Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:42 am on 17th September 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:42 am, 17th September 2020

May I also wish the Jewish community a happy new year? Of course, celebrations are difficult this year under the regulation.

May I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew and Deputy Chief Whip? I was worried that last week he was far too good and that this week hon. Members would all be clamouring for him. Indeed, I fear that they are, but are too polite and kindly to admit it to my face, although I have no doubt that the call will go out on Twitter that Members want the Deputy Chief Whip.

I also add my thanks to Marcial Boo, who carried out a very difficult task with dignity and patience. He was always available to Members to hear representations and was always keen to put things right. I think he did very good public service in possibly one of the most testing jobs, in which there are 650 critics and very few defenders. I think he did it really admirably.

Valerie Vaz is right once again to raise the question of British nationals detained overseas, including Anousheh Ashoori and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is good news that the second trial has so far been deferred, and I hope that it will not take place. The detainees in Yemen can of course be raised in the debate coming up next week. The Government take this issue very seriously, but as the right hon. Lady knows, there are limitations to what the Government can do with a foreign nation that is determined to behave in the way that Iran behaves.

The right hon. Lady asked me about the scrutiny of statutory instruments. She will notice in the business that I announced that we are making time available for debate of statutory instruments where the Opposition prayed against them. It is the will of the Government, the habit of the Government and, indeed, the requirement of Parliament that where debates are requested, wherever it is possible and feasible in terms of the management of business, we will do our best to facilitate them and ensure proper scrutiny. That is of course up to Members as well. Some statutory instrument Committees do not take very long to perform their scrutiny, and we should all look to our own consciences as to how much we wish to debate statutory instruments when they come before Committees.

The right hon. Lady raises the point about the Department for Work and Pensions, and the terminally ill and the promise of an answer. I will follow that up for her; it is a reasonable request to have made. I will ask the Secretary of State to ensure a written response as to when we can expect an answer, even if we do not have the answer itself.

I am afraid that is where the sweetness and light has to end, because some of the other things that the right hon Lady said were really rather more contentious and have to be disputed. The UKIM Bill is a really important piece of legislation. It builds on section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which made it clear that the law in this country is made by Parliament. That has been our historic constitutional position. The Prime Minister himself has pointed out that the EU in these negotiations is not acting with good faith. If we are negotiating with somebody who is not behaving in good faith, we have to protect our interests, and we have a fundamental duty to protect the Good Friday agreement. It is absolutely clear in the Good Friday agreement that there will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without agreement from the people of Northern Ireland. Putting tariffs on, banning food going from GB to Northern Ireland, would be such a fundamental change. It is our duty to stop that happening, because it is our duty to protect the Good Friday agreement and to support the United Kingdom. A fine piece of legislation has been crafted, and is being piloted through the House of Commons, that will do precisely that. It is the right law, it is good law and it will protect the position of the people of Britain.

The Government have consistently ensured that provisions are being made in Kent for whatever may be the result on 1 January next year. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and the Government are continuing to do that.

As regards testing, one has to be reasonable. I was not here last week because I was awaiting a test result, and that was quite right; people who have family members who have developed symptoms must self-isolate. The right hon. Lady’s right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, also did the right thing in self-isolating until the test result came back. We all have an obligation to try to stop a dangerous disease spreading, but we have gone from a disease that nobody knew about a few months ago to one where nearly a quarter of a million people a day can be tested, and the Prime Minister expects that to rise to half a million by the end of the October. Instead of this endless carping, with people saying it is difficult to get them, we should be celebrating this phenomenal success of the British nation in getting up to a quarter of a million tests for a disease that nobody knew about until earlier in the year. That is a success of our society, our health experts and our Administration. Yes, there is demand for more; yes, demand exceeds supply, but the supply is increasing and what has been done is really rather remarkable and something we should be proud of.

Finally, on the Division yesterday, well that is the great thing about being here physically: we had a fall-back plan, so we could all get through the Lobbies. Just think if we had all been remote: the business would have fallen and we would not have got the business through the House. [Interruption.] There is some cackling from the Opposition Benches. They seem to think that when technology fails you need even more technology, whereas as actually good, trusty turning up and saying “Aye” or “Nay” worked extraordinarily well.