Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:38 am on 10th December 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 11:38 am, 10th December 2020

May I join the right hon. Lady in wishing members of the Jewish community a happy Hanukkah? Lighting candles is something done very often in the Catholic Church as well, as she will know. Lighting candles is a very good religious symbol.

May I also thank Eric Hepburn for his service to the House, which has been very impressive and has led to a professionalisation of security in this House? I wish his successor well.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Lady that British citizens detained abroad unfairly and illegally ought to be released. The Government are doing what they can, and I can reassure her that every week I write to the Foreign Secretary reminding him that this issue has been raised in the House.

Now let me come to the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised. I would dispute very strongly that the usual courtesies are not being observed, but we are in a time when we are waiting for the end of a very important negotiation that may have legislative consequences. It would be absolutely disgraceful if this House were not able to facilitate any ratification of any deal that may or may not come. We have a duty to the country to ensure that the House of Commons is not an obstacle to ratification. If that means a degree of uncertainty about business, that is simply the political reality. It is an important political reality, which we should embrace rather than complain about, and I am surprised at the right hon. Lady that she would complain about it in that way.

There will be change on 1 January. That is absolutely clear. The reason the Bill was changed mid-week was the success of the Joint Committee—the success of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who managed to get a deal so that 98% of goods going from GB to Northern Ireland will not need to have any tariffs paid on them and all goods coming from Northern Ireland to GB will not need export declarations. It has been a real achievement to ensure that what we legislated for was actually going to happen. We should be proud of that and actually commend the wisdom of Her Majesty’s Government in bringing forward the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in all its glory, which helped the negotiations to succeed.

There will be a debate on covid on Monday, when the roll-out of the vaccine can be raised. I am always asked for debates, but when I provide them, the hon. Lady ignores them, but we have got one. She can raise those questions, and other hon. and right hon. Members can do so too.

The right hon. Lady also referred to the Procedure Committee and its plethora of recommendations, which the Government will of course reply to, in accordance with the Osmotherly principles, although I would say that injury time encourages interventions, and interventions are an essential part of debate. I would therefore be nervous about taking away something that adds to the flow of debate.

I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is pleased about the International Development Committee being retained. It has been going, as she said, since 1969, which is a vintage year because it happens to be the year of my birth, so I have a certain prejudice in favour of that date. I think we have come to a good solution to ensure proper scrutiny, and it reiterates the Government’s commitment to scrutiny.

Let me come to Human Rights Day. In our island story, which the right hon. Lady referred to, we should be so proud of the fact that we have led to the world in having proper protection of the subject in relation to the state. Bear in mind that in 1215 at Runnymede what they did was confirm ancient rights, which they thought—almost certainly incorrectly, as it happens—had been drawn up by Edward the Confessor. However, the principle was that they were confirming ancient rights, not inventing ones. Exactly the same happened when habeas corpus was passed into law in the reign of Charles II: they were confirming rights of antiquity, so that we would not have the illegal detention of people without the prospect of a trial or the process of a court. It is worth bearing in mind that at that point in France it was still possible to hold people on the word of the King. There were letters of cachet that meant that people could be locked up simply on the word of the King.

Then, in the 18th century, we had the Mansfield judgment, one of the judgments we should be proudest of in this House, with the understanding that in the United Kingdom there is no such thing as a person who is not free. We then led the world democratically in 1832 with the Reform Bill. We are model to the world of rights, which are our rights—United Kingdom rights—and other countries have followed behind. We should recognise that we know how to do it and we have done it extraordinarily well, to the prosperity of the British people and the solidity of our constitution.