Prorogation of Parliament — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:00 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 6:00 pm, 9th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main.

I begin with a couple of points about the procedure we are engaged in here. Before members of the Petitions Committee leap up, I should say I do not intend any criticism of them. I have been at a number of these debates on matters on which the public have petitioned us, and I wonder if our procedures are effective and robust enough to deliver on the expectations of those who petition Parliament.

First, we are dealing with two petitions. I am not sure of the need to lump petitions together just because they cover the same topic, particularly in this instance, where they represent diametrically opposed views. One petition, which I presume has been organised by pro-Brexit campaigners because they believe this Parliament is made up of remoaners who are antipathetic to their case, has taken five months to get to the requisite threshold of 100,000 signatures. The other petition collected 1.7 million signatures in a matter of hours and reflects serious public outrage at a decision taken by the Government. To give parity of consideration to those two petitions is simply not fair.

I wonder how many people who sign such petitions understand that this is the place where their hopes and aspirations come to die on a wet Monday afternoon, in a Committee Room off the House of Commons Chamber, with 10 Members assembled who have no ability to advocate on behalf of the petitioners, or to influence, nevermind change, Government policy. It is too late for this Parliament, but if I come back to this place in the future, I will seek changes to our procedures and how we deal with those who petition this Parliament. I do not think we treat them fairly enough.

My concerns about how we deal with petitions are as nothing to my concerns about the inadequacy of our constitution when it comes to Parliament sitting. Is it not astonishing that our Parliament can be suspended for five weeks in the middle of a major political crisis, the ramifications of which are profound, legion, and no way near being concluded? Most people would find that astounding; I find it astounding myself that this can happen perfectly legally and normally.

The role of Parliament is to scrutinise and hold to account the Executive. It cannot be right that the Executive can relieve itself of that scrutiny by the simple expedient of suspending Parliament. It seems a bizarre situation, yet it is the one we are confronted by. By the time we get to 14 October, the Prime Minister will have held the most powerful executive office in the land for 82 days, and on only four of those days will Parliament have been able to hold him and his Government to account. That is frankly a shocking state of affairs. I do not buy the argument that that is because Government Ministers and their advisers need time to prepare a new legislative programme.