Sittings of the House (Wednesday 17 April)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 16th April 2013.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 8:27 pm, 16th April 2013

I beg to move,

That, on Wednesday 17 April:

(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm and the moment of interruption shall be at 10.00 pm;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 21 (Time for taking questions), no questions shall be taken other than questions which are in the Speaker’s opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business;

(3) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 2.30 pm and continue for up to four and a half hours; and

(4) in calculating the period of four and a half hours in paragraph (3) no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting in Westminster Hall may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or in a committee of the whole House.

The motion before the House proposes two principal changes to the business of the House tomorrow. The first part of the motion provides for the House to sit at 2.30 pm, with the moment of interruption at 10 pm. This is instead of the usual starting time of 11.30 am with the moment of interruption at 7 pm.

It is not without precedent for the House to change its sitting times to deal with specific, and tragic, circumstances. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members may remember that the House was rightly recalled to pay tributes to the Her Majesty the Queen Mother following her death in 2002, but then also delayed returning from recess to accommodate the funeral arrangements.

The change in sitting times will allow Members from across the House who wish to pay their respects at the funeral of Baroness Thatcher to do so. The effect of an objection to this motion would be to deny colleagues, friends and others who wish to pay their respects that opportunity. There can be no justification for this. This is a debate about the sitting hours for tomorrow, and it should not be abused by those seeking now to debate the legacy of Baroness Thatcher. There was an opportunity to do that in the debate last Wednesday, and I remind the House that 77 right hon. and hon. Members contributed to that debate.

I thank Her Majesty’s official Opposition for the way in which they have worked across the House to provide proper respect for the longest serving Prime Minister of the last century. The Leader of the Opposition, the acting shadow Deputy Leader of the House and other Labour Members paid generous tributes in that debate, not necessarily endorsing or agreeing with the policies of Baroness Thatcher but, I thought, very generously paying proper respect. In like spirit, the proposal to change the sitting hours tomorrow, and to defer questions on that day until next week, has been taken after consultation with Her Majesty’s official Opposition, and I am grateful for the approach that they have taken.

The second effect of the motion is to suspend the operation of the oral questions rota for the day. This, too, is being done following consultation with, and the agreement of, the official Opposition. Should the motion be approved by the House, the consequence for Members is that the ballots that have already taken place will be rolled over until next week, and the Table Office has helpfully contacted affected Members to explain this to them.

It is quite proper, in the circumstances, for the House to defer questions by one week. The Prime Minister takes his responsibilities to this House very seriously, as evidenced by the extent to which he not only responds to questions but makes statements to the House. I am sure that the vast majority of the House will understand what is being proposed and why. It is simply a matter of decency and respect that, in returning from the funeral service and receptions tomorrow, Members should not immediately enter into the character of business customary at Wednesday’s questions.

As a consequence of the House agreeing to meet at 2.30 pm, paragraphs (3) and (4) of the motion provide for Westminster Hall also to meet at 2.30 pm, which is an obvious and common-sense addition to the first two parts of the motion.

I do not intend to detain the House any further. This is a simple motion, confined to the times of the House’s sittings tomorrow, and I commend it to the House.