Prorogation of Parliament — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:30 pm on 9th September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 5:30 pm, 9th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and to follow my hon. Friend Alex Sobel. This is an interesting debate, founded on petitions launched by people who were desperate to indicate their view to this House and this Government.

I represent East Lothian, where 3,867 constituents signed the petition not to prorogue Parliament, and 86 constituents signed the petition to prorogue Parliament. That made me think about what Prorogation is really about. It dates back to when this House was cleaned to make it ready for the arrival of His or Her Majesty—that was the reason we all had to get out. The effect is much greater at a constitutional level—we heard about the Bills that will be lost, but let me talk about one small problem that comes to mind: I will not be able to lodge any questions on my constituents’ behalf when we are prorogued.

I think of an EU citizen who successfully registered online and received a letter containing a number. The letter confirms that it is not proof of her status; the only way to gain proof of status is to log on, send a code by mobile phone, get an access code and then successfully prove it. She intends to leave this country on 1 November for a holiday, but she is worried that she will not get back in. When she arrives back with her German passport, it will not be read correctly because the data will not have been transmitted. She is genuinely worried about what she is supposed to do when she tries to get access to her data, or when Border Force try to get access, as in some trials nothing has happened. I pose that question, unfairly, in the hope of an answer, because once we are prorogued later tonight, I will not be able to lodge a question. I will not be able to find out what my constituent is supposed to do.

That brings me to the length of Prorogation. We have heard that there were Government Ministers who disagreed with Prorogation and those who agreed with it. The fact remains that the Government have said in their many charts that, taking out conference recess, the number of days that we are being prorogued is not much greater than in the past. That is not true; it is much longer. The Government did not present the motion for conference recess and I genuinely believe that they had no intention of doing so because they are using that period to hide from being questioned. That is why they want us to go away—so they do not have to answer questions about data, medicines, transport, EU citizens, the missing Bills, the state of the environment and the state of the negotiations.

I have heard, “We have to keep this private. We can’t take no deal off the table. We have to keep our hand secret.” It is strange that the European Union seems to have taken entirely the opposite view. Right from the beginning of the negotiation, it set out the evidence and its asks; it debated them and it put all that in the public realm. We are unable to do that because, we are told, “that is not how you negotiate.” With the greatest of respect, I do not think the way we intend to negotiate—by holding our cards close to our chests and telling nobody anything, with four people left to do the negotiation—is respecting the United Kingdom.

The Government are attacking an element of our constitution. Prorogation is a relatively small backwater of our constitution. To use it to stop Parliament, so the Government do not have to answer questions posed by representatives of constituents around the United Kingdom, is an extremely dangerous precedent to make. With all due respect, if we were sitting on the other side and we tried to defend sending Members of Parliament away for five weeks so that something could happen, those opposite would not be silent.