Valerie responds to Business Statement

On Wednesday 25 September 2019, I responded to the following business statement that on ‘Thursday 26 September—The House will be asked to approve a conference adjournment motion for next week, followed by a general debate on the principles of democracy and the rights of the electorate.’

You can read my speech in full below:

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with the remarks you made about the Members who have faced such difficulties and thank you for making them? I also thank the Leader of the House, and I want to respectfully ask him to ask the Prime Minister not to call the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 the surrender Bill—he could start with that, please.

I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, following the Adjournment of the House on 9 September. While it is vital that the House sits to scrutinise the Government at this important time for the country, we stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that the Tory party conference takes place in the fantastic Labour-led city of Manchester.

It is surely possible for the Leader of the House to schedule important legislation that commands widespread support across the House. The Government need the three statutory instruments on Northern Ireland, scheduled previously in September. Surely the Leader of the House could bring forward the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would be supported on both sides of the House. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill would similarly be supported widely by Members. Those important Bills are not contentious, and they would allow the House to sit while the Conservative party conference went ahead. Given the Government’s desultory approach to motions proposed by Opposition parties, may I also ask for an Opposition day?

I know the Leader of the House was part of the whole process, and I notice that the Prime Minister did not want to talk about the judgment of the Supreme Court, but I want to place on record Her Majesty’s Opposition’s thanks to the justices of the Supreme Court for the speed at which they heard the cases and gave judgment, and to all those who took part in the legal process. The judgment was a clear restatement of the principles on which our democracy, the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law are based. I am pleased, Mr Speaker, that you have read into the record the citation of the judgment. I would ask that the whole judgement be included in Hansard. Anyone who reads that judgment will think that it should be a model for citizenship and be taught everywhere, as a vital part of our democracy.

The first sentence of the judgment makes it clear that the issue decided by the Court “is not when and on what terms the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union. The issue is whether the advice given by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen…that Parliament should be prorogued was lawful.”

The justices were concerned that “the longer that Parliament stands prorogued, the greater the risk that responsible government may be replaced by unaccountable government: the antithesis of the democratic model.”

Does the Leader of the House agree with that? At paragraph 50, they also said that “a decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive.”

Does the Leader of the House accept that that will also affect any future Prorogations? The justices confirmed the foundations of our constitution at paragraph 55: “We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies).”

The Government therefore exist because of, and are accountable to, the House of Commons. Will the Leader of the House clarify the comments on a constitutional coup? Did he mean the Government were embarking on a constitutional coup, or was it the Supreme Court? Who exactly is undertaking this constitutional coup?

The question asked by the justices was whether the action of the Prime Minister had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account. The answer they gave, at paragraph 56, was, “of course it did”. This was not a normal Prorogation, as you said, Mr Speaker; they mostly last five days.

Why are the Government spinning that they do not agree with the judgment? These are eminent justices well versed in the law, undertaking their role as checks and balances, who have heard the submissions and come to their own conclusion. Does the Leader of the House agree that every Member of the House who impugns that judgment effectively does not accept the rule of law or the sovereignty of Parliament? The Government cannot say they disagree with the judgment when they offered no evidence other than a witness statement from the Treasury Solicitor and a memo from Nikki da Costa, which was copied to various other people. As the justices said, they are concerned not with the Prime Minister’s motive but with whether there was a reason, and none was given for closing Parliament for five weeks. As the memo says, everything was focused on the Queen’s Speech. Why did that require a Prorogation taking five weeks? The evidence of a previous Prime Minister, Sir John Major, was unchallenged by the Government. He said that it typically lasts four to six days, not weeks, and that he has never known a Government to need five weeks to put together the legislative agenda. How long does the Leader of the House think that preparations for the Queen’s Speech should take, and will Parliament be prorogued before the Queen’s Speech on 14 October?

A fundamental change was going to take place on 31 October. With the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, this House, by our motions and enactments, does not support the Government on the issue of leaving without an agreement. At this time, we needed scrutiny Committees and the release of documents updating both Houses, but none of that could take place while Parliament was not sitting. Sadly, the Government did not believe us, but they had to be checked by the Supreme Court.

Given that the Supreme Court has decided that everything that flows from the unlawful Order in Council is unlawful, could we have a debate on the costs to the taxpayer of that unlawful act, including of flights and the return of Parliament, and could the Leader of the House publish those costs? Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for the Government’s unlawfulness?

This Government have cast aside parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and they are now casting aside the checks and balances of our democracy by disagreeing with the judgment. The Leader of the House did not raise an objection. As one of his predecessors has said, he is the voice of Parliament in the Cabinet. Why did the Leader of the House not protect parliamentary sovereignty? He will know that in 1733 Dr Thomas Fuller said: “Be you never so high, the law is above you.”

How very rude. If this Government cannot obey the law and do not believe in accountability to Parliament or in the sovereignty of Parliament, they should step aside now.