Business of the House

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

I completely agree, but my major point was that I do not like the process whereby we do not consider Bills properly and then expect the Lords to do all the scrutiny. Certainly, when I was taking constitutional legislation through this House a number of years ago, as Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, I tried to ensure that we had sufficient time to debate it properly, because for important constitutional matters, and particularly for this matter, which is effectively about enacting the result of a referendum of the people, it is important that it is elected Members who make the final decisions, not Members of the other place. My principal point on the substance of the business of the House motion is therefore that it provides insufficient time to allow proper scrutiny of the Bill.

Joanna Cherry, Pete Wishart, my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg and my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith all referred to precedent. I think that a dispute broke out on the SNP Front Bench, because the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire acknowledged that this process was indeed a precedent, and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South-west then tried to differentiate it and say that it was not really a precedent, arguing that Brexit is such an unprecedented process that we cannot draw any lessons from the use of this procedure. I think that they are mistaken.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made very reasonable points. As a former business manager, I think that future business managers will note that Members from a number of different parties have accepted this as a legitimate process. It is perfectly true, as the shadow Leader of the House said, that Clerks would not allow anything disorderly to take place. That is correct, but a majority in this House can override Standing Orders and ram things through, and it is convention and self-restraint that stop Governments using their majorities in inappropriate ways.

Members on both sides of the House ought to reflect on the fact that if in future a Government with a significant majority choose to use that majority to override the usual conventions and procedures of the House and ram through pieces of controversial legislation in a day, those Members cannot complain that the Government are behaving inappropriately. I would deprecate that behaviour and would not want any part in it, but the people will be watching these proceedings and following this precedent. I am pretty sure that someone will try to use this precedent again at some point, and Members may regret supporting it today.