Business Questions 5 September 2019

There is nothing conventional about the Government’s plans for Prorogation. Most prorogations last a few days and take place just before the Queen’s Speech, but this one is five weeks, which will be the longest in more than 40 years.

You can read my speech in full below:

I thank the Leader of the House. I was going to say that it is the usual custom and convention to thank him, but I appreciate that he has apologised—at least I abide by custom and convention. I also thank him for being vertical when he gave his statement.

The Opposition will co-operate with the Government on the Northern Ireland legislation to ensure that it goes through, and we are obviously keen for Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill, if there are any, to come back to the House to be debated. Will the Leader of the House say exactly what the motion relating to an early parliamentary election will be, and whether it will be similar to that under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011? When is he likely to table it?

As I said I would do every week, I raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Will the Leader of the House update the House on her case, given that things have taken a different turn, and on the cases of the other UK nationals who are in prison? Kamal Foroughi was detained in May 2011, Anousheh Ashouri was detained in August 2017, and British Council employee Aras Amiri was detained in March 2018 and has now been given a 10-year sentence for visiting her grandmother.

I asked the previous Leader of the House about the Queen’s Speech and I know that that has been thrown back at me a number of times. We have had the longest continuous parliamentary Session since the Acts of Union 1800. Hardly any business was legislated for while the Government were going through a leadership election. The Government chose to have a long Session and no legislation was progressed, despite my asking for that, as well as for Opposition-day debates, which I have not been given. We should have realised that something was going to happen when someone asked when the Trade Bill would come back and the Leader of the House responded, “Why would we want to do that?” That should have given us a clue. A number of Bills—the Immigration Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill—are stuck. We know that they fall when Parliament is prorogued, but not statutory instruments—they are still live. Will the Leader of the House say what the Government plan to do with those Bills?

I asked the previous leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), whether we could sit during the conference recess. We on this side of the House were ready to do that. There is nothing conventional about the Government’s plans for Prorogation. Most prorogations last a few days and take place just before the Queen’s Speech, but this one is five weeks, which will be the longest in more than 40 years.

Will the Leader of the House clarify what he said during the debate yesterday? When asked, he did not say whether he knew on 16 August that the House was going to be prorogued. In fact, he said he was at Lord’s. I will ask him again: on 16 August, when he was at Lord’s, did he know whether the House was going to be prorogued? Had he seen that email? Two weeks later, he was on a place to Aberdeen airport. When was he told that he was going to Balmoral and when did he know what was in the proclamation?

We do not trust this Government—they take their lead from the Prime Minister, who says one thing and does something else. When he wanted to be Prime Minister, he wrote in a letter to all his colleagues that he was “not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament”.

He said he was a one-nation Conservative, yet he has prorogued Parliament and withdrawn the Whip—possibly sacked, possibly expelled—from some of the most honourable right hon. and hon. Members, who have given great service to their party and country. Now we face the fact that the right hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) has resigned and no longer wants to stand—the Prime Minister’s own brother cannot take it anymore. That is why we do not trust the Government and the Prime Minister. He secretly agreed to suspend Parliament two weeks before denying it would happen. He is treating Parliament, democracy and the people with contempt.

Twenty-two law professors have written an open letter to say that the Prorogation is clearly designed to evade scrutiny, including of legislation, and to prevent MPs from asking key questions on EU negotiations and no-deal planning. So what were the reasons for the Prorogation at that time, without recourse to coming to the Chamber and explaining it?

An important Bill to stop a no-deal exit was passed yesterday and is making its way through the Lords. Here are the reasons why it is important. The director of the CBI has said: “No deal is a tripwire into economic chaos that could harm our country…for years to come.”

Is that scaremongering? The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said that no deal would be a “disaster for working families”. Is that scaremongering? The President of the National Farmers’ Union said that “you will have many farmers going out of business” and the Food and Drink Federation has warned that it would “inflict serious—and in some cases mortal—damage on UK food and drink.” Is that scaremongering?

The British Medical Association said in its report that the dangers of a no deal could lead to the disintegration of the NHS. The fashion industry, worth £32 billion, says no deal should be avoided. The Incorporated Society of Musicians said no-deal Brexit will incur major disruption to the music industry worth £4.5 billion. Are they scaremongering?

Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit co-ordinator for the EU, said that the only people who will prosper are the wealthy bankers and hedge fund managers who have bet on chaos.

I think the Leader of the House also owes an apology to Dr David Nicoll, who was part of Operation Yellowhammer. When will the Leader of the House publish Operation Yellowhammer, or does he think the Government are scaremongering?

Mr Speaker, they are like the wolves of Whitehall. They are marauding over our customs and our conventions. It is absolutely outrageous, the way they are destroying them. The Prime Minister only governs by custom and convention.

I think the Leader of the House also owes an apology to Mr Speaker. I think he was heard on air to say that Mr Speaker was wrong, but I want to remind him of his bedtime reading, “Erskine May”, and of the dedication compiled by officials, both past and present. It says this:

“To the…Speaker of the House of Commons and to the Lord Speaker, Speakers…of the Commonwealth Parliaments on whom fall the great responsibilities of guardianship of the parliamentary system.”

We saw that this week and we thank you, Mr Speaker.