On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you received any notification from the Government that they intend to announce plans on Thursday to restrict the rights of Scottish Members of Parliament here in the House of Commons, even if the matters concerned have an impact on the Scottish budget? The Daily Telegraph reports today:
“Number 10 hopes to use an obscure parliamentary procedure known as standing orders to lock Scottish MPs out of shaping legislation that only affects English voters. The move needs just a single vote of approval from MPs to be put into law in a move that would circumvent the months of parliamentary scrutiny which comes with full legislation.”
Have you been given any notice of those proposals, Mr Speaker, and have there been any discussions with you about the potential role of the Speaker in certificating such procedures?
I have a number of things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, in so far as there are periodic discussions on a wide range of matters involving the Chair, those discussions take place properly between the participants. The matters that are discussed are not aired on the Floor of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respect the significance of that principle and its application in this context.
Secondly, I have received no formal notification whatsoever of Government intentions on the matter relating—as the hon. Gentleman said—to Thursday. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that this is an issue that has been discussed over a period, and, if memory serves me, his right hon. Friend Alex Salmond aired it only the other day in a point of order; so it is not a novel concept.
Thirdly, let me say very gently to the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced denizen of the House, that he is far too worldly wise to be beguiled or swept along by the journalistic licence that causes a scribe to refer to Standing Orders as an obscure device. There is nothing obscure about Standing Orders. The hon. Gentleman, exercising his customary patience and statesmanship, must await the development of events.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It concerns yesterday’s business. Some of us were very concerned about the mixed nature of the Prime Minister’s statement. Many of us thought that two separate statements would have been more appropriate. Did you take that into consideration, Mr Speaker, when the Prime Minister made his request to make a statement? Some of us found it very awkward that a tragedy—a deeply felt tragedy—was mixed up with a report from a European meeting that the Prime Minister had attended. They did not seem to us to sit well together.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member of the House. The short answer is that it was entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. Let me add—just to put the matter in context, and so that the hon. Gentleman is not misled—that it would always be a matter for the Minister in question, whether that Minister be the Prime Minister or any other Minister. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and it should be heard on the Treasury Bench, but it is still a matter for Ministers to decide.
In the circumstances—and I think that the Prime Minister had very good intentions in seeking to address the House on both subjects, even if the hon. Gentleman did not think it was the right way to go about things—I thought that my role was to try to maximise the number of contributors, bearing in mind that some Members would want to raise the atrocious events in Tunisia, while others would be more focused on the matters appertaining to the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman is very experienced, and I think he will testify that exchanges on statements nowadays tend to last somewhat longer. My own view is that the interests of the House, rather than the convenience of a Minister, should come first. I know that that does not altogether meet the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but he has put them on the record, so let us see how matters progress. He may find that, as he is somewhat of a sage, his counsel will be heeded in future.
I think that the point of order appetite has been satisfied. The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.