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Business Statement

Volume 666: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2019

Madam Deputy Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a short announcement regarding additional business for consideration tomorrow.

At the conclusion of tomorrow’s debate on the Loyal Address, the House will be asked to consider a motion under section 3(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation Etc) Act 2019. This is a requirement under that Act. I shall make a further statement announcing future business in the usual way on Thursday.

I thank the Leader of the House for his courtesy in making this statement. He rightly has a reputation for being courteous, but the report to which tomorrow’s debate refers is not available and has not been available in the Vote Office. Can he make sure that that is attended to as a matter of emergency so that Members from all parties can know what exactly we will be debating tomorrow? He will accept that that is a matter of fundamental importance.

May I also suggest that the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries as to why the report is not with us at this stage? I spent several hours today trying to find out what this debate might or might not be about. I look forward to the debate tomorrow.

The Leader of the House will be aware that for many of our colleagues, particularly those with childcare responsibilities, the uncertainty over whether we will meet on Saturday is really not tolerable. Will he now give a definitive statement, on behalf of the Government, on whether they intend to go ahead with the Saturday sitting, and whether appropriate arrangements have been made for all our colleagues who will have to make real efforts to ensure they are with us on Saturday?

The report was meant to have been laid on 14 October, so I can only apologise if it is not in the Vote Office. That will be looked into immediately after I have sat down. With regard to Saturday, the issue there is that a Saturday sitting is an extremely unusual process dependent upon events, but the events that may require a Saturday sitting have not yet reached their fruition. It is only after that point has been reached that it would be sensible to confirm what exactly will be happening on Saturday, but of course it will be my aim to bring an announcement to the House as soon as possible in that regard.

I did not intend to intervene on the Leader of the House until the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) asked his question about Saturday. It might just be worth drawing this point to his attention, because he does raise some perfectly understandable diary uncertainty. The challenge around the Saturday sitting was really put in train by all those Members of the House who voted for the surrender Act. It is the deadline in that Act, Saturday 19 October, which would potentially necessitate the sitting of this House on that day, so if he has diary concerns, he should really look in the mirror.

My right hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. It was of course the surrender Act that set the date of 19 October for its coming into force and that is why events may have to take place on Saturday. I hope that Members of the House will be reassured that the House has met on a Saturday in 1956 and 1982. We are Members of Parliament. It is our duty to attend to the serious business of the state, as we had set out to us by Her Majesty only yesterday, and to meet twice or three times on a Saturday in 70 years is not too inconvenient, even for those with the most pressing diary concerns.

I thank the Leader of the House for making this short statement this afternoon. It is disappointing that we are still in the realms of “surrender Act”. For goodness’ sake, let us try to see if we can improve the language used in this House. Using terms like that is singularly inappropriate and I believe it does not catch the mood of the House at all.

The Leader of the House made his statement with all the enthusiasm of a prime ministerial speech at a People’s Vote rally. The last thing that he wants to bring to the House are the constraints that were given to this Government under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. We did that because we wanted to ensure we did not have the situation where they could possibly have their no-deal scenario. Thank goodness we have this extra piece of security at our disposal to ensure that the Government have to continue to come to Parliament every week to give some sort of statement. We are grateful for that.

I agree with the concerns of the Labour spokesperson. We need to see more about the proposed motion. It is just not good enough to glibly say, “Sorry, it’s not available.” This should have been available to us. How many hours have been set aside for this tomorrow? We are halfway through the Queen’s Speech debate and this is now going to be included. Will it disrupt the business of debating the Queen’s Speech? How long will we get to debate it? I also share the concerns about Saturday. We need to hear what is happening on Saturday. We need to have some sort of plan. We are from Scotland, Leader of the House. You have already destroyed our conference. We are all here missing our leader’s speech today. We are possibly going to have to come back. We do not know what we are going to be doing. Give us some certainty and security. [Interruption.] If he is going to say to me—[Interruption.]

Order. I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said at the end of his question and I guess that lots of other people did not either. I am therefore going to ask him to repeat it and the House ought to listen to the last bit of his question.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am tempted to start from the very beginning of my remarks, because they have been met with such enthusiasm by colleagues across the Floor. Is it not ridiculous? All we are saying is give us a bit of certainty and Government Members are trying to shout me down. What an appalling thing to do. It just shows us how bad and febrile this House has become. It is a very legitimate question: when will we secure certainty about the weekend? If it is all about events, will he tell us that they will be concluded by Saturday so we can sit? Come on, tell us what is happening. When will we hear what is going on and how long will we be sitting tomorrow night?

With regard to language, I have just been called pot by Mr Kettle, so I do not think I will worry about that unduly. With regard to the motion that I have announced to take place tomorrow, the hon. Gentleman is a very well-established Member of this House and he will know that it is a proceeding under an Act. Proceedings under an Act under Standing Orders are subject to 90-minute debates and they are allowed to come on after the moment of conclusion of the House.

On the Saturday sitting, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said earlier. Sittings on Saturday are highly abnormal. To have inconvenience three times in 70 years is not unreasonable and it will only happen if we have to have something, subject to what goes on in the European Council, to debate on Saturday. I think Members putting their duty to the House first, as we all try to do, do not find that an unreasonable or insupportable burden.

Was the Leader of the House as uncomfortable as I was a few moments ago to be surrounded by advocates and apologists for the Spanish judiciary, when some of our own are not that good? Perhaps we could debate that on Saturday.

I entered the record books for Parliament when I said that while no one was allowed to indulge in the floccinaucinihilipilification of our own judges, one was allowed to do so under Standing Orders and “Erskine May” for foreign judges. That is a freedom that this House is entitled to.

The provisions of the Benn Act, or, as it could also be known, the safeguarding Act, do not actually require a sitting on Saturday. It is a bit peculiar about what exactly the Government are planning. I do not necessarily expect the Leader of the House to tell us what will be brought forward on Saturday, but I do think it would be very helpful if he would publish the motion he proposes to use to facilitate the Saturday sitting. Will it be voted on tomorrow night or on Thursday night? Will it be sprung on us and introduced midway through Thursday? A lot of us do not, quite frankly, trust the Government on the way that they will frame the sitting on Saturday, so I hope he will publish it in advance for us all to see and scrutinise.

The Leader of the House said, correctly, a moment ago that the Saturday sitting will depend on events. The European Council is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, and the events to which he refers may come late on Friday evening. I have a very practical question: how does he propose to inform the House whether we are sitting at 9.30 the following morning?

If the right hon. Gentleman had not set a foolish date in his surrender Act, there would not be this problem.

The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that on Saturday there will probably be a million-plus people in London marching for a people’s vote. Will he arrange the sitting in such a way that Members of Parliament whose constituents may want to lobby them on the issue of a people’s vote can be made available for that purpose?

I am not entirely sure about the counting ability of Liberal Democrats, but it is always a right of members of the public to lobby MPs when the House is sitting. It is one we should be very proud of.

The UK Parliament has an international reputation for hardly being able to run a bath as run a Brexit. Today is Tuesday and the UK Parliament cannot tell us if we are sitting on Saturday. This will be Brexit Saturday if we sit. Brexit Saturday will be in the company of world war two Saturday, Suez Saturday and Falklands Saturday. This calamity that the Leader of the House wants to visit on the country is not in the best of company. What will happen between now and Thursday that might be able to clear his mind up as to whether we are sitting on Saturday? Decide, man! Decide!

I always thought one was in the habit of drawing a bath, rather than running a bath, and I am sure that the House would be most capable of drawing a bath. To come to the hon. Gentleman’s main point, we are waiting upon events. There is a European Council taking place on Thursday and Friday upon which the events on Saturday will depend. It seems to be relatively—

The hon. Gentleman heckles, elegantly and loudly as always, saying that today is Tuesday— I know today is Tuesday, and it will be followed by Wednesday and a European Council on Thursday and Friday. Things will be decided at that Council that will allow us to decide whether we need to meet on Saturday.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to mention heckling going on. Obviously, I will not allow heckling. I did not recognise heckling there—a statement of the obvious, yes, but not quite heckling. If it gets any worse, it will be heckling and I will have to stop it.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is no provision anywhere in the Act of Parliament that we recently passed—now called, quite properly, the Benn Act or the safeguarding Act—that says that this House must meet on Saturday 19 October? If there is, will he tell us which clause or subsection that requirement is in?

I thought that in my previous answer, I was pointing out the blindingly obvious to one hon. Member. I shall now do so to a right hon. Member: the Act sets the 19th as the deadline for certain things and votes to take place. Saturday is the 19th. Otherwise, consequences follow from that Act. It seems to me extraordinarily obvious.

I should point out that this is a very narrow business statement, and technically, I should have allowed questions relating only specifically to that, but I hope that the Lord President of the Council will forgive me for having allowed slightly wider questioning. I appreciate that there is concern about a Saturday sitting and that Members had genuine questions to ask him, which he has answered with his usual courtesy.