Points of Order

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 12:49 pm, 9th January 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you are aware, at the beginning of Prime Minister’s questions when I was expressing my deep sadness at the loss of Lord Ashdown and his concern for the state of where we are now, Andrew Bridgen loudly shouted from a sedentary position, “From the grave.” I find such a comment disgraceful, and I ask for guidance on how the hon. Gentleman might, for example, retract such a statement and on whether it was becoming of the sort of conduct that we should expect from Members of this 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 did hear those words. I did not hear a particular Member, and I did not see a Member mouth those words, but I did hear those words. I think it was most unfortunate that that was said. People sometimes say things instinctively and rashly, but it was most unfortunate. The hon. Lady was perfectly properly paying tribute to an extremely distinguished former Member of this House and someone that many would regard as an international statesperson. What was said should not have been said. If the person who said it wishes to take the opportunity to apologise, it is open to that person to do so.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I will apologise for my remarks if any offence was caused to any Member of the House.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I have always regarded you as an exceptional Speaker and a defender of Parliament, which I continue to do. However, I also regard the Clerks of the House in exactly the same light. I went to the Table Office late last night to look at the Business of the House (Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) (No. 2) (Motion) to see what shenanigans the Government were up to. It had been published, and I thought of proposing an amendment, but I was told that that would be totally out of order and that no other amendments had been tabled. However, there is an amendment to that motion on the Order Paper today, which puts me in something of an unfortunate position, so could you rule on what action might be taken?

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 am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. First, let me thank him for his kind remarks that prefaced his inquiry. This is the first that I have learned of the matter, and that makes it difficult for me to give immediate advice. It is a matter upon which I may need to reflect before giving him what I would call substantive advice.

Obviously, I was not aware of the hon. Gentleman’s visit to the Table Office, of which he has now informed me. I understand that he is telling me that he was advised that the motion was unamendable, and I do not know whether he went into the Table Office before Mr Grieve or after. All I know is that in my understanding the motion is amendable—I am clear in my mind about that—so insofar as Mr Bone is disappointed that he was unable to table an amendment, I understand that. Whether there is an opportunity for him to do so now seems doubtful. I would have had no objection to him seeking to table an amendment, but I was unaware that he was attempting to do so. That is my honest answer to him. I absolutely accept that he is a person of complete integrity and will always try to do the right thing, and the same goes for me. I am trying to do the right thing and to make the right judgments. That is what I have tried to do and will go on doing.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope you will bear with me because, as a relatively new Member who has never raised a point of order before, there may be some inaccuracy in the process. Given the comments that you have just made, I wonder whether you could point me towards the precedent that would allow for what seems to be an unamendable motion to be amended.

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 am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am not in the business of invoking precedent, nor am I under any obligation to do so. I think the hon. Gentleman will know that it is the long-established practice of this House that the Speaker in the Chair makes judgments upon the selection of amendments and that those judgments are not questioned by Members of the House. I am clear in my mind that I have taken the right course of action.

By way of explanation to the hon. Gentleman and to the House, the motion in the Prime Minister’s name is indeed a variation of the order agreed by the House on 4 December. Under paragraph (9) of that order, the question on any motion to vary the order “shall be put forthwith.” I interpret that to mean that there can be no debate, but I must advise the House that the terms of the order do not say that no amendment can be selected or moved. I cannot allow debate, but I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. At the appropriate point, I will invite him to move it once the motion has been moved. That is the position.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the convenience of the House, I have brought with me a copy of the original business motion, which was passed by this House on 4 December 2018, and paragraph (9) states:

“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.”

That was a motion of the House.

Now, I have not been in this House as long as you have, Mr Speaker, but I have been here for 18 years and I have never known any Speaker to overrule a motion of the House of Commons. You have said again and again that you are a servant of this House, and we take you at your word. When people have challenged you in points of order, I have heard you say many times, “I cannot do x or y because I am bound by a motion of the House.” You have done that multiple times in my experience, so why are you overriding a motion of the House today?

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 thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy. The answer is simple. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a motion and said that no motion in this context, for the purposes of precis, may be moved other than by a Minister of the Crown. ‘Tis so. We are not treating here of a motion but of an amendment to a motion.

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 am sorry, but there is a distinction between a motion and an amendment. What the right hon. Gentleman says about a motion I accept, but it does not relate to an amendment. That is the answer.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I am sorry, but that is utter sophistry.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In recent years—[Interruption.]

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

In my opinion, in recent years this House has seen a considerable diminution of its powers and has often seemed rather indifferent to the eroding of some of the powers we used to have to hold Governments to account. You, Mr Speaker, have been assiduous in maximising the opportunities for the House to hold what happens to be the Government of the day to account and in giving the opportunity for debate and for voting. I find it unbelievable that people are putting such effort into trying to exclude the possibility of the House expressing its opinion on how it wishes to handle this matter, and I suggest to some of my hon. Friends—the ones who are getting somewhat overexcited—that perhaps they should don a yellow jacket and go outside.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Of course I will come back to other colleagues. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his point of order, which I think requires no response from me; it stands on its own.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are in an invidious position: you have an extremely difficult job to do, but can you confirm in relation to your rulings—whichever way they go; sometimes we will agree, and sometimes we will disagree—that it would not be in order for you simply to respond to the loudest voice at a particular point of time, or in any way to be pushed by a minority view because some are acting in a co-ordinated way to attempt to overrule your rulings?

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 note what the hon. Gentleman says, and he will not be surprised to know that I share his judgment in the matter. For the avoidance of doubt and the understanding of people who are not Members of the House but are attending to our proceedings, and are possibly even present in the Palace of Westminster today, let me say this so that it is crystal clear from the vantage point of the Chair: what the Chair is proposing to do is select an amendment because in my honest judgment it is a legitimate selection. It is for the House to vote upon—[Interruption.] Order. It is for the House to vote upon that amendment, and indeed to vote upon the motion. The Chair is simply seeking to discharge the responsibility of the holder of the office to the best of his ability. That is what I have always done, and no matter what people say or how forcefully they say it, or how many times they say it or by what manner of co-ordination it is said, I will continue to do what I believe to be right.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that no amendment to the European withdrawal motion can have any legislative effect and therefore cannot override the express repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 in any shape or form, which was passed under section 1 of the withdrawal Act by this House and by Parliament on 26 June this year?

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

The short answer is yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is right: only statute can overrule statute. As usual the hon. Gentleman’s exegesis of the situation is entirely correct. [Interruption.] Somebody chuntered from a sedentary position, “Not as usual”; well, that was my evaluative comment on Sir William Cash based on long experience of him, and on this particular point I absolutely accept that he is right.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have often drawn our attention not just to what goes on within the House but the view the public might take of the priorities we hold, so may I ask you to confirm what I believe you just said: if people do not like the amendment you have selected, the simple answer is to vote against it?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask you to rule on a different matter, regarding Standing Order No. 118 on how delegated legislation is dealt with in this House, which states at paragraph (6):

“The Speaker shall put forthwith the question thereon” after orders have been debated upstairs and brought to the Floor of the House? That has always been thought and understood to mean that these motions are unamendable: “forthwith” means unamendable. Why have you changed your interpretation of that word in this case?

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

My understanding is that the motion today, and the amendment, are undebatable: there is to be no debate on them. I have not made, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, a change of judgment specifically for today. I understand what the hon. Gentleman tells me in respect of the traditional treatment of delegated legislation, upon which he may himself be a considerable authority. I think it reasonable to say by way of response that I cannot be expected to make a comprehensive judgment on that related question now, but I stand by the view I have expressed to the House. I completely respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman takes a view that differs from my own, but that is in the nature of debate and argument.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government have a track record on this: they have a track record of trying to prevent this House from having its say over all aspects of the Brexit process, and what the public cannot see is the Chief Whip sitting there at the end of the Treasury Bench feverishly briefing journalists and texting Members in a co-ordinated attempt to undermine your judgment, Mr Speaker. Mr Bone—[Interruption.]

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

The hon. Member for Wellingborough made a reasonable point about going into the Table Office and being able to table an amendment. Is there not a problem here, Mr Speaker, as the fact is that the Government have had four weeks to get this right, but did not table the Business of the House motion until well gone 6 o’clock last night? Indeed, Members of this House were sitting in a meeting with the Prime Minister and Chief Whip and there was complete confusion about whether the Business of the House motion had gone down; there was a deliberate attempt to prevent amendments from being tabled and the House knowing what was going on. Do you agree that that is not acceptable, Mr Speaker?

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

My understanding is that the Business of the House motion was tabled yesterday afternoon by the Government; I confess I do not know at precisely what time, but my recollection and understanding are that it was tabled yesterday afternoon. It is for Members to judge in the light of the chronology of events of recent weeks whether that was altogether helpful. Clearly the Government Chief Whip will do what he judges to be right on behalf of his Prime Minister and his Government; I acknowledge that. Whether Members elsewhere in the House found it particularly helpful is perhaps an essay question which I leave to others.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have to tell you that I am absolutely hopping mad. When I became an MP three years ago I was determined that I would not become part of the establishment. Do people in this House have any idea how out of touch the general public think we are most days? We are talking about 79 days to potentially crashing out of Europe without a deal; our focus should not be on the detail of, and arguments about, the process in this place; it should be about getting on with a plan B if Parliament decides next week that the Government’s plan is not the one for the people. When are we are going to start acting like public servants and doing the right thing and having the debate and getting on with it?

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 have the highest respect for the hon. Lady, as she knows. I take on board what she says and I do not dissent from it. Equally, however, if Members raise points of order it is my responsibility to deal with them as fairly and effectively as I can. Clearly there will, I think, be a desire at some stage to proceed to the substance of the matters with which we are supposed to be dealing, but if there are further points of order, of course I will hear them and do my best to respond.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In my previous job in the European Parliament I often found that I was being asked to vote on amendments that had not been debated, and one of the things I really like about this House is that, before we vote on amendments, we get a chance to debate them. Can you confirm that, if this amendment is put to a vote today, we will have had a chance to debate it?

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

No, for the very simple reason that the terms for today, specified by the Government Chief Whip, specify no debate. If the hon. Lady asks me whether there will be a debate, the honest answer is no, but that is not my fault.

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

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will appreciate that there are Members around the House who have concerns about your decision today. I think it would be very helpful to the House if you could confirm that your decision was taken with the full advice and agreement of the Clerk of the House of Commons and, perhaps to help the House, you might agree to publish that advice so that the House can understand the reasons for your decision. [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. Forgive me, colleagues, but I want to hear the right hon. Lady’s point of order. I heard the start of it, but I did not hear its continuation, so please let us hear it.

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As you will have heard today, there are some concerns about the decision you have taken in the context of the Business of the House motion. Could you therefore please confirm that your decision was taken with full advice from the Clerk of the House of Commons and other senior parliamentary advisers and whether, under these circumstances, you might consider publishing that advice?

Publish it.

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 thank the Leader of the House for her point of order, and what I say to her is twofold. First, of course I consult the Clerk of the House and other senior Clerks, and I hear their advice. That advice is tendered to me privately, and that is absolutely proper, but it is also true that I had a written note from the Clerk of the House, from which I quoted in responding to an earlier point of order.

If the right hon. Lady is inquiring whether there is what she might consider to be, in governmental terms, full written advice, a paper or a written brief, or whatever, there is none such. I have just told her what the situation is, I quoted from what was provided to me by the Clerk of the House and I have given my ruling. That is the situation.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for your reply. My question really is, did the Clerk of the House of Commons propose that your solution is acceptable, or did the Clerk advise against it?

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

The answer is that I have discussed the matter with the Clerk of the House. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. The Clerk offered me advice, and we talked about the situation that faces the House today. At the end of our discussion, when I had concluded as I did, he undertook to advise me further in the treatment of this matter—that seems to me to be entirely proper. That is the situation, and I think that is what colleagues would expect.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just before I begin, I wish Michel Barnier a happy 68th birthday today. The contention in which this amendment is held is surely all the justification required for Members to vote on it and to decide one way or the other, and you are correct in what you are doing.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I respect the Chair and I would never push my luck with you. I do not challenge the decision by any means, and it is your right to make it from the Chair, but over the past 24 or 25 years I have on a number of occasions, particularly during the Maastricht debates, asked the Clerks whether we could amend a Business of the House motion. I was always told categorically that precedent says it is not possible and, therefore, there was no point seeking to do so—I say that only as a statement.

Because this has a big impact on the Government’s ability to get their business, regardless of Brexit, will the instruction go to the Clerks that, in future, a Back Bencher wishing to amend a “forthwith” motion will now have such an amendment allowed and accepted against any business in 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

It seems entirely reasonable for me to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I would like to reflect on that matter. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. Members cavil as though there is an assumption that there should be immediate and comprehensive knowledge of all circumstances that might subsequently unfold. It may be that there are Members who feel they possess such great wisdom and, if so, I congratulate them upon the fact. I do not claim that wisdom, so I am giving what I absolutely admit is a holding answer to the right hon. Gentleman. I will reflect on the point, but if he is asking whether I think it is unreasonable that people might seek to amend a Business of the House motion, I do not think it is unreasonable. If, in future, Back Benchers were to seek to do so, it would seem sensible to me to say, “Let us look at the merits of the case.”

Finally, in attempting to respond not only to the right hon. Gentleman but to some of the concerns that have been expressed, I understand the importance of precedent, but precedent does not completely bind, for one very simple reason. [Interruption.] I say this for the benefit of the Leader of the House, who is shaking her head. If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change. Things do change. I have made an honest judgment. If people want to vote against the amendment, they can; and if they want to vote for it, they can.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I remind the House that, further to what you have just said, it was because of your courage in allowing an amendment to a Loyal Address, which enabled a referendum test to be applied in this House, that we had the referendum in due course and we are where we are? Let nobody suggest that you, by your actions, have been undermining Brexit. It would seem to me to be an absolute own goal for this House if we started undermining your position in the Chair. As an independently-minded Government Back Bencher, I strongly resent the fact that the Government pairing Whip, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, who is on the right-hand side of your Chair, has been trying to orchestrate objections to your decision.

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

Let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. So far as his last remark was concerned, I think I can cope with that. Government Whips going about their business in their own way is something to which the Chair is very well and long accustomed. The notion that a Government Whip might now and again do things that are unhelpful to the Chair is not entirely novel. I have broad shoulders and I am not going to lose any sleep over that—never have done, am not doing so and never will.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy and his sense of fairness. He recalls the record accurately: I did indeed select an additional amendment to the Humble Address, if memory services me correctly, in 2013, and that was in the name of Mr John Baron. That amendment was on the subject of a referendum on British membership of the European Union, so what the hon. Gentleman says is true.

The fact is that there is a responsibility on the Chair to do their best to stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, including the views of dissenters on the Government Benches—that is to say, independent-minded souls who do not always go with the Whip—and to defend the rights of Opposition parties and very small parties, as well. I have always sought to do that, and on the Brexit issue, as on every issue, what the record shows, if I may say so—and I will—is that this Chair, on a very, very, very big scale, calls Members from across the House with a very large variety of opinions. Ordinarily, as colleagues will acknowledge, when statements are made to the House, my practice, almost invariably, is to call each and every Member, whether the Government like it or not. That is not because I am setting myself up against the Government, but because I am championing the rights of the House of Commons.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that over the past few years we have seen a big evolution in the way the Government treat motions in this House? That was partly brought about by the Wright reforms, but we have seen the widespread ignoring of motions passed in this House, and the beginning of a practice of not voting on motions—especially Opposition motions—that the Government feel are somehow awkward for them. Do you agree, Mr Speaker, that this has taken away from the importance of the decisions that this House of Commons makes? Do you therefore also agree that allowing this House of Commons to vote on more issues, in a context in which those votes have to be taken and put into effect, empowers this House of Commons and demonstrates that it is taking back control? As Speaker, you have an absolute duty to ensure that this House of Commons is taken seriously, which is why I commend you for the decision you have taken today.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The advice of the Clerks is entirely properly between you and the Clerks—that is an accepted principle—but if this place is to operate properly and effectively, it has to be on an established, rules-based system, as referred to by my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith. May I ask you, Sir, to reflect on two things? First, if there is to be what one would consider to be a fairly seismic change in the definition of terms in this place, the role of the Procedure Committee in that should be taken into account. Secondly, I say this to you personally, Mr Speaker. We need to reflect in this place not on the personalities or the politics, but on the dignity of the office of Speaker and the dignity of the Chair. I think we are—I say this with sadness—in pretty choppy and dangerous waters at the time in our nation’s affairs when, frankly, we can least afford it.

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 am extraordinarily grateful for the point of order from the hon. Gentleman; I know he is deeply versed in the affairs of the House and takes his responsibilities to it very seriously indeed. I shall reflect most carefully on every word of what he has said to me today. I agree that there could well be a role for the Procedure Committee in relation to this matter, and thank him for what he has said.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the crisis that the country is facing over Brexit, the fact that, as my hon. Friend Ms Eagle has just said, the House of Commons is taking back control is to be welcomed, rather than feared. Mr Speaker, you have made your ruling; it is clear; the House should respect it. I wonder whether you could advise us on how we could now move on to the business of the day, to which I think the nation expects us to turn our attention.

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

The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that I am in the hands of colleagues, and I think he knows me well enough to know that I have never ducked a challenge. That is not in my nature; it has been no part of my DNA, either since I have been in this House or in all my life before I came into Parliament. [Interruption.] Frank Field says from a sedentary position words to the effect of “Let’s get on.” I would like to move on, but I do wish to treat colleagues with courtesy. [Interruption.] Somebody said “You can,” but I will take a few remaining points of order if people wish to raise them. I say very gently to Simon Hoare, who just raised his point of order and talked about the dignity of the Chair and the importance of our procedures, that if people are going to invoke that importance, it would be helpful if they did not undermine that self-same point by continuous and repetitive dispute.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points on which I would be grateful for clarity. First, section 9 of the order of the House that sets out the terms of the debate says that no motion may be made other than by a Minister of the Crown, and you have interpreted that to mean that an amendment can be made to the motion. The question on that motion, as amended, then has to be put, and that is the motion that, under the order, needs to be moved by a Minister of the Crown. Is it therefore the case that the question may not be put on the motion, if amended, unless the motion is adopted by a Minister of the Crown?

I then have a second point. [Interruption.] If I may come to the second point, which is the precedential—[Interruption.]

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

The second point relates to the interpretation of the word “forthwith” and, for the benefit of the Commons Journal tomorrow, how it is to be understood in future when such matters arise. Page 458 of “Erskine May”, which I am sure you have, Mr Speaker, says that such questions

“must be put forthwith without any possibility of amendment”.

That reads as a single set, rather than as though “forthwith” was simply being qualified. The question that then arises is on the other important Standing Orders that are affected by the “forthwith” question. I think particularly of Standing Order No. 44, relating to disorderly conduct, which states that the question must be put forthwith but makes no mention of amendment one way or another. It seems to me that it would be deeply troublesome if “forthwith” came to allow amendments under such circumstances, so I think that the precedential effect of your ruling needs to be clarified.

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 am happy to reflect on the second point, which is not altogether dissimilar to that raised earlier by Mr Duncan Smith. It is a very serious question and it warrants a serious reply. I am not sure whether it is reasonable to expect a full reply today—I am not sure whether that is what the hon. Gentleman is seeking—but if the hon. Gentleman is saying to me in his typically courteous way that this is an important matter and that we need a judgment on it, either from the Chair alone or from the Chair acting on the advice of, for example, the Procedure Committee, I agree with him.

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the answer is that if the motion has been moved, the question on it must then be put. For the avoidance of doubt, I say that on the basis of specialist advice.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point is equally important constitutionally. Are there any means available to this House of communicating to the Conservative party that we are all now bored and tired of all these points of order? The nation is increasingly embarrassed by them. How do we therefore get on with today’s debate?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I must say that I never bore of the proceedings of this House and of doing my job, even if others do. A few moments ago, you said that only statute can overrule statute. The section of the Act to which this motion relates specified a period of 21 calendar days for the Government to come back. This motion specifies three sitting days. Which one has precedence and why did you select this 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

I have already explained the situation that appertains to the amendment. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but if, after all these exchanges, he is still not clear about my rationale for the selection of the amendment, I am not sure, frankly, whether I can greatly help him. I think I am right in saying that the reference to 21 days, as I have just been advised from a sedentary position by the Clerk of the House, is a 21-day maximum. When the hon. Gentleman enquires about supremacy—which of the two takes precedence—I simply make the point that that which is governed by statute is a matter of legal fact. Earlier in this series of exchanges, Sir William Cash asked me to confirm his legal understanding, and I did. That seems to me to treat of the point that concerns Kevin Foster.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There will be times in this House when we agree and times when we disagree, but I respect the ruling that you have made today. How can we put on the record that it is reprehensible that there are right hon. and hon. Members in this House who have often advocated our taking back control, but who are now doing the complete opposite in seeking to challenge your ruling? Let us not forget that this amendment seeks to decrease the uncertainty currently being experienced by millions of people across our country—our constituents, our public services and our businesses. How can we make it known to people outside the House who are watching our proceedings that the majority, I believe, of this House respect your ruling, and do not believe that what we are experiencing in this House is any way for us to conduct our affairs?

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 am very grateful to the hon. Lady. She, like many others, has made her position very clear, and that stands on the record for people to scrutinise. On the issues to be voted on today, I return to the point that I was making earlier: I hope that colleagues and those attending to our proceedings outwith the Chamber will understand me when I say that these issues are for the House to decide. I am simply making a selection and then inviting Members of the House of Commons to vote and reach their conclusions. I expect many people feel that it would be seemly and advantageous if we were to do so relatively soon; we have another piece of business first.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have said that you consulted the Clerks. For the sake of clarity, will you kindly inform the House whether the decision that you have arrived at is different from the initial advice provided to you by the Clerks?

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 am not confirming or denying that. I am saying what I said earlier, which is that I had a discussion with the Clerk and with other Clerks. We discussed the situation, the various scenarios and the proffering of advice, and I stand by what I said. I have nothing to add to that. It is perfectly proper for the Speaker to consult and hear the views of the Clerks who serve at the Table, and sometimes other Clerks as well.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I really seek your guidance for myself and perhaps for others in this House. There is a difference between a motion and an amendment. If the Government had wished to prevent amendments, would not a better worded motion a few weeks ago have relieved them of the problem that they find themselves with today?

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 am not sure whether I want to speculate on that, but the hon. Gentleman has obviously applied his beady eye to the material on the Order Paper, and he has reached that conclusion. Others may also do so.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You and your deputies have a well deserved reputation for being absolute sticklers for protocols, processes and conventions in this place, which occasionally I find quite frustrating, but which I utterly respect. To that end, would it be in order for you, in considering this important matter, to consult with your deputies as to the appropriateness of accepting this 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

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but the short answer is no, and I shall tell him why. The clue is in the title, “The Speaker in the Chair”. The Speaker is elected to discharge his responsibilities to the House to the best of his ability. That is what I have done, diligently, conscientiously and without fail for the past nine and a half years. Mine is the responsibility. I do not seek to duck it.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that in all our experiences in this House, it is extremely unwise to thrust civil servants and officials, who give their advice in confidence and are neutral, into the public domain in this way? When it has happened in the past, it has often ended very badly indeed for those individuals. The House should stop that. It is extremely inappropriate for a Leader of the House to lead that charge.

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

The right hon. Gentleman makes his own point in his own way with considerable force and alacrity. I respect him and I respect what he said. As to how others choose to go about their work, that is a matter for them. As far as I am concerned, I am a member of the legislature. I am the Speaker of the House of Commons, a very important part of Parliament. My job is not to be a cheerleader for the Executive branch; my job is to stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, and the Speaker will assuredly do so.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your response to the point of order from my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, you said that this was an unprecedented thing. In response to the point of order from my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, you said that you did not necessarily intend this to set a future precedent. It is clear that it is important that you are, and that you are seen and believed to be, impartial. Clearly, there is a huge appetite to explore the implications of this decision. Might it not be wise not to implement this decision at such a contentious point in time, to reflect on both—[Interruption.]

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Would it not be appropriate to take time to reflect on the precedent that this decision might set, and instead to make a decision in slower time at a less contentious moment in the business of this 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 thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I respect his sincerity, but—I hope he will see this point even if he does not agree with it—the responsibility is mine, and it is not tomorrow, next week, next month, next year; it is now. The Chair has to make his best judgment there and then. That is what I have done, honourably and conscientiously in the firm and continuing conviction that I am right. So while I respect the hon. Gentleman and his sincerity in his point of order, the short answer to him is no.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Any of our constituents watching this now will be deeply worried about the future of our country and will not be impressed by this spectacle. A number of the points of order have articulated a series of finely detailed points, but they amount to the same thing: a tedious repetition. Is there anything in the rules of the House that prevents the abuse of the time made available to this House by making the same point over and over again?

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

Well, I do not think it is helpful when people just make the same point over and over and over again, but as I myself have often observed, it is not unprecedented. [Interruption.] The point has just been made elegantly and eloquently from a sedentary position by Barry Gardiner that continued repetition is not entirely a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons, so I will deal with it. However, there is a ten-minute rule motion with which to deal, and Leo Docherty is waiting to present that ten-minute rule motion, and we do then have important business to dispatch. Unless people really feel that they have something new to raise by way of a point of order, I ask them in all courtesy to consider not doing so at this time.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, may I ask you to confirm that Members have an absolute right to raise points of order with you and to challenge you in the excellent job that you do as a servant of the House? This afternoon we have been told that we are reprehensible by some Members, and have been accused of wasting time and of being part of a co-ordination. I am part of no co-ordination in this place and never will be.

Secondly, with the greatest respect to you, Mr Speaker—I am agnostic on the decision that you have made and believe you have the absolute right to make it—we talk about the public out there, and there are a lot of people who believe that there is a conspiracy and a procedural stitch-up taking place by a House of Commons which, on the substantive issue of leaving or remaining in the European Union, is grossly out of touch with the referendum result. With that in mind, although I accept your decision and would indeed be more than happy to support you in it, may I again ask that any advice proffered on this matter should be put into the public domain so that the public can make their own decision about that?

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

The Clerk has just said to me that advice to the Speaker is private, but I do have two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, perhaps I can concur with him; I know him, and his whole political background and track record in this place prove that he is not part of co-ordinated efforts. He is very much his own person, and he knows that I have always respected him for that as well as for a number of his other qualities.

Secondly, when the hon. Gentleman refers to a perception out there. To some degree, this brings us back to earlier points of order. I often have to explain this point to constituents and to people I meet around the country, so let me again say this and let me say it explicitly: it is not for the Chair either to try to push a policy through or to prevent a policy being pushed through. That is not the role of the Speaker of the House. The role of the Speaker of the House is to chair as effectively as he or she can in the Chamber and in the management of the day-to-day business, including the selection of amendments, new clauses and so on. What the House chooses to do is a matter for the House. If that applies across the piece, manifestly it applies to the subject of Brexit. What happens on this subject is not a matter for me; I am simply seeking to facilitate the House in deciding what it wants to decide. That has always been my attitude, it remains my attitude and it will continue to be my attitude. Let the House decide on the policy.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was not intending to make a point of order, but it is important for me to place on record that in the eight and a half years I have been in this place, every time I have had an occasion to speak to any of the House officials—the Table Office, the Clerks, the Public Bill Office or the Private Bill Office—I have been given the most brilliant advice from everyone. It is really improper for Members here to be saying that advice given to you by the Clerks in the execution of their duty should be revealed publicly. That is most inappropriate and is putting the Clerks in an invidious political position.

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 thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. I do not know whether there is any precedent for such advice having been issued, but my understanding is that it has not previously been issued. I said what I did in response to an earlier point of order on the basis, once more, of clerkly advice. I know that the Clerk would concur with that view, as I do.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This year will be 30 years since we first met in the final of the competition to be selected for Bristol South, and both of us have been on something of a journey since then. When you were elected as Speaker, you said you would serve for nine years. There has been the controversy of the recommendations of the Dame Laura Cox inquiry into the House of Commons, and you have been defended, particularly by two right hon. Opposition Members, on the importance of your being sustained in position beyond the nine years in order to oversee the discussions and denouement of the Brexit issue.

The uncomfortable conclusion, Mr Speaker, given the points made by my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith and my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg and the implications of the precedent that you have set with this ruling today, is that many of us will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs, not least because you made public your opinion and your vote on the issue of Brexit, is no longer neutral. I just invite you to reflect on the conclusion that many of us inevitably will have come to.

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 am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of view. He is quite right that we met, I think, in the anteroom of the Bristol Conservative Association headquarters at 5 Westfield Park, Redland, Bristol in July 1989, so we have known each other for a long time and I take in a perfectly good spirit what the hon. Gentleman has said.

I have explained in response to previous points of order and adduced evidence in support of my argument, including that proffered by Sir Christopher Chope, that I have always done my conscientious best to champion the rights of Members wishing to push their particular point of view on a range of issues and, perhaps most strikingly, on this issue. That is what the record shows. I have always been scrupulously fair to Brexiteers and remainers alike, as I have always been to people of different opinions on a miscellany of other issues. That has been the case, it is the case and it will continue to be the case.

As for the other point that the hon. Gentleman made, he will know that I was re-elected unanimously by this House on, I think, 13 June 2017, for the Parliament. If I have a statement on that matter to make, I would of course make it to the House first. I think that most people would accept that that is entirely reasonable.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I never thought that I was going to be one of the people who would care about the procedures of this House. I scoffed at people who talked of procedure. When I arrived here, I realised that actually it is the procedures of this House, and protecting and developing them, that will make our democracy considerably better. I wonder if you agree with me, Mr Speaker—I have seen two occasions this week of what I am about to say—that people only care about the procedures, and protecting and conserving the procedures, when they do not like the outcome of the thing that is about to happen, and never when it is going in their favour.

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

The hon. Lady has made her own points with force and style. I think we all know—[Interruption.] Let me put it like this; I will not get into that. I think we all know from our own constituencies that people are inclined to complain about a process when they do not like a result. In this case, to be fair, the result will come only when we have votes on an amendment and a motion. If what the hon. Lady is implying is that people are complaining because they do not like the amendment that has been selected, well, she has made her own point, and that may very well be so. I certainly would not impugn for one moment the integrity of Members of this House who have challenged me today, as they are absolutely entitled to do, and made their own points. I hope that throughout these exchanges today it will be demonstrably obvious to everybody that no matter what point people have made, and how forcefully they have made it, I have heard it, I have heard it fully, I have heard it with courtesy, and I have responded to it with courtesy. That has been my approach and it will always be.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I join with many others in saying that I appreciate and respect the extent to which you listen to everyone and ensure that everyone is given a courteous, fair and proper hearing, and that the voices and votes of all people should be listened to? That includes, of course, the 17.4 million people who voted leave and will be watching these proceedings and worried about the direction of the House of Commons.

On the substantive question, may I ask for your advice and guidance on the amendment in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve? The reason I raise this is that I am wondering why you selected it, as it seems to me to be defective. It says that

“a minister of the crown shall table within three sitting days a motion under section 13”.

However, there is no sanction if a Minister of the Crown does not table such a motion; nor indeed does it say which Minister of the Crown it needs to be; and if a motion were to be tabled within three sitting days, there is nothing to force it actually to be taken, because it could end up in the “Remaining orders and notices” section indefinitely. So why are we having this sort of amendment when actually, it seems to me, it does not have any effect?

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 thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said at the start of his remarks and for his usual courtesy. What I would say to him on the substance of the issue is as follows. The judgment for the Chair is whether an amendment—in this context we are talking about an amendment—is orderly and selectable. It is not incumbent upon the Chair to seek to interpret the amendment. That is not my responsibility. If the hon. Gentleman is quizzical on that point—if he believes it to be, as he put it, I think, ineffective, or not effective—his inquiry on that matter should, if I may say so, be lobbed, gently or otherwise, in the direction of his right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), whose amendment it is. That—I am very clear intellectually on this point—is not a matter for me. It may well be very important to the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps to other people, but it is a matter to raise either personally with the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield or in an indirect way.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, we have all noticed in recent months a sticker in your car that makes derogatory comments about Brexit—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] No, this is a serious point about partiality. Have you driven that car with the sticker there?

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. [Interruption.] I think the record will show—and I have the highest regard and affection for the hon. Gentleman—that I have listened to all the points of order. The only reason why I interrupt him at this point—I hope he will forgive my doing so—is that there was a factual error in his opening remarks. I am sure it was an inadvertent error, and I mean that most sincerely, but it was a factual error. He said that in recent months it had been noticed that there was a sticker in my car. That sticker on the subject of Brexit happens to be affixed to, or in the windscreen of, my wife’s car. [Laughter.] Yes, it is. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not suggest for one moment that a wife is somehow the property or chattel of her husband. She is entitled to her views. That sticker is not mine, and that is the end of it.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the House is now ready to move on. We have a long day ahead of us, and I beg to move that we proceed to the next business.