Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:25 am on 4th February 2021.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:25 am, 4th February 2021

Indeed: welcome to the world, Henry. There is a great joy in new life, and we must also celebrate the life of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who was an inspiration to so many people in this country. I am glad that the right hon. Lady mentioned World Cancer Day. Macmillan Cancer Support provides hotline services for those who need help and support, and I encourage people to use them if they need support. People should go to the doctor if they have any symptoms they are concerned about.

I also thank Tommy Sheppard for his participation in these exchanges, and for the exceptionally courteous dealings that I always had with him privately. Our public dealings may have been occasionally rambunctious, but privately, the dealings were extremely civilised. I welcome back Pete Wishart, and express my gratitude to Owen Thompson for standing in for him at short notice today. He is a very distinguished member of the Select Committee on Procedure, and asks me difficult questions there; I hope he will ask me easier questions in a moment’s time. [Interruption.] Valerie Vaz says not—oh, dear. We shall wait and see.

Let me come to the right hon. Lady’s key points. First, the Government have made Opposition days available in the proper course of events, in accordance with Standing Orders, and the Opposition have brought forward important matters to debate. They have been debated, and the Government have set out their view during these debates. However, she knows that there are different functions within this House and different motions that have different effects, and motions that are passed by the House on Opposition days are not the law. They are different from the legislative processes that we have and are therefore treated in a different way. The reason that the Government, under Standing Order No. 14, have the right to order business in this House is because they command a majority. It is always open to the Opposition to ask for a vote of no confidence or to use an Opposition day for that, but I do not think that it would get them very far, so I think the House is being treated courteously, in accordance with the constitutional norms.

As regards various Select Committees, there are Select Committees that can look into all the matters relating to our departure from the European Union. It is the general position of this Government and predecessor Governments that, by and large, Select Committees should reflect the Departments that they cover. Anything relating to Northern Ireland can be looked at by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is so wonderfully chaired by my hon. Friend Simon Hoare—one of my oldest friends in the House—who does it with great distinction and can carry out any inquiries that that Committee sees fit. There are plenty of opportunities for scrutiny, as there are of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has been the most assiduous appearer at this Dispatch Box to set out what the Government have been doing. There will be a statement later on the vaccine, but he has been second to none in his courtesy to the House and his frequency of appearances, so I think criticising him is, dare I say it, a bit unreasonable.

I think the right hon. Lady showed her characteristic courage in suggesting that the Prime Minister may have misspoken the day after the Leader of the Opposition had to make a rather embarrassing public admission of having misspoken in this Chamber, when he forgot what he had said previously. I was not going to raise this private embarrassment for the socialists until she said that the Prime Minister had done this, which he has not. He has been completely accurate in what he said, but the Leader of the Opposition—oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It was rather awkward yesterday, and who knows what was going on behind the Speaker’s Chair later on? [Interruption.] Oh, it was the other end, was it? They kept safely away from Mr Speaker. If you were to read the MailOnline, it was a very interesting state of affairs to have going on in this House of Commons.

The right hon. Lady raises her wonderful local council, Walsall Council, brilliantly run by the Conservatives, whom I had the pleasure of visiting last year. They are doing amazing work in developing brownfield sites, which is of fundamental importance. It is a great local authority and I hope that, when it has the local elections, everybody in Walsall will vote Conservative, because that is how they get good local government.

The right hon. Lady is right to raise foreign affairs. As she will have noticed, we are having a Back-Bench debate on 9 February—the general debate relating to the publication of the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy—but we must encourage countries around the world to respect democracy. What has been going on in Burma is deeply shocking, and the Government are working with other countries to try to pressurise those who have done wrong to do right. That is what this Government must continue to do. They have been doing the same in relation to other countries where there are these abuses.

Once again, the right hon. Lady raises the dual nationals who are held improperly by Iran, and I will, as always, take this up with the Foreign Secretary on her behalf. It is a matter of the greatest importance, and a primary duty of the British state is to defend the interests of its nationals abroad.