Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 1:09 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 385
    A majority of MPs voted in favour of a proposed procedure for the House of Commons to, on the 27th of March and 1st of April 2019, consider motions relating to the UK’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the EU.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 1:19 pm, 27th March 2019

I beg to move,

(1) That, at today’s sitting –

(a) any proceedings governed by the resolution of the House of 25 March (Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed and shall not be interrupted;

(b) the resolution of the House of 25 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph (b), there were inserted “and then to a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown to approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019”;

(c) notwithstanding the practice of the House, any motion on matters that have been the subject of a prior decision of the House in the current Session may be the subject of a decision;

(d) the Speaker shall announce his decision on which motions have been selected for decision by recorded vote before calling a Member to move a motion under paragraph (f) of the resolution of 25 March;

(e) the first signatory of a motion so selected may inform the Speaker up to 4.00 pm that they do not wish a recorded vote to take place on that motion;

(f) having been so informed, the Speaker shall announce that information to the House and may announce a new decision on selection;

(g) the Speaker may not propose the question on any amendment to any motion subject to decision by recorded vote or on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);

(h) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph (f) of the resolution of 25 March may continue until 7.00 pm at which time the House shall proceed as if the question had been put on each motion selected by the Speaker for decision by recorded vote and the opinion of the Speaker as to the decision on each such question had been challenged;

(i) in respect of those questions –

(i) Members may record their votes on each question under arrangements made by the Speaker;

(ii) votes may be recorded for half an hour after the Speaker declares the period open and the Speaker shall suspend the House for that period;

(iii) the Speaker shall announce the results in the course of the sitting;

(j) immediately upon the conclusion of the voting period the Speaker shall call a Minister of the Crown to move to approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to that motion;

(k) during the period between 7.00 pm and the announcement of the results on the questions subject to recorded vote–

(i) no motion for the adjournment may be made;

(ii) the House shall not proceed to a division other than on the question referred to in sub-paragraph (j); and

(iii) the Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in sub-paragraph (j) and in paragraph (g) of the resolution of 25 March, has been concluded.

(2) That, on Monday 1 April

(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply;

(b) precedence shall be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union other than any Business of the House motion relating to the consideration by the House of a motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and then to motions relating to that withdrawal and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union other than any motion moved under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018;

(c) if more than one motion relating to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have precedence;

(d) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 5.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;

(e) debate on that motion may continue until 6.00 pm at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;

(f) when those proceedings have been concluded, the Speaker shall call a Member to move one of the other motions having precedence;

(g) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.

I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House authorities, for the organisation you have tentatively put in place for today. Of course that organisation can only operate if the House approves this business of the House motion.

I would like to begin by explaining, in as plain English as I can, the two paragraphs of which the motion consists, neither of which is in any way complicated, but both of which have been drafted very carefully to ensure that the business proceeds smoothly and in good order as we go through what will no doubt be a quite complicated and highly contentious set of discussions about the substantive motions that have been tabled, from which you, Mr Speaker, have not yet selected, but that will no doubt be announced as a series of selections after we have completed the discussion and votes on the business of the House motion.

Paragraph (1) is an effort to order today’s business in an orderly way, given that there may be a considerable number of substantive motions selected by Mr Speaker and that will therefore be debated, and, at 7 o’clock if the business of the House motion is accepted, to be voted on. I therefore draw the attention of hon. Members first to sub-paragraph (1)(i), which describes the method of voting. It is the intention that, to avoid taking too long voting on the substantive motions, we should retire into the two Lobbies. The Aye Lobby will be devoted to those whose names begin A to K, and the No Lobby will be devoted to those whose names begin L to Z. There will be, in those Lobbies, voting slips—I think of a different colour, but very similar in character to the deferred Division slips that we have used today and are quite used to using—which will be in a bundle and will relate to all those motions on the Order Paper today that have been selected by Mr Speaker for vote at the end of the day.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

This is just a general point. I do not often follow tweets as being law and the way in which things will be, but I have just seen a tweet that says No. 10 will indicate that it will vote against the business motion in an attempt to thwart all the measures the right hon. Gentleman wishes to secure at 7 o’clock this evening. Does he agree that that would be a misuse of parliamentary time by the Government, given the will of the House as expressed only yesterday or the day before?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is reading a tweet that is a Trumpian tweet or an accurate tweet. I have followed the practice of not paying any attention to tweets of any kind at any time, but it may be, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the Government will decide to whip Government Members against the business of the House motion. That is, of course, a perfectly legitimate thing for the Government to do if they wish to do it. It is slightly sad, given that those of us who have prepared the business of the House motion took great care to negotiate with the Government a suitable way to include the statutory instrument, which is needed to alter exit day, at the end of our proceedings. That is provided for in orderly way in the business of the House motion and I had hoped that that degree of co-operation might induce the Government to look kindly on the motion. But I am as perfectly aware, as he is, that it was not the intention of the Government to promote the indicative votes in the way in which the motion does. Therefore, I understand that they may whip against it.

I hope that not only the right hon. Gentleman but those of my hon. Friends who voted for this process in the first place will again vote in a Division, if there is one, to sustain the business of the House motion and to allow us to continue the process that we inaugurated by voting by a narrow, but nevertheless significant, majority for amendment (a), which stood in my name a couple of days ago. I look forward to being in the same Lobby as the right hon. Gentleman as we do that.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

My right hon. Friend said that a significant majority voted in favour of his amendment. It was 329 votes to 302, which was 52% to 48%.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I think my hon. Friend’s mathematics is perfect. I observe that he has attached quite significant emphasis to the vote on the referendum result. Therefore, I hope that he joins me in the view that the majority for amendment (a) was indeed significant. I would like to point out to him and to some of my other hon. Friends who share his general views on these matters, which I entirely respect, that I, unlike he, have voted consistently, and will continue to vote consistently, for the implementation of that referendum result through the means of the Prime Minister’s deal and through meaningful vote 3, 4, 5 and to infinity. I shall go on voting for the Prime Minister’s deal to fulfil the referendum mandate. I profoundly hope that he might change his mind and join me in the Lobby to do so when it is necessary.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

If there is movement towards meaningful vote 3, and there is some indication that there is, will my right hon. Friend and his somewhat successful parliamentary insurgency work with the Government to ensure that there is time, presumably early next week if not this week, for a meaningful vote 3 to be back and presented to this House, either by way of a paving motion or directly?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

My hon. Friend asks an entirely reasonable question to which there is an absolutely definitive answer. There has been no insurgency here—

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

No. I will in a moment, but I must answer this point first. It is more productive to answer one point at a time.

I am absolutely clear that this is not an insurgency at all. It is an adjustment of the Standing Orders for today, and, if this is agreed, for Monday. It does not affect tomorrow, and nor does it affect Friday, should the Government choose to make Friday a sitting day. Either tomorrow or Friday—personally, I would entirely welcome this—the Government may of course bring forward meaningful vote 3, for which I will vote. I hope my hon. Friends will vote for it. I give my hon. Friend a further piece of good news, of which he will be easily capable of verifying, which is that should meaningful vote 3 pass on Thursday or Friday, there would be no further need for the whole of this process. This process has come about as a result of the increasing concern that many of us have had across the House of Commons that we were heading not towards an approval of the Prime Minister’s deal, but, alas, towards a no-deal exit, which is something I pitted myself against for many months.

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

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am very much enjoying the “Letwin People’s Parliament” already. It has much to commend it. I am sure he finds it as astonishing as I do that the Government intend to vote against this business motion. Surely he will agree with me that there was nothing to stop them bringing forward an amendment to his motion today and that there was nothing to stop them bringing an alternative business motion to the House today?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I promised myself throughout this process that I would be honest with the House and I cannot honestly say that I am astonished that the Government are voting against it. Although I regret it, I somewhat suspected that it might be the case—as I suspect, in fact, the hon. Gentleman did—but I do share his view that it is a pity that the Government did not do what would have remedied what the Government described as a constitutional oddity by endorsing amendment (a) and, indeed, at the right moment, by putting themselves on amendment (a) as signatories. Under parliamentary convention, which you, Mr Speaker, supervise, they would of course have immediately arrived at the top of the order and superseded any mere Back Benchers. It would have become a Government amendment and the ordinary order of the proceedings of the House would have been restored. That would have been the natural way to go. Alas, the Government decided not to do that and I understand that they had reasons for that.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Returning to the subject of how we will vote, will my right hon. Friend say, or might the Speaker be able to tell us, whether the voting papers will be available before we go into the Lobby to avoid a great big crowd and to avoid slowing down the voting procedure?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am sure that Mr Speaker will want to say something about that at a later stage, but I believe that the House authorities, who have been extraordinarily assiduous in this and have gone way beyond their mere duty, will have not only provided for the relevant pieces of paper to be in the Lobbies at an early stage, but provided very large numbers of copies of the Order Paper, so that Members will be able very quickly to refer from the voting slips to the actual amendments and nobody has any confusion about what they are voting for or against.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

The Speaker has ruled that no amendments will be taken with the motion and obviously, I would not challenge him on that. However, is not this business motion today different from what was agreed last week, because now the right hon. Gentleman is proposing Monday as well, and amendment (a), in the name of my hon. Friend Gareth Snell, has not been selected by the Speaker? Surely we are now voting on something very different from what was agreed last week.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that paragraph (2), which I have not yet had time to talk about because of taking interventions, does indeed book a slot for Monday. The reason why is that I think there is quite a high chance that at the end of today’s votes, despite the best endeavours of the promoters of each of the motions that fall to be debated and voted on, they may not receive majority backing. Perhaps the hon. Lady was not present, but I said during the debate on my amendment (a), very specifically—this point was echoed by many of her hon. Friends in their remarks about amendment (a)—that we all recognise the fact that the first time round, it is very likely that there would not be a natural majority for one proposition or another and that we should therefore regard this as a process and not as a single point in time. I did also specifically say that I therefore anticipated that we would need a further day. In many discussions and interviews, many of us who have proposed the business of the House motion today and who were supporting amendment (a) have made that point. There is no novelty to it; it is simply carrying through what we said would be the case.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

Further to the intervention from Kate Hoey, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that given that the Government have spent over 1,000 days on getting to where we are now, it would not be unreasonable for the House to have one more day to try to resolve this matter?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I do rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. This is not the main burden of what I want to say today, but I share what may be his regret that about two and a half years ago, the Government did not take steps to create a cross-party consensus on this matter. The Irish Taoiseach did exactly that and put himself in a much stronger position as a result. When all this is over and hopefully we have arrived at some sensible way to deal with the whole Brexit issue, I hope that the whole nation will learn that lesson and we will realise that when we have great national undertakings, it makes sense to try to get a cross-party consensus about how to take them forward.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Further to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend Kate Hoey, what assurances can we have that the business of the House motion that we will be asked to support on Monday will not also include another paragraph (2), which seeks to book a third day for indicative votes and a subsequent motion? I believe that Nick Boles referred to it as “daisy-chaining” in a briefing. If that is the case, can Sir Oliver Letwin be up front about it? Also, what does he think is going to change between today and Monday? Every Member of this House has had the opportunity to table a motion with their thoughts on the way forward. Every Member of this House will have the chance to vote on it in an up and down straight vote, with no knock-out rounds. Will we not just repeat ourselves on Monday with the same potential options and the same votes, with the same arguments?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, who has played an important part throughout these proceedings, raises both of those points, because they are ones that I wanted to come to anyway. Let me come to them in response to him rather than taking them later.

On the first question of whether there may be later stages beyond Monday, I do not believe that there needs to be any further round of voting after Monday on motions or propositions. I want to be very clear that I have said this to the hon. Gentleman so that he cannot later complain that there was any concealment at all, which is not part of our intention: I believe that if a majority for a particular proposition does emerge on Monday, as I very much hope that it will for reasons that I am about to come to, and if the Government do not immediately signal that they are willing to implement the majority view of the House of Commons at that point and if the Government have not by then—as I hope they have, although others may not—achieved a vote in favour of MV3, I think it would make sense for the House to move to the position of beginning to legislate to mandate the implementation of that majority. I think that would be a reasonable proceeding at that stage. It is only possible if we reach a majority view, of course.

I come now to the hon. Gentleman’s second point, which was the question of why Monday will be any different from today. The difference lies in two facts. This will be the first opportunity after a very long time—Tom Brake made this point—for the House of Commons, in an orderly way, to have the opportunity to express the views of Members in votes on specific propositions and for us all to see the lie of the land. When politicians do that, they very often discover that there is a basis for compromise and further informal, offline discussion that can lead to the crystallisation of majorities. In addition, it may be possible to structure the following Monday in a way that precipitates a majority, which it has not been the intention to do today. Today is purely indicative votes, and this is put today in a plain, vanilla way, so that everyone simply votes for all the things that they want to vote for and against all the things that they want to vote against, and we will see what the numbers are. This is purely a first set of indications.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I give way to my hon. Friend Mr Bone, because he made such a splendid case against me earlier.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I was trying to compliment my right hon. Friend—I was just suggesting he should be sitting on the Opposition Benches. He is making a very interesting and well-thought-out speech, as he always does, and he is being exceptionally honest with the House, saying that on Monday he will again be taking over the Order Paper and that that would then possibly lead to a legislative programme and a Bill to implement whatever comes out as the most likely thing to succeed. Will he give the House an estimate of how many days he is going to have to take over between now and 12 April so that we can have a guide and at least the Government can have a guide to when they might get some of their business done?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

The coda in my hon. Friend’s remark was, I think, an amusement, in the sense that I do not discern a vast pile of other Government business of the first order of importance currently being transacted in this House. The Government are rightly focused, as we all are, on the question of Brexit. We are approaching 12 April, as my hon. Friend and I both know and as he mentioned. Of course, he has a very different view of what would happen to our nation if on the 12th we left without a deal, and I respect that view. It is not my view and I do not believe that it is the majority view of the House of Commons, as expressed in a series of votes. Those of us who are determined to follow that majority view—as conscientiously as he believes that it is a good thing to leave without a deal, we believe conscientiously that it is not a good thing for our country to leave without a deal—want to prevent that eventuality. The only way we can do that is by crystallising an alternative majority and trying to carry it forward. That is what we will do, but there is an easy route to preventing that, which is for him and his like-minded colleagues, whose positions I understand, to compromise—as many of the rest of us have compromised—and to vote for MV3. Were that to happen, none of this would be necessary.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

What about the number of days?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am sorry—I have not mentioned any more days than the days I have mentioned already because I do not think it will be necessary to have any more, although, of course, if there were legislation, there would be have to be a day or days for that in the House of Lords.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I apologise for asking, but I am trying to find out about this process, as I suspect are millions of people throughout the country. I am asking about MV3 next week because, if my right hon. Friend has taken over the Order Paper on Monday, and if, based on the opinion of the House today and on Monday, we legislate for a customs union on Tuesday or Wednesday, MV3 becomes redundant. Is he assuming that the only day for a third meaningful vote on the Government’s withdrawal agreement is this Thursday or Friday, or can he envisage a time next week when there may be space for MV3 to come back—for example, before a day of customs union legislation on the Wednesday?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

Again, that is a perfectly reasonable set of questions with a definitive set of answers. On a third meaningful vote this Thursday or Friday, that timetable has been set by the EU—it is not the making of any Member of the House or the Government. The EU made it clear in its legal decision that the withdrawal agreement had to be agreed by the House by 11 pm, I think, but in any event late at night, on Friday in order for 12 April not to be activated and to move us to 22 May. That would be necessary for the Government to pass the withdrawal and implementation Bill, which is in turn necessary for their meaningful vote to be meaningful—without the Bill it is a nothing, as both my hon. Friend and others on both sides of the House who study this very well understand. The fact is that the Thursday/Friday schedule this week has been set by the EU, not any of us, and there is nothing that I or anybody else here can do about it. It is very important therefore—for those of us who want to make sure we do not drop out without a deal on the 12th—to ensure that, if my hon. Friends do not support those of us who would be in the Lobbies voting for MV3 by Friday night, there is an alternative, and this is the only way we can do that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

If the House voted for a particular outcome for negotiation with Europe that the Government thought either not desirable or not negotiable, who would do the negotiating, given that it is normal for only the Government to be a recognised negotiator?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

My right hon. Friend, who is one of the two or three most distinguished and long-serving Members of Parliament and had a distinguished record in government, knows as well as I do that he is absolutely right: only the Government of the United Kingdom can negotiate with foreign powers. That is obviously true. It is also true, however, that the Government, like the rest of us, are governed by the law. Just as much as any private individual, Ministers are governed by the law. It frequently happens that, when Ministers bring legislation before the House of Commons and that legislation is amended in a way that they did not wish, they are still compelled to implement the law that the House and the House of Lords have passed as it is written. That is a justiciable matter and they are subject to judicial review if they do not do so. Now, I have said frequently that I do not think the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy has been ideally suited to the task, but I have never met an hon. Member of this House, or any other living human being, who is more law abiding than the Prime Minister, so I am certain that she would follow not just the letter but the spirit of the law were there a law that flowed from a majority view of the House of Commons.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

When, as is normal, the Government have control of the Order Paper, if the House amends legislation in a way the Government do not like, the Government need not bring that law into effect or go through the remaining proceedings necessary to make it a law.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

As one would expect, my right hon. Friend is right, but actually the Government often choose not to do that; they often allow legislation that contains things they do not quite like to go forward because they have some greater objective. The truth is, therefore, that Ministers often do—he and I as Ministers had this experience—find themselves implementing legislation with which they are not wholly in accord, but they know how to do that, and the civil service knows how to support them in doing that, and that is of course what would happen in these circumstances.

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is actually a very novel proposition that the House should have to pass a law to effect Government policy in this way? Can he think of any example in his experience—I cannot think of one, and my experience is longer than his—of the Government pursuing a policy on such a vital national matter knowing that they did not have the support of the House of Commons for the way they were going about it and simply defying the majority that had voted for another approach?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

As my right hon. and learned Friend is not just a former Chancellor, Lord Chancellor and almost everything else, but is also the Father of the House, he will certainly have more experience of this than most of the rest of us put together, and if he cannot think of such a case, I will certainly not be able to. I do not know of such a case. Indeed, simply because of the possibility that people would raise this issue, I did some research to try to find out whether there was any such case recorded by historians, who have longer virtual memories than we have actual memories, and I could not find one.

That suggests that there is a pretty strong precedent that if the House of Commons, in a matter of extreme significance to the nation, passed a resolution expressing a clear view of how to proceed, it would be not unlawful—so far as I know, though that would be a matter for the Attorney General to rule on, not me—but nevertheless very constitutionally unusual for the Government not to accede to that resolution and to proceed in the way that the House of Commons had requested them to. I profoundly hope that if on Monday we find a majority view in favour of a particular proposition, the Government will say, as they ought to say, that they will carry that forward. I am merely protecting against the possibility that they take the view that it is not a binding utterance by the House of Commons. Under those circumstances, we have methods, through legislation, of compelling—undoubtedly by law—an action that otherwise might not occur.

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

My right hon. Friend may recall that the Maastricht treaty caused a little difficulty, on a cross-party basis, in the House. Had the Government been defeated by a motion disapproving of the treaty, would he and others then concerned about the treaty have been content had the Government then proceeded with their declared policy on the basis that they had stood on it at the election?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

The answer is no, obviously, as my right hon. and learned Friend intends. He and I were on opposite sides—bizarrely—on that issue. I actually believe that the whole of this imbroglio is largely due to the fact that the wretched Maastricht treaty was approved by the House in the first place. Had there not been qualified majority voting, the British people would probably never have come to disapprove of the EU in the way that they did and we would have been spared all this, but that is ancient history. He and I have a long record of agreements and disagreements at different times. This afternoon, we are agreed.

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

In response to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, my right hon. Friend said that for the Government to ignore a motion of this House would be constitutionally very unusual, but it has to be said that the process this afternoon is constitutionally deeply irregular.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am particularly glad that my very distinguished hon. Friend has participated in this part of our proceedings. He has not, though he is an assiduous attender of debates, ever had the horror of having to listen to me on this subject because he has not been present when I have been speaking about it, but I have tried to say to those who have been present on each occasion that the proposition he has just advanced is manifestly false, and the reason is this: the Order Paper of the House of Commons—this is the most ancient principle of our constitution as a matter of fact—is governed by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and those are the property of the House of Commons and nobody else. They are the property not of the Executive but of the House of Commons. The courts recognise that in the principle of comity and never interfere in the proceedings of our House. That principle goes back not to 1906 when the Government—in my view, improperly—instituted Standing Order 14 in its current form, but way back into the origins of Parliament. From the very beginning, Parliament sought to establish its right, through the Speaker and otherwise, to control its own proceedings, which is a very proper thing for Parliament to do. We have been driven to this only in an extreme emergency—that is how some of us see it, though I know that he takes a rather different view—and we are doing it in a perfectly proper way through the amendment of Standing Orders, which it lies open to this House to do.

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

I cannot entirely agree with the constitutional proposition that my right hon. Friend is advancing. He will recall that, in the Tudor House of Commons, it was Privy Counsellors who guided the business. It is a principle of the greatest antiquity that the business of the House is guided by those representing the sovereign in Parliament. That principle is being eroded by today’s proceedings.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I little imagined that we would find ourselves debating the sequence of our constitutional history, but because my hon. Friend is genuinely learned in the matter and this may be my only opportunity ever to have this debate with him in the House of Commons before—thank goodness—I leave it, I want to explain to him that the succeeding history of our country was virtually focused on a debate about that very matter. It was because the House of Commons refused to be dominated by Privy Counsellors that all the things that happened in the later 16th and 17th centuries happened. I am on the side of those in the House whom I actually thought that, on the whole, my hon. Friend was on the side of, who wish to assert, over and against the Executive, that, ultimately, sovereignty lies here and not in Whitehall.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, National Security Strategy (Joint Committee)

I am not entirely at one with the right hon. Gentleman, although I have some sympathy with the point that is being made. Surely, however, what we should recognise is that the House has been driven to these unusual proceedings today because the Government have failed to do their job.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

We have a stellar constellation here today. The right hon. Lady is another very distinguished Member of the House who has held almost every post imaginable. She tempts me to do what I shall not do, which is to observe that the failure to reach cross-party consensus on this matter had two sides, and it would have been better if the two sides had worked together. That did not happen, and it is because it did not happen that we were at the mercy of the votes of some of my hon. Friends, and that is why we are where we are. I think the right hon. Lady will agree that what matters now is none of that history; what matters now is the fact that we are where we are, and we need to find a solution. That is what this is all about.

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

May I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the business motion? His proposal today is that we should have indicative votes and, depending on where a consensus appears to emerge, the House will have an opportunity to consider these matters again on Monday, and there will be a further business motion for Monday setting out in more detail than paragraph (2) the way in which we will proceed then. I just wonder if he could undertake, as he did before, to share the business motion with the House before the deadline for tabling motions and amendments, so that all Members will be able to make the most of the opportunity on Monday.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

The hon. Lady has raised a very serious and important point. I think we should make that commitment, because people need an opportunity to see what rules of play will obtain on Monday and an opportunity to table amendments, and to consider, in the light of that, how to proceed. I believe that, if we are talking about tomorrow, Thursday—because the House is not currently due to sit on Friday—the sitting will be curtailed at approximately 5.30 pm, after the Adjournment debate. I therefore think—assuming that the House does not sit on Friday—that we should make a commitment to lay the Business of the House motion for Monday by 3.30 pm tomorrow, so that people have two hours in which to look at it and table amendments if they see fit.

Incidentally, I agree with the hon. Lady—it was part of the burden of what I was saying to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke—that there is ample scope for thinking now, and in the succeeding hours, including tomorrow morning, about possible methods of voting on Monday to encourage, or even to ensure, some further convergence to reach a majority in favour of some alternative.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

Colleagues argue that there is no precedent for events of this kind. There will in future be precedents for such events. That is the way in which parliamentary rules have developed over many centuries.

Will my right hon. Friend now address the point that we do not yet know and will not know for another hour and six minutes: exactly what motions will we be voting on? We are expected to vote on them at 7 o’clock. Will he ensure that in future the House is given a proper choice, rather than the choice that is put by the Chair?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observation about precedents. As a former Chief Whip, he knows very well how these things happen. It is indeed the case that our constitution has evolved through a series of adjustments, and there will be a precedent in this instance. I hope, incidentally—because I am not actually a revolutionary—that it will not be taken as a precedent for events like this to take place every day of the week. I profoundly hope that our successors in the House will not for many decades face an emergency of the kind that we are currently facing, because this is not a way of proceeding that I think any of us would like our country to face in the future.

As for my right hon. Friend’s point about the motions, I am much more confident than his question suggested that you, Mr Speaker, will select a full range of motions representing a full range of views, and that there will be ample opportunity for people, genuinely and openly, to support the positions that they wish to support and object to the positions to which they object. I think we shall see that when you make your selection, Mr Speaker, because I know that your intention has been—as has mine, and, I think, that of the House as a whole—to use this as a genuine opportunity for people to come together on the basis of looking at a full range of options and having every sensible choice available to them.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Is the right hon. Gentleman surprised—does he, indeed, find it incredible—that the Government apparently do not have an opinion on the motions that we will debate later today—apparently the Cabinet will abstain and there will be a free vote for his colleagues—but do have an opinion about denying the House the opportunity to have the debate on indicative votes because they are going to vote against the motion that he is proposing?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am in a very odd position, in that, as it happens, I know, roughly speaking, what the official machine has been saying about the whole of these proceedings. I know that it has been raising very serious concerns about the idea of Parliament acting in this way. In fact, it has even been reported to me that one very senior official described the situation as one in which it was necessary for Whitehall to save Parliament from itself—not in a formal meeting, but outside one.

I understand that because, as a Cabinet Minister for six years, I observed the way in which, in trying to govern the country appropriately, Whitehall necessarily takes the view that the Houses of Parliament as a whole are quite an encumbrance. It tries to govern the country in a way that will, so to speak, tolerate and obey the democratic necessities of a legislature that is sometimes annoying. But, so far as is possible, it governs the process. It is very difficult for the official mind to absorb the fact that, ultimately, that is not how our constitution works. Ultimately, how our constitution works is that Governments depend on confidence in the House of Commons, and the House of Commons—or, at any rate, the Houses of Parliament—is the sovereign body: the Crown in Parliament is the sovereign body.

It is actually a very important point that we are making here about how the country is ultimately governed. In that sense, I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin that this is a precedent. It is a precedent for Whitehall to recognise that, in an emergency, the House of Commons is capable of controlling its own business in such a way as to find a solution with which the vast majesties of Whitehall and Government have been unable to provide us. If they were able to provide us with that solution, and if my hon. Friends were willing to vote for the proposition which the Government have conscientiously negotiated over a very long time—and, in my view, have rather admirably succeeded in negotiating—we would not be having this discussion. It is because Whitehall has failed, not owing to the inadequacies of any individual but owing to the basic difficulty of the situation, that the Commons is taking these steps, and I think that in those circumstances we are right to do so.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is being very generous.

Our hon. Friends are concerned about losing control of the Order Paper. Is not the answer, therefore, that if the Leader of the House confirms that we will have a meaningful vote on Thursday or Friday, when they go into the Lobbies, they have one motto in mind: “Vote deal, take back control”?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

That is a neat way of expressing my hon. Friend’s view, with which, as it happens, I agree.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

I am listening very carefully to my right hon. Friend and I think the thrust of what he is saying is that, if meaningful vote 3 were to be approved, none of this would be necessary to go forward. Will he therefore reiterate his call for those on all sides of this argument to support the withdrawal agreement? It may not be perfect for either side, but it is the best thing we have on offer and now is the time to get behind it.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

As my hon. Friend knows, that is my view and has been throughout, which is why I have voted for it throughout and will continue to do so.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

To come back to the business motion and in particular paragraph (1)(i), could the right hon. Gentleman elucidate what he feels success would be for a motion that we are voting on this afternoon? There is an Aye and a No in the vote, so what will success look like for an individual motion, or is this about a cumulative image created from all the votes for all the motions that Mr Speaker no doubt will choose in due course?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman brings me back to the business of the House motion, because it is traditional in these circumstances for people who are speaking to say they would like to make some progress and I certainly have not made very much yet. My view is that this is not about the precise number of votes cast for one motion or another, or indeed against one motion or another. It is about whether, when we look at the results as a whole and when we act in the way that I think politicians across the parties acting in the national interest can act, which is to seek a consensus, we get enough data to enable us to have sensible conversations about where we can go next. That is what I think would constitute a success here. I do not know any way to do that other than to have the kind of process we are going through, which is why I suggested we should go through it and so did others.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the last time we went through something remotely like this was in 2009 in relation to Jack Straw’s well-meaning but ultimately doomed attempt to get a sense of where we should be going with House of Lords reform? I fear that today’s proceedings will end up very much in the same place.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

But my hon. Friend needs to attend to the point that those of us who are proposing this have exactly recognised that precedent. What went wrong on that occasion above all was that it was a single point in time, it did not produce a single answer and therefore it was declared a failure. We are not seeking a single point in time here; we are seeking a process. We are using the first stage of that process as an act of discovery. We are then having a number of days in which politicians can talk to one another and try to achieve a consensus. That can be reflected in a further vote or set of votes. That is a very different process. I think that had that process been applied in the case of the House of Lords we might by now have had a sensibly restructured House of Lords, which alas we do not. But that is another piece of history that I am sure I must not deal with.

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

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for giving the House the chance today to express its views. Further to the point just raised by the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Dr Murrison, the truth is that we do not know what this will produce. It is called indicative votes for a reason: it is intended to give an indication of what the House thinks. But is not the most powerful point that the uncertainty is not an argument for not trying, bearing in mind that we are potentially 16 days away from leaving with no agreement, if the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass and if the EU were, heaven forbid, to refuse us a further extension? We should really get on with it.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I completely agree with every word of that. The point the right hon. Gentleman makes is exactly the reason why we are proceeding in this way. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and his right hon. and hon. Friends with whom we have been co-operating on this. Actually it has been a pleasure and the reason it has been a pleasure is because we share a fundamental concern with the interests of our country to have a way forward that is orderly and does not leave us with a disaster by mistake. We may differ on many things, but on that we are entirely joined, and that is the very purpose of this exercise.

Mr Speaker, although I have not myself said very much of what I was going to say, I think I have now gone on for much too long—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] It has been in response to quite a lot of interventions. I discern that there are not any more around, so I think it falls to me to resume my seat.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 2:04 pm, 27th March 2019

Mr Speaker, I rise briefly to respond on behalf of the Government. First, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, who has sought to ensure that the Government’s business for today, a very important statutory instrument that regularises the legal position vis-à-vis our exit day from the European Union, is able to be addressed.

The Government are disappointed that the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend and others was agreed by the House on Monday. A clear commitment had been made by the Government to provide time for the House to find a majority for a way forward. I take my role as Leader of the House very seriously. I have always been very clear that the Government will listen carefully to Parliament, but today’s motion is an extremely concerning precedent for our democracy.

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

I will not take any interventions, because this is a Back-Bench day in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset.

For many years the convention has been that it is for the Government, as elected by the people, and with the confidence of this House, to set out the business. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, to amend, to reject and to approve. What today does is effectively turn that precedent on its head: those who are not in Government are deciding the business, and there are inevitable—

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend just claimed that the people elect the Government; is it not the case that the people elect Members of Parliament who, by majority, decide whether they can form, and support and have confidence in a Government?

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

What today does is effectively turn that precedent on its head: those who are not in Government are deciding the business, and there are inevitable ramifications to that.

I work constantly to represent Parliament’s voice in Government, and today I am genuinely concerned that the decisions we are being obliged to make could result in Parliament being extremely frustrated. It is highly likely that we could be in a position where the preferences of the House simply cannot be achieved. Whatever the House decides needs to be both deliverable and negotiable, and, very specifically, the European Union has been clear in all circumstances that changing the withdrawal agreement is simply not an option.

This Government want to deliver on the referendum of 2016 in a way that maintains a deep and special partnership with the European Union. Urgent action is needed; businesses and people cannot be left in limbo any longer. There are two sides to this negotiation, so I repeat that what the House decides needs to be deliverable and negotiable and also needs to deliver on the referendum.

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

I will not.

The Council conclusions agreed last week set out that the withdrawal agreement in all circumstances must be adopted by the United Kingdom, so I urge colleagues to accept that approving the withdrawal agreement—which is complex and which covers wide-ranging areas from citizens’ rights to farming, from overseas territories to security and financial services—has to be the first step. The EU has said that the withdrawal agreement will not be changed, and Parliament needs to accept that before we can look to the future partnership, which is what much of today’s debate will focus on.

Notwithstanding the fact that no amendments have been selected, in particular I hope that should the debate today proceed in accordance with the business of the House motion, it will allow for all motions to be fully considered, rather than just a select few. This would enable Parliament to establish what it does want, rather than what the selection would permit. Mr Speaker, the Government have consistently said that we do not support the approach the House has taken to remove Government control of the Order Paper, no matter the circumstances. For that reason, we will oppose today’s business of the House motion. While it is now up to Parliament to set out the next steps in respect of today’s business, the Government will continue to call for realism in the debate ahead. Any options considered must be deliverable in negotiations with the European Union.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:10 pm, 27th March 2019

I thank Sir Oliver Letwin for the business of the House motion, and I hear what the Leader of the House has said. We are living in unprecedented times, and that is why this business of the House motion has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman. It saddens me to look around the Conservative Benches and see some of the most wonderful, fantastic former Ministers, who have now left the Government because they are frustrated and do not see a way forward.

We on this side of the House are going to support the motion. We know that these are unusual circumstances. The House has decided that it wants to proceed in this way, and all hon. Members that I have spoken to today have made this decision. They are Members who have been working here for a long time, including a former Attorney General, the Chairs of Select Committees, the right hon. Member for West Dorset—who has written manifestos for the Conservative party and played a vital role in it—and a former vice-chair of the Tory party. They are excellent people, and they all agree that something has to be done. Mr Speaker, it is you who have to control the business of the House. I am not talking about personalities; I am talking about the office of the Speaker.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. The Leader of the House claimed at the Dispatch Box that she spoke for this House in Government. How can we possibly take that at face value when she would not take a single intervention, even though the House has made it clear that the business today was to be decided by the House? And this is where it becomes jaw-droppingly hypocritical, when she says—

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

Out of respect for you, Mr Speaker, and for the rules of the House, I will certainly withdraw the word “hypocritical”. However, it was pretty jaw-dropping to hear the Leader of the House claiming that it was the Speaker’s responsibility to select every amendment when she herself believes that we should not vote on a single amendment today and when she will not be casting a vote one way or another on any of them. Is this not just a complete farce?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Hon. Members have mentioned that the House is listening and that the Prime Minister is listening. The Prime Minister has met hon. Members, but she has not listened to them. The fact is that we are in unusual times. This is a hung Parliament, and the Government are governing on the basis of a confidence and supply agreement and nothing else.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. I am sure that she will give way to the Father of the House as well, unlike the Leader of the House, who sadly did not do so. Does the hon. Lady share my concern at the assertion that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated, when we were told in no uncertain terms by the Government that the so-called Malthouse compromise, which would fundamentally change the withdrawal agreement, was to be commended and worked on? In fact, I think that public money was spent on advancing it.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention. On the question of whether the withdrawal agreement can be amended, I have sitting beside me the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, who has been in discussions with the European Union. We have been in the European Union for more than 40 years, and we know that it would be open to any discussions, such as those that it has held with my right hon. and learned Friend, if that was what was decided. We cannot ignore what our constituents—people of all generations—said to us when they took time out last weekend to tell Parliament exactly what was going on.

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

The hon. Lady will recall that the Prime Minister tried to dissuade the House from taking control of the business today by saying that if we did not do this, the Government would allow time for indicative votes to be taken. However, we were never given any details, any clear commitment, or any undertaking that any notice would be taken of those motions. Today, we have an alleged constitutional crisis because the House is setting the business, but if the Government had tabled a motion, an amendment, setting out their own clear proposals for taking the views of the House and discovering what the favoured option was, this whole argument about the process could have been avoided as an irrelevance and we could have resumed the serious business of ensuring that a majority in this House was in support of the Government’s policy being pursued.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot follow that, other than to say that I have always admired the right hon. and learned Gentleman, even before I came to this place. I have always been totally in awe of him, and I absolutely agree with what he says.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. I will support the motion today, just as, with great sadness, I supported a similar motion on Monday to get us here. I will do so because we are living in extraordinary times and because this House of Commons is at an impasse. We, the House of Commons, have to solve this, and this is the last roll of the dice. Otherwise, all the other options, however unpalatable, are on the table. Does she agree, given that the view of this House from out there is not at its highest point right now, that this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to surprise the British public in a good way?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, with which I agree, and for his work as an extraordinary Minister. He has been absolutely fantastic. I have seen him over the past few weeks, and I know how difficult his decision to resign was. I thank him for being such a good Minister. The key thing is that Members have tried to tell the Prime Minister exactly what the House wants and what it has decided on.

If we simply relied on precedent, Mr Speaker, I do not think that either you or I would be standing here as Members of Parliament today. We would have had to have wealth and property, and for women, we might have had to have something else, if that is not too rude.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and for the points she has made about precedent and about what we do. Does she agree that, even though we have an unwritten constitution in this country, it is constitutional invention that has got us through in times of national emergency? We had a national Government during the two world wars and a full-blown coalition to solve the financial crisis in 2010. Given that the Government do not have a majority and that it is not clear whether there will be a majority for any of the Brexit options, does she agree that what was needed right from the start was that kind of constitutional invention, and that the lack of it has not really helped with the passage of the Government’s withdrawal Bill? We should actually be thanking my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin for doing this. We would rather not be here, but we are, and invention is what is needed at this time.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman, another excellent former Minister, and I agree with him. I was sorry to see him leave his position as well; he has been absolutely fantastic.

The point about precedent is really important. None of our rules or procedures is set in aspic. In my working life as a lawyer, I have seen the civil procedure rules turned over. We move forward; we do not look back. With the greatest respect to Mr Rees-Mogg, even “Erskine May” is updated.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

Further to the discussion during earlier points of order about whether this is a constitutional outrage, does the hon. Lady agree that since the civil war, this House is always controlled its own time, and that the only reason that the business of the House is normally controlled by the Government is that they have the consent of the majority that they carry and the confidence of the Members who support them? Today, the House is asserting its primacy in controlling the business of the House as it always has done and always will do.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The House is only responding today to what it agreed on Monday. Let us face it: we would not have had the first meaningful vote if the House had not agreed to it, and we had to struggle to get it. Speaking of the meaningful votes, the first was lost by 68% to 32% and the second by 62% to 38%.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Returning to the business under consideration, there has clearly been a change in the Labour party position. Up until today, we had always thought that if the Labour party did not support the Government’s position and did not think that the House supported the Government position, it would move a motion of no confidence, which is the normal way to proceed. Instead, there is this establishment of an alternative Government. Does that mean that the Labour party will no longer table motions of no confidence?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I think the correct term—I am sure that you will correct the hon. Gentleman, Mr Speaker—is that we are Her Majesty’s Opposition. We are responsible, and we want to try to find a way through, which is what hon. Members on both sides are trying to do.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement)

As we have heard this afternoon, the constitutional implications of what is happening today are profound, and the House will in the not-too-distant future need some mechanism to consider those constitutional implications. However, that should not take away from the fact that we are concerned about the immediate crisis before us. In the interests of pragmatic democracy, it is essential to find a way forward, but we must bear it in mind that we will have to return to these big issues.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot add anything to my hon. Friend’s excellent intervention.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

I will support the motion today. I thank Sir Oliver Letwin and my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, and I am proud to have worked with them on how to try and move forward. My concern when I first drafted one of the original meaningful vote amendments in December 2017 was that, should the House not agree to a deal, we would need some sort of process or roadmap by which we would then have some chance of moving forward in an orderly fashion. Indeed, the position we are in today is down to a profound lack of leadership from the Prime Minister. She did not involve the House early enough or build a consensus on how to move forward. Instead of the disappointment expressed by the Leader of the House, I am surprised that we did not hear some profound regret that the Prime Minister and the Government had not engaged the House considerably earlier on the negotiating objectives. Instead, they have continued down a track that was clearly going to lead to the same place: defeat every single time.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I agree with everything my hon. Friend says.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are in this situation only because we have a Government unable to govern and a Prime Minister unable to listen to the House despite two resounding defeats? Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the 30 brave Conservative Members who voted to enable this debate to take place—all under pressure from their Conservative associations—particularly the three Ministers who sacrificed their careers on a point of principle to allow us to have these options today?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I agree. People on both sides who have taken a bold stance have suffered abuse and have been threatened with deselection by their parties, and that is absolutely the wrong way to deal with this.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee

Given that there are 16 motions to deal with this afternoon, if a Member was to get up now and ask that question be now put, so that we could increase the time for the motions, how might the Chair react to that question?

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

There is no need to move the closure because this is a time-limited debate, and the time limit will be well known to the hon. Gentleman. If he can just contain his impatience, there will be salvation at hand in due course.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You know that I do not want to try your patience, and I apologise, but given that colleagues will be entirely unfamiliar with the voting process that is going to happen this evening, it would have been useful if the Procedure Committee at least could have had a dummy copy of what was going to be used. We could have been reassured that this was going to be something with which the House could get to grips.

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. He is not merely a distinguished ornament of the Procedure Committee but its illustrious Chair. That is a fact well known to all Members of the House, but it ought to have wider public recognition. The point of order is not a matter for me. However, insofar as there is any concern, the process will be explained at the material time by me from the Chair and, I hope, in a way that will inform and assist all Members.

Will the shadow Leader of the House confirm that she is giving way?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Conservative, Watford

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for accepting my intervention and for your patience, Mr Speaker. Before the point of order, it was mentioned by Paul Farrelly that people such as me who had disobeyed the Whip and resigned may have faced undue pressure from the Whips or our Conservative associations. I did not experience that myself, but some commentators and, indeed, Members of this House have said that voting for the amendment on Monday and supporting this business motion today marks a dangerous revolution or sets a constitutional position of terrible magnitude that could put the country’s future at stake. However, I do not accept that one of my constituents will criticise me for reversing the Order Paper for one, two or three days so that Government business does not have precedence. I refute that assertion and ask the shadow Leader of the House for her views on the subject.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

These are unusual times. Nobody asked the then Prime Minister to resign after the referendum vote, but he did nevertheless and a new one had to be found. We are in difficult and unusual times. This is one of the biggest issues of the day, and it will not affect the majority of hon. Members here, but it will affect our children and our grandchildren and future generations.

Let us face it: Europe kept the peace in Europe, where some terrible things had happened. I keep saying that the reason why we have the Human Rights Act is because single human right was breached during the last war. Europe has moved on from that sort of forum into one whereby we trade with our biggest and nearest partners, and that is why we have a Union that more states want to join. For the sake of future generations, we need to think carefully about what we do today. This is about the will of the House. The House decided that there was a vacuum and the House filled that vacuum. Hon. Members from all sides wanted to move forward constructively, and that why we are in this position today.

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

Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement at the remarks of the Leader of the House, who gave the impression that, somehow, this has been sprung on the Government when they are only too willing to make provision for indicative votes? I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the Brexit Committee’s recommendation published on 16 January, after the Government’s deal was first defeated by 230 votes:

“It is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority. We recommend that this is done by holding a series of indicative votes on the options we have set out above as soon as possible.”

Here we are on 27 March, which is going some when it comes to “as soon as possible.” Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could perfectly easily have acted earlier?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I pay tribute to the work my right hon. Friend has done on a cross-party basis to bring this issue forward. As I say, these are unprecedented times, which is why the House is in this position. We are pleased that the right hon. Member for West Dorset, along with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, has had the courage to table this motion and put us in this position.

We have had to learn from a certain social media platform that there may be a vote on Thursday, or maybe Friday. Is that the way to conduct responsible government? The Opposition would say no. No one from the Government has had the courtesy to come here—I do not know whether they have informed you, Mr Speaker, but they certainly have not informed us—to say what is going to happen with business on Thursday and Friday, yet people outside do know.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

I associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments on Sir Oliver Letwin.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about how future generations will look back at this time, and they are going to judge us by events such as we are seeing in this House today. It is important to remember that the House was pushed and pushed before it decided to take these almost unique steps, and it does so with trepidation, but this is a time when something must happen to remove the logjam of a dysfunctional Government.

I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the question I asked the right hon. Member for West Dorset. What would look like success in the votes this afternoon? He made a very good point that today is about seeing a larger picture of where the opinion of this House lies. Does my hon. Friend agree that today is about finding that overall picture, and that steps taken on Monday may draw it down to a closer point? That is why I support the business motion.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

We are trying to help the Government, which is why we need to support these indicative votes today. We are trying to help the Government find out exactly what hon. Members want and do not want. The Opposition support the motion, and we want to find a way forward.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 2:33 pm, 27th March 2019

I oppose this motion because I think that it is constitutionally ill thought through. Our country does not have a codified constitution, but it works on conventions, and those conventions are precious to those in government and to those not in government, for the tables may be turned at some point and the Labour party may find it has a minority Government and cannot keep the business of the House as it would expect.

Why do the Government need this primacy on the business of the House? As my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin says, it is absolutely right that the Standing Orders are the property of this House and are not challengeable outside this House, and our governmental system works through the Queen in Parliament. The Queen, in this sense, is represented by the Executive, and there is a separation between the Executive and the legislature that we all know about. That separation requires that the proposition of events comes from the Government and that the amendment, review and redress in relation to those events comes from this House.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

One of the conventions that has lasted for a very long time is that a parliamentary Session lasts for a year unless a general election intervenes and makes it more sensible for a Session to be 15 months, or something like that. In a parliamentary Session, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Standing Orders provide that there should be so many days set aside as Opposition days. That has been completely broken in this Session, which has gone on for nearly two years. We have not had an Opposition day since November, the longest period in living memory.

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

I agree that it is important to observe the conventions, because the conventions protect the interests of everybody. If the hon. Gentleman is calling for a Prorogation so we may reset and have Opposition days, I would not be opposed to that. It may well be time for a Prorogation.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Another convention that has been broken is that the Government should vote on Opposition days and take notice of motions passed on Opposition days. That convention has been widely disregarded by the Government, who are now refusing to take part in Opposition day votes and are completely ignoring anything but motions that demand to be put into effect. Does the hon. Gentleman agree this is yet another example of an established convention, which I always thought would be properly observed by the Government, being discarded?

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

The issue is that Opposition days have become much more precise and have used the Humble Address procedure to ensure they are taken notice of by using a correct constitutional approach that is actually better than mere motions on generally otiose opinions.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

I call on my hon. Friend’s constitutional expertise. Is it an established convention or a novel convention for a Minister to propose a motion at the Dispatch Box and then to vote against it? Is it not the case that, in a hung Parliament, we tend to invent new conventions to cope with our novel situation?

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

No. I am sorry to say that my right hon. Friend is wrong. There is a very strong history of Ministers proposing motions to aid the House, which was certainly done by Jack Straw during the last Labour Government and by the Government headed by David Cameron. When we reach the end of proceedings and the ability to propose a motion rests only with a Minister, the Minister often proposes it to facilitate the House coming to a judgment. That is quite a commonplace thing, as Mr Speaker will know.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

I will not give way to everyone because there are only 22 and a half minutes to go, and the spokesman for the SNP, Pete Wishart, will want to speak. I must be conscious of the rights of minority parties—another important convention in this House.

Coming to the nub of the issue, taking control of the business away from the Government is a bad precedent because the House is not willing to come to the logical conclusion that today’s proceedings are heading towards. The Government control business as long as, and only if, this House of Commons has confidence in them. My hon. Friends—not the Opposition, who are perfectly reasonable in this regard—should think very carefully about what they are doing, because what they are in fact saying is that they do not have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. If that is what they think, they should vote accordingly. Our great constitutional convention is that these decisions, if they cannot be decided by this House and by the Government who are legitimately installed, go back to the electorate. The reason my right hon. and hon. Friends are not willing to reach that conclusion is that they are going against the electorate’s will, as expressed in our greatest ever referendum.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I always learn from my hon. Friend, but I must disagree with him on this. I am quite capable of distinguishing between my general confidence in the Government, their measures, their Cabinet and their Prime Minister, and their specific conduct on this issue. Furthermore, I point out to him that on that great referendum, which voted to leave the European Union, I have been consistently voting with the Government, in whom I have confidence, and with the Prime Minister, in whom I have confidence, to give effect to that decision, whereas he has been voting against.

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

My hon. Friend makes a characteristically Wykehamist point: highly intelligent but fundamentally wrong. I must confess that I have sometimes thought my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin was more a Wykehamist than of my own school, but we will leave that to one side. The expression of confidence in the Government is through their control of business, not on any individual item of business. That is why confidence and control of business come together. This has been taken away in the past, and my right hon. Friend referred to the assertion of parliamentary authority in the civil war—well, we know how that ended. It ended with Pride’s purge and with people being prevented from voting. The Government, the Executive and the legislature are clean different things. That separation of powers is essential, the conventions of our constitution are essential and it is important that we observe them properly, because the sovereignty of Parliament is not the sovereignty of us, however brilliant we may be, or of the Mace; it is the sovereignty of the British people. They have told us what to do, and we must do it.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:41 pm, 27th March 2019

As always, it is an absolute pleasure to follow Mr Rees-Mogg. If an example of “taking back control” in a parliamentary party is a spat between him and Sir Oliver Letwin on Tudor history, I say we cannot get enough of this.

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

The Environment Secretary, from a sedentary position, invites me to consider the Stuarts. If he would like to go down that route and find a period in history where the Scots had precedence in terms of how this country was governed, he could not give a better example—I am sure the hon. Member for North East Somerset would agree with that fully.

I like this innovation. It a good, creative way to be looking at how we do our business. It is an example, at last, of this House taking back control. What surprises me more than anything else is that those who called the loudest and gave the biggest clarion calls for this place to take back control are those who have the biggest problem with the House doing that very thing. It is strange to see these Conservative Members—I see them all in their places—getting ready to try to make sure that this motion is defeated and things are once again returned to the hands of the Executive.

I am familiar with the speech made by the hon. Member for North East Somerset, as I have heard it before; he talks about the authority of the Executive over the legislature. In terms of the constitution of this place, he is absolutely right, but we are in totally uncharted territory, and in a hung Parliament, we have to look for these constitutional novelties. This motion should be congratulated. The way that it has been engineered and designed by the right hon. Member for West Dorset is almost elegant in defining its purpose. We have this opportunity to do this. It is one the Government could have given us, but they chose not to and so to complain about the fact that it has been made up to the House to do this is churlish.

Talking of churlishness, I have to say to the Leader of the House that I found her speech in response to this petulant and irritable. She was totally ungracious about the way this House has decided to do its business—it is what the House has decided. I find it astonishing that this Government are going to vote against this business motion, as they had an opportunity to table an amendment. I cannot understand why they chose not to do so.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend says that it is great that the House is doing this now, but should it not have been done about two years ago, after the Prime Minister said she would consult across the House and across the UK to agree a plan before going to Europe? She did exactly the opposite.

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

My hon. Friend is entirely right about that, and of course what she says is the case. The Government had the opportunities to reach out to try to determine how this House wanted to progress this whole issue of Brexit, but they chose not to do that. They have spent the past two years talking to themselves, trying to persuade recalcitrant Back Benchers to back a deal that they no longer favour. They are talking to the Democratic Unionist party, at great expense, to ensure that they can secure that party’s support. We have had two wasted years, and it is therefore right that this House does take back control and presents the motion before us today.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

I understand the concerns that some colleagues have raised about the precedent here, with my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg asking what would happen if the tables were turned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the genie is out of the bottle and so that is not a reason not to pursue this course of action by voting for this business motion?

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

The tables being turned does not really concern Scottish National party Members, as it is unlikely that we will ever have the opportunity to have this done to us. The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect: this Parliament has changed the way we have done our business. The last change to the Standing Orders—I am sure I am right on this, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset will correct me if I am wrong—was when we introduced English votes for English laws. That is the last time the Standing Orders of this House were changed, much to the detriment of Scottish Members, who all of a sudden found themselves being a different class of Member of this House from other Members across the House. So the Standing Orders are within the gift of Parliament and if it decides to change them, that will be a matter for us. We will determine that in a motion presented to this House.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

The discussion about precedent is one we may look back on in due course and ask whether we could have done anything differently. Is it not true that on this issue, which is of such national importance, and where the divisions and the unities go across party boundaries, we are dealing with an unprecedented way in which the country, which has also been kept out of this debate over the past two or three years, is now calling out for Parliament to find a way forward? Is it not also true that the Government ceded control on Monday when they still had an opportunity to bring forward a pathway and process by which the voice of this House could be heard?

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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the sequence of events, as this was determined and decided on Monday night. She is right in another respect. I am sure that she, like me, has been having lots of new constituents getting in touch with her, totally aghast at what we are doing in this House and at the fact that such a mess has been made of all this. They are looking at us today, as we take control of this House, to see whether we can do a better job. We cannot do a worse job than this Government have done, that is for sure.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset is not just a putative Prime Minister; he is almost a one-man Government. I was enjoying his contribution until about the 20th to 25th minute of it. I suggest that if we are going to progress this and develop it as an idea, we would do this a bit differently, perhaps with a little more style and panache than we have seen from the Government. I hope that that will be the case.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I am surprised that there has not been more objection to the other innovation taking place, which is that we are going to cast our votes using bits of paper. Some might want to use vellum or quill and ink. If Mr Speaker were to choose all the amendments, that could result in about four hours of voting. So perhaps the real innovation that comes from today is a modernisation of our voting systems, too.

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

That is one fantastic precedent that the right hon. Member for West Dorset has already put in place. We are getting towards electronic voting. For the first time in my 18 years in this House, we will actually be able to vote in a sensible, constructive manner and not waste hours and hours in the Division Lobby when nothing further can be done. I can see you looking at me with an encouragement to conclude my remarks, Mr Speaker, and I will do so with this. I listened carefully, keenly and attentively to the Leader of the House on the radio this morning, as I always do, and I got the impression that this Government are not in the least bit interested in what this House passes today in its indicative votes. I have no reason to be believe, for one minute, that they are not going to totally reject, contemptuously, as is now traditional, what this House decides.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

To come back to the points made by Patrick Grady and my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra, I have reflected on this situation over the past two or three years, and I find it incredible. One would have thought logic would have told the Prime Minister, before she activated article 50, to get all the interested parties together to find a way forward. Now, two years down the road, the Government still do not have a plan B. It is incredible, to say the least.

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

I describe the Government’s approach to Brexit as chaotic and clueless, and nothing will ever distract me from that principle when it comes to the way they have prosecuted this Brexit, which has been such an utter disaster.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that if by some stroke of luck this House were to come to a conclusion tonight or on Monday on a way forward that was totally contrary to the manifesto that the Government stood on, no Government would wish to negotiate a deal that was contrary to the programme they stood on in the first place?

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

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is really keeping up with what is happening today with this innovation in which the House determines the process and decides. That should be done without any undue concern for what has been said and done before. For goodness’ sake, this is our chance. This is our moment to make sure that we ensure a decisive outcome, which the Government should respect. I really hope that the Leader of the House reconsiders her approach to the indicative votes. I encourage the right hon. Member for West Dorset to continue his approach to coming to a solution that clearly demonstrates the will of the House. At that point, the Government must accept the will of the House.

This is a good day for Parliament and for this House. We cannot make a worse job of it than the Government already have. I hope that they listen carefully to what is said today. The SNP will support the motion.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon 2:51 pm, 27th March 2019

As I see it, the Government position has two clear tracks: the first is that this business of the House process is somehow unconstitutional, and the second is that even if it is constitutional, it is somehow hijacking the agenda.

Let me take the first element. From the perspective of historical precedent, I suggest that the Government are simply wrong. Early in the last century, it would have been absolutely normal and acceptable procedure for legislators to bring forward Bills. Indeed, in the United States legislators constantly introduce Bills in both Houses of Congress. The reason they do that, by the way, is that they got it from us.

Let me move forward to today. There is also clear constitutional precedent for Parliament setting the agenda: they are called private Members’ Bills days. We also have Backbench Business days, which are essentially Back-Bench initiatives to take over the agenda. If we can allow it for such business, how much more should we be prepared to allow it when the House is deadlocked and the Government are not setting out plan B on the most important issue to face this country since the second world war?

As for the second element—that we are somehow hijacking the agenda—I refute that absolutely. Nothing is stopping the Government using all days except these two sitting days to set out their own agenda and put forward their own proposals. To claim that taking two days is somehow hijacking the agenda is simply a weak excuse, in my book. This motion represents a parallel process, aimed at breaking the deadlock that exists. I sincerely congratulate all Members who have been involved in setting today’s business and promoting an attempt to try to find a way forward.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

Although it may be a few years before the House thanks him, my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin is doing this House, democracy, the Government—although I do not think they see it yet—and Brexit a favour, by helping us to reach a resolution. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are three dangerous canards in the House this afternoon: first, that this sets a dangerous precedent, but the House has always controlled its own time; secondly, that this is a remainer conspiracy, but all of us who signed up to this support the Government’s Bill and want to get it through; and thirdly, that we are tying the Government’s hands, but these are merely indicative votes to give those on the Front Bench some help to see where there might be consensus on a plan B if, heaven forbid, we need it?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon

My hon. Friend has read my mind. I was going to congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin on his remarkable achievement in getting us here today. I, too, supported the Government on both material votes, and if the Government bring the deal back, I will support them again, but I will not stand back and watch our country fall off a cliff into the abyss.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 2:54 pm, 27th March 2019

There is one reason and one reason alone why we are debating this business of the House motion, and that is the vacuum created by the Government through their total lack of leadership in this process. There was a very simple way for the Government to defeat the proposal put forward by Sir Oliver Letwin, but the Government, who were given the opportunity again and again to set out their own path and their own plan for indicative votes, rejected it at every single point.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I find the rewriting of history rather bizarre. On Monday, I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office whether the Government would provide their own pathway towards indicative votes this week, and he said yes. That is the basis on which I said it would be better to have the indicative votes led by the Government, which is the best way forward. If we are to hear the voice of this House, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be good if we got to vote on all the suggested options, not just some of them?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

The selection is a matter for the Speaker, as the hon. Lady knows. To be clear, she is right to say that the Government said they would lay out their own path, but when they were asked, by Member after Member, on what day, for how long and on what basis, there was not a single response. The heart of the problem is the Government’s making it up as they go along.

The Government have to decide which charge they are laying at the feet of the House: either this is a remainer Parliament trying to overturn the will of the people, as the Prime Minister has claimed again and again, particularly with her incendiary statement last week, or, more accurately, this is a Parliament in which the vast majority of Members who voted remain also voted to trigger article 50, as I did, in the trust and understanding that we would have a Government who would competently manage the negotiations and reach out across the House and try to build consensus among Members of Parliament and, most importantly, the electorate.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

The nub of this issue is that this entire Parliament has lost trust in the Government, which is why we do not trust them when they say they will bring back motions for debate. Is not the crux of this issue that had the Government wanted to prevent any kind of historical precedent for Parliament taking control of the Order Paper, all they had to do on Monday night was simply accept the amendment tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

I wholeheartedly agree.

With the limited time I have, I wish to say something about the trust that the public have in us as Members of Parliament and in the House of Commons. It is difficult, particularly when the country voted one way and some of us, myself included, voted a different way. It has been a difficult process trying to navigate our way through something that is completely unprecedented in the history of our country—trying to remove ourselves from the most sophisticated political and economic alliance the world has ever seen. It took seven years to organise a two-week sporting event, the London Olympics; it is not necessarily surprising that it has taken more than two years for us to try to negotiate our way out of the European Union.

What is completely unforgivable is the way the Government have botched the negotiations at every turn and failed to try to achieve consensus. At every single stage, when amendments have been tabled, whether on the single market or the customs union, or on different negotiating priorities and different principles, the Prime Minister has said, “It’s my way or the highway.” That is why we are in the bind we are in now. Whatever our particular views on the referendum, we all have a responsibility to try to break the deadlock, which is what the right hon. Member for West Dorset is trying to achieve—to test the will of the House to see whether there is some way to achieve consensus and to try to find a way through this damaging and unprecedented period of our history. That is the responsibility that now rests on our shoulders. All of us, when we go through the Division Lobby imminently, have a responsibility to show our country that Parliament is taking control of the process, and that we are determined, as Members of Parliament, to act in the interests of our constituencies and our countries at every point.

Whether we voted leave or remain, and whichever options we choose to vote for, we do so for one reason and one reason alone: the furtherance of our national interest—defending the jobs, livelihoods, hopes and prospects of the people who send us here. Whatever our differences, I think that this House is full of people with honour and integrity. We have the opportunity in the coming days and weeks to show that to be true.

The Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Resolution, 25 March).

The House proceeded to a Division.

Division number 385 Business of the House — Proceedure for Consideration of the UK's Withdrawal From the EU

A majority of MPs voted in favour of a proposed procedure for the House of Commons to, on the 27th of March and 1st of April 2019, consider motions relating to the UK’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the EU.

Aye: 331 MPs

No: 287 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 27 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

The House having divided: Ayes 331, Noes 287.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

(1) That, at today’s sitting –

(a) any proceedings governed by the resolution of the House of 25 March (Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) or this order may be proceeded withuntil any hour, though opposed and shall not be interrupted;

(b) the resolution of the House of 25 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph(b), there were inserted “and then to a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crownto approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment)Regulations 2019”;

(c) notwithstanding the practice of the House, any motion on matters that have beenthe subject of a prior decision of the House in the current Session may be the subjectof a decision;

(d) the Speaker shall announce his decision on which motions have been selectedfor decision by recorded vote before calling a Member to move a motion underparagraph (f) of the resolution of 25 March;

(e) the first signatory of a motion so selected may inform the Speaker up to 4.00 pmthat they do not wish a recorded vote to take place on that motion;

(f) having been so informed, the Speaker shall announce that information to theHouse and may announce a new decision on selection;

(g) the Speaker may not propose the question on any amendment to any motionsubject to decision by recorded vote or on the previous question, and may not put anyquestion under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);

(h) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph (f) of the resolutionof 25 March may continue until 7.00 pm at which time the House shall proceed asif the question had been put on each motion selected by the Speaker for decisionby recorded vote and the opinion of the Speaker as to the decision on each suchquestion had been challenged;

(i) in respect of those questions –

(i) Members may record their votes on each question under arrangementsmade by the Speaker;

(ii) votes may be recorded for half an hour after the Speaker declares theperiod open and the Speaker shall suspend the House for that period;

(iii) the Speaker shall announce the results in the course of the sitting;

(j) immediately upon the conclusion of the voting period the Speaker shall call a Minister of the Crown to move to approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to that motion;

(k) during the period between 7.00 pm and the announcement of the results on the questions subject to recorded vote–

(i) no motion for the adjournment may be made;

(ii) the House shall not proceed to a division other than on the question referred to in sub-paragraph (j); and

(iii) the Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in sub-paragraph (j) and in paragraph (g) of the resolution of 25 March, has been concluded.

(2) That, on Monday 1 April

(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply;

(b) precedence shall be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union other than any Business of the House motion relating to the consideration by the House of a motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and then to motions relating to that withdrawal and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union other than any motion moved under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018;

(c) if more than one motion relating to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have precedence;

(d) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 5.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;

(e) debate on that motion may continue until 6.00 pm at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;

(f) when those proceedings have been concluded, the Speaker shall call a Member to move one of the other motions having precedence;

(g) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.