Prorogation of Parliament — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:17 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 6:17 pm, 9th September 2019

I will not give way for now; I will make progress.

Interestingly, senior Opposition MPs have been calling for a Queen’s Speech. The shadow Leader of the House has called for a new Session and a Queen’s Speech five times in five months, while the Shadow Chancellor called for a new session back in May. As I have said, the Government want to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda, and ending the parliamentary Session and bringing forward a Queen’s Speech is the legal and necessary way to deliver that.

It is worth pointing out, though, that the larger petition asks that Parliament is not dissolved. Parliament is only dissolved before a general election. The effect of a dissolution is that all business comes to an end and every seat in the House of Commons is vacated until a general election is held. The Prime Minister has been clear that an election should take place ahead of the European Council on 17 to 18 October. That would allow the Prime Minister, elected by the British people—either my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn—to go to that European Council and for a newly elected Parliament to be in a position to consider what is agreed, and hopefully to pass the withdrawal agreement Bill.

Colleagues will be aware that, as I have referred to several times, a motion for an early general election will be debated later today. They will have the opportunity to give a voice to their constituents, who they have repeatedly claimed in this debate will be silenced. They can give them the most powerful voice they have in this country—their vote in a general election. I look forward to seeing many of those hon. Members in the Aye Lobby. I hope that nobody will make what are, in some ways, contradictory arguments by shouting about defending democracy and stopping a coup, and then vote no on the biggest exercise of democracy that we can have in this country—a general election.

The Government’s position remains clear: we will not revoke article 50 or seek a further, pointless extension. The UK will leave the European Union on 31 October. I point out to some Opposition Members that there is no automatic right to extensions. An extension is not a solution in itself. After three years, merely kicking the can will not solve the problem.

The 17.4 million who voted to leave the EU represent the largest mandate ever given for any UK Government to deliver. Both main parties pledged to respect that result in the 2017 election, and now we must deliver on that pledge. The Prime Minister believes that Parliament must have time to consider further the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and to hold the Government to account. Parliament has sat ahead of the European Council and will sit for three weeks prior to exit day. That means there will be ample time to debate the UK’s leaving the EU in the coming weeks, on both sides of the summit on 17 October—ideally, with a mandate from the British people to resolve this matter.

The Government would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, and we are working in an energetic and determined way to achieve that. The Government are very willing to sit down with the Commission and EU member states to talk about what needs to be done to achieve that. If it is not possible to reach a deal, we will have to leave with no deal. The Government are preparing for that outcome, and further delay will only increase the sense of distrust that many in the public feel and the uncertainty that is so damaging to our economy.

We take note of all of the points that have been raised in the debate today, but the decision to prorogue Parliament is one for the Government, because Prorogation is a prerogative Act of the Crown, exercised on the advice of Ministers. Therefore, in responding to both of these petitions, I must be clear: it is for the Government to determine when is the appropriate time to bring about an end to a parliamentary Session and bring forward a Queen’s Speech.

The Queen’s Speech and the debate that follows form one of the great set-pieces of the parliamentary calendar, where the Government are rightly scrutinised and held to account. The decision to prorogue Parliament is one for the Government of the day to make, as it always has been. We have set out our reasons for doing so—to ensure that a fresh, new domestic legislative agenda is put before Parliament.

There are those who, in recent weeks, have claimed that they wanted to stop a coup, to defend democracy and to give people a say. Tonight, they have the chance to do just that, and to give the electorate the chance to pass its own judgment. If they do not, many voters across the country will conclude that those comments were as hollow as their pledges to respect the people’s vote in the referendum in 2016.