Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 4:10 pm, 3rd April 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow Wes Streeting, who set out his case very well. I will talk first about the business of the House motion, before discussing amendment (a) in the name of Hilary Benn, which Mr Speaker has selected. I will then also pick up on one or two points that have been made so far in the debate.

My real problem with the business of the House motion is that my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin is attempting to take a controversial Bill—I mean, it is fundamental to the debate that we have been having for the past three years—and, to put it politely, to ram it through the House in a day. My right hon. Friend did not even give sufficient notice of the fact that he was going to do so. That is why my amendment, which I accept Mr Speaker has not selected, proposed a relatively modest change to allow us to debate the business of the House motion today, and then to debate the Bill tomorrow. At least hon. Members would then have had an opportunity to see the Bill, consider it and think about sensible amendments. That would have meant a better process and a reasonable balance. However, I accept my right hon. Friend’s injunction that there is a timetable to this process and that it would have been slightly otiose to have taken months to consider the Bill.

I am not going to dwell on the Bill in great detail, but I will mention it to provide one illustration of why I do not agree with having just a few hours today, with little notice and little opportunity to amend the Bill. One of the fundamental aspects of the Bill was drawn out by Joanna Cherry, when she referred to clause 1(6) and (7). These subsections—and the structure of the Bill—refer to the time limit and the extension that may or may not be sought by the Prime Minister, and they mandate the Prime Minister to put before the House a motion that specifically mentions the length of the extension. Hon. Members will understand why I think that is fundamentally flawed, and therefore why the Bill needs more debate, if they think about the extension that the Prime Minister just sought. She sought a straightforward extension of a certain fixed length, but what the European Council actually gave us in return was actually a much more complex matter—a two-part extension with a number of conditions. The way in which the Bill as currently drafted does not really enable that complexity to be put before the House and properly debated.