Valerie responds to Business of the House motion

I responded to the Business of the House motion on Monday 10 December 2018 in which the Government deferred the meaningful vote on Brexit which was scheduled for Tuesday 11 December 2018.

You can read my speech below:

May I just clarify something with the Leader of the House? Did she say that there would be a further debate after the Ivory Bill? We did not quite hear that properly. I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for the business for the next few days.

Before I get to the matter of the deferred debate and the vote, I would like to register our deep dissatisfaction that the Government have announced a substantive debate on the remaining stages of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill for Wednesday. This is an important Bill and proper notice should have been given to the House to ensure that Members had proper time to table amendments and to prepare to scrutinise the Bill. By giving less than two sitting days’ notice, it is now impossible for Members to table amendments that will not be starred. But I suppose the Leader of the House is quite grateful that she will not have to vote on the withdrawal agreement, because it has been widely briefed that she never supported the proposals.

On Tuesday 4 December, this House unanimously agreed a business of the House motion, which sets the rules and timetable governing the meaningful vote debate. The Prime Minister has today unilaterally announced that she will, in her words: “defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time”.

Neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the House have today confirmed the date for the conclusion of the debate or the votes. That shows a complete disregard for Parliament and for the rights of the House, as well as for the 164 hon. Members who have already spoken in the debate, and I think almost the same number of hon. Members—perhaps more—planned to speak today and tomorrow. Once again, the decisions of Parliament are being ignored. It is clear, as the Prime Minister admitted in her statement, that she has decided to avoid a heavy defeat on her deal in the House of Commons tomorrow. Again, Parliament is being given no opportunity to express its view on her negotiation.

Mr Speaker, you earlier set out two options available to the Government to alter the business. The first “infinitely preferable” option is for a Minister to propose moving to the Adjournment so that the House has an opportunity to vote on this proposition. The second is that the Government Whip does not move the debate on the meaningful vote for today. It cannot be right that the Government can unilaterally alter arrangements once this House has agreed on a timetable without the House being given an opportunity to express its will. The public will look at the behaviour of the Government and how they treat their democratically elected representatives and despair—the Government are denying the vote because they are going to lose.

Our constitution works on the basis that the Government control the business of the House of Commons because they have a majority in this House. However, the Government appear to be avoiding a vote on a change to the business because they fear they do not command a majority. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether the debate will be resumed and completed this side of Christmas? Does she think it is reasonable to wait until Thursday before confirming the business for the final sitting week before Christmas? Can she also confirm that the House will rise for the Christmas recess on Thursday 20 December and return on Monday 7 January—2019? [Laughter.] Can she confirm that Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate and inform the Government’s negotiating strategy with the EU? Can she confirm that they will not bring forward the implementation Bill next week before Parliament has made a decision on a section 13 approval motion? Most importantly, can the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will treat Parliament with respect, honour the terms of the original business of the House motion as agreed, and therefore seek to move a motion for the adjournment after the statements today, so that this House, not the Prime Minister, agrees whether to defer the meaningful vote?