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Standing Orders (Public Business)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:25 pm on 22nd October 2015.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Father of the House of Commons 1:25 pm, 22nd October 2015

I pay tribute to Michael Meacher, who was a good friend, an excellent Member of Parliament and a colleague from Greater Manchester. He sat alongside me in this House for 45 years. I am deeply sorry that he is dead, but I am happy that he is not present for this ghastly debate, which I think is one of the nastiest and most unpleasant I have attended in 45 years. We have before us something called EVEL, and I say this: evil to him who thinks EVEL.

We have heard Members speak today about who are English MPs, and about who are Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland MPs, but that is not what we are. I am not an English MP; I am a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I was not elected by my constituents to be an English MP; I, like every single Member of this House, regardless of her or his party, was elected to represent my constituents in the United Kingdom Parliament, with the powers that this House of Commons has had for many centuries.

This Government, with the flip of a coin, have decided to alter what this House of Commons is about, and they have decided to do so for momentary political convenience, because they have a small majority and because a considerable body of the Members of this United Kingdom House of Commons are from Scotland. We have good and valued colleagues from Northern Ireland, from different parties, and they are here because Northern Ireland fought a war in order to remain part of the United Kingdom.

I am deeply saddened that it has come to this. We are looking at 20 pages of amendments to the Standing Orders. Heaven only knows how much it cost the

Government to pay the parliamentary draftsmen to draft them all. They are deeply confusing and can be analysed in many different ways. One thing is for sure: this House is being called upon to pass amendments to make the Standing Orders state, “The Speaker shall… ”. I do not remember that ever happening before, but hon. Members may correct me. Members might have different views about any particular Speaker, but the whole point of having a Speaker is that she or he should be impartial. That will end if the amendments are made this afternoon.

The proposals before the House are full of gyrations and complications. I challenge anybody reading through these Standing Order amendments to understand them. Previously, up until today—up until tonight—the House of Commons was very, very, very clear: every hon. Member of this House, regardless of when they were elected, whether they were elected 45 years ago, like Michael Meacher and me, or whether they will be newly arriving, like the person who will be elected in the by-election to succeed Michael, whether they have membership of the Privy Council, whether the Queen has conferred an honour on them, whether they are members of the Cabinet or of the Government, once they walked into the Division Lobby every one of them was equal.

That will end late this afternoon because this Government—I am sorry to say it—have no respect for the House of Commons. They do not care about the principles on which the House of Commons is based; they simply want convenience relating to certain legislation—probably, though I am not certain, in the light of the large contingent of Scottish National party Members who were elected. I do not know whether this would have happened if that had not happened, but the people of Scotland voted in the way they did, and those Scottish National party Members, like the Irish and the Welsh, are completely equal to everybody else—or they will be until this evening. I am troubled that this—