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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

I wish to respond to the point of order raised by the Leader of the House.

Today’s debate was exceptional in the intensity with which all parties wished to secure a vote on their own proposition. It took decisions that were intended to allow the House the widest range of propositions on which to express a view. I wanted to do the best, and it was my wish to do the best, by every Member of this House. I take very seriously—[Interruption.] No, the danger—that is why I wanted everybody to be able to express their views. I am very, very concerned about the security of all Members. [Interruption.] I was very concerned, I am still concerned, and that is why the meetings I have had today were about the security of Members, their families and the people involved.

I have to say that I regret how it has ended up. It was not my intention. I wanted to ensure that all could express their views and all sides of the House could vote. As it was, in particular, the SNP was ultimately unable to vote on its proposition. I regret with sadness that it has ended up in this position. It was never my intention for it to end up like this. I was absolutely convinced that the decision was made with the right intentions. I recognise the strength of feeling of Members on this issue. It is clear that today has not shown the House at its best. I will reflect on my part in that, and of course I recommit myself to ensuring that all Members of this House are treated fairly.

I did not want it to have ended like this. I want to say to the House that I will meet with all the key players of each party. I think it is right that I meet with each one. [Interruption.] To correct that, I have not met with Sue Gray—I did not bump into her today; I am offended by that comment, and I think the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) would like to withdraw it. That is the danger; the House has ended up with speculation over what is not factual. I am honest to this House, I am true to this House, and I believe in all Members of this House. I have tried to do what I thought was the right thing for all sides of this House. It is regrettable, and I apologise for a decision that did not end up in the place that I wished.

I say now that I will meet all the—[Interruption.] Just be quiet, please. I will meet with the leaders and the Chief Whips. Let us have a discussion on what is the best way forward. I say again that I thought I was doing the right thing and the best thing, and I regret, and I apologise for, how it has ended up. I do take responsibility for my actions, and that is why I want to meet the key players who have been involved.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I thank you for coming to the House, for saying you will reflect on what has happened today, and for offering your apologies and to meet with Members of this House. You are our Speaker and we wish you to defend the rights of all Members of this House. I thank you for recommitting yourself to those responsibilities today and for coming to the Floor of the House.

To respond, that is what I tried to do in the first place. It ended up in the wrong place, and I do apologise to all and in particular to the SNP. That it is not where I wanted to be, but it is where I am. I will leave it at that for the moment, but I want to meet as soon as possible.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I begin by echoing your sentiments in relation to the debate that was had in this Chamber on the most important of matters with regards to the safety of civilians in Gaza and, indeed, in Israel? There has been a difference of view in the House today, but I think that difference of view has been expressed in a way that we can all agree has been in a positive fashion and the best fitting way of any functioning democracy.

Mr Speaker, while I acknowledge your apology, the reality is that you were warned by the Clerks of the House that your decision could lead to the SNP not having a vote on our very own Opposition day. As a result, we have seen the SNP Opposition day turn into a Labour party Opposition day. I am afraid that that is treating me and my colleagues in the Scottish National party with complete and utter contempt, and I will take significant convincing that your position is not now intolerable.

To respond to that, quite rightly, I understand the feeling. As I said, I would like to have that conversation in private. I would like to meet with you as soon as possible.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition was this evening passed unanimously, and therefore—[Interruption.] Yes, it was. [Interruption.] And therefore—[Interruption.]

Order. I do not think that now is the time. What I want to do is move on and meet with the important players. I am now going to hand over to the Deputy and leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are two points in what Mr Speaker just said on which I seek your clarification. First, he implied that the proceedings of the House were manipulated by outside intimidation, with regard given to things said outside on social media and reacted to within the House. Quite an important Rubicon has been crossed, and it may have been crossed without the consent of Members. I would like to know where the processes of the House are likely to go, given the outside influences that may be brought to bear. I would be grateful for some clarification on that.

Secondly, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have the greatest respect for you, but, bluntly, you seem to have rammed through two decisions that were quite important to a lot of Members in which no individual vote will have been recorded. A number of us had thought quite carefully about how we were going to vote in those Divisions. Essentially, we were—forgive me—taken by surprise by those two decisions being rammed through. I wonder if it is possible to either void them or run them again.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The fact is, I put the Question and nobody called against it—[Interruption.] No.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was quite clear from the level of noise when the Question was put that the view of the Deputy Speaker was being challenged. I think it is absolutely extraordinary that that noise level was deemed to be “Aye”. It is inconceivable that anybody hearing it would have thought it was “Aye”. It is quite clear from all our Standing Orders and all our traditions that when the Speaker or Deputy’s decision is challenged, it should go to a Division.

I am extremely sorry. I took it on the voices. I was quite clear where we were. [Interruption.] The whole thing would have been considerably clearer if the Government had not withdrawn at that position.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder if the House has considered how this looks to people outside. It looks like chicanery. I rise to ask a question on behalf of the small parties. What precedent has been set today in the way this Opposition day has been handled? How can we ever have faith in the future that our voices and our votes will actually be heard, or will it always be about the two big parties here?

I think that the hon. Lady heard what Mr Speaker said—that he intends to talk with people. I also understand that the—

Excuse me, I am answering this point of order. The right hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

I also know that the Chair of the Procedure Committee will look at some of the issues that have been raised, at Mr Speaker’s request.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on how I can make my views more known to my constituents. I was one of the first Members of Parliament to call for the release of hostages, combined with a permanent ceasefire. I lost my Government job as a result. Because people misrepresented my position, someone suggested on social media that they would show my wife a real man. Someone else suggested that they would attack me and my family. Already today, Labour councillors in my patch are tweeting that I have not supported a ceasefire. I wanted to vote with the Scottish National party motion on a ceasefire. Can you advise me how I can make my constituents clear of my views, given that I was not able to vote?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will Mr Speaker tell the House how many Labour Opposition day debates have taken place since 7 October in which no motion on a ceasefire was tabled? Why did Mr Speaker think, suddenly today on an SNP Opposition day, that it was really important that a Labour amendment be selected, even though Labour Members had their own chance—several times—to bring forward a debate and a motion on a ceasefire in Gaza?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you for hearing all our points of order. I cannot be alone in this place today in being utterly embarrassed at how Members have conducted themselves— [Interruption.] Particularly those on the Government Benches—[Interruption.] I continue to be shouted down, which is a perfect example. And this, on an issue as serious as the one we have discussed today.

I am asking for clarification, because people in this Chamber clearly are not aware of the rules and what is going on. One former Leader of the House made a complaint, when he was not even in the Chamber to hear what happened. Madam Deputy Speaker, can you please give us some clarity: had the Conservative Government not withdrawn from the process today, would we have had three votes?

The hon. Gentleman may not know of all the discussions. I was very clear that there was the opportunity for three votes.

I will take one more point of order.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would be grateful if you could provide me with some clarity on two points of procedure, because you are a much more experienced Member of Parliament than me. First, my understanding is that Mr Speaker made his decision earlier today on the basis that there would be three votes rather than two. Once the Government withdrew their amendment and there were two votes rather than three, was the decision to put the Labour amendment before the SNP motion made by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or Mr Speaker? Secondly, it is routinely the case that if a Division—in this case on whether to sit in private—is completed after 7 o’ clock, as this one did, the motion would fall. Can you explain why it did not?

First, it is Standing Order No. 31 that ruled on the order in which the votes were to be taken. I said that very clearly in responding to the Leader of the House, who also knew what the order of the votes would be. Also, with reference to it coming after 7, once an amendment is before the House, it has to be decided on. I assure the hon. Lady that, as I know she would expect me to, I did seek proper and thorough advice on both points. I hope that gives her some reassurance, and I hope she accepts that that was the case and that was the advice, because I certainly would not do anything that went against the order that I had said.

I really am going to move on now, I am afraid. [Interruption.] Okay, I will take one more point of order, from Marion Fellows.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Back in October, as soon as I could after the heinous actions of Hamas, I called for a ceasefire, and I have held firm to my belief since. My constituents have written to me in huge numbers telling me to vote for a ceasefire. I carry five proxy votes, and today I have not been allowed either to vote on my own behalf or to use those five proxy votes that I hold. Let me ask the same question that was asked by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow): how do I ensure that the way I would have voted, which was for a ceasefire, is recorded in the House?

I think the hon. Lady has made very clear what she would have done, and I am sure that she and all colleagues here will find ways in which to express that view.