Miscellaneous

– in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 14
    A majority of MPs voted to allow opposition amendments on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill

(16) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

(17) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(18) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.

(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.

(c) Such a motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly. (d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed. (e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.

(19) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(20) No debate shall be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.

(21) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(22) No private business may be considered at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.

I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that I do not wish to detain the House unduly. I hope that the House will support this business of the House motion so that we can move on to consider the stages of this Bill. This is a straightforward business of the House motion that will facilitate consideration of a short Bill, so that the House can agree the date of a general election. The motion sets aside up to six hours for consideration of the Bill, including up to four hours for the Second Reading, with the remaining time for Committee of the whole House and remaining stages.

To have a pre-Christmas election on 12 December, this Bill will need Royal Assent by 5 November for the House to dissolve just after midnight on 6 November. That general election timetable allows for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill to pass before Dissolution to ensure the Northern Ireland civil service can access the funding it needs to deliver public services and proper governance. The situation facing a number of Northern Ireland Departments has become critical, and the Bill is needed to allow the Northern Ireland civil service to continue to access the cash needed to deliver public services.

To ensure that the Bill receives Royal Assent to allow for Dissolution on 6 November and allow the 25 working days for the administration of the poll, it needs to proceed quickly. We have therefore proposed in the business motion that all Commons stages of the Bill happen today.

The Bill before the House is only two clauses long so is a very short Bill. It is also a simple Bill in that it seeks only to set the polling day as 12 December. The House should not therefore be disadvantaged by considering all stages of the Bill in one day.

Turning to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), the Government’s business motion provides for an efficient timetable for the consideration of this Bill, which is a straightforward piece of legislation for an election on 12 December. Of course, the Government recognise that the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker or Chairman of Ways and Means; however, it is entirely standard practice in this House for amendments not to be taken from Back-Bench MPs on Bills as simple as this one where an expedited timetable is required. While it may not be a wrecking amendment in itself, there is no doubt that it is a gateway to amendments that could seek to obstruct the Bill. The Bill is simply designed to give effect to what all four of the biggest parties in this House have now said they support—a December general election—nothing more, nothing less.

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

Once upon a time, the Leader of the House was a champion of this House, but since he became Leader of the House he seems to be trying to curtail debate on every Government Bill. I know that he has had a long-running, if polite, dispute with the Speaker, but will he explain to us paragraph (3)(b) and why he felt it was necessary to say

“the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.”?

The Speaker is never in the Chair when we are in Committee. Why does the Leader of the House feel it necessary to say that this afternoon?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady and I served on the Procedure Committee together, and she must be aware that this is completely standard whenever the Speaker leaves the Chair to go into Committee. It has been standard for decades, if not for centuries, and there is nothing unusual in it. If anyone thinks that this is in any way a dig at you, Mr Speaker, they simply do not understand the procedures of this House. I note that you are indicating that you are in assent with what I am saying. I am frankly surprised that the hon. Lady, who is a distinguished member of the Procedure Committee, is unaware of that basic procedure.

So it is just a December general election, nothing more and nothing less. There will be six weeks to discuss all the great political questions facing our country before the people are given the chance to give their verdict, but the debate today is not about those great issues; it is simply about setting 12 December as the date for a general election.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 1:50 pm, 29th October 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for the business motion. The House is surprised and alarmed at the state of the Government for moving a motion for a general election in this way. The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Bill would be published this morning. It was a great disservice to the House that it was not available yesterday. It is just one line. We are now debating a programme motion to introduce the Bill in one day.

Yesterday, the Government called a vote under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, but they did not have the necessary majority. They did not get the magic 434 votes to give them a two-thirds majority in the House, so they are now introducing another Bill. Will the Government now repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act? This Bill will be pushed through in one day and will then come back from the Lords. The Leader of the House criticised the first and second European Union withdrawal agreement Bills, which similarly had few clauses, yet he and the Government are now doing exactly the same. As you have stated, Mr Speaker, the whole process will take six hours, with the Second Reading vote coming four hours after the start of proceedings, and with one amendment having been tabled. I think that this is another way to crash out of the EU without a deal, because the Government have not met their target of 31 October. This programme motion is unacceptable. It has been deliberately designed to avoid scrutiny of the Government.

Speaking of programme motions, the withdrawal agreement Bill is in limbo, in purgatory or in the ether. When this House was asking for a proper programme motion on the Bill that would have enabled hon. Members to have a proper discussion and to discuss, debate and amend where necessary, the Government did not want to give us that time. They did not want to deal with leaving the EU in an orderly way for businesses, farmers, working people and the environment. The Leader of the House will know that Alex Chalk said yesterday:

“Surely the proportionate and sensible thing is to offer the House more time. If it does not vote for it, the Government will take their course, but surely they should at least try.”—[Official Report, 28 October 2019;
Vol. 667, c. 138.]

The Leader of the House made it clear yesterday in his response to Sir David Lidington that he had no intention of bringing the withdrawal agreement Bill back to the House. Why? Why can we not have a proper debate on the Bill, with a new programme motion and with amendments being tested in a vote? Then we could see where the House stood on this issue.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Will the shadow Leader of the House cast her mind back to the Second Reading debate for the withdrawal agreement Bill? Perhaps she will recall that Labour ran out of speakers some one hour before the end of the debate. Why does she therefore need more time?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I was saying, he would know that we need more time so that we can amend the Bill to take everyone’s views into account. We did not have an opportunity to amend it or even to vote on it.

We tried to have discussions, but the Government were not listening. Yesterday, in response to Simon Hoare, the Leader of the House said that

“the reason for not bringing forward an allocation of time motion is that the House has made its mind clear: it does not want to deal or engage seriously with the withdrawal agreement Bill.”—[Official Report, 28 October 2019;
Vol. 667, c. 134.]

How did he know that? I think that that is highly patronising. We have been begging for extra time so that we could have the votes, so that the House’s views would be clear. The reason that the Bill needed further discussion, as he knows, is that there would be a border down the Irish Sea—that was the reason that the previous Prime Minister ruled this out—or that it would result in the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Leader of the House should do the right thing by the House and reintroduce the withdrawal agreement Bill with a new programme motion that could be agreed with the usual channels and that took into account all sides of the debate. That would help the country to move on.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 1:55 pm, 29th October 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this very interesting business motion this afternoon. Here we are, once again, considering another programme motion. I am pretty certain that the Government are full and sick of these cursed things. Who knows?—after the contribution from the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, we might be heading for meaningful programme motion No. 2. I was beginning to sense that Labour Members were about to oppose this motion, which could mean that the Bill would not progress. My message to everyone is that if they are intent on getting their Brexmas decorations out, perhaps they should just wait a moment until this has been concluded.

We could have had all this done and dusted by now. It could all have been settled in October, and the Commons could have been reassembling right now to get on with the business that our constituents find important, but the Prime Minister’s bluff and bluster have brought us here to a deadlocked Parliament, a broken Britain and the spectre of the Government’s hard Brexit still looming over us. However, there are now a few things that we know as we consider this programme motion. They will not get their no deal, which is good, and the Prime Minister will not be able to bring back his withdrawal agreement until the British people have had their say, but probably most importantly, he has failed to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Thursday. Remember, it was “do or die”, “no ifs, no buts” and “die in a ditch”. This was the very basis of his Tory leadership campaign and his solemn pledge to his party. The Kippers, the Faragists and the right-wing Tories must feel like total mugs today, because he has not delivered and he will soon be judged.

The date on the Bill is 12 December, and we all know that a poll in December is less than ideal. In some of the highland parts of my constituency, for example, it gets dark about 3.30 pm at that time of year. It is probably worse for some of my colleagues. However, it is worth that risk in order that we remove this Prime Minister. Calling an election by driving through a Bill in just one day is also less than ideal. We will have six hours to consider all these details, and using a programme motion to clamp down on any kind of amendment is absolutely objectionable. That is why we are supporting the amendment tabled by Stella Creasy today.

It has never been the practice of the Scottish National party to vote with the Tories in this House on programme motions, and we will not be supporting them on this today, but we will not be standing in the way of the Bill. We will not vote with the Tories on the programme motion, but we will back the general election that this country definitely needs to break the Brexit deadlock and make Scotland’s voice heard loud and clear.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

Does the hon. Gentleman know where his partner, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, is, because she has not bothered to turn up for the debate? I thought this was something they had agreed together.

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

I say to the hon. Lady in all gentle candour that to categorise the Liberal Democrats as the Scottish National party’s partner could not be further from the truth. We are delighted that they have come along with us to try to promote and progress this agenda. Sometimes, the Liberal Democrats have their values and their uses, although not very often.

The challenge for the Government is to get the numbers for this programme motion, and it is really up to the rest of the parties to decide what they are going to do today. The message from the Scottish National party is that we want no part of this shambolic Brexit; we want the right to decide our own future in Scotland. We will do our bit. We will take on the Tories, and we will beat them in Scotland. It is up to the other parties to have the courage and self-belief that they can beat the Tories. We will be back in even greater numbers in this House following this election, and we will continue to progress our nation’s independence and demand that it is Scotland’s right to choose the future it wants, based on the decisions of the Scottish people.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 1:59 pm, 29th October 2019

I beg to move amendment (a), in paragraph (7) after subparagraph (b) insert—

“(ba) the Question on any amendment, new Clause or new Schedule selected by the Chair for separate decision;”.

Amendments (a) is about ensuring that whatever happens today the House can know that it was fair play. Last night, the Leader of the House told this place that, while we could not see the Bill before today, we could see the programme motion. A whole one copy was made available in the Table Office after 10 pm, and it showed that what the Government were trying to do was, in simple terms, rig today’s debate by removing the part of the Standing Orders that allows the Chair of proceedings the right to select any amendment, new clause or new schedule for vote.

To do that late at night, without any consultation with the Opposition and in the hope that nobody would notice, is frankly—I hope the Leader of the House understands this concept—not cricket. It is to admit that, rather than win the case for this Bill as it stands, the Executive want no challenge to it at all, and that, whether one thinks it is a good Bill or not, should be worry for us all. If we let this lie now, it will become standard practice in future.

This is not the first time the Government have tried such a measure when backed into a corner. They also did it on 24 October last year with Northern Ireland legislation. Thankfully, the Government saw sense and agreed to restore it, which is what amendment (a) would do today. It does not amend the Bill itself and does not encourage any particular selection; it simply reinstates the concept of fair play in this House by restoring our Standing Orders as they would be for any other legislation. In doing so it repairs both our rulebook and, frankly, our reputation.

Letting this programme motion through without the full list of rules is like letting Lance Armstrong keep his medals or Maradona benefit from the hand of God or accepting Major Ingram as a winner of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”—[Interruption.] That reaction is the point in case. Let us not confirm the reputation that the public already think we have of backroom deals, cheats and liars. Whatever one thinks of this Bill , let it be won by fair play today, let us use the rulebook that has always been used, and add amendment (a) to this programme motion.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 14 Miscellaneous

A majority of MPs voted to allow opposition amendments on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill

Aye: 312 MPs

No: 295 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 295.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill: