majority will feel entitled to use this dangerous process.
I agree and I recognise that, but I think that Governments too often use that process, and it occasionally suits Oppositions to agree with them. It is better that we delay and debate. I will conclude with the wise words of my predecessor, now Lord Tebbit. When I first came here, I asked him, “How will I know whether I am right or wrong?” He said, “You’ll be wrong if you’re not speaking and arguing. You’re right if you’re arguing and you’re speaking. That’s what you were sent here for.”
I rise to support the motion, but I want to speak in particular to amendment (a), standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn).
We know that a good majority of Members in this House oppose a no-deal Brexit. In my relatively short time here in Parliament, I have understood our flexibility and that we can, at a pinch, do anything. We can revoke article 50, agree to a people’s vote or, with the motion from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), ask the EU for a long extension. We will not crash out just by accident. If we do, it will be because of our active consent. It is our choice. I therefore want to address the question of what this House wants. That is the whole purpose of the indicative voting process. [Interruption.] If Members will forgive me, I will expand a little on the indicative voting process.
We know that every proposal so far has been defeated, some of them very narrowly. It is also true that neither the customs union nor the people’s vote achieved an overall majority in this House, which would be about 320 votes. It is my belief that we are just halfway through the indicative vote process. Many compelling options have not yet been proposed or voted on. The people’s vote proposal cannot stand alone. A new referendum always needs two choices.
Maybe the hon. Gentleman was talking—a lot of people were—but I have just indicated that I am talking to amendment (a), because I fear that today will be the last opportunity to talk about indicative votes. That is why I am talking about that now.
What would be on the other half of the ballot paper? It is not for me to say what Brexit choice would be on the ballot paper, but it can clearly be the Prime Minister’s deal, a customs union, a common market 2.0 or no deal. All these individual Brexits have failed to achieve a majority. None of them has been voted on in a combined offer with a people’s vote. Following the indicative votes on Monday, a lot of Members immediately understood that the next indicative voting options would include composite motions—for example, the Prime Minister’s deal plus a people’s vote, or a customs union plus a people’s vote. I worry that today’s agenda is deliberately designed to ensure that such composite motions are never considered by Parliament.
The indicative vote process has been a less divisive and less tribal process for finding a majority position. Testing the Prime Minister’s deal with a people’s vote must be done if indicative votes are to mean anything. There are about 200 Conservative Members who have voted three times for the Prime Minister’s deal, and it is Government policy. Add it to a people’s vote and we leave the EU in the way that the Conservative Government want, subject to the people confirming it.
In the same way, the Labour party has held a double position for six months, both supporting a people’s vote or referendum and wanting a softer Brexit than the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today come to an agreement about a soft Brexit option, the assumption is that it will pass into law without a people’s vote and we will leave the EU on 22 May. An indicative vote on a Brexit deal plus a people’s vote would force some difficult choices on to many Members in this House.
Today is possibly the last day of Parliament taking control, not because Parliament has finished the indicative vote process, but because the original supporters are now scared of the outcomes. Just when Parliament could reach a majority, or at least try something that could command the support of 400 MPs, the process might be terminated. No wonder people say that our parliamentary democracy is broken.
Where to go now for at least 50% of the British people who want to stay in the European Union? Where to go now for the 1 million people on the “Put it to the People” march 10 days ago? Where to go now for the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50? At least 50% of the population are represented in Parliament by only about 10% of MPs. That is why our democracy is broken. I hope very much that the indicative votes process will continue until we have truly tested all options, especially composite motions that combine a Brexit and a people’s vote.
I will be extremely brief.
First of all, I want to say to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who introduced the motion, that what we are debating is not a constitutional outrage, and nor is it an abomination. I want him to be assured of that. I accept fully that Standing Orders belong to the House of Commons. I say to the shadow Leader of the House that she is entirely right to say that the Government are wrong not to divide on Opposition motions. I have said that before as Chairman of the Procedure Committee and I am happy to say it again now as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. I would also say, however, that the Government are entirely right in their construct of Select Committees and Standing Committees. They did not rig the system and I accept that what the Government did was the right decision to make. I said that at the time, as well.
I am, however, concerned about what we are doing today. I am concerned about precedent. I have been involved in such a Bill—I think I sat through all its stages in 2012—which became the Mental Health (Approval Functions) Act 2012. It was a public safety Bill and I understood then why it needed to go through the House very quickly. I wish it had not needed to go through the House so quickly. That was not an ideal situation, but we were trying to prevent people from harming themselves and, potentially, others.
I do think that the texture—I say this as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, although I am not speaking on behalf of the Procedure Committee—of what we are doing today feels wrong. I cannot put my finger on it, but I think that we, as a House, will regret what we are doing today if the business motion is passed.
I had the great pleasure of serving with the hon. Gentleman on the Procedure Committee in the previous Parliament. I think it will be for the Procedure Committee to consider this situation, once all of this is finished—if it is ever finished—in more detail and see what lessons can be learned. I hope that when the Committee does that it will look to other Parliaments on these islands, such as the Parliament at Holyrood, which has a Business of the House Committee and allows programming decisions of this kind to be made by consensus across the parties. I hope the Procedure Committee will consider that as a way forward.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent intervention and we shall no doubt ask him to come to the Committee and give evidence to explain himself further.
Mr Speaker, I said I would be brief and I will conclude with this. I think we will regret what we are doing today. It does worry me and I will be voting against the motion. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is a decent, lovely and wonderful man, but there are people in this place who are not decent, wonderful and lovely. I fear that one day soon—I hope it will not be the case—we will be debating an expropriation of assets Bill in six hours. We would regret that bitterly.
I want to speak briefly to amendment (a), which stands in my name and has been selected. In response to the contribution from the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), she will note that amendment (a) would give the House, if carried, the opportunity on Monday to engage in a further round of indicative votes.
I note that since I put my amendment down the Prime Minister has become an enthusiastic convert to the notion of indicative votes. In the statement she made from Downing Street, she said, of the process she is now, as we speak, engaging in by talking to the Leader of the Opposition to try to find a way forward, that if we cannot agree on an approach
“we would instead agree a number of options for the future relationship that we could put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue.”
I think that that was a very significant announcement, because the Government had talked in general terms about giving the House such an opportunity. Although we have had two rounds, since the Government have had three goes for their withdrawal agreement, or part of their withdrawal agreement, it would seem rather churlish of Members not to give the House a further opportunity.
I want to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Bath. Looking at the results from last time—the customs union came within three votes of passing and a confirmatory referendum came within 12 votes of passing—there is now an opportunity, given that we are going to have to compromise to try to find a way forward, to see whether Members can come together and combine some of the propositions in the way that she suggested to see whether we can assist in the process the Government are now embarking on in reaching out to the Leader of the Opposition. Monday, if amendment (a) were carried, would give us the opportunity to do so.
I am so puzzled. Many of the issues the right hon. Gentleman mentions on which we may have to compromise will need the withdrawal agreement, yet only five Labour Members have ever voted for it. Does he not find it funny that there is no compromise on the withdrawal agreement from those on the Labour Benches?
I am on record as saying that I do not have a problem with the withdrawal agreement, but I am also on record as having voted against the Government’s attempt last week to separate the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration, because they come as one. I cite, as the authority for that argument, the Prime Minister.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this was always a three-part process? Big progress has been made. Is it his understanding that, now we have begun to conclude the procedure, at least one composite, and arguably two, is now coming forward? There is every chance that we really will be able to settle on something that would reach agreement across the House.
I hope very much that that is indeed the case. This has been a new approach for the House. Let us be frank, there was quite a lot of scepticism, first time around, about whether we would get anywhere. I think we have made progress, notwithstanding the fact that none of the motions was able to get a majority. That should hardly be a cause for criticism, since the proposition the Government put to the House, having worked on it for over two years, lost, in sequence, by 230, 149 and 58 votes. I think the House of Commons is slightly nearer to finding a way forward than the Government have managed so far, but that is not an argument for not trying again.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and we will be supporting his amendment later on. He mentioned the British Government’s proposal for a round of indicative votes based on options put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and the British Government. Is he aware of whether the House will be able to amend those options? If not, his amendment is vital as a safety mechanism.
The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point, because it was not clear from the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday how the propositions, if the two of them are not able to reach agreement, will be constructed and put to the House. Obviously, we will wait with interest to see what may come out of the discussions taking place today and—who knows?—tomorrow, but it does give the House a chance to interpose in this process. If I were the Leader of the House, I would be enthusiastically supporting amendment (a), because it may well be that votes on Monday will be exactly what is required to take this process forward, whether as a result of something that comes out of the talks or from the House itself.
I am genuinely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hesitate to correct him, but if he thinks back to what he has just said, he will see that he has made a comparison that does not stand. He compared what happened in the indicative votes with the failure of the Government’s motion. The Government had to get a majority of the House, and they are 48 short of that, whereas not one of the indicative votes got within whispering distance of a majority of the House. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that if the indicative votes process is brought back, each element should meet the requirement of a majority vote of the House?
I was making the much simpler point that none of the propositions has carried. The Prime Minister said in her statement that
“the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House.”
That is important. She was referring to the indicative votes that may follow the process that we are currently undertaking. In my view, anything that the House indicates it is prepared to support—the difference is that indicative votes are so called precisely because we ask the House to indicate whether it is prepared to move in a given direction—would have to be considered by the Government. If a proposition were adopted, the Prime Minister would have to go to the European Union and seek to change the political declaration. At that point, it would come back to the House, and the test that the Government rightly set in section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—the approval of the House for both the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement—would have to be passed.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he supports the withdrawal agreement, but he did not vote for it on meaningful vote 3 because of the disaggregation of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. Of course, that was not the case in meaningful votes 1 and 2, but he still did not support the withdrawal agreement.
No, because in meaningful votes 1 and 2 we voted on the package. My objection, as I have made plain in the House many times, is to the political declaration and the complete lack of certainty that it offers. I do not want to stray from the amendment that I have tabled to the business motion, although the hon. Gentleman tempts me to do so.
After the experience of indicative votes rounds 1 and 2, and given that we are making some progress and that we are all being asked to compromise and see what we might be prepared to support, I suggest it would be timely to have the chance to do so again on Monday. I hope that the House will support my amendment.
I have already made my remarks on the methodology that is being employed in respect of the Bill. I think it is reprehensible. It represents a constitutional revolution, and it sets a very undesirable precedent. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said in his concluding remarks that responsibility for all this somehow lies with those, such as myself, who oppose the withdrawal agreement and related matters. I do not think I am misrepresenting him by saying that, but I think the truth is quite the opposite.
Something of the order of 30 colleagues—I say this with great respect to them, because they are entitled to say and do what they want—are doing something profoundly undemocratic by supporting what my right hon. Friend is trying to achieve, in all its enormity, with this business motion. The precedence that is given in Standing Order No. 14 to Government business is one of the rocks of our parliamentary system. Why? Because we have a system of parliamentary government, and a system of democratic government.
I say in all reasonableness that Standing Order No. 14 gives precedence to Government business for a very simple reason. If a Government are formed because the Queen has agreed that a Prime Minister should take office, it follows that Her Majesty’s Government have a majority and/or a sufficient degree of confidence to be able to carry the business of the House. That is the constitutional convention, and that is what our Standing Orders say.
No, I will not.
To rip up that convention, which is basically what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is doing, is extremely undemocratic and, if I may say so, unparliamentary. It goes to the heart of whether business in this House is conducted in line with the wishes of those who voted either in general elections or, in this case, by virtue of the European Union Referendum Act 2015—the sovereign Act of Parliament that gave the decision to the British people. The business motion and the shenanigans that go with it are an attempt to take back control over that business and give it to Members of Parliament, who have no legitimacy whatsoever to make decisions that they have given, by their own vote in this House—by six to one—to the British people. That is a very simple constitutional point, and I do not think that anybody can dispute it. If anyone wishes to dispute it, will they be kind enough to get up?
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that he is trying to have it both ways? Whether or not we believe that the constitution is currently perfect, which I do not, either the Government are capable of delivering decisions or, if they are incapable of forming a majority and making vital decisions, it is surely incumbent on the Members of Parliament to find ways to do so.
I could not disagree more, because the manner in which this is being done involves legislating in circumstances that will mean, as I said yesterday on a point of order, Mr Speaker, that all these arrangements are rammed through. There will be no practical opportunity today to make amendments and to get them tabled, discussed and voted on, because of the grouping system that we have under our procedures.
I say to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that the fact is that this is a shambolic Bill. A number of things have to be changed in it. There are references to Acts of Parliament that do not exist and it is alleged that sections are in force when they are not. This Bill is a most unbelievable shambles, and the reality is that there is no excuse for it. Hon. Members have had the previous No. 4 Bill for some time, and they suddenly decided to accelerate this procedure to try to get some kind of political advantage, undermining the decision of the House in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—that is, the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which is related in turn to exit day. That exit day has been moved back by a statutory instrument. I personally think that it is unlawful, but that is a separate question, not for today. The repeal of the 1972 Act, on which everything depends—including that it is the anchor of the referendum itself—has to go in lockstep with exit day. Moving exit day does not prevent the repeal of the 1972 Act. All I can say is that that has fundamental relevance to what is going on today.
Turning to my next point, the real question is this: who governs this country? That is what Standing Order No. 14 is all about. I notice my hon. Friend the Member for Sandbach having a bit of a laugh there—
Just one moment—if I may, I will finish my initial response. I have to say that there are some difficulties arising on that question. Actually, the Government’s business taking precedence under Standing Order No. 14 gives this right to the British people, in line with a majority that does exist.
That is absolutely the fundamental doctrine. All I am saying to my hon. Friend—I have said it to the House many times—is that when, by a solemn Act of a sovereign Parliament, we transfer a decision to the British people by six to one in this House, that is an act of transferring sovereignty to them so that they can make the decision. It is as simple as that.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said, but the reality is that in these special circumstances, it is about who governs and it is about sovereignty. The sovereignty was given to the people on this particular question by an Act of Parliament, as well as by their intrinsic right to vote in general elections.
My next and last point is on the question of constitutional comparisons. I will refer to a number of Bills on which, on previous occasions, we have had a similar sort of procedure. The Northern Ireland legislation to which you referred yesterday, Mr Speaker, in response to a point of order was something of a particular case, but it was not the same type of legislation that we are dealing with here. There was the War Crimes Act 1991. There was the Parliament Act itself and a series of other Bills. There was the Hunting Act 2004, which I do not think really falls into this category, because it was a different sort of Bill.
When we are making judgments about constitutional matters, the question is one of apples and pears. It is the question of whether there is a distinct constitutional difference. The point that I am making, in general terms, is that there is a very specific constitutional difference between this Bill and the other Bills to which the shortened, accelerated procedure has been applied. These matters were considered by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, which was deeply critical of the speed with which certain Bills relating to Northern Ireland were dealt with.
The essence of the problem is that the present situation contradicts the precedents, because this Bill is so shambolic and so badly drafted. Moreover, I think I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset suggest that the amendments would be dealt with in the undemocratic House of Lords. For heaven’s sake! The House of Lords is a body that, in matters of this kind, does not really have the status that the House of Commons has. I put it no higher than that.
The hon. Gentleman is in for a pleasant surprise. I have been talking about reform of the House of Lords, on and off, for the last 20 years, and I believe that it is necessary. However, I will leave that aside, because I do not think it is directly relevant to the point that I am making.
We have had the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, the War Crimes Act 1991, and the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999. We have also had the Hunting Act, but, as I said earlier, I do not think that it is strictly relevant. In the case of the War Crimes Act and the European Parliamentary Elections Act, the Parliament Act 1911 became involved, which I think is very interesting. The 1911 Act applies a great deal of delay to a Bill, and that is very relevant to this particular case. I think I am right in saying that the reason for adopting this procedure was to speed up the Bill’s progress in order to avoid any delay that would take us beyond 12 April, for example, as a result of which there would not be the opportunities of which the Members concerned wish to avail themselves.
There are some further examples. There is the Parliament Act 1949, and there is the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. The context of the 1914 Act was completely different as well. That Bill was dealt with very rapidly because it was so urgent in the context of fighting the first world war. This is another kind of war—this is a war fought on pieces of paper—and I think that that is part of our biggest problem. We are fighting a battle about who governs the country, and who will be able to determine the outcome. Let us consider, for example, the question of how the laws will be made under the rubric of the European treaties. As I said the other day, if we remain in the transition period for some years—the number varies from two to four—the House will be politically castrated. As things stand, it will not be able to do anything to influence any law in any field or any competence within the EU treaties, and we will effectively be governed by the majority vote in the Council of Ministers.
This Bill is indicative of the problems that we are up against. It is not an expedited Bill; it is not an accelerated Bill; it is a Bill of constitutional execution. It means that, as a result of the procedures followed, and the procedures that will follow from the fact that the withdrawal agreement—if it goes through—will end up allowing 27 other countries to legislate for us, we will have no right to veto any of those laws. That is, to me, the greatest reason for objecting to the proposal. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland backstop is part of that situation with the control of laws.
So I think this is a grave moment in our constitutional history. I think the Bill is reprehensible; I do not think it should pass. I think it is a disgrace that it was brought in, and I have to say that 30 Members of my own party are responsible for this, because otherwise it would never have got through as a result of the combination of votes with those on the other side of the House. I regard the Bill as a grave constitutional indictment of those who have been responsible for bringing it in.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). We do not agree about much, but I know he cares passionately about the constitution of his country and I very much respect him for that. I rise to support the business of the House motion and to lend my support to the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) of which I am a co-sponsor.
Despite the disappointing lack of support for the motion I tabled in this House on Monday, which was designed to protect the whole UK from a no-deal Brexit, I remain of the view that only cross-party working can resolve the crisis we are in at present. As I have said previously, it is no secret that I came to this House primarily to advance the cause of Scottish independence, and it is also no secret that I, in line with the wishes of my constituents and my country, do not wish to exit from the EU, but I see the priority at present to be protecting all the nations of these islands, and in that I include the Republic of Ireland, from the economic and social damage that would be done by a no-deal Brexit. That is what is informing my position today.
It has been said previously—it is not terribly original, but I am going to say it again—that this Government are in office but not in power, and have all but officially lost the confidence of this House. That is why Parliament must take control, to try to protect all the nations in the United Kingdom from the incompetence of this Conservative Government. And I would just say that part of the problem, and part of the problem that the hon. Member for Stone was referring to, is the inability of this Government to get to grips with governing as a minority Government. That is not an easy thing to do, but if they want a tip on how to do it effectively, I suggest that the Prime Minister speak to the First Minister of Scotland, who is here to see her today, because she runs an effective minority Administration. The Prime Minister might also want to look at the history of the former First Minister of Scotland, who ran a very effective minority Administration for four years—so effective that he went on to gain an outright majority in a system designed not to give outright majorities. There is a lesson in that for all of us.
I will not give way to the right hon. Lady because she persistently refuses to give way to me and I do not want to take up too much time, so it is tit for tat I am afraid on this occasion.
I support this business motion and I support amendment (a) because we must keep control of the House, not just for today but, as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, very importantly for Monday. I am one of many people who think the Bill laid before the House is somewhat deficient. It certainly would not give the degree of protection that the amendment I moved on Monday would have, and which also had a Bill behind it, but we are not there and there is not much I can do about that. I may try to amend the Bill later, but it is the best we have for now, and I see it as an insurance policy against the talks between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition breaking down or coming up with an even more unsatisfactory situation than we are in at present, which I suspect is what is going to happen.
I also very much agree with the hon. Member for Bath and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central that we must secure the indicative votes slot for Monday and we should be doing that particularly to make sure that composite motions are debated and options for the future combined with the option of a second referendum are debated on that day. The majority of political parties in this House support a second referendum, and I include in that the official Opposition, having regard to their conference motion.
I was interested to hear from the evidence that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union gave to the Exiting the European Union Committee this morning that even the Prime Minister might now acknowledge that a second referendum or people’s vote has to be an option. It has been a cause for concern to some of us that Labour Front Benchers have seemed less than enthusiastic about that option on occasions, but I know that they have not written it off completely. I entreat them to ensure that it stays on the agenda, and Monday will provide a way of doing that.
I also say to Labour Members that if their leader cannot secure a second vote in his talks with Prime Minister, he will never be forgiven. He will be remembered as the Labour leader who helped to deliver a Conservative Brexit, and I am sure that no one in the Labour party would wish him to be remembered in that way. As things stand, I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, because we do not yet know the outcome of those negotiations. However, I also want a fall-back position, which is that the House of Commons should have control of the agenda on Monday so that we can hold the indicative votes.
I know that a lot of Conservative Members are really worried about the precedent that could be set by today, and I sort of understand their worry, but I would say to them that today we really are in extremis. The whole of the United Kingdom is at serious risk of crashing out of the European Union without a deal, and that would be a disaster for the economies of these islands and for our social fabric—[Interruption.] People are muttering at me that I should vote for the withdrawal agreement, but that is not my mandate. Please try to understand and respect the fact that there are Members of this House who were elected on a manifesto of stopping Brexit. They should please desist from trying to ram their opinions down our throats, because that is not acceptable.
I much respect the honesty of the hon. and learned Lady, and actually she is right. I have never, in any of the debates on this issue—heavens above, there have been enough of them—criticised the SNP, because I know that it has that manifesto commitment. I also know that its objective is the independence of Scotland. Adding to the point that she has already made, I want to ask her this. If the truncated procedure that we are witnessing now had been applied to, for example, the Scotland Act 2016 or to any amendments to it, would she not have regarded that as an unbelievable travesty?
I would, and that is a point that I am coming on to address. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman, however, that the Scotland Act was indeed an unbelievable travesty because, when it passed through this House, 56 of the 59 MPs who represented Scotland here were Scottish National party MPs, yet not a single one of our amendments was accepted. So in fact, the present system can be a travesty, without having this process tacked on to it.
I do not want to wander too far from the current matter, but just a week before the independence referendum, David Cameron said that if Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom, all forms of devolution would be there and all would be possible. When it came to our amendments, however, none was able to be there and none was accepted.
I will return to the business motion, which in fairness I have addressed so far—[Interruption.] I know that people sometimes do not want to hear the SNP voices in this House, and that has not gone unnoticed in Scotland. Judging by my mailbox, it certainly has not gone unnoticed by many of my constituents who are not natural SNP voters but who still do not like the sight of SNP MPs being howled down. Conservative Members might like to bear that in mind. I am sure that Ruth Davidson will be on the phone to them, because she seems to think that she is going to beat me in my constituency at the next general election—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I wouldn’t get too excited, because the person they sent last time did not succeed, and that was before this fiasco unfolded.
I shall get back to my main point, which is the legitimate concern of Conservative Members that what is happening today might set an unfortunate precedent. I say to them that we are in extremis today because of the Government’s failure to govern properly. Nothing in this sorry, chaotic fiasco of Brexit should set a precedent for anything we do in the future. What we are doing today, we are doing only because we are in extremis.
I oppose this business motion. The idea of speed legislating is dangerous and wrong on this occasion, although I fully accept that there are times when legislating at pace can make sense. If the House has a consensus and the matters are not contentious, of course there is no need to waste the House’s time on pointless debates in which Members try to think of something to say. Were there a great national emergency and most people in the House thought that the Government should take emergency powers to deal with a catastrophe, that would have to go through at pace. However, there is no national emergency that can justify this, and there is certainly no consensus in this House.
We cannot be sure how the vote will go this evening. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) has enough Conservative rebels to tip it over the line—I think that that is the modern phrase—for himself, or it may be that enough Conservatives respond to the Government’s whipping and carry the day with our DUP partners. Either way, I think we can be sure that a large and significant minority of Members of Parliament who have lost will be in no way part of any consensus. On my side of the argument, there would be a minority who in no way think that such legislation should be rushed through at pace. We feel that we have every right to table amendments and to discuss them in the normal way.
My right hon. Friend ought to be a little careful, because a number of us voted for the Prime Minister’s deal, which would have got us out of Europe on 29 March. As someone who voted for the deal, the suggestion that this proposal is somehow about losers’ bad faith does not accurately reflect my actions.
I think my hon. Friend misheard me. I made no such allegation about her or my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. I was paying them all due civility in saying that they may win, but nobody can claim that there is a big consensus in this House or a large potential majority on either side, so we need more time than is being offered in this business motion. Lightning legislation is bad legislation.
As we have already heard, this potential legislation poses fundamental questions about the nature of government, how government is conducted and the powers of Government, which go to the heart of our very processes, and seeks to overturn conventions and Standing Orders that have been in place and accepted by Governments of both persuasions for a long time. That should happen only after due consideration. I am not one to think that there should be no constitutional change or experiment. I have often been against my own Government and have understood the need to use the available procedures to get them to change their mind. However, we should not enter into a radical transformation on the basis of just a few hours’ debate, which is what we are being offered in this business motion.
Viewing this situation objectively, I do not believe that there is any constitutional impropriety whatsoever in what the House is being asked to do this afternoon. It simply does not arise. The truth is that we have a flexible constitution. I rather agree with my right hon. Friend that one often wants more time, but it is precisely when one faces an emergency that the flexibility of the constitution becomes most desirable, and I cannot alter the fact that the emergency exists. With that in mind, I would hope that he would appreciate that there is nothing improper in what the House is doing. In fact, it is only since a recent date in this House’s history that we have been fettered by the Government’s almost total control of the Order Paper.
Again, I fear that my right hon. Friend did not listen carefully. I never suggested any impropriety. I said that we wished to proceed in an orderly manner, which Mr Speaker will ensure that we can do, and that there are occasions on which we need to change our procedures or modify our Standing Orders. On this occasion, however, the case I want to make is that there are some fundamental issues that are worthy of rather longer time than is being offered in this business motion.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I rather agree that it would be desirable to have longer to discuss these things, although, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) just said, I am not suggesting any impropriety. Nevertheless, there is innovation here, and it would be nice to have longer.
Is not the fundamental difference between us that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) thinks—I know he genuinely thinks this, and he has thought about it a lot—that leaving on Thursday week without a deal is not an emergency, whereas many of us who support this motion think, rightly or wrongly, that leaving on Thursday week is an emergency? Is that not the real difference between us?
We are going beyond the business of the House motion, but of course it is not an emergency. We have had two years and nine months to prepare for it, and the Government have assured us that they are ready to leave without an agreement, if necessary. More than half the public now think it is the right thing to do, but that is a matter of substance and not a matter of the business of the House motion.
I will briefly mention three elements that give the Government an advantage so that they can claim to be the Government and behave as the Government, if they have the wit and the votes to do so—of course, they need to keep enough votes enough of the time to fulfil their role.
The first element is control of the Order Paper. Of course the Government should not have complete control of the Order Paper and, by convention, they agree with the Opposition on providing Opposition days, which they must do, and allow the Opposition to debate the things they wish to debate, either in their own time or in Government time. If the Government do not do that, things can break down and become a matter of controversy, and the public may side with the Opposition, so the Government have to behave in a sensible way through the usual channels on business.
By tradition, for many years now, the Government set a Queen’s Speech programme of legislation, which is meant to be a coherent and consistent programme—and under a good Government it is—that reflects what they have persuaded the electors to vote for, because they have more seats than anyone else in the House. The programme is presented by Her Majesty, usually annually—we are in a strange Parliament because we only do Brexit, so there was no need for a new annual speech because this Parliament has been on groundhog day for two years and nine months.
As someone who used to be interested in this subject, I actually want to go on and talk about some of the other subjects in which I am interested. I would like this done. By convention, we have an annual Queen’s Speech in which the Government present what they think is a coherent programme of legislation that fits into how they are trying to govern the country, and then it is up to Parliament to rip it apart, amend it, improve it, say that bits of it are not acceptable and try to influence the future programme.
My right hon. Friend is making some good points, and I add that not only would the House usually have much more time to consider a Bill of such constitutional significance but, of course, the Bill would, previously to coming before the House, go before a committee consisting of the business managers, the Law Officers, the territorial Ministers and many others to test both the policy and the handling plan. There would be significant cross-House engagement, and it is for that reason that, in this Session alone, 43 Bills have received Royal Assent. I completely agree with him that due process is incredibly important.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.
The second big issue that is relevant to this business of the House motion is that, traditionally, only a Minister may move a money resolution in support of legislation that requires the expenditure of public funds. Again, there is very good reason for this, because the Government have to be responsible for the Budget, and they normally understand that, if they want to spend more, they have to raise more through taxes or borrowing. The Government are responsible for both sides of the account.
Again, the House can criticise, refuse to agree or try to get the Government to shift their position, but it is the Government who are financially responsible to the markets and for all the other reporting that has to be done. This proposal could have very significant financial consequences indeed, because staying in the European Union is an extremely expensive thing to do, and I think it would need a money resolution, which should be moved by a Minister of the Crown.
I intend to raise a point of order on this question but, as my right hon. Friend is the first person to mention it, he may be interested to know that I have already prepared a comprehensive note on the question of a money resolution. It would cost UK taxpayers some £36 billion if our contributions are extended for up to two years, which is a vast sum of money. I have written a paper for Mr Speaker and others explaining why I believe a money resolution is required, and at least 50 Members have backed my letter to Mr Speaker on this question. That will come up later.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Again, it is important to have it on the record in this debate for the House’s consideration that we are dealing with things that could have precedents with wide ramifications that go way beyond the next few days and whether we leave in accordance with the views of the British people or not.
The final of my three points is perhaps even more relevant to this particular proposal: it is tradition that the Government have vested in them Crown prerogative, and the Prime Minister and Ministers act on behalf of the Crown in all international negotiations. That is not just our view, important though that is, in this House of Commons; while we still remain subject to the superior law of Brussels, it is also the law of Brussels. The Brussels authorities—the European Union—do not wish to negotiate with groups of MPs. They wish to negotiate with the UK Government, because it is the UK Government who are the signatory to the treaty and the UK Government who have sought the agreement of the EU to our withdrawal—or indeed to our automatic withdrawal under article 50 should no agreement be reached.
Does it concern the right hon. Gentleman that so many groups of MPs, ex-Prime Ministers and so on—not official Select Committees, which might have gone to the EU to see Michel Barnier and others—seem to have been trotting over to see the European Union as though they are almost negotiating on behalf of this Parliament and almost advising Michel Barnier as to what to do to make sure we end up either not having a Brexit or having a very soft Brexit? Does that not worry him?
It worries me, but I am a freedom-loving young man and I think that people will do what they want to do; I do not want to stop MPs expressing their views and going to talk to people with whom we are trying to negotiate. I also have a right to a view on it and I agree with the hon. Lady that if those MPs went there with the express intention of delaying or sabotaging Brexit—if they went there to weaken the pretty feeble position the Government had already adopted in the negotiations in order to make it more difficult for us to get any kind of agreement that I could agree to—that is a matter of grave regret. That will be judged by the British people in subsequent elections. It is not for me to make the misery of those MPs greater; they will need to answer to their constituents about that.
When I was talking about the money resolution, I ought to have mentioned that it is not just me who has made these submissions; I understand that a Minister has also made representations. I just want to confirm, on the record, that it is not just Back Benchers doing this, but the Government, because a Minister has told me that he has raised them.
I am pleased the Government have made that representation, as it adds force to the case I was making.
On this Crown prerogative point, the EU position and the internationally agreed position is that only the Government can formally represent and negotiate on behalf of the UK. So one of my problems, which I raised directly with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), is how far can this House go in instructing and controlling the negotiation? He gave me a sensible answer, saying that the House was not going to try to say that there had to be a delay, because he fully understood my point that that is ultimately in the EU’s gift. As I pointed out, it is in this House’s gift to insist on a Minister seeking a delay. He rightly added that it is in this House’s gift to decide whether to accept any delay should the EU grant it, but the central point is that, assuming this House wanted a delay, most of the power rests with the EU. As we saw the last time a needless delay was sought and granted, quite a long delay—to 30 June—was requested, but the effective delay turned out to be only until 12 April.
The point I am making is that we do not want to take time debating something that misleads people. A lot of people outside this House think that today we are debating a Bill that will require and achieve a delay, whereas it cannot possibly guarantee to do that. People must also understand that even if this House reaches an agreement with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, she may not end up with anything like that which the House was seeking.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who has disappeared, said that she had discovered that we could do anything. I have to disabuse her of that notion in two ways. First, even this House and all Members of Parliament—sometimes the public do not understand this—have to obey the law. Our advantage is that we can change the law if enough of us wish to do so.
Secondly, the hon. Lady also has to understand that great though this House can be once we are out of the European Union, and powerful though it is even still within the European Union, there are a lot of things for which it cannot sensibly legislate. Let us suppose that all working people would like it to rain on Mondays and Tuesdays, and be sunny on Saturdays and Sundays. That would be very convenient and an extremely popular law to pass, but there is no point in passing such a law, because even this House does not control the weather. I feel the same about the European Union.
There is absolutely no point in this House legislating for how the EU should respond, what its conduct should be or what laws it should pass—although they are a matter of great interest to me and many others—because we have absolutely no power over it. Indeed, that was at heart of the referendum campaign. What the SNP never accepts when it uses our phrase, “take back control”, is that the control that we wish to take back is all those mighty powers granted to the European Union, which the SNP is relaxed about. As soon as the Executive here wants any power to behave as a normal Government, however, the SNP says that that is unacceptable and Parliament needs to take it back.
I hope that the House will consider the business motion carefully, that more will come to my view—this is too little time to discuss such fundamental issues—and that they will agree with me that the big issues are to do with our future procedures and with the balance between the Executive and Parliament. I am one who often criticises the Executive, but I do not want to go too far this afternoon so that all government is in effect impossible. They must retain control of the agenda and of the money.
I support the business motion and the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). The House of Commons is in a very unhappy and unsatisfactory place, but there can be no doubt in the minds of anyone in this House or in the country that we are in the midst of a national crisis and that we face an emergency, not least the real prospect that without affirmative action by the Government—certainly by Parliament—we risk crashing out of the European Union with no deal whatever.
I recognise that no deal is the desired outcome for some Members of this House and for some people in our country, but it is not a future that would command the support of the majority of the people; it certainly does not command the support of a majority in this House, which has ruled out that scenario repeatedly. Even those who argue for leaving the European Union with no deal, believing it to be some kind of pure Brexit—which I do not remember being sold to people during the referendum campaign, by the way—will certainly not enjoy living through it. The immediate consequences would be the complete disruption of supply chains in this country and of the ability for goods to flow across borders. The consequences for every aspect of our society would be huge, from the price of food in our shops to the ability of our businesses to function properly.
That is why, in an almost unprecedented display of unity, the CBI and the TUC have repeatedly warned this House of the consequences of no deal. That is why I am contacted regularly by businesses in my constituency, fearing the prospect. I understand that the ongoing uncertainty is damaging for our country and that by extending article 50 we might be lengthening the agony—it does feel like agony—but we are making decisions that will affect our country for generations to come. It is crucial that we get them right, for the interests of our economy, our national security, and Britain’s place and standing in the world.
The second point is that this is a mess and a shambles entirely of the Government’s making. The simple truth is that we would not be required to pass emergency legislation in these circumstances had the Prime Minister not sought to run down the clock deliberately at every moment, hoping and wishing that she would be able to ram a frankly woeful agreement and political declaration through the House of Commons, even if only by threatening us with the prospect of crashing out of the European Union. It has been “My way or the highway” consistently throughout the process. The Government, through their lack of leadership, have created a vacuum that the House of Commons now needs to fill. It is a responsibility that weighs heavily on the shoulders of every Member of this House, whatever our party affiliation, and however we voted in the referendum.
We are trying to agree a way forward that can bring some kind of satisfactory resolution to a situation that is completely unprecedented in the history of our country. People understandably criticise Parliament for not yet having been able to reach a majority on any proposition, but they should take comfort from the idea that perhaps our representative democracy is functioning quite well, because out there in the country, the people are also deeply divided—in families, workplaces and communities. It is not surprising, therefore, that this House is divided, not just along traditional lines, but within the families of our political parties.
I turn to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central. On just two occasions, Members of the House, acting in good faith, have tried to see whether consensus can be built around any of a range of options, so that one way or another, we can draw a line under this process of negotiating our exit from the European Union. In just two days, I think we have achieved signs of breakthrough, which is rather more than the Government have done in the past two years. We have seen emerging consensus on the possibility of a deal based around a softer Brexit, and on putting a deal back to the public, so that they are given the final say on the way forward. Those proposals may not yet have achieved a majority, but after debate, proposals on a customs union and a confirmatory vote came incredibly close to securing a majority of votes.
Let us be honest with ourselves and each other: because the votes were indicative and non-binding, and certainly included Government abstentions, lots of Members have not yet had the chance to offer their views, and others, myself included, would be prepared to compromise still further to find some way forward for our country.
What we have been discussing for the best part of two and a half years, be it the Prime Minister’s deal, no deal or any range of soft Brexits, bears little resemblance to what people were sold during the referendum campaign. That is the dilemma that has plagued the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the House of Commons since 2016. A range of promises were made during the campaign, but even the finest negotiator in the history of the world would struggle to deliver in full that complete range of promises. It is simply not possible, because people were never entirely honest about the trade-offs between sovereignty, our economic interests and our partnership with our biggest trading partners—and that is before we get on to the wider geopolitics, and the disruptive world around us.
This has been a difficult process. If we want to break the deadlock and restore some democratic legitimacy to this deeply discredited process, whatever deal the House arrives at with the European Union ought to be put back to the public. That is not because it will heal all the divisions or leave everyone feeling happy; we are not in that place. It is because allowing the people the final say, particularly in a confirmatory ballot in which the deal, having already been done, would not have to return to the House of Commons, offers us the possibility of resolution. That, I accept, is a debate for another day, but unless we pass this business motion and the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central, we may not have that opportunity.
If people want to oppose and vote down the Bill, or table amendments to it, they should do that at its subsequent stages. If they want to oppose any number of proposals that might come forward in an indicative vote, they can do that again, but I think the country will look down on the House of Commons if, at this stage in the process, we do not offer an opportunity of seeing off the threat of no deal and the chaos that would ensue. We may not yet have achieved a majority and built consensus in the House of Commons, but we should show that that is not through want of trying, or through a lack of good faith, debate and deep consideration.
The public have run out of patience with Parliament—I think that is entirely reasonable—but it up to us now in the coming hours, days, weeks and months to begin the process of restoring their confidence in this House of Commons. Whatever our differences, during the referendum or since, it has been my experience in just under four years in this place that the people who serve here are people of integrity, decency and honour who are acting in the national interest and doing what they believe to be right. We may not agree on the way forward, but we can yet build consensus. Finding consensus, agreeing a way forward and, better still, involving the public might be a way to begin the process of healing our deeply divided country.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who set out his case very well. I will talk first about the business of the House motion, before discussing amendment (a) in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), which Mr Speaker has selected. I will then also pick up on one or two points that have been made so far in the debate.
My real problem with the business of the House motion is that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is attempting to take a controversial Bill—I mean, it is fundamental to the debate that we have been having for the past three years—and, to put it politely, to ram it through the House in a day. My right hon. Friend did not even give sufficient notice of the fact that he was going to do so. That is why my amendment, which I accept Mr Speaker has not selected, proposed a relatively modest change to allow us to debate the business of the House motion today, and then to debate the Bill tomorrow. At least hon. Members would then have had an opportunity to see the Bill, consider it and think about sensible amendments. That would have meant a better process and a reasonable balance. However, I accept my right hon. Friend’s injunction that there is a timetable to this process and that it would have been slightly otiose to have taken months to consider the Bill.
I am not going to dwell on the Bill in great detail, but I will mention it to provide one illustration of why I do not agree with having just a few hours today, with little notice and little opportunity to amend the Bill. One of the fundamental aspects of the Bill was drawn out by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), when she referred to clause 1(6) and (7). These subsections—and the structure of the Bill—refer to the time limit and the extension that may or may not be sought by the Prime Minister, and they mandate the Prime Minister to put before the House a motion that specifically mentions the length of the extension. Hon. Members will understand why I think that is fundamentally flawed, and therefore why the Bill needs more debate, if they think about the extension that the Prime Minister just sought. She sought a straightforward extension of a certain fixed length, but what the European Council actually gave us in return was actually a much more complex matter—a two-part extension with a number of conditions. The way in which the Bill as currently drafted does not really enable that complexity to be put before the House and properly debated.
Everything else that my right hon. Friend has said so far that I do not agree with was accurate, but I do not think that his final point was accurate. It is perfectly possible within the structure of the Bill for the Prime Minister’s motion to explain conditionality on the date because it can add to the motion that is given in form. Also, there is specific provision in clause 1(6) and (7) for the EU to come back with its view, whatever it is. The Prime Minister then has to bring that to the House. Obviously, in bringing it to the House she will need to describe what the EU has said about the conditionality. I do not think that there is any problem with that. The problem that my right hon. Friend has is a deeper one about timing and consideration, and that is a separate matter.
I have listened to my right hon. Friend. I will not spend too much longer on this issue, because I will then be straying into a debate on the Bill. Having just looked at the Bill again, I do not think that my right hon. Friend is accurate, but the fact that he and I—both reasonably competent readers of Bills—have reached different conclusions about the same words proves my point that we need longer to debate the Bill, to test amendments and to understand exactly what the House is being asked to agree.
My right hon. Friend also talked about the role of the other place. This House often does not spend long enough debating legislation and then—it is a process I deprecate—expects the House of Lords, at a slow pace and in more detail, to improve it. I note that the Leader of the House was unable to give any information on what the plan is at the other end of the building, and I do not know whether any information has reached her from the Leader of the House of Lords—
My right hon. Friend shakes her head, so we do not have that intelligence. My understanding is that an attempt similar to this one will take place in the other place. It might not be called a business of the House motion—I am not as familiar with the terminology used in the other place—but the intention is effectively to ram the Bill through in a day. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset suggested that the discussions he has had indicate that a large majority of the House of Lords was content with the Bill in advance, which does not suggest to me that it will receive significant scrutiny. Indeed, it sounds as though it is not going to get any scrutiny at all.
Has my right hon. Friend heard the rumour that Government Whips in the other place are not planning in any way to stop the Bill being rammed through in a day? In fact, it has been suggested in some quarters that they might even be seeking discreetly to assist it.
I had not heard that specific piece of information, but even if it is not the case, if the Bill does go through the other place very rapidly, in effect a Bill with significant constitutional effects will have been passed without proper scrutiny in either House.
Before the political point that was just made, my right hon. Friend was making the extremely valuable point that the House of Lords is a revising Chamber. We do the Lords a great disservice if we do not give them adequate time to advise and revise. This House will have very little time to take advantage of all the expertise in that House if its Members are not allowed to do their job in a proper fashion.
I completely agree, but my major point was that I do not like the process whereby we do not consider Bills properly and then expect the Lords to do all the scrutiny. Certainly, when I was taking constitutional legislation through this House a number of years ago, as Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, I tried to ensure that we had sufficient time to debate it properly, because for important constitutional matters, and particularly for this matter, which is effectively about enacting the result of a referendum of the people, it is important that it is elected Members who make the final decisions, not Members of the other place. My principal point on the substance of the business of the House motion is therefore that it provides insufficient time to allow proper scrutiny of the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) all referred to precedent. I think that a dispute broke out on the SNP Front Bench, because the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire acknowledged that this process was indeed a precedent, and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West then tried to differentiate it and say that it was not really a precedent, arguing that Brexit is such an unprecedented process that we cannot draw any lessons from the use of this procedure. I think that they are mistaken.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made very reasonable points. As a former business manager, I think that future business managers will note that Members from a number of different parties have accepted this as a legitimate process. It is perfectly true, as the shadow Leader of the House said, that Clerks would not allow anything disorderly to take place. That is correct, but a majority in this House can override Standing Orders and ram things through, and it is convention and self-restraint that stop Governments using their majorities in inappropriate ways.
Members on both sides of the House ought to reflect on the fact that if in future a Government with a significant majority choose to use that majority to override the usual conventions and procedures of the House and ram through pieces of controversial legislation in a day, those Members cannot complain that the Government are behaving inappropriately. I would deprecate that behaviour and would not want any part in it, but the people will be watching these proceedings and following this precedent. I am pretty sure that someone will try to use this precedent again at some point, and Members may regret supporting it today.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking about the importance of honouring conventions, which are one of the things that govern this House, but is there not a degree of hypocrisy in the Government making that argument? So often in this Parliament we have seen the Government, who refuse to accept that they are a minority Government, riding roughshod over conventions such as granting Opposition days and taking cognisance of Opposition day motions passed by the House.
I accept some of the arguments that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have not been a member of this Government; I have not served as a Minister under this Prime Minister. Certainly when I was a Minister and when I was responsible for scheduling the business of the House as the Government Chief Whip, we did vote on Opposition days, and when we had a longer Session we gave the Opposition the appropriate number of days. I often argued that we should restrain the use of our majority, to ensure that we behaved properly. There is some substance in what the hon. Gentleman says. There has been, to some extent, an equal and opposite reaction by the Opposition, who have explored mechanisms such as use of the Humble Address because they have been frustrated that the Government have not responded appropriately to Opposition days. The Government should reflect on that.
But in a way, that rather proves my point, which is that if Members behave in this way today and ram through a piece of controversial, contested legislation without a consensus in the House, they should not be surprised if in future a Government with a majority use this precedent and behave in the same way. When those Members are arguing against that, they will find the arguments they are making today being thrown back at them, and the force of their argument will be undercut.
My right hon. Friend is making an interesting speech. This procedure has been used in the past for legislation on Northern Ireland or even the Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill in 1939, but does he agree that it has always been when it was desperately important to get legislation through and there was a broad consensus on it—not, as we see today, when there is clearly a debate to be had about whether something is the right thing to do?
I agree. My hon. Friend mentions Northern Ireland. I listened carefully to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Measures on Northern Ireland security matters and others have been expedited through the House because there has been a generally accepted need on both sides and between the usual channels that there is a need to do so. We have taken legislation through this House and the other place on a single day. She gave good examples of recent measures for which that has taken place. I understand that it has taken place with agreement between both Front-Bench teams, but she makes a perfectly reasonable point. I looked carefully at the most recent example of that, and I could not see any particular urgency or need to do that in a single day. It was agreed by the usual channels, but it may not necessarily be in the interests of Back-Bench Members, and particularly those from Northern Ireland, who may wish to have developed arguments about that legislation more fully than was possible. She made a good point.
The final point I want to make about the business of the House motion itself is in relation to the point made by the shadow Leader of the House on the detail of the legislation. She referred briefly to the Bill and made some points that I will not debate now, because that is properly to be done later. However, just as in the exchange between my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and me, I do not agree with the points she made about the Bill, but the fact that, again, two people who understand the processes of the House can come to opposite conclusions about the words in the legislation just proves to me that we should have more time to debate it.
Moving on, I want to say a few words about amendment (a), which you have selected, Mr Speaker, in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. It is not about today’s business, but an attempt to secure time on Monday. From listening to him, I think the plan is to have another session of indicative votes, and I want to say one or two words about that before I conclude. He, I think accurately, quoted the words in the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that
“the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House”
in the event that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are unable in their talks today and perhaps later to agree on a unified approach.
I do not disagree with the Prime Minister doing so, but that precedent should have been followed rather earlier. It still remains the case that, so far in this process, the only proposition on which the House has voted with a majority is the so-called Brady amendment, which received a majority of 16 on 29 January. I am disappointed that the Prime Minister did not take the instruction of the House on that occasion and successfully prosecute a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement to amend the backstop. I accept the result of the referendum, but for me it is very important that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union together and does not split apart.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the backstop. May I just remind him and other Members of the House that all the arguments—all the bitter arguments—about the backstop will become totally irrelevant if we do not approve the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal? We need the Brexit deal to be signed and approved by this House in order to have an implementation period, and it is only at the end of the implementation period that a backstop even becomes a possibility—a possibility—not a necessary or a requirement at that stage. We need the Bill.
I note very carefully what the hon. Lady says. I have opposed the Cabinet’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration twice because I think the backstop is a fundamental problem with the agreement. After the last couple of weeks of votes in the House and the Government’s response to them, I came to the conclusion that the most central, overriding promise I made at the general election was to deliver Brexit, and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I needed to support the withdrawal agreement in order to deliver Brexit, so I agree with her on that point. I behaved in that way on Friday, and I wish more of my right hon. and hon. Friends had done so, so that we could have got the withdrawal agreement over the line to secure that outcome.
The final point, in concluding my remarks on the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, was to ask him where we are hoping to go on this. I notice he referred to compositing motions, which is very much a Labour thing to do with sticking motions together. It seemed implicit in what he was saying and what one or two others have said, such as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), that there is an assumption that if we take a number of propositions, none of which would secure a majority in the House, and glue them together in this compositing process—I am not sure that is a verb, but it sounds as though it is—
The right hon. Gentleman is confirming that. I think that at Labour conferences compositing is a verb. There is an implicit assumption that, by gluing the motions together, we will automatically add up all the numbers and somehow magically majorities will pop out of them, but I just do not think that is very likely. I was looking at the various propositions, and I note that all of them received fewer votes in favour of them than the Cabinet’s withdrawal agreement received on 29 March. They all received fewer votes than the Brady amendment. None of them had a majority. Indeed, there was a majority against the motion in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, who is not here now, of 101, so it is more unpopular than the withdrawal agreement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, however, that if the Government were to Whip for their own withdrawal agreement and future framework, and to combine that with the undoubted support for putting that deal to the people, that would be the simplest way for the Prime Minister to get her deal through Parliament with an absolute guarantee of showing whether it was the will of the people?
No, I fundamentally disagree, for this reason. I will give the hon. Lady a couple of examples. First, I suspect that there are many people—I do not know this, but it is my assumption—who supported the Cabinet’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration who, if we attached a referendum to it, would no longer support it, because those of us on the Conservative Benches made a commitment to implement the result of the referendum. Indeed, when the hon. Lady stood for election on these Benches, she made the same commitment, I believe. The public made a decision—it was a once-in-a-generation decision—to leave the European Union. That is what I want to deliver, and I promised not to have another referendum. If we added on a referendum, people who have currently supported the proposition would no longer support it. I for one will not vote for another referendum.
There is also something that I have spotted. It is no surprise to me that those who want to remain in the European Union want to have a binary choice between the Cabinet’s deal and remain, because they have spotted that the proposition put forward by the Government is very unpopular in opinion polls. They have also noticed that many people who campaigned for leave do not believe that it is really leaving, and they think that if that is the binary choice presented to the public, it will be the best opportunity to get remain. They do not want a referendum with a range of choices. For my part, the only referendum that would be even vaguely justifiable is one that accepted that the public had asked to leave and simply gave them the choices of how to leave. That might be defensible, but nothing else.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of this, but I want to put it on record that when the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) pressed her amendment on having a people’s vote, it got 85 votes. Revisiting the matter, as she did just now, does not make it more popular.
What the right hon. Gentleman seems to be confirming is that the withdrawal agreement and future framework does not represent the will of the people and is rather unpopular. In that circumstance, surely it would be better to check what the public support is, once we know what a known deal is. As he will know, if there were agreement to a confirmatory vote, a referendum would require an Act of Parliament, and during the passage of a referendum Bill it would be this House that determined what the questions would be. It would not be for us to set the question in advance of that; it would be open to debate.
Indeed, but given that a number of Members of this House have made it quite clear that they do not want to deliver the result of the last referendum, I am not sure that a fair choice would be presented to the public or that they would be given the full range of options.
Let me conclude with a message for those on my Front Bench. I do not know where the discussions with the Leader of the Opposition are going to go, but all I would say is this. Having looked carefully at the indicative votes, I would issue a word of caution. If the Government end up trying to deliver a withdrawal agreement and political declaration that tries to deliver something that has been opposed by a significant majority of their own Members of Parliament—75% of Conservative MPs voted against a customs union and common market 2.0—it is not going to end well. I urge the Government, even at this stage, to reflect on that and perhaps change course.