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House of Commons Hansard
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Business of the House
19 December 2019
Volume 669

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The business will be as follows:

Friday 20 December—Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

The business for the week commencing Monday 6 January 2020 will be:

Monday 6 January—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 7 January—Proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

Wednesday 8 January—Continuation of proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, followed by: the House will be asked to consider motions relating to Section 2 of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019 and Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, followed by the House will be asked to consider a motion under Section 3(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. Thursday 9 January—Conclusion of proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

Friday 10 January—The House will not be sitting.

I welcome all new and returning Members to the House and thank, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and all right hon. and hon. Members, the staff of the House, Members’ staff, security, the Doorkeepers––who always know everything––the civil servants and all those who are always here when we need them, and indeed, have been here at some particularly antisocial hours in recent months. I hope that they all, and we all, have a very happy and restful Christmas, and that we then look forward to a productive new year—a new year in which this House, this great institution of our democracy, will work for the people, delivering the Prime Minister’s ambitious legislative agenda while conducting its work of scrutiny and accountability in the proper way. I wish everyone in this House a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year.

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I welcome the Leader of the House back to his position. I am glad to see that he has emerged from North East Somerset—we were a bit worried because we had not seen him during the election, but it is good that he is around. I know that it is common sense for him to be hiding away, but it is good that he is back.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business for the next sitting week. Will he say when the further dates are for the Queen’s Speech debate, or are we going to have another Queen’s Speech? I hope not; we still have not finished the debate on this one. I note the motions on the appointment of temporary Deputy Speakers and the timing of the allocation of the Select Committee Chairs. If possible, will he set out a timetable for the election of the Deputy Speakers and the Select Committee Chairs?

Can the Leader of the House confirm the recess dates up to July 2020? We are now not in a hung Parliament and there is a bit more stability, so will he say when that motion is likely to be brought to the House? The staff of the House, to whom he has paid full tribute, need that certainty—obviously, they have to get the House ready—not to mention our staff and us.

It would be useful to know what the Government’s intentions are for the length of this Session. Will the Leader of the House also ensure that the rights of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the Backbench Business work and Private Members’ Bills will be reflected in the intended length of the Session? It would also be helpful to right hon. and hon. Members if he set some Friday sitting dates.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome new Members to this remarkable place and to pay tribute to Members who lost their seats. We have seen the roll call. They made a fantastic contribution to public service and they will be missed—those who lost their seats and those who perhaps were not able to stand again. We Labour Members are pleased that we have more women than men in our group.

I also let new Members know that the normal business questions of the House are a very exciting time, as I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree. We have a fine time trying to work out what the business is for next week and we raise important issues for our constituencies. For new Members, there is a SuperHub in the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House, which is open until 10 January. Members will know that there are very, very good, efficient and kind staff who will help them to see their way through all the different processes. I want to point out to them the “MPs’ Guide to Procedure”, which is a handy book, written in 21st-century language. It is a wonderful resource and Joanna Dodd has to be thanked for pulling it together. She also knows how to do indicative votes—something we had never done before—so we are moving into the 21st century.

Finally, as far as I am concerned, I have always been elected by the people. This has always been a people’s Parliament. It is not the people’s Parliament for the first time; we are all democratically elected. I want to thank all the staff for bringing us back here, in time, and to thank them all for what will happen next year, because there are lots of challenges with the rebuilding and restoration and renewal. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members and all the staff of the House—every single person—a peaceful Christmas and a very happy 2020.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her generous-spirited words, as always. How nice it is that we are back facing each other, and what fun it is when we walk together down the corridor to various appointments, including when your appointment, Mr Speaker, was confirmed by Her Majesty. That was greatly enjoyed.

If I were Mr Ladbroke, I would not take bets on the debate on the Queen’s Speech being resumed on the week beginning 13 January. That seems to me to be quite likely, but that is not a promise. It is merely an indication for those interested in placing bets.

The election of Deputy Speakers is a matter for Mr Speaker, and it therefore would not be right for me to give an indication on that. I am sure that Mr Speaker will keep us informed. The reason for the delay with the Select Committees is the Christmas recess, and it will be done as promptly as is reasonably possible.

I agree with the right hon. Lady that it would be extremely helpful to set out recess dates as early as possible. I think that is an advantage to the staff of the House and to Members, and in particular to new Members, in understanding how the year will work through. Discussions on that are going on at the moment and I hope that they can be announced reasonably early, and that obviously ties in with the length of the Session. The number of Bills and the considerable amount of business proposed in the Queen’s Speech means that we hope that there will not be a Queen’s Speech in another six weeks or so. It will be after a rather longer period; I certainly would be astonished if it was less than the normal year.

I absolutely understand the right hon. Lady’s point about Backbench Business days, Opposition days and sitting Fridays. Dare I make the rather obvious point that when the Government have a majority it is much easier to be generous in the allocation of time than when the Government do not have a majority, because the Government can continue to get their business through. I hope that we will find a great outpouring of consensus on finding dates for these matters and I hope that even the Scottish National party will be happy when that happens, although hoping that the SNP will be happy is sometimes a rather forlorn thought.

I was very impressed by what the right hon. Lady said in tribute to those who lost their seats. One is always in an odd position as an MP for a particular party when one looks at the Opposition Benches and thinks of wonderful people who have gone, people whom one liked and admired. Nic Dakin and I made our maiden speeches on the same day, and I am very sorry that he is no longer in this House, but I am glad that the Conservatives have won a seat. There are those mixed emotions that I think we all feel, and I echo her tribute to the many Members who lost their seats who have been great servants of this House, including, of course, the former Member for Bolsover, who had become an institution in so many ways and whose absence is noted whenever Black Rod appears. None the less, I am very glad that Bolsover is a Conservative seat. I am sure Members will understand the mixed feelings that one has.

The right hon. Lady said that the staff are here to help, and that is absolutely right. If I may praise the Clerks, the great thing was that from the day I arrived in 2010 and wanted to tweak the tail of the coalition Government by putting down difficult amendments to various things, the Clerks were invariably thoughtful, helpful and kindly. They are there to help all right hon. and hon. Members, which they do with extraordinary discretion, goodwill and wisdom. That is of particular benefit to new Members. They are not just there to help the Front Benchers; they are there to help everybody. I note what the right hon. Lady said about the “MPs’ Guide to Procedure” being written in 21st-century English. If any new hon. Member would like me to translate it into 18th-century English they need only apply to my office and I will do my very best.

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I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for when we return, and I join his full tributes to the staff. They have put in a remarkable shift in the course of the past few months, ensuring that we have been properly served during what must have been a very difficult period for them. They deserve all the accolades and praise they get.

I have to say that, like the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), I was concerned about the Leader of the House in the course of the election campaign. I thought that he had become one of the great disappeared, but here he is back in all his Victorian dad splendour. We are absolutely delighted to see him back in his place and taking an active role in the House. I hope that he retains his position as Leader of the House, because we are looking forward to our weekly exchanges—or, as it was towards the end of the last Parliament, daily exchanges. We could all live without them for at least a few months, if not a parliamentary Session.

I also pay tribute to Members who lost their seats. We did not experience that same type of issue, but we did lose one very dear colleague, a great friend of mine and of all those on these Benches, Stephen Gethins. We wish him all the best.

It was a particularly good night for the Scottish National party, and we are delighted to see so many new SNP Members here. I know that they will be coming to the Leader of the House, who will be very generous in affording some of his time for various briefings of new Members, and I know that he will encourage our new Members to take up that opportunity.

It is no surprise that the first week back will be all about the withdrawal agreement Bill. We presumed that that would be the case, given the hurry that the Government are now in to pursue and finish off their disastrous, dismal Brexit, as I called it earlier today. I do not think it will surprise the Leader of the House to know that we will oppose the Bill, because our nation overwhelmingly rejected this Brexit, and I think that that was reaffirmed in the general election last week.

The right hon. Gentleman may have devastated the “red wall” of the Labour party, but he will find that over that tartan border, he has lost half his Scottish colleagues. He will find a Scottish National party with 45% of the share of the vote in Scotland and 80% of its Members of Parliament. We stand dead set against the Government’s Brexit, and we demand the right to ensure that we determine our future on the back of that result. What we want to see from the right hon. Gentleman is a means whereby Scotland can determine and decide its own future, because the days of an unwanted Westminster Conservative Government deciding our future are coming to a close. I think that he and I sense that we are playing out the end of this game, so let me say to him, ever so gently, that the sooner he comes up with a mechanism and a means to allow Scotland to determine its own future, the better it will be for all of us.

Let me wish you, Mr Speaker, the very merriest of Brexitmases, as we might call it this year. I hope that you will have a relaxing and great time. Of course, I extend that to all Members, old and new, but particularly to the staff of the House, who have put in an enormous effort on our behalf this year. They deserve a break, and let us make sure that we can give it to them.

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I am touched by the hon. Gentleman’s concern for my whereabouts during the election campaign. Had he paid attention to Twitter and other such things, he might have noticed that I was in Stanton Drew briefly. The Wurzels sang a wonderful song called “When the Common Market Comes to Stanton Drew”. I said that, at last, the common market would be leaving Stanton Drew, to the great pleasure of one and all. It is a particularly terrific song, Mr Speaker, because it mentions so many parts of my constituency, and my constituency and popular music may not necessarily be things that people put together in their minds instantly.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire not to return to daily business questions—much as I enjoy responding to them, I think that they were beginning to pall in the House—but the weekly sessions will, I hope, continue in the normal way. As for the briefings, I am delighted that members of the SNP have accepted my invitation to come to the round tables that I am hoping to arrange with members of all parties to talk about the role of the Leader of the House and how, from the point of view of the Leader of the House, the Chamber operates. They are informal sessions to which people are very welcome. Let me add that any Member who wishes to come and see me is always welcome to do so. One of the roles of the Leader of the House is to serve as an interface between Parliament and the Government, and these sessions often lead to my telling Ministers that an hon. Member has not received a response to something and trying to chase it up. I am always willing to do that.

The hon. Gentleman then raised his favourite issue, the Scottish independence or separatist question. I think that the issue is that there was a referendum, and I seem to remember that Mr Cameron, Mr Salmond and Miss Sturgeon reached an agreement about how the referendum would be carried out, and that it would be a one-off event. Mr Salmond, the then leader of the Scottish National party—not to be mistakenly called the Scottish Nationalist party, which should only be done if one wishes to tease them, because they get quite upset by it—said that it was a generational thing. When I look at the Benches opposite and at the hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen who are sitting there, I see that they are not fruit flies, and that therefore the generation we are talking about is one of many years and not just a short period of months. So I think that there is no reasonable reason for a second referendum, and I think that we should stick to what people said before the referendum was held. I seem to remember that Miss Sturgeon spoke of the gold standard of referendums, and I do not think that gold has tarnished.

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I am sure that the Leader of the House will be getting a combine harvester from The Wurzels.

I wish Members all the best for Christmas. Let us hope for a peaceful new year. I reiterate that I cannot thank the staff of the House––not only those who work for us, but those who keep us safe––enough. I really appreciate what they have done. I say to hon. Members: please, bear with the staff. Do not take it out on them if you have got frustrations. They are here to help, not hinder any of us. They also need a good Christmas, so let us all have a good break.