Wednesday 8th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, at the sitting on Monday 13 May, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Penny Mordaunt relating to Risk-Based Exclusion not later than two hours after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings on that Motion may be entered upon and may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Joy Morrissey.)
17:05
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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We have, I think, another hour and three quarters, or a little longer, in which to debate this motion. The point I want to make at the outset is this: why are we wasting so much valuable sitting time because of the way the Order Paper is being arranged? Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who I hope will respond to this short debate, can explain to us how it comes about that we have the best part of two hours to debate this motion, yet the motion states that we have two hours maximum to debate a much more important motion on Monday. That motion is in the name of the Leader of the House and relates to the exclusion of MPs. We had, I think, four amendments tabled to the Finance Bill, but there are already eight amendments tabled to the motion for Monday, which shows that there is quite a lot of interest in it. Those amendments include one from the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who wishes us to go back to the situation that pertained in the original motion relating to the risk-based exclusion of MPs.

The original proposal was that Members could be excluded just on the grounds of suspicion. I tabled amendments against that proposal, together with colleagues, and it is to the credit of the Leader of the House that she has come back with a revised motion that makes it clear that exclusion would not begin to apply unless or until somebody had been charged with a violent or sexual offence.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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As one of the colleagues who signed my hon. Friend’s suggested amendment, I found alarming the suggestion that an MP could be suspended on the basis of an allegation. It does not require much imagination to see certain circumstances in which an MP could be targeted by someone making a serious allegation with no factual underpinning whatsoever, and then having to be suspended. It is astonishing, frankly, that we could be put into such a situation on so flimsy a basis.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend, to whom I am grateful for supporting my amendments to the original motion. I am sure that it will be of concern to him that the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) has tabled amendment (h) for debate on Monday, which would effectively take us back to the original motion by suggesting that, instead of having to be charged, a Member would only have to be arrested on suspicion of committing an offence in order to be excluded from this House.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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On the previous intervention, I do not know how many rape, sexual violence or violence arrests the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) have handled, but an arrest does not happen on the basis of “flimsy” allegations; it takes weeks. I just put that on the record, as someone who deals with this week in, week out. The idea that somebody gets arrested just on someone’s say-so is for the birds.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Before we resume this debate, I point out that the motion before us is incredibly narrow. I fear that we may be having the debate that we will have on Monday, and we do not want that. This is just about the amount of time that will be allocated. The debate that we are sort of having now is really for Monday.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I take that point absolutely, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think we have already had a taste, from the couple of interventions, of the fact that this is a controversial subject, for which two hours of debate on Monday is inadequate. The purpose of this debate is to decide whether we believe that a motion limiting debate on Monday to two hours is the right or wrong course, and I would suggest that it is the wrong course.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis
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While fully accepting your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must say in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) that I said nothing about somebody who had been arrested. The original wording to which I objected did not refer to someone having been arrested; it was simply about whether somebody had been accused of something. On the point about someone having been arrested, I might well agree with her interpretation; it would depend on factors such as the bail circumstances.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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One issue is that people can be arrested and not know whether they will be charged for months, if not years. During that period, they are in limbo and under suspicion, but are, under the principles of justice in this country, innocent until proven guilty. I think it is reasonable, if somebody is charged with an offence, that the matter is moved on, and that their identity is known. However, quite often, people may be arrested and their identity will not be known.

The point I am making is that this is a controversial subject. The new motion that the Leader of the House has brought before us is more in line with what is proposed in the other place, which probably has even more legal wisdom than this House. It decided in a similar debate that it would be wrong to exclude Members from the parliamentary estate on the basis of suspicion or mere arrest, and that a charge was needed. I submit that it is desirable to have consistent rules across the whole parliamentary estate, because people can move freely between the different parts of the estate, so if somebody in the other place is subject to a different regime from somebody in this place, that will create extraordinary anomalies.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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However many hours we spend debating this, is the fundamental problem not that the aim is to do this by motion, rather than by legislation, and that any exclusion of a Member except by a specific vote on that Member needs to be a legislative requirement for attendance of the House, not a mere motion?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, that point could be made in Monday’s debate without the need to discuss the amendments to which I have been referring, but why are we placing a restriction of two hours on a debate on an issue of such fundamental importance? My right hon. Friend’s point is another reason why we should not support a two-hour restriction on Monday’s debate. I do not really understand why that limit is necessary, because Monday’s Order Paper looks very light, as indeed today’s Order Paper has been. At the moment, just a couple of motions have been tabled, dealing with regulations. Why is it proposed that everybody should again have an early night on Monday, and that we will arbitrarily impose upon ourselves a time limit for debating the important issue of risk-based exclusion?

It is quite a straightforward point. The Leader of the House has tabled the motion and is faced with a number of amendments, including one on a very controversial topic: the issue of whether we should contaminate the whole proxy voting system in this House by allowing somebody who has been charged with a sexual offence to benefit from proxy voting. Why should they be allowed to vote by proxy? What is the justification for that? If somebody is charged with a sexual offence, they would potentially have bail conditions or custody conditions imposed as a consequence, and provided that there are no bail conditions excluding that person from participating in the proceedings of the House, they should be able to continue that participation. Should that not be the natural consequence?

Instead, the motion tabled for Monday proposes that a person would be entitled to a proxy vote in those circumstances. The reason I say that is controversial is because it would contaminate the whole proxy voting system. At the moment, a person with a proxy vote is a person who has a condition—either a medical condition, or they are expecting a baby or are the father of a new baby, and so on.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman’s speech is getting to the substance of Monday’s debate. This debate is simply about the business of the House motion before us; it is not about what we are going to be debating next week. Can we be absolutely clear about that? I know that Mr Evans has already made that clear, so I am just reinforcing the point that we need to discuss what is before us, not the substance of next week’s debate.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I absolutely agree. My purpose in speaking to this motion today is to try to illustrate by example the scope of the motion that is down for debate on Monday, and why two hours, in my submission, is an inadequate amount of time in which to discuss such a motion.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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The motion before the House today suggests that Standing Order No. 41A, on deferred Divisions, shall not apply. I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks it is wise to put before the House motions that randomly suspend Standing Orders, or whether it is not important to maintain the integrity of Standing Orders, which, Madam Deputy Speaker, is clearly a legitimate part of today’s motion.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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My right hon. Friend makes another very good point. We know that the Leader of the House—and he is a distinguished former Leader of the House—has two hats: they act as a member of the Government and on behalf of the Government, but they also defend the rights of Back Benchers to have issues such as this properly debated. That is why I express openly my disappointment that the Leader of the House has chosen to table a motion that would limit the amount of time for debate, instead of providing reasonable time for such a debate, which could be three hours. That would not be unusual, taking into account the complexity of the issues.

To give another example of the complexity of the issue, this has been debated in the House, at business questions, in Committees, and by the House of Commons Commission, for the best part of a year. Why has it taken so long for it to be debated in those forums? Because it is a complex and controversial subject. It just seems to me that such a controversial and complex subject demands more time than has so far been allocated.

However, there is no point in my repeating my points any more, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I certainly do not want to get myself in a position where I cannot be called in the substantive debate on Monday, but I certainly look forward to that debate.

17:21
Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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I will follow on from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who I thought made some fantastic points. However, I want to start by commending the Leader of the House for listening to the previous concerns and coming back with a revised motion. We are particularly grateful that she has been, as my hon. Friend said, a representative of the House. She has listened and come back, and I commend her for it.

None the less, I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that two hours is insufficient for this subject. This is not about the rights of Members of Parliament alone, although obviously it is to some extent. It is mainly about the rights of their constituents, who have a right to be represented in Parliament by the person they elected. The motion—I broadly support what is in it—is designed, in effect, to deliberately restrict the rights of those constituents to have their voice heard in Parliament. That is something that we in this House should interfere with only with great care, and certainly not on the back of a two-hour debate.

With a two-hour debate, by the time the Front Benchers have had a go, set out their stall and all of the rest of it, the time left for Back Benchers is limited. As anyone can see, the motion that has been tabled is quite extensive, with a number of different paragraphs, and eight amendments have been tabled, as my hon. Friend has said. If Front Benchers want to set out their views on the motion and address the amendments, how much time will Back Benchers get to speak? I suspect it will not be very long at all.

We are not really going to have time for a debate, but I think we saw earlier—through the exchanges of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch with my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips)—that there is quite a significant debate to be had, and people will have strong opinions on different sides of the argument. The whole point of being here is that we have a debate, and surely we can all see from this timetable that we are not going to have time for a proper debate. That cannot be right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made this point about the business on Monday. I have no idea how long debate will last on the various regulations down for debate on Monday, on public procurement and agriculture, or how many urgent questions and statements there might be and all the rest of it, but it is not impossible to envisage that those debates will not last very long. We could be in the absurd situation where we have business on a Monday that is supposed to run until 10 o’clock but we rise early because the two-hour limit for this debate has been reached, with hours still to spare. Why on earth would we unnecessarily restrict the debate before the normal end of the sitting day? We should at least make it clear that we can go on until the normal end of the sitting day, if that comes later. Why can the motion not at least make clear that we could carry on until 10 o’clock?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Will my hon. Friend emphasise that the debate scheduled for Monday is not any ordinary debate? It is a debate to change the Standing Orders of the House. As was pointed out to me by Enoch Powell when I was first on the Procedure Committee in 1984, in the absence of a written constitution, the Standing Orders of this House are our constitution. Are we really saying that we should change our constitution in a time-limited debate this coming Monday?

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. In some respects, I am perhaps arguing against my own self-interests here, because the changes that the Leader of the House has made to the motion mean that I am broadly content with it. I would prefer to see certain minor changes that we could perhaps tweak out, but there are probably other Members who do not like the changes that have been instituted since the measure last appeared before the House. Their opportunity to speak against those changes will now be severely curtailed, and that is unfortunate to say the least.

I simply ask that the Leader of the House think again about this measure. We can all see that two hours is not an adequate amount of time. There is scope to have more time for this debate on something that is of great importance to the rights of Members of Parliament, but mainly to their constituents, who want to be represented in this House by the people they have elected and for that to be curtailed only where necessary. I hope that the Leader of the House will indicate that she will not move this motion today, withdraw it and think again.

17:27
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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The motion before us this evening protects time for the debate on risk-based exclusion on Monday 13 May. It also ensures that any amendments selected by Mr Speaker can be dealt with at the conclusion of the debate. It is an important debate, and we have had a little rehearsal of some of the issues that may come up, and I do listen to colleagues from all parts of the House about the substance, as do my fellow Commissioners, and how much time is allowed for the debate. As I announced last week, the House will be considering secondary legislation earlier that day. The effect of this motion is to ensure that the debate on risk-based exclusion can take place no matter how late it starts, and it will have a guaranteed amount of time.

Turning to the specific points that have been raised, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) mentioned the integrity of Standing Orders. I hope, as recent history shows, that I put great emphasis on that point, having stood at this Dispatch Box and withdrawn my side of this House from taking part in an Opposition Day debate to protect the integrity of our procedures and processes and how Standing Orders operate.

I remind colleagues that this is the second time that the House of Commons Commission has brought this motion forward. I have tabled the motion on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, and this scheme has been arrived at by the House of Commons Commission with input from different political parties and a great deal of consultation. We have already had one debate on this matter that we did not bring to the Floor of the House for a vote. That was a lengthy debate, and we wanted to listen to all sides, and we took forward the issues that had been raised, put them back to the Commission and addressed the points of concern. That is why this amendment has come back in this form. In addition to that, all members of the Commission—the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is in her place opposite me, and others—have taken time to talk to many colleagues both in this place and in the other place about concerns and suggestions they have for the scheme.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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I do not think that what the motion aims to do is wrong, but I am concerned that we are using Standing Orders as a means of determining who can attend the House. We have never done that before. Either attendance at the House has been set out in legislation or an individual Member has been excluded from the House. Therefore, however much time we allow for the debate, we are allowing time for the wrong thing. If my right hon. Friend wants to go down this route, she should bring forward legislation, with a timetable motion for that legislation, rather than using Standing Orders in this way.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which he has taken the time to make today and can of course make in the debate on Monday. He has not previously raised that point with me—I do not know whether he has spoken to the usual channels or other members of the Commission—but we have consulted and spoken to many colleagues about the motion.

This is the business of the House, and we are going to bring forward the debate. My right hon. Friend will know that this topic has been raised frequently at business questions and that Members are eager that the motion is brought forward. We have the debate on Monday. This motion will protect the time. I look forward to hearing from other colleagues. As the hon. Member for Manchester Central and I, along with Mr Speaker and other members of the Commission, have demonstrated, we will always listen to colleagues’ concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

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