Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:55 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 1:55 pm, 3rd April 2019

Alas, I think that Brexit will leave behind it a trail of many difficulties for our nation, as we seek to heal the divisions and so on. But I suspect that one of the good things about it is that it will have provoked between my hon. Friend and myself many years of interesting discussion about the evolution of our constitution. My own view is that our constitution is not very well constructed, and does not contain proper checks and balances in a written form in the way in which some better constitutions do. Interestingly, that includes the Basic Law, which we ourselves wrote for the Germans and which is a much better organised constitution; there is not the veto to which my hon. Friend refers, but there are checks and balances through which it would certainly be impossible for the Government to engage in the sort of things that have become usual since 1902—I mistakenly referred to 1906 on a previous occasion—and that have given the Executive too much control over the proceedings of the House of Commons.

Interestingly, some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, have for a very long time argued that the Executive have too much control over the House of Commons. It is just that, on this particular occasion, he would like the Executive to have more control—or would have liked the Executive to have more control before yesterday, in any case. I rather think that people’s views on this constitutional matter are currently being overly influenced by their view of what the desirable result is, and I admit entirely that mine are too.

I do not think that this is a minor constitutional wrangle. We could go on happily having this discussion for some years, and ought to in a proper way. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr Walker, the Chair of the Procedure Committee, will want to inaugurate proper discussions of these things at much greater length. At the moment, this nation faces a very serious issue by anybody’s reckoning—those who are in favour of stepping out on Thursday week and those who are against it. We all agree that it is a very important step. The business of the House motion provides for a Bill that has the effect of making it not possible for a Prime Minister to take that step without coming to the House, proposing an extension and trying to obtain an extension approved by the House from the EU. That is the importance of it, and I think that it is actually very important.