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Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 396
    A majority of MPs voted in favour of a proposed procedure for the House of Commons to, on the 1st and 3rd of April, consider motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the European Union.

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 3:34 pm, 1st April 2019

I inform the House that I have not selected any of the amendments.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

(1) That, at today’s sitting –

(a) any proceedings governed by the order of the House of 27 March (Business of the House) or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;

(b) the order of 27 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph 2(b), there were inserted “and then to motions in the name of a Minister of the Crown relating to statutory instruments”;

(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 2(f) of the order of 27 March;

(e) 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);

(f) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph 2(f) of the order of 27 March may continue until 8.00 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;

(g) 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;

(h) during the period between 8.00 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 Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in paragraph 1(b) of this order and paragraph 2(g) of the order of 27 March, has been concluded.

(2) That, on Wednesday 3 April

(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that Government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order), precedence shall first be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union

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

(c) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 2.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;

(d) debate on that motion may continue until 5.00 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;

(e) 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.—(Sir Oliver Letwin.)

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 3:41 pm, 1st April 2019

I think we are all very much looking forward to today’s proceedings, as they were such an overwhelming success last week. The whole House has to congratulate Sir Oliver Letwin. We have been looking forward to this as much as the general public have been looking forward to the last series of “Game of Thrones”, such is the excitement in this place.

We can see that this is very much a British parliamentary coup, one conducted with points of order and copies of “Erskine May” rather than through military means, so all power to the right hon. Gentleman. He has managed to achieve more in five days than the Government have in the past three years. We have made more progress in that short time than we have in the course of those three years. He has seen a Government defeat and a possible general election. More than anything else, he has demonstrated that when the House takes back control and speaks with authority, it can do something that no Government have done on this issue of Brexit.

I look forward to today’s proceedings, as I am sure the rest of the House does.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 3:42 pm, 1st April 2019

I will keep my remarks brief as today is another opportunity for hon. Members to set out their thoughts on the way forward. However, I wish to reiterate my concerns about this approach that I set out last week.

The Government have consistently said that we do not support the unprecedented removal of Government control of the Order Paper, no matter the circumstances. For many years, the convention has been that it is for the Government, as elected by the people and with the confidence of the House, to set out the business. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, amend and reject or approve. The Government will listen carefully to Parliament today, but, as I have explained, the approach to today’s business sets an extremely concerning precedent for our democracy, and we will therefore oppose the business motion.

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

The Leader of the House has just said that the Government will oppose the business motion. The Attorney General said on Friday:

“There is no desire on the part of this Government to interfere with the process that the House is currently undergoing”.—[Official Report, 29 March 2019;
Vol. 657, c. 697.]

Can she explain how that statement squares with the Government’s opposition to the business motion today?

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

The right hon. Gentleman quotes selectively from the Attorney General’s comments. All I can say is that the Government have concerns about the precedent that this sets, and they are legitimate concerns. Opposition Members may one day be in a position to be concerned about parliamentary conventions and dangerous precedents.

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

When the Leader of the House last made this point, I pointed out that the Prime Minister promised that if her deal was not passed, she would find time and make arrangements for the House to have indicative votes. Had the Government done that, the procedural point that the Leader of the House raises would never have arisen. Having got where we are, and given the situation the country is in, will the Leader of the House reconsider indicating that the Government still intend to resist anything that the House passes that they do not approve of? The whole thing could have been sorted out if the Government’s promise to put their own arrangements for indicative votes in place had been honoured.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend has a slightly different recollection from my own. Indeed, the Prime Minister did say that she would seek the views of this House, but my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin came forward with his motion prior to the Government being able to do so. The Government respect that, but are concerned about the precedent.

Last week, the House considered a variety of options as a way forward and will do so again today. What was clearly demonstrated last week is that there is no agreed way forward, but urgent action is needed. I continue to believe that the deal the Government have negotiated is a good compromise that delivers on the referendum, while protecting jobs and our security partnership with our EU friends and neighbours.

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

I disagree with the right hon. Lady on the withdrawal agreement being a good compromise, but does she agree, first, that any vote in this House today is indicative; and, secondly, that it would be totally unreasonable to expect any Government to negotiate an arrangement totally at odds with the programme they set out, the manifesto commitments they made, and the arrangements that the people of the United Kingdom would accept?

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

I think the right hon. Gentleman was reading my mind. I was literally just about to say that any alternative solution that the House votes for would need to be deliverable, would need to be negotiable with the European Union, and would need to deliver on the vote of the referendum.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

I do not want to give way any further, because this is a day for Parliament. I do apologise.

Members of Parliament should also be in no doubt that any alternative solution requiring a further extension would mean the UK participating in European Parliament elections. It is now nearly three years since the referendum, and I believe that position would be unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom. The Government will continue to call for an agreement that delivers on the 2016 referendum, and maintains a deep and special partnership with the European Union. I look forward to hearing the contributions made in today’s debate, and to working with the House to agree a negotiable and deliverable way forward that respects the result of the referendum.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 3:47 pm, 1st April 2019

I had not intended to speak, but I think it is important, in the light of the comments the Leader of the House has made, that at least somebody gets up and points out that our debate today has come about simply because Parliament has tried to do something that the Prime Minister ought to have been doing three years ago when the referendum happened: namely, to try to make some sense of what was a completely undefined way of trying to leave the European Union, which had divided our country. What we should have been seeing, and what today’s business motion allows us to do—albeit at the very last minute—is to try to reach out and see if we can come together ourselves across Parliament and begin to think about ways that might be able to heal our deeply divided country. It has been divided by a Prime Minister who insisted on dealing solely with her own extreme right-wingers to try to define what Brexit should be, rather than reaching across the aisle in this House to try to bring about a compromise that could have taken more of the country with it.

I understand the points made by the Leader of the House about the constitutional novelty of the situation we are in, but I disagree with her hard-line view of Parliament’s role, especially since the 2017 general election deprived her party of a majority in this House, and taking into account this Government’s record in riding roughshod over constitutional understandings by ignoring Opposition votes, by refusing to vote on Opposition motions, and by defining the parliamentary Session in two years, thereby taking away the opportunity for Opposition days and halving their number.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

It was announced over the weekend that none of last week’s indicative votes got anywhere near what the Prime Minister’s deal got. Given that the Government abstained on last week’s votes, is it not correct to say that the numbers were clearly going to be smaller because the payroll was not involved?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Yes, and although the payroll is in constant contention against itself, it has grown over time. If the payroll does not vote, by definition anything that this House votes on today will involve lesser numbers. I think we are close to reaching some conclusions, but it is almost as though the Leader of the House does not want the House to reach conclusions so that she can have another go in meaningful vote 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or, God forgive us, even 10.

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

My hon. Friend makes very strong points. I, too, am backing the business of the House motion, because I think Parliament made remarkable progress the other day in a few hours, compared with the Government, who have had two years to sort this out. Does she agree that it is important that we vote the motion through to give us not only the opportunity to make further progress tonight, but, if necessary, a small amount of time on Wednesday to get to where we need to be, so that Parliament can take control and we can move forward together as a House?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, listening to those who campaigned to leave in the referendum, I thought it was all about Parliament taking back control. Right from the beginning, the Prime Minister attempted to exclude Parliament from any part in the decision-making process, and she had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Supreme Court to give Parliament the role that is its right. It is about time we demonstrated to this dysfunctional Government that there is a way forward. I hope that in our deliberations we will do so.

Finally, I am concerned that the Government are going around saying that they will not listen to the results of indicative votes. That is why it is important, albeit very difficult, for Parliament to take even more time from the Government so that we can begin to legislate if there is a result tonight. Given that the Government have tried to keep power to themselves and to exclude Parliament completely from any say in the decisions made post referendum, we have to keep doing constitutionally novel things to try to save our country from the disaster of a catastrophic no-deal crash-out.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 3:52 pm, 1st April 2019

In some ways, this business motion might be seen as the most interesting and important part of the day, because procedure is now everything. The fact that, on this historic day, the Government have lost control of the Order Paper is vital to the debate and how we proceed. Although we will have an interesting debate in the coming hours, I doubt whether a single vote will be changed by what anybody says, what blogs are written or what tweets are posted. Most people have made up their minds, and they have a settled view on what they want—whether it is the customs union, no deal or whatever.

My few remarks are almost by way of questions to the Leader of the House and to my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. Like many people, I want to know what will happen under the current procedure. It seems to me that tonight we will probably whittle matters down to one option that has the most support in the House, and we all know that that is likely to be permanent membership of the customs union. On Wednesday, the alternative Government—not the Labour party, but my right hon. Friend—will take control of the agenda. As I understand it, he will then produce a Bill to implement what is decided, which will probably be permanent membership of the customs union.

I put it to the Government that we Conservative MPs will then have a choice: we will have to have permanent membership of the customs union because the Order Paper will have been taken over by Parliament; or we have a general election; or we prorogue Parliament. I say to my right hon. Friend that I think it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the House if we were to abdicate our responsibility and have a general election. The people asked us to make this choice and to do this job. If we cannot agree on what we do not want, we should agree on what we do want. Therefore, the Government have to move forward with their meaningful vote, if necessary in a run-off with this customs union, and if necessary in a vote tomorrow.

I do not believe that it is in the interests of the nation to have a general election, which would solve nothing: people do not vote on the issue—they vote on who the leader of the party is, who they like or who their local MP is. We all know that every single general election gets out of control. We ourselves have to decide this issue. We have to make the choice. We have to decide what we want, not what we do not want.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

No, I am going to finish in a moment. The other thing that we surely cannot do—I say this to my friends who, like me, voted for Brexit—is duck the issue by proroguing Parliament. We cannot act like Charles I. We voted leave because we wanted to give control back to Parliament; it would be like someone throwing the football out of the stadium because they are losing the football match.

There is a simple choice for my colleagues now. The Government are on the cusp of losing control and we are on the cusp of facing permanent membership of the customs union, which runs contrary to our manifesto. We have to get real, dear friends: we have to make that choice. My personal choice is that I would rather vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, which at least delivers some sort of Brexit.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Order. I very gently say to colleagues that although there is time scheduled for this debate, some of the points being made could perfectly well be made in the debate itself, rather than in the debate on the business of the House motion. I would have thought that colleagues could speak extremely briefly, as will be brilliantly exemplified now by Gareth Snell.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 3:56 pm, 1st April 2019

I will do my best, Mr Speaker. I wish to touch on my amendment that was not selected. Of course, I pay ultimate deference to your decision, Mr Speaker, but I wonder whether, at some point before we vote on the motion, Sir Oliver Letwin could help me. When we discussed the business of the House motion last week, I asked him about the daisy-chaining process that he was involved in—the process of attaching another day to the business of the day we were discussing. We now have a motion that we passed on the 25th to have a debate on the 27th. The motion on the 27th gave us the 1st and the motion on the 1st would give us the 3rd. I have no issue with the House doing what it sees as necessary to find a way through this Brexit impasse, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, if he has a plan, can tell us what that is going forward.

There is a rumour that on Wednesday we may be asked to legislate for the outcome of this evening. I presume that on Wednesday’s business of the House motion, there will be another paragraph (2) to commandeer a day of the week after. If that is the case, I wonder whether a plan—if it exists somewhere—of how many days and what the days are to be used for can be shared with the House. That is not because I wish to impede the House from doing this. However, on Friday I was asked to vote against the withdrawal agreement on the basis of a blind Brexit, and I am now being asked to hand over days of parliamentary business with no idea of what will be tabled and discussed on those days. [Interruption.] As much as I thank Government Members for their support, I do not really want it. [Interruption.] I will take it, but I do not want it.

I mean to try to be helpful to the right hon. Member for West Dorset. If he has a plan of how many days and what those days are to be used for, could he share it with us? If we as a House are going to be asked to hand over day after day, we should know what we will be asked to vote on during those days.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 3:58 pm, 1st April 2019

A few days ago, I brought in the House of Commons (Precedence of Government Business) (European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) Bill, to which I gave a great deal of thought and that I discussed with many other Members. It is due to be debated on 5 April. The position is this. I did it because of my grave concern about the procedure being employed under this motion in particular, for the following reasons, which I will give briefly.

First, it is well said in our constitutional authorities that justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure. What that means is that through procedure we can ensure that things are done that should be done, based on conventions such as the reason for the rule, which is a fundamental basis of our constitutional arrangements.

Standing Order 14 is quite clear: it gives precedence to Government business. As a result of this procedure, we are impugning that rule and substituting for it a completely different arrangement—one that I have described as a constitutional revolution. It is not a novelty, as it was described just now, or, as Sir Vince Cable said the other day, a technical innovation. The problem goes back to the reason for the rule and the Standing Order. Government business takes precedence for one simple reason: the Government are the Government of this country and are given that opportunity by virtue of the decisions taken by the public and the wishes of members of the public, as voters in general elections. That is the basis of our democracy. Likewise, decisions in referendums are taken by members of the public as voters.

It is utterly perverse for us to vote by such a significant majority—I will not go into that, because we know it is the case—and then overturn and invert the business of the House rules as we are doing under this business motion and as happened the other day. Government business takes precedence because of democracy. It is a fundamental question. Parliament decided in the European Union Referendum Act 2015 to give the decision to the British people, not to this House. I have said repeatedly—and it is true—that we operate on the basis of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament. If, by a sovereign Act of Parliament, we confer upon the British people the right to make that choice in a referendum, there is not, in terms of that Act, for which the House voted six to one, an opportunity then to take back control in this context.

It is a very simple question, and, to my knowledge, it has happened only once before. You mentioned the other day, Mr Speaker, or somebody raised with you, a precedent going back to 1604. As it happens, there is another precedent, from the 1650s, when the House became completely anarchic, and different factions started making decisions without reference to any Government policy—and look at the mess we are in now and the anarchy now prevailing, with these indicative votes and everybody making different decisions for no good purpose. Oliver Cromwell came down to this House and said, “You have been here too long for anything useful you may have done. Depart, I say, and in the name of God, go.” He then brought in the Barebone’s Parliament; that collapsed as well, and we ended up with a military dictatorship.

Members of Parliament voted for the referendum Act by six to one, for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and then for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As I say quite often, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke himself voted for the Third Reading of the withdrawal Act. These indicative votes are just a means of trying to unravel the decision taken—that is the bottom line. I believe that it is undemocratic and in defiance of our constitution, our procedures and the reason for the rule. As far as I am concerned, these indicative votes are like a parliamentary bag of liquorice allsorts—or rather humbugs.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:04 pm, 1st April 2019

It is because the Government have lost the confidence of the House that this business motion is before us. After 1,012 days of trying to find a solution, they have completely failed to do so. This is day 2 of Parliament’s attempt to find a cross-party solution to the Brexit dilemma. I hope that we shall be successful on day 2, but if we are not, and if we pass the business motion—as I hope we will—we shall also have day 3 on which to resolve this matter, and I hope that we shall be successful then.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 4:05 pm, 1st April 2019

I agree with Tom Brake on one point: the present situation has obviously arisen because the Government have lost the confidence of the House on this issue. I shall return to that question later in my speech, but let me first return to the questions posed to my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, very courteously and politely, by Gareth Snell. I think that they were perfectly reasonable questions, for which the hon. Gentleman was having some difficulty in holding my right hon. Friend accountable.

I am reminded of the words that we heard from my right hon. Friend on 14 February, when he said:

“The process of which we are now at the start will require the fundamental realignment of the relationship between the civil service, Government and Parliament…for a period, for this purpose, we will have to take on the government of our country.”—[Official Report, 14 February 2019;
Vol. 654, c. 1110.]

But this “Government”—those sitting on my left, including my right hon. Friend—are not accountable to the hon. Gentleman who was asking the questions. It is not possible to table a question to this “Government”, and it is not possible to ask this “Government” to come and make a business statement, because, of course, they are not a Government; they are merely pretending to take over the role of a Government.

I do not wish to discuss Brexit in my speech. I want to place on record some concerns that I have and that I think many right hon. and hon. Members, on reflection, should have about the consequences of starting to run our country in this fashion. Passing the business motion will confirm that, for the first time in more than 100 years, the Government have lost explicit control over legislative business.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which I chair, held an evidence session that underlined what an extraordinary state of affairs this is. Conservative Members of Parliament who only two months ago voted for confidence in Her Majesty’s Government do not appear to have confidence in that Government’s legitimate authority over the control of the timetable of the House, and that raises profound problems with this new procedure. Some people seem to believe that it is a long overdue modernisation of an antiquated system of parliamentary government. In fact, it is turning our system on its head in a dramatic reversal of roles for Government and Parliament. The procedure may be well intentioned, and I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, but it has been invented on the hoof, bypassing every means of reviewing the practices and procedures of the House. The Procedure Committee has not been consulted in any fashion.

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

Some of us who are members of the Procedure Committee have sought to have further discussions about how to deal with these problems and have met with some resistance. The hon. Gentleman seems to want to limit the role of Parliament to that of the legislature. I do not understand why he wants to import an American doctrine into our constitution, with a sharp division between the role of Parliament and the role of the Executive. That is just not the way in which the British Parliament is run, or has been run.

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

It is a question of who imported whose model. Montesquieu actually thought that he was copying the British system when he created a United States constitution that gives the President a legislative veto and requires a two-thirds majority of Congress to overrule it.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Would my hon. Friend feel the same way if my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin proposed to use Wednesday to legislate in favour of a no-deal Brexit?

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

Very droll. My hon. Friend rather misses the point of my opening remarks that I do not wish to discuss Brexit. I simply point out that he voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which legislated for us to leave the EU with or without a withdrawal agreement. He put that on the statute book with me, so in that respect, parliamentary democracy has been served.

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

My hon. Friend keeps referring to me, yet I voted for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement three times. I accept that the House, by a large majority, is settled on a course, which I deeply regret, to leave the EU, and therefore I am trying to make some progress on what the House can agree about the form of that leaving. The Government are not prepared to give the House time to express an opinion or reach an agreement on that. As my hon. Friend Nick Boles implied a moment ago, I strongly suspect that my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin would take a different view if the Government were excluding no deal, which had, by some chance, the support of the majority of the House—though 400 people voted against it the last time it was raised.

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

I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that the problem with the process of indicative votes is that MPs are free to pick and choose whatever policies they like, without any responsibility for what happens afterwards. There is an obvious flaw in that process—I look particularly at Opposition Members. Especially in a hung Parliament such as this, it is not unreasonable to suspect that individual Members might have ulterior motives for supporting or opposing particular measures, rather than voting just on their merits. After all, the House of Commons is a theatre, within which different political parties compete for power, either by trying to avoid a general election or trying to get one by collapsing the Government. Amid that chaos, who is to be held accountable for what is decided?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Is that not particularly the case when Parliament is trying to issue instructions to the Government about an international negotiation, but only the Government can negotiate on behalf of the United Kingdom? We cannot have little groups of MPs who fancy their chances turning up in Brussels, purporting to represent the UK. It makes it a difficult exercise when Members are trying to influence a negotiation that only the Government can handle.

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

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I have some criticism of the way in which the Government have conducted their European policy, but they cannot be held responsible for decisions for which they did not vote or prove impossible to carry out.

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

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. I noted that he described the procedure as “Game of Thrones”. That underlines how it is open to ridicule. No doubt he will continue his ridicule because he wants a nationalist Scotland.

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

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s last comments. He says that he wants the Government to be in charge of the process and negotiating Brexit, but how did he vote on the Government’s motion the last three times?

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

I do not think that that is a secret. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not looked it up. The problem is that last week’s indicative votes have already discredited Parliament because no single proposal was adopted by a majority. Sustained use of the procedure is already undermining trust, increasing alienation and destroying the credibility of institutions that have historically worked tolerably well. It is apparent that the long-term effects of this constitutional upheaval are not a consideration for those who are forcing it upon us. There is no electoral mandate for such a dramatic constitutional upheaval. In what circumstances would this experiment be repeated in the future, perhaps when a majority Government did not have a majority on a particular issue? It is one thing for a minority of the governing party to help to vote down a Government proposal; it is something else, and quite extraordinary, to combine forces with Her Majesty’s official Opposition to impose an entirely Government different policy that the Government were not elected to implement.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

These constitutional perambulations are very interesting, and I accept everything that my hon. Friend says about the nature of these indicative votes, but if he and his Friends had voted with the Government on the past three occasions, we would have Brexit by now.

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

I am deliberately not going to become involved in that argument, but my hon. Friend knows that I do not believe that the withdrawal agreement delivers Brexit.

What policy decisions would be eligible to be made through this procedure in the future? Why not decide taxation policy like this, or social security? I well remember my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, giving stinging rebukes to those who voted down his policy on increasing VAT on fuel. It is a bad thing for a Government to lose a vote on a taxation measure in a Budget, but just imagine handing over the entire Budget proposals to the House of Commons to be voted on in this way.

The vote to leave was in part to reverse the democratic deficit of the institutions of the European Union and to restore national democratic accountability. Whatever anyone’s view, that should be uncontroversial. The EU’s elected Parliament is blighted by low turnouts, and I doubt that anyone other than those who follow these issues most minutely could name with any certainty more than one or two of the candidates to be the next President of the European Commission, which is of course a legislative body. If we are to respond to the mandate expressed in the referendum, it cannot be right that we corrode our own system of parliamentary government by making it less accountable to voters in elections and rendering its process more inaccessible and confusing.

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

Being something of a traditionalist in these matters, I have a good deal of sympathy with the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. I very much dislike the necessity, which has been forced on the House, to take control of the business from the Government because they are simply not doing their business. However, I would have much more sympathy for the complaint being made by him and some of his friends if they ever seemed to notice the constitutional innovation that has been practised many times by this Prime Minister when something has been voted on in this House and the result of that vote has simply been ignored.

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

“Ignored” is the operative word that the right hon. Lady uses. Obviously, it is and should always be the practice of Governments to respect the will of the House as expressed in a motion. However, as Mr Speaker himself has confirmed, a motion is merely an expression of opinion, and it is up to the Government to decide how to respond to that opinion. This underlines how, in our system, a Government propose and Parliament disposes. Parliament does not take over the Government’s role, which is what is being proposed in this process.

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

But the historical precedent is that when a Government lose their major policy—whether it is a financial policy, or in this case their most significant policy—they resign. They do not hang about for a vote of no confidence; they automatically resign. That is always been the historical precedent, and it is a bit of a surprise that they have not done it in this case.

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

That takes me on to my next point, which is that it seems likely, so long as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 endures, that minority Governments will continue to be vulnerable to this usurpation of power—or this paralysis, as the hon. Gentleman sees it—which will bring some in this House more influence while never being held accountable or responsible for what happens as a consequence of any decisions made in that way.

The risk is that this process of disapplying Standing Orders, casting aside the processes of the House of Commons, seizing control from the Government, threatening to pass legislation against the Government’s wishes and bending the Executive to the legislature’s will is being used to remove a Government from power but not from office. It seems that the House will strike but not kill, and this new kind of instability is already having dire consequences for our voters’ rapidly diminishing confidence in our nation’s democracy.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I did want to speak, but I think can weave the 30 seconds into my speech later on, if you are mindful to call me.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 4:20 pm, 1st April 2019

I am sorry not to be quite as brief as Frank Field, but I want to speak to the specifics of the motion. I agree with my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin that this constitutional innovation is deeply unsatisfactory. Tom Brake rightly said that it is an indication that the House no longer has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. The whole point of the Government having control of the timetable is that that is an expression of confidence. I am even quite sympathetic to the point made by Chris Bryant. It is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 that has created an element of constitutional muddle, where we have a Government who obviously do not command official confidence but none the less carry on as if they did.

We need to get to a situation where the business of the House and the Government go together once more. This approach is deeply unsatisfactory because there is no means of holding anybody to account for it. The motions can be passed one way or another, and they then go off to Europe to be discussed—if they are to be discussed—by people who do not believe in or support them. Those people may come back having failed, and they may have done things in a way that the House might not have liked, but the people who proposed the motions do not go out to discuss them with Brussels because they are not the Government. Therefore, this approach leads ultimately to chaotic relationships between the legislature and the Executive.

This business of the House motion is itself unsatisfactory. Paragraph (1)(c) states that

“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”.

Mr Speaker, as you pointed out to us, that goes against the most ancient practice of the House dating back to 1604, but it is also a considerable discourtesy to you personally. On Thursday, you ruled that the Government could not bring forward a paving motion to allow them to bring forward their motion again—a decision that everybody in the House accepted and thought was reasonable. Therefore, to have slipped through under your nose in this motion something that allows a paving motion for motions that have already been determined is a discourtesy. If I had been as discourteous as that to you, I would not have the gall to move the motion standing in my name. Indeed, I would feel it necessary to make a public apology for such a shaming state of affairs.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

The hon. Gentleman’s real objection is not that Parliament is trying to balance control away from the Government, but that his power has been seriously weakened by Parliament asserting its own authority in trying to find a way forward.

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

The shame is not that Parliament is trying to wrestle power from the Government, but that Parliament is wrestling power from the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. The shame is that people who stood on manifestos saying that they would respect the result of the referendum did so with forked tongues.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

On the subject of shame and public apologies, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might seize this opportunity to apologise for quoting, apparently approvingly, the leader of Germany’s far-right AfD party this weekend.

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

I think it is reasonable to quote speeches made in the German Parliament. It is not as great a Parliament as this one or as noble a House as this House of Commons but, none the less, it is the Chamber of a House of an important ally and friend. What was said was extremely interesting. Just referring people to what has been said is not necessarily an endorsement. As the hon. Gentleman may have noticed, I just quoted from the motion before us, not because I endorse it but because it is interesting and important, so perhaps he should not jump to weird conclusions.

The other problem with this motion is the time it allows for debate. We will have quite a number of motions to consider, as we did yesterday.

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

The right hon. Lady, quite correctly, corrects me that it was at the end of last week.

We have motions (A) to (H) to debate, and the format of this business of the House motion leaves between 6 o’clock plus a Division, so 6.15 pm, and 8 o’clock for that debate to take place, which seems a very rushed approach to debating these important issues. When the Government were in control of the Order Paper, they allowed more days for debate than this motion allows hours.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales)

If the hon. Gentleman were to conclude his speech, and if others were to resist having a debate at this point, we could get to the meat of the issue.

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

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. Had he not decided to intervene, I might have finished my comments, but now he has given me inspiration to carry on against this appalling motion, which is fundamentally against the spirit of our constitution.

I appeal to those who support this type of motion to have the courage of their convictions. If they really have no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, let them vote that way. Let them go to their constituents and see how far they get standing as independents. Let them see, as socialists, how many votes they get. Let them see, as independents, how many votes they get. They lack the courage of their convictions, and therefore they try to undermine the constitution by subterfuge.

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

On the matter of the courage of our convictions, just a few months ago, the hon. Gentleman voted that he had no confidence in the Prime Minister as leader of his party. He subsequently voted that he has confidence in the Prime Minister, in whom he has no confidence to lead his party, to lead the country. What kind of courage of his convictions is that?

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

The hon. Gentleman misses the rather obvious point. I have much more confidence in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, or indeed any Conservative Member, to lead the country than I have in the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me a very straightforward choice, and of course I back a Tory against a socialist.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point in talking about the courage of our convictions. Would he like to tell the House why he voted against the Government’s withdrawal agreement a few weeks ago but voted for it on Friday? Why is he entitled to change his mind in a vote but the people of this country are not allowed to change their mind and have a people’s vote?

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

I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Lady for intervening, which is much appreciated because it allows me to point out to her that she is the foremost campaigner for a second referendum and she favours votes at every opportunity except, having stood as a Conservative, she does not reoffer herself to her constituents to decide whether they wish to have somebody who has turned their coat as their Member of Parliament.

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

If the right hon. Lady wishes to apply for the Chiltern hundreds, I will of course give way.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe

I think it is important to record that, of course, the majority of people in Broxtowe did not vote Conservative and, like all hon. and right hon. Members, I seek to represent all my constituents. As we all should, I put them and our country before narrow, sectarian party interest.

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

What was it the late Earl of Beaconsfield said of Mr Gladstone, “A prolix rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity”? I would not dream of saying such a thing about the right hon. Lady.

Let me return to the motion in hand, which is discourteous to you, Mr Speaker, does not allow sufficient time for debate—

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

I will not give way again, because others wish to speak—apologies. The motion is discourteous to you, Mr Speaker, limits time for debate and is fundamentally against the constitution.

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

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether Mr Rees-Mogg would like to correct the record, because it is clear from the tweet from the AfD that he retweeted that he was endorsing the statement that had been made by that member of a far-right party in the German Parliament.

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

The answer to that is that every Member is responsible for the truth of what he or she says in the Chamber. If a Member feels that he or she has inadvertently erred, it is incumbent on the Member to correct the record. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said and will make his own judgment as to its merit.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 4:30 pm, 1st April 2019

I have grave concerns about the way we are dealing now with our business in this motion. I accept that we voted last week to have further discussion and indicative votes today, but the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Gareth Snell would have given the House a chance to decide whether we wanted to continue this process, which Sir Oliver Letwin continues to undertake. I do not think we can continue to have a business motion that puts another day in and then not have a chance to have that vote.

I am concerned about that, but I also have another concern. I know that all my Labour colleagues, particularly those on the Front Bench, aspire to be in government and they should just remember that this process may well be used when we are in government. Would we like to see that happening?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Does the hon. Lady agree that one problem with these indicative votes is that when they are attached, as they are intended to be, by all accounts, to a Bill that will then follow and be put through the House of Commons in one day—[Interruption.] Perhaps it will have one day in the House of Lords as well, for all I know. The bottom line is: we do not know yet what any such Bill will contain. It is inconceivable, is it not, that we should be presented with Bills that will be rammed through the House of Commons on matters of such incredible importance without even seeing them?

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

That just further adds to my view that we should be able to vote on whether we want another day or not after today’s business. We have to remember here, as do people watching, that Parliament abrogated its responsibility to take this decision—we have to say that over and over again—and asked the people. It said, “We will listen to whatever you say.” I do not care what anyone says, the dictionary definition of what “leave” means is very simple. All these motions today, with the exception of the one tabled by Mr Baron, are designed, in some way or another, to not allow us to leave in the way that people thought they were voting for when they voted on 23 June 2016. It was made very clear—I do not want to go into the details—and we all knew that leave meant leaving all the institutions of the European Union. So I would never question it, but I am disappointed that we will not have a vote on the amendment, as that would have been sensible. I hope that today people remember that the biggest majority in this House for anything to do with the European Union was when 498 votes said we would leave, with or without a deal.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Chelsea and Fulham 4:33 pm, 1st April 2019

I need only 30 seconds, to make two points, Mr Speaker. First, it is extraordinary that we are going to have less than three and a half hours to debate incredibly important matters: whether we are going to enter into a customs union, be in the single market, have a second referendum or opt for revocation. I find this extremely unsatisfactory, but I will not eat further into the time that is left.

Secondly, I think people will be puzzled when they look at the Order Paper—notwithstanding the selection that you make, Mr Speaker—because, for example, motion (C) on a customs union, which is before us today, is precisely the same, word for word, as the previous motion (J), which was rejected by this House only three sitting days ago. Members of the public will be baffled as to how a 585-page Government agreement is unable to come back for a further vote, yet a word-for-word motion that was rejected only three days ago might be deemed suitable for debate today.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 4:35 pm, 1st April 2019

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I wish to do so briefly because I am astonished and not a little outraged at what is happening. Members of the public who are watching our proceedings will be incredibly exasperated, not only at the fact that a hard-right faction in Parliament is using lengthy speeches about procedure to try to prevent us from getting on to the debate, but because the Government are acting with extreme bad faith towards Parliament.

Let us remind ourselves why we took control of the Standing Orders that give the Government the right to set the agenda: because the Government are incapable of using that right to move this process forward. They have done one of two things: they have either brought a proposition that has manifestly failed to get a majority back to the House completely unchanged, in the vain hope that the passage of time will allow them to browbeat their opponents into submission; or, even worse, they have filled our agenda with stuff that we do not need to discuss as a matter of urgency, leading to the embarrassing situation in which, in a moment of national crisis, this House has finished its business early and we have been sent home with nothing to discuss. That is an outrage and that is why Parliament is taking control of the agenda so that we can move the process forward. I believe we will do that if we get the chance to get at the matter today. I therefore hope we can take the vote, agree to take control into our own hands and then make better use of it than the Government are able to.

Question put.

Division number 396 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 1st and 3rd of April, consider motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the European Union.

Aye: 322 MPs

No: 277 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 46 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 322, Noes 277.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

(1) That, at today’s sitting –

(a) any proceedings governed by the order of the House of 27 March (Business of the House) or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;

(b) the order of 27 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph 2(b), there were inserted “and then to motions in the name of a Minister of the Crown relating to statutory instruments”;

(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 2(f) of the order of 27 March;

(e) 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);

(f) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph 2(f) of the order of 27 March may continue until 8.00 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;

(g) 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;

(h) during the period between 8.00 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 Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in paragraph 1(b) of this order and paragraph 2(g) of the order of 27 March, has been concluded.

(2) That, on Wednesday 3 April

(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that Government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order), precedence shall first be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union

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

(c) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 2.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;

(d) debate on that motion may continue until 5.00 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;

(e) 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.