On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was an important day for the people of Scotland. The House has just agreed to a series of sweeping amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill made by the Government in the House of Lords that fundamentally changes the devolution settlement on these islands—changes from which the Scottish Parliament has expressly withheld its consent.
We have had no adequate time for debate and, in the time available, we simply heard from the Minister for the Cabinet Office. There was no chance for a vote on any of the amendments tabled by Members of Parliament from Scotland—amendments that would have protected the position of the Scottish Parliament. Moreover, Scotland’s voice has been shut out of the Brexit debate—[Interruption.] The Conservatives are chuntering and I can see Douglas Ross shaking his head. He has just voted with his colleagues to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and he should be ashamed of himself—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman started out on a virtuous path of raising a point of order with the Chair, from which he was diverted by the forces of gesticulation. The right hon. Gentleman must and will be heard. His point of order is with the Chair, and it must not lead to a kind of conduct of orchestra scenario, with which the House is becoming all too familiar, between SNP Members and Government Back Benchers. Let me hear the point of order and respond to it.
I will just simply say that we are used to the boorish behaviour of the Scottish Conservatives.
Mr Speaker, I seek your advice on where we go next. We are in unprecedented, uncharted constitutional territory. The Conservative Government have used unelected Lords to veto the will of the Scottish Parliament and have refused to allow time for this House to debate the alternatives properly. The Government could have ensured protected time for Scotland’s parliamentarians to speak today, but they did not, so we fell silent. What options are available to us in this House to ensure that the Government understand the real concern among people in Scotland at this unprecedented power grab? How can we ensure that our voices are heard?
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I will respond, but I think that Liz Saville Roberts wants to raise a not altogether dissimilar point.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. What avenues are open to me to seek further clarification on the operation of the Sewel convention, about which we heard so much, when the precedent set today is so corrosive to public trust in Wales?
Order. Let me seek, if I may, to attend to the matters that have been raised, and then I will come to Pete Wishart and others as necessary.
On the subject of the absence of a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament, I can merely observe that I have no powers to stay—I use that term in a technical sense in this context—or to interrupt proceedings because there is no such motion passed. Whatever the very understandable sense of grievance that exists, which I am not disputing or arguing against or for, I am satisfied that, so far as the Chair is concerned, I can with authority say that the House has complied with its Standing Orders.
That may be very, very, very far from comforting or satisfactory to Members who are aggrieved. I understand what they are telling me, but the House has complied with its Standing Orders. That is the first point. There is in that sense no procedural impropriety, but the absence of procedural impropriety does not mean that people do not feel aggrieved for other reasons or on other grounds.
Secondly, both Members in a sense asked me, “Well, what recourse do we have?” Perhaps I should start by saying what recourse Members do not have. Today’s proceedings are effectively coming to an end and there is then an Adjournment debate, so the House will know that there is no recourse tonight, and people attending to our proceedings should know that. Moreover, tomorrow the House is treating of these matters appertaining to the withdrawal Bill, but it is dealing with very different sets of issues, on which the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns do not bite, so there is no obvious opportunity for these matters to be aired tomorrow.
However, without going into the full arsenal of weapons open to a Member of Parliament, there are means by which Members can try to secure the attention of the House to matters that they judge to be important, and if they feel that that needs to be done relatively soon. The right hon. Gentleman, who has now been here three years, is well familiar with some of the opportunities that are open to him and it is perfectly legitimate for him to seek to use those mechanisms. I get the impression, both from the right hon. Gentleman and from Joanna Cherry, who has legal expertise and some experience of these matters, that the nodding of the head suggests that they understand what I am saying to them.
Very well. As I referred to the hon. and learned Lady, I will take her point of order first.
I would say to the hon. and learned Lady that I did not hear that. [Interruption.] I am not disputing it; I am simply saying that I did not hear it. If I had heard it, I would not have approved of it. [Interruption.] Order. What I would say to the hon. and learned Lady, and for the benefit of people listening to our proceedings, is that I would judge that, frankly, to be distasteful. Is it disorderly? It is almost certainly not disorderly. The hon. and learned Lady will probably know—she is a student of these matters—that the House long ago dispensed with the idea of a formal list of disorderly words, not least because the list became too long and therefore unmanageable. Therefore, everything has to be judged in context—on the basis of the context in which a particular word or phrase is used. Is the word “suicide” disorderly? No, but in this context, it is distasteful, and I am sorry that it was used.
There are a lot of Members wanting to raise points of order. I think I will come to a Dorset knight first.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many of us on the Government Benches are disappointed that the matters of devolution did not have more debate. That was a consequence of the Opposition calling so many Divisions, thereby reducing the amount of time. What additional help can the House authorities give in time management training for the official Opposition so that, on future occasions when we have a clearly defined time for debate, they can decide when they are going to vote and when they can allow free-standing debate?
I hope the hon. Gentleman, who entered the House with me in 1997—I have known him a very long time—will not mind if I say that I think his point of order was delivered with a puckish grin, and was of what I call a rhetorical character.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you confirm that what has to happen now is that this Bill has to be presented for Royal Assent and that the timing of that presentation is a matter for the Government? Is it right that within that period they could still seek to make some arrangement with the Scottish Parliament and that Royal Assent should not be granted until a legislative consent motion has been passed in the Scottish Parliament? Surely that must now be what happens, because the Scottish people, who have been watching these proceedings today, are ashamed and appalled at what has happened in their name and at the way the devolution settlement has been turned on its head. Surely, even at this stage, something should be done to protect the devolution settlement.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I hope he will not take it amiss if I simply say that the matter of Royal Assent is not one for the Chair—it is somewhat above my pay grade. It is for people with expertise in that subject. I hope he will not mind—I am going to say this even if he does—when I say that he is a little ahead of himself. I know he is a quick thinker, but he is a bit ahead of himself, because the Bill has first to complete its passage through the two Houses before the issue of Royal Assent arises. This Bill has not yet completed its passage through the two Houses. We are still engaged in what might be described as legislative or parliamentary table tennis with the upper House. Only when that process—that game of ping-pong—has been concluded will the issue of Royal Assent arise. So although I understand what he is telling me, and it may be an issue to be broached at some point by some person, that point is not now.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I, like many Members in this House, have received hundreds, if not thousands, of communications from constituents on this Bill. As many Members from across the House have said, it is the most important issue this House has dealt with since perhaps the second world war. I seek your guidance, but I also seek to put this on the record. It reflects very badly not only on this House but on all parliamentarians of all colours that I cannot represent the thousands of constituents who have contacted me about significant amendments that have been brought forward from the other place because of the time restrictions put in place by the Government programme motion. I know that is not your responsibility as Chair, but if we want politics and Parliaments in this country to thrive, we have to ensure that we present something to the public that allows them to feel, first, that they are engaged and, secondly, that their representatives can take part in debate in order to make their representations known. We have been unable to do that this evening, and the Government should reflect on the fact that people will be watching these proceedings and will be very upset that their representatives have been unable to contribute.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for the courtesy with which he raised it. What I want to say succinctly to him, and for the benefit of the House and others interested in our proceedings, is that there are matters that admit of discretion and matters that do not. Where there is discretion that can be exercised by the Chair—I say this in no spirit of self-advertisement and am simply trying to put the fact on the record—my instinct, as I have said to a number of colleagues in conversation today, has always been to allow more debate and more votes. If there is a desire for an urgent question and I think it is urgent, I grant it. I have done that on hundreds of occasions during the past nine years. That will please some people and displease others, but I am trying to do the right thing by the House of Commons.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand—I know Ministers will—when I say that the Standing Orders are not accidental. This is not an inadvertent omission or construction of words on the part of those who drafted the Standing Orders. The Standing Orders are as they are for a reason, which is that they were drawn up for a purpose and they have been accepted by the House, and they do not admit of any discretion on my part. If I had discretion, no doubt I would exercise it, but I do not. I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman is telling me, but my advice to him and to others who are similarly concerned—this is a general piece of advice, not specifically in relation to this Bill—is that if they feel strongly that there is an aspect of our procedures that should be handled differently, it is a good idea to address such matters in what I would call “peacetime”, rather than simply raising them in “wartime”. I have never known any Member previously raise this matter with me by way of complaint. Members are now complaining—I am not complaining that they are complaining, as they have every right to complain if they so wish—because it affects them here and now, or it affects the point they want to make, the subject they want to broach or the amendment they want to put to the vote. I have to work on the basis of the Standing Orders as they exist, and that is what I have done. I am not insensitive to the wider point that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Order. I call Dr Philippa Whitford, then I will come to Mr Coaker.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We were told on Report and Third Reading that the Bill was going to the Lords, where there would be amendments, and that when it came back, because the Secretary of State for Scotland had not tabled his amendments, we would have time to debate it in detail. There was 19 minutes, all of which was used up by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. That is unacceptable, so how do we prevent it from happening when the Bill returns from the Lords next time?
I am alert to the danger of a repetition, as articulated by the hon. Lady. I think the answer is that it is up to the House to determine the programme motion. If the programme motion is considered unsuitable and unlikely to facilitate the nature and extent of the debate that the hon. Lady and her colleagues want, they know what their recourse is. They must seek to persuade a majority of the House to reject such a programme motion.
I have looked very closely at the amendability of such motions, and I know that an amendment was tabled. The Standing Order specifies that the Question on the programme motion should be put forthwith. As the hon. Lady knows, I regularly select amendments in debates that are voted upon, including on legislation, and while amendments to the programme motion are not prohibited—they can be tabled—there is no means by which they can be voted upon, as I interpret the Standing Order. It is therefore up to Members, if they do not like the programme motion, to defeat it. I am sorry if that does not satisfy the hon. Lady. I am not insensitive to this issue, but that is the factual position. Some Members may not like Standing Orders, but I owe it, in fairness to those who drew them up, to say that there is no constitutional or procedural impropriety in what has happened today. There may be other grounds for objection, but there is no procedural impropriety. The Minister, in addressing the matters as he did, allegedly for 19 minutes, was entirely within his rights to do so and, to be fair, he did take quite a lot of interventions in that period.
Mr Gray, I do not think your mother would forgive me if I did not take your point of order.
I do not have a photographic recall of the Standing Orders, but I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that the word “debate” does not feature especially prominently in them. Ordinarily, one would of course interpret the word “debate” as meaning the exchange of opinions, and there was some exchange of opinions. I have known Mr Lidington for over 30 years. We knew each other before either of us came into this House and we have known each other for over 20 years in this House, including for the last 21 years as next-door neighbours, he in Aylesbury and I in Buckinghamshire. He is a most courteous fellow, and he did take a lot of interventions in his speech. Was it a debate in the sense that there was more than one speech? No, but if Neil Gray is suggesting that the powers of the Speaker should be extended to allow him to adjudicate on these matters, heralding a panoply of new Standing Orders that would invest the Speaker with some sort of imperial power, I fear that he may find that this would not be altogether popular in the House. I would live with it—it would be a considerable burden, but I would do so with as much stoicism and fortitude as I could muster—but I rather doubt that the hon. Gentleman would persuade the House of the merits of such a proposition.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there nothing that we can do, through your good offices, to reflect on the fact—you will have seen it and it has been a privilege to have you here all day to observe these proceedings—that numerous Back Benchers have not been able to comment on what everyone has talked about as one of the most momentous days in the history of this Parliament? People of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been prevented from contributing. Not only that but, on the second set of amendments, the only person whom we heard from was the Minister. Labour’s Front Bencher could not contribute. Other Members who may have wished to contribute could not do so. We have spent three hours and 20 minutes on a momentous, historical change for our country. That is absolutely ridiculous.
May I just ask whether it is in order for the Minister simply to say, “These are the amendments which the Government think are a good thing and therefore the whole House should simply accept them”? There was no opportunity for Members from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England to hold the Minister and the Government to account. Surely that is the function of this Parliament and the Minister should be ashamed of himself.
I am sorry to repeat myself. There is much to be said for originality, but there is more to be said for truth, and I am afraid that I do just have to stick to the truth that no procedural impropriety has transpired today. I say to the hon. Gentleman—again I came into the House with him more than 20 years ago, I respect him enormously and I think he is a very widely respected Member in this House—that, if there is a further need for this House to treat of these matters later in the week, for example, or subsequently, and if such a need therefore necessitates a new programme motion, it is perfectly open to the Government to frame such a motion to take account of, and to demonstrate either sensitivity to or acquiescence in, some of the concerns that have been expressed this evening. Of course discussions take place, as people should know, between the usual channels and behind the scenes, about such matters and there may be some accommodation there.
I am always in favour of an outbreak of amity on procedural matters. It is best if we can avoid grave disharmony on such matters, but it will be for others to decide whether that should happen. That could happen. If the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about that, I feel sure that he will make a beeline for those on his own Front Bench, who engage in discussions on these subjects with the Government, to try to ensure that his concern is reflected.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is clear, I think, from this afternoon’s proceedings that there is a feeling, shared, I suggest, on both sides of the House, that the Opposition have used the opportunity to call Divisions in order to act as a fig leaf to hide some of their embarrassment over this debate about devolution. Although I would probably have disagreed with many of the arguments deployed by SNP Members, they certainly have a right to be able to articulate them in this place.
Mr Speaker, accepting entirely your ruling that we are all bound by the rules of procedure and our Standing Orders, what scope, if any, exists—and, if it does exist, what avenues do Members have to promote this—to invite the Procedure Committee to consider that, on such a debate with multiple Divisions, the time taken by Divisions should not be included within the three-hour segment of debate, almost like the extra minute that we get when we give way to somebody when we are under a time limit? It would require a proper hearing by the Procedure Committee, but that might be one way to address what is clearly a very thorny issue.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It would be perfectly possible for a programme motion to allow for such injury time caused by Divisions, but it is not for the Speaker to stipulate that it should. However, it could. Moreover, these matters could indeed be considered by the Procedure Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished ornament and of which, for all I know, he may still be a member.
Ah, he advises me that he is no longer a member of that Committee. I am sure that the Committee will feel considerably impoverished by his departure from it, but will do its best to cope in the circumstances. It is an unenviable scenario for the Committee, but I hope that it will manage.
Members seem determined to raise their points of order. I hope that they are genuine points of order. I call Alan Brown.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have to be honest—sometimes I get easily confused. Today, I have wondered whether some hon. Members have been trying to confuse me further or, more concerningly, have perhaps inadvertently misled the House. I have two examples. The Minister for the Cabinet Office spoke about the Scottish Government withholding a legislative consent motion. The reality is that the Scottish Government do not have a majority at Holyrood, and three other parties voted alongside the Scottish National party—so it was the Scottish Parliament, not the Scottish Government. We then heard a point of order from the shadow Minister about standing up for Scotland, but the Labour Members then proceeded to sit on their hands in a vote for devolution. I am just wondering how I can—
Order. I do not mean to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, who is an absolutely indefatigable Member of this House and an almost permanent presence in the Chamber, but the second part of his observations was pure politics. That is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons, but I am afraid that it was not even dressed up as a point of order. I think that we will have to leave it there.
I will hear other Members if they insist, but the hour is late, so I would ask colleagues to show some sensitivity to the need to move on to the Adjournment debate. If people want to be heard, I will hear them briefly.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier, the Minister for the Cabinet Office gave the House an assurance that the new powers over the devolved nations being taken by the Government would not normally be used against the consent of those devolved Parliaments. He used almost exactly the same words as those that are already enshrined in the Sewel convention, which the Government have today cast aside by whipping their own MPs to vote against it. As Members have heard assurances by the Minister, and in some cases have possibly been persuaded how to vote by those assurances, what means are available to Members to ensure that those assurances are not cast aside with the same impunity as the assurances in the Sewel convention or, indeed, the assurances that we were given by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the early stages of the debate?
The answer is that, if I may say so, scrutiny is a process, rather than a fact. It is not a matter of an isolated incident or a single statement, gesture or occasion. It is a process of—if you will—remorseless inquisition. It is perfectly open to the hon. Gentleman, who has fast become familiar with the mechanisms of House scrutiny, to scrutinise the Government through written and oral questions, pursuit of Adjournment debates and the like on the matter of the Executive’s adherence to the Sewel convention, or, as he sees it, their non-compliance with it. I do not want to get into a great attempted exegesis of the Sewel convention but, from memory, the convention stipulates that the Government will “not normally” proceed on matters without a legislative consent motion. But, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the presence of the words “not normally” does admit of exceptions. That is the reality of the matter. It is a political matter, rather than one that lends itself to a ruling from the Chair.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been a champion of this House, and you have done what you can to improve and to protect its reputation. Today’s events have damaged the reputation of this House irreparably. How can we ensure that such an undemocratic shambles never happens again?
Procedural change could prevent it. That is putting it very simply. The hon. Lady will probably be aware that I have heard representations privately from her leader and her Chief Whip, and in days to come, if she and her colleagues wish to take opportunities to air these matters further, it should not be beyond their ingenuity and sagacity to find such opportunities. If there is a desire for such opportunities, the Chair is not an obstacle; the Chair is a facilitator.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the effect of the vote on the last group of amendments was to create an even more powerful Scottish Parliament, which Scottish Nationalist party Members have voted against, what procedural changes will be made in this House to reflect those changes across the United Kingdom?
Off the top of my head, I do not have the foggiest idea. I do not know. The reason, however, why I do not feel very guilty in responding in such terms to the hon. Gentleman is that although it is always a pleasure to listen to him, and his intervention was enjoyable, it did suffer from the material disadvantage that whatever else it was, it was not a point of order.
I wonder whether the stentorian tones of the hon. Gentleman indicate that his point of order is, or alternatively is not, a point of order. I dare say we will learn ere long.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In 1999, when I was nine years old, the Scottish Parliament was established. Tonight, in the space of 19 minutes, the Government have managed to swat that away, with all the powers and conventions of the Scottish Parliament completely disrespected. Have you been given advance notice of a ministerial statement tomorrow from the Secretary of State for Scotland so that he can come to this House and apologise for letting down the people of Scotland?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance in relation to the amendments. When the Bill left this House and went down the corridor, we had clause 11, to which the Government tabled an amendment. That has returned today and has been voted on. If that amendment had fallen today, is it correct that we would have gone back to the previous drafting of the Bill, which we all agreed was deficient?
If Lords amendment 26 had been defeated, the effect would have been to restore to the Bill subsections (1) to (3), which that amendment omitted. But that is all hypothetical, and I would not want to go any further for fear of causing confusion, not least as there were proposals from all sides, as people will not be surprised to hear, for amendments to amendments.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to you for pointing out that no procedural impropriety has taken place here today. However, there has been an awful lot of walking and an awful lot of time—almost three hours—wasted on voting. Would it be possible, very soon, to introduce electronic voting in this House so that affairs that happened this afternoon, which meant that Scottish Members had no opportunity to speak against the devolution amendments, would have more time?
I hear what the hon. Lady has said. I hope that she will not take offence if I say that that point is not new. That is not an indictment of it. There are not that many new points made in this House. Repetition in the House of Commons is not a novel phenomenon. This is a matter for consideration by the Procedure Committee. I have expressed views myself in the past on the matter of electronic voting, but I have always done so taking care to make the point that the question of the means by which we vote in this place is a matter for the House of Commons. It is certainly something that can be strongly argued by the hon. Lady. I myself can see many arguments in favour of electronic voting, but it is not a matter for me—it is a matter for the House. She has made her own point in her own way, and it is on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. Many of my constituents asked me to raise points in the debate today but, like my colleagues in the Scottish National party, I was unable to do so, even though all 35 SNP Members stood to try to catch your eye during the short period allowed. Can you advise me how to put it on the record that all SNP MPs today tried to take part in the debate but, due to the self-interest of the UK Government, were unable to do so?
The hon. Gentleman has achieved his own salvation. He has put that on the record, and he can circulate it to media outlets in his constituency and elsewhere. Moreover, if he continues to be the eager beaver that he has always been thus far in his membership of the House, I dare say he will beetle into the Chamber for business questions on Thursday morning and leap to his feet to seek a debate or a governmental statement on that very matter. He is many things, but he is not lacking indefatigability, and he is not knowingly understated.
Drew Hendry has just informed the House that all 35 SNP Members wanted to speak in the debate and were aware that there were 90 minutes available. What kind of debate do you think we would have procedurally if each Member had 30 seconds to speak, as the SNP was trying to impose on us?
It would be a debate characterised by extraordinarily short speeches—that is true, but that too, though an interesting reflection from the hon. Gentleman, is not a point of order.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. While I have huge sympathy with him and with the defence of this place and its procedures, does he agree that the public in not just Scotland but across the UK and the world will be looking at our procedures and laughing, because it is clear that they are inadequate and that the devolution settlement in Scotland and other parts of the UK is being ridden roughshod over? Does he agree that the points about changing the procedures of this place are in grave danger of closing the gate after the horse has bolted?
I am mildly tickled by the hon. Lady’s use of words. I assume when she referred a number of times to “he” that she was in fact referring to me.
I believed that to be so. I am not sure that I can presume to judge what assessment people around the world will make of this matter. I rather suspect that it will not be a unanimous judgment. In my experience, it is a very common tendency—one that no doubt I share myself—to assume that views that we hold are views that most sensible people also hold. That may be so, and it may not be so. There may be people who think that these arrangements are deeply reprehensible and other people who are rather more relaxed about them.
I understand what the hon. Lady says—that any attempt to reform procedures would come after these events. I was just gently making the point, to go back to what Pete Wishart was saying in reference to Royal Assent, that this Bill is unfinished business, and if it still has further consideration in this House, which remains to be seen, it may be that there will be a programme motion that will bring a smile to her face. I am not volunteering that with especial confidence, but it is possible.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your patience in hearing this point of order. I seek your clarification on the programme motion. It was entirely in the gift of the Government to set the time according to their requirements. Indeed, it was negotiated with the Opposition as well and Labour voted against the programme motion, but, crucially, we faced a binary Division whereby we were voting on a Government amendment that is deficient in the eyes of the Labour party, but we then faced a situation where we reverted to the original Bill, which is doubly insufficient and deficient in our eyes. We are not able to give any expression to the position that we hold as parliamentarians in expressing the views of our constituents and of our party.
It is not only that. It has been grossly misrepresented that we are taking a position that is contrary to the views that we hold. In the position where we are not able to give expression to, and far less vote on, what we believe as parliamentarians, representing the Labour party and our constituents, how do we give expression to those views, in the absence of the opportunity to do so in this House?
I think the hon. Gentleman has just done so. I do not wish to be discourteous, but I have been in the Chair, and it is an enormous honour to have been in the Chair, without interruption, since 11.30 this morning—I have now been in the Chair for eight and a half hours, and it is my great privilege to be here and to sit through these debates and, for however long it takes, through all the points of order—but I genuinely do not think there is anything in what he said, with his usual eloquence, that requires a response from me. Forgive me, but I think he has said what he said, and I respect that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to you for allowing me to raise a point of order reflecting the concern in Northern Ireland. You will know that we have not had a functioning Assembly since January 2017. In the absence of a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland, it was critical that we had a full examination and discussion today of the key amendments relating to having no hard border and, curiously, to north-south co-operation.
The term “north-south co-operation” is specifically defined in the Belfast agreement, and I have no doubt that Ministers—all of them—will have read the Belfast agreement in its entirety. It was therefore important for us to have had time today to discuss whether the Government had in fact unilaterally amended the Belfast agreement. That is a really interesting point, but we had no time to discuss it. I therefore ask your advice about how we can encourage the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or, indeed, the Brexit Secretary to come to the House and make a statement on critical constitutional points affecting Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is open to Ministers to come to the House and make a statement. The hon. Lady is an experienced Member of the House, and she will know that Ministers tend to preface the delivery of an oral statement with the courteous words, “With permission, Mr Speaker,” but it is in fact a prerogative of a Minister to come to the House and make an oral statement if he or she so wishes. I am sure that the point that the hon. Lady has made will be heard by the Cabinet Ministers to whom she referred, and it is open to them to do so tomorrow. Alternatively, it is open to Members to seek to procure their presence.
Equally, it is open to Members to air these matters at business questions on Thursday, if they so wish. If Members of different political parties, or of several political parties, want to air their discontent—to some extent, they have done so tonight, but they might wish to do so in a more formal way to try to influence a subsequent programme motion—it is absolutely open to them to do so, and it will then be for the House to decide how it wishes to proceed.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that it was open to the Government to protect time properly to debate and vote on matters of importance to the devolved Governments, do you agree that what has happened today shows the utter contempt that the Government have for the democratically elected will of the Scottish Parliament, given the power grab that will now ensue?
The hon. Lady is seeking an opinion from me about support for the Government’s position or opposition to it, and I genuinely do not think it is proper for the Speaker to offer such an opinion. I have been quick to say that no procedural impropriety has occurred. I was completely sensitive to that before this array or flurry of points of order but, 43 minutes in, I am even more familiar with the extent of the irritation on this subject. I am not knocking it, but trying to be fair, as the Chair should be. No procedural impropriety has taken place.
I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s anger, and that of the leader of her party, her Chief Whip and other Members. They have not stayed for the benefit of their health, but because they wish to make a point with force, and they have done so. I hope they will agree that I have been patient, as I should be, in listening to them doing so. As to whether things change in the days to come, wait to see, and bear in mind that Members can use the mechanisms open to them, as the leader of her party knows, to try to register a view more fully and to elicit a ministerial response.
Is it really necessary to add to the list? Oh, very well; I will come to the hon. Gentleman in due course. I call Alison Thewliss.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps you can advise. Government Members were suggesting that Opposition Members were wasting time by calling votes. More than 100 amendments were proposed; there were not 100 votes. Do you agree that this illustrates how poor the procedures of this House are, given that it is just not possible even for all the amendments on the amendment paper to be voted on and debated fully? Even covering the relatively small number we had today has taken quite a long time.
It is not for me to support the programme motion or oppose it, which in a sense is what I am being invited to do. I certainly would not accuse any Member of wasting time by having a vote. I would not do that. It is for Members to judge when they want a Division. The hon. Lady is right that there are a very large number of amendments on the paper and that there have been rather fewer votes. Her point is clearly registered. As to whether things should be done differently, that is another matter. It is a simple fact that there was not a lot of time today for all the issues to be aired in the way that Members wanted and for anything like the number of Members who wished to speak to have had the chance to do so. That is a matter of regret to a great many Members, and if it is a matter of sufficient regret to them that they wish to try to bring about a change next time, they must make their preparations sooner rather than later.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is 20 years since this place passed the Scotland Act 1998, which means that we have had less than one minute of debate per year to make the greatest changes to that Act since it was passed. The Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in the Chamber, made a commitment to bring changes to clause 11 to the House of Commons. Will he make a statement on whether 19 minutes of debate were adequate, and do you think that there are ways in which we can make the Secretary of State more accountable? How do you think that this compares with democracy in other European institutions?
I briefly studied comparative politics at the University of Essex a little over 30 years ago, but I did not study these particular matters. Of course, I could not possibly have studied matters relating to the Scottish Parliament for the simple reason that it did not exist at the time at which I was undertaking my undergraduate exertions. These matters will come to be considered in the days ahead, and there will be opportunities for Members to keep raising these issues. Whether a statement is offered or not is not a matter for me, but it is open to Members to seek to put questions of an urgent character if they see fit. There are many opportunities for that, and if matters are thought to be not just of urgency but of emergency, there is a procedure available for that purpose as well. The Speaker is not an obstacle. The Speaker seeks, as appropriate—I have to reserve the right to judge each case—to be a facilitator.
I am keeping Hugh Gaffney till last, because he was the last to stand. Do not worry, Mr Docherty-Hughes. You have an audience.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, may I congratulate you on staying in the Chair? It seems that we both studied comparative politics at the University of Essex. Perhaps I have as selective a memory as you about it.
Mr Speaker, can you set me straight about the constitutional position of this House and its relationship with the Parliament of Scotland, and the historical narrative we are seeing played out here today in relation to the other place? There are Members of that other place, such as the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England, who are unelected and unrelated to the national Church of Scotland—we have no episcopacy in the governance of Scotland—who it seems have had greater time and ability to consider this, whereas the Parliament of Scotland’s will not to give a consent motion has been rejected and the majority of Scotland’s constitutionally elected constituency MPs have been unable to engage. I am sure that you will agree that that is the constitutional position of this House, and I must say that for Scotland it reflects very badly.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. He and I have had an exchange of letters about the University of Essex—I think we are both immensely proud of our link with the University of Essex—and I hope he will not be offended if I say that his point of order had a kind of university essay quality about it. I felt that he was reverting to academic practice. I do not think that it is for me to attempt to compare and contrast the respective merits of the two Houses’ consideration of matters. The House of Lords operates on a different basis. We have procedures that have been adopted here that do not apply there. The other place must go about matters in the way it thinks fit. My concern is simply to try to do the right thing by the House. I will continue at all times to do so, wanting the maximum number of Back-Bench Members to have the chance to contribute to important debates that affect their constituents, present and future.
I think we come to what I hope—I do not mean this unkindly—is the last point of order. I call Hugh Gaffney.
Well, that is very kind of the hon. Gentleman. I will let him into a secret: I was advised on a previous occasion by the good doctor, Dr Whitford, that it is not good for one’s health to sit in the Chair for very, very extended periods, as I did at the start of December 2015. The reason I do not think the hon. Gentleman should worry too much is that that was a genuinely long session for the Syria debate. I was in the Chair without interruption for 11 hours and 24 minutes; it was a very great privilege. Today, I have not notched up even nine hours yet, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs worry too much. [Interruption.] The Chairman of Ways and Means says that he could help. I am already 22 minutes late for a dinner engagement; that does not matter—the House is more important. I take all good wishes in the spirit with which they are volunteered. All I can say is that having spent as long in the Chair as I have, I probably ought to go for decent length’s swim in the morning, as I did this morning.
I understand people’s upset and irritation, but I thank them for the courtesy with which they have raised their points. We are now coming to the Adjournment debate. The House will probably be very relieved to know that it will be rid of me for tonight and that it will luxuriate in the lather of having its proceedings chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means.