Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:07 am on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:07 am, 25th October 2018

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that some of our colleagues seem to have been a bit accident prone recently. I would add my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan to that list, and I wish them all a speedy recovery.

The hon. Lady asked for recess dates. As she will be aware, we are rising for the November recess on 6 November and returning on 12 November. We rise for the Christmas recess on 20 December and return on 7 January. We rise at the close of business on Thursday 14 February and return on Monday 25 February. I will give recess dates for the Easter break as soon as I can.

The hon. Lady asked about the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Government have tried twice to debate the next stage of that Bill, but I think all hon. Members will appreciate that there have been some important statements. This week, we had the Prime Minister’s statement on the EU Council, and I believe that more than 100 questions were asked of her. We also had an important Government statement on the untimely death of Mr Khashoggi, an absolutely shocking situation that all hon. Members will have wanted to hear about. Mr Speaker also granted two urgent questions, which made it clear that, for the second time, it would not be possible to do justice to the many amendments that Members wanted to discuss within the time agreed by the House for the debate. Unfortunately, we therefore had to delay that business again, but we will reschedule it as soon as we can.

The hon. Lady mentioned the visit to Parliament of a certain individual. I think that all hon. Members would abhor the comments and views of that individual, but I also think that they would uphold the right to free speech. This is a dilemma, and we all need to be careful about how we address it. Nevertheless, I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the views of that individual.

The hon. Lady asked about the statutory instrument on universal credit that is being prayed against by the Opposition. The Government have already scheduled more negative SIs for debate on the Floor of the House than in any Session since 1997. It is a matter of parliamentary convention that, where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for that debate. I think that we have demonstrated in this Session that the Government are willing to provide time in line with that convention and to accede to reasonable requests made by the Opposition, and we will continue to do so.

The hon. Lady then raised a number of questions that are rightly for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. If she wishes to raise specific points, I can direct them to MHCLG on her behalf, or she can await MHCLG questions. She could also encourage hon. Members who want to have specific questions answered to submit written questions. I am happy to facilitate obtaining those answers for her.

With regard to Brexit, the Prime Minister made it very clear in her statement on the state of the preparations on Monday that there had been extraordinary progress. She also went through a number of areas of concern to the House, such as the outstanding issues on Gibraltar, on EU citizens’ rights here and UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and on financial payments. There has been a huge amount of progress.

The PM also made it clear that there is a serious sticking point around Northern Ireland and the EU’s desire for a backstop whereby Northern Ireland is kept within the customs union. That would lead to a border down the Irish sea, which would be unacceptable to any UK Government—I am sure that all hon. Members would agree with that. There has been great progress, but some sticking points remain.

The hon. Lady mentioned last weekend’s march for a second referendum, so it would be interesting if the Opposition made it clear whether they support a second referendum. The Government have made it clear that we absolutely do not support such a move, and we fully intend to respect the view of the people, as expressed in the 2016 referendum.

The hon. Lady asked about the meaningful vote but, as I hoped that I had explained last week, once the deal with the EU has been agreed, Parliament will have a vote on the withdrawal agreement and the terms of our future partnership, and Parliament will have the choice to accept or reject that deal. The House will already be well aware that whether debate ought to be organised through a business of the House motion, and the form of any such motion, will ultimately be in the hands of the House itself, which has the power to amend, approve or reject such a motion.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the Government’s Brexit preparations. I absolutely reassure all hon. Members that the Government are preparing for all eventualities, including a no-deal Brexit. I sit on a committee that looks at least once a week at different aspects of the no-deal preparations, which are far advanced.