Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:36 am on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:36 am, 16th May 2019

I echo the tribute paid by Valerie Vaz to Philippa Helme. She has been an assiduous Clerk for many years, and we wish her a very happy and energising retirement. I am sure that she will feel some elements of relief in escaping from this place—which reminds me that the hon. Lady is always after recess dates, which suggests that she too is desperate to get away from it.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. She will be aware that the Bill is not subject to a motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There will be a Second Reading debate on a Bill that is yet to be introduced. Section 13 of the Act stipulates that a meaningful vote must be passed for ratification of the deal, and the Government will ensure that the conditions are met to enable ratification to take place. There will be no issues relating to purdah: that has been carefully checked, and there are no such implications. As I have said, the Bill will be introduced soon so that colleagues can consider it.

The hon. Lady asked when the Bill would be completed. We have made it very clear that we will be able to leave the European Union on the first day of the month following ratification of the treaty. We would like that to happen this summer, and we will work hard to ensure that it does, but, as ever, there are discussions in the usual channels about the programming of the Bill.

The hon. Lady referred to the length of the Session. It was set out at the beginning that this would be an extended Session because of the enormous change that would be involved in our leaving the European Union. However, we have achieved some superb legislation during this period. Our 44th Bill, the Offensive Weapons Bill, received Royal Assent today. The excellent energy cap has been introduced, and the Tenant Fees Act 2019, which will help people who have been harshly treated by their landlords, has been enacted. So there has been a lot that is good about this Session—and, very importantly, we have to leave the European Union. All colleagues can, of course, influence the end of the Session by voting for the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill.

The hon. Lady asked about the House rising early. I must say that I was rather astonished on Monday. First there were two very important statements, one on the Tessa Jowell brain cancer mission and the other on domestic abuse, and then there was the Second Reading of a Government Bill which had the potential to affect business rates and our high streets. There was huge scope for colleagues to talk about many issues relating to their constituencies yet only one Government Back Bencher made a full speech during Monday’s debate, and there were no Scottish National party contributions at all—not even interventions—and no Labour Back Benchers spoke. It is not for me, I gently say to the House, to determine who speaks in debates; I merely make the time available. So I do not accept in any sense that it is for the Government to determine when the House rises; that is a matter decided by the demand from colleagues to make contributions in debates.

The hon. Lady asked me to ensure that all ministerial visits are advised. All Ministers are well aware of the ministerial code. She again made reference to a visit she feels she was left out of; that was nothing to do with the Minister concerned, who in fact was the person who alerted the hon. Lady to the fact of that meeting going ahead.

The hon. Lady raised an important point about voter ID pilots. She will appreciate that there are huge risks at present with individuals not having to provide any form of ID whatsoever, and merely going up to polling booths and saying they are individual X or Y. There are many anecdotal cases where people have turned up at polling booths and been told they have already voted when they clearly have not. It is because of such problems that we have to ensure the integrity of our electoral system and give the public confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century.

The Electoral Commission’s own evaluation shows that the 2018 voter ID pilots were a success and the overwhelming majority of people cast their vote without a problem. We need to continue to understand how voter ID will work on a wider scale and what works best for voters, so it is important that we continue piloting before any national roll-out takes place.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked about action not words with regard to climate change, so let me remind her that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. We have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010. In the last year we have generated record levels of solar and wind energy. We have planted over 15 million trees since 2010. We have opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm and the world’s first floating offshore wind farm in Scotland. That is action not words.