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Standing Orders (Public Business)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 22nd October 2015.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 3:17 pm, 22nd October 2015

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but he seems to be forgetting that there was a referendum last year that decided quite decisively what would happen.

I think that Members have been ignoring the detail of these Standing Order changes. They provide that the English-only lock can take effect only if the matter both applies exclusively to England and, crucially, is in the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. If either side of the coin is not there, every MP continues as before. It is a minimal move to ensure that those matters that are devolved elsewhere are subject to a special stage for English MPs only. Crucially, it is done by Standing Order.

Mr Carmichael gave us an interesting view on Lord Hope’s opinion that our laws could be challenged if they are made using this procedure. I am afraid that is an eccentric position to take, because our laws are made in the House of Commons according to a mix of convention and Standing Order. The reason we have First Reading, Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading is because of convention and Standing Order, not because of legislation.

Indeed, there are only two bits of legislation that say how we must make laws: one is the Parliament Act 1911, which is there to provide an override for the democratic House; and the other, rather obscurely, is a 1968 law concerning Royal Assent, the ceremony for which was so elaborate that it had to be simplified, and that needed to be done by legislation. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Michael Ellis says that was a shame, and I have no doubt that he has consulted Her Majesty on the matter.

Otherwise, we always legislate by convention and Standing Order. That is absolutely crucial, because the last general election could easily have returned a result that meant that the Government would be made up of Labour Members who were dependent on Scottish Members for their majority. It would then have been quite proper for them to suspend the Standing Orders in order to ensure that the Government were able to function. That is something that those of us who support these changes to the Standing Orders must accept; it is weak, and therefore it can be overturned, with a political cost, to ensure that the Queen’s Government can be carried on. Those words—“that the Queen’s Government can be carried on”—is a fundamental part of a Tory view of how the country should be run.

I will conclude my remarks by addressing the amendment tabled by Mr Allen on the Lords message. The Lords are once again trespassing on our privilege when they ask for a Joint Committee on our Standing Orders. The Bradlaugh case established very clearly that each House is responsible for its own procedures. They might want a Joint Committee on how devolution for England works, but it was an impertinence of their lordships’ House to ask for a Joint Committee to discuss our Standing Orders. We must vote the amendment down with a big majority to reassert the rights of the House of Commons, and we may have to remind their lordships of something similar on Monday.