Scheduling of Parliamentary Business

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 17th July 2017.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge 7:21 pm, 17th July 2017

First, I want to pay tribute to the two Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening. I agree with the strong comments of Kirstene Hair about the need to keep the UK together. My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova made a moving speech, telling us how she and her mother shared a determination to make sure that she had access to mainstream education. That is a tribute to the strength of a mother’s love and also to the disability rights movement and the need to make sure that people with disabilities enjoy full access to mainstream society, education, employment and so forth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend.

This debate is not just about technicalities; it is about the national interest, and it would behove all Members of this House to remember that on 8 June this country decided it did not want to give any one party a majority position and the strength to form a majority Government. It gave Parliament the power to shape Government policy potentially, and to hold the Government to account.

It is clear that the electorate expect this Parliament to act in the national interest and not to behave in any way that is deeply tribal or which puts the party interests before the interests of the country. In that respect, I found the Leader of the House’s speech deeply disappointing. She was deeply tribal in her comments and, indeed, was losing the House to the extent that two points of order had to be made to get her back on track. It is detrimental to the interests of this House when we have a debate about parliamentary democracy itself and it descends into a tribal slanging match between the Front Benches on different aspects of Government or Opposition policy. That is not what this debate is about. This debate is also not a parliamentary game; it is about democracy and the ability of Parliament to hold the Government to account.

I want to make a quick comment about the general debate on abuse of candidates in the general election, which was to have been held tonight. I made a short contribution to the debate in Westminster Hall last week. I do believe that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing, and I am ready to have a debate in the main Chamber on abuse generally in society and abuse of politicians within political parties and outside them and between them. However, would it not be a good idea if Conservative Members were to join with some of us on the Opposition Benches and develop a proper application to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can have that debate in the Chamber, based on support from both sides of the House for such a debate?

The technicalities of the current debate are clear: it is about the number of Opposition day debates, Backbench Business debates and private Member’s Bill days, which has barely been mentioned tonight. It is also about the timeliness of the first Opposition day debates. I have looked at the House of Commons Library research on this and it is clear that our Opposition Front Bench has a strong case. The records are clear. In the first Session of the 1997-98 Government, which lasted 18 months, there were 38 Opposition day debates, and the delay before the first Opposition day debate after a general election in the last seven or eight years has been 22 days, 22 days and 14 days. On that basis, we should have had that Opposition day debate by now.