Business of the House (European Union (Withdrawal) Act)

Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice) – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 5:02 pm, 4th December 2018

I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall have effect.

Sitting arrangements

(1) In this Order—

‘European Union withdrawal motion’ means a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and

‘allotted day’ means a day on which the first Government business is the European Union withdrawal motion.

(2) The allotted days shall be Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December.

(3) On this day, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Business of the House (Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) motion.

(4) On the second, third and fourth allotted days, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion.

Decisions on any amendments

(5) No amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion may be selected before the final allotted day.

(6) In respect of the European Union withdrawal motion, the Speaker may select up to six amendments of which notice has been given.

(7) If, on the final allotted day, an amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion has been disposed of at or after the moment of interruption, any further amendments selected by the Speaker in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 6 of this Order may be moved, and the questions thereon shall be put forthwith.

(8) Questions under this Order may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

General

(9) No motion to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

(10) On an allotted day—

(a) no Emergency Debate shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order No. 24; (b) no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;

(b) no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;

(c) no motion shall be proposed under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) except by a Minister of the Crown; and

(d) no motion shall be proposed that the question be not now put.

I intend to speak only briefly so as not to detain the House before the historic debate that is ahead of us. [Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Leader of the House, who is absolutely ready to proceed, and I know that she has indicated that she wants to speak only briefly in the interests of facilitating the House, but I think it would be a courtesy to her if Members who are leaving the Chamber were to do so quickly and quietly. I espy a couple of Members engaged in animated conversation, which I am sure is of enormous and consuming interest to Stephen Twigg and Joan Ryan, but that conversation could usefully be conducted elsewhere. I am playing for time here and trying to hush the House up so that Leader of the House is accorded the respectful hearing that she should have.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I believe that the Prime Minister’s negotiation delivers on the Brexit priorities for which this country voted. The debate and the vote ahead of us are the next crucial steps that we must take to ensure that we deliver on the whole referendum and in the best interests of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister’s proposal delivers on everything that those who voted to leave the European Union were looking for: we are taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money; we are leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy; and, importantly, the United Kingdom will be able to undertake free trade agreements with the rest of the world, which in many places is growing far faster than economies in the EU. At the same time, the Prime Minister’s proposal seeks to ensure that we continue with a deep and special relationship with our EU friends and neighbours not only for economic trade but also in security and other areas that are of great value to all our nations.

This has been a challenging journey and compromises have had to be made on all sides. However, two things are certain: first, that the Prime Minister’s deal is the only deal on the table; and, secondly, that it means we will leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

What do these comments have to do with the business of the House?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I think that the Leader of the House is providing the context for what she intends to say. [Interruption.] Melanie Onn is in an animated state and is expressing through wild gesticulation her dissatisfaction with that state of affairs, but I think a modest forbearance would be seemly.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to set the context; we should, perhaps, think of this as an introduction.

I believe that the withdrawal agreement and political declaration offer the route to a good future relationship with our European friends and neighbours, and therefore I believe we must support the deal and continue our efforts to deliver on the will of the people of the United Kingdom.

Before my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opens the meaningful vote debate itself, this motion seeks first to set the framework within which that debate will take place. The Government have listened carefully to views right across the House on how best to govern the arrangements for the debate on the withdrawal agreement and the future framework, and I am grateful to colleagues on all sides for the collaborative discussions that have taken place in advance of tabling the motion on the Order Paper today.

I am also very grateful for the contributions of the Select Committees, whose views and recommendations have been insightful. I pay particular tribute to the Exiting the European Union Committee chaired by Hilary Benn and the Procedure Committee chaired by my hon. Friend Mr Walker on the procedure in the House that ought to apply to this unique debate.

The Government have carefully considered the Procedure Committee’s recommendations in bringing forward today’s business of the House motion. I hope that the House agrees that the motion on the Order Paper today is reflective of the vast majority of recommendations in that report. The parameters for the debate will enable what the Committee itself called a momentous decision for Parliament and the country. It is vital that we make sure the substantive issues are properly debated so that Members of the House can take an informed decision in the national interest.

On the amendments of Clive Efford, I gently say that the motion in the Prime Minister’s name as tabled provides for a full five days of debate, as recommended by the Exiting the European Union Committee and the Procedure Committee, following their consultations and evidence taken across the House on what provision should best govern proceedings.

The timeframe being provided strikes the optimal balance between ensuring full and proper scrutiny and debate on such an important decision and vote and allowing the time for the legislation that will give effect to that decision to pass through Parliament by 29 March 2019. The Government have been determined to make sure the House is able to carry out full scrutiny and play its essential role as we move towards leaving the EU, and the motion tabled reflects that.

Should the House agree to the business of the House motion today, the five days of debate ahead of us will build on the many important opportunities the House has had to consider EU exit so far. We have had 37 days of debate as Parliament agreed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There have been regular statements and opportunities to question Ministers, including more than 10 hours at the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the last 12 sitting days alone. Committees of the House are carrying out invaluable scrutiny, and the Government have scheduled a number of valuable general debates, including the debate on legislating for the withdrawal agreement that took place on 10 September.

The amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and others would have the effect of making any future motions tabled under section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Act amendable under House procedures. I recognise the desire of hon. Members to ensure that their views are fully expressed if the vote on the deal does not pass. However, I encourage Members at this stage to focus on the matter at hand. I gentlysuggest that now is not the time to pre-empt whether or not further motions under section 13 may be required. As such, I encourage Members not to press that amendment to a vote.

I hope that all hon. Members will agree the motion before us. If we can do so quickly, we can move on to the vital debate that precedes the meaningful vote itself, which will take place next week on 11 December. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 5:11 pm, 4th December 2018

I thank the Leader of the House and acknowledge that she has been in the Chamber since lunchtime. I hope that she gets the chance to have a break.

I do not intend to detain the House long on this matter. The Opposition support the business of the House motion. We are glad that the Government have seen sense, and that the motion accepts that the House will deal with amendments in the usual way, before the main motion. We welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, and I would like to put on record our thanks for its report.

The Labour party will support the amendment in the name of Mr Grieve and others. There is an important principle here. The Government are accountable to Parliament. At every stage in this process, the Government have sought to prevent Parliament from having a meaningful say on how this country approaches the withdrawal from the EU. The Prime Minister has sought to sideline Parliament. The amendment would simply ensure that Parliament would be given another meaningful say if the Government lose on Tuesday—no true democrat and parliamentarian could vote other than in favour. We support the motion.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 5:12 pm, 4th December 2018

I, too, wish to thank the Government for listening to the Procedure Committee and the engagement they had with the Committee over how the debate should be conducted. On that, I have nothing further to add.

Members will recall that in June issues arose about how the House should proceed in the event of the Government motion being rejected. At that time, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister represented to me that if the motions to be considered thereafter were to be made amendable, it would in some way interfere with her ability to negotiate, which was why—having reflected on her view—I took the decision to vote against my own amendment when it came before the House. I listened to what she had to say to me. But the reality remains that we have an unsatisfactory procedure to resolve differences of opinion in the House if—and it is obviously an “if”—we come to a point at which the Government do not succeed in their motion.

The opportunity exists this afternoon to cure that anomaly. As was so rightly said by Valerie Vaz, it is contrary to all sensible practice and—I have to say—slightly disrespectful of the role of this House, that we should end up with a situation in which we have unamendable motions for consideration at a time when Parliament should be fully focused on trying to find the means to resolve outstanding issues. It is for that reason that I tabled this amendment, which would in simple terms cure that problem and provide reassurance, even before we start on these really important debates, that whatever the outcome next week, we would have a means of continuing the debate thereafter, if we needed to, in a way that must be in conformity with what any right-thinking Member of this House would think to be the proper procedure and process to adopt. For that reason, I am grateful to my many right hon. and hon. Friends who have indicated their support for the amendment, and to the many right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who have done likewise.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to the Procedure Committee, he proposed free-standing resolutions alongside the Government’s motion. Would he like to clarify now that his amendment is not proposing that process, and that it is proposing something that would be an expression of will rather than an expression of the opinion of the House?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I am very happy to do so. The hon. Lady might remember that when I came before the Procedure Committee on the main business in this motion, I tried to be as conciliatory as possible in finding a way through. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the first principle of having amendable motions. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that if we do not resolve this issue next week, there will be further amendable motions to be considered under the programme laid out in section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Is my right hon. and learned Friend not attempting, in his amendment to the business of the House motion, effectively to amend primary legislation?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Most certainly not. We have just had in the past few hours an example of the assertion of parliamentary sovereignty, which I understand to be dear to many Members on this side of the House and elsewhere. I say to my hon. Friend that no statute may fetter in any way the procedure and processes that this House chooses to adopt. There is therefore no incompatibility whatsoever between this motion and any statute. Mr Speaker, I beg to move the amendment.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

We will come to the proposition of that matter being put to the test of the House in due course, but there is a choreography to these things, so it will not happen just yet. If Mr Efford wishes to orate, he has his opportunity to do so now.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 5:17 pm, 4th December 2018

The amendments that my hon. Friends and I have tabled speak for themselves. They would introduce more flexibility into the timing of our debates so that Back-Bench MPs could get their thoughts and views on record. Too often, Members who are called to speak at the tail-end of debates in this House have their speaking time cut to just three or four minutes. That is barely as long as a press release, and they are often discouraged from taking interventions, which really turns this Chamber into a recording studio for a series of statements. It would be unfortunate if that were to happen in a debate of this importance. I ask the Government to bear that in mind as the debate goes on, and not to deny Back Benchers the chance to put their views on record. I will not divide the House on my amendments, because I think that the point has been made.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 5:18 pm, 4th December 2018

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and I have not always agreed as we have gone through the lengthy discussions of the Brexit process, but we did both appear before the Procedure Committee to discuss the proceedings that we are now about to undertake. When he and I, and others, came to discuss the effects of section 13, in which many of us were involved in trying to find compromises that would make it all workable, it became clear that there was a significant issue involved. I want to explain to those of my hon. Friends, and those on other Benches, who might think that this is an abstruse amendment, just why it may become utterly critical to the future of our country.

Section 13(8) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specifies that, by 21 January, whoever is then the Prime Minister and whoever are then the Government—I hope that it will be the current Prime Minister and the current Government—may be compelled to come to the House of Commons to explain that they believe that it is impossible to reach an agreement with the EU. Section 13(8)(b)(i) states that a motion “in neutral terms” should then be put to the House. That is a strange and arcane parliamentary term, but it has a meaning, which is specified in Standing Order No. 24B.

Ludicrously, given our unwritten constitution, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons were correctly described by Bagehot as the nearest thing that we have to a constitution, and Standing Order No. 24B states:

“Where, in the opinion of the Speaker or the Chair, a motion, That this House, or, as the case may be, the committee has considered the matter, is expressed in neutral terms, no amendments to it may be tabled.”

Amendment (d), tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, would cancel Standing Order No. 24B as it would then apply, so that the House would have a chance to amend the motion from a Government who had concluded that they could not reach a deal with the EU.

Of course, that may not be in any way relevant to our proceedings. I shall be voting for the Government’s deal on Tuesday, and many of us hope that the Government will reach a deal. Many of us hope that even if we do not reach a deal on Tuesday, we will reach it subsequently under the Government’s guidance in some way or another. Under those circumstances, I believe that a sort of Norwegian arrangement is probably the next best step. However, whatever we may or may not do, we could arrive on 21 January with a statement that no deal can be reached, and it could be that at that time there is somewhere across this House a majority in favour of some solution that would avoid us leaving without a deal. For those of us who believe that leaving without a deal would be a catastrophe for our country, it seems right that we should at least have the chance to crystallise and express that majority, should it arise. The only way of doing that is to provide for the motion to be amendable, and that is the reason for amendment (d).

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:22 pm, 4th December 2018

The Leader of the House, who is unfailingly courteous, for which I pay tribute to her, made some preliminary comments, and I felt that I must reply to them on the behalf of the Scottish National party. This deal is not in the interests of the Scots or, indeed, of anyone in the United Kingdom. The past two years have shown that the promises made by the leave campaign are undeliverable. All significant analysis shows that this deal will mean a massive hit on the British economy and on the jobs and living standards of all our constituents across these islands, and the loss of freedom of movement will have a particularly heavy impact on the Scottish economy. I say to the Leader of the House that this is not about deal or no deal, because there is a third option: no Brexit.

As has been widely reported today, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has given his opinion in the case of Wightman and others, including myself, v. the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The preliminary opinion states that article 50 can indeed be unilaterally revoked, and I suggest that that may have some impact on today’s proceedings. I will explain why in a moment—[Interruption.] Hopefully, I will get the courtesy of a hearing, as others did. For the moment, I should make it clear that the Scottish National party will support the amendment in the name of Mr Grieve, and we applaud his efforts and those of others to ensure that democracy is not steamrollered by this Government and that Parliament has a meaningful say in what might happen in the future.

Otherwise, we are generally happy with the time allocated for the debate, and we are pleased that the UK Government have paid attention to the letter from the leaders of the Opposition parties calling for amendments to be decided on before a final substantive vote—that being the usual practice in this House.

However, the UK Government should consider pushing back the meaningful vote until they have the final judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case I mentioned. It is no surprise to the UK Government that this decision is pending, because they have been fighting it tooth and nail for the last eight months, but I am very proud to say that I and other Scottish SNP parliamentarians, two Scottish Greens and two Scottish Labour Members of the European Parliament have triumphed in getting this case to the Court of Justice of the European Union for the preliminary ruling that the Grand Chamber is likely to follow.

The reason we did that was to make sure that parliamentarians in this House would know when they came to the meaningful vote that it is not, as the Government would have us believe, deal or no deal and that there is the third option of staying in the European Union on the current terms and conditions—on the rather good deal that we currently enjoy. That is what the Advocate General has said today, and the Court follows him in 80% of cases. The Court has said that it will rule quickly, and the word on the street is that that will be before Christmas. Will the Government consider postponing the meaningful vote until we know the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union? As I say, it comes as no surprise to the Government that this decision is pending.

At every turn since the Brexit vote, the UK Government have sought to marginalise Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government proposed a series of compromises that have been ignored by this Government, and I am proud to say it will be a rich irony that it is Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts who are throwing this Parliament a last-minute lifeline to reverse the madness of this decision. It will ultimately be up to the public in a second vote as to whether they reverse that madness, but I very much hope that, when Scotland becomes an independent nation state again and when Scotland looks to take her rightful place at Europe’s top table alongside Ireland and the others, it will be remembered that it was the Scots who threw this Parliament and the whole United Kingdom a lifeline. I urge the Government to postpone the meaningful vote until MPs have the vital final decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 5:26 pm, 4th December 2018

I will be very brief. First, I acknowledge that, in this business motion, the Government have listened to representations made by both the Exiting the European Union Committee and the Procedure Committee, although I gently say to the Leader of the House and other Ministers present that this whole process, unfortunately, has shown the Government’s marked reluctance to listen to the House, to trust the House and to share information with the House. I suspect that what the Government have sown, they will reap in the vote next Tuesday.

Secondly, I rise to support the amendment tabled by Mr Grieve. As it bears more than a passing resemblance to amendment (c) that I have tabled to the motion on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, he is probably not surprised to hear me say that. Joanna Cherry talked of a lifeline, and it is essential that the House of Commons has the opportunity, if the deal is voted down next Tuesday, to give itself a voice and to express a view about what happens next. Amendment (d) to the Business of the House motion would, as we have just heard, remove the obstacle to that, and I hope the whole House will vote for it.

Amendment proposed: (d), at end add

“(11) The provisions of Standing Order No. 24B (Amendments to motions to consider specified matters) shall not apply in respect of any motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to any provision of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.”—(Mr Grieve.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 321, Noes 299.

Division number 274 Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice) — Business of the House (European Union (Withdrawal) Act)

A majority of MPs voted to allow amendments on any motion made by the Government under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Aye: 320 MPs

No: 298 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That the following provisions shall have effect.

Sitting arrangements

(1) In this Order—

‘European Union withdrawal motion’ means a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and

‘allotted day’ means a day on which the first Government business is the European Union withdrawal motion.

(2) The allotted days shall be Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December.

(3) On this day, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Business of the House (Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) motion.

(4) On the second, third and fourth allotted days, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion.

Decisions on any amendments

(5) No amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion may be selected before the final allotted day.

(6) In respect of the European Union withdrawal motion, the Speaker may select up to six amendments of which notice has been given.

(7) If, on the final allotted day, an amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion has been disposed of at or after the moment of interruption, any further amendments selected by the Speaker in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 6 of this Order may be moved, and the questions thereon shall be put forthwith.

(8) Questions under this Order may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

General

(9) No motion to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

(10) On an allotted day—

(a) no Emergency Debate shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order No. 24; (b) no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;

(b) no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;

(c) no motion shall be proposed under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) except by a Minister of the Crown; and

(d) no motion shall be proposed that the question be not now put.

(11) The provisions of Standing Order No. 24B (Amendments to motions to consider specified matters) shall not apply in respect of any motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to any provision of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.